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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Top Ten Fictional Couples

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

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a REWIND topic, so in order to get into the spirit of the season, I elected to write about the Top Ten Fictional Couples, which was a topic originally posted September 28, 2010.

1. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Naturally. I love the fact that they don’t fall in love at first sight and have to grow to love one another. And their witty barbs! I just love them as a couple.

2. Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. They are so horrible. They deserve each other, and their longing to be together (and Heathcliff’s overly developed sense of vengeance) threatens everyone they know.

3. Romeo and Juliet. OK, despite what I said about liking that Lizzie and Darcy grow to love each other, I admit I’m a sucker for this teenage infatuation. Of course, it’s great fun to teach, also.

4. Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. I like how he has to become worthy of her and that she learns she doesn’t have to settle.

5. Lt. Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley. Ohmygosh I cried at the end of that book.

6. Tristan and Isolde. OK, it was a love potion, but man, that almost makes it worse. They didn’t have any choice but to be desperately in love!

7. Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar. What a sad love story. Talk about star-crossed lovers. Great short story, if you haven’t read it, but I think the movie is better because the characters are more fully developed.

8. Severus Snape and Lily Evans. OK, technically not a couple because it was one-sided, but man, what devotion. Always.

9. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. They kind of deserved each other. I think they eventually found their way back to each other, but perhaps not in the way Alexandra Ripley imagined.

10. Meggie Cleary and Father Ralph de Briccasart. Oh, in another world, they could have been together. Love them!

Who are your favorite literary couples?

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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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The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey

[amazon_image id=”0062064223″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Flight of Gemma Hardy: A Novel[/amazon_image]Margot Livesey’s novel [amazon_link id=”0062064223″ target=”_blank” ]The Flight of Gemma Hardy[/amazon_link] is a retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s [amazon_link id=”B004CFA9Y6″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link]. Like Jane, Gemma is taken in by her uncle and his family after the deaths of her parents, and once her uncle also passes away, she is abused and neglected by her aunt, who ships her off to a boarding school as a “working girl,” where she pays for her tuition and board through menial labor for the school and is treated like a second-class citizen. When the school closes, Gemma must shift for herself, so she answers an ad for an au pair position in the Orkneys. She moves into Blackbird Hall and quickly subdues her wild charge, Nell. Hugh Sinclair, Nell’s uncle and guardian, returns to Blackbird Hall and soon finds himself entranced by Gemma.

While the story closely follows the plot of Jane Eyre, Livesey has added details that make the story Gemma’s own. Gemma, born in Scotland to a Scottish mother and Icelandic father, wonders about her Icelandic family and yearns to travel to Iceland to see if she can uncover her past. The story is set mostly in Scotland in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Gemma has opportunities that Jane couldn’t have imagined; for instance, Gemma is able to sit for exams and go to college.

The danger in writing updated versions of classic novels is that they will seem too derivative to be their own story, but I didn’t find this to be the case with The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Because I had read Jane Eyre, I could guess the general directions in which various plot points would turn, but Livesey threw in enough unique details and changes that I felt the novel was much more of an homage to Jane Eyre than an imitation. Another challenge Livesey successfully navigates is making the story of Jane’s sad childhood and subsequent removal to Thornfield Hall believable in the twentieth century. Not only does Livesey answer this challenge, but in my opinion, she tempers a bit of the horrific improbability present in Jane Eyre. I know, I know—Charlotte experienced some of the horrible events she describes in Jane Eyre at the Clergy Daughters’ School. Tragedy ran rampant through the Brontë family, and I don’t mean to make light of it. However, it reminds me that sometimes true stories sound over the top when rendered in fiction. Young Jane’s early experiences, the goodness of Helen Burns, the evil of Aunt Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst—all these rang slightly too awful to believe when I read them, which isn’t to say I didn’t love Jane Eyre. Gemma’s experiences, while uniquely horrible in their way, read as more realistic, and Helen’s counterpart Miriam is a more believable and less “Mary Sue” type of character (and yes, I know that Charlotte based Helen on her sister Maria, and that Charlotte claims Maria really was that good).

I liked Gemma. She is smart and spunky, particularly as a child. The supporting cast are all enjoyable, too, particularly Gemma’s charges Nell and Robin. I loved the Rivers sisters’ counterparts Hannah and Pauline. St. John Rivers’s counterpart Archie was more likable than St. John himself. The relocation to Scotland and Iceland made for an intriguing setting that rendered events in the story more believable, I think, than they might have been had Livesey set her novel in England. I do think fans of Jane Eyre will enjoy this book, but I think it stands on its own as a fine novel without its connection to its literary ancestor.

