I’ve Been (2020 Hellscape Edition)

  • Loving Book Riot’s gothic horror cheat sheet. It’s wonderfully seasonal. Though I would argue that the difference between the Gothic horror and Gothic romance categories is largely artificial. Yes, there are romantic relationships in the books they classify as romance, but the relationship is not all that is in peril. Often it’s the sanity and/or life of a character. Jane Eyre focuses on personal demons just as much Frankenstein. In Rebecca, our unnamed narrator is taunted by both internal demons that threaten her sanity, and external threats to her home, her marriage and her life. The presence of a romantic relationship in the plot doesn’t keep it from being horror. This video about Netflix’s Haunting anthology series discusses the Gothic romance genre and makes an interesting point about the connections between love stories and ghost stories.
The Haunting of Bly Manor from tvweb.com
  • Writing letters to voters in swing states to get them to vote in the upcoming election. It’s an easy way to help, from home on your own time. I’m sooo nervous about this election, but I want to do what I can to help! I encourage anyone who can to join in. If writing letters isn’t your jam, and you’re more of a phone person, go here. If you prefer to do something to make sure that voters are able to vote, check this out. This year’s election is too important for anyone to sit out!
  • My book club has been meeting weekly via zoom, and it’s wonderful. We each read a book based on a theme and go around and share what we read, and what we thought about it. It’s a way to be social but still COVID safe.
  • Loving this guest post from Gypsy Thornton at Carterhaugh School on how fairy tales can help us through this crazy time. Fairy tales offer us strategies for harnessing our strength and fighting the odds. Often characters in fairy tales are abused, voiceless, powerless, or disenfranchised in some way. But they don’t stay that way. From Cinderella, to Red Riding Hood, to Snow White and Rose Red, to the Goose Girl, fairy tales teach us to be brave. They teach us that no act of kindness, however small, is wasted. They teach us to fight back.
  • Watching waaay too much TV since March. I think it’s partially just that there’s less to do that’s COVID safe outside the house, but it’s also due to the fact that it’s an escape from some of the terrible stuff that’s been going on in the real word. I feel guilty taking that escape sometimes, but my sanity might not survive if I didn’t. Here’s a rundown of what I’ve watched.
    • Cursed- I would say that this is a very imperfect show that’s worth watching in spite of its faults. It’s based on the graphic novel of the name (which I haven’t read) by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler. It actually recalls those roots with animation in the opening and some transitions between scenes. I thought that was a nice touch, but I wished they’d done more with it from a storytelling perspective. The storytelling is messy. The show can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a Game of Thrones style political fantasy, or a feminist coming of age tale, or a teen romantic fantasy, so it bounces back and forth among the options without fully committing to any one. But it’s worth watching in spite of it’s faults.
    • Ratched– I first took note of this show because I always had a bit of sympathy for Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Yes, I was aware that she was supposed to represent all that is impersonal and dehumanizing in the medical and psychiatric establishments. But she was also a woman who was responsible for a ward full of psychologically vulnerable men who need order and constancy. Having someone in that ward, constantly upsetting that, creates instability for the very people she’s responsible for protecting. So I wasn’t happy that the first trailer portrayed her a villain. But the show doesn’t make a villain exactly- not that she’s a hero either. Actually it has little to do with Cuckoo’s Nest at all. It tells a story that’s independent of that, and really just uses the character name and a timeframe that would make it a prequel (so far at least). There’s some interesting, dramatically compelling stuff in there. Unfortunately there are also entire characters and subplots that just felt thrown in for the sake of being shocking and unpleasant. So while there was a lot to like about this (great performances, stunning visuals, compelling character) there’s also a lot that would keep me from recommending it wholeheartedly.
    • Lucifer– I’m currently watching this in between other things. I’ve about 1/4 of the way through the third season, so no spoilers please! I’m enjoying the characters and the dynamics. In small doses it’s smart, fun and engaging. In larger doses it starts to feel a bit repetitive, but that’s why I’m spreading it out as I watch other things.
    • Emily in Paris– I wanted to like this. I wanted this to be a fun, escapist, fantasy. But it didn’t land. I found it vapid and insipid. The main character wandered around Paris (speaking no French), and imposing her point of view on everyone she met. I finished it for the sake of completion, but I didn’t really like it.
    • Enola Holmes– This is actually a film, not a series, but I’m including it because I really enjoyed it. Plus, I could see it becoming a series of films based on the novels of Nancy Springer. It’s really no surprise that I enjoyed this, because it’s right up my ally. A feminist, YA adaptation based on Sherlock Holmes stories, set in Victoria, England. It pretty much ticks all my boxes! It’s not perfect by any means, but it doesn’t really try to be. It’s fun. It’s a historical mystery adventure with a bit of humor thrown in. My one question when watching it, was “why is absolutely everyone in this film ridiculously good looking?” Yes, I know it’s a film and they tend to cast attractive people. But even side characters who could have been average/normal looking were absurdly attractive here. It was almost like it was an AU Victorian England in which only beautiful people were allowed.
    • The Babysitter’s Club– I posted an rather in depth review here. Basically it was way better than I expected. I want more!

