August 30: School Freebie (In honor of school starting up soon, come up with a topic that somehow ties to school/education. The book could be set at school/college, characters could be teachers, books with school supplies on the cover, nonfiction titles, books that taught you something or how to do something, your favorite required reading in school, books you think should be required reading, your favorite banned books, etc.)
I decided to go with teacher characters here. I tried to stay away from children’s books (because there are a lot of teacher characters there!) but I had to include a couple.
11/22/63 by Stephen King – In this one the main character is a teacher and a time traveler. He has to stop Kennedy’s assassination, but he gets to the 60’s early so he spends two years teaching high school. To say that isn’t the most exciting part of the book is sort of an understatement.
Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman – I have a feeling that trying to teach in a classroom that’s falling apart, while buried under paperwork, with no supplies, is, sadly, timeless. This book is funny just as often as it’s sad though.
Matilda by Roald Dahl – Obviously Miss Honey is an example of teaching at it’s best, and the Trunchbull is teaching at it’s worst. As a adult though I do wonder: Miss Honey is so sweet, how does she handle kids when they’re disrespectful? It seems like they’d walk all over her…
The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole – Ms. Frizzle is, well, let’s call her a truly unique educator. Though, as an adult, I do have to wonder: who approves and funds those field trips!? What kind of an administrator does that school have?
The Magus by John Fowles – Nicholas Urfe is an Englishman who accepts a teaching position on a remote Greek island. He doesn’t spend much time teaching though. He spends far more time playing bizarre mind games with a local reclusive millionaire.
The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman – Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson left her girls private school after a tragedy involving her friend. So of course she accepts a teaching position at that school many years later. What could go wrong?
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson – Beatrice Nash is the attractive new Latin teacher in Rye in 1914. She’s also a struggling writer and a forward thinker, which means she may bring some change to the small town..
As I enter into my own spinsterhood, I’m more aware of the representation of unmarried women of a certain age in media. Some literary spinster are great. Others are…less so. One book that I would recommend on the subject is Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making A Life of One’s Own, a book I read several years ago. But in this list I’m primarily looking at novels
Rules for this list:
A romantic history doesn’t automatically keep a woman off this list, but if her happy ending involves a romantic relationship, it does. Nothing against romance! But it’s not the only plotline a woman can have.
No Miss Havisham-like lunatics on here. Don’t get me wrong, Miss Havisham is a great character, but hardly anything for single ladies to aspire to!
Mildred Lanthbury in Excellent Women by Barbara Pym – Actually a lot of Pym’s work applies but when I think of Pym this is the first book that comes to mind. In it Mildred (who’s only 30, so I suppose by today’s standards she wouldn’t be considered a spinster at all) gets overly involved in her neighbors lives, with comic results.
Miss Marple books by Agatha Christie – I love her. Yes, she doesn’t have much in the way of family, so she solves crimes instead! I love that she’s not very judgmental though. She uncovers a lot of secrets in these books, but unless they involve murder, she’s pretty accepting of peoples vices and foibles.
Mrs. Rumphius by Barbara Cooney– I loved this children’s book about the title character whose mission in life is to add a bit of beauty to the world. No more, no less.
Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery– She didn’t look for or ask for motherhood, but she becomes a mother to a 13 year old orphan nonetheless. Despite her stern demeanor she’s kind and loving.
The ladies of Cranford in Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – Miss Matty and Miss Deborah are spinsters living in rather modest circumstances in a small Victorian English town, full of many single women. They face the upheaval in spite of their resistance to it. “In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women … For keeping the trim gardens full of choice flowers without a weed to speck them; for frightening away little boys who look wistfully at the said flowers through the railings; for rushing out at the geese that occasionally venture in to the gardens if the gates are left open … for kindness (somewhat dictatorial) to the poor, and real tender good offices to each other whenever they are in distress, the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient. ‘A man,’ as one of them observed to me once, ‘is so in the way in the house!’”
Circe by Madeline Miller- Yes the character showed up in Homer’s Odyssey before Miller got her hands on her, but Miller made her better (IMO) She spends a lot of the book isolated on the island of Aiaia but she turns her solitude into empowerment.
Miss Honey in Matilda by Roald Dahl– Yes, she’s fairly young when the book ends, so there’s no way to know if spinsterhood is her ultimate fate, but she gets a happy ending that doesn’t involve a romantic relationship in any way shape or form. We have the sense that if that never comes, she’ll be just fine.
