Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Want As A Friend

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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I wasn’t feeling this week’s topic:

October 22: Books I’d Give Different Titles To (and tell us what title you’d pick!)

So I decided to go with a throwback to a different TTT that I missed:

August 13: Book Characters I’d Love to Be Besties With (submitted by Michelle @ Pink Polka Dot Blog)

31yhicomrpl-_ac_us218_1. Delysia Lafosse in Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day by Winifred Watson- I have a tendency to be a bit of a homebody, much like Miss Pettigrew in this novel. But I try to have at least one Delysia in my life, so that I don’t live for only one day.

 

 

51hmsqsiztl-_ac_us218_2. Pippi Longstocking from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren- I always envied Tommy and Annika who live next door to Pippi. They’re normal kids until this crazy, unconventional, strong girl moves in along with her monkey and her horse. After that every day is an adventure. But unlike Pippi, Tommy and Annika can go on adventures during the day and then go home to their parents and be normal kids. So being friends with her is sort of the best of both worlds. I’d definitely need that sense of normality to balance things out.

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_3. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- She’s smart, loyal, and she’d be great to talk books with. Plus, if I ever need anyone to stick by my side when I fight evil, she’s good for that too.

 

 

 

515yocsadl-_ac_us218_4. Lord John Grey from the Outlander series and the Lord John series by Diana Gabaldon- If you’re his friend he’ll be loyal to the death, even if your circumstances frequently put you on different sides of conflict. If there’s a string that he can pull to help you, you can be sure he’ll do it, no questions asked.

 

 

51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_5. Melanie Wilkes from Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- I wouldn’t want to be friends with Scarlett. She’s selfish about 99% of the time! But Melanie is loyal through and through. If you’re a friend, she’ll be a friend even if the rest of the crowd snubs you. She’ll even help you bury the body of the Yankee that you killed in self defense.

 

 

61t6c3q2sul-_ac_us218_6. Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web by EB White- She’s a creative problem solver, which is always useful. Plus, she’ll be honest with you. If you’re wrong, she’ll tell you. She’ll be gentle, never cruel, but she’ll tell you what you need to hear even if you don’t like to hear it.

 

 

 

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_7. Anne Shirley from the Anne series by LM Montgomery- I didn’t want to use this one because I have a feeling she’ll turn up on a lot of lists, but there’s a reason for that. She’s kind, adventurous and would be so fun to play Lady of Shallot with.

 

 

61yilvqhjhl-_ac_us218_8. Sara Crewe from A Little Princess by Frances Hodsgson Burnett- When times are good for her she’s happy to share her good fortune with others. When times get tough she remains just as generous.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Sidekick Characters

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

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July 9: Character Freebie (any topic you want that deals with book characters!)

 

41xt3sg-yl-_ac_us218_1. John Watson from Sherlock Homes by Arthur Conan Doyle- He narrates Homes’ adventures and sort of helps him function. Because while Sherlock Homes is pretty intelligent he doesn’t really thrive in all situations. Watson smooths the way for him at times.

51z5jz2frjl-_ac_us218_2. Tinkerbell from Peter Pan by JM Barrie – Because every permanently immature boy hero needs a slightly homicidal pixie to hang out with.

51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_3. Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -Sidekick and confident for several characters and she narrates the whole book. She’s a frequently overlooked character but an important one.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_4. Diana Barry in the Anne books by LM Montgomery- No she’s not as fun or adventurous as Anne, but few people are! She’s a great foil though, and their friendship gives Anne some of her best moments.

61wsaoqmjel._ac_ul436_5. George and Bess in the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene – One’s a tomboy, the other is very feminine, but both are willing to question suspects, follow clues and chase villains, simply because that’s what Nancy does.

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_6. Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling – Arguably these two are more active than Harry.  They’re certainly along for the ride no matter what. They’re true friends and they often call Harry out when he’s wrong. That’s an important service!

51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_7. Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- Most readers were left wondering what would become of Scarlett without Rhett at the end. I was just as interested in what she’d do without Melanie. Throughout the entire novel Scarlett had seen Melanie as a rival, but Melanie had behaved as a best friend and Scarlett relied on her far more than she realized.

51rqr9-0jel-_ac_us218_8. Bob from The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher- Because every professional wizard needs a snarky skull sidekick.

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9. Barbara Havers in the Inspector Lynley novels by Elizabeth George- I’m less enthralled with these after the last couple of books have been disappointments but Barbara makes a lovably fashion challenged cop sidekick. She’s definitely a favorite character who is too often sideline in favor of other, less interesting, characters (IMO).

51uehkb-x4l-_ac_us218_10. Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien- I’m actually not the world’s biggest Tolkien fan (I know, kind of sacrilegious for a fantasy writer to admit!) but come on, this kind of goes without saying…

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Literary Married Couples

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 12: Favorite Couples In Books

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Since so many romances roll the credits when the central couple gets married, I decided to do a favorite married couples list. These characters keep the romance (and/or major drama!) going strong long after the wedding.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_1. Anne and Gilbert in The “Anne” series by LM Montgomery- These were sort of a  given for me.  They’ve been my idea of a great fictional couple since I was a kid. They grow up together, they grow apart and come back together again. They give each other space to thrive and they’re always there for each other if things go wrong. They tied the knot in Anne’s House of Dreams, book 5 (out of an 8 book series). Even though the last two books in the series focus more on their children, there’s plenty of Anne and Gilbert drama post marriage in book 6, Anne of Ingleside.

