Sunday Post #5: History Makers

Sunday PostSince last week, when I mentioned that we have all the snow, I can tell you we probably have five feet on the ground with more on the way tonight and tomorrow. My children have yet another snow day tomorrow. My own school just called me to let me know I also do not have school; however, I do believe I have a meeting via Google Hangout, and I need to make some soap for a wholesale account, so I imagine I will be busy. We have had record-breaking snowfall the last few weeks.  The Sunday Post is starting to sound monotonous with the weather report each time. When you’re more or less snowbound, however, there’s not much else going on.

I finally finished listening to the audio book of Diana Gabaldon’s novel The Fiery Cross this week. I also finished reading The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. Look for the review for that book to be posted on 2/17. I started reading four books this week as well:

The Tell-Tale Heart, like The Serpent of Venice, is part of a TLC Book Tour. I’m reading As You Like It as my Renaissance selection for the Literary Movement Challenge. Finished Act I as of yesterday. I am listening to Neil Gaiman read the short story collection Trigger Warning. After finishing The Fiery Cross, I didn’t want to dive right into another really long Gabaldon audio book right away. I have had Marie Antoinette: The Journey in my Kindle library for a very long time, but I finally decided to read it after watching the Kirsten Dunst film Marie Antoinette, which reminded me how fascinated I am by the French Revolution and all the history leading up to it.

The movie itself, I have to say, was kind of weird. The costumes and sets were gorgeous. The music was strange. Some of the casting was bizarre. The jury’s still out on whether I liked it or not. I searched in vain for a documentary about the French Revolution on Netflix last night, so I decided to start reading the book. Also on my list at some point is Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. I’m always on the lookout for good historical fiction set during this time period as well, so let me know if you know of anything. I have previously read Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution (loved!), Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud, and Melanie Clegg’s The Secret Diary of a Princess. And of course, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. I can’t recall any others, so let me know what I’ve missed. I am not particularly more interested Ancien Régime versus post-Revolution or nobility versus Estates-General. I’m not picky.

I love reading historical fiction, which is one of the reasons I always try to participate in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, no matter how active I actually am in the challenge. If I had to peg my favorite periods, I would say 18th and 19th century America (particularly New England, but really, it’s all pretty interesting), the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, 18th century France and England, and 19th century England. I do not much like to read WWII historical fiction, which reminds me of a post of Stefanie’s that I read over at So Many Books: “Books I Won’t Read.” I am not going to go quite so far as to say I will not read books about World War II. I really hesitate, though. I find it mentally exhausting and very depressing to read about that war, for obvious reasons. Inevitably, the books are heart-wrenching. I hate to say it feels like manipulation on the part of authors to write about the events of that war, especially when they really happened, but it’s also quite difficult to criticize. After all, anything you say in critique of books about the Holocaust just makes you sound heartless. So, I’m really careful about what I choose to read from that era. If a book has a whiff of cashing in on that tragedy at all, I can’t read it.

So far, I’ve finished seven books this year. I can’t recall ever having read that many at this point in the year. Honestly, I think the goal I set of reading 52 books has been a good motivator for me. I know I’m making more of an effort to read. I think of myself as a slow reader, but it looks like I have managed to pick up speed over time without noticing much. I very rarely can sit and read an entire book all day, and I haven’t tried timing myself to see how fast I’m actually reading. It’s more just a sense I have that I’m able to read books faster than I have in the past.

The biggest news in the book world this week is the impending publication of Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, which will feature an adult Scout Finch. Some speculation in the media has made me wonder if Harper Lee was aware of what her lawyer was doing, but it’s hard to tell. This New York Times story does a fair job discussing the controversy. I am going to read the book. I have actually already selected it for my school summer reading choice. I called dibs the day the announcement was made. I am not going to miss another Harper Lee novel. Am I worried it might not be as good as To Kill a Mockingbird? Of course. It’s natural. But there is no way I’m going to miss it. And while I’m on the subject, I wish Goodreads would stop people from reviewing or rating unreleased books. Or, to be more specific, unreleased books that no one has read yet. I actually find ratings and reviews from folks who had uncorrected proofs or early access through other channels helpful. This book already has a 3.72 rating on Goodreads. Come on.

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 Things on my Reading Wishlist

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/I totally didn’t do my weekend reading update this weekend. I actually haven’t made much progress in my book, so I think that’s fine. I just had a busy week. I do like this week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday:

Today’s Topic: Top Ten Things On My Reading Wishlist (if you could make authors write about these things you would. Could be a specific type of character, an issue tackled, a time period, a certain plot, etc.)

