December 13: Books on My Winter 2022-2023 To-Read List
I plan to reread some old favorites in 2023. I’ve been meaning to revisit these for a while, but there are just so many books I haven’t read yet that I get sidetracked… Will I get to all of these in 2023? Probably not! But maybe I can aim for one a month or so. In many/most cases the reason for the reread is simple forgetfulness
The Eight by Katherine Neville – I read this in college and enjoyed it. There’s a sequel that I still haven’t read, but I think I’m at the point where I need to reread the first one before I get to that…
The Quincunx by Charles Palliser – This is another one I read in college. I loved it at the time. It was a neo-Victorian novel written in a Victorian style. I didn’t notice that much at the time because I was reading so many Victorian era novels for school, but I was recently talking to someone about it, who found it really dense. I’d like to reread it and see if the Victorian stuff is as natural for me as it felt then. I also want to refresh my memory as to plot and characters.
Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews- I read this when I was about 10 or 11. In retrospect, I was way too young for much of the content at the time! But it did give me a taste of gothic tropes I would love for years into the future. I’ve put off rereading it, because I think that being so young when I read it the first time, made me blind to a lot of its faults. I didn’t want to reread it and see all those faults. But I am sort of curious about it after all this time.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt – I read this my senior year of high school and I loved it. I think part of the reason I appreciated it so much was that my English class was reading Crime and Punishment at the same time, and some of the thematic similarities enhanced the reading experience. I want to see how this holds up independently.
Little Women series by Louisa May Alcott – I had a recent conversation during which the conclusion of this series, Jo’s Boys, came up. I had a memory of the conclusion of the series which I couldn’t discuss with any confidence or authority because my memory is so hazy. So I want to correct that, but I feel like if I’m going to do a reread I should probably start from the beginning.
Emma Brown by Clare Boylan and Charlotte Bronte – When she died, Charlotte Bronte left behind the beginnings of a new book. More than a century later, Clare Boylan wrote an ending to the novel. I read this in college and I remember really liking it, but that’s about all I remember!
Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner – This book starts a series. I read it a few years ago, liked it, and wanted to continue with the series, but I got sidetracked. I’d like to finish the series in 2023, but I need to refresh my memory of this one. Other series starters I need to reread mentioned here.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I think someone else (can’t remember who!) mentioned this in a post a few months ago, and I realized that when I read it, I was probably too young for it. I’d like to revisit it now that I have some more experience of the world and the people in it.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – First thing to note is that the family in this book is very dysfunctional! This actually gets pretty dark at some points, but I think the takeaway is ultimately about the transformative power of friendship (even if we think we don’t need it), and that’s a positive we’re left with after the tough stuff.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Yes, there is some darkness and sadness here too. But seeing people get through hard times with the help of loved ones helps me feel better about my own tough times. At different points in my life I’ve related to most to different March sisters, but I’ve “known” them all for so long that they all feel a bit like family to me!
A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara – I’m hesitant to include this here, because it is so dark and disturbing. If you have any issues around abuse, self-harming, sexual assault, drug use, or a host of other things, be warned! But the depiction of found family in this book is very beautiful. The book asks if that kind of tight knit bond can buffer someone against years of trauma. The answers are always comfortable, but I think at the end we’re still left with something beautiful.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – This book incorporates family, but also strong, tight friendships that last for over forty years, from one generation to the next. It’s these friendships that help the main character of this novel better understand her mother (with whom she’s had issues in the past). I love that the lines between “friend” and “family” in this book are so indistinct.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Yes, some of the Bennetts are easy to mock. But I do think that Mrs. B gets kind of a bad rap. As ridiculous as she seems, her family has a very real problem. Five girls and no son to inherit means that they’re all homeless when Mr. B dies, unless the girls get married before then. Even though Mr. B doesn’t seem to want to deal with this, the family still pulls together in a crisis. They still support one another and celebrate with each other. While Lizzie is closer to some family members over others, she cares for them all very deeply.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – You have to love the Mortmains! They live at a strange point somewhere between rich and poor (they live in a castle with servants but don’t always have enough to eat.) and definitely crazy, but loving nonetheless. When their family comes into contact with another family, everything is thrown into flux.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune – This is another book I had reservations about including on this list, for the reasons described here. But in spite of those reservations, this book does have a beautiful depiction of a rather unusual found family.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – A fortune teller tells the four siblings the dates of their deaths. As they move forward with those dates in their minds, they must figure out how to balance their family bonds and obligations with their desire to avoid that predicted ending.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – This is the story of a blended family over the course of several decades. Six children (siblings and step-siblings) spend the summers together and form a family bond. When they grow up, one of the kids writes a book about their family, which forces them all into uncomfortable positions. I like that this book depicts stepfamilies in a way that’s not positive or negative per se. Like any other family it has its pluses and its minuses.