Rating: ★★★★½

You can find Margot Livesey online at her website, her Facebook page, and her Twitter account.

I read this novel for the TLC Book Tour. You can visit the other stops below on the dates listed to read other reviews of this novel.

*Also reading Jane Eyre

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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 [amazon_link id=”038549081X” target=”_blank” ]The Handmaid’s Tale[/amazon_link] 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 [amazon_link id=”0062064223″ target=”_blank” ]The Flight of Gemma Hardy[/amazon_link], which I will soon be reading for TLC Book Tours (very excited!).

New Books

The publishers also sent me a pretty copy of [amazon_link id=”B004CFA9Y6″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link], 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 [amazon_link id=”0198129769″ target=”_blank” ]Ben Jonson: A Life[/amazon_link], John Matteson’s new biography [amazon_link id=”0393068056″ target=”_blank” ]The Lives of Margaret Fuller[/amazon_link], and Richard W. Bailey‘s new book [amazon_link id=”019517934X” target=”_blank” ]Speaking American[/amazon_link].

I also really liked this feature on Edith Wharton as New York will celebrate her 150th birthday on Tuesday. Nice link to [amazon_link id=”B005Q1W10A” target=”_blank” ]Downton Abbey[/amazon_link] and discussion of Wharton’s own novel [amazon_link id=”0140232028″ target=”_blank” ]The Buccaneers[/amazon_link].

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 [amazon_link id=”067964332X” target=”_blank” ]New York Diaries: 1609-2000[/amazon_link] 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 Adult. [amazon_link id=”0312367546″ target=”_blank” ]A Wrinkle in Time[/amazon_link] will be 50 this year. Can you believe it?

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Musing Mondays—October 17, 2011

Musing MondaysIt’s Monday! That means it’s time for another Monday Musing. This week’s question is Do you judge a book by its cover?

All. The. Time. I know the adage well, but the truth is that publishers spend a lot of money paying people to design book covers. You know who I think does a consistently good job? Source Books. Just take a look at some of their covers. Sometimes judging a book by its cover has led me astray. Check out this gorgeous cover for [amazon_link id=”0345455932″ target=”_blank” ]Blackbird House[/amazon_link]:

[amazon_image id=”0345455932″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Blackbird House: A Novel (Ballantine Reader’s Circle)[/amazon_image]

And yet I didn’t care for the book.

I think it’s human nature to check out the package and be attracted to it before we get to know the contents. We do that with potential mates as well as books, so judging a book by its cover is nothing new.

Some covers I just love? The Ruben Toledo drawings for Penguin classics. My favorites are [amazon_link id=”0143106155″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link]:

[amazon_image id=”0143106155″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Jane Eyre: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)[/amazon_image]

and [amazon_link id=”0143105442″ target=”_blank” ]The Scarlet Letter[/amazon_link]:

[amazon_image id=”0143105442″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Scarlet Letter: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)[/amazon_image]

But I love [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link], too:

[amazon_image id=”0143105434″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Wuthering Heights: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)[/amazon_image]

Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the cover of [amazon_link id=”B000QRIGLW” target=”_blank” ]Twilight[/amazon_link] has been influential:

[amazon_image id=”B000QRIGLW” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)[/amazon_image]

[amazon_link id=”B00136YCIG” target=”_blank” ]This[/amazon_link] is probably one of the most iconic covers of all time, and it has such an interesting background, too.

[amazon_image id=”0743273567″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_image]

Scribner has a reissue edition, which is pretty, by the way, but not as iconic as the Cugat original.

Here are some books I’ve read, bought, or received recently that I think have pretty covers:

[amazon_image id=”0312558171″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Ballad Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0345524969″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0385534639″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”1594744769″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0345521307″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Paris Wife: A Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0553807226″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]The Peach Keeper: A Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”B004SYA7PM” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Revolution [Deckle Edge] (text only) by J. Donnelly[/amazon_image]