“Need A Sitter?” Why yes, I do…

When I was between the ages of eight and eleven, I was all about The Babysitter’s Club.

  • I saw the film
  • I watched the TV series
  • I played the board game
  • I read the Little Sister spin off series
  • I had a favorite babysitter (Stacy) and I could tell you the one that I was most like (Mary Anne)
  • At the age of 9 Ann M. Martin did a book signing near my house and I made plans with my friend to go. That morning I woke up with itchy red spots on my skin. I actually kept quiet about having Chicken Pox so that I could get my book signed. (I have gotten more aware of, and responsible about, public health issues as I’ve aged!)
  • I couldn’t wait until I was actually old enough  to babysit, myself.

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The book that started it all (Image source: amazon.com)

In the years since then, I’ve grown up. I have babysat, myself. It’s not as fun as it seemed in the books. In fact, it’s yet another thing that sounded a lot more fun in tween literature than it is in real life (Judy Blume, I’m looking at you. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret made menstruation sound a lot more fun than it turned out to be!) And my fondness for The Babysitter’s Club (or BSC) became more nostalgic than fanatical.

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The BSC in the 1990’s TV series based on the novels (Image source: IMDB)

But when Netflix announced a reboot, I was onboard. For one thing, Rachel Shukert (author of the guilty pleasure, too soon aborted, Starstruck series) was taking on show running duties. And for another it was a return of characters who seemed a lot like childhood friends to me. They saw me through troubles and school and with friends. And I felt like I was there for Kristy when she struggled to accept her new step-family. I supported Claudia when her Grandmother suffered a stroke. I was rooting for Stacy as she  learned to manage her Diabetes. I’m sure they all appreciated the support.

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The club as seen in the 1995 film (image source: glamour.com)

I watched the series 4th of July weekend, and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the show. I was expected some nostalgic corniness. And yes, there’s a slight schmaltz factor here, but not as much as you might expect. For the most part, the series found a note that was intelligent without being cynical, sweet without being saccharine, and optimistic without being oblivious. I’d had sort of a stressful week with work. Watching this series over the weekend seriously saved my sanity.

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The BSC as seen on Netflix in 2020 (imagesource: Netflix.com)

The characters in the series were largely good role models for girls: smart, motivated, good hearted, and well intentioned. Yes they screwed up, but they also took responsibility for their mistakes. I wondered briefly as I watched, if there was a conscious effort to make the girls role models. If so, I don’t think it was an effort that the show made. Perhaps it was an effort on the part of the books, because the girls were pretty solid role models in those too. It was essentially a series about a group of go-getters who start their own business, in middle school. They run their business and juggle their school work friendships and home responsibilities. Sometimes they get overwhelmed.That’s when their friends come in and help out.Those bonds are tested as the girls grow together and sometimes apart.

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Boy-Crazy Stacy in it’s original book form (image source: amazon.com)

In the books, and the new series there are boys. In the book Boy Crazy Stacy (which becomes an episode in the Netflix series) we see Stacy go gaga over an older boy, neglecting her friendships and babysitting duties to go after him. But we also see her realize the error of her ways. We also see Mary-Anne become involved in a fairly healthy (as far as relationships between two thirteen year olds go) romance with Logan Bruno, both on the page and onscreen.  But the boys are secondary. They focus of the series remains on the girls. It’s about their friendships and all the aspects of their lives. That includes crushes and boyfriends sometimes. But those relationships remain one part of a richer, more complex picture.