517zcqxmvll-_ac_us218_2. Valency and Barney in The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery- This stand alone novel features Valency, a spinster who gets some bad news from the doctor. In an attempt to seize the day, she asks Barney to marry her. It’ll make her happy and, and it’ll only last for about a year… But Barney finds happiness with Valency and soon the terms of their marriage aren’t acceptable to him. He wants more time… But there are indications even before the wedding that there might be something special between these two. I missed them on first read, but I picked up on a few after a recent reread.

51ozv7qacul-_sx260_3. Claire and Jamie in the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon- These two really make each other better. Jamie’s a smart fellow and being with a woman from the future opens his mind to new ways of thinking. Claire is challenged by sexist thinking whether she’s in the 20th century or the 18th but being with someone who believes in her absolutely encourages her to challenge those systems right back. They get married about halfway through the first book and the series is currently 8 books and they’re still going strong.

51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_4. Scarlet and Rhett in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- Scarlet may have her eyes elsewhere for most of the book, but if she’d been married to Ashley Wilkes she’d have walked all over him to the point where he’d have been a slip of paper on the floor in about a week. She and Rhett get married around midway through the book. Rhett is someone who can match her wit for wit,  manipulation for manipulation. Scarlet is used to having the upper hand but Rhett challenges her for it and sometimes claims it for himself. For other partners, they’d be toxic. But for each other they’re pretty perfect, which is why I maintain that they’ll eventually work it out.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_5. Maxim DeWinter and his second wife in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- I don’t think it’s a good sign when we don’t know the second wife’s first name, but the first wife is the title of the book! But the unnamed narrator this novel feels tormented by her husband’s beautiful, beloved late wife.  I think that’s probably a common experience to some extent (albeit with less Gothic twists than this novel!). Marrying a widow or widower means accepting their previous spouse and whatever feelings may linger.

51pclzvhwel-_ac_us218_6. Henry and Claire in The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger– These two definitely have a weird relationship thanks to Henry’s Chrono-Displacement Disorder. It means that Henry (who unintentionally time travels) occasionally meets his wife as a kid, and sometimes runs into her after she’s widowed… But they make it work! It’s not always what I’d call healthy but it’s certainly a marriage that faces some unique challenges.

 

51bumg7jwll-_ac_us218_7. Ruth and Quin in The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson– Ruth is separated from her family when they’re immigrating to England after Hitler invades Austria. Now the Austrian-Jewish Berger family is safe in London except for Ruth. Family friend Quinton Sommerville is a British citizen and he offers to help: he and Ruth will get married. They can get into England together and once there, they can get the marriage annulled. But the best laid plans often go awry… An annulment turns out to be more complicated than expected and when Quin and Ruth start to fall in love, things get even more unpredictable.

51mssp4enl._ac_ul436_ 8. Henry and Margaret in Howard’s End by EM Forester– In a lot of ways these two are an odd couple. Henry is a wealthy industrialist with three children from a previous marriage. Margaret is a spinster with progressive politics and intellectual passions. But they legitimately like one another. The marriage faces challenges from day one, ranging from Margaret’s good hearted but flighty sister, to Henry’s checkered past and his  hostile children. But the biggest challenges come from their different ways of seeing and responding to the world.

71a-uqdbfwl._ac_ul436_9. Sir Percy Blackney and Marguerite in The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy– It’s the French Revolution and aristocrats are falling prey to Madame Guillotine. Their only hope is The Scarlet Pimpernel who rescues them from their fate with the aid of daring disguises. Lady Marguerite Blackney is married to Sir Percy, a man who seemed to love her during their courtship only to reveal himself to be a rather dim witted fop.  When her beloved brother is arrested and facing execution, she’s told that she might save him if she helps the French Republic find the Scarlet Pimpernel. Most readers will be able to guess the Scarlet Pimpernel’s true identity based on that synopsis, but it’s still a lot of fun.

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_10. Carl and Annie in Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith– This book looks and Carl and Annie’s first year of marriage. They got married against the wishes of their parents in 1927 and left their native Brooklyn so that Carl could attend law school in the Midwest. They face challenges ranging from loneliness to poverty.  But they push through with loyalty and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Literary Rebels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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December 11: Freebie (Make up your own topic, or use a previous TTT topic you might have missed.)

This week I decided to go with an old topic. These are some of my favorite rebellious characters in books.

1. Randal Patrick McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– I’ve actually started to feel differently about McMurphy in recent years. When I first read this book, I was in high school and my sympathies were 100% with McMurphy as he tried to upset the routine in a  mental hospital, rallying the patients to demand better treatment. But since I started teaching, I saw how important routine is when managing large groups- especially groups of people who are vulnerable to upset and need consistency to feel safe. I started to see Nurse Rached’s reasons for wanting to run her ward the way she does, and McMurphy’s tricks (running a card game, sneaking in prostitutes) seemed like less an admirable attempt to think outside the box and more of a dangerous upset to a vulnerable population. 

2. Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood– It’s ironic that Offred’s rebellion against role that she’s been forced into as a woman, initially involves reading fashion magazines and sneaking cosmetics. Usually we see those things as part of the role into which out society pushes women. But when the basics of bodily autonomy are denied, when one’s clothing is no longer one’s choice and reading is forbidden, then secretly indulging in these ways of claiming your own identity are acts of rebellion. From these initial rebellions, Offered goes further, embarking on affair with a mean who also longs to escape Gilead. In doing so, Offred asserts her right to make choices about what she does with her mind and her body.  

