Birthday Weekend

Birthday petit-fours from my husband

Birthday petit-fours from my husband

It was my birthday this weekend. I have moved into a new demographic!

I decided I wanted to go to Northampton and Amherst for my birthday. There was a Poetry Festival in Amherst, but unfortunately, most of the events I wanted to go to were on Thursday or Friday before I could get there. Bummer. On Saturday, the Emily Dickinson House was sponsoring a marathon reading of all 1789 of her poems, but I really didn’t want to just dip in and out of that, so I wound up deciding to spend Saturday afternoon in Northampton.

Northampton and Amherst are college towns. Between the two of them, I count U Mass Amherst, Amherst College, Smith College, Mouth Holyoke College, and Hampshire College. I may be forgetting some. At any rate, they are close together, and with all those colleges, you can imagine the college-town vibe is strong. Northampton is definitely fairly funky, at least the downtown area.

We found a wonderful used bookstore. I loved it because the books were mostly in pristine condition. So many used bookstores don’t have really nice books, and most of them certainly don’t have the kind of selection Raven Used Books has. Here is my haul from Saturday.

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We went back today before leaving for home, and I scored two more books: Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations and Elena Mauli Shapiro’s 13 Rue Thérèse. The Club Dumas looks like it might be perfect for the R. I. P. Challenge, and who knew that there was a historical fiction novel about Hildegard von Bingen (Illuminations)? Byatt’s novel doesn’t have great reviews on Amazon, but I’ll give it a go. I loved Possession so much.

For my birthday lunch, we went to a burger place called Local Burger. Back when I was in college, I could get an excellent hamburger for about a buck at the cafeteria on campus. It had a nice charbroiled flavor, and it was juicy without being pink (pink ground beef skeeves me out). I hadn’t had a burger as good as those old cheap cafeteria burgers since. Until this one. And the fries were amazing.

We drove into Amherst and stopped into Amherst Books where I found a remainder of Remembering Shakespeare by David Scott Kastan and Kathryn James and Living with Shakespeare edited by Susannah Carson with essays by so many people—F. Murray Abraham, Isabel Allende, Brian Cox, Ralph Fiennes, James Earl Jones, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jane Smiley, Joyce Carol Oates, and many others.

Last night for dinner, we had some excellent Italian food at Pasta e Basta. I was “that person” and took a picture of my pasta because it was so pretty.

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I wish I could have brought my leftovers home. There was at least another meal left on that plate. I didn’t think it would travel well, though.

After dinner we picked up some cookies at Insomnia Cookies. Had such a thing existed when I was in college, I have no idea how big I’d be by now. We got four kinds of cookies, and I can definitely recommend the Double Chocolate Mint. I also tried Peanut Butter Chip, but the Chocolate Chunk and M&M cookies were all gone too fast.

This morning, we went to Jake’s for breakfast, and I had some fantastic eggs, potatoes, and toast. We walked around and did some more shopping. I found myself this glorious Brontë sisters mug with quotes from the sisters’ works.

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Northampton and Amherst are nice places to visit, and they’re only a little over an hour away. They have a different feel from other places in Massachusetts—perhaps because they’re college towns, or perhaps because they’re in the western part of the state. We don’t really have indie bookstores in Worcester, either (that I know of)—just B&N, so it was nice to go book shopping in those places and score some deals on some great-looking new and used books. In addition, everything was pretty reasonably priced—another of the virtues of a college town, I suppose.

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Steve and Dylan at dinner

Maggie and Me

Maggie and Me

Once I was home, Steve presented with two more books: A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century by Jerome Charyn and The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck by Sarah Knight. He had already given me Emily Dickinson’s Poems: As She Preserved Them. My parents sent me a gift card for more goodies from Amazon, too. I really need to do some reading!

P. S. I have no idea why the last image is upside-down on some devices. I can’t figure out how to fix it without deleting and starting over, though, so I just left it.

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Sunday Post #41: Books and Tea

Sunday Post

I haven’t finished any books this week, but I’ve been making progress on several. After I finished reading Between the World and Me last weekend, I started Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. So far, I like it but I don’t love it. I like Oskar, but I’m still reserving judgment. I don’t really like the sort of postmodern opposition to making sense. It’s like the book is trying and failing to be charming (or worse, deep). But I don’t hate it, and I’ve read a bit too far to quit. Now I want to find out what happens. As Oskar would say, “Anyway.”

