Top Ten Tuesday: Upcoming Releases for the 2nd Half of 2019

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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June 18: Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2019

91jsy6np7vl._ac_ul436_1. The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis– I’ve enjoyed Fiona Davis’ previous novels The Address and The Dollhouse. Like those, this is set in historical NYC, which is one of my favorite literary settings.

  • Publication Date: July 30, 2019

81aluwjrekl._ac_ul436_2. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware–  I liked several of Ruth Ware’s previous thrillers (In A Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10) and I really enjoyed her most recent The Death of Mrs. Westaway, so hopefully this one continues that trend.

  • Publication Date: August 6, 2019

71x4baxyxvl._ac_ul436_3. The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale #2) by Margaret Atwood- I have mixed feelings about this sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. While it was a very influential book in my life, I do wish a sequel didn’t feel as timely or relevant as it does. But I’m definitely curious about Atwood’s response to some of what has happened since the publication of The Handmaid’s Tale.

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2019

81r6y57acfl._ac_ul436_4. Akin by Emma Donoghue – Emma Donoghue is another favorite author of mine. I loved The Wonder, Room, and Slammerkin. The setting of this one (Post WWII France) intrigues me too.

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2019

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5. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern– I really enjoyed Morgernstern’s debut The Night Circus and I’ve been eagerly awaiting her follow up.

  • Publication Date: November 5, 2019

81ypuey8lbl._ac_ul320_6. I Like To Watch by Emily Nussbaum– I think that Emily Nussbaum’s essays arguing for new ways of criticizing TV have the potential to be both entertaining and insightful.

  • Publication Date: June 25, 2019

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7. The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West– I think that this look at the sociopolitical moment that we’re in has the potential to be incisive and funny.  In this book, West looks at films, TV shows, internet phenomena and lifestyle guru’s who have created our culture.

  • Publication Date: November 5, 2019

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8. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James–  (is this cheating since technically it’s released in early 2020?) I discovered Simone St. James last year and I really like her gothic romantic suspense. She seems to be moving into more contemporary stuff with her last few books but as of now, I’m still along for the ride.

  • Publication Date: February 18, 2020

9124eym6u8l._ac_ul436_9. Where The Light Enters by Sara Donati– I’ve been looking to Sara Donati’s follow up to The Gilded Hour for a while. I really enjoyed the first book in her new series and I’m eager to see how she develops the plot and the characters.

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2019

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10. The End of Forever Saga by Paullina Simons– I’ve had really varied reactions to Paullina Simons as a writer. But this trilogy, that incorporates romance and time travel sounds like it might be up my alley. The first book has already been released and reactions seem pretty polarizing. Some loved it some didn’t. Then other two books are being released over the next couple of months so I’m sure I’ll get around to them at some point soon.

 

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. 

 

 

International Women’s Day Reads

March 8th is International Women’s Day. Women have done amazing things throughout history (often with no credit) and continue to do amazing things every day. Here are some books that I’d suggest to female (or any) readers who want to explore, celebrate, and understand womanhood.

1.

How to Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis and The Heroine’s Bookshelf are two books that look at how female protagonists have been portrayed in literature, and how these depictions have influenced the authors.

51-74n0euhl-_ac_us218_2. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf- In this extended essay Woolf asserts that there have been female literary geniuses throughout history and that the reason that so many go unknown is that women have traditionally not been educated and encouraged to write, as men have. They’ve been pushed in other directions. Even when they did produce great literature it was often anonymous or under pseudonyms, so their work could be judged on its own merits. “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman,” she says. Contemporary female writes still face sexism which doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. But enough of us “have money and a room of [her] own,” (what Woolf saw as the necessities if a woman is to write fiction) so that women are a very real force in publishing.

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood– Atwood’s feminist dystopia is frighteningly close to reality, unfortunately. But then Atwood has said that when writing her tale Gilead (once the United States) she set a rule for herself: “I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time.” She makes a strong case for why a woman’s ability to control and make decisions about her own body cannot be separated from discussions of feminism, or humanity for that matter.

51avlw-rakl-_ac_us218_4. Americanah by Chimiamanda Ngozi Adichie- Obviously the lens of my own experience is limited. It’s limited by various factors: education, economics, race, gender and a million others. Everyone has those limits to some extent. Adichie’s work helps us step outside those limitations for a little while. It can help us understand what the world may be like for someone different. In this case, I’m very different from Ifemelu, the female protagonist in this novel. But it allowed me to see some of the struggles that an immigrant woman of color faces in the US, in contrast to her native Nigeria. It also shows what life is like for a Nigerian woman in her home country. Ifemelu’s race and nationality influence how she is perceived in both countries. Through allowing me to see how Ifemelu’s race and gender affect her life, this book helped me see how my own life has been shaped by those factors in a very different way.