Aunt Ada Doom in Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons- Forever traumatized by “something nasty in the woodshed” she nonetheless rules the Starkadder family with an iron fist. Her happy ending involves a trip to Paris rather than a trip down the aisle.
Edith Hope in Hotel de Lac by Anita Brookner– I went back and forth with this one since the main character, Edith, does have some romantic drama going on in her life and her ending is sort of ambiguous. But some of the choices she makes support my perception of her as a single lady.
Benny Hogan in Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy – In the film adaptation of this book, a pretty major change is made to the ending that makes it ineligible for this list. I actually like the film and think the ending works in that context. But in the novel, based on the way the characters are portrayed, I definitely think Benny makes the right choice.
2. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen- This is sometime accused of being a bit of a Practical Magic copycat, and I can see why. But really while the premise is the same (two magical sisters) this book does it’s own thing with it. It has a sequel, First Frost, too. I think the sequel takes it even further from Practical Magic territory though.
3. Circe by Madeline Miller- She’s best known as the witch who turned Odysseus’ men to pigs in The Odyssey. But in this novel Madeline Miller allows Circe to navigate her transition from a meek nymph-ish thing to a witch who is beloved and feared (and had a good reason for turning those guys into pigs!)
5. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness- I have some issues with this book too, but again it’s portrayal of witchcraft is rich and fully realized. And yes, there are vampires too. And some other creatures. But the witches were my favorite in this one. It starts a trilogy (which I still need to finish!) and is the basis for a TV adaptation as well.
6. The Witches by Roald Dahl– When I was a kid this petrified me. I had nightmares about the Grand High Witch. But I think it was the first time I remember when I actually enjoyed the fear. It was the magic of being terrified and enthralled at the same time.
7. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor– This has been dubbed the “Nigerian Harry Potter.” While there are similarities (common in almost all “youngster learns about magic” narratives) this has it’s roots deeply in African folklore, which differentiates it. The story is continued in the sequel Akata Warrior.
8. A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan- This books is about five generations in a family of witches, beginning in the 19th century and continuing through WWII. I had a few issues with this one, but it’s worth a read, even if only for the last 1/4 when the witches help us win WWII.
9. The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson– I had an interesting response to this one. It’s about a girl who lives in a rigid, puritanical society called Bethel. When she’s lured into the forbidden woods that surround Bethel, she is given the journal of the mother she never knew, by the spirits of four mythical witches. That sets off a curse on Bethel, that the protagonist has to figure out how to break. I felt like this had some really great ideas and intentions but the execution doesn’t always live up to them. It’s the first in series, so I’m hoping the next book, The Dawn of the Coven, helps to realize some of it’s potential.
10. The Winter Witch by Paula Bracken– I enjoyed this one while I was reading it, but after I finished it, I hardly gave it another thought. It’s about a strange, silent girl who gets married in early 19th century Wales. Her oddities make the the locals think she’s a witch, and they may just be right… It’s part of a series, and I haven’t read the others, but it stands alone.
September 29: Favorite Book Quotes (these could be quotes from books you love, or bookish quotes in general)
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.” — Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
For a character who is “no bird” Jane is often associated with them in this novel. Even her name sounds like “air”. But perhaps it is a free bird, as opposed the the caged bird she calls to mind here, that one associates with Jane the most. No matter what happens she is able able to take off when she chooses. She may seek out greener pastures, or go back to battle old ghosts. I think it takes a lot of nerve for her to assert this actually. At this point in the book, nothing in her life has told her she has value. She’s “poor, obscure, plain, and little,” but she feels that she has intrinsic worth in spite of that. That’s what gives her the guts to assert herself, to take off when she feels it’s necessary, and to refuse to be ensnared.
2. “From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood.” — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was about 12 and I definitely identified very strongly with Francie. I still do, even though I’m older now. This quote is a perfect example of why. I honestly do feel like books are my friends. Some people might see that as sad, but I see it as having reliable friends who never talk back and never leave me or let me down. (I do also have some actual, human friends too!)
I’ve always had a tendency to be hard on myself. Even when I was a child, I would take myself to task for my mistakes. I first read this book when I was about nine, and right away something clicked when I read that! It was so freeing to see things that way! Even now, if I have a bad day, I try to remember that there’s always tomorrow, and there are no mistakes in it yet! It doesn’t always help, but I do try to remember it.