 

  1. I want a really great gothic ghost story something like The Woman in Black, but set in Ireland or Scotland, and with a great creep factor, but no ick. Also, bonus if it’s in a castle. I am a big Scooby Doo fan. Also, double bonus if it’s set in the Edwardian era because I love the clothes.
  2. I would love it if someone would do something with Celtic myth. I actually have a little something I’m working on myself, but I would really like to see what someone else would do with stories from the Ulster Cycle or Finn Cycle in Ireland, or the Mabinogion in Wales.
  3. More really good historical fiction about Shakespeare. I have read some that’s not what I’d call good. Bonus points if it explores one of the lost plays or the Dark Lady. Maybe I should cook up something along those lines myself.
  4. I’d like to read a historical fiction book like Diana Gabaldon writes. Historical romances are just not my favorites, but she seems to cross genres in a way that really intrigues me. Also, I like how her books span across time and over the lifetimes of her characters.
  5. A really good multigenerational saga. I know these exist, but I haven’t had as much luck finding them. If you know of one, please share. I mean, I’d like to see hundreds of years pass. I am really interested in genealogy, and it would be interesting to me to read about a family’s history.
  6. Really good derivative works. I mean, tell me the story from Miss Havisham’s point of view, but make it awesome. I have read some metafiction lately that hasn’t been up to scratch. Some of it has been really good, however. Bring on more of the really good.
  7. An Arthurian novel that measures up to The Mists of Avalon. That book is probably my favorite Arthurian saga. I love that it’s told through the viewpoint of the women, mainly Morgan Le Fay. I wish someone would come up with a fresh and interesting way to tell that story again.
  8. A really good novel set in Paris that makes me want to keep flipping pages the same way that A Moveable Feast does. I love that book. By the same token, it can be similar to The Paris Wife. Bonus points if it’s about artists.
  9. A good book about George Sand’s life. I have been fascinated by her since I was in college. This is yet another topic I have considered exploring myself. I adore her passion.
  10. A good thriller like The Da Vinci Code but well written and with characters that are more than cardboard stand-ins or flagrant copies of Indiana Jones.

Sometimes I think it’s good advice to just write the book you want to read. Don’t tell anyone my ideas.

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Review: Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard

Mr. Timothy: A NovelCharles Dickens’s yarn about the redeeming power of Christmas is one of my all-time favorite stories. I try to watch a version of it every year, and one year, I read the book itself. When Mr. Timothy came across my radar, I couldn’t resist. I think I requested the book on PaperBackSwap. And then it sat unread on my shelf for quite some time.

In Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard takes up the story of Tiny Tim Cratchit, all grown up and mourning the recent passing of his father. Aside from saying “God bless us, every one,” Tiny Tim is probably most famous for being the saintly crippled child who finally melted old Ebenezer Scrooge’s icy heart. When Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Present if Tiny Tim will live, the ghost replies, flinging Scrooge’s own words back at him: “If he be like to die he had better do it and decrease the surplus population.” Louis Bayard imagines a Timothy Cratchit who is altogether crushed under the weight of expectations of having survived and received the beneficence of the former “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.” He has grown up, but who has he become? He is as lost, in his way, as Ebenezer Scrooge. He lives in a whorehouse, where he pays for his room and board by teaching the madam to read. His parents are gone, and he is reduced to taking handouts from Uncle N (old Uncle Scrooge, that is). He hates himself for being unable to cut the purse strings, but he seems stuck, unable to do anything with his life. Then he finds the bodies of two girls, curiously branded with a letter G, and he discovers another lost little girl being hunted, and fearing she will be next to die, Timothy enlists the help of a foul-mouthed street urchin to save her. What he uncovers is the grossest exploitation of the lower classes by the upper echelons of British society. But is he the man to do anything about it? Bob Cratchit once said that in church, Tim said he was happy that others could see him in church and remember, on Christmas Day, who it was who made blind men see and lame beggars walk. Grown up Mr. Timothy insists he never said any such thing—his father only wished that he had. When it really counts, can Timothy Cratchit really offer salvation to anyone? Can he even save himself?