51bven7uisl-_ac_us218_5. The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess by Leonard Shalin– This is the only book in this post written by a man, but it may be of interest to anyone interested in gender issues. During pre-literate times, feminine values were dominant. Goddesses were worshiped and a lot of societies had a matriarchal structure. This changed with the rise of alphabetic literacy, which reconfigured the human brain. The act of learning to read exercises the left hemisphere of the brain, making it dominant over the right, which is more holistic and visual. The left brain is linked to masculine values and the right to feminine. As Western culture became more literate there was an insistence on a male deity and a rise in misogyny. Interestingly if you look at major witchhunts in the last millennium, they tend to happen within about a hundred years of a printing press being introduced to that part of the word. Does this explain why the past 2000 years have seen so much subjugation of women? That’s up to the reader to decide. It’s definitely an interesting thesis.

 

 

The Books that Made Us Feminists

This article came out in The Guardian yesterday. In it, a lot of female writers (Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein, Jeanette Winterson etc) discuss the literary work that made them feminists. Some of the answers were predictable (The Female Eunuch, The Second Sex) and others less so (The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch was a favorite of mine and Mary Beard; The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather, Middlemarch by George Eliot,  An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria by Sigmund Freud, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson).  Naturally this made me think about the books that made me a feminist.

The first question I asked was “did books make me a feminist?” Perhaps in part. I think that my parents were huge influences in making me a feminist. My mom is a fierce, strong, loving, generous woman. My dad is one of those rare men who sees women as people; actual human beings who are worthy of the same respect and consideration as men. So having those role models was instrumental. But my parents also read to me. A lot. When I learned how, they encouraged me to read for myself. They recommended a wide range of books. I think they were both instrumental in making me a feminist and making me a reader. And reading definitely strengthened my feminism.

51fkpmqzdyl-_ac_us218_Perhaps the first book to get me thinking in that direction was Jane Eyre. To be clear, I was already of the opinion that women are capable of far more than they’re given credit for. That was a belief that wasn’t uncommon in the media that I consumed as a teen. But reading about a woman in the 19th century, written by a woman of the 19th century, who not only espouses those beliefs but lives her life by them was a bit of a revelation. Jane was a character born “poor, obscure, plain, and little” and finds herself thrust into what seems like an almost Cinderella-like situation. Her wealthy employer, with whom she is in love, wants to marry her. But when she realizes that the marriage would compromise her principles she walks away from love and financial security in order to be true to herself.

“I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”

Not only was this the first time that such an idea  was so clearly laid out, but it was laid out by a woman who, based on circumstances seemed to have won a jackpot. Career prospects for a 19th century woman were limited to say the least. Marriage prospects for someone with no money and not much in the way of looks were also not great. Jane had no family to fall back on. But she lived according to her principles, consenting to marry only when she, and Mr. Rochester were in positions where it wouldn’t compromise her integrity to do so.

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_I read Jane Eyre as a teenager. I think it was during my sophomore year of high school. A few years later I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which highlighted just how much of a public space women’s bodies are. Not only are they used to sell everything from clothing to jewelry to  and fitness, but people feel that they have every right to tell a grown woman what she can do with her body. The choice to share her body with someone should belong to the woman in question. Instead it often becomes a public discussion. Is what this woman doing “moral” or “right”? Those questions are seldom asked of men. If a woman is pregnant her body becomes even more public. In her novel, Margaret Atwood took all of these ideas, which are so prevalent and pushed them just a little bit further. She created a society in which fertile women are stripped of their names and given the names of the men to whom they “belong”. In this society, women have no agency regarding their bodies. They are required to be part of a fertility ritual, if they conceive they must bear the children and then given them away. Essentially they are denied personhood and defined only by their bodies.

“I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.”

This highlighted how much of some physical aspects of womanhood are considered public domain in our society (while others, such as menstruation, are inexplicably taboo) and it pushed my thinking further in the direction in which it was already heading.

51hapmjw7cl-_ac_us218_When I was in college, I encountered Virginia Woolf for the first time. A Room of One’s Own highlighted how much of our literary tradition has been defined by men. Women’s voices have traditionally be silenced. That’s not because they haven’t had the talent or the ideas. It’s because they lived in a world that wasn’t willing to listen. In this book, Woolf imagines that Shakespeare had a sister of equal genius. But she was illiterate. She was never educated or encouraged and she never wrote a word. Obviously if that were true it would be a tremendous loss for humanity. According to Woolf it is all to possible:

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”

She therefore leaves us with a call to action:

Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream. For I am by no means confining you to fiction. If you would please me – and there are thousands like me – you would write books of travel and adventure, and research and scholarship, and history and biography, and criticism and philosophy and science. By so doing you will certainly profit the art of fiction. For books have a way of influencing each other. Fiction will be much the better for standing cheek by jowl with poetry and philosophy.”

