Top Ten Tuesday: Dark Academia

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

June 1: Freebie (choose any past topic, or come up with you own)

Lately I’ve been really into what I’d call “dark academia” as a literary subgenre. I love academic settings. I love gloomy gothic trappings. I love weirdness. So it’s really no surprise that I’d love literary mashups of all of that!

1.The Secret History by Donna Tartt-This is sort of a definitive cornerstone of the genre. It follows Richard, a student at a New England college. He wants to study Greek, and Julian, the enigmatic professor eventually allows Richard into his selective tutorial of only six students. Richard is slowly drawn into the world of the other students. But it’s a world that goes beyond the boundaries of morality and even legality. As Richard finds himself privy to the group’s secrets, he also learns that some members of the group will stop at nothing, including murder. I read this in my senior year of high school, and it just so happened that we were reading Crime and Punishment at the same time in one of my classes. I’m glad that was the case, because I think that it allowed me to get more out of The Secret History, since Dostoyevsky’s work is clearly a strong influence. I’m actually sort of surprised that Hollywood hasn’t tackled this book yet. But I think it would be a hard book to translate to film in a way that worked.

2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This has all the elements of dark academic setting with a bit of a sci-fi twist. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are all students at Hailsham, an isolated boarding school in the English countryside. The atmosphere of the school is very cliquey and the teachers always remind the students how “special” they are. Years later, with the knowledge and understanding of how and why they were “special,” Ruth reflects on her time and Hailsham, and the friendships she formed there. There’s a film version of the book, and while it’s a pretty good adaptation, it tells the viewer what makes the students at Haimsham special in the first ten minutes or so. In the book it’s sort of a gradual, growing realization for the reader. As I started to understand, I was sort of hoping I was wrong. I think that experience is a part of what makes this book special, and it’s definitely why I’d recommend reading the book before seeing the film.

3. The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman– Actually a lot of Goodman’s work, including the Fairwick trilogy (a romantic fantasy series that she initially wrote under the name “Juliet Black,”) and her YA fantasy Blythewood series, qualifies for this list. I chose this book to feature mostly because it doesn’t incorporate as many other genres. A week before her high school graduation, Jane Hudson fled the Heart Lake School For Girls after three of her classmates committed suicide. Jane was the only one who knew the truth about their fates, and she carried that knowledge with her for the next twenty years, When she returns to the school as a Latin teacher, troubled students once again begin to die, and the memories that Jane repressed for so long, begin to surface.

4. Villette by Charlotte BronteJane Eyre comes to mind first of course, and there is a notably dark school setting early in that book, but the setting also changes very early in the book. This book, on the other hand, has all of the gothic-ness that we expect from Bronte, and it’s set almost entirely in a boarding school in Belgium. The heroine, Lucy Snow, travels there to teach after a family disaster, and becomes involved in romance, intrigue and adventure. I do think Jane Eyre is a “easier read,” and it also features a dark aesthetic with academic plot points, so I’d recommend readers unfamiliar with Bronte start there. But Villette is an enjoyable next step in the Bronte journey through dark academia.

5. The Broken Girls by Simone St. James– Idlewild Hall is a Vermont boarding school for girls that’s reputed to be haunted. In the 1950’s four students at the school became good friends, until one of them disappears. More than 60 years later, journalist, Fiona Sheridan’s sister’s body is found near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. Her boyfriend was convicted of the murder, but Fiona has her doubts. When she learns that the school is being restored by a mysterious benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But what she learns involves a horrifying secret that connects her sisters murder to the disappearance so long ago.

6. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray – The whole Gemma Doyle trilogy is a lovely mix of Victorian Gothic and fantasy with a boarding school setting. Gemma Doyle is sent from the life she knew in India, in 1895, to Spence, an English boarding school, following the death of her mother. Gemma is initially lonely. She’s haunted by her mother’s death and visions that have a tendency to come true. But things get really crazy when Gemma is drawn into a clique of girls who are dipping their toes into the world of spirits. What they learn will change them forever.

7. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss– I was a bit iffy about whether to include this one, because it’s not set in a “traditional” academic setting. Silvie and her family live in modern England, but they live as if they’re ancient Britons, with the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age. One summer, Silvie’s father takes the family to join an anthropology course that is reenacting life in the Iron Age. But mixing with these students gives Sylvie a chance to see the prospect of a life away from her father’s obsession with the ancient Britons. As the group gets closer to the lifestyle of their subjects, things take a darker turn. The push and pull between the modern life that intrigues Sylvie, and the ancient life that obsesses her father, becomes a tug of war. Even though it’s not set in a school, the fact that it’s set amongst students in a practical exercise gives it that “academic” feeling.

8. Red Leaves by Paullina Simons– Kristina, Jim, Conni and Albert are all students at Dartmouth College. They have a close friendship, and one Thanksgiving weekend they all decide to stay on campus. When Kristina’s body is found in a snowbank shortly after, detective, Spencer O’Malley is on the case. As he learns about the groups dynamics, questions arise. Why did Kristina’s friends fail to report her missing? Their answers to his questions reveal a web of jealousy, secrets, deceptions, and possibly murder.

9. Down A Dark Hall by Lois Duncan- A ghost story set in a mysterious gothic boarding school. Pretty much made for this list! Actually Duncan’s Daughters of Eve also fits it pretty well, but I’ll go with this, since it’s the first one I thought of. Kit Gordy is sent to Blackwood Academy when her mother remarries. She’s not happy about it. She’s even more disturbed when she learns that she’s one of only four students accepted this term. When Blackwood’s students begin to show amazing talents in the arts and sciences, Kit can’t help but notice that it’s taking a toll on their health. She often wakes up with sore arms and fingers. The headmistress is quick to explain everything away, until Kit learns something that puts her and her classmates in terrible danger. I devoured this book when I was eleven or twelve. I don’t know how well it holds up, but I did recently see the film adaptation which wasn’t bad.

10. The Magus by John Fowles– Nicholas Urfe is a young Englishman who takes a teaching job on a remote Greek island. There he meets Conchis, the reclusive millionaire who owns the island. Conchis offers Nicholas what seems to be friendship. But he is drawn into a twisted game of betrayal, violence, and psychological traps. Soon Nicholas is unable to tell past from present and fantasy from reality. He finds himself fighting to maintain his sanity and stay alive. Even though this is set at a school on an island, most of the action takes place outside the school. But I’m counting this because I’d call the relationship that Conchis has with Nicolas to be very academic (at least to start off). There’s also a film adaptation, but I haven’t seen it yet.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Should Get TV/Film Adaptations

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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August 18: Books that Should be Adapted into Netflix Shows/Movies (submitted by Nushu @ Not A Prima Donna Girl)

Just a note that I don’t limit this to Netflix. Anyone who wants can make these movies/shows.