I am also progressing slowly through Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. That one is just going to take me a long time. In addition to being extremely long, the pages are big and the print is small. It’s one of those books that would probably be much easier and satisfying to read on Kindle. I don’t think it’s available on Kindle.

One of the things I started in my classes before winter break at school is independent reading. Students can read whatever they like. They figure out how many pages they can read in two hours, and their goal is to read two hours a week, which is a pretty doable proposition for high school students. It’s going very well so far. I give students ten minutes at the beginning of class to read, and I read at the same time. It’s been a nice way to begin class, and I think the students are enjoying it. It’s interesting to see the variety of choices they make. Without my suggestion, some have even picked up rather difficult classics. I only have one student who is chronically forgetting his book.

I found a short article (I think—it may have been an ad) in my last issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine for Jane Austen Tea sold by Simpson & Vail as part of their Literary Teas line. They have so many delicious-looking teas that it was hard to choose, but rather than dear old Aunt Jane’s blend, I opted for their Brontë Sisters Black Tea Blend and their Charles Dickens Black Tea Blend. I had a chance to sample both this weekend, and let me tell you, they were excellent. I will definitely be trying more. I know all you book lovers (and tea lovers) will want to check them out. I want to try the Jane Austen Black Tea Blend for sure, but also the Fyodor Dostoyevsky Black Tea Blend. Perhaps some of the others as well. It’s tough for me to resist teas named after my favorite authors, and Simpson & Vail seems to have picked a lot of them, but I’m not at all sure I’d like a floral-tasting tea. Black tea is pretty much a known quantity. I’m not a big green tea or herbal tea fan, either.

Charles Dickens tea from Simpson & Vail Tea in my Mrs. Darcy mug. This is how I do Sunday.

A post shared by Dana Huff (@danamhuff) on

This weekend I also watched It Might Get Loud again. Love watching that film. In all honesty, Jimmy Page, the Edge, and Jack White actually are my three favorite guitarists. There is a really transcendent moment near the end of that film when all three of them play “In My Time of Dying” that I can’t watch without a huge grin on my face.

Right now I’m trying to learn to play guitar again, and as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I realized a dream I’ve had since I was about 16 of owning my very own electric guitar after getting one for Christmas. I have been taking Introduction to Guitar, offered by Berklee College of Music through Coursera. It is mostly a refresher so far, but I have learned a few things. I took a guitar class in high school where I learned most of the basics, and then I took classical guitar in college (one course). I didn’t keep up with it very well for a variety of reasons, but I have a passion for music.

I was also able to catch up a bit on work this weekend as I proctored the SAT for students at school yesterday. My grades and comments for first semester are all done, and I can start grading some of the early assignments I’ve collected for second semester. I have a few things I need to finish up before bed (and Downton Abbey to watch in between). I had the best weekend listening to music, making a batch of soap, and doing logic puzzles. I hope you had a good weekend, too.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Sunday Post #19: Memorial Day Weekend

Sunday PostFinal exams have been taken, and I am finishing up grading for the year. I’m sipping my morning coffee. In a little while, I have to go to school to perform my last weekend duty assignment of the year. I always seem to have duty on Memorial Day weekend. I’m not sure what’s up with that.

Anyone out there use the Audible app and have a major issue with the last iOS version app update? Apparently lots of people were unhappy. I opened my app yesterday to listen to my book while I was making soap, and I had an error message. Nothing I did seemed to work, so I emailed tech support and was told to delete the app and reinstall it (logging out first, of course). I was so nervous about doing that because I was afraid I’d lose all my record-keeping and badges, not to mention my place in the current book. I’m not a big one for taking notes or using bookmarks in Audible, so I wasn’t as concerned. I followed the process, and I did have to mark all the books I had read as “finished” again, but other than that, it seems okay. I will give it whirl later and make sure. If you ever run into the problem, here is the error message I received:

Encountered Error while trying to Upgrade Application. Do you wish to re-try? Warning!Canceling the upgrade will result in loss of data.