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – Korede’s sister, Ayoola, is… difficult to say the least! But I found Korede’s devotion to her kind of moving, albeit morally questionable. What are the limits we go to to protect family? What factors influence that decision. The is a satirical novel, that poses some interesting questions
February 1: Books with Names/Character Names In the Titles (Submitted by BookLoversBlog and Lucy @ Bookworm Blogger)
But that didn’t really grab me, so I decided to go in my own direction.
This week I decided to do books about other books: minor characters, pretend sequels, reimaginings, “what ifs” and the like. I love seeing the different ways that authors write into an existing work of literature. It’s almost like the author having a conversation with the original book:
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – This Jane Eyre prequel imagines the pre-attic life of the first Mrs. Rochester. It’s a fascinating post-colonial response to Jane Eyre. In only about 150 pages, Rhys touches on race, class, sex, gender, philosophy and psychology. I wish I could know what Bronte would have thought if she’d had the opportunity to read it.
Longbourn by Jo Baker – Pride and Prejudice fanfiction is a cottage industry in itself (herearejustafew!). They range from very good, to…not so good. But Longbourn stands out to me because it looks at the people who are just barely visible to Austen readers – the servants. While the Bennets worried about marrying off their daughters, things were going on below stairs. It can get rather icky and crude, but such is the life of a servant!
On Beauty by Zadie Smith – Smith calls this novel an “homage” to EM Forster’s Howard’s End. There are a number of parallels throughout. Though it’s set roughly a century after Forster’s novel On Beauty deals with the bequeathing of a valuable inheritance to a nonfamily member, as well as the overall plot about two families with very different backgrounds and values slowly becoming linked and intertwined.
March by Geraldine Brooks – In the first part of Little Women, the March family patriarch is absent from the family, fighting in the Civil War. In this novel we see exactly what he was up to. Actually, part of the novel is also told from Marmee’s (his wife’s) point of view when see is caring for him, and then it switches back to his perspective again. Mr. March was based on Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott. It gives a vision of the March family that’s very different from what we see in Little Women.
Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin – In Dr. Jekyll’s house, Mary Reilly works as a maid. She begins to bond with her employer, but is asked to run errands for him and his associate Mr. Hyde that take her to dark places. She begins to have horrible suspicions of both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Ahab’s Wife: The Star Gazer” by Sena Jeter Naslund – This novel was inspired by a mere passage in Moby Dick mentioning such a character. While most of the action of the novel is outside of Moby Dick totally, the sea is a constant presence in this novel. I haven’t read Moby Dick yet, but this book made me want to give it a try!
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller– I was actually torn between this and Circe by the same author, but I decided on this one because it comes “first” (though both books work as stand alones.) This book reimagines The Iliad from the perspective of Patroclus, who loved Achilles. Circe imagines the life of the witch who turned Odysseus’ men to pigs in The Odyssey (in this we learn here she had a good reason.)
Foe by JM Coetzee – This reimagines the story of Robinson Crusoe and makes us question everything we thought we knew. In 1920 writer, Daniel Foe is approached by Susan Barton, formerly a castaway on a desert island. She tells him the story of Cruso, a fellow castaway. But Foe turns the story into something of his own invention.
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye – I suppose I would call a “Jane Eyre adjacent” book. The story begins with orphaned Jane Steele’s immortal words “Reader, I murdered him,” in reference to her cruel, predatory cousin. She is sent to a horrible boarding school and then makes her way to London and finally Highgate House, home of her new employer Mr. Charles Thornfield. At every stop she leaves a few bodies behind her. This is primarily just a lot of fun.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham – This novel imagines Virginia Woolf as she writes Mrs. Dalloway. In separate timelines, it also imagines a woman reading the novel who is deeply affected by it, and a sort of modern day reincarnation of the main character.
Jack Maggs by Peter Carey– In Great Expectations, the main character is impacted by an early encounter with the convict, Magwitch. In this novel we get to know who Magwitch really is. Maggs returns to England from the prison island of Australia with vengeance on his mind. His journey takes him across London society.
Writers and readers alike love a writer character in fiction. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Emily Starr from the Emily series by LM Montgomery – Yes, I know Anne is a writer too. But I give Emily the edge here, because it’s more a part of her than it is of Anne.
2. Jo March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – You didn’t really think I could make a list of fictional writers and leave her off, did you? Later in the series her writing takes a backseat to other aspects of life, but we do learn in Jo’s Boys that she never really stopped.