I think that seeing so many female writers, of different ages, genres, and experiences talking about the books that made them feminists, means that her words were headed. We can never know what talent was never developed because of people feeling threatened or being small minded. But we can work to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the future.

Did these books “make me a feminist”? I don’t know. Perhaps I was already a feminist and these books gave me a vocabulary for my ideas. Or perhaps them illuminated aspects of feminism that I might not otherwise have considered. But the literary work of other women has definitely shaped my thinking, and it’s been interesting to reflect on how.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I’m Thankful For

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

November 21: Top Ten Books I’m Thankful For (Happy Thanksgiving week in the USA!)

I’m thankful for books period! I can’t imagine my life without them. I can’t imagine myself without them. But if I had to narrow it down to ten, these would definitely be on my list:

41qaj1ebj3l-_ac_us218_1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion- A little less than two years ago I lost a loved one. I found that a lot of the books out there about grief ultimately ended with platitudes, with cliches and saccharine reassurances. But Didion’s memoir of her husband’s death (while their daughter was in a coma fighting for her life!) felt honest and real to me in a way that other books didn’t. It confronts the absurdity that we feel in the face of such a loss; the sense that things seem normal but they’re not supposed to be.  Then we go into the the grief- the violent waves of feeling, and mourning, is what happens in the meantime, the general sadness as we try to put ourselves back together again.

 Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.                                                        The question of self-pity.
Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file (“Notes on change.doc”) reads “May 20, 2004, 11:11 p.m.,” but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file in May. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact.
For a long time I wrote nothing else.
Life changes in the instant.
The ordinary instant.

51vrv0hceml-_ac_us218_2. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi-  This really showed me how subversive and liberating the act of reading can be. It made me more thankful for my ability to read, and to do so without restriction.  The author, Nafisi, was a professor of Literature at the University of Tehran.  In 1995 she resigned her position because of increasingly repressive policies that grew even worse as time went on. But for two years, she had seven of her best female students come to her house every week, to read and discuss forbidden Western literature. This forum allowed the women to speak their minds about the political, social, cultural, and religious implications of living under strict Islamist rule. This gives the reader and understanding of revolutionary Iran. But what this book club really did was give women a chance to connect to a world they might never know otherwise. It allowed them confront different ways of thinking and accept them, reject them or modify them. In other words, it’s about how art helped these women to survive, to connect and to understand themselves in an extreme situation.

There, in that living room, we rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings; and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and frightened we were, like Lolita we tried to escape and to create our own little pockets of freedom,”

51swo9un1-l-_ac_us218_3. Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery– I love Anne dearly. I would never want to give her up. But something about Emily spoke to the creative in me at a very young age. It’s that connection that I’m specifically thankful for. Unlike Anne, who was an orphan since she was a baby, Emily, lost her beloved father as a tween and was sent to live with relatives. That gives Emily a sort of melancholy right off. She knows what she’s lost.  Writing for her is a form of survival. It’s a way of communicating with her father. Initially, that’s a literal communication; she writes him letters. But it becomes more abstract as she gets older. I can relate to Emily’s desire to express certain ideas and feelings that don’t readily lend themselves to words.

“It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside– but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond– only a glimpse– and heard a note of unearthly music.”

51bkx0sulel-_ac_us218_4. Ramona the Pest by Beverley Cleary- Ramona taught me so much as a kid. I saw so much of myself in her. I tried to do the right thing, to understand what people wanted of me, but sometimes I fell short. It was nice to know that the same could be said of this character. Not only does Cleary have obvious sympathy for the misunderstandings that cause Ramona to be called a pest, but she also sees it as a tool for empowering a character who doesn’t have a lot of other resources. I liked the idea that what other people found annoying could be my way of getting what I wanted! This is definitely one of the books that first made me fall in love with reading.

“People who called her a pest did not understand that a littler person sometimes had to be a little bit noisier and a little bit more stubborn in order to be noticed at all.”

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood- I’m horrified that we live in a world where this novel is increasingly relevant. But if we must live in a world like that for time being, I’m thankful that it exists. It’s a warning and a call to arms in one volume. I read it for the first time in high school. At the time, I was just starting identify what being a feminist meant to me, as opposed to how other people perceived it. Before I read this book I tended to think of it as  equal opportunity for education and employment. I saw it as the idea that I didn’t need a man to survive, and that my value wasn’t defined by my male partner. I still believe all of that. But this book really illustrated how much physical autonomy is a part of it. Women’s bodies are seen by our society as a sort of common ground. From there it’s a very slippery slope. Men start feeling qualified to make decisions about women’s health, their sexuality.  In so many ways this has ceased to be speculative fiction, and become frighteningly realistic. But there is one way that the United States is different from Gilead. We can read what we want. And that might be the best reason to read this book. It’s why I’m so thankful that it exists.