  1. 91ewbiftngl._ac_uy218_The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I think that if it’s done right, a film adaptation of this novel would be an exercise in creating dramatic tension. The viewer would stay with the limited point of view of Richard, the protagonist, so that we can only know what he knows and see what we sees. It would be frustrating, yes, but deliciously so, just like in the book.
  2. 41xfknijvel-_ac_us218_Villette by Charlotte Bronte– While I love Jane Eyre, it’s been adapted enough. Let’s give some of Charlotte Bronte’s other work a shot! This also has mystery and romance, and I think some of the Gothic/supernatural(?) scenes have the potential to look great on screen.
  3. 51lcp5zpnnl._ac_uy218_A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray– The Victorian Gothic setting combined with secret societies, magic, coming of age drama and romance makes me wonder why this hasn’t been adapted before! Ideally I think I’d want a series with one book per season.
  4. 91jgf9xfe0l._ac_uy218_The Luxe by Anna Godbersen– Set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, this would look just lovely onscreen. The plot involves friendship, backstabbing, forbidden romance and betrayal. It would be a wonderful guilty pleasure to watch with a talented cast. Again I think this lends itself to series format with one book per season.
  5. a1d-o9itg-l._ac_uy218_Night Film by Marisha Pessl– Yes, this would turn into a bit of challenge because elements in the book are ambiguous. Film is a more concrete medium and there would certainly be the temptation to give the viewer answers. But other films have handled ambiguity well, so it can be done. I also think the films within the book could be turned into some great films within a film. How a director chooses to interpret those (via casting, visuals, etc) could really say a lot about the events in the story.
  6. 911-t2bi6l._ac_uy218_The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– I think setting (post war Spain) can lend itself  to some great visuals. The plot, complete with mystery and forbidden love, would easily hold viewers attention. Other books in the Cemetery of the Forgotten series could be done as follow ups (I’m thinking 2-3 episodes per books, so the whole show could be 4 seasons of mini-series, if that makes sense)
  7. 91vfadbawnl._ac_uy218_The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye– I think that this would appeal the the same audiences that are fans of The Alienist and Gangs of New York. We get the corrupt, constantly changing melting pot of 19th century, a compelling hero in Timothy Wilde, and two sequels that serve to make later seasons on a TV series.  Given the (rightful) scrutiny that many police forces are coming under, a look at the roots of the NYPD (good, bad and ugly) could be timely. The story deals with a murder mystery, social issues, family drama, and historical elements.
  8. 81ku7zgvnzl._ac_uy218_Kindred by Octavia Butler– This has a lot to recommend it. It’s an exciting time travel story about a woman trying to ensure that her family is able to exist. That time travel story brings her (and her white husband) to a southern plantation, where they must pretend to be a master and his slave in order to survive. There are a lot of moral dilemmas here too, that can provoke thought and conversation in audiences.
  9. 81q2madzv9l._ac_uy218_ml3_Doomesday Book by Connie Willis– This is actually the only Oxford Time Travel book I’ve read (To Say Nothing of the Dog is sitting on my shelf waiting for me to start it!) but I think that the series could do well on TV. Since there is a common universe (as opposed to characters) they could have a different creative team each season and really mix it up a little bit.
  10. 71rl3ufz0wl._ac_uy218_Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee– This is probably going to be an unpopular opinion but I think that this could be a great and perhaps necessary look at how racism shows up in people who we don’t usually think of as “racist.” To most people (including his daughter) Atticus Fitch is the epitome of a good man. So when she finds out about her father’s racist sympathies Scout is crushed, and tries to reconcile this knowledge with the man she loves. She also looks at her own behavior and the assumptions that she’s always made. I think a lot of people are starting to realize how deeply entrenched racism is in society. This book looks at how it hides even in “good” people, and what happens when heroes are toppled. That’s something that people need to see, even if, (especially if) it’s uncomfortable.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Tropes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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August 20: Favorite Tropes (a trope is a commonly used theme or plot device) (submitted by Andrea @ Books for Muse)

1. Mysterious school

2. Slow burn romance

3. Small towns

4. Missing/Absent parents

5. Family secrets

6. Gothic

7. Neo-Victorian

8. Time Travel / Time Slips

9. Dual Timelines

10. Fairy Tale retellings

Top Ten Tuesday: Books In Need of a Sequel

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

March 12: Standalone Books That Need a Sequel

For the record I think some of these were intended to have a sequel which, for whatever reason, didn’t work out. They’re not all standalones though. Sometimes they are a sequel to something else and another sequel is needed. Just a warning, I tried to avoid SPOILERS but there might be  some minor ones here and there.