3. Angelica “Angel” Deverell from Angel by Elizabeth Taylor – Angel is the daughter of an Edwardian shop owner, whose shlocky best sellers make her famous. She lives almost entirely in her own imagination, which might be her downfall.
4. Paul Sheldon from Misery by Stephen King – Paul Sheldon goes from writing for a living to writing for his life. I wish I could take credit for that blurb, but I read it somewhere else. Can’t remember where. But he’s a romance author who wants to go “literary.” But when he’s held hostage by an angry fan he takes refuge in the fictional worlds he creates. That ability always resonated with me.
5. Vida Winter from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– Reclusive author, Vida Winter, wrote a collection of stories famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale. She always kept her life a secret. But as an old woman she hires a biographer to tell the story of her life. In that way, this is sort of about two writers: Vida and her biographer, Margaret.
6. Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – This book also features two writers. One is the narrator who tells the story, and hones her skill through her journal. The second is her father a famous writer of one novel, who now suffers from severe writers block.
8. Possession by AS Byatt– Again we have more than one writer here, as two academics research two Victorian poets. The novel is made of a variety of different written forms including poetry, letters, and journal entries.
9. Edith Pope in Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner – Edith is a romance author whose life takes on too much drama. She stays at a hotel to get away from everything for a while. While she’s there, she writes letters to her lover describing her companions at the hotel.
10) Briony Tallis from Atonement by Ian McEwan – This starts with a thirteen year old Briony Tallis writing a play. It ends with an elderly Briony writing a novel. To say more would involve spoilers!
I did one of these a long time ago. I started trying to think of another ten literary guys I love, but then I started thinking about the guys who are usually cited as literary crushes, who just don’t appeal to me. In most cases I still root for them and their love interests in the context of the book (though there are one or two exceptions to that as well) but they’re just not for me. Just a warning there may be some spoilers here:
Laurie from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott- I don’t dislike him, but I definitely think Jo made the right call turning him down. Even at the end of the book, when he’s matured, I still feel like he’s kind of childish. That can be endearing, but it’s not what I’d choose for a partner.
Maxim DeWinter from Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- Yes the handsome millionaire would catch my attention. But he’s emotionally closed off from the get go, and learning that he killed his first wife wouldn’t make me more attracted to him (in spite of the fact that it seems to do for his second wife…)
August 10: Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love -Warning, some of these have spoilers
1. Beth in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Beth’s description is pretty much summed as “the sweet one who dies.” That’s what she’s remembered for. But I recently read March Sisters: On Love, Death and Little Women, in which four contemporary writers look back on the March sister that resonated with them most. Carmen Maria Machado writes about Beth, and how her illness and death take over anything else she may have been, both for her sisters and for readers. Beth was based on Alcott’s own sister, Lizzie, who also died young (though not quite as young as Beth). While Alcott seemed to remember Lizzie in much the way the March sisters do Beth, there’s historical evidence to suggested that Lizzie Alcott was more than simply someone who died tragically young. That makes me suspect that Beth may also have more going on than she’s given credit for.
2. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare – Mercutio steals almost every scene that he’s in, in most productions and adaptations of this play. There’s plenty of LGBT speculation about his relationship with Romeo prior to the action of the play, but even leaving that aside, he’s so vivid and vibrant, witty and cynical, which makes his death even more tragic. He’s not a Montague or a Capulet. He’s simply caught up in their feud because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. But his death is sort of a hinge for the play. Prior to that, there was hope for a less than tragic outcome. But when he’s killed, and Romeo kills Tybalt in revenge, the seeds for the dénouement are sown.
4. Jane Fairfax in Emma by Jane Austen – Emma is bright, accomplished, pretty, and rich, but she feels a sense of rivalry around Jane. She senses that Jane is an equal and in some ways a superior, and therefore she considers her a threat. That’s what makes the reader initially take notice. Of course when it comes out that Jane been secretly engaged to Frank Churchill (who’s been openly flirting with Emma…) we get the sense that there’s been more going on beneath the surface of Jane. We never really learn what it is though. Joan Aiken wrote some fan fiction speculation in Jane Fairfax but that’s as close as we’ll ever get.
5. Walter Blythe in the later books of the Anne of Green Gables books by LM Montgomery– Like Anne he’s got some literary asperations, and is admired for his ability to “talk book talk” (I love that phrase!) He’s bullied in childhood, but bright and imaginative. Oh, and doomed. He was definitely my favorite of Anne’s children.
6. Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– Come on! These guys do just as much work as the main three, they get awfully close to the main action, but they’re constantly relegated to the sidelines.
7. Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen– Kitty and Lydia are the silly ones. Jane and Lizzie are the smart ones. But what is Mary? There’s been plenty of fan fiction (justafewexampleshere) speculating that there’s something more to her than just the middle child. I really tried to limit myself to only one Austen character (I also think Charlotte Lucas and Mrs. Bennet deserve more love) but I found I had to do two.