A page-turning tale of Victorian gothic suspense, this novel really begins to pick up once Timothy is hot on the trail of the people at the center of a horrific child slavery ring. Do not look for Dickens in this novel, though I admit he shows up a bit in chapter 16, when Timothy Cratchit is brought before a magistrate on trumped up charges of sexual assault. I love the description of the lawyer Peter Cratchit has engaged to defend his brother:

A stout, whey-skinned man with a decamping hairline and advancing whiskers, soldierly red on both fronts. The hand he presents to me is quite damp, and there is a prevailing humidity all about his person: wet eyes, wet lips, wet teeth … and, exhaling from his pores, an effluvium that, unless my nostrils deceive me, represents the final gaseous iteration of imported Jamaican rum. … There is no doubt, however, that Mr. Sheldrake exudes confidence. (213)

The whole chapter through had me chuckling, and brought to mind Dickens’s own way with characterization and scenecraft.

Bayard deftly captures the soot begrimed streets of Victorian London, from the refuse in the streets, to the cabbies, to stately manors behind lacy wrought iron fences. Timothy’s character winds up being believable. He has so long been the protagonist of a narrative written by others, as he reflects, that it is easy to see how he might lose his way and find it necessary to discover who he really is. If you are looking for the squeaky clean, cherubic Tiny Tim of myth in this story, you’ll be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a different sort of tale of redemption, Mr. Timothy should do nicely.

Rating: ★★★★½

Check out these other reviews of Mr. Timothy:

Mr. Timothy is the first historical fiction book to count towards the 2014 Historical Fiction Challenge.

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Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters Ever

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

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday asks who the most frustrating characters in literature are. I know I’ve wanted to shake all of these people at some point.

  1. Father Ralph de Briccasart from The Thorn Birds. He could have been really happy with Meggie, but his ambition to rise in the Church was more important than anything else.
  2. Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. I think Stradlater said it best when he said, “Shut up, Holden.”
  3. Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights. Oh, come on. Horrible, manipulative snot. Plays on the affections of both men who love her and drove one to vengeful madness.
  4. Willa Alden from The Wild Rose. Quit being a jerk and accept that Seamus loves you. He doesn’t care about your leg.
  5. Romeo from Romeo and Juliet. Can you dial back the impetuosity? You are ruining everyone’s lives.
  6. Pip from Great Expectations. Estella does not deserve you. Quit obsessing over her. She’s horrible.
  7. Lady Bertram from Mansfield Park. Did she get off her butt once in that novel? Because I can’t remember that she did.
  8. Lia in Wintergirls. EAT.
  9. Achilles in The Iliad. Get out of the #$%&@ tent and go fight. Hector thinks Paris is a tool, but he still stands up for his country. Hector deserves more credit. If he had been Greek instead of Trojan, he’d have had it.
  10. Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. As Starbuck says, “To be enraged with a dumb brute that acted out of blind instinct is blasphemous.” Unfortunately, Ahab doesn’t listen to him, and everyone on the ship, excepting Ishmael, of course, is killed.

Honorable mentions go to Sir Walter Eliot of Persuasion, who values all the wrong things in life; Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, who sticks with an abusive (albeit hot, especially as played by Marlon Brando) guy who rapes her sister (for crying out loud!); Ennis Del Mar of “Brokeback Mountain,” who can’t let go of his self-hatred and allow himself to be happy with Jack Twist; Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby, who is just awful; Guinevere and Lancelot in all their iterations because they just ruin everything; Tom Sawyer in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for being an ass and playing around with a man’s life for sport; Hamlet from Hamlet, who dithers for most of the play and then kills some of the wrong people; and finally, the doctor from The Boxcar Children—why on earth did he not call DFCS when he found out those kids were living in a boxcar? That’s nuts!

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Top Ten Books for People Who Like X

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

Oooh, I haven’t participated in Top Ten Tuesday in a while, and even though it’s technically Thursday, this one looks like too much fun to pass up. This week’s theme is Top Ten Books for People Who like ______. I’ve been unpacking my books, and I’ve been thinking about the connections among my different reads. My husband made the remark today that we have a lot of good books, and we really shouldn’t need to go to the bookstore in a while given how many great books we have. He’s right.