51islkdgaql-_ac_us218_1. The River of No Return by Bee Ridgeway– I think the author definitely intended to write a sequel to this book. The ending sets it up and leaves us with a cliffhanger. But  it came out in  2013 and there’s still no word of a sequel, so it’s not looking promising…

51polcsfrl-_ac_us218_2. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor–  Like Gone With the Wind (a book it recalls in several ways), this leaves the characters in a transitional place. What will they do next? Gone With the Wind had an authorized sequel (not a very good one, but it existed…) whereas this doesn’t even have that much.

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3. Love Me by Rachel Shukert– This is the sequel to Shukert’s Starstruck. She was clearly intending this series to be a trilogy at least, but no more books in the series came. I tweeted her once and asked her about it. She said that there were no current plans for anything more in the series.

41xfknijvel-_ac_us218_4. Villette by Charlotte Bronte– I’m going to try not to give away spoilers here, but come on! Did he make it? Didn’t he? If so (or if not!) what happened next! The first time I read it, I actually thought that my copy had pages missing! But I think Charlotte Bronte was pretty daring to end the book this way.

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5. Splendor by Anna Godbersen– Really I just wanted this series to end a bit differently. There were things I liked about it a lot, and things that few really random, contrived, and, in  a few cases, out of character. I’d just like to see some of the loose ends that the book tried to tie up, explored.

51mh-wvb8l._ac_ul436_6. Almost Paradise by Susan Isaacs- This ended with one of the characters in a difficult, devastated position. How does he respond? What does he do next? I  understand why it ended where it did. The story this book was telling was over but I think there’s more more the characters.

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7. Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier– This was the sequel to Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing. It was a pretty good read but according to Marillier her publishing company didn’t want to ask for a third because the sales of this one weren’t that great.

51xk9vlpl-l._ac_ul436_8. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue– This had a fairly open ending with the main character about to embark on a quest. It’s a valid choice to end that way, but I want to know what happened next! Did he succeed?

51-eyayn0ol-_ac_us218_9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– I’m sort of torn because while the ending left the door open for a sequel, I felt like this did have a sense of completion in spite of that. But the setting is so vivid and colorful that I think you could easily tell a few more stories about it.

51j8xsssd0l-_ac_us218_10. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber– This book ends with the anti-heroine doing a bad thing that could potentially have good results. Or it could have really bad results! I’d like to know which!

 

 

 

Books that Deserve A Film Adaptation

It seems like every 10-20 years we have film adaptations of the same literary works: Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Little Women… I love those books, and I love some of the film adaptations. But there are so many great books out there that don’t have film versions. Or that have films that are now very dated? How about adapting some of those before remaking Pride and Prejudice yet again? This is my wishlist.

 

Lucy Snowe

Judy Parfitt as Lucy Snow in the 1970 BBC miniseries adaptation of Villette

Villette by Charlotte Bronte- in its own way Charlotte Bronte’s Villette has as many fun gothic trappings as Jane Eyre, but it also has a lot of ambiguity on moral and psychological levels, and even with plot points. It was made into a BBC miniseries in the 1970s but other adaptations have been confined to radio.

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Janet McTeer as Prue Sarn and John Bowe as Kester Woodseaves in the 1989 BBC miniseries Precious Bane

Precious Bane by Mary Webb- In some ways, this has a lot in common with Jane Eyre in the romantic triumph for the “plain” heroine. It also shares a certain emphasis on nature with the works of Thomas Hardy. But this story of a girl with a harelip, whose unconventional personality puts her at odds with both her family and local superstition has its own identity. It was adapted as a BBC miniseries in 1957, and a French teleplay in 1968. The last English language adaptation was again by the BBC in 1989, starring Janet McTeer and Clive Owen, and that is pretty impossible to find (I’ve tried!)

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_The Secret History by Donna Tartt– Set on a college campus in Vermont, a film version of Tartt’s novel could make use of some great scenery. The story itself is a sort of inversion of the whodunnit genre. We know from the beginning whodunnit.  The novel explores the “how”, the “why”, and the “what happens next”.  The book was published in 1992. Film rights were bought for it, but after much development, nothing materialized. The status of the film rights isn’t clear right now.