8. Great Uncle Matthew from Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild– He’s Sylvia’s uncle and he takes care of her following the death of her parents, but we don’t know much more than that really… He’s geologist who seems to go around the world collecting parentless babies? Surely there’s got to be more to the story than that!
9. Molly Grue from The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – Molly dreamed all her life of seeing a unicorn. When she finally does, she’s no longer young and beautiful. She tells the unicorn off for taking so long, saying “‘Where have you been…Damn you, where have you been?… Where where you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?‘ With a flap of her hand she summed herself up: barren face, desert eyes, and yellowing heart. ‘I wish you had never come. Why did you come now?’ The tears began to slide down the sides of her nose.” I think that sense of missed opportunity is heartbreaking. I think that the fact that Molly reacts to it with anger first is such a human thing to do, that it makes it even more heartbreaking. She deserves more love.
What is your fantasy origin story? (The first fantasy you read)
I honesty don’t know which one I first read. I read fairy tales obsessively as a child. When I loved a story I’d seek out as many versions of it as I could find, and compare and contrast them. (Yes, I was like 5 at the time!)
If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?
Hmm… That’s an interesting question. I’d want it to be someone who wouldn’t do anything too terrible to a hero or heroine, so that leaves out a lot of authors! Maybe I’d go with Eva Ibbotson. Her fantasy books are intended mostly for younger readers, and while enough happens to make them interesting to an older audience, it’s usually nothing terrible to characters we like! As for tropes, I’d like to be the “Lucky Novice” whose never done something before, or done something with minimal training, and can do it really well. I usually have to practice a lot to be even halfway decent at something!
What is a fantasy series you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?
This year is still fairly young and I haven’t read that many fantasy series yet. I suppose I’ll highlight Fairy Godmothers Inc., which is the first in the Fairy Godmothers, Inc. series. But it’s got a major caveat: while I think the series has potential I didn’t like the first book. I found the two main characters to be awful, separately and together. I say the series has potential though because it seems like the kind of thing that follows different characters in each book. It’s about three fairy godmothers living in the magical town of Ever After, Missouri. Love is the source of the magic in their world, but it’s running low. They decided to help attract more love to the town of Ever After by making it a popular wedding destination. But they need some help promoting it. They ask their goddaughter Lucky (who tends to have terrible luck!) a popular artist, to fake-marry their godson (and her ex) Ransom Payne (a billionaire who runs a chocolate company) in a high profile ceremony. Lucky and Ransom both agree because they want to help their beloved godmothers, but they are both the most annoying characters I’ve read in a long time. But the book is clearly setting up for a series set in Ever After, revolving around Fairy Godmothers, Inc. The residents of Ever After include Red and her werewolf Grammy, a frog prince named “Charming”, a reformed evil queen, and more. I don’t recommend it yet, because as I said I didn’t like the first book. But I think it has the potential to be a feel good, fun series, so I’ll give it another chance.
What is your favourite fantasy subgenre?
Ummm, I can’t choose! I’ll say that fantasy inspired by fairy tales; even though that can fall into several different subgenres. After all, Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series which is sci-fi oriented, but is fairy tale inspired. Meanwhile Juliet Marillier’s work is also fairy tale/legend inspired but it tends have a strong historical setting. The Fairy Godmothers, Inc series I mention above seems like it also draws heavily from fairy tales, but it has a light, magical realist tone. So I guess “fairy tale inspired fantasy” allows me to cheat and pick lots of different subgenres!
What subgenre have you not read much from?
I don’t read much in the way of Sword and Sorcery. I’m not really into reading about straight out battles and violent conflicts most of the time. I prefer more subtle rivalries. But there are exceptions to every rule.
Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?
Just one?! I’ll say Juliet Marillier. I’ve read some books of hers that I’ve liked more than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one that I disliked.
How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram..)
All of the above. There are some bloggers whose opinions I trust, and I look at what my friends are reading on Goodreads mostly though.
What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?
Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley is described as “Jamaica Inn by way of Jeff Vandermeer, Ursula Le Guin, Angela Carter and Michel Faber” so that’s a big “yes, please!” from me.
What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?
I suppose I’d have to differentiate between reading fantasy and writing fantasy for this one. For reading, I’d say the notion that it’s only for kids has to go. Yes, you can absolutely have fantasy intended for children. But the genre can often get dark, violent, subversive, and disturbing. In other words, not for children at all! In terms of writing, I’ll say that the idea that fantasy writing requires no research needs to die. There’s a lot of research involved. I rant about it a bit in this post.