All the spaces are just as I saw them in the error message, copied word for word exactly as I saw it.

The steps to resolve it are as follows:

  1. Turn on Airplane mode (not sure this is strictly necessary, but I did it).
  2. Open the Audible app.
  3. Go to settings.
  4. Press and hold on my email address at the top.
  5. At prompt “Reset Sign In,” tap “Sign Out” option.
  6. Delete the app.
  7. Turn Airplane mode back off (not one of the steps sent me, but necessary to proceed).
  8. Re-download it from the App Store.
  9. Open the app and sign in again.
  10. Re-download any current books (my book seems to be where I left off).
  11. Mark any previously read books “finished” again.

This process seemed to work for me. All my badges and records are still intact.

I added some more books to my ever-growing TBR pile this week.

I seriously may have to pick some of these up for the summer. They look pretty good. Gorgeous covers. I’m particularly excited for Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos—one of the main characters is an English teacher who has a son with autism. I think I can relate to that one!

I obviously didn’t finish anything else this week (no reviews), and once again, I’ve only really made any progress on The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. At this point, I’m probably behind in the number of books I should have read to reach my goal of reading 52 by the end of the year, but I’m not too worried because I have been around a book ahead for most of this year, and the summer beckons with more time to read.

In the coming week, I need to focus on finishing my grading and finishing up the year. I’m not sure I’ll get a ton of reading done, but who knows? What are your plans for the week?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Review: The Annotated Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, ed. Janet Gezari

I have read Wuthering Heights in several formats now, from my first Barnes and Noble paperback, to an audio book, to this new annotated version edited by Janet Gezari. It’s interesting how one notices different things about books upon re-reading, and no matter how good a friend a book might be, a re-read introduces nuances never noticed before. So it is with this annotated edition of Wuthering Heights.

In the past, when people have asked me (rather aghast upon my pronouncement that this is my favorite book) why on earth I liked it so much, I have been at a loss. After all, aren’t the characters all horrible human beings, impossible to like and therefore sympathize with? I had no real answer for that observation. I shared it. I don’t think I do anymore, however.

I mentioned in my Sunday Post recently that I had noticed Nelly Dean emerging as a much more troublesome character—I might even say a villain—than I had previously thought. Because she tells most of the story, the people she does not like, Catherine and Heathcliff, suffer the most from her descriptions of their character. Heathcliff probably is a pretty horrible person, though the case can be fairly argued that he was made horrible by the way he was treated. We want to feel sorry for him, and then he does something cruel, so we can’t. I am not so blind as to argue he’s a poor, misunderstood innocent. I think people who think of Heathcliff as a great romantic hero either haven’t read the book or don’t understand his character very well. But to me, he’s interesting precisely because he’s horrible. Not interesting as in “I want him to be my book boyfriend.” Let’s get that straight. Yet, Catherine is the one person who sees who Heathcliff really is because, as she says, “Nelly, I am Heathcliff.”

Catherine is probably not as horrible as Nelly depicts her. Nelly doesn’t like her, and her daughter, Cathy, shares many of her mother’s faults but comes off better in Nelly’s description. I think I really understood in this reading how much Nelly prejudices the reader against Catherine. One of the annotations remarks that the Heights’ housekeeper, Zillah, describes young Cathy in much the same way as Nelly describes her mother. I had found young Cathy’s treatment of Hareton inexcusable in the past, but I felt I understood it better in this reading. After all, she considers him in league with Heathcliff, and he did help Heathcliff imprison her in Wuthering Heights. That she ever does, in fact, warm to him and come to love him is miraculous given the start they had, and it shows her capacity for love and forgiveness. Nelly certainly comes off as meddling and judgmental. And why is she spilling all the family dirt to a perfect stranger in the first place?