 

Most of the episodes of the series were rooted in the books. But occasionally they were updated in ways that made them relevant to the world of 2020. When the real world tie ins were present, they weren’t preachy or overbearing. For example at summer camp, the girls learn that certain activities are only available to the campers who pay more. Meaning that campers who can’t afford to do so cannot participate. Their response to income inequality, even in a childhood setting, is very revealing of the adults that they may someday become. (The theater geek in me also loved the Les Miserables shout out when they built a barricade as part of their protest!) The tie ins to the larger world, to big discussions of the wealth gap are there. A parent may chose to extend that discussion with their child. But the show doesn’t belabor the point. Rather it lets the seeds germinate in viewers minds as they may.

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Kristy’s step sister, Karen Brewer, shares some imaginative theories with Mary-Anne in the Netflix series. (image source: vulture.com)

Another example is Mordella Destiny. Kristy’s stepsister Karen got her own “Little Sister” spin off book series (which I also read and loved). In the first of these books, Karen (age 7, with an overactive imagination)  thinks her neighbor Mrs. Porter is a witch named Mordella Destiny. In the Netlix series, it turns out she’s right. In a way.  As “Mordella” explains to everyone, she’s a woman who doesn’t follow along with what most people consider the “right” or “proper” way to behave. She’s a bit odd. And historically, people, (Particularly women) who broke the mold were called witches. She concludes, “When kids tell you things, believe them.” Wise words in so many ways.  Again, this isn’t a major plot point, but it’s a nice moment, that gives voice not only to the many accused witches of the past, but also kids who are too often ignored or talked over.

When I was a kid, my Dad didn’t really approve of my BSC reading. He didn’t forbid it, but he tolerated it with an occasional eyeroll. I think he just thought they were silly reads. So I did too, and I regarded them as sort of a guilty pleasure at the time. But watching the series this past weekend I realized that maybe there was something more to them than I originally thought. As I was writing this blog I did a search for reviews of the news series and I noticed a many other, similar, pieces by readers who felt a similar fondness in their hearts for these characters and books. That makes me think that these were more than just “silly” books. While their literary values is debatable they taught  several generations a lot about life. And business. And friendship. I hope that the Netflix series introduces these girls to a new young audience. Because today’s kids can learn a lot from them.

Did you read The Babysitter’s Club books as a kid? Have you seen the new Netflix series? What did you think?

Non Disney Fairy Tale Movies: The Sequel

A while ago, when our lockdown/isolation/shelter in place/quarantine began I wrote a post of some of my favorite non-Disney fairy tale films for all ages. Since we’re still spending a lot of time alone/indoors I decided to make a sequel. Like the first post, I make no guarantees that these movies are safe for the kiddos. I put a * next to the ones that I think are kid friendly and ! next to the ones that are alright for kids above 12.

Beauty and the Beast

catherine-and-vincent-beauty-and-the-beast-tv-show-31800345-500-333! Beauty and the BeastTV series from the late 1980’s. I wrote a post about this a while ago so, click the link to see it. I know that this was rebooted in the 2010’s at some point, but I wasn’t a fan of the remake. There is a lot of 80’s cheesiness to this show, but that’s part of the charm. It’s about a wealthy NY lawyer whose path crosses with that of a mysterious man-beast who lives in a secret network of tunnels below the city streets. It’s sort of a fusion of romance, fantasy and crime drama. It’s also the work of a pre- Game of Thrones George RR Martin.

penelope9! Penelope– This fantasy features a gender reversed Beauty and the Beast with a great sense of fun and fantasy. Penelope Wilhern is born under a family curse; she’s got a pig nose until she earns the love of “one of her own kind” (the reasoning for the curse is explained in the movie). So he mother tries to find ways to fix her up with blue blooded men. Enter Max, who hits it off with Penelope until he sees her face, and promptly refuses to marry her. This sets Penelope off on a journey of self discovery. The move is one of my “happy” movies: things I watch when I need a mood boost. [trailer]