If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?
This is a tough one!
I wouldn’t do series because that’s a commitment and some don’t get really good until quite a ways in. I also think some classics of the genre tend to be too dense for beginners. Plus those always come with high expectations. So I’ll go with
–The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– I recommend this one because it’s a stand alone of reasonable length that introduces readers to a more magic realist variation on fantasy. Plus I think Morgenstern beautifully engages the reader’s senses.
-The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker- This gets into the mythical creates of two different traditions and draws them together in a historical setting. It’s a great example of how fantasy can draw on different sources, and set itself in the “real” world. I actually see now that there’s a sequel that’s coming out in June, but I think it works as a stand alone, if someone chooses to read it that way.
The one that jumps to my mind is War and Peace. I read it in college in a freshman seminar that explored the themes of war and peace in general. It wasn’t the worst book I read in that class (Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, I’m looking at you!) but after some really dense stuff, I was sort of looking forward to getting into a novel. Besides which, I actually enjoy big, sweeping, epic stories,. But nothing about the narrative or the characters grabbed me. My professor said that Tolstoy was “a great writer, who needed a great editor.” While I think that’s true, I think some of his writing is more compelling in other work. Here he gets to bogged down in extraneous stuff.
Favorite time period to read about
I’m a fan of the Victorian era, which is a pretty long era, spanning Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837-1901. A lot of my favorite writers of days past (the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Elliot, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins) were of this time period.
To be honest I think Beauty and the Beast has always been a favorite. I love almost every version I’ve read/seen (yes, including Disney!) It’s strange that one of the elements that always appealed to me was the forgotten, enchanted, castle where the Beast lives, but that’s an element that I didn’t include in my retelling at all!
I go on to talk about some pitfalls I wanted to avoid in my own work, so read the interview if that interests you. But I do think that the “gothicness” of the story always appealed to me. The brooding hero, who seems like a villain at first, the abandoned, enchanted castle…
What is the classic you are most embarrassed you haven’t read yet
I try not to be too embarrassed about not having read certain books yet. I mean, having new books to read (even when they’re not technically “new”) is one of life’s great joys, isn’t it? I consider myself pretty well read, but I’ve only been on earth so long, and there are other things I’ve had to do!
There are a few books I feel like I should have gotten to by now though. One of them is Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I think what’s stopped me so far from reading it, is the fact that it’s considered depressing, even by Hardy’s standards! I think he’s a beautiful writer, but he can be kind of a downer, and lately I haven’t felt up to tackling anything like that.
I was in a recent book club discussion where someone mentioned Moby Dick and I realized I’ve never read that before either. I’m not sure if I want to. Part of me wants to read it, if only to say I did, but another part figures “why bother? There so much out there I actually want to read!” Any advice from anyone who’s read it?
Top 5 classics you would like to read soon
Well there are many, many classics that I’d like to reread. But in addition to those I’d like to get to these for the first time:
Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay- I really like the film adaptation and I’ve always found the story to be very intriguing.
The Lark by E. Nesbit- I’ve enjoyed E. Nesbit’s books for children and I’d like to read some of her work for adults as well.
Armadale by Wilkie Collins- I’ve really enjoyed Wilkie Collins’ other work that I’ve read. The is the only one of his “major” novels that I haven’t read yet.
Maggie-Now by Betty Smith- Again this is a case of me having liked the author’s other work, and wanting to read more of it.
The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf- I’ve always liked Virginia Woolf best as an essayist so I definitely want to get to this at some point.
Favorite modern book/series based on a classic
So many wonderful choices… Can’t decide on just one…
I’ll go with two books by one author: Circe and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It’s strange that I loved these books even though I’m not a big fan of the Greek classics on which they were based! I discuss them in this post for anyone interested.
Favorite movie version/tv-series based on a classic
Again, I feel almost like my head is about to explode from so many choices! I’m going to cheat and pick one movie and one tv series.
For film, I’m going with an adaptation of Little Women. I know the Greta Gerwig adaptation was really popular recently, but I actually prefer the 1994 adaptation. Not only is it a beautifully made film with an excellent cast, but it focuses on the story and characters, and not some of the more pedantic aspects that Louisa May Alcott got bogged down with at times. It emphasizes some of the politics and philosophy in which Louisa May Alcott (and her father, Amos Bronson Alcott) strongly believed, but it never espouses these ideas at the expense of the narrative. Rather, it highlights the moments that the narrative espouses these ideas.