3. Matilda Wormwood in Matilda by Roald Dahl– I love that this rebel us a five year old girl, who stands up to the adults who don’t live up to their responsibility to protect and care for her. In doing so she also “frees” her teacher, an adult who has been cowed by cruelty. Matilda is someone who has been told she’s powerless by everyone in her life, but flat out refuses to accept that. As a kid, I was very jealous of her ability to take power into her own hands!

4. Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– Jane is a rebel early on, with her Aunt Reed and at Lowood. But it’s really at Thornfield that she refuses to violate her principles, even when a part of her wants to. She’s given the opportunity to spend her life with the man she loves. He’s a rich man and she’ll live a life of luxury. Yes he’s secretly already married to a crazy lady, but no one has to know that. But Jane knows, and she knows that in trying to marry her anyway, without telling her, he tried to make her into something she’s not. So she leaves, even though it breaks her heart to do so. Rebelling against your own desires is one of the hardest things to do. 

5. Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– Scarlett initially seems like a perfect southern belle. And she is, until she doesn’t get what she wants! When she’s widowed a sixteen year old Scarlett refuses to live the quiet, dignified life that society dictates for her. Instead she goes dancing. And stops wearing black. And gets remarried. Her rebellions continue as she insists on living on her own terms in spite of a world that tries to dictate the terms. But she discovers that pursuing what she thinks she wants, may cost her what she truly does want. Actually I see Melanie Wilkes as a rebel too. When society turns its back on Scarlett and condemns her, Melanie remains a steadfast friend. 

41ocx2m77yl-_ac_us218_6. Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyoevsky– Sometimes rebelling against the status quo doesn’t lead characters to do “the right thing.” In this case, Raskolnikov  rebels against conventional morality by murdering a woman whom he believes the world would be better without. Regardless of his victim’s moral character, this act of rebellion has ripples that Raskolnikov never could have predicted, and he learns that sometimes when society says something (like murder) is wrong, we should just listen!

517zcqxmvll-_ac_us218_7. Valancy Stirling in The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– Valancy isn’t a rebel initially. She’s a 29 year old spinster who lives under the thumb of her domineering family. But when a devastating medical diagnosis gives her an expiration date that’s a lot sooner than she’d like, Valancy gets the courage to rebel, to live the way that she wants to, with the person she wants to. She’s definitely not what we tend to think of when we think of rebels. But she defies her surroundings and her inhibitions to live the life that she wants. IMO that makes her a rebel. 

31mezqr7t8l-_ac_us218_8. Pamela O’Flaherty in Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner– Again this is a seemingly odd choice in a book that’s essentially about rebels. Other characters are more overt about leading political rebellion. But for other characters, that rebellion is something that they were born into. For Pamela isn’t not. Pamela is an Irish American. She grew up far away from any conflicts between British and Irish, Protestant and Catholic. Her rebellion started in her very choice to leave behind that distance and throw herself headfirst into the conflict. 

51zdmvpgfgl-_ac_us218_Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery– A lot of critics see Becky Sharp as the inspiration for Scarlett O’Hara. Whether or not that’s true, only Margaret Mitchell can say, but Becky is a character who doesn’t have many advantages in terms of the world she was born into. She makes a place for herself in it by seeing the flaws in people- the way they see the world and the way that they see themselves- and exploiting those flaws. Vanity Fair is subtitled A Novel Without A Hero, and while that’s perhaps true, it does have a compelling, rebellious protagonist. 

519rvznz89l-_ac_us218_10. Satan in Paradise Lost by John Milton– When he announces “Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heaven” Milton’s Satan tells us that he’s a rebel who won’t be beholden to anyone. He’s literally happy to be in the worst place imaginable, as long as he gets to do what he wants. According the William Blake, Milton (whether or not it was intentional), glamorized Satan making him an epic, almost heroic figure. “‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” So if you believe that, Milton was a bit of a rebel too. 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Longest Books

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For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

October 9: Longest Books I’ve Ever Read

In most cases, these are based on the edition that I read/own.

51v43macoil-_ac_us218_1. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1534 pages)- I read this one in college. I enjoyed the class where I read this, and I don’t remember it being quite this long, but we read a different edition, so it’s possible it was slightly adapted.

 

 

 

51autt1ny5l-_ac_us218_2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1488 pages)- In my high school French class we read an adaptation of this (like, a major adaptation. The book we read had about 120 pages. It was really more of a synopsis written in French!) and I read the whole brick (er… book) in college. I definitely think it’s a beautiful book but I could have done with less exploration of the sewer system in 19th century Paris.

 

51j4urrkj3l-_ac_us218_3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1296 pages)- This was another college read. My professor called Tolstoy a “great writer who could have used a great editor.” I think that sums up my stance on it!

 

 

 

51qrndx-oxl-_ac_us218_4. Shogun by James Clavell (1152 pages) I read this in high school and really enjoyed it. It was an interesting depiction of a European encountering an entirely different kind of life in feudal Japan. From what I understand now, this had some issues with historical accuracy, but it was still enjoyable.

 

 

51aradik9al-_ac_us218_5. Sarum by Edward Rutherford (1059 pages) I remember reading this book as a teenager. I liked parts of it and disliked other parts. I know it was about Stonehenge (and England in general) and it told different stories set there over different time periods. But I couldn’t tell you anything about any of those stories.