  1. If you like the Harry Potter books, you should try Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series: The Eyre AffairLost in a Good BookThe Well of Lost PlotsSomething RottenThursday Next: First Among SequelsOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and joining the ranks in October, The Woman Who Died A Lot. Jasper Fforde’s series is hilarious bookish fun, and even has a few references to the Harry Potter series.
  2. If you like Emily Brontë’s classic Wuthering Heights, you will enjoy Sharyn McCrumb’s historical fiction retelling of the infamous Tom Dooley case, The Ballad of Tom Dooley. McCrumb herself has described the novel as Wuthering Heights in the Appalachians, and it’s true. The story’s characters greatly resemble their counterparts in Wuthering Heights in many ways. I loved it.
  3. If you liked A Moveable Feast or The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, try Paula McLain’s excellent novel The Paris Wife for Hadley’s side of the story. One of the best books I read last year. Highly recommended.
  4. If you liked Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, you will enjoy an updated retelling of the story, The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey. I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would.
  5. If you liked Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, try Jennifer Donnelly’s Tea Rose series, beginning with The Tea RoseThe Winter Rose and The Wild Rose round out the series, but the first one is the best one.
  6. If you liked Moby Dick, or even if you only sort of liked it because it got bogged down in cetology, but you liked the good parts, you will love Ahab’s Wife. Oh.My.Gosh. One of my favorite books ever. Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel introduces the amazing persona of Una, wife of Captain Ahab, from one line in which Ahab mentions her in Moby Dick, and she’s one of the most incredible fictional people you’ll ever meet. I love her. She is one of my fictional best friends.
  7. If you liked Twilight, but you wished you could read about grown-ups, and you wanted less purple prose and better writing, try Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches, the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. The second book, Shadow of Night, comes out in about a week. You will like Matthew much better than Edward. Trust me.
  8. If you liked Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen, and you are a little unsure of all those Austen sequels, try out Syrie James’s fictionalized what-if? novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen that wonders aloud whether or not Aunt Jane had a real romance that inspired her great books.
  9. If you liked Suzanne Collins’s thrilling Hunger Games series, you will enjoy Veronica Roth’s Divergent and its sequel Insurgent. Not sure when the next book in the trilogy comes out, but I can’t wait. Her books are amazing. They will remind you of The Hunger Games without feeling anything at all like a ripoff.
  10. If you liked Great Expectations and The Turn of the Screw, you will love John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer. The book makes several allusions to both novels, but it also contains four complete short stories within the text of the novel (written by the protagonist’s grandmother), and it’s set in a creepy house with a secret.

Bonus: If you like Victorian novels period, and you want to read a love letter to the Victorian novel, or if you like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, try Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.

Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments. Just because my husband says we have a load of good books doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for more.

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Saturday Reads: February 4, 2012

Young Woman Reading by Hermann Jean Joseph RichirI am a true converted fan of Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman cookbooks (the new one is due out soon) and cooking blog. Part of the artistry of her blog is her ability to take excellent photographs of her cooking. I have been pinning so many of her recipes to my Recipes board on Pinterest. I just love Pinterest.

The New York Times has more Downton Abbey reads (yet another reference to the new book about Lady Almina).

Paulo Coelho is encouraging folks to pirate his books, arguing he actually sells more books when they do.

William Boyd’s article on Vienna at the turn of the 20th century was fascinating reading.

Julian Barnes wrote a short story “The Defence of the Book,” and The Guardian offers a taste.

Sam Jordison argues that if you’re going to read Bleak House, need to go about it in the right way.

James Lasdun has a good review of Nathan Englander’s new short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.

Flavorwire has a list of 10 Great Science Fiction Books for Girls (driven, of course, by the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time). My favorite on the list is The Handmaid’s Tale, but I have to admit the list skews older than I thought it would when I followed the link. I think girls might like André Norton’s Outside (out of print, but easy to find second hand), or Lois Lowry’s The Giver (though it has a male protagonist).

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is 50, too. Flavorwire has a gallery of book covers. My favorite is either the Penguin classics cartoon cover or the one with all the pills.

Feast your eyes on these gorgeous bookstores.

I loved this post in Better Living Through Beowulf about turning to Austen when you’ve been jilted by your fiancé.

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Saturday Reads: January 21, 2012

Young Woman Reading by Hermann Jean Joseph RichirSaturday Reads is a weekly feature sharing bookish links from news, blogs, and Twitter that made up my Saturday reading.

I spent a lot of time at my two favorite newspapers’ book sections on my iPhone this morning. The Guardian has a great article by Margaret Atwood reflecting on The Handmaid’s Tale some 26 years after it was published. A commenter quoted Rick Santorum, underscoring just why Atwood’s book is as important as ever. Here’s my review of The Handmaid’s Tale from my archives, if you’re interested.

The New York Times has a great review of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which I will soon be reading for TLC Book Tours (very excited!).