For a TV series, I’m going to go with the 2005 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. It’s an eight episode miniseries, that manages to convey the epic scope of the novel, without getting bogged down in the minutia. Some of Dickens’ work easily lends itself to adaptation. This book isn’t one of them. I’m very fond of it. In fact, I might call it a favorite, but the plot, surrounding a chancery court case doesn’t lend itself to big, dramatic scenes or spectacle. Some of the twists and turns may even seem contrived to 21st century readers/viewers. However this series manages to make it compelling drama with a strong cast. It also manages to recreate the dark, well, bleak, atmosphere of Dickens’ novel in a way that works cinematically.
Worst classic to movie adaptation
The one that comes to mind first is the 1995 adaptation of The Scarlet Letter. The book was about the cruelty of public shaming and punishment, guilt, and pain. The movie features a Hollywoodized romance that changes the ending and in the process ends up contradicting the message of the book. It also features a very miscast (IMO) Demi Moore.
Favorite edition(s) you’d like to collect more classics from
I think that Virago Modern Classics are very pretty, and they include a lot of lesser known, underrated classic works. Ditto for Persephone Books. I don’t want to replace all my classics with fancy elaborate editions tough. I like the mishmash of classics that line my walls, with my notes in them, and places I’ve dog-eared still creased a bit. It always annoys me a bit when people have classic editions that look like they haven’t been opened!
An under-hyped classic you would recommend to someone
I’m going to push for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. She’s often overlooked in favor of her sisters (which is easy to happen when your sisters are Emily and Charlotte Bronte!) and even Lucasta Miller’s book, The Bronte Myth, dismissed her in a few sentences. But her work was just as strong in it’s own way, as that of either of her sisters. I love how angry she looks in the family portrait that’s on the book cover next to this text. I always imagine her saying “How dare you overlook me! I’m brilliant!”
November 27: Platonic Relationships In Books (friendships, parent/child, siblings, family, etc.)
For this one I decided to go with friendships. Sometimes the friendships in question are between siblings, but there’s always a strong basis in affection as opposed to just familial bonds. It’s also OK if two characters within a group are in a romantic relationships as long as the group itself is held together by platonic bonds.
1. The March Sisters in Little Women– Yes they’re sisters. And that holds them together even when they grow apart in other ways. But the March’s bond is built on a foundation of confiding in one another, having shared memories and experiences and being there to support one another when things go wrong. All those are things that exist among groups of friends, whether or not they share the same blood.
2. Anne Shirley and Diana Barry in the Anne series by LM Mongomery- Anne and Diana are kindred spirits, bosom friends pretty much from day one. You can only get drunk on cherry cordial with a bestie. When you share something sweet with a bosom friend it tastes even sweeter because you shared it. A best friend like this stands by you even when you’re not using your best judgement, and helps to pick up the pieces when you fall. Yes, I’ve read some contemporary criticism that claims this was more than platonic friendship. But on a purely textual level they’re simply BFFs through thick and thin.
3. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- I was probably one of the few readers who was relieved to see Hermione end up with Ron, without even a hint of a romance with Harry. As Harry tells Ron in The Deathly Hallows “She’s like my sister.” These three befriended each other early in the series and proved that together they were a formidable trio. Yes, Ron and Hermione hooked up eventually but they were friends first and since there was nothing going on at any point between Harry and Hermione or Harry and Ron, they qualify for the list.
4. The narrator and Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving- The unnamed narrator has nothing but love for his best friend Owen Meany and their friendship survives a turbulent childhood in which Owen accidentally kills the narrator’s mother (oops!). Owen weights less than 100 lbs and is less than five feet tall when he’s fully grown. He has a screechy, strangled voice. He’s also kind, honest, selfless, and rebellious. He comes into the narrator’s life early on and his influence is felt to the point where the rest of the narrator’s life is lived as a prayer for this childhood friend.
5. Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm in A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara- These four friends met in college. Over the next few decades there are fallings out and other friendships that come into and out of their lives, but these four are there for one another through it all. In this case the biggest threats to the group don’t really come from the action of the novel, but from the character’s haunted pasts. Once again there’s some romance in the group, as Jude and Willem eventually become a couple, but their relationship started as friendship only and existed as friendship for two decades before becoming romantic. Since there are no other couples within the group at any point, it qualifies for my list.
6. Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar in Shirley by Charlotte Bronte- Caroline’s father died and her mother abandoned her, and she was raised by an uncle. Shirley is also an orphan, but she’s wealthy, and cheerful and full of ideas. The become good friends and get involved in a labor dispute at the local mill. They also learn some family secrets and become romantically involved with two brothers. There’s confusion and revelations in the plot, but even at a point when it seems like Caroline and Shirley are being set up to be romantic rivals, they maintain a friendship. In fact while the book deals with a number of topics I consider the primary plot to be a story of friendship.