 

 

519tffz6szl-_ac_us218_6. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke  (1024 pages) I definitely wanted to like this book more than I did. I loved the idea of a fictional “study” of magic in 19th century England. I liked the story of the rivalry between two magicians. But ultimately, this felt like a chore to read.

 

 

419c5syx7xl-_ac_us218_7. The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon (1008 pages) The Outlander series is made up of long books, but the fifth is definitely the longest. Or maybe it felt longer because it wasn’t as fast moving as some of the other books in the series. A lot of character development happens here, but it’s primarily a transitional book. It serves to bring the characters relationships to where they need to be for book six.

 

51polcsfrl-_ac_us218_8. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor (986 pages) I remember a few scenes from this book vividly but a lot of it I remember as a sort of montage. I read it in college, I think. Amber was a compelling character and the book definitely left me wondering what would become of her in the future.

 

 

51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_9. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (960 pages) I think of Scarlett O’Hara as sort of Amber’s (see above) literary sister. Both are determined, glamorous, selfish, and scandalous. Both books also tell long stories that ultimately leave the reader in a place where we’re still wondering what will happen next to the characters. I suppose it’s a feat to write a book that’s nearly 1000 pages long, and leave readers wanting more!

 

51an8oy5w4l-_ac_us218_10. Hawaii by James Michener (937 pages) This book tells the story of several families over the course of Hawaii’s history. I remember some of the later portions but the earlier ones don’t come to mind at all. It’s been a long time since I read this though.

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Page To Screen Adaptations

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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!)

Since I did a mid-year book post not too long ago, I figured I’d do a throwback this week.  I went with the Top Ten Book To Movie Adaptations.  But since I’m including TV/miniseries I’m just going with “page to screen”.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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What do you think? Did I miss any?

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Character Names

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

May 22: Best Character Names (make this as narrow/broad as you’d like)

51k3i-j1fl-_ac_us218_1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– I don’t know which came first, the character or the expression “plain Jane.” But either way, they’re sort of inseparable. Plus, the Eyre sounds like “air” or “heir.” Which is consistent with both the bird imagery used by the character and what we later learn about her.

 

 

51hmsqsiztl-_ac_us218_2. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren– Actually that’s Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking. Not every character can pull off a name like that.

 

 

 

51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– Apparently in early drafts of the novel, Mitchell referred to her heroine as “Pansy.” All I can say is thank goodness for whoever made her change it! “Scarlett” is perfect for a character who causes tongues to wag wherever she goes.

 

 

51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_4. Precious Bane by Mary WebbPrudence Sarn is a great name for the heroine of this novel. Like the character, it’s strong and practical rather than delicate and pretty.

 

 

 

51hrmnxgool-_ac_us218_5. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray– Like her name, Becky Sharp is a teensy bit of cuteness surrounded by harsh edges that might cut you, if you’re not careful. Becky, of course, short for Rebecca, which means “captivating” which describes the character well. But beware of being too captivated…

 

 

 

41xt3sg-yl-_ac_us218_6. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle– The “Sh” in the beginning makes it sound like a secret. It also indicated someone asking for quiet to allow for thought. And the “lock” suggests something hidden or locked away. Overall a perfect name for a detective.

 

 

51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_7. Wuthering Heights by Emily BronteHeathcliff is a great name for the anti-hero-yet-somehow-not-quite-villain of this book. Dictionary.com defines a heath as “a tract of open and uncultivated land; wasteland overgrown with shrubs.” As a foundling, who was largely neglected following his adoption, Heathcliff can certainly be described as “uncultivated.” The addition of the “cliff” at the end of the name suggests danger. It’s consistent with a character who is untamed, vengeful, and unforgiving. 

417ccdcfnel-_ac_us218_8. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde- Etymologically, the name Dorian is linked to  “gold” or “golden” (think El Dorado”) which is consistent with the character’s appearance. But the “Gray” implies some kind of ambiguity, a suggestion that Dorian isn’t as perfect as his initial appearance suggests.

 

 

41gwjpjhljl-_ac_us218_9. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy- Gabriel Oak is a fitting name for the hero of this novel. “Gabriel” comes from the Hebrew meaning “God is my strength” and “Oak” of course suggests a very strong tree. Gabriel Oak is the loyal, steady, moral center of the novel. He draws strength of character, and integrity from the hardships that he endures.

 

51ycpilxgcl-_ac_us218_10. A Chrismas Carol by Charles Dickens- Ebenezer Scrooge‘s very name suggests his most notable character trait. The “nezer” hints at the word “miser” without being too on the nose. The last name also suggests “screw” as in he screws people over. I doubt that was intentional on Dickens’ part since I don’t know if the word screw was used in that way when the book was written, but it’s a nice touch now.

Top Ten Tuesday: Teenage Throwback

For the Broke and the Bookish‘s Top Ten Tuesday. A little late in the day today, but it’s still Tuesday!

September 12: Throwback Freebie: Ten Books I Loved During The First Year I Started My Blog, Favorite Books Published 5 or 10 or 15 Years Ago, Ten Older Books I Forgot How Much I Loved, etc. etc. Tweak however you want!