This was a more recent read, and a big theme in this book is the perceptions of others vs. self perception. That really resonated with me, even independent of the rest of the book. I think that we constantly create different versions of ourselves with different people. To some extent that’s natural: we behave differently with out friends from adulthood for example, than we do with people who have know us since we were children. But it can be cultivated too. Sometimes we have a sense of how someone else sees us, and we can try to live up to it. How a stranger sees you for the first time is powerful, because it can give us the feeling of a blank slate. We can sort of create ourselves anew.
This is from a conversation between Gandolf and Frodo, after Gandolf tells Frodo about the Ring. Frodo wishes that this hadn’t happened during his lifetime, and this is Gandolf’s response. They’re words that I’ve thought of a lot through the craziness of 2020. Things happen that we don’t control. But we control our response.
This quote stands out to me because of the distinction made between loving someone and thinking well of them. We often think of loving people as thinking of them in the highest regard. But really, we can love people and not think well of them at all. We can love people and not like them. So the distinction makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
Just very true words. People can turn anything into a weapon. They can make things that are supposed to help up, things that are supposed to make us better, destructive. Is that true of everyone? No, of course not. A whisky bottle in the hands on one man may be meaningless. It might simply mean that he likes the taste of whisky and enjoys a glass of it and the end of a long day. But in the hands of another man, it could mean that he’s about to become a violent drunk. Similarly, the Bible is a book that is supposed to teach people to be kind to one another, to help each other. And one person may use it that way. But another may use it as a way to oppress others and even as a justification for it.
8. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” –The White Album by Joan Didion
I just think that this is so true. When something terrible happens, we immediately try to understand it. We try to put it into some kind of workable context. I once lost someone close to me, and I almost immediately tried to put that loss in narrative terms. I thought about how this person’s narrative arc was complete, even though he was young. I was aware that I was imposing a narrative on something that didn’t necessarily have one, but it did help a bit to think of it that way. Stories help us get through life, by escaping it, and sometimes by giving us tolerable ways to understand it.
9. “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” – The Twits by Roald Dahl
Once again a children’s book proves that it can articulate something more simply and memorably than something intended for adults. I think that this was something that I tried to convey when I wrote Beautiful. Needless to say, I definitely think it’s true. And the reverse is too. Someone might be totally gorgeous, but if they act like a jerk, sooner or later, they won’t look so appealing.
September 1: Books that Make Me Hungry (They could have food items on the cover, foods in the title, be about foodies or have food as a main plot point… they could be cookbooks or memoirs, etc.)
I actually did a list like this a few years ago. But I took up the challenge again and came up with ten more. I must confess, I’m not much of a foodie. Oh, I like food, don’t get me wrong! Give me something I like, and I’ll eat plenty of it!. But I can by a picky, finicky eater. I don’t like to cook. And there are lots of foods I don’t like. So making me hungry is an uphill battle for a book. But here are some that have accomplished the task!
2. Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson– There is a character in this who is homesick for England and it’s food. Actually, a few of the descriptions of British food, did make me a bit peckish (though a few also make me wonder what that character was thinking!). The description of some of the Brazilian foods and fruits also sounded good.
August 25: Questions I Would Ask My Favorite Authors (Living or dead. You can post 10 questions for one author, one question each for 10 different authors, or anything else!)
I honestly had trouble thinking of ten (interesting/intelligent) questions that I would ask out authors, so I decided to make up my own topic this week.
1. Matilda by Roald Dahl– For me, Matilda is sort of the OG fictional bookworm. I loved her as a child and I love her now.
2. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman- In a lot of ways I’m very different from Nina, but we have one thing in common: we love reading so much that it threatens to eclipse reality at times. We have to be careful to remember that there are other things worth doing too!
3. The Starless Sea by Erin Morganstern- I feel like this book is a love letter to bookworms everywhere. We meet many bookworms in this book; bookworms that burrow into a world far below the surface of their earth, filled with books. But perhaps we identify the most with Zachary, a grad student who comes across a book in the university library and finds a series of clues that leave him to a secret, ancient library.
4. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Daniel finds a book in the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” (I love the idea!) but when he tried to find other works by the author, he discovers that they’re being destroyed for reasons he can’t understand. He begins a race against time to rescue them.
5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak– Nazi Germany is a bad place to be for a book lover like Liesel, who has to steal her beloved books to save them from being burned.
6. The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler– This book is about a librarian in Long Island who is sent an antique volume, that may have some connection to his family. As he reads the tale of circus and carnival performers, he comes to believe that the book might be the key to saving his sister’s life.
7. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell– This is a book about a girl who loves books so much that they inspire her own creativity. Cathy is a fan fiction writer who loves life on the page, whether it’s one she wrote or someone else did. But she has some difficulty figuring out life in the real world.
8. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett– In this novella, Bennett imagines what might happen if the Queen of England discovered a love of literature late in life. Would she neglect her royal duties in order to pursue her new passion? And how might the people in her life react?
9. 84 Charring Cross Road by Helen Hanff- This book is a collection of letters between Helen Hanff, a New York writer, and a Frank Doel, an London bookseller. Over the course of 20 years they carry on a correspondence, and a friendship, centered on their shared love of books. It’s a beautiful example of how literature can unite different people across oceans and cultural divides.
10. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi– This memoir in books is about how the author, once a professor, gathered seven of her most committed female students in her Tehran apartment to read and discuss forbidden Western literature. As forces in the outside world seized hold of universities and censored artistic expression, these women read and discussed freely. Reading this book about book lovers committed to reading and discussing novels, made me realize just how subversive the act of reading a novel can actually be.
So I decided to do short stories that are perfect for the season
1. Don’t Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier- This story features a lot of creepiness in under 50 pages. There’s a slow building sense of dread as a married couple, who have recently lost their daughter go on vacation in Venice and try to start anew. We have the sense early on that their misfortune isn’t over yet and we turn out to be very right. Then Venetian setting is gloomy and Gothic and the bereaved parents make sympathetic protagonists. There are several threats ranging from a serial killer to some weird psychic sisters, but the most dangerous threat may be what the protagonists can’t (or won’t) allow themselves to see.
2. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter- Angela Carter is known for her feminist take on classic fairy tales. In this story she takes on one of the creepiest fairy tales out there: Bluebeard is sort of deliciously Gothic to begin with: a girl marries a man who gives her the keys to all the rooms in his grand house, and tells her not to open one door. Of course she opens it, and she finds something very disturbing in there. This story has a creepy setting (a vast, decadent mansion/castle), a nasty villain, and lots of blood.
3. The Grown-Up by Gillian Flynn– This is the rare short story that was published as a stand alone. And it does stand on its own. We have a character who poses as a psychic is out to make a quick buck off a family who thinks they’re being haunted. She discovers that they are (in a sense) right, and that she may never be free of them. In some ways this is an homage to the Victorian ghost story, but Flynn gives it a contemporary twist.
4. The Landlady by Roald Dahl- You can see some of the creepy villains from Dahl’s children’s stories in the title character of this short story. She’s less over the top than some of the stuff that Dahl writes for younger readers but she still makes your skin crawl in a really primal way. I read somewhere that this was Dahl’s attempt to write a ghost story but it didn’t quite come out that way. IMO that’s fine, because it’s plenty creepy as it is!
5. The Bus by Shirley Jackson- I almost went with “The Lottery” which is Jackson’s best known short story but I find this one more “halloweenish” (and yes, I made that word up). It’s about an older woman who gets off the bus at the wrong stop and ends up somewhere somewhat familiar but very twisted. Another story that I almost chose was “The Summer People” but that also didn’t seem quite right for Halloween. But many of Jackson’s stories are thematically suitable.
6. The Truth is A Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman– This story was originally published as part of a collection and later performed before a sold out crowd at the Sydney Opera House in 2010 where Gaiman read the tale live as illustrator, Eddie Campbell’s, artwork was presented on large screens and accompanied by live music composed for the story and performed by the FourPlay String Quartet. But even if you just read the story as a story, its unsettling in its portrayal of greed and revenge. Fortunately the story is available with Campbell’s beautiful artwork.