7765915901c6f3c49a39522017f32300! A Werewolf Boy– In many ways this is similar to Edward Scisscorhands (which I featured on my last list). It’s about a teenage girl who moves to the country and befriends a feral boy who she finds on the grounds of her new home. But his nature may be more animal than human and the beast in him threatens to emerge. [trailer]

Bluebeard

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Image Credit: Britannica.com

Rebecca– This classic novel by Daphne DuMaurier has been adapted for the screen several times. But I think the best bet is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film. Yes, plotwise there are some significant changes from the novel, but the film still follows the Bluebeard template (a woman married a widower and finds herself haunted by her predecessor) and most importantly, it gets the atmosphere of DuMaurier’s atmosphere heavy novel right. If you want some more Hitchcock films with Bluebeard echoes you can also take a look at Suspicion and Notorious,  but I find this one has the strongest ties to the original tale. [trailer]

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Image Credit: Randompicturesblog.net

The Secret Beyond The Door– Celia marries Mark while on vacation in Mexico after a whirlwind romance. When she joins him in his New York home, she learns some things about her new husband that he left out during their courtship. For example he’s been married before. He also has a son. Celia’s predecessor died under mysterious circumstances, and she start to suspect that she might be next. [trailer]

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Image Credit: Thestar.com

Gaslight-Paula and Gregory get married abroad after a whirlwind romance (notice a pattern here?!) When they return to London and settle into their new home, strange things start to happen. Paula notices missing pictures, strange footsteps at night, and gaslights that dim without being touched. Gregory claims to notice nothing. Is Paula losing her mind, or is Gregory up to something? Or both? [trailer]

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Image Credit: filmlinc.org

Dragonwyck– Bluebeard inspired movies were apparently very big in the 1940’s! This one is based on Anya Seton’s novel of the same name about a young girl whose new marriage is threatened by her husband’s streak of madness. [trailer]

Hansel and Gretel

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ImageCredit: ZekeFilm

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? This 1972 film is sort of a campy horror classic starring Shelly Winters. It’s about Mrs. Forrest (also known as “Auntie Roo”), a lovely old lady with a Christmas tradition of inviting orphans to her mansion for a party. But Auntie Roo has a dark side, and when Katie Coombs and her brother sneak into the party they must fight to get out alive. There’s a lot of camp in this one, especially by today’s standards, but that can be fun – and funny. And once you get past it there’s actually an interesting, dark take on the fairy tale. [trailer]

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Image Credit: 366weirdmovies.com

Hansel and Gretel (2007 Korean) This is sort of a horror- fantasy that may appeal to fans of films like  Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage. It’s about a traveler who gets lost in the woods. He’s rescued by a young girl and brought to her house. It’s a beautiful house, like something out of a storybook. But, as he discovers, it’s a house that hides horrible secrets, and possibly no way to escape. [trailer]

Swan Lake

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Image Credit: Film School Rejects

Black Swan- I was hesitant to include this one  because it’s based on the ballet, Swan Lake, rather than a single tale. The ballet’s plot is based on a number of folk tales. Possible sources include “The White Duck” and “The Stolen Veil” by Johann Karl August Mursaus. But it could have been inspired by a number of animal bride/swan maiden tales. Regardless I decided it was fairy tale enough to count! The plot of the film follows a dancer whose upcoming starring role in Swan Lake pushes her to the brink of madness. In some ways the “fairy tale ballerina on the edge” story is very similar to The Red Shoes, which I featured on my last list. So if you like one, check out the other. [trailer]

Fairy Tale Mash-up (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and more)