I struggled with this one a bit because I’ve done a post on childhood favorites and touched on them in several other posts as well. I’ve also done American classics. So I decided to look back to my teens.  What was I reading then? I made one or two rules, like if it was for school it doesn’t count. And this is what I ended up with. I actually learned a bit from looking back on my tastes as a teen. Some things I loved then I love now. But as a teen I was into melodrama. I still have a fondness for it, but I also appreciate subtlety now, in a way I didn’t back them.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_1. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– An unnamed heroine meets the handsome, wealthy Maxim DeWinter while working in France. She falls in love and they marry. Maxim is a widower who the owner of Manderley, a mansion in Cornwall. When the heroine arrives at her new home, she finds that Max’s late wife, Rebecca, is still Mrs. DeWinter as far as the staff are concerned. Especially Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper who seems obsessed with Rebecca. The heroine (she doesn’t even get a first name, while her predecessor gets the book title!)  finds her home and her marriage overshadowed by the deceptive legacy of the beautiful, Rebecca. I found a copy of this for $0.50 at a yard sale when I was about 14 and my dad said it was good, so I picked it up. I literally had no idea it was famous and no expectations. I think I read the whole thing in a few days!

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. We can never go back again, that much is certain. The past is still close to us. The things we have tried to forget and put behind us would stir again, and that sense of fear, of furtive unrest, struggling at length to blind unreasoning panic – now mercifully stilled, thank God – might in some manner unforeseen become a living companion as it had before.”

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_2. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews- Catherine Dollanganger lives with her parents, her older brother, Christopher, and her younger siblings, toddler twins named Cory and Carrie. But when their father dies, her mother, Corinne tells the kids that their grandparents (who they’ve never met) are still alive and are very wealthy. They disowned Corinne when she got married, but now they’re willing to take her back. So the Dollangangers go to Foxworth Hall, a Gothic mansion. They’re met by their Grandmother, who  brings them to a room adjoining the attic of Foxworth Hall and locks the door. Corinne’s father won’t give her an inheritance if she had children with their father, but he’s won’t live too long. So the children just have to stay in the attic until he dies. I read this when I was about 13. I don’t know how appropriate it was content wise, but I was utterly enthralled. In retrospect, aspects are obvious. The name “Dollanganger”, a pseudonym that Catherine’s parents made up, looks and sounds an awful lot like “doppelganger”. The oldest kid, Christopher, was named after his father, and Cathy, Cory and Carrie sound an awful lot alike…. A more experienced reader wouldn’t be surprised when the children, confined to the attic, repeat the sins of their parents. But at the time I was totally shocked. I devoured the book and all the sequels, and pretty much everything else Andrews wrote, which was actually only about 8-10 books. Most of the books attributed to Andrews were written by a ghostwriter hired by her family, following her death.

“It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like the sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. ‘Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine.’ Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic.”

61niazvuszl-_ac_us218_3. Intensity by Dean Koontz– I think I started this one Friday afternoon when I was around 14 and didn’t actually put it down until early Saturday morning, when I’d finished. Chyna Shephard is a graduate student, who is visiting the family of her friend, Laura, for a weekend. When Edgar Vess, a serial killer breaks in, he kills Laura’s whole family. He captures Laura; and Chyna, who’d been hiding, secretly follows to try to save her friend. But Laura is killed before that can happen, and Vess starts driving, with Chyna still in back of his motor home. When he stops at a gas station, she sneaks out to find a phone.  She overhears him bragging about Ariel, a young girl who he is holding prisoner in his basement, to the clerks just before he kills them. Chyna  continues, desperate to save Ariel. But before that can happen, Vess captures Chyna too. He’s intrigued by her actions and decides not to kill her right away. But what Vess doesn’t know is that Chyna has already survived an abusive childhood and isn’t going to see another child suffer. Nor will she be a willing victim. I think I admired Chyna when I first read this book. She was sort of like a superhero. Well, a superhero who could have just called the cops from the gas station, told them what she knew about Ariel, given them Vess’ license plate number, and avoided the whole hostage situation. Even as a teen I thought that would be the brighter move….

“The normality of the house terrified her: the gleaming surfaces, the tidiness, the homey touches, the sense that a person lived here who might walk in daylight on any street and pass for human in spite of the atrocities that he had committed.”

4105aauymzl-_ac_us160_4. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb– I think that when I was about 15 or 16 I tried to read all (or most) of the books Oprah picked for her book club. I forget, why. I’m not a huge Oprah fan really…. Anyway, this one resonated with me the most. It explores some  heavy topics: domestic abuse, mental illness, dysfunctional families; but it maintains a certain humor in spite of itself. It’s about a set of twins, one of whom is mentally ill (like in the opening scene he cuts off his hand because he thinks God told him to) and the other who is a productive member of society. The “sane” twin has a strong sense of responsibility toward his sibling. But as he helps his brother through a crisis, he becomes aware of his own self destructive tendencies. I think this was the first book I read that really made it clear that machismo and male posturing can be as damaging to men as misogyny can be to women.

“I didn’t respond to him. Couldn’t speak at all. Couldn’t look at his self-mutilation–not even the clean, bandaged version of it. Instead, I looked at my own rough, stained house painter’s hand. They seemed more like puppets than hands. I had no feelings in it either.”