7. Mary, Dickon, and Colin from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett- As a child the fact that the garden was a metaphor for the friendship that blooms between these three characters, went totally over my head. Fortunately I reread it later on. Well, actually now that I think of it, the garden is a metaphor for several things in that book, but one of them is the friendship forms among these three very different children from vastly different backgrounds.
8. George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck- George and Lenny are two migrant workers during the Great Depression who dream of a little bit of land and a home to call their own. Lenny is a large man with a child’s mind and George is his protector. But when Lenny’s love of soft things leads to tragedy, George shows the kind of loyalty that the best of friends share, in the most terrible way possible.
9. Jane and Prudence in Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym- Jane is a forty one year old Vicar’s wife, with a daughter, who lives a very proper parish life. Prudence is a twenty nine year old spinster who lives in London and is fiercely independent. Jane was Prudence’s tutor at Oxford and despite their different lives, they’ve maintained a friendship. Jane decides that local widower, Fabian, would be a perfect match for Prudence, but Prudence is interested in her (married) boss. Neither character is particularly likable but as I finished reading the book I felt like I would miss them and their friendship.
10. Julie, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, Ash and Goodman in The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer- Julie, Ethan, Jonah, Cathy, Ash, and her brother Goodman meet at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970’s and dub themselves “The Interestings.” Over the next few decades the group comes together and breaks apart in various ways. Their dynamics change and change again. Ethan and Ash marry but that’s really the only romantic relationship within the group.
A lot of contemporary interpretations of Romeo and Juliet misunderstand the play completely.
If they don’t believe in love at first sight, they dismiss they entire play. OK, Macbeth opens with witches. Hamlet meets a ghost. Do you say “witches/ghosts don’t exist, so clearly this play offers nothing of value”? Why should love, at first sight, be any different?
They say Romeo is fickle because he thought he was in love with another girl prior to meeting Juliet. But if you look at the poetry, Romeo’s language, once he meets Juliet, becomes more sophisticated. This indicates that it’s the real thing. So why include that other girl at all? Well, it’s Shakespeare telling us that this isn’t a childish infatuation because Romeo’s had that and it looked different.
They claim that Romeo and Juliet were two immature teens who didn’t really understand love or life. IRL, of course, a couple in their early teens wouldn’t understand true love. But for the sake of the play, we need to accept that this is a “perfect” love. It’s meant to be. Then we see the tragedy of what happens to a perfect love in a world filled with hate.
In Little Women Jo made the right romantic choices. She and Laurie would have been a disaster as a couple. They’re way too similar in terms of personality and they’d have clashed all the time. Jo also had a deep love for her family and defined herself in terms of her sisters. Laurie also loved her family, and saw Jo as sort of the “Lead March Sister.” In other words, the way he saw her was exactly the way she saw herself. He didn’t challenge her perceptions at all. Bhaer knew and cared for Jo independent of her family.
Wuthering Heights is not a romance. A love story, perhaps, but not a romance. And really it’s just as much a “hate story” as it is a “love story.” Even with the two characters who get a happy romantic ending, we’re ultimately left wondering if it was worth it. Lowood observes Cathy and Hareton together and grumbles “‘They are afraid of nothing…Together, they would brave Satan and all his legions.'” Then he walks back and in the churchyard sees “the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.” The implication is that the price of Cathy and Hareton’s happiness is those three graves.
I think of John Green as a YA version of Nicholas Sparks. Which is fine if you like that, but I don’t really. I like his vlogs and persona but I feel like as a writer he doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before.
I actually think that Go Set A Watchman enriched To Kill A Mockingbird and the characters. I much prefer to see Atticus Finch as a flawed human being rather than a perfect white savior. It makes sense that as a child, Scout perceives her father as a hero. And it makes sense that as an adult she’s able to see him as he is: a person with strengths and weaknesses and prejudices. It also makes sense for Atticus’ racism to come out in the way that it does. When an innocent man is accused of a crime that he didn’t commit, Atticus defends him, because a) it’s his job and b) people shouldn’t be held responsible for things that they didn’t do. But twenty years later, when civil rights are becoming a major issue, it seems believable that Atticus, who grew up in a segregated world where the power was squarely in the laps of white males, might begin to feel threatened. He fears to lose the privilege that’s been his all his life.
I like the Ron/Hermione pairing in Harry Potter. They’ve got the whole opposites attract thing going for them. They balance each other out. But I always felt like the Ginny/Harry pairing was just so that Harry wasn’t left romantically alone at the end of the series.
Rupi Kaur has yet to really impress me as a poet. I know a lot of people find her really relatable and I don’t want to diminish that. I think it’s wonderful when people have that response to something, even if I don’t share it. Especially since I can see why they relate to it. A lot of the themes that Kaur addresses in her work are universal. But I feel that, with a few exceptions, she doesn’t address them in an innovative or artful, or skillful way. My problem was that there is enough potential in the work for me to wish it was better.