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From the 1921 silent Dutch film adaptation of The Black Tulip

The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas– Yes, we all know The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Count of Monte Cristo and even Queen Margot have notable (and less notable!) film adaptations. But this smaller novel doesn’t have nearly as much adaptation history. There was a silent film made in 1921, a 1937 British adaptation, a 1956 BBC miniseries, and a 1970 British miniseries. But since then the only time this tale of love, jealousy, and obsession has seen screens since then was a 50-minute animated Australian film that heavily adapted the story to make it appropriate for kids, in 1988. So the last time it was seen on screen was 30 years ago in a very bowdlerized form. It’s been closer to 50 years since the last time this story was really told onscreen.

512l4h41zkl-_ac_us218_No Name by Wilkie CollinsThe Woman in White has seen many screen versions. The Moonstone has had its share as well. But this novel rejected as immoral by critics of its time has seen a stage adaptation and a radio adaptation but has never been done on film. However, I think that this tale of two orphaned sisters who are disinherited after the discovery that their parents were never legally married, has some dynamic characters and could potentially make a really fun film.

61oj54linhl-_ac_us218_51l6zlabawl-_ac_us218_The Blue Castle or A Tangled Web by LM Montgomery– LM Montgomery’s few works written primarily for an adult audience are both worth reading and are both deserving of film treatment.

What other books do you think we need to see onscreen?

Top Ten Tuesday: Back To School Freebie

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

August 22Back To School Freebie: anything “back to school” related like 10 favorite books I read in school, books I think should be required reading, Required Reading For All Fantasy Fans, required reading for every college freshman, Books to Pair With Classics or Books To Complement A History Lesson, books that would be on my classroom shelf if I were a teacher, etc.

This week I’m doing ten favorite  books set in schools

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– Richard arrives at the prestigious Hampden College, where he is accepted among a group of five students who study Classics with Julien Morrow, an eccentric, morally questionable professor. They spend a lot of time drinking they confess to Richard that one night they accidentally killed a man while drunk. By telling Richard what happened, they make him involved in the cover up. But when one of the group wants to come clean, the others decide that they must kill him too. This second murder leads to a slow erosion of what moral standards the group may have had, and ultimately emotional and psychological disintegration. I read this for the first time in high school 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 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.”

61ugxeeqibl-_ac_us218_2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– Yes, this was also made into a film. The film adaptation is pretty good but, unsurprisingly, the book is better. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are students at Hailsham, a school in the British countryside, where the teachers constantly remind the students how special they are. When the reader learns what makes the students at Hailsham unique, it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a slowly dawning realization As you’re reading and speculating what the secret might be, you’re also hoping that you’re wrong. We’re never actually explicitly told the reason but eventually the evidence mounts to the point where it’s impossible for the reader to ignore. That element of slowly dawning horror was absent from the film, unfortunately, where we are told the secret in the first ten minutes. The film does explore the repercussions and implications, but it misses the slow impact of the book.

“I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel, world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.”

41xfknijvel-_ac_us218_3. Villette by Charlotte Bronte– Lucy Snowe, an orphan without resources, travels to France to teach English at a boarding school for girls. At the school Lucy becomes involved in the lives of several teachers and locals, and is visited by the ghostly figure of a nun, who was believed to have been buried alive on the school grounds as punishment for being unchaste. She also falls in love with M. Paul Emmanuel, another teacher at the school. But the lovers are kept apart by several antagonists. This book is said to be based on Charlotte Bronte’s time teaching English at a French boarding school where she fell in love with the (married) headmaster. Initially this experience inspired her first, unsuccessful novel, The Professor. After that book was rejected by publishers, Bronte reworked the material and turned it into Villette, which was her fourth novel.