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Image Credit: Theatermania

!Into the Woods (original Broadway cast) Yes, Disney did eventually get to this one in the 2014 film. While that film has it’s good points, I (and many others) felt that it removed the musical’s teeth. And part of the point of the musical is that fairy tales have teeth. And claws. They’re dark, subversive, and not everyone makes it to happily ever after. But they (and Stephelan Sondheim’s beautiful music and brilliant lyrics) also teach us to see complexity. They show us that “witches can be right/ giants can be good/ you decide what’s right/ you decide what’s good.” Here we see a Red Riding Hood and Wolf dripping with innuendo, a Cinderella who finds married life somewhat lacking, and witch who does the wrong things for the right reasons, and the right things for the wrong reasons. It’s been said that The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim was a source of inspiration. If you dig into the lyrics you can analyze them like poetry. The level of sophistication doesn’t take away from the magic of these stories at all. Rather it adds to them, because there’s a sense of danger.   We’re left with a caution “Careful the wish you make/ Wishes are children/ Careful the path they take/ Wishes come true/Not free

Other Non Fairy Tale Fantasy Films

These aren’t based on a specific tale or tales but will probably appeal to fairy tale fans nonetheless.

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Image Credit: EmpireOnline.com

! Ladyhawke– This is an 80’s film in many ways but it’s a good one. I’ve wanted to rewatch it again ever since I read this incredible analysis. It gets into the folkloric roots behind the film and I highly recommend it to anyone interested. As for the film itself, in a nutshell the film is set in the 13th century and is about two lovers who are cursed to be together and apart: she is a hawk by day and he is a human. By night, she is a human and he is a wolf. They can’t really be in one another’s presence except for a brief moment at twilight and dawn. Unless a young thief can help them break the curse. [trailer]

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Image Credit: Tor.com

! Stardust– This is based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman but tonally it’s more in line with The Princess Bride (see below) and old Hollywood screwball romantic comedies like It Happened One Night. But it still works. The story is about a star who falls from the sky and is observed by several parties. One is a trio of witches who believe that eating the heart of a star will restore their youth. One is a prince who needs her power to secure the throne. One is a love-struck young lad whose beloved asks for a fallen star as a token of his esteem. But when he finds her, he finds, not a piece of celestial rock, but Yvaine, a young woman fallen from the sky with an injured leg and a sarcastic tongue. He must get her to his beloved, while keeping her from the others who want her for less noble means. [trailer]

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Image Credit: NBC News

! The Princess Bride– I expect that most of us have seen this movie and so it needs no introduction, but if you haven’t seen this yet, do so immediately. Otherwise you’ll never know the meaning of phrases like “Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” “Inconceivable!” and of course “As you wish.” Since you might have more free time on your hands than usual I would also recommend reading the book (even if you’ve seen the movie). If nothing else it will help you appreciate the artful use of the frame story in the film version as a way to incorporate the annotations in the book. [trailer]

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Image Credit: rogerebert.com

Pan’s Labyrinth– This film makes me think about the purpose of fairy tales. They’re an escape, an enchantment, an education, a warning. They serve all of those purposes in this tale of a young girl in Spain circa 1944.  Ofelia’s new stepfather is sent to a remote forest to flush out rebels. He brings Ofelia and her mother. As she witnesses her stepfather’s sadism, brutality and abuse, Ofelia is drawn into Pan’s labyrinth, a magical world of legendary beings. [trailer]

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Image Credit: Parkcircus.com

The City of Lost Children– A mad scientist named Krank has lost his ability to dream. He is attempting to fight off death by stealing children’s dreams. The storyline of the film itself follows Krank’s henchman, Scratch, who kidnaps a 5 year old boy. The boy’s father, (a strongman with a travelling circus) and his 9 year old friend Miette, team up to save him. At times this movie is dark and creepy enough to make you think it’s only intended for adults. But at times it allows its heart to show enough to make you think the intended audience might be slightly younger. The result is a visually arresting, sentimental, provocative, nightmare fantasy ride. [trailer]

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Image Credit: baltimoresun.com

Beasts of the Southern Wild– Early fairy tales served less as entertainment and enchantment than as warnings. I think that’s how to take this film.  In fact, I think watching it at this point in time might be frightening for that reason. 6 year old Hushpuppy lives with her father, Wink in a remote Delta community. When Wink gets sick, nature seems to respond in kind: temperatures rise, ice caps melt, and prehistoric beasts run loose. When the rising waters threaten her community, Hushpuppy goes on a search for her long lost mother. Though this film was made in 2012, the tale of humanity’s seeming inability to live in harmony with nature taking a toll of people’s physical health, seems very apt for today’s world. [trailer]