Another thing I noticed really for the first time in this reading was the bird motif. Birds appear in various forms throughout the narrative. Nelly introduces Heathcliff’s history by describing him as a “cuckoo,” and birds, nests, and feathers are woven through the remainder of the narrative. Birds can be petted caged creatures, like Isabella Linton, or wild creatures like Catherine and Heathcliff. I was thinking about the part in the story when Catherine describes Heathcliff allowing the lapwings to die when she is sorting the feathers in her torn pillow:

And here is a moor-cock’s; and this—I should know it among a thousand—it’s a lapwing’s. Bonny bird, wheeling over our heads in the middle of the moor. It wanted to get to its nest, for the clouds touched the swells, and it felt rain coming. This feather was picked up from the heath, the bird was not shot—we saw its nest in the winter, full of little skeletons. Heathcliff set a trap over it, and the old ones dare not come. I made him promise he’d never shoot a lapwing after that, and he didn’t. (188)

Later in the novel, Heathcliff’s son Linton, Catherine’s daughter Cathy, and Hindley’s son Hareton become like the lapwings in Heathcliff’s trap. Linton is killed, but once Heathcliff notices Cathy and Hareton’s affection for one another, all the will to continue his revenge seems to vanish. He tells Nelly,

It’s a poor conclusion, is it not… An absurd termination to my violent exertions? I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules, and when everything is ready, and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished! My old enemies have not beaten me—now would be the precise time to revenge myself on their representatives—I could do it; and none could hinder me—But where is the use? I don’t care for striking. I can’t take the trouble to raise my hand! That sounds as if I have been labouring the whole time, only to exhibit a fine trait of magnanimity. It is far from being the case—I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing. (416)

I believe Heathcliff has come to equate the children with the lapwings. He destroyed them for no reason, and remembering Catherine’s injunction, he stays his hand just as his perfect revenge is in his grasp. And he quite literally gives up on living and dies.

I also think I fully appreciated for the first time that young Cathy’s story is her mother’s story “in reverse,” as the “‘movement of the book’ is away from Earnshaw and back, like the movement of the house itself. And all the movement must be through Heathcliff” (65). I think of the scene in which Lockwood finds himself in Catherine and Heathcliff’s old room and sees her three names written: Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Heathcliff (a name she hoped to have), Catherine Linton. Her daughter begins Catherine Linton, becomes Catherine Heathcliff, and eventually Catherine Earnshaw. The book ends on a hopeful note that what was lost will be restored in this second generation.

Reading this annotated version opened many connections, especially to Romantic writers such as Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, that I had not considered before in Brontë’s writing. Though Heathcliff is a famous Byronic hero, I didn’t know, for instance, that Thomas Moore’s Life of Byron may have been in Brontë’s mind when she wrote the scene in which Catherine says she cannot marry Heathcliff because it would degrade her, but that she can marry Linton and help Heathcliff to rise in the world. Byron apparently overhead or perhaps was told that Mary Chaworth, a woman whom he loved, said “Do you think I could care anything for that lame boy?” (140). I was also surprised to learn of a possible connection to Shelley’s Epipsychidion in the declaration that Catherine makes that she “is” Heathcliff: “I am not thine: I am a part of thee” (142). Natural references similar to Wordsworth and Coleridge’s observations occur throughout. It was a more fitting choice for the Romantic era in the Literary Movement Challenge than I even realized when I decided to read it.

It’s a gorgeous book with a great many illustrations and illuminating footnotes. It also includes Charlotte Brontë’s biographical notice and preface to the 1850 edition of the novel. I don’t think Charlotte fully understood what her sister had written, and I don’t agree with much of what she has said about the novel.

If you are a fan of this novel, you definitely want this beautiful edition for your library. If you haven’t read the novel, this edition will enrich your reading. If you don’t like the novel, but you want to figure it out anyway, you might find this edition will give you a lot to think about, and it might just change your mind. I have to say, I fell in love with it all over again on this reading.

Rating: ★★★★★

I will count this selection as my Yorkshire novel for the Reading England Challenge. Taking place some 50 or so years before it was written, this one qualifies as historical fiction, and I am counting it as my Classic by a Woman Author for the Back to the Classics Challenge as well.

