Sunday Post #16: Belle Époque

Sunday PostMy school year is rapidly drawing to a close. In fact, I just have about two weeks of teaching time left! I am really hoping we have a strong finish to the end of the year. We are working on projects in both classes, and the students seem excited about the projects. Of course, the exciting thing is more time for reading. I’m definitely looking forward to some great books this summer.

Spring finally arrived for good (I hope) when calendar changed to May. We had such a snowy winter. I hope it doesn’t mean we are in for a really hot summer. I would love it if it stayed temperate and never got into the 90’s.

Today is my grandfather’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday, Papa!

Dana and PapaThis week, I finished reading The Annotated Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and edited by Janet Gezari. I took some pictures of the inside of the book that I forgot to post in my review.

Wuthering Heights

This one has a facsimile of Emily Brontë’s poem in her handwriting.

I mentioned in the review that Byron was perhaps an inspiration for Catherine’s most famous speech.

ByronAnd also that Percy Shelley’s Epipsychidion was a source.

ShelleyThis week, I finally dove into one of my two Belle Époque books, I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. I am already enjoying that one quite a bit. It’s about Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas. A few years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and see Mary Cassatt’s painting. I took this picture, which is not as good as what you can see online, but I took it, which is evidence I was in front of it.

Mary CassattIf I have one favorite type of painting, it would definitely be Impressionism. So far, this book is really reminding me in the best ways of Susan Vreeland’s books. If you like art and haven’t read her short story collection, Life Studies, do check it out. One of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. There is simply nothing like looking at these paintings in person. I was actually told off for getting too close to a Van Gogh, but it’s only when you get close that you can see the brushstrokes and the paintings really become real, not just just pictures.

I have to say that if I could go visit any era in Paris, it would definitely be Belle Époque. Who wouldn’t want to see that flowering of art? At least I can read about it in these wonderful books.

I’m also still reading, or rather listening to, Katherine Howe’s novel, Conversion. I have about three hours left to go. This one is really good. I hope that Katherine Howe plans to write more YA novels. I do love that her characters Connie Goodwin and Deliverance and Mercy Dane have cameos in this novel.

I added a couple of new books to my TBR pile. Some time back, I started a course on historical fiction on Coursera taught by Bruce Holsinger, but I didn’t have time to finish it. I just found out he’s published two novels about John Gower (and Chaucer). Literary thrillers. Of course I want to check that out!

  

Wrapping this up because Wolf Hall is coming on, and I can’t miss it. I thought this link was interesting this week. Some great world books on that list.

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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 Best/Worst Book to Movie Adaptations

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about book to movie adaptations. Oh, this is a hard one. I will start with the best ones. Links go to the movies’ IMDb profiles.

  1. Brokeback Mountain the movie is even better than Annie Proulx’s short story. Proulx doesn’t develop the characters as much, and Innis and Jack’s wives are just window dressing. The movie gives the story much more depth and heart. I hardly ever say this kind of thing. The book is usually better. Which brings me to #2.
  2. The Princess Bride is another case where I think the movie is better. The book gets a little lost, but the movie stays focused. Plus the acting is just great. Easily one of the most quotable movies of all time.
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great film. Not as good as the book, but really great. Everyone talks about how wonderful Gregory Peck was as Atticus Finch, and he was, but they always forget that Mary Badham was phenomenal as Scout. She was nominated for an Academy Award. She didn’t win. Probably because of her age. She was only ten years old.
  4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was famously reviled by Ken Kesey, who didn’t like it that you couldn’t tell the story through the eyes of the schizophrenic Chief Bromden, but the film turned in some stellar performances by some actors often known more for comedy. Great film.
  5. The Color Purple jiggled some things around, but they got the most important stuff right. I love this film all over again every time I see it.
  6. Sense and Sensibility is gorgeously shot and the acting is awesome. I like everyone in it.
  7. Pride and Prejudice, both the version with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and the one with Keira Knightley.
  8. The adaptation of Louis Sachar’s novel Holes was awesome. Pretty much just like the book.
  9. I don’t know if it’s cheating to include plays, but I’m gonna. Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is pretty much the gold standard of Shakespeare in film.
  10. Clueless is a pretty awesome update of Emma. I love that movie.

My choices for worst adaptations:

  1. As much as I love the Harry Potter movies, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban hits all the wrong notes from the opening when Harry is practicing spells outside of school in a Muggle house, which everyone knows underage wizards can’t do, to the made up toad chorus and talking shrunken head, to the confusing deletion of the Marauders’ subplot that renders the movie incomprehensible unless you have read the book. And everyone looks scruffy the whole movie long. They don’t have to be as well scrubbed as when Chris Columbus directs, and I don’t mind them looking like normal teenagers, but having parts of your shirt untucked, your tie askew, and your hair mussed in every single scene? Nah. I’m blaming the director for this one because I like the others just fine (except for Michael Gambon’s performance, especially in Goblet of Fire—Dumbledore wouldn’t manhandle Harry like that). It’s a shame because it is easily one of the top books in the series.
  2. Just about every version of Wuthering Heights except this one, though to be fair, I haven’t seen the newest one with Kaya Scodelario. Why on earth people can’t get that book straightened out in film form, I do not get. Some versions cut the Hareton and Cathy part altogether. Others delete Lockwood.
  3. The Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore. What were they thinking? We were discussing the scene when Reverend Dimmesdale reveals the scarlet letter carved into his own chest and dies in one of my classes one day, and I re-read it to the class. One of my students said, “Wow, this would make a great movie.” Yeah, you’d think, but no.
  4. This version of Macbeth is pretty heinous, but I do use two scenes from it when I teach the play. They do some neat camera tilt tricks and use mirrors in a clever way in the scene when Banquo’s ghost shows up, and the opening with the three witches dressed like schoolgirls busting up a graveyard is good.
  5. The Rankin/Bass versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King and Ralph Bakshi’s version of The Lord of the Rings. Ugh. I much prefer Peter Jackson’s adaptions despite the changes made. He takes the subject matter seriously.
  6. The Black Cauldron was ruined by Disney. I don’t blame you if you didn’t read Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles if you thought they were like that movie. I remember dragging my mom to see it and being so disappointed.
  7. And by that same token, The Seeker adapted from Susan Cooper’s novel The Dark is Rising is heinous. I keep using that word. But it’s so true in this case. Take this one together with The Black Cauldron and there’s a fair chance kids won’t give these wonderful books steeped in Welsh myth and legend a shot at all.
  8. Their Eyes Were Watching God was pretty bad. Oh, you mean you never even knew it it existed? There is a good reason for that. I love that book. I can’t believe the film is so bad.
  9. Beowulf. Oh. My. Gosh. What the heck was that?
  10. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil should have been good. Kevin Spacey is in it. Clint Eastwood directed it. The Lady Chablis played herself. Instead it’s terrible. Don’t watch it.