 

51hkibf29rl-_ac_us218_5. A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett- I think this was one of the books that I discovered on my dad’s bookshelf one day, when I was looking for something to read. I read it when I was home from school sick, and it definitely took my mind off not feeling well.  It starts in Scotland in the 1760’s. Mack McAsh is an indentured coal miner who dreams of freedom. He finds an unlikely ally in Lizzie Hallim, the daughter of a laird, who is, in her own way, just as trapped as Mack is. They make their way to America amid intrigue and danger. In retrospect it was a bit far fetched the way that the novel kept Mack and Lizzie always running into one another, but it also depicts life in the American colonies prior to rebellion, as well as the slow decline of the British empire.

“I pledge this child to work in the mines, boy and man, for as long as he is able, or until he die.”

51jb19dy-ul-_ac_us218_6. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– I think I was about 17 or 18 when I first read this. It was the kind of book I breezed through in about a day, but it got me on a “brit chick lit” reading frenzy for a while. I don’t think I’d even read Pride and Prejudice at the time, so I didn’t appreciate this book as an adaptation until I read P&P my freshman year of college…. But I did enjoy on its own.  A lot of reviewers tend to say people relate to Bridget because she’s “everywoman” I disagree. She’s too ridiculous for that. But she’s forthright and honest about her mistakes in her diary. That makes us sympathize with her and root for her.

“It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting “Cathy” and banging your head against a tree.”

51qe5e8fmtl-_ac_us160_7. White Oleander by Janet Fitch– After she is sentenced to life in prison after killing her boyfriend, Ingrid’s daughter, Astrid, is sent from one foster home to the next, experiencing all kinds of trauma. When Astrid’s false testimony could set Ingrid free, Astrid makes it clear to her mother that she’ll do it, but it will have a deep psychological cost. This was one of the first books I can remember reading, where I would stop at different points and just appreciate the beautiful prose.

“They wanted the real mother, the blood mother, the great womb, mother of fierce compassion, a woman large enough to hold all the pain, to carry it away. What we needed was someone who bled…mother’s big enough, wide enough for us to hide in…mother’s who would breathe for us when we could not breathe anymore, who would fight for us, who would kill for us, die for us.”

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood- I think I was around 16 when I first read this. Of course, now most people are familiar with the TV series, and the fact that as far as dystopias go, this one is looking all too plausible. But it’s  rare that you can pinpoint when you form a definite, strong belief about something, but this book helped shape my views about reproductive rights, women’s rights, and separation of church and state.  My ideas were headed in this direction anyway, but this gave them a definite push.

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_9. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I remember I read this my senior year of high school, so I must’ve been about 17. I read it at the same time that my English class was reading Crime and Punishment. I saw strong parallels throughout the novel (though there are also a lot of allusions to Greek Classics) and even noticed that Richard’s narration quotes Dostoevsky at one point. I remember getting all excited and pointing it out to my teacher at one point! Like Crime and Punishment, it explores the psychological and moral deterioration that result from willfully destructive actions. But of course, this has a contemporary setting.

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_10. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– I read this freshman year of college, so I’d have been about 18 at the time. I was really pulled in by Scarlett as a character. She’s selfish, spoiled, entitled, and stubborn. In another book she might be a villain. But here, we find ourselves rooting for her, in spite of her actions. Melanie, her… well I guess “frenemy” would be the best word…on the other hand was a lovely, kind hearted character who I found far less compelling. Likable, but she wouldn’t keep me reading on her own.

“That is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned!”

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Houses

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week, I decided to give a shout out to some of my favorite literary houses. A great setting can be like a character, and these houses are very much a part of their respective worlds.

1. Thornfield Hall from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– A large, grand mansion on the moors, with a great library, a cute kid, a loving master, lots of servants, and something very strange happening in the attic….

The hall-door, which was half of glass, stood open; I stepped over the threshold. It was a fine autumn morning; the early sun shone serenely on embrowned groves and still green fields; advancing on to the lawn, I looked up and surveyed the front of the mansion. It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman’s manor-house, not a nobleman’s seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look. Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery…

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North Lees Hall is said to be Charlotte Bronte’s inspiration for Thornfield Hall

2. Manderley from Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– I consider Rebecca and Jane Eyre to be sort of literary cousins; both feature a heroine arriving at a large house full of servants and a master with Bluebeard-ish tendencies. But Manderley is in Cornwall. Our unnamed heroine marries it’s master Maxim De Winter only to discover that Manderley is haunted by the memory of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. A memory that is faithfully kept alive by one of the creepiest literary housekeeper’s ever.

The peace of Manderley. The quietude and the grace. Whoever lived within its walls, whatever trouble there was and strife, however much uneasiness and pain, no matter what tears were shed, what sorrows borne, the peace of Manderley could not be broken or the loveliness destroyed. The flowers that died would bloom again another year, the same birds build their nests, the same trees blossom. That old quiet moss smell would linger in the air, and the bees would come, and crickets, the herons build their nests in the deep dark woods. The butterflies would dance their merry jug across the lawns, and spiders spin foggy webs, and small startled rabbits who had no business to come trespassing poke their faces through the crowded shrubs. There would be lilac, and honeysuckle still, and the white magnolia buds unfolding slow and tight beneath the dining-room window. No one would ever hurt Manderley. It would lie always in its hollow like an enchanted thing, guarded by the woods, safe, secure, while the sea broke and ran and came again in the little shingle bays below.

3. Wuthering Heights from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte– The action of Wuthering Heights takes places at two houses, Wuthering Heights, and Thrushcross Grange. Thrushcross Grange is polite and civilized. Wuthering Heights embodies everything that is wild and dangerous about the moors. Most dangerous, perhaps, is Heathcliff, a character who can’t comfortably be classified as a “hero” or a “villain”.

Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling, “wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed. One may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house, and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.

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Top Withens; an abandoned farm thought to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.

4. Green Gables from Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery– Taking a break from the gothic, this pastoral house in the fictional town of Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island, is home to the plucky red headed orphan, Anne. It’s a place of learning and hard work, but also of laughter and love.

“I came to the conclusion, Marilla, that I wasn’t born for city life and that I was glad of it. It’s nice to be eating ice cream at brilliant restaurants at eleven o’clock at night once in a while; but as a regular thing I’d rather be in east gable at eleven, sound asleep, but kind of knowing even in my sleep that the stars were shining outside and the wind was blowing in the firs across the brook.”

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Green Gables as seen in the 1985 television miniseries.

5. Tara in Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– When the civil war takes southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara’s, familiar world away, she clings to her family home and plantation, Tara, with an iron grasp. Almost everything she does is to protect Tara and to keep it in her possession. Whenever she feels like all is lost, she goes to Tara.

Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills. Already the plowing was nearly finished, and the bloody glory of the sunset colored the fresh-cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even redder hues. The moist hungry earth, waiting upturned for the cotton seeds, showed pinkish on the sandy tops of furrows, vermilion and scarlet and maroon where shadows lay along the sides of the trenches. The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink-tipped waves were breaking into surf. For here were no long, straight furrows, such as could be seen in the yellow clay fields of the flat middle Georgia country or in the lush black earth of the coastal plantations. The rolling foothill country of north Georgia was plowed in a million curves to keep the rich earth from washing down into the river bottoms.

It was a savagely red land, blood-colored after rains, brick dust in droughts, the best cotton land in the world. It was a pleasant land of white houses, peaceful plowed fields and sluggish yellow rivers, but a land of contrasts, of brightest sun glare and densest shade. The plantation clearings and miles of cotton fields smiled up to a warm sun, placid, complacent. At their edges rose the virgin forests, dark and cool even in the hottest noons, mysterious, a little sinister, the soughing pines seeming to wait with an age-old patience, to threaten with soft sighs: “Be careful! Be careful! We had you once. We can take you back again.”

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Tara, as seen the the 1939 film

6. Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett– Yes, the garden is the main attraction for readers, but you can’t have a secret garden without a creepy old manor. Misselthwaite has over 100 rooms filled with secrets, a heartbroken master, and the hidden promise of life somewhere outdoors.

All she thought about the key was that if it was the key to the closed garden, and she could find out where the door was, she could perhaps open it and see what was inside the walls, and what had happened to the old rose-trees. […] Besides that, if she liked it she could go into it every day and shut the door behind her, and she could make up some play of her own and play it quite alone, because nobody would ever know where she was, but would think the door was still locked and the key buried in the earth. The thought of that pleased her very much.

7. Satis House in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens–  Long ago, Satis House was done up for the wedding of it’s mistress, the young Miss Havisham. Unfortunately she was left at the alter. Since then nothing has changed. The tables are still set, the rooms are still decorated. Miss Havisham has never left and can still be seen lurking around the wreckage in her wedding dress.

So unchanging was the dull old house, the yellow light in the darkened room, the faded spectre in the chair by the dressing-table glass, that I felt as if the stopping of the clocks had stopped Time in that mysterious place, and, while I and everything else outside it grew older, it stood still.

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Dickens (who lived nearby) used aspects of Restoration House in South East England, when describing Satis house.

8. Dragonwyck from Dragonwyck by Anya Seton– This lesser known novel by Anya Seton has a lot in common with Jane Eyre and Rebecca, in terms of character and plot. But Dragonwyck is a patroonship (click for more info on what that is) and that informs the mentality and motivations of one of the main characters in this book. Just how twisted can the “lord of the manor” be, and still get away with it? When his wife is awakened to the injustice of the system, she’s no longer blinded by love for her husband and the beauty of his estate.

Yes,” Nicholas replied, in a bored voice. “The name is Dutch. Dragonwyck, meaning place of the dragon. It derives from an Indian legend about a flying serpent whose eyes were fire and whose flaming breath withered the corn.” “Heavens!” With a light laugh, Miranda asked her new employer if the red men had sent forth a champion to do battle with the dragon.The patroon’s face was dark, unsmiling. “To appease him the wise men of the tribe sacrificed a pure maiden on the rocky bluff you see above you.”Miranda’s laughter died. Something in Nicholas Van Ryn’s cruel, handsome features made her imagine herself in the Indian maiden’s place.

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Dragonwyck as imagined in the 1946 film adaptation of the novel.

9.  Howards End in Howards End by EM Forester– The fate of this Hertfordshire country house represents the future of the British empire and class divides of England. The fact that it’s called Howards End should be a clue as to what the predictions are for the future.  The fate of this house is tied up in the dynamics of three families. The Schlegels are middle class, intellectual and impractical; the Wilcox’s are upper class, materialistic, and pragmatic; and the working class Basts are deprived but  hopeful.

Why did we settle that their house would be all gables and wiggles, and their garden all gamboge-coloured paths? I believe simply because we associate them with expensive hotels–Mrs. Wilcox trailing in beautiful dresses down long corridors, Mr. Wilcox bullying porters, etc. We females are that unjust.

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Preppard Cottage was used as the house in the 1992 film adaptation of Howard’s End.