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Sunday Post #15: Wuthering, Wuthering Heights

Sunday PostWhat has been happening this week? It’s been crazy busy. I haven’t had a ton of time to read, so I sat down and read most of today (with the exception of doing a little bit of work and washing the dishes). I have been spending most of the day wandering the moors, reading The Annotated Wuthering Heights. What a great addition to my library. I am truly enjoying it. Each time I read Wuthering Heights, I notice something I didn’t pick up on last time, and this time, it’s how horrible Nelly Dean is. I mean, I have often thought of her as mostly a reliable narrator, and because of her, I have really disliked Catherine. Heathcliff is just plain hard to like, no matter what. As soon as you start feeling sympathy for him, he goes off and kills lapwings for no reason or hangs a dog. Perhaps because I’m reading an annotated version, I am noticing so many more things than I ever have before. All the birds, for one thing; I’m sure I noticed that before, but even though the annotations don’t discuss the birds in a great amount of detail, I think my antennae are up, so to speak, and I’m noticing the symbolism more than I usually do. And there are birds just everywhere in this book. Another thing I am seeing are the close connections to the Romantic poets. The annotations help there, and I am really pleased I chose to read this one for the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. Hope I can finish it in time! Even if I don’t, I definitely want to finish reading this lovely annotated version. I realize a lot of people hate this book, but I think if you peel it apart and and see what makes it work, it is genius. I am especially enjoying the nuances I am noticing in Nelly’s character this time around.

I finished reading Pleasantville by Attica Locke and wrote a review for the TLC Book Tour this week as well. A good read. I am also still working away on Katherine Howe’s Conversion on audio. The reader for that one is really good. I recommended it to a bunch of my students this week when I saw it was one of their choices for a summer read.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was top ten favorite authors of all time. You know, I am actually liking the idea of saving these for my Sunday Post instead of doing them on Tuesday. I just have less time to write during the work week. To qualify as a favorite author, I decided that I needed to love multiple books by the same author. So I didn’t count authors who have only written one novel. I also didn’t count authors if I had read only one of their works (even if I loved it). So here is my list:

  1. William Shakespeare
  2. Jane Austen
  3. J. K. Rowling
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien
  5. Diana Gabaldon
  6. Ernest Hemingway
  7. Sharyn McCrumb
  8. Jasper Fforde
  9. Neil Gaiman
  10. Judy Blume

Who would be on your list?

Authors whose work I love, but whom I didn’t count because of my self-imposed rules are Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and Emily Brontë.

Some links I enjoyed this week:

Here’s a bonus for you:

For the record, I have always believed it really was Catherine’s ghost who disturbed Lockwood early in the novel.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #13: Not Much Reading Going On

Sunday PostI have not had a lot of time to read over the last two weeks with some extra work, and I’m hoping it changes in week ahead. I did finish the first volume of John Lewis’s memoir March, and I immediately purchased the second volume. It was weird. I ordered the book from Amazon on a Friday night, and I received the book the following Sunday. I have never had that happen. Since when do carriers deliver on Sunday? I must have missed that memo. I am not complaining—just surprised. I don’t know. Maybe I am a bit worried about carriers and days off. Still, if they are delivering on Sunday, they must get some other day off, right?

I am still reading the other books I started prior to or near the beginning of the month: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser, Pleasantville by Attica Locke, The Annotated Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I have to admit I’ve put aside the Marie Antoinette bio for the most part because the other two books are more pressing for me to finish. Pleasantville is part of a TLC Book Tour stop here on April 17. I am trying to finish The Annotated Wuthering Heights for a challenge.

I like to listen to audio books while I clean house or make soap, so I started Katherine Howe’s Conversion, which I think is her first, and perhaps at this point, her only YA book. I am liking it so far. As someone who has visited Salem and lives in Massachusetts, I can appreciate the research that Howe always does with her books. I did notice she made Channel 7 the ABC affiliate in her book, but Channel 5 is actually Boston’s ABC affiliate. I wonder if she was made to change that because of legal concerns. Otherwise, I haven’t noticed any wrong notes. The book’s narrator, Khristine Hvam, nails an early American Massachusetts accent (at least based on what I understand it sounded like). I love Katherine Howe, not just as a writer, but as a person. She is so kind and personable to her fans. I am glad to see her returning to “witches” again. I will read practically anything with a Salem Witch Trials connection (practically, I said—I imagine there are some books I’d avoid). As a teacher at a New England prep school, there is much about St. Joan’s that I recognize, too.