“But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.
Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.”

51pwjyt4e0l-_ac_us218_6. Beauty by Robin McKinley- When I first started college, I had a question for one of the girls in the dorm room down the hall from mine (don’t ask me what it was, I honestly don’t remember!) When I opened the door, she was sprawled on her bed reading this book. Immediately we started talking about fairy tale retellings! So this book helped me make one of my first friends in college. Actually that’s not the only friend that I’ve made due to Beauty and the Beast retellings (but that’s another story…)  But it also was one of my first exposures to fairy tales retold for older readers. It allowed me to see a familiar take in a new way, and turned me on to so many other fairy tale retellings! Later, writers like Angela Carter, Anne Sexton, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Cunningham showed me that fairy tale retellings can also be literary, or shocking, or subversive.

“Would it help perhaps if I told you that, had your father returned to me alone, I would have sent him on his way unharmed?”

“You would!” I said; it was half a shriek. “You mean that I came here for nothing?”

A shadowy movement like the shaking of a great shaggy head. “No. Not what you would count as nothing. He would have returned to you, and you would have been glad, but you also would have been ashamed, because you had sent him, as you thought, to his death. Your shame would have grown until you came to hate the sight of your father, because he reminded you of a deed you hated, and hated yourself for. In time it would have ruined your peace and happiness, and at last your mind and heart.”

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_7. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- I feel a little odd being thankful for this book, because it’s hard to stomach in many ways. It discusses abuse and trauma that are almost too horrible to believe. In one way you could read it as saying that there are things that can happen to a person that are just too terrible to endure.  But I didn’t read it that way. Thankfully, I read it at a time in my life where I was able to take it as an affirmation of the power of friendship and love. It’s about the beauty of the struggle through life. By the end of the book, a character who has lost so, so much, is left with compassion.  To me that’s a really beautiful notion.

“He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.”

51fm3ylbgvl-_ac_us218_8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith- I definitely identified with the heroine of this book. Her name was Francie, mine was Fran. She loved to read, and I loved to read. She lived in Brooklyn and I… well I’d lived there for a year when I was a baby, and so I’m pretty sure that we have that in common too! I think I was about twelve the first time I read this. I read it again in college and was stunned to discover how much I missed, how much went over my head on that first read!  It’s harsh and realistic; poignant and bittersweet.

“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. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”

51c3wnrodsl-_ac_us218_9. Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen- Let’s face it: historically speaking Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday (to say the least!). That’s one reason I look at it as a time to be with my family and take stock the people and things I’m grateful for, as opposed to honoring a largely fictional story of the pilgrims. Even as a child I read enough to know that the happy, friendly version of the Thanksgiving story that we were given wasn’t the whole story. So I was grateful to discover this book, about an immigrant girl who feels uncomfortable in the US. When her teacher has the class make pilgrim dolls for Thanksgiving, Molly and her mother make a doll that looks like them; a Russian Jew who comes to America fleeing religious persecution (like them). This teaches Molly’s classmates that a pilgrim isn’t only someone who sailed on the Mayflower. It also proves that by coming to the US for religious freedom, Molly, an immigrant, is just as much an American as some of the first settlers. That’s something that a lot of contemporary Americans should consider when condemning immigrants, and people who practice religions that aren’t Christianity.

“Pilgrims came to this country from the other side,” I said.
“Like us,” Mama said.
That was true. “They came for religious freedom,” I added. “They came so they could worship God as they pleased.”
Mama’s eyes lit up. She seemed to understand.

51anzhy5btl-_ac_us218_10. Fairy Tales from around the world- This might be cheating since it’s really more of a category than a single book, but fairy tales shaped my childhood in a way that nothing else did. They shape what I write now. They taught me the important things in life: that sometimes things aren’t what they first appear to be, that a good heart is never completely unrewarded, that you can’t get something for nothing, and that magic will only save you if you use it wisely.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”

~Albert Einstein~

I’m also thankful for

  • Parents who read to me all the time, taught me to read for myself, and encouraged me to read everything I could get my hands on!
  • The books, fiction and nonfiction, that taught me something new, let me look at something with new eyes, and changed or influenced my perspective in some way.
  • All of the books that I can’t list on here that took me to a different time or place. That gave me an escape from reality when I need one, or even simply, a friend when I needed one.
  • All the wonderful people I’ve met this year through this blog; and the wonderful books that they’ve helped me discover!

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!”