Top Ten Tuesday: Teenage Throwback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Mother’s Day Related Freebie

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

May 16:  Mother’s Day related Freebie: favorite moms in literature, books about motherhood, best mother/daughter or son relationships, books to buy your mom, worst moms in literature, etc. etc.

I wouldn’t want a different mom in real life. Mine is pretty amazing. But on the page I’ve seen some winners and losers. These are the most notable according to me. All of these have something to be said for them, even if I wouldn’t want them to be my own.

  1. Marmee in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott- Yes, it’s kind of predictable. But really how can you not include the warm, loving Marmee, who encouraged her daughters to be smart,kind women, and led by example? Marmee took over the March household while her husband was a war, and raised her daughters through hardship and poverty.
  2. Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables (series) by LM Mongomery- Marilla never intended to be a maternal figure. She intended to have a boy come stay with her and her bother, Matthew, and help them out. But when the orphan Anne Shirley is sent, rather than the boy Marilla expected, Marilla doesn’t know what to make of the optimistic, intelligent, spirited young girl. While Matthew takes  to Anne right away, Marilla hold her at a distance. But as she gives Anne structure, and food, and a home she ends up loving the girl as the daughter she never had.
  3. Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- Yes, she’s ludicrous. I don’t dispute that. But she also sees a disturbing reality. She had five daughters who, due to the law, can’t inherit her husband’s property.  She and her husband won’t live forever. Unless they marry well, the Bennett girls will be alone, homeless, and unable to support themselves. Given those circumstances she does what she can to ensure a decent future for her daughters.
  4. Precious in Push by Sapphire- Her life is heartbreaking. She becomes a mother, as a teenager, under the worst possible circumstances (she’s raped by her father). Yet in spite of that, she loves her children and wants a better life for them. For my one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book is when the illiterate Precious is learning the alphabet. She whispers what she knows of it to her son in utero. She knows that education could mean a better life for her children. She wants that advantage for them, even if, at the moment, the only thing she can give her son is part of the alphabet. It’s all she has, and she’s gives it to him.
  5. Katie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith- Francie relates more to her creative, sentimental father, Johnny. But as Johnny’s alcoholism grows worse, he is unable to hold down a job. Katie holds the family together with grit, determination and hard work. She is determined that her children will have a better life than she did, and she gives them the strength that they need to survive in a tough world.
  6. Ingrid from White Oleander by Janet Fitch- This is a deeply flawed mother if ever there was one. 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. Ingrid must decide if she can put her daughter’s needs before her ow for the first time ever.
  7. Ma in Room by Emma Donoghue- Ma also becomes a parent under pretty horrendous circumstances (kidnapped, imprisoned in a small shed, and raped), but she loves her son, Jack, and makes a world for him in the small room that they share. When if becomes clear that this way of life isn’t sustainable for them, Ma arranges for the five year old  Jack to be taken from the room so that he can  free them both. Jack has difficulty processing the outside world after being locked up in a small space for his whole life. And Ma must confront questions regarding her actions in captivity. Did she always do what was best for Jack? And if not, can she live with herself?
  8. Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer- Margaret is visiting Italy with her mentally disabled daughter, Clara in the 1950’s. Clara falls in love with a young Italian and he with her. There’s a language barrier so Clara’s condition is less obvious than it might otherwise be. Margaret watches this relationship bloom and realizes that Clara may be more capable than anyone imagined. Margaret (whose own marriage to Clara’s father is unhappy) finds herself torn by two equally strong impulses: to stop the relationship and spare her daughter the pain of love gone wrong; or to take a risk see Clara have something that Margaret never did- a love that last a lifetime.
  9. Helen Graham in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte- Anne is often the unfairly forgotten Bronte sister. But she created a strong, loving memorable mother in Helen Graham. Married to an abusive, alcoholic, Helen breaks the law and risks kidnapping charges when she takes their son, and leaves him. She took this risk because she saw the influence that her husband was having on their son, and to her that was more torturous than any legal repercussions.
  10. Eva Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- I’m sure that this is a controversial pick. Some people consider Eva to be the true villain of the piece. I’m not sure that she’d disagree with them! Eva was ambivalent about motherhood at first and always felt alienated from her son, Kevin. She even wonders if those feelings contributed to Kevin’s horrific violent rampage as a teenager. Did she sense evil in Kevin before his crimes? Was that why she found it so hard to bond with him? Or did Kevin sense her conflicted feelings about motherhood early on? Were his crimes in some way a reaction to that? In the aftermath of violence, Eva reviews her life as Kevin’s mother. She also considers what it means to be his mother in the future. Can she ever forgive him for what he’s done? Was she responsible in some way? I think that the last paragraph of the book speaks volumes:

“…after three days short of 18 years I can finally announce that I am too exhausted and too confused and too lonely to keep fighting; and if only out of desperation or even laziness I love my son. He has five grim years left to serve in an adult penitentiary, and I cannot vouch for what will walk out the other side. But in the meantime there is a second bedroom in my serviceable apartment. The bedspread is plain. A copy of Robin Hood lies on the bookshelf. And the sheets are clean.”

And a few honorable (or less than honorable) mentions:

  1. Corrine Foxworth Dollenganger in Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews- Yes it’s hard to be a widow with four young children. Especially with no money. And if your parents are rich I can see where it would be tempting to throw yourself on their mercy even if they did disown you upon your marriage. But when Corrine learns that she’ll be disinherited if her father ever learns that her marriage produced children, her solution is to lock them up in the attic of her family’s mansion. Christopher (14), Catherine (12), and the twins, Cory and Carrie (3) live up in the attic for several years. And by hiding them away, Corrine ensures that they will repeat the sins of their parents (it’s no accident that their name sounds like “doppelganger”). The repercussions of the horrors that happen in the attic haunt the children for the rest of their lives.
  2. Margaret White in Carrie by Stephen King- I was actually a bit conflicted about this because Margaret loves her daughter and honestly believes that she’s doing the best thing for her. Another widowed mother in difficult circumstances, Margaret is very close to her outcast daughter. But when Carrie starts exhibiting telekinetic powers and acting a bit rebellious, Margaret begins to fear for her soul. Her solution is questionable to say the least: killing Carrie while she’s still young and innocent so that the girl can still be saved.