Last week was the first week I’ve missed the Sunday Post meme since I started doing it. Truthfully, I didn’t have much to report at that point. Still, I am a little bummed I forgot to post. I am hoping some things settle down so I have more reading time. I always, always say that we make time for things that are important, and when people ask me how I find time to read, I say that I make time because it’s important. I have not been making much time lately.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Covers

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

I didn’t have a chance to post my Top Ten Tuesday response yesterday. I love the topic for this week: Top Ten Favorite Book Covers of Books I’ve Read.

Despite the adage not to judge a book by its cover, we all do it, and we all pick up books because the cover entrances us. We have also probably eschewed perfectly good books because of unattractive covers. If we didn’t pay attention to covers, neither would publishers, who spend a lot of money (I am assuming) on graphic designers.

In order to write this post, I scrolled through my Read pile on Goodreads. Here are my favorite covers.

[amazon_image id=”0743273567″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1594746036″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0345802624″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”B005UVW8NQ” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Map of True Places[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0393338487″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Emily’s Ghost[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0143105434″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0143106155″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0060731338″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Freakonomics[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”B005EP2310″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Ahab’s Wife[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0679751521″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil[/amazon_image]

I could have chosen a lot of covers for this post, and indeed, I had trouble narrowing it to ten. There are quite a few books with arresting covers that have caught my eye. But I narrowed it down to these ten. I think the Cugat cover of [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link] is one of the most iconic and beautiful book covers of all time. Even Fitzgerald, upon seeing it (and fearing that his publisher would give it to another writer), said, “don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.”

The cover of [amazon_link id=”1594746036″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link] is an arresting black and white photograph of a levitating girl. Ransom Riggs’s book was famously inspired by a package of odd photographs he purchased, and he created his characters from those photographs. The girl on the cover is the little girl who floats unless she is tied to something. I love her ancient little face. She looks like little old woman. The font is also part of what makes this cover design appealing.

I didn’t much care for the novel [amazon_link id=”0345802624″ target=”_blank” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_link], but the cover is quite striking in black, white, and red. The artwork reminds me of paper doll cutouts.

The hardcover version of Brunonia Barry’s novel [amazon_link id=”B005UVW8NQ” target=”_blank” ]The Map of True Places[/amazon_link] caught my eye because of the gorgeous blue of the sky and water and the celestial map markings. I was lucky to receive two signed copies of this book when I won a sweepstakes connected to this novel. Obviously, that isn’t why I love the cover, but I surely did fall in love with Salem and with Massachusetts, and this book was a large part of that.

I think what I like about the cover of [amazon_link id=”0393338487″ target=”_blank” ]Emily’s Ghost[/amazon_link] is the juxtaposition of the striping on the bottom where the title appears with the gorgeous picture of the woman looking over the bare moors.

I think Ruben Toledo’s covers of the Penguin classics are all brilliant, but my two favorites are his covers of [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”0143106155″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link]. I love the drawings of Catherine and Heathcliff on the first, and the excellent blue creepiness of the house and sweet little Jane on the second. The cartoonish nature of the drawings is fun and appealing. I think as a student, I might be more inclined to pick up the classics illustrated by Toledo as opposed to those versions with old paintings of women on the covers. You know what I mean.

The cover of [amazon_link id=”0060731338″ target=”_blank” ]Freakonomics[/amazon_link] intrigues me because it doesn’t meet expectations. The apple is cut open to reveal and orange inside. Not only that, but the apple is green, and for some reason, this cover wouldn’t work if the apple were any other color. I can’t stop looking at it, for some reason, and I definitely wanted to read it because of the cover.

[amazon_link id=”B005EP2310″ target=”_blank” ]Ahab’s Wife[/amazon_link] is one of my all-time favorites. I just love the wrecked ship and the way the woman on the cover is looking at it. You can tell she is remembering her story. “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” See? Now don’t you want to read it? It’s nearly as good an opener as “Call me Ishmael.” It’s a stunning book, and I love the stark beauty of the cover.

The last book I chose the famous image of the Bird Girl statue from John Berendt’s [amazon_link id=”0679751521″ target=”_blank” ]Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil[/amazon_link]. It is an arresting image in green, and the statue became such a draw for tourists in Savannah that the city moved it out of the graveyard, where it obviously was located when this photograph was taken, to a museum. It is not quite the same, seeing it there. The Bird Girl belongs in this graveyard under the large trees weeping Spanish moss. I hope they move her back there someday.