I’ve Been… Social Distancing Edition

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    Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

  • Setting up my life so that I can run it from my apartment. During our first week of social distancing/self isolation it felt like many people were talking about learning to speak Latvian/writing the great American novel/ arranging their pantry alphabetically in all their new spare time. I was running around making sure I had some non-perishables in the house, trying to get my insurance company to authorize me stocking up on my prescriptions as per CDC recommendation (long story short: it can’t be done), and setting up zoom meetings so I could work from home. In other words it’s been more stressful than usual in every practical way.
  • Grateful that we have the internet. Because how miserable must this stuff have been before we could complain about it to our family and friends 24/7?! Seriously, I am grateful to have something that keeps me connected to a lot of people even while we’re physically isolating ourselves. It helps to know that we’re in this together and  that we’re all anxious and frustrated.
  • Thrilled with some of the creative ways that people have come up with to cheer each other up and entertain each other. Look for more about that in my next blog post.
  • Worried about high risk family/friends and people in general.

And in non virus news:

  • Rereading His Dark Materials trilogy. I’ve been meaning to reread these for years, but I had planned on it before the TV series aired. I didn’t get around to it obviously, so I’m doing it now. I haven’t read it since I first read the books as a teen. I’m really interested in how some huge scientific and philosophical concepts are incorporated into what is intended as a children’s story.
  • Binging Jamestown. It’s not great. It’s not even very good most of the time, but it’s good enough to keep me watching.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Could Re-read Forever

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

February 27: Books I Could Re-read Forever

I’m usually not a huge re-reader. I have a whole list of books that want to re-read, but my TBR so big that I rarely spend time on stuff I’ve already read. But even so, there are some books that I’ve revisited over the years. A lot of them tend to be books I read at some point during my childhood, because I was more of a rereader then. But making this list has definitely inspired me to do more re-reads!

51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- I wrote a bit about my journey with this book a while back. I read it for the first time in high school and was sort of shocked by the disparity between its reputation as a tragic romance, and the actual content of the book. I felt like the various narrative frames kept me at a distance and that there was some kind of elusive content that I was just missing. Those very qualities have made it an interesting re-read. I understand it differently each time I read it. At different points, it’s Freudian, feminist, sadomasochistic, gothic, and subversive.

51fkpmqzdyl-_ac_us218_2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- The first time I read this, also in high school, I loved it. I thought it was a lovely romance with a happy ending and a heroine I could root for. When I re-read it in college I realized that while it was all those things, it was also a lot more. There was a subtext that I’d completely missed on my first read through; regarding colonialism, gender relations, religion, morality, and autonomy. There were parallels that had gone over my head the first time. For example, Jane and Bertha are presented as two sides of the same coin. Jane is depicted as impulsive, willful and even violent as a child (see her behavior with the Reeds, the red room etc) she eventually masters these traits in a way that Bertha isn’t able to.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_3. The work of LM Montgomery- Maybe this is cheating but I can’t pick just one book here. As I kid I wanted to be Anne Shirley. As a slightly older kid, I wanted to be Emily Starr. As a teen, I discovered The Blue Castle for the first time. They’re all books that I find myself wanting to revisit at different points. There’s something comforting about them.Maybe it’s the landscape of Prince Edward Island that I’m attracted to, or maybe the smart female characters appeal to me.  Maybe I like different things at different points.

51ozv7qacul-_sx260_4. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon- The first time reading through this series I read for plot. They’re pretty densely plotted books, and because I was invested in the characters I wanted to see what happened to them. I’ve re-read parts now that the TV series is airing and I’m sort of shocked at how much I missed on those initial read throughs. A lot of character development happened that I wasn’t aware of, because I was focused elsewhere! I missed a lot of subtle cues, foreshadowing, and even sub-plots. I suppose that there’s only so much you can focus on in one read through.

51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_5. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- I suppose in this way I’m a true product of my generation. I haven’t read them all the way through multiple times though. Like the Outlander series, my re-reads have been in bits and pieces. I’ve read parts of several later books more times that several earlier books, for example, though as I read later books I revisited earlier ones to refresh my memory of what happened. It seems to be the later four books or so that I’ve revisited the most. Maybe that’s because there was more happening in them than in the first three.