10.  Villa Villekulla from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren– This was my dream house when I was about eight years old. I think it would be most kid’s dream home. Pippi lives there with no parents, or relatives (but with a pet monkey and a horse….). The kids next door, Tommy and Annika, come over the play a lot, and the tree outside the house grows soda. What’s not to love?

“But first I must introduce you to Mr. Nilsson,” said Pippi, and the little monkey took off his cap and bowed politely.
Then they all went in through Villa Villekulla’s tumbledown garden gate, along the gravel path, bordered with old moss-covered trees–really good climbing trees they seemed to be–up to the house, and onto the porch. There stood the horse, munching oats out of a soup bowl

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This house, on the Swedish island, Gotland, was used for Villa Villakula in the 1969 film, Pippi Longstocking, and the TV series of the early 1970’s.

Top Ten Tuesday: American Classics

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from Top Ten Tuesday, but there’s no reason why I have to do the same. Dwell in Possibility had the idea of doing the Top Ten American Classics in honor of the 4th of July, and I liked the idea.

  1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith– I related to Francie, the heroine of this coming of age story the first time I read it, and it’s definitely stayed with me over the years. It’s easy to say that it’s a sentimental novel about the days of youth, but those days we often remember as being “carefree” were really anything but. Smith doesn’t diminish the dramas of the schoolyard or the family crises with which Francie copes. 51fm3ylbgvl-_ac_us218_
  2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin- This is easy to see as an early feminist novel, in which the heroine struggles against the expectations of her family and New Orleans society. But you could also look at Edna as a narcissist who destroys her own life and that of those around her. I remember getting into an argument about this in my high school English class.51mlrlxawfl-_ac_us218_
  3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell– Yes this book is racist. The characters are racist. I don’t excuse that, but I feel like there is a lot to enjoy in spite of it. Scarlett O’Hara is an interesting character precisely because she isn’t likable. She’s selfish, spoiled, entitled, and stubborn. In another book she might be a villain. But here, we find ourselves rooting for her, in spite of her actions.51vxh2jgv8l-_ac_us218_
  4. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison– On one level, this is the coming of age story of Milkman Dead. On another level it’s about Milkman’s family, and a century’s worth of secrets, ghosts, and angst. On still another level, it’s about the universal search for lost identity.413unpgvwyl-_ac_us218_
  5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck– This novel, described by the author as his magnum opus, tells the stories of two families. It’s about the relationships between fathers and sons and siblings (the biblical story of Genesis- particularly Cain and Abel is a recurring allusion). It’s also about choice and humanity. It’s on my list of books to reread at some point because I suspect that by reading it at different points in my life I’ll get more out of it.51yjn5lr6l-_ac_us218_
  6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner– The title of this novel is taken from Macbeth’s soliloquy: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more: it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.” So right away Faulkner tells us that we are reading “a tale told by an idiot”. At first it seems like that’s a reference to Benjamin (Benjy) Compson, the intellectually disabled son of the Compson family, who narrates the first section of this novel. But it could also refer to the points of view of Quinton and Jason Compson, who narrate the second and third sections of the novel. Both display their own kinds of idiocy.  But the significant reference might lie in an earlier part of the soliloquy that the title alludes to: “all our yesterdays have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death.” As a whole this novel is really about the “way to dusty death” of the Compson family.51uoptbnrgl-_ac_us218_
  7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey– From the time we’re children we’re taught to follow directions and stay in the lines. The people who don’t do that are often segregated from society. Randale McMurphy enters a ward of such people at a mental hospital, where he defies the stern hand of Nurse Ratched, the dictator-like nurse who runs the ward. It’s easy to sympathize with the fun loving McMurphy at the expense of Nurse Ratched, but when we remember that we’re getting the story from a very unreliable narrator (a schizophrenic in a mental ward) it takes on different (and perhaps darker) tones.51bcb3mckel-_ac_us218_
  8.  The Turn of the Screw by Henry James– this gothic, ghost story is notable because it’s hard to determine the exact nature of the evil the story hints at. An unnamed narrator is hired to be a governess to two orphaned children. One of the children, has recently been expelled from school for unknown reasons. The narrator fears that it might have something to do with the two figures that she sees around the state, or her predecessor, Miss Jessel. Through subtle hints, James makes us question our narrator’s sanity. Are the ghostly figures that she sees just her imagination? It’s arguably more frightening if the narrator is losing her mind than if the ghosts were real.  51zs71vreul-_ac_us218_
  9. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson– I love Shirley Jackson. A lot of people only read “The Lottery” in school, but this short novel of Merricat Blackwood and her sister Constance, expands on some themes that the story touches on, and is chilling in its own way. After most of the Blackwood family dies after being poisoned, Merricat, Constance, and their uncle, Julian live in the family home. Constance was acquitted for the murder of her family but the court of public opinion holds her very much guilty. We do learn what eventually happened to the Blackwood family, and the revelation is both macabre and darkly humorous. 5180ubrqqzl-_ac_us218_
  10. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates– this is a fictionalized novel that imagines the inner life of Marilyn Monroe. But throughout the book Marilyn Monroe’s identity is constructed by external forces. I think that this book is largely about the American obsession with fame. It’s about the destruction that an identity can undergo when it’s defined from the outside. We may not consider it a classic now, but I suspect we will someday. And since Monroe is a classic American icon, I think this belongs on this list. 51qypwi7ffl-_ac_us218_