I don’t particularly care for Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books. I know that a literary detective in a futuristic world who goes inside books sounds like it should be right up my alley. I tried the first three books in the series but they just left me cold.
Stephen King is underrated from a literary point of view. He’s seen as a purely commercial writer. Yes, he’s written his share of trash, but when he gets it right, he really touches on our societies secrets, fears, and shame.
July 10: Best Books I’ve Read In 2018 (So Far) (This prompt was originally going to be a TTT throwback, but I know how much people love the bi-annual top ten books of the year and I forgot to add it to the list! Feel free to do a throwback instead if you want!)
1. Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1995) I know that the 2005 film has its fans, and it has its good points. But for me, Colin Firth is Darcy. Jennifer Ehle is Elizabeth. That’s just all there is to it. Perfect casting. Beautiful adaptation.
2. Jane Eyre (BBC 2006) There are several great adaptations of Jane Eyre, but I’ve always been partial to this one because it’s got a spirit of fun to it. Yes, Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens are probably better looking than the Jane and Mr. Rochester described in the book might be, but they seem to love their characters. I read a review once saying this didn’t add any new colors to the story but it brought all of the existing colors to their full glory (or something along those lines). To me that says it pretty well.
3. Little Women (1994) I think I saw this film for the first time not too long after I first read the novel. Maybe that’s why these actors seem fused to their characters. Or maybe it’s just really well cast! The film adds some outright feminism and political commentary that doesn’t feel extraneous at all. It also manages the tough plot points well. For example, whenever I watch it, I want to see Jo end up with Professor Bhaer rather than Laurie. And it doesn’t even bother me much when Amy is played by a different actress halfway through.
4. Anne of Green Gables (1985 miniseries) I’ve seen a few screen Annes (including the most recent “Anne With An ‘E'”) but to me, none of them have approached Megan Follows, who just is Anne to me. This is another example of something I saw for the first time around the same time that I read the book, which may explain why it’s so definitive for me. I also just really like Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert.
5. Gone With the Wind (1939) It’s almost impossible to picture Scarlett O’Hara as anyone other than Vivian Leigh. Likewise, it’s hard to picture Rhett Butler not looking like Clark Gable. And yes, occasionally I picture the antebellum American South in something like old Hollywood technicolor, though I’m aware that plantation life was hardly as pretty as the film makes it look. Perhaps its a testament to a good film that I can forget about the ugly reality for a few hours as I watch it, and believe in the fantasy.
6. Rebecca (1940) This is an example of a film that changes some important plot points from its source material but still works as an adaptation because it maintains the mood and atmosphere of the book. Hitchcock made a wise move refusing to cast Vivian Leigh as the unnamed narrator. The same qualities that made her perfect for Scarlett O’Hara would have made her all wrong for this role. Also, whoever cast Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers really knew what they were doing!
7. The Age of Innocence (1993) I felt like the narration of this film did it a great service, which is rare, because in many films I find the device overbearing. We see the characters go about their lives, but in the book the weight of social norms and expectations as they did this was tremendous. In the film, we might not even be aware of this if not for the narration that lets us know about it at important points. It could have been done in a clunky way, but it wasn’t. For the most part, it works.
8. The Princess Bride (1987) This is an example of an adaptation that could have gone all wrong. William Goldman’s novel indulged in tropes that it simultaneously satirized. That’s the kind of thing that is really hard to translate to screen. It’s done just right. Instead of presenting it as an abridgment of the novel by S. Morgenstern with “commentary” from Goldman, we’re given a frame story of a grandfather reading the book to his sick grandson. It might not have translated at all, but it does.
9. Matilda (1996) This film relocates the action of Roald Dahl’s tale from the UK to the US. Usually, that’s not a move that I’m a fan of with adaptations. But in this case, it doesn’t hurt the material. Casting wise, Mara Wilson was a lovely Matilda. The character needs to come off as smart and sweet without crossing too far into the precocious and annoying territory. Wilson finds just the right balance. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman are just the right amount of loathsome as the Wormwoods.
10. Bleak House (BBC 2005) I never thought a story about a legal battle over an estate would capture my interest, but Charles Dickens pulled it off in this book. I didn’t think a book with so many plotlines and characters could be done well as a TV miniseries, but this miniseries proved that wrong too. Most of the plotlines do make it into the series, and the ones that were omitted were the right ones. Plus it’s hard to go wrong with a cast that includes Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Carey Mulligan, Alun Armstrong, Anna Maxwell Martin and Denis Lawson.