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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.

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 The Great Gatsby 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 Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children 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 The Night Circus, 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 The Map of True Places 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 Emily’s Ghost 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 Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. 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 Freakonomics 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.

Ahab’s Wife 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 Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. 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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Top Ten Bookish Memories

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

What a fun topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday! My best bookish memories:

  1. Reading the Harry Potter series to my oldest daughter. When she was young, we had this horrendous commute and only one car. We had to wait for her stepdad to get off work, and we would sit in the car and read. I will probably always associate the Harry Potter series with that closeness we shared.
  2. Going to the library with my best friend Darcy. We would walk there and get hot chocolate out of the machine. I used to love to bike over to the library, too. It was so close to my grandmother’s house. Unfortunately, it’s since been closed.
  3. Winning a trip to Salem, MA in a contest connected with Brunonia Barry’s The Map of True Places. We loved it. We never could have imagined two years later, we’d be living in Massachusetts (though not in Salem).
  4. Meeting Matthew Pearl and winning a signed manuscript page from The Dante Club.
  5. Meeting Katherine Howe. She told me that my husband is crazy. Which is true.
  6. Meeting Jasper Fforde. What a charmer! He said one of my favorite things ever about interpreting literature and reading being a creative act. I loved it. When he signed my book, he also stamped it and tucked a postcard inside it. It was a nice touch.
  7. Reading Tolkien for the first time in college and finishing The Fellowship of the Ring around midnight. I was so desperate to find out what happened next that I took a chance and went downstairs to my friend Kari’s dorm room to borrow The Two Towers after midnight. She was awake, and thankfully, she was amused.
  8. Sharing my favorite book Wuthering Heights with students who loved it, too. One of them told me that she only had room for three books in her suitcase for college, and she packed Wuthering Heights.
  9. Reading The Catcher in the Rye with my first class of freshmen at the Weber School. They were the class of 2008, so they are mostly finished with college now, which blows my mind. They just really loved the book. They wanted to keep reading whenever we read together.
  10. Reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? with my son. He loved those books in preschool. They were both such delightful books, and sharing them with my son was so special.

What are your favorite bookish memories?

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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 Tuesday: Authors I’m Thankful For

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

This week’s appropriate Top Ten Tuesday concerns authors I’m thankful for.

  1. William Shakespeare: My best moments in the classroom I owe to this writer, who is not only the greatest writer in the English language, but also the most fun to teach. I can return to his plays again and again, and I always get something new out of them. In addition, his sonnets are some of the most glorious poetry in the English language. Don’t believe me? Watch this video: YouTube Preview Image
  2. Jane Austen: She is my homegirl. Really. I love her. I return to her books all the time. I love her characters, her sparkling wit, and her tangled love stories.
  3. J. K. Rowling: Some of my best reading experiences have been with the Harry Potter series. If I could read just one series over and over, and no other books, for the rest of my life, I’d choose the Harry Potter series. I find the Wizarding World to be a rich, imaginative place I never tire of visiting.
  4. Emily Brontë: She gave me my favorite book, even though it was the only book she wrote. I love returning to this book. I always notice something new. I love to hate her characters. I marvel each time I read it at the novel’s beautiful structure. Though I find the characters horrendous, I admit one place I’d love to visit is Wuthering Heights.
  5. J. R. R. Tolkien: My first major foray into fantasy set the bar really high. I am currently listening to The Hobbit in preparation for the movie. I love reading this series, and I love Middle Earth.
  6. Judy Blume: I read her books over and over again as a child. I grew up on her stories, and she has been a huge influence over my reading and writing life.
  7. Jasper Fforde: I have spent many a happy hour giggling through one of his books. He is crack for book and word nerds, and he is utterly charming.
  8. Joseph Campbell: His enduring ideas and understandings about the hero’s journey enabled me to enjoy literature and film in a new way, and I was able to construct a course around his work.
  9. Diana Gabaldon: I love her time travel romance/fantasy/historical fiction/genre-bending stories about Claire and Jamie Fraser. She is so much fun, and such a nice lady, too.
  10. Ernest Hemingway: I love, love, love F. Scott Fitzgerald, but Hemingway has a much larger canon, and I am not done with it yet. I love the way he writes, and I love to read his ideas about writing. I have rarely cried so hard over a book as I did over the end of A Farewell to Arms.

What authors are you thankful for?

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving! I am so thrilled to be celebrating it this year in the state where the first Thanksgiving took place.

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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 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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