What are your favorite book covers?

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R.I.P. Recap

I did not complete the R.I.P. Challenge this year. It’s absolutely my favorite challenge of the year, but I only managed to read one book that could be considered part of the challenge, and it wasn’t even one of the books I planned to count. By the way, I did make a soap inspired by Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season. I call it Vanilla Sugar Cane. Its ingredients are olive oil, water, coconut oil, palm oil, sodium hydroxide, sweet almond oil, cocoa butter, and castor oil, along with a vanilla sugar fragrance that is an exact duplicate of Bath & Body Works’ Warm Vanilla Sugar fragrance—one of my favorites. I can’t wait until this soap is ready.

I did not manage to finish Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I’m giving up on it because it just didn’t do anything for me. I don’t know what’s wrong with me because it has all the elements I usually like in books: a creepy carnival visiting a small town in the fall; lots of imagery; a story that can be read on multiple levels. I think ultimately, I don’t care much for the characters. I have seen the movie (many years ago), and I liked it, so I can’t explain why the book is just not appealing to me. I find it is not difficult to put down, and I keep looking at it, thinking I should pick it up. At this point, I’ve maxed out my library renewals, and I just don’t have a desire to try to finish it. I feel like I’m giving the book the old, “It’s not you, it’s me,” speech. But I really feel like it is me. People love this book. I did make a soap inspired by Mr. Crosetti’s cotton candy. It was pink and cotton-candy scented. However, as the soap cured, it turned a deeper shade closer to purple. My feeling is it now looks like appropriately dark and twisted cotton candy, and Mr. Dark would approve. I will probably just gift it to the kids in my family for Christmas.

I enjoyed the challenge I set for myself of thinking of an appropriate soap inspired by the books I read for this challenge. I am not sure I’d want to do it for every challenge or every book, but it was fun, and just like the books, I was really pleased with how the Vanilla Sugar Cane Soap came out from the very start, and as it cures, it is shaping up into a very nice soap, just like the book. On the other hand, I was initially pleased with the Cotton Candy Soap, and over time, I found my enthusiasm cooled as the soap changed a funny color, which mirrors my feelings for the book on which I based it.

This year is shaping up to be a bad reading year for me all the way around. I am already feeling a pull to re-read [amazon asin=0143105434&text=Wuthering Heights]. I recognize the signs: I start Googling things related to the book and looking for film versions on Netflix. And I don’t have time. I have other books I’ve committed to read. That book is a damned siren.

So how did you do with the challenge this year? How’s your reading year shaping up as we slide into the final two months?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors I’d DIE to Meet

Top Ten Tuesday

“Dying” is a little extreme, but there are a lot of of writers I would love to meet.

  1. William Shakespeare: I have so many questions. First, I want to know what he thinks of the literary reputation he has. I would also love to put paid to all those anti-Stratfordian conspiracy theories once and for all (and no, don’t bother commenting on this post if you are one—I cannot be convinced). I would also like to know why he went to London and became an actor. I have a million questions!
  2. Jane Austen: I would love to have tea with her. I am really curious what she would make of her current literary status. I think she would be completely baffled—I actually had a lot of fun imagining just such a scenario. I would just love to sit and talk with her.
  3. J. K. Rowling: Her superstar status makes me more likely to meet Shakespeare in this lifetime. Well, at at any rate, her books are some of my favorites, and I would love to talk with her about the characters and find out all kinds of secrets of the HP World that never made their way into the books. I hope Pottermore will have a lot of that.
  4. F. Scott Fitzgerald: I want to ask him about his writing process. I have heard he was a dogged reviser. I know he helped Hemingway make [amazon_link id=”1907590250″ target=”_blank” ]The Sun Also Rises[/amazon_link] better through some astute editing. I would also like to ask him about all those folks in Paris and what it was like to write in Hollywood. I have so many questions about Gatsby, too.
  5. Oscar Wilde: I mean, he’s bound to be entertaining and hilarious, right? I would love to just chat with him. Though I liked his writing (what I’ve read, that is), I’m more interested in Wilde as a personality.
  6. Mark Twain: Ditto for Wilde, except I truly do love [amazon_link id=”B003VYBQPK” target=”_blank” ]Adventures of Huckleberry Finn[/amazon_link]. I would love to discuss what he thinks of the controversy surrounding that novel. I want to hear him go off on the new bowdlerized edition.
  7. J. R. R. Tolkien: I have a million questions about Middle Earth. I would love to hear all about how he constructed such a well-developed fantasy world. It seems like such a huge undertaking.
  8. The Brontë sisters: Yes, it’s cheating to combine them, but to be fair, I would probably have to meet all of them if I were to go visit Haworth, right? I’d love to chat with them about their writing, how they help each other and work together, and just their family story.
  9. Byron, Shelley, and Keats: I already met them for tea in a dream, so again, even though it’s cheating to include all three of them, I’d like to see if they’re at all like they were in my dream.
  10. Joseph Campbell: He has such an understanding of why we tell stories, and I would love to just listen to him talk about them. I especially want to pick his brain about Harry Potter. I have often said to students in my Hero with a Thousand Faces classes that it’s a pity Campbell died before those books were published because he would have loved them.