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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. [amazon_link id=”0452284236″ target=”_blank” ]Nineteen Eighty-Four[/amazon_link] 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. [amazon_link id=”0142000671″ target=”_blank” ]Of Mice and Men[/amazon_link] 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. [amazon_link id=”0143039431″ target=”_blank” ]The Grapes of Wrath[/amazon_link] by John Steinbeck. Ditto.
  4. [amazon_link id=”0307454541″ target=”_blank” ]The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo[/amazon_link] by Stieg Larson. Not sure I want to read it, but man, hasn’t everyone else?
  5. [amazon_link id=”0307594009″ target=”_blank” ]Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl[/amazon_link] 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. [amazon_link id=”B000XSKDH4″ target=”_blank” ]Anne of Green Gables[/amazon_link] 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. [amazon_link id=”1420929089″ target=”_blank” ]Little Women[/amazon_link] 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. [amazon_link id=”0375842209″ target=”_blank” ]The Book Thief[/amazon_link] 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, [amazon_link id=”0198326769″ target=”_blank” ]The Boy in the Striped Pajamas[/amazon_link] 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. [amazon_link id=”1594480001″ target=”_blank” ]The Kite Runner[/amazon_link] by Khaled Hosseini. I started this one, but didn’t get far. My daughter has read it. She said it’s excellent.
  10. [amazon_link id=”1451626657″ target=”_blank” ]Catch-22[/amazon_link] 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 ([amazon_link id=”0142196584″ target=”_blank” ]A Tale of Two Cities[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”0142196584″ target=”_blank” ]Great Expectations[/amazon_link], and [amazon_link id=”1612930336″ target=”_blank” ]A Christmas Carol[/amazon_link] 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:

  • [amazon_link id=”B003GCTQ7M” target=”_blank” ]Moby Dick[/amazon_link] by Herman Melville
  • [amazon_link id=”B003VYBQPK” target=”_blank” ]The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn[/amazon_link] by Mark Twain
  • [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link] by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • [amazon_link id=”0684801469″ target=”_blank” ]A Farewell to Arms[/amazon_link] by Ernest Hemingway
  • [amazon_link id=”0679723161″ target=”_blank” ]Lolita[/amazon_link] by Vladimir Nabokov
  • [amazon_link id=”0199536368″ target=”_blank” ]Crime and Punishment[/amazon_link] by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • [amazon_link id=”0143105442″ target=”_blank” ]The Scarlet Letter[/amazon_link] by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • All of Jane Austen’s completed books (the six novels)
  • [amazon_link id=”0143106155″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link] by Charlotte and Emily Brontë respectively

So, I am not a complete slouch.

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Snow Day(s) Reading

Blue Whale Books
Tomorrow will be my fourth snow day in a row. I’m sure those of you who live in snowier climes think it’s absurd that five inches of snow or so has ground a city the size of Atlanta to a halt, but the fact is that we so rarely have snow that we don’t have the resources to clear it away when we do. I have read conflicting accounts regarding the number of snow plows the city has. One said eight, the other eleven. In any case, a city the size of Atlanta needs way more than eleven plows after a snow storm. Just in case you think I’m a wimp, I grew up in Denver, and I know from snow.

In my cabin fever, I have been reading, cross-stitching, and watching The Tudors. I’m late to that party—we just got Netflix. Enjoyable, but highly historically inaccurate. I think they missed an opportunity by not continuing the series through Elizabeth. Speaking of which, this new series on Starz looks like a combination of The Tudors and Arthurian legend.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Rg4Tnnjot4

I will probably watch it. James Purefoy is playing King Lot, and I really liked Purefoy in A Knight’s Tale. Of course, he’s playing Edward, the Black Prince, probably one of the coolest dudes ever. Perhaps not as cool as Alfred the Great, who is my new hero after reading more about him in The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser, which I am currently enjoying (I’m in the middle of William the Conqueror right now). Aside from Joseph Fiennes as Merlin, I don’t recognize any of the other actors in this new Arthur series. Speaking of James Purefoy, his IMDb profile states he’s Ned Alleyn in A Dead Man in Deptford, which is based on a book of the same name that is on my TBR pile. Plus! He’s a character in one of my current reads, Conceit. I didn’t realize Ned Alleyn had married Constance Donne, daughter of John Donne, but sure enough, he did. I need to move A Dead Man in Deptford up higher so I can finish it before the movie comes out.

Conceit is, so far, much better than The Lady and Poet, which read much more like a romance novel (albeit a pretty decent one). Conceit is much more literary to begin with, and I find the times captured more realistically. If I can be allowed a moment’s indulgence, there is an epidemic in historical fiction. It seems we can’t have a strong female lead who acts according to the historical conventions of her day. No, she must act as we would have her act. She must be headstrong and ahead of her time. I like a strong female protagonist, but I want her to be realistic, too. I am so tired of this modern reinterpretation of the feminine. Conceit is narrated by Pegge Donne, a younger daughter of Donne, and takes places years after the events of The Lady and the Poet. I can’t figure out why it hasn’t been published in the U.S., but thanks to Amazon, you can still order it through third party sellers, which is how I bought it.