New Books

The publishers also sent me a pretty copy of Jane Eyre, which Margot Livesy’s book is based on. I can’t wait to reread that one. It’s got deckle-edged pages and the paper cover is textured. I am very much in favor of this new trend in making classics look cool with bold, creative covers. As much as I love old paintings, I think they’re becoming a little played as book covers (she said, knowing she used one on the cover of her own book—in my defense, I don’t have the budget to pay a graphic artist to design one). I think winter is a good time to read gothic classics.

The New York Times also has good reviews of new nonfiction, including Ian Donaldson’s new biography Ben Jonson: A Life, John Matteson’s new biography The Lives of Margaret Fuller, and Richard W. Bailey‘s new book Speaking American.

I also really liked this feature on Edith Wharton as New York will celebrate her 150th birthday on Tuesday. Nice link to Downton Abbey and discussion of Wharton’s own novel The Buccaneers.

Of course, Charles Dickens also celebrates a big (200th) birthday this year, and The New York Times has a fun feature on Dickens. Favorite quote? “The fact is that Charles Dickens was as Dickensian as the most outrageous of his characters, and he was happy to think so, too.”

I’m think anyone interested in New York might find the new book New York Diaries: 1609-2000 intriguing. It sounds like the book has a variety of entries, from the “famous, the infamous, and the unknown in New York.” The Times reviewed this one, too, of course.

Flavorwire had some interesting posts, too. I particularly enjoyed “The Fascinating Inspirations Behind Beloved Children’s Books” and “10 Cult Literary Traditions for Truly Die-Hard Fans.”

Finally, I enjoyed this reflection on A Wrinkle in Time at Forever Young AdultA Wrinkle in Time will be 50 this year. Can you believe it?

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Saturday Reads: A New Weekly Feature

Young Woman Reading by Hermann Jean Joseph RichirAs usual, Robin Bates’s exploration of literature as a mirror enlightens. In this case, Robin considers the notion of books as friends.

I’m enjoying Carl Pyrdum’s Thesis Thursday posts (but have to save them for the weekend). This one explores Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, and prompted me to remove my copy from the shelf. I should read it this year. All the way through. I’ve only read parts of it, and I’ve had it since about 1992. Also, a side note: Why did Shakespeare never write about King Arthur? I would have loved to have seen what Shakespeare could have done with the Matter of Britain.

Mandy has convinced me I need to read Bleak House. Downloaded it on my Kindle.

Fans of Downton Abbey might want to check out this New York Times article for suggested reads. After reading about these books in post after post on Downton Abbey, I’ve added the following Downton-related books to my list:

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon (I do hope some mention will be made of the Earl of Carnarvon’s connection to the Tutankhamun find). Lady Almina is the inspriation for Cora, Countess Grantham, and Highclere is where Downton Abbey is filmed.

The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton. Wharton didn’t finish this book about wealthy American women who travel to England in search of titled husbands. Looking forward to it.

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, which has the much better title of My Last Duchess in the UK.

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. I read a story somewhere (perhaps apocryphal) about an elderly woman who hung on in her last sickness until the last book in The Forsyte Saga was published.

Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison. Lady Astor seems to have been a rather fascinating person.

Howards End by E.M. Forster. I’ve actually had this on my list for a while.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Everyone Has Read but Me…

Top Ten TuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday focuses on the top ten books I feel as though everyone has read but me. I went to three different high schools. I can’t remember reading a single book for school during all of tenth grade. In fact, all I remember about that year was doing grammar exercises out of the Warriner’s grammar book and feeling that our teacher hated us. Eleventh and twelfth grade were better, but I still managed to graduate from high school (and college, as an English major no less) without having been required to read a lot of books that seem to be staples in the canon.

  1. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. I actually do want to read this one, and I had every intention of reading it this year, but I think you have to be in a mood for dystopian literature, and frankly, that mood hasn’t happened this year.
  2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I’ve seen the movie many times, and it’s not like it’s a long book. It’s just that, well, the mood thing. At least that’s my excuse for not reading it this year. You know, I put together this reading challenge specifically to address some of these deficiencies, and I read all of one book for it.
  3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Ditto.
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson. Not sure I want to read it, but man, hasn’t everyone else?
  5. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I somehow never got around to this one. I teach at a Jewish school, but the students tend to read it in middle school now.
  6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Would I like this? I was never sure, so I never picked it up. Now it almost feels too late to bother.
  7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Even my husband has read this book. I never really wanted to, but it sure seems like everyone else has read it.
  8. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. I have finally been convinced to put this on my TBR pile, but frankly, I avoid books about the Holocaust mainly because it was such a tragic event—many of my students’ grandparents are Holocaust survivors—and sometimes I feel that books and movies try to capitalize on it. It’s hard to explain how I feel. It’s sort of like writing a college admissions essay that deals with your brother being killed by a drunk driver—the admissions committee looks callous if they pick at your writing ability with a subject so fraught with emotion, but the point behind the essay is to evaluate your writing ability. It’s a form of manipulation. That’s how I feel about Holocaust books and movies—it’s almost impossible to criticize them because you look like a horrible person. Case in point, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas probably couldn’t have happened in reality because of the manner in which the Nazis dealt with children during the Holocaust, and yet, how do you point that out without looking like a complete ass? I should just stop because you probably think I’m a horrible person.
  9. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I started this one, but didn’t get far. My daughter has read it. She said it’s excellent.
  10. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. This seems to be some kind of staple of teens/twenties. I don’t know how I passed the threshold into the my thirties without having my book passport stamped with this one, but I snuck by somehow. And now that I’m officially in my 40’s, I’m just not even sure I’d want to bother.

In addition to these books, I haven’t read much Kurt Vonnegut at all (that is, I have read one short story). I’ve also read precious little Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol being the only selections I’ve read).

However! Before the admonitions start in the comments, I would like to add that I have read all of the following books that seem to be cropping up on these lists on other peoples’ blogs today:

So, I am not a complete slouch.

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Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Great ExpectationsWhat can I say about Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations? I am not sure if a summary is necessary or not, but it’s the story of an orphan named Pip who is raised by his cruel sister and kind brother-in-law (seriously, Joe Gargery is one of the sweetest men in classic literature, isn’t he?). One day he encounters a convict who threatens him if he doesn’t bring food and a file to remove the convict’s chains. Pip steals food from his sister’s cupboard, but feels guilty and is dreadfully worried he will be caught. Some time later, his uncle brings him to the home of Miss Havisham so he can be a playmate to Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter Estella. Estella is a cold-hearted witch, and she learned well the lessons about hating men taught by her adopted mother, abandoned at the altar and forever after frozen in that moment of time (from the wedding dress to the moldy cake and clocks stopped at the time of the catastrophe). Seriously Miss Havisham is one piece of awesome characterization. Pip wants more than anything to be a gentleman so he has some chance of earning Estella’s love, for predictably (though who knows why, because she doesn’t deserve it), Pip falls in love with her. Pip suddenly has a mysterious benefactor who pays for him to become a gentleman. He goes to London, embarrassed by his humble beginnings and ashamed of his family (thus avoiding them). He racks up debts. He discovers who his benefactor is, and it is NOT who I thought it would be or who Pip thought it would be, either. In case you haven’t read it, I will not spoil it for you. Eventually Pip loses his money, but he gains his old sense of self back with Joe Gargery’s help.

I read this novel via DailyLit, and despite it being originally published as a serial novel, I have to say I think I might have done better to read it on my Kindle. I had a little trouble following everything, or I felt like I did. After reading some summaries online, I discovered I actually followed the novel fairly well, but I had forgotten a major character and therefore did not make a very important connection late in the book. Charles Dickens is a master of writing character, and his characters Miss Havisham, Joe Gargery, and Abel Magwitch jump off the page. I also loved Wemmick’s father, who everyone calls “The Aged.” The characters were a bit difficult for me to keep up with because of how I chose to read the book. Pip I found frustrating. Why does he fall for Estella when she clearly does nothing to earn his affection? (I guess he’s a masochist.) Why does he turn his back on good old Joe? He turns out all right in the end, but he makes a lot of annoying mistakes that make you want to kick him.

I don’t know why I never read much Dickens. This is only my third Dickens book (after A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities). It was an enjoyable read, and I will of course read more Dickens, but more than anything else, it’s satisfying to cross off a book I feel like I should have read a long time ago.

Rating: ★★★★☆

I read this book as part of my own Books I Should Have Read in School, but Didn’t Challenge. It’s my first read for that challenge, and I need to read five more to complete it. I’m not going to count it as historical fiction because it seems to me to be set in Dickens’s own present, which doesn’t fit my definition of historical fiction per sé. Miss Havisham brings the gothic, however, so I will count it toward the Gothic Reading Challenge (16 more books to go on this challenge). My next DailyLit book will be The Man in the Iron Mask. Oooh, I love Dumas’s adventures! And French! Bonus!

Books I Should Have Read in School, but Didn't

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