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Reading Update: What Next?

A Young Girl Reading
A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Finn is a little dark. I had to put it down for a bit because I wasn’t feeling up to a Faulknerian jaunt through Twain’s territory. I am still making my way through The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser—I am now at about 1880. I don’t want to pick up another nonfiction book until I finish it. I’m listening to the audio version of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind on my commutes and car rides. Wow! What a book lover’s book! But I need to pick up some fiction for reading at home. Since I can’t decide, I’m asking for your help to make up my mind. Here are my options. If you think one sounds really good (or know it’s really good) and I should read it now, please vote for it.

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South examines the tensions between the industrial North of England and the more aristrocratic South. The novel centers around Margaret Hale, whose non-conformist minister father moves the family from the South to the North. I became interested in the book after my online buddy Clix shared this clip from the miniseries with me:

That looks pretty good, doesn’t it? I mean if you’re a fan of the Brontës and Austen.

The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman

Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector could be read as part of the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge, as it’s a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility (of a sort). It makes me nervous that it’s sitting on only three stars at Amazon after 112 reviews; they are not as notoriously cautious in their gifting of stars as Goodreads, where it actually has a slightly higher rating of 3.23 stars. On paper, it looks to be right up my alley, as it explores the lives of sisters Emily Bach, the CEO of a trendy dot-com startup, and sister Jess, an environmental activist and philosophy grad student who works in an antiquarian bookstore.

Becoming Jane Eyre, by Sheila Kohler

Sheila Kohler’s Becoming Jane Eyre is the story of the Brontë family, as endlessly fascinating as their writing. It is 1846, and the Brontës’ mother Maria Branwell Brontë has died, as have the oldest daughters Maria and Elizabeth. The family’s son, Branwell, dissolves into dissipation and drink. The sisters begin writing their novels. Of course, Charlotte and Jane Eyre are the focus.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman himself describes American Gods as a polarizing book. In his experience, readers tend to love it or hate it. A bookstore employee told me once that he felt it was Gaiman’s masterpiece. The novel centers around Shadow, released from prison on the death of his wife, who meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, from whom he discovers that the old Norse gods walk America. It’s been on my shelf a while and would be perfect for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

The Dream of Perpetual Motion, by Dexter Palmer

Dexter Palmer’s steampunk novel The Dream of Perpetual Motion re-imagines Shakespeare’s play The Tempest in a dirigible called The Chrysalis, which is powered by a “perpetual motion machine.” Told by Harold Winslow, imprisoned on the Chrysalis, recounts the story of Prospero Taligent: his amazing inventions, his virtual island, and his daughter Miranda. This one would also be great for the Once Upon a Time challenge, and I hear it’s an excellent introduction to steampunk for fans of literary fiction who aren’t sure they’d like steampunk. I could pair it with The Tempest for the Shakespeare Reading Challenge.

So what do you think?

Which book should I read next?

  • American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (45%, 5 Votes)
  • The Dream of Perpetual Motion, by Dexter Palmer (27%, 3 Votes)
  • The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman (18%, 2 Votes)
  • Becoming Jane Eyre, by Sheila Kohler (9%, 1 Votes)
  • North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 11

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Poll expires this time tomorrow.

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