I also saw the trailer to the new Jane Eyre movie today. Who is looking forward to this?

I was able to get a movie poster for this film at the recent National Council of Teachers of English conference, and it’s gorgeous. See:

Jane Eyre Movie Poster

photo credit: Funky Tee

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Living the Literary Life

NovelWhore tweeted a good question: “What book most represents what you want your life to be like?”

This is a tough questions to answer. I would love to be able to go to Hogwarts and do magic like the characters in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but Harry and Company go through some very rough times. They lose their loved ones, they’re tortured and outcast for their beliefs, and they experience a great deal of pain and suffering. Not even magic can eradicate these types of problems.

Una Spenser of Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel Ahab’s Wife is one of the strong female protagonists I most admire. She touches so much history, and she’s truly a remarkable woman. However, she also is forced into cannibalism to survive a shipwreck, an experience that drives her husband insane. I certainly wouldn’t want to have some aspects of Una’s life, but others sound truly amazing.

While I admire the passion and windswept beauty of the landscape in both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, the characters again must live through such ordeals, much of it at the hands of other people who are cruel for reasons that are difficult to fathom. Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange, and Thornfield Manor might be interesting to visit, but I can’t honestly say I’d want to live there.

Manderley seems like a great house to explore. I love Daphne DuMaurier’s descriptions of her unnamed narrator in Rebecca. However, if Mrs. Danvers must come with the house, I have to decline.

No, if I had one choice, one book in which I could live, one book that represents what I wish my life could be like, it would be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Here are my reasons:

  1. Empire waists are flattering. The clothes are simply gorgeous.
  2. Despite the supposed repression of the time, Lizzie manages to express her true thoughts quite well, especially when she’s been insulted. She does not accept Mr. Collins’s proposal: she knows she will be miserable. When Mr. Darcy insults her with his first proposal, she lets him know in no uncertain terms, exactly where he can stick that proposal.
  3. England. You will not meet a bigger Anglophile. If I could live anywhere in the world and money/job were no object, I’d pack my bags for the U.K. this red hot minute.
  4. Austen’s economy of description evokes just enough of the setting to give the reader an idea without becoming bogged down in detail. Even so, I can see all of it, and it’s so beautiful.

In Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, characters are able to jump inside books, and Thursday even lives inside one for a time. If anyone ever works out how to visit books, I want to book a trip inside Pride and Prejudice.

In which book would you like to live? Blog about it and tag others (we can make this a meme) or leave your answer in the comments.

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Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is a parallel novel that explores perhaps one of the most interesting and mysterious characters in literature: Bertha “Antionette” Mason, the mad woman in the attic in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Upon first reading Jane Eyre, I found parts of it to be somewhat slow, particularly Jane’s childhood recollections; however, after some months to reflect, I can find little to criticize in the novel, which is perhaps why I didn’t enjoy Wide Sargasso Sea as much as I did Jane Eyre.

It was interesting to learn more of Antoinette’s possible background. I have read that Rochester comes off rather badly in Rhys’s novel, but I didn’t find this to be the case. He doesn’t come off well, but he’s certainly no worse in Wide Sargasso Sea than he is in Jane Eyre. In fact, I sympathized with him, as his account of his marriage in this novel agrees with his account in the other in one important respect: he was tricked, and he was forced. How much of his paranoia about his wife being insane actually drove her to insanity is debatable.

However, Antoinette is certainly a much more sympathetic character, as most characters are when they are able to tell their side of the story. In many ways, her past, filled with rejections from her mother and the society in which she lived, was as sad as Jane’s. She no more deserved what happened to her than Jane did. But Rochester still doesn’t quite come off the villain for me. Who is? I suppose that’s something I’m still trying to figure out for myself, too.

I did feel cheated by not seeing Antoinette’s motivation for some of her actions in Jane Eyre. Only the last twenty pages or so are devoted to events in Jane Eyre. One could argue that as Antoinette was insane at that point, and clearly fuzzy on many details of her life, she didn’t recollect what she was doing in order to tell about it. However, I still wanted to see her light Rochester’s bed on fire, rip up Jane’s veil, and stab Richard Mason. While she is told about Mason, she has no recollection and almost seems to feel she is being lied to.  I wanted to see that moment of madness and rage, rather than read yet another second-hand account.  What drove her?  What motivated her?  That piece of the puzzle was still missing.  I wanted to see whether or not she realized who and what Jane was. This novel didn’t satisfy that desire, but it was a quick read and a good book that I would recommend to anyone who enjoyed Jane Eyre.

My next book is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which I failed to finish in high school and consequently have decided to return to.

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