“What I felt that night, and what I did, I no more expected to feel and do, than to be lifted in a trance to the seventh heaven. Cold, reluctant, apprehensive, I had accepted a part to please another: ere long, warming, becoming interested, taking courage, I acted to please myself.”

51kuavgfel-_ac_us218_4. The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy– Will McLean is a sensitive writer, who attends The Carolina Military Institute to fulfill a promise to his dead father. Even though Will isn’t suited for the brutality of  military training, his success as an athlete, his strong academic performances, and his general integrity, draw the admiration of his classmates and teachers. But the south in the 1960’s is in turmoil over desegregation, and the school has just admitted it’s first black cadet. Will is asked to support and mentor Tom Pearce, who is sure to face some degree of racism. But when it becomes clear that a group of students is trying to run Tom out of the Institute, Will encounters a secret so horrible that it could destroy the Institute.  This is primarily a coming of age story told from Will’s point of view. In his four years at the Institute, Will has a romance, encounters corruption, and must decide what kind of person he ultimately wants to be.

“Evil would always come to me disguised in systems and dignified by law.”

41nfbzo132l-_ac_us218_5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith– This book has been described by the author as an “homage” to EM Forester’s Howard’s End. There are some specific parallels, but the novels are more broadly linked by the depiction of two families with very different values, becoming intertwined. In this case, one family is the Belsey family; Howard (a white Englishman), Kiki (his African American wife), and their children. Howard is a university professor and his nemesis is Monty Kipps, a Trinidadian, living in Britain, with his wife, Carlene, and their kids. In spite of the tensions between their husbands, Kiki and Carlene become friends.  But rivalry between their husbands grows as Howard and Monty clash over university policies, as Monty’s successes highlight Howard’s failures. When their children become involved with the goings on at the university things get even more chaotic.

“He was bookish, she was not; he was theoretical, she political. She called a rose a rose. He called it an accumulation of cultural and biological constructions circulating around the mutually attracting binary poles of nature/artifice.”

61yilvqhjhl-_ac_us218_6. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett– When British widower, Captain Ralph Crewe, who has been living in India sends his daughter Sara, to Miss Minchin’s Boarding School for Girls in London, he pays extra for her to have special treatment. Miss Minchin is openly kind to Sara because of her wealth. But she secretly resents the girl for that very reason. Sara is a generally kindhearted girl who makes friends with the underdogs of the school. But when Miss Minchin gets word that Captain Crewe has died, and lost his wealth just before his death, she is left with a large unpaid bill for Sara’s school fees and luxuries. So she takes all of Sara’s possessions, makes her live in the attic and work in the school as an errand girl. Despite her misfortunes Sara relies of the support of her friends, and her vivid imagination. Meanwhile, Captain Crewe’s friend, and business partner, Carrisford, is guilt ridden. Their business ventures did not fail as they’d believed, but  Captain Crewe and Carrisford were both  ill and delirious. By the time Carrisford had recovered and learned that their ventures had made them both wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, Captain Crewe was dead. He is determined to find Captain Crewe’s daughter, and heir.

“Perhaps to be able to learn things quickly isn’t everything. To be kind is worth a great deal to other people…Lots of clever people have done harm and have been wicked.”

51muf7bj-ll-_ac_us218_7. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss– Kvothe is an innkeeper who was once a swordfighter, magician, and musician, rumored to have killed a king and started a war. When he save the life of Chronicler, a travelling scribe, he agrees to tell Chronicler the story of his life. As a child, Kvothe grew up among a  group of traveling performers. When the troupe acquires a scholar Kvothe gains tutoring in science and “sympathy” (a magic that changes one object by using links with another). When the troupe is massacred, Kvothe is left alone. In order to learn more about the reasons for the massacre, Kvothe manages to get in the University,  where the vast archives might have the information he seeks. But he also makes some dangerous enemies, among the students and the instructors. This is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Wise Man’s Fear. The third is forthcoming.

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”

51wdp-epb5l-_ac_us218_8. Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman– While I might have appreciated this book before I became a teacher, I don’t think it would have resonated with me as much. There are parts where I was reading and thinking “OMG this is my life!” Not literally. Some things have changed in education since the book came out in 1964. But surprisingly few.  When Sylvia Barrett graduates from college and gets a teaching job, she’s eager to shape young minds. She ends up  buried in interoffice memos, lesson plans, and letters to and from students/parents/other teachers/administration. The story is told entirely through these memos, notes, and letters.  If it were written today, the story might be told via emails and texts, but the content would be largely the same. What keeps this book in the humorous (rather than being just depressing!) is that in spite of all of the crap they have to go through, at times the system is redeemed by teachers who genuinely care about their students, and by students who want to learn. That doesn’t always happen and too many fall through the cracks in a flawed system. But when it does happen that connection does happen it’s worthy of celebrating. It’s something that Sylvia learns in the course of this book.  But its also something that she’ll constantly have to remind herself of as she struggles through the days that can feel endless.

“I am writing this during my free . . . oops! un-assigned period, at the end of my first day of teaching. So far, I have taught nothing — but I have learned a great deal. To wit:
We have to punch a time clock and abide by the Rules.
We must make sure our students likewise abide, and that they sign the time sheet whenever they leave or reenter a room.
We have keys but no locks (except in lavatories), blackboards but no chalk, students but no seats, teachers but no time to teach.
The library is closed to the students.”

51qlgj6zojl-_ac_us218_9. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- Did anyone actually think that I was going to leave Hogwarts off my list? Has anyone reading this list not been “sorted”? I’m a Ravenclaw, in cause anyone was wondering. Haven’t we all had moments where we long for an owl messenger or a hidden train platform? Over the first six books in this series, Hogwarts becomes a character in and of itself. Which makes the fact that the seventh book takes the characters away from Hogwarts all the more jarring. But it’s also interesting to see that they carry it with them wherever they may be. For all the characters, Hogwarts itself, the teachers, the students, the ghosts, and Quiddich becomes ingrained in who they are as people. And I think most readers could say the same.

“What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?”
At this, Hermione stood up, her hand stretching towards the dungeon ceiling.
I don’t know,” said Harry quietly. “I think Hermione does, though, why don’t you try asking her?”
A few people laughed; Harry caught sight of Seamus’s eye and Seamus winked. Snape, however, was not pleased.
Sit down,” he snapped at Hermione. “For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren’t you all copying that down?”
There was a sudden rummaging for quills and parchment. Over the noise, Snape said, “And a point will be taken from Gryffindor house for your cheek, Potter.”

51rvjiougpl-_ac_us218_10. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray- In 1895, Gemma Doyle has a vision of her mother’s death, just before her mother commits suicide in India, and Gemma is shipped off to boarding school in England. At the Spence Academy for Young Ladies, Gemma must deal with the guilt about not having prevented her mother’s death,  her continuing visions of the future, and being shunned by her classmates. She’s also been followed by Katrik, a mysterious Indian boy who warns her to fight off her visions. As Gemma manages to form bonds with some other girls at Spence, she and her friends are drawn into the other worldly realms of her visions. They look at it as a “bit of fun” before their future as the wives of Victorian men. But there may be more danger than they’re aware of. The realms of Gemma’s visions are powerful, and several organizations want that power for themselves. This trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing) has strong echoes of Gothic novels like Jane Eyre or Rebecca. But it also has elements of fantasy that call to mind a more feminist Harry Potter. The series also deals with social issues in Victorian times.  It’s hard to explain but it’s  a lot of fun!

“Felicity ignores us. She walks out to them, an apparition in white and blue velvet, her head held high as they stare in awe at her, the goddess. I don’t know yet what power feels like. But this is surely what it looks like, and I think I’m beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It’s not that they want to protect us; it’s that they fear us.”