7. The Horla by Guy de Maupassant– I read this in a college French class (it’s available in English though!) and I was really unsettled by it. It’s written as journal entries of a character who sees a boat and waves at it. The boat in question has recently arrived from Brazil and the man realizes that his wave may have inadvertently been taken as an invitation by something on that boat. As the narrator becomes obsessed with this thing that may have invaded his home, his body and his life, we begin to doubt his sanity. The fact that Maupassant was committed to a mental hospital about a week after finishing it, makes it even creepier.
8. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates- This story is really creepy in a way you don’t expect. Oates said it was inspired in part by serial killer Charles Schmid, who preyed on teen girls. But the focus isn’t really on the presumptive bad guy, Arthur Friend. Rather it’s on Connie, a rebellious, self absorbed teen who knows Arthur from a local restaurant. He seems nice enough when he shows up unexpectedly at her house one day, with his friend Ellie. In only a few pages Oates takes us from Connie’s initial flattery at Friend’s attention, to her growing unease and outright fear as she comes to believe that she has no choice but to do what Friend tells her. As a reader, we can see how Friend preys on Connie’s naivete and vanity. It’s a reminder that the most frightening monsters often comes disguised as friends (pun intended) and the most harrowing journeys often take place in a single location in only a few minutes time.
May 21: Books That I Refuse to Let Anyone Touch (too special/valuable, perhaps?) (submitted by Savannah Grace @ Scattered Scribblings)
But I don’t have any books that I won’t let anyone touch, so I decided to make up my own topic again.
The Witches by Roald Dahl– When the witches remove their human faces to reveal their witch faces underneath. The idea of peeling off your own skin really creeped me out (still does actually!)
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by Deborah and James Howe– I remember my teacher reading this to the class in first or second grade. It’s a pretty dumb story about a vampire bunny that sucks the juice out of vegetables. I think it scared me because the teacher explained that it as based on Dracula and told us about Dracula (including the fact that the character was loosely based on Vlad the Impaler) so I had nightmares about a combination vampire bunny/Dracula sucking my blood at night…
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle– An evil, disembodied brain tortures a child who can’t bounce a ball properly. That is my most vivid memory of this book. Yes apparently there’s a lot of other stuff that happens, but something about that scene stays with me. Maybe because I’m not good at bouncing balls either…
Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak– In some ways I actually think this books is beautiful, but as a kid the idea of a baby being abducted by goblins and replaced with an ice sculpture scared me! Actually I think the fact that it happens while his sister wasn’t looking scared me the most. I really identified with how guilty she must feel. Fortunately she gets him back.
Mary Poppins by PL Travers– I had to google to find out which book this was, because I couldn’t remember. Actually I couldn’t remember anything about it other than the scene where Mary Poppins takes the children to a candy store and the owner, breaks off her fingers (made of candy canes) and gives them to the children to eat. Major nightmares! Thank goodness that scene didn’t make it into the movie!
Peter Pan by JM Barrie– I loved this book some of it is scary! The idea of a crocodile biting off someone’s hand always sounded painful. Also, Tinkerbell was pretty scary when you think about it. She tries to get the lost boys to kill Wendy. That’s pretty treacherous!
Cinderella- In one version of the fairy tale (I don’t remember if it was this one) the step sisters cut off their heels and toes to try to get their feet into the slipper. That gave me some very disturbing mental images of maimed feet and slippers filled with blood.
The Monster At The End of This Book by Jon Stone and Mike Smollen- I admired Grover as a kid. When I learned that my dad didn’t have a middle name, I even granted him the moniker “Grover” to use. So if Grover was telling me there was a monster at the end of this book and I should stop reading before I got there, I was going to listen! The books stayed safely in my bookshelf until one day when my mom, intent on ignoring the wise muppet’s advice, took it out and read it to the end. I was terrified until she got there.
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett– Even though this is and was one of my favorites, as a kid the idea of losing a parent terrified me (well it still does…) and I think I really identified with Sara when I read this.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
1. The Story of An Hour by Kate Chopin– Like Chopin’s famous novel The Awakening, this short story is an early exploration of how confining marriage could be for a woman at the turn of the century. It begins when Mrs. Mallard is informed of her husband’s death and follows her through the next hour, as she absorbs what that means for her life now.
2. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson– This is probably one of the more famous examples from the genre and for good reason. The more you think about what happens and the reasons for it, the more disturbing the implications become. All the residents of a small town gather one summer morning to draw lots. Eventually, the residents are narrowed down more and more, until one is selected. What eventually becomes of the “winner” of this lottery will unsettle you.
3. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway– I’m not usually a Hemingway fan at all, but I feel like in this case, his spare, economical style served the material well. A man and a woman are waiting at a train station. We follow their conversation over several pages and eventually we can put two and two together and understand where they’re going and why. Without any narrative commentary, the reader still gets a sense of the emotional distance between these people, and the tension comes from what they’re not saying.
4. The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield- This poignant story deals with a wealthy family preparing for a garden party. When they receive the news that their neighbor has died, the daughter Laura wants to call off the party. She’s overruled by the rest of the family. But when Laura is sent to bring some flowers to the dead man’s grieving family, she’s forever changed by what she encounters. To me, it’s a perfect example of what makes the short story special. It covers what is really a tiny piece of the character’s life (only a few hours), but also a time that will change her in a profound way.
5. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter- The title story in Carter’s collection of retold fairy tales, this story explores the classic fairy tale, Bluebeard, in which a girl marries an older man and is taken to his castle, where she’s given the keys to all the rooms and is told that she can’t open one room. Of course, she does open it and discovers the bloody corpses of her husband’s previous wives. Carter’s retelling explores themes that are prevalent throughout her work, but most particularly her fairy tale retellings. These themes include sexuality and maternal instinct.
6. Shopgirl by Steve Martin– This novella by Steve Martin (yes, that Steven Martin) focuses on Mirabelle, a department store salesgirl in her late 20s who becomes involved with an older man. But it’s not the typical older man/younger woman misogynistic fantasy that you’d expect from an older male author. The focus of the novel remains on largely on Mirabelle throughout; her loneliness, her frustrations, and the reasons that she becomes involved in this relationship. It’s funny and poignant at the same time.
7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer– Margaret Johnson, a wealthy woman from North Carolina, travels to Florence with her daughter Clara in 1953. Margaret’s husband, Roy, stays home to work. In Florence, Clara meets Fabrizio Nacarelli, a young man with whom she falls in love. Clara isn’t quite as she first appears, which may be a barrier to her future with Fabrizio. Margaret hates the thought of her daughter suffering the pain of love gone wrong. But she is not able to express her concerns to Fabrizio or his family due to the language barrier. Or so she thinks. As Clara and Fabrizio’s relationship progresses Margaret realizes that while she’s afraid of what will happen if Clara’s secret is discovered, her fear may be overruled by her hope for Clara’s happiness. These dual maternal instincts tear at her, as she tries to figure out what is in her daughter’s best interests.
8. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan– In 1962, Florence and Edward fall in love and get married. Both are virgins. While Edward is nervous about his wedding night, he is nonetheless looking forward to marriage. Florence, on the other hand, is terrified by the little she knows is involved in sexual intimacy. Because they’re both young and unsure, they navigate this tension in a clumsy way. But the words they don’t say, and the gestures they fail to make, may ultimately be what determines the fate of their marriage and the course of their lives. The narration runs parallel to the conflict. What isn’t explicitly said about the characters is implied. And those are the things that may make all the difference. This book caused some controversy in 2007 when it was nominated for the Booker Prize. At less than 40,000 words, it’s technically a novella, but it was allowed onto the shortlist of novels by the panel.
9. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin– Omelas is a utopian city where all the residents live in peace and prosperity. As our unnamed narrator describes it, it seems too good to be true. In order to convince the reader that it is true, the narrator begins to speak of the price that is paid for the city’s happiness. It’s a price that’s initially horrifying to the residents once they learn of it. But most make their peace with it, knowing that it’s for the greater good. But some people aren’t able to accept it and end up leaving Omelas. The unasked question for the reader is, of course, “which would you be?” Would you live in paradise knowing that somewhere, an unseen injustice takes place all the time to keep you there? Or would you leave?
10. The Landlady by Roald Dahl– Billy Weaver is a young man traveling from London to Bath on business. He stops overnight at a bed and breakfast. The landlady is an older woman whom Billy initially suspects might be a little senile. When he goes to sign the guestbook he sees that two of the previous lodgers have names that seem familiar to him but he can’t quite place. The landlady gives him some tea and they chat a bit. Nothing that happens seems ominous but the feeling that something is “off” pervades the story. When the truth about the B&B is revealed the reader will go back and look through the story trying to spot the clues.