Top Ten Tuesday adapted from

Top Ten Bookish Memories

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from

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?

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from

Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters Ever

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from

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!

Musing Mondays: Changing My Opinion

This week’s Musing Monday: “Have you ever reread a book and found that your opinion changed?”

This has probably happened to me more than once, but the most memorable instance was in re-reading J. D. Salinger’s [amazon asin=0316769177&text=The Catcher in the Rye].

I first read the book in high school. Not as required reading. My high school in California actually did precious little of that. It wasn’t until I moved to Georgia that I was actually required to read much substantial literature in English class. I think had some kind of list of great books students should have read by the time they entered college, and this book must have been on it. I hated Holden Caulfield. He was whiny. He complained too much. You know what, Holden? I thought. Life just isn’t fair. Suck it up. I really disliked him when he procured Sunny the prostitute. He was arrogant. He was annoying and full of himself.

Years later, Catcher was in my ninth grade curriculum. I picked it up again, not expecting to feel differently, but I was surprised. This time, I saw Holden as a victim. He was a loving brother who had lost a beloved younger brother and felt guilty about the small unkindnesses brothers commit against each other. He didn’t want to lose Phoebe the way he had lost Allie. He had already written his older brother off as a phony. His parents were largely absent and paid no attention to him, so naturally he was self-destructive and subconsciously did things that would ensure he was kicked out of school so they would have to pay attention to him, however fleetingly. He didn’t feel like he had a place in the world. One of the most poignant scenes to me in all of American literature, and I’ve taught the course a few times, is this scene when Holden is walking down the street in New York:

Anyway, I kept walking and walking up Fifth Avenue, without any tie on or anything. Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening. Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I’d never get to the other side of the street. I thought I’d just go down, down, down, and nobody’d ever see me again. Boy did it scare me. You can’t imagine. I started sweating like a bastard—my whole shirt and underwear and everything. Then I started doing something else. Every time I’d get to the end of a block I’d make believe I was talking to my brother Allie. I’d say to him, “Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Allie, don’t let me disappear. Please, Allie.” And then when I’d reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I’d thank him. Then it would start over again as soon as I got to the next corner. But I kept going and all. I was sort of afraid to stop, I think.” (197-198)

That is the portrait of a scared, lost child, and I think in reading it for the first time as a high school teacher and as a parent, I realized how incredibly sad Holden’s situation was. I felt sorry for him. I wanted to protect him.

My opinion of the book, and its main character, changed completely.

I think we probably never read the same book twice. We always pick up on different things when we re-read. We are different people than we were the last time we read the book. However, I can’t remember ever experiencing such a different reaction to re-reading a book as I did these two times I read Catcher.

I’ll be teaching it again next month.

I can’t wait.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to be Made into Movies

Top Ten TuesdayI am having trouble with the plugin that handles Amazon links, but I decided I should publish this anyway before the expiration date on this topic is too long past.

I like this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic. Which books should be made into movies? Here’s my list:

  1. [amazon_link id=”0385534639″ target=”_blank” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_link], Erin Morgenstern. I think this book would be great in Tim Burton’s hands. It wasn’t my favorite read, but it has such strong imagery that it’s begging to be made into a movie. I think I heard somewhere that it actually has been optioned.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0440423201″ target=”_blank” ]Outlander[/amazon_link], Diana Gabaldon. It would probably only work as a miniseries, and God knows who they would cast, but it’s such a great series. I’d love to see the books made into films à la [amazon_link id=”B0000Y40OS” target=”_blank” ]The Thorn Birds[/amazon_link].
  3. [amazon_link id=”0142402516″ target=”_blank” ]Looking for Alaska[/amazon_link], John Green. I didn’t like this book a whole lot, but I could see it making a pretty good teen movie like [amazon_link id=”B000FZETKC” target=”_blank” ]Some Kind of Wonderful[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”B001D0BLTA” target=”_blank” ]Pretty in Pink[/amazon_link].
  4. [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link], Ransom Riggs. Another one with a lot of visual imagery and some great humor that would be fun to watch.
  5. [amazon_link id=”B007C2Z5EU” target=”_blank” ]The Eyre Affair[/amazon_link], Jasper Fforde. I’ve actually talked about this one before.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0316769177″ target=”_blank” ]The Catcher in the Rye[/amazon_link], J. D. Salinger. It would be tricky to pull off, but I think if the director did internal monologue voiceovers, it might work.
  7. [amazon_link id=”0060558121″ target=”_blank” ]American Gods[/amazon_link], Neil Gaiman. This could be a sprawling sort of epic with the right cast and script.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0141439610″ target=”_blank” ]The Woman in White[/amazon_link], Wilkie Collins. If this has been made into a successful movie, then I haven’t heard about it, but it would be a great gothic tale.
  9. [amazon_link id=”0061862312″ target=”_blank” ]Wicked[/amazon_link], Gregory Maguire. Why not? They brought it to Broadway. Would be fun to cast [amazon_link id=”B00388PK1U” target=”_blank” ]Wizard of Oz[/amazon_link] lookalikes where possible, too.
  10. [amazon_link id=”074348276X” target=”_blank” ]King Lear[/amazon_link], William Shakespeare. Seriously, why hasn’t one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays been made into a huge movie. They’ve done just about every other major play and even minor ones. I have seen filmed stage versions of this, and there’s a good PBS one, but not exactly major motion pictures.

