R.I.P. Challenge

R.I.P. ChallengeYay! It’s time once again for my favorite reading challenge! I have participated in the R.I.P. Challenge for several years. The idea is to choose your particular peril—details are in this post on Carl’s site—and just have fun reading. Carl also provides a linkup for reviews.

You can read whatever you like as long it fits your definition of creepy, spooky, gothic, scary, etc. The challenge runs from September 1 to October 31. I am a little late in starting it this year. I am not really sure what I’m going to read, but here are some choices:

If you have read any of these books, let me know what you thought of it/them. I am trying to make up my mind.

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books that Feature Travel

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

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is top ten books that feature travel in some way. OK, wide open, so here is my list.

 

So many great books feature quests or voyages. These are my favorites. You could argue that all the Harry Potter books feature travel, but the trio travels the most in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which features not just the very long camping trip, but the end of Harry’s journey and even a trip to the other side of the veil.

The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again features Bilbo’s famous quest to the Lonely Mountain with 13 dwarves and sometimes Gandalf. It’s a classic quest and an excellent hero’s journey. In some ways, it is more of a straight hero’s journey and a tighter, finer story than The Lord of the Rings, which is also quite an amazing quest in which Middle Earth is saved, at least for the likes of men and possibly dwarves and hobbits, but not so much elves, especially not Galadriel and Elrond.

Ishmael says at the beginning of Moby Dick that he decided to stop teaching school and sign on a whaling ship in order to “see the watery part of the world.” He saw a lot more than he bargained for, but you can’t deny it was a heck of a trip.

In Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Claire Randall travels back in time when she walks through a stone circle at Beltaine, and she finds herself over 200 years in the past. Trips don’t get much farther than that.

Like Gabaldon’s Claire, Jennifer Donnelly’s Andi Alpers finds herself about 200 years in the past during the French Revolution, but she also figures out a way to move on from a terrible loss in her past in Revolution.

The Odyssey is the quintessential travel book. The whole book is about the worst trip home ever. On top of that, it’s a rollicking adventure that has stood the test of time. Few books can match it.

I absolutely love Sharyn McCrumb’s novel The Songcatcher, and my favorite part concerned Malcolm McCourry, who was kidnapped and brought to America from Scotland, bringing a snatch of an old song along with him on the voyage, but the real voyage in this novel is the trip that the song takes through the generations, remembered by Malcolm’s descendants and passed down through time.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is yet another classic travel book, as the book follows Huck and Jim down the Mississippi. We can see how far Huck has come in his other voyage when he decides to tear up the letter revealing Jim’s location and says, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.” Reading that line always gives me the shakes.

Sir Gawain promised he would seek out the Green Knight in the Green Chapel, and he is a knight of his word. If you are looking for reasons why Gawain is better than Lancelot, you can’t do better than the excellent Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Plus, we have no idea who wrote it. It’s a complete mystery. He goes on a quest and finds himself in great peril, but he is true, and he returns home to Arthur’s court a wiser man.

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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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Top Ten Historical Novels

Top Ten TuesdayHistorical fiction is my favorite genre, and I’m not sure I could pick an adequate top ten. There are so many great books that fit into this genre. You can find my list below with the following caveats: I simply haven’t had a chance to read a lot of great historical fiction that’s out there yet, so this list is necessarily limited to just those books I have experience with, and also I have decided not to include classics that were set during their own contemporary times but are history now (e.g. Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre). Also, these are in no particular order (aside from the order in which they occurred to me) because I couldn’t begin to rank them. Finally, I selected these particular books out of all the historical fiction I have read and loved because they so perfectly evoke their time settings that they bring the historical eras in which they are set alive (with historical accuracy) and simply couldn’t take place any other time.

  1. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl: Not only is this book a solid thriller with fun connections to Dante’s Inferno and the Fireside Poets, but it is also a great snapshot into life in Boston right after the Civil War. In terms of period detail and engaging reads, you could do worse than Matthew Pearl for sure.
  2. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman: This is a middle grades/early YA novel set in 1290 in England. Catherine is the daughter of a knight, and Cushman captures the Middle Ages (particularly, the lives of a family in a small manor house) in exquisite detail.
  3. The Coffin Quilt by Ann Rinaldi: The subject of this YA novel is the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. Told from the viewpoint of Fanny McCoy, the novel touches on all the major events of the feud and is simply one of the most well-written YA novels I’ve ever read.
  4. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: This novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage and time in Paris perfectly captures the lives of the American artist expatriates living in France during the 1920’s. It’s a gorgeous novel.
  5. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: This isn’t just great historical fiction. It really captures an era and a subculture that I’ve not seen captured as well in any other novel. Superb read.
  6. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke: While also classified as fantasy, this novel also explores England during the Napoleonic Wars, including brushes with Mad King George and Lord Byron as well as the Duke of Wellington. The footnotes are a great touch. I loved this novel.
  7. Nothing Like the Sun by Anthony Burgess: I don’t think I’ve read another historical fiction book about Shakespeare that touches this one. Burgess’s characters speak like Elizabethans, and the events described are both believable and fun homages to Shakespeare’s plays. The premise behind the book is that Shakespeare’s tangled love life majorly influenced all of his work.
  8. Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund: Oh, how I love Una Spenser. She is my fictional BFF. She is amazing. I need to read this one again. As you might have guessed, this book takes the passage in Moby Dick in which Captain Ahab mentions he has a young wife at home and creates her character and her life (and it’s a fascinating life that, in my opinion, puts that of her husband to shame).
  9. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: This novel about Christian missionaries in the Belgian Congo right as the country declares its independence from Belgium is a fascinating snapshot into the Congo of the 1960’s as well as the lives of Christian missionaries and also serves as an allegory for America’s own role in colonialism.
  10. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough: When I read this novel, I couldn’t put it down. I haven’t read a lot of books set in Australia, but this novel seems to so perfectly capture the times and setting. Meggie is an engaging heroine, and who doesn’t love Father Ralph de Bricassart?

Because I read a ton of historical fiction, I need to include some honorable mentions:

  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare: This YA novel is set in Colonial Massachusetts and is a great vehicle for middle schoolers (or even their older siblings and parents) to learn about that time period in history. I can’t think of too many books that do as good a job with this era.
  • The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly: This book is a fun read, but has a few lapses in terms of credibility (at least for this reader). Set in Whitechapel as Jack the Ripper ravages London, this novel is the story of Fiona, daughter of one of the Ripper’s victims, who makes her way to New York and builds a tea empire from scratch.
  • The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz: This story of a commoner’s marriage into the Japanese imperial family makes for a great read, too, though Schwartz takes some liberties to make his character’s ending happier than that of the real model for his heroine.
  • A Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich: Some of this novel is contemporary, which is one reason I didn’t include it above, but it is one of the finest novels I’ve read and concerns the repercussions of a murder and hate crime that sent ripples through a community for generations.
  • The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe: Also partly set in contemporary times, this novel concerns Connie Goodwin’s attempts to learn more about her ancestors’ grimoire and secret powers.
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett: While this book certainly evoked Mississippi of the 1960’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, it did not seem as realistic to me as some of the books I included in my top ten.
  • Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran: This novel, set during the French Revolution, was an excellent read and shone a spotlight on a historical figure who hasn’t perhaps received as much attention as she was due.
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Barcelona’s book world during the 1930’s and 1940’s, though to me, the plot did not have to be set during era or in that place.
  • The Songcatcher by Sharyn McCrumb: Again, because this novel is set partly in contemporary times, I excluded it from the list above, but the historical fiction parts were my favorite. This novel is the story of how a song learned on the crossing from Scotland to America in the eighteenth century was passed down in a family and survived to the present day.
  • Emily’s Ghost by Denise Giardina: The story of Emily Brontë and one of the better historical fiction novels about the Brontë family.
  • Pretty much anything by Jude Morgan. Love him. And Syrie James. And Tracy Chevalier. I mean, this was really a hard topic for me to narrow down.

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Top Ten Books of 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday—how appropriate! What are my top ten books of 2011. Note: Not all of these books were published in 2011, but I read all of them in 2011.

  1. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (review): This part-contemporary YA novel/part time-travel story awakened an interest in the French Revolution that I previously did not have (I know, right?). I loved the musical aspect and had a lot of fun discussing this book with students who chose to read it for their summer reading selection. I wish Amadé Malherbeau were real!
  2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (review): Jacob Jankowski is my BFF. I loved this story more than I thought I would. I didn’t think I’d like the circus aspect at all, but I found it fascinating.
  3. On Writing by Stephen King (review): This book is the best, most practical book about writing I’ve ever read, and its advice has already proven invaluable.
  4. The Songcatcher by Sharyn McCrumb (review): I love the idea of handing a song down from generation to generation, and as a family historian, I found that aspect of the novel particularly appealing. Sharyn McCrumb writers about her own ancestors in this novel.
  5. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (review): Stories about the Lost Generation are interesting. I loved this take on what happened in Paris told more from Hadley Hemingway’s point of view than Ernest Hemingway’s (for a change).
  6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (review): This book was comical and completely engaging. I can’t wait for the sequel. I giggle every time I think of the Welsh teenagers trying to rap.
  7. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (review): I will never turn my back on a Classics major again. They are scary people.
  8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (review): I laughed all the way through this while still feeling empathy for Junior. Alexie is a gifted storyteller.
  9. Passion by Jude Morgan (review): I loved this novel of the lives of the Romantic poets Byron, Shelley, and Keats told through the eyes of the women who loved them. Mary Shelley comes across as fascinating and sympathetic, and Caroline Lamb was downright engaging.
  10. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (review): As the mother of two children on the autism spectrum, this novel about an adult with Asperger’s was fascinating. I also liked the cooking aspect and learned a truly good recipe for brownies.

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Sunday Salon: The Shelf Awareness Interview

Still Life with Plato

No, Shelf Awareness isn’t interviewing me, but I love to read their author interviews, and they always ask the same questions (at least in my limited observation). They’re fun questions, too. So should Shelf Awareness ever want to interview me, they can simply copy and paste.

On your nightstand now:

I actually have a stack of books against the wall more than a pile on the nightstand. In my stack are Misery by Stephen King, a few Sharyn McCrumbs I want to get to, Tea with Jane Austen, Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier, The Widow’s War by Sally Gunning, Moloka’i by Alan Brennert, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, and A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, among other books I dip into occasionally.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was in the third grade, it was Superfudge by Judy Blume because Mrs. Elliott read it to us, and it was impossible to check out of the library for months afterward. I also loved The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. When I was a little older, Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume.

Your top five authors:

  1. J. K. Rowling: Her books are pure, imaginative escapism, and I am grateful for all the time I’ve spent at Hogwarts.
  2. Jane Austen: She is my literary comfort food. I can always turn to her for a good read.
  3. William Shakespeare: Unqualified genius and master of the English language.
  4. F. Scott Fitzgerald: Beautiful turns of phrase and poetic writing. I admit his place here rests on one book—The Great Gatsby.
  5. Barbara Kingsolver: I so enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible, and The Bean Trees is one of the few books I’ve read in one sitting.

I should note that list fluctuates, but it’s true for today.

Book you’ve faked reading:

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. I’ve still never finished it. I read the Cliff’s Notes for a test in American Realism and Naturalism in college, and I earned a B on it. If I’d read it, I could probably have earned an A, but that’s the way it is.

Book you’re an evangelist for:

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I think everyone should read it, even if they don’t think they’re interested in Africa. What Kingsolver did with that book amazes me, and it’s the kind of writing I aspire to.

Book you’ve bought for the cover:

I’ve talked about this before, but I bought Alice Hoffman’s Blackbird House because I liked the cover, and it didn’t pay off. However, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, both of which I bought for their covers, paid off beautifully.

Book that changed your life:

This is a hard one, but I’m going with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I never get tired of that book. It helped me look at my own beliefs and made me question what I would do if I were Atticus. Would I have the guts to do the right thing in the face of so much prejudice and opposition in the town, especially knowing I was licked before I began? The reason that Atticus is such a hero is that he did all this and so few people would.

Favorite line from a book:

The last page of The Great Gatsby is beautiful:

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run raster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I never tired of The Great Gatsby, and that page contains so much gorgeous writing.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Oh, surely the Harry Potter series. The wonder and waiting for the plot to unfold was one of the best reading experiences of my life.

The Sunday Salon

Creative Commons License photo credit: chefranden

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R.I.P. Check-In

Bicycle

Some time this week, I should finish my 44th book, which puts me in a good position to meet my goal of reading 50 books this year. As Halloween draws to a close, I’m happy to say I also finished the R.I.P. Challenge. I read four books: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (review), The Secret History by Donna Tartt (review), The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb (review), Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman (review), and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (review).

At this point, I plan to focus on writing my NaNoWriMo book, which isn’t to say I won’t be reading (I certainly will), but it may impact my choices somewhat. I don’t plan to pick up anything difficult, heavy, or long this month. Meanwhile, I’ve been tearing through Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, which has some great common sense advice. I am feeling sort of grateful for my experience as an English teacher. At least grammar and conventions aren’t a hurdle. I loved King’s advice to pick up a copy of Warriner’s Grammar. Best grammar text series ever.

I am really excited to start writing tomorrow.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ian Sane

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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 Blackbird House:

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 Jane Eyre:

and The Scarlet Letter:

But I love Wuthering Heights, too:

Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the cover of Twilight has been influential:

This is probably one of the most iconic covers of all time, and it has such an interesting background, too.

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:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

The Peach Keeper: A Novel

Revolution [Deckle Edge] (text only) by J. Donnelly

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Sunday Salon—October 2, 2011

Empty Borders

The picture above is making the rounds after being posted by Reddit user Jessers25. One of the reasons I am sad that Borders is closing is that it was the closest bookstore to me, and now with no indie stores (at least none that sell new books—all used bookstores) and Barnes and Noble fairly far away, it’s extremely difficult for this reader to support brick-and-mortar bookstores.

This week I finished The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb (review). I also thought about which books I’d like to re-read.

This weekend was a long weekend for me as I work at a Jewish high school, but I am not Jewish myself, so Rosh Hashanah became true time off for me—for my colleagues it is spent in synagogue rather than work, or at least part of it is. Saturday was cold and perfect for curling up with a cup of tea and Aunt Jane, so I dove back into Sense And Sensibility again. I listened and read along with the text with my old Bantam copy of the book, which was the first copy of the book that I bought years ago and read in probably 1998 for the first time. I remember that because it was my first year teaching. I wonder if Ruben Toledo will be designing a cover for it like he did Pride and Prejudice? I just love his cover designs.

Did I miss any of them? Let me know in the comments.

I am also reading Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman for the R.I.P. Challenge. Good so far, and set in my home state of Georgia. I initially suspected that the woods near the Savoyard Plantation were populated with zombies, but I understand that they are probably werewolves instead. I will find out shortly, I suppose.

Today is Matthew Pearl’s birthday! He’s one of my favorite writers. Leave him a birthday wish on Twitter or on his Facebook fan page. I can’t wait for his next book, The Technologists. I have enjoyed his previous books:

The Sunday Salon

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The Ballad of Tom Dooley, Sharyn McCrumb

Sharyn McCrumb’s latest ballad novel, The Ballad of Tom Dooley, concerns perhaps the most famous of the Appalachian murder ballads, the story of how Tom Dooley, or Tom Dula as he was really known, came to be hanged for the murder of Laura Foster. Tom Dula was a ne’er-do-well Civil War veteran who was involved with Ann Foster Melton, a married woman and Laura Foster’s cousin. According to the legend, Tom led Laura to believe they were eloping, but murdered her and buried her in a shallow grave on a ridge instead. The motives for the murder have varied from Tom’s blaming Laura for giving him syphilis to avoiding marrying her because she was pregnant. However, many have doubted whether or not Tom Dula really did kill Laura Foster, particularly because he wrote a confession on the eve of his execution asserting that he alone was responsible for Laura’s death, presumably to exonerate Ann Melton, who had been arrested shortly after Tom himself and was charged in Laura’s death as well. McCrumb saw parallels between the story of Tom Dula, Ann Melton, and Laura Foster and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. When I read of this connection on McCrumb’s website, I was even more excited to read The Ballad of Tom DooleyWuthering Heights is my favorite book. And McCrumb did not disappoint me on this account.

McCrumb chooses as her two narrators Zebulon Baird Vance, who served North Carolina as governor and senator and came from the Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina himself. Following the Civil War, he was unable to hold a public office for a time and practiced law until this restriction was lifted for Confederate veterans. He was appointed to defend Tom Dula and Ann Melton pro bono. He serves as the stand-in for Mr. Lockwood, the outsider who more or less frames the beginning and end of the story, although unlike Brontë’s Lockwood, he narrates some sections in the middle of the novel. McCrumb’s Nelly Dean is Pauline Foster, a cousin of Ann Melton and Laura Foster’s, who comes to Wilkes County to be treated by a doctor for her syphilis and spreads discord. McCrumb paints her as a sociopath (Nelly isn’t that bad, though I always wonder how much she is telling the truth about Catherine and Heathcliff). Pauline narrates the bulk of the story. Her motive for causing so much destruction seems to stem from envy of Ann and a sense that she has somehow been mistreated by Ann.

Ann Melton and Tom Dula serve as McCrumb’s Catherine and Heathcliff, but no Cathy Linton, Linton Heathcliff, or Hareton Earnshaw redeem the families and set things to rights in the next generation. Ann Melton is just as narcissistic and unlikeable as Catherine Earnshaw, though Tom Dula does not come off nearly as badly as Heathcliff. McCrumb even rewrites some passages from Wuthering Heights into her novel, including the famous “I am Heathcliff” speech:

“We’re just the same, Tom and me. we come from the same place, and we’re made of the same clay. And maybe the devil spit in it before God made us, but at least we belong together, him and me.”

“It seems hard lines on your husband, you feeling like that.”

“I love them both, Pauline, but not in the same way. My love for James is like that field out there that he spends half his time plowing and sowing and weeding, and all. It will change. The crops die in the winter, or dry up in a summer drought, or the soil gives out, so that you must let it lie fallow for a time and let the weeds take it. It comes and goes, that field. But Tom … Tom is like that green mountain you can see rising there in the west, holding up the sky. It never changes. It will be the same forever.” (55-56)

This story appealed to me in the same way as Wuthering Heights appeals to me: I can’t understand it. I usually have to like the characters in a book, or I can’t really enjoy the book much. This book, however, offers no one to really root for, not even Laura Foster herself, no one to care for, and no one to sympathize with, just like Wuthering Heights. Even the setting in western North Carolina calls to mind the moors of Yorkshire in the way that both are wild places untamed by men. The cover is just gorgeous. It’s a composite of a design commissioned by the publishers and a real photograph of the area where Laura Foster died taken by McCrumb herself. McCrumb’s novel is a fine achievement built upon solid research and historical basis that still manages to read like literary fiction. The gothic elements of the murder and connection to Wuthering Heights made it a perfect read for the R.I.P. Challenge.

Sharyn McCrumb with Tom Dula's fiddle

Sharyn McCrumb with Tom Dula's fiddle

Read more about this novel at McCrumb’s website.

If you have Spotify, you can listen to the Kingston Trio’s famous rendition of “Tom Dooley.”

Rating: ★★★★★

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