51srrilel-_ac_us218_6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott- The first time I read this, I was obsessed with Jo. I wanted to be Jo. I still love her, but on later read-throughs, I focused on the journeys of the other characters. For example, it’s easy to overlook Meg and Beth the first time through. They’re not as attention-grabbing as Jo and Amy. I definitely dismissed them as “the boring one” and “the tragic one” until I re-read it and realized that they were just as compelling in their own ways as Jo and Amy were.

51uvxo85zl-_ac_us218_7. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell- This may be cheating because I haven’t reread it in a long time, but there was a point in my childhood where I would read this book, finish it, and then just start reading again! I should probably reread it at some point if only to understand why I was so obsessed with it at one point. Maybe the isolation of the main character appealed to me. Maybe it was the fact that she bravely faced a situation that would probably leave me a quivering lump of fear. Maybe it’s the fact that her ordeal didn’t end when she was “rescued”. It could have been the fact that this is based on a true story. Or it could be that different things appealed to me different times.

511prxozevl-_ac_us218_8. Here’s to You Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume- When I was about ten or eleven I was obsessed with this book. Maybe it was the main character who appealed to me. Maybe it was the dynamic between her and her family and her friends. Or maybe it was Jeremy Dragon, who was my first book boyfriend. In retrospect, I don’t even know why he appealed to me as much as he did. He wasn’t even a major character. But I suppose the element of wish fulfillment in a guy you have a crush on actually liking you, was something that appealed to me at the time.

614tt378kel-_ac_us218_9. The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson- This is actually a book I wish I’d read for the first time when I was younger.  Like in Harry Potter, this book features a platform at King’s Cross Station in London, which leads to a magical world. But this platform only opens once every nine years, so when the prince of this magical world is stolen, the magical creatures have nine years to plan the rescue. Of course, that doesn’t mean that anything actually goes according to plan. I think that, along with Harry Potter, this appealed to the part of me that longed for something magic hidden alongside the mundane.

51cbwb1nmql-_ac_us218_10. Fairy Tales– I know that this is more of a genre/category than a book, but fairy tales were like a religious experience for me as a kid. I would read them compulsively. Before I could read myself, I had others read them to me over and over again. I sought out different versions of fairy tales. I was possibly the only four year old who could explain how the Disney version of Snow White differed from the Brother’s Grimm! Even now, fairy tales inspire a lot of my own writing.

I’ve been…

  • Teaching. I just survived the first week of school which somehow felt like it was about a month long. I have a good class (I think). The kids seem really sweet. But it takes stamina. It’s like those muscles got out of shape over the summer and I need to build them up again!
  • Reading Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly. In it, the author argues that we’ve been misreading Austen’s work all these years. An early 19th century audience would have picked up on references and allusions that a 21st century reader misses. I agree with this much. Austen was far more serious than she’s typically given credit for.  Her novels have also been acknowledged as having a degree of social criticism, but that’s seen as secondary to a prim and proper romance with a slightly mischievous sense of humor. But Austen was less prim and proper than we think. Just the fact that she employed a marriage plot, meant life or death stakes for her characters. Marriages could mean financial ruin for families. Death in childbirth was just a fact of life.  If you read between the lines (which 21st century readers have to do, whereas 19th century readers would need to do far less) it becomes clear that there are many sexual indiscretions, out of wedlock pregnancies, and affairs. However, at times I felt as if, in researching some of what Austen’s novels reference, Kelly was looking to confirm her thesis, which leads to some bias. She also has a tendency to disregard whatever doesn’t support it. While I agree that certain characters have been misread, I don’t interpret everything in the same way that she does. But at times I do agree, and it’s always an interesting perspective.
  • Watching. I’m on season three of Grantchester and still really enjoying it. Though am I the only one who can’t completely embrace Amanda as Sidney’s love interest? Something about her just seems slightly…off.   I also recently discovered The Good Place which is a lot of fun. It’s sort of like Parks and Recreations meets Lost, meets Sartre’s No Exit in sitcom format.