What about you? What books do you think should be made into movies?

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Books I’d Give a Theme Song To

Top Ten TuesdayThis is an interesting topic. I’ll try to do it justice.

  1. [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link], F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Uninvited” by Alanis Morissette. This is perhaps kind of an odd choice, given the song has no connection to the 1920’s or jazz, but if you listen to the lyrics, they essentially describe how Daisy seems to feel about Gatsby.
  2. [amazon_link id=”1456364278″ target=”_blank” ]Heart of Darkness[/amazon_link], Joseph Conrad: “Head Like a Hole” by NIN. OK, this song is really aggressive and may not jump out at you when you think of Heart of Darkness, but again, the lyrics seem to speak to the book’s themes. My favorite is comparing Kurtz’s last words, “The horror!” to the last line of the song, “You know what you are.” Isn’t that the horror Kurtz was talking about? The horror of realizing what he was? Of course that line is whispered on the recording, and I didn’t hear it in this video. But still.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0385737645″ target=”_blank” ]Revolution[/amazon_link], Jennifer Donnelly: “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd. I chose this song mainly because it is a motif in the story itself. The song becomes important to Andi both for its message and music.
  4. [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link], Ransom Riggs: “People are Strange” by The Doors. I am not a huge fan of The Doors. I liked them a lot more when I was in high school. However, I can’t deny there are some strange people in Riggs’s book.
  5. [amazon_link id=”1400031702″ target=”_blank” ]The Secret History[/amazon_link], Donna Tartt: “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen. Any list like this is better for an Echo and the Bunnymen song. Plus I think the sort of gothic nature of the song (and the fact that it was recently featured in a commercial with vampires) goes with the book’s atmosphere. “Fate… up against your will” describes Richard Papen’s complicated feelings about Bunny’s murder. Plus, “killing.”
  6. [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link], Emily Brontë: “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush. Kind of a no-brainer. This video is nearly as weird as Catherine Earnshaw.
  7. [amazon_link id=”0743482751″ target=”_blank” ]Much Ado About Nothing[/amazon_link], William Shakespeare: “Sigh No More” by Mumford & Sons. Maybe because the song just alludes to a song in the play and quotes pieces of the play, but it fits anyway.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0393320979″ target=”_blank” ]Beowulf[/amazon_link], Anonymous: “The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. Because VIKINGS! That’s why.
  9. [amazon_link id=”0345409647″ target=”_blank” ]Interview with the Vampire[/amazon_link], Anne Rice: “Moon Over Bourbon Street” by Sting. Yes, he actually was inspired to write the song because of Rice’s book. Fitting.
  10. [amazon_link id=”0316769177″ target=”_blank” ]The Catcher in the Rye[/amazon_link], J. D. Salinger: “How Soon is Now?” by The Smiths. The song’s narrator is an angry, misunderstood loner, just like Holden Caulfield. And honestly, I think what Holden really does want is to be loved. Just like everybody else does.

Do You Hate Holden Caulfield?

This is a book you must read.I have been thinking about this post at Forever Young Adult ever since I left a short comment, mainly because of all the commenters unloading on Holden Caulfield, and then throwing in folks like my beloved Lizzie Bennet. (Seriously? Someone petitioned to have Pride and Prejudice removed from her reading list? For the love of all that is holy, why?)

I think all of us have read books we were told were supposed to be classics, and we didn’t understand the fuss. We didn’t like them. In fact, we hated them. And we wondered if there was something wrong with us. This book is supposed to be a classic, right? That means lots of people love it, and if we don’t love it, we probably just didn’t get it.

Not true.

Books do become classics because people love them, and they stay classics because new people come along, read them, and love them, too. But I don’t think every book is for every person, and I think we sometimes assign books at the wrong time. I suspect that might be the case with the person who didn’t want to read Pride and Prejudice. I have taught that book to ninth graders, and they weren’t ready for it at all, and it was a mistake to teach it to them. Then again, Jane Austen is such an important British author for students to be exposed to. This year, instead of watching the books I love suffer the cruel hatred of my students, I offered them choices for a Jane Austen Book Club: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. None of my students signed up for either iteration of Sense and Sensibility, but I had a group of girls and one savvy boy who wanted to read Emma. Even though it wasn’t on my list, did I let them? You bet. They were choosing it. And that’s what makes the difference. It’s hard, but we have to let kids choose what they read more often. I am not advocating that we end class novel studies. I think a balanced approach works. Will students always choose the classics? No. I think we have to be OK with that. What we want to do is foster readers. Readers are people who will pick up classics later on, perhaps when they’re ready for them.

When I first read The Catcher in the Rye in high school (on my own, not assigned), I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t like Holden. When I read the book again in my thirties, I found new sympathy for Holden, and there are some beautiful passages in that book. The scene in which Holden prays to Allie to save him from disappearing is gorgeous and sad.

I am well aware that a lot of people strongly dislike, nay hate my favorite book, Wuthering Heights. I myself am at something of a loss to explain why I love it so much. I don’t really like the characters all that much, and usually that’s an absolute prerequisite for me. One thing I have done in my classroom the last two years is show the 1998 film so students at least have a grasp of the plot before we read. After watching the film two years ago, a group of girls in the back of the class applauded when it was over (note: this is not a common occurrence). I mentioned to that class that I found at least two Facebook groups dedicated to the eradication of Wuthering Heights. I’ll never forget my student Jake’s reaction. He turned to look at me, incredulous look on his face, and said, “Why?” I love that he was so dumbfounded. I didn’t have time to teach the book that particular year, so the movie was all the exposure we had. One student liked it so much that I gave her a copy of the book, which she read and proclaimed her favorite. She has since thanked me twice because it is now her favorite book. She only had room to take a few books with her to college, but, she informed me, Wuthering Heights was one of them.

Image via Brontë Parsonage Blog

Last year, I showed the film first, but before I did, explained to the students what this book meant to me and how scary it is to teach books I really love because they might not like them, or worse, they might hate them, and I explained how soul-crushing that is. I told them I was handing them something very personal and valuable to me when I handed them this book, and I begged them not to trample on it. Surprisingly, it worked. I don’t mean to say they all liked it, but they were kind to me about it. One student admitted to me that he didn’t really care for it, but he seemed to appreciate the fact that I shared my own feelings about the book. Another girl made me all kinds of paper dolls of characters from the book using a graphics program (software or online, I’m not sure). I asked her if she had liked the book. She said, “I can’t get it out of my head.” She looked kind of far away for a moment, then walked out the door.

What is the point of all this? I’m just wondering how many of us who consider ourselves readers can remember reading a book everyone else seemed to love, or was considered a classic, and we didn’t like it? Mine was Crime and Punishment (review here). What do you think English teachers or parents or anyone else responsible for fostering budding readers should do to encourage readers? Is it OK if we never read classics?

P. S. For the record, I cried a little when J. D. Salinger died.

photo credit: joseph.antoniello

Mark Twain’s Unexpurgated Biography Published

Mark Twain via the Library of CongressMuch speculation has surrounded Mark Twain’s autobiography because of the stipulation in his will that it not be published until 100 years after his death. Many have wondered exactly what he said that was so controversial. Readers won’t have to wait much longer. The New York Times reports that the first of three volumes is set to be published by the University of California Press this November. You can preorder it on Amazon right now. No word yet on when volumes 2 and 3, which are said to contain most of the previously unpublished material, will be published.

Are you going to try to read it?

Other book news this week:

Thursday, July 15 marks the 172nd anniversary of Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s famous Divinity School Address at Harvard Divinity School. Emerson declared Jesus to be a great man, but not divine, and he discounted biblical miracles in this famous address. The controversial speech resulted in Emerson’s not speaking at Harvard for 30 years. You can read the speech here.

Friday July 16 marks the 95th anniversary of the date when Henry James became a British citizen. I can only think of one other American writer—T. S. Eliot—who became a British citizen. Because James died less than a year after becoming a British citizen, most people don’t think of him as an English writer, whereas some people do think of Eliot as English. Can you think of other American writers who became British citizens?

July 16 also marks the 59th anniversary of the publication of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. This book continues to speak to students even today. You can read my reflections about teaching it here and here.

Mickey Spillane died four years ago on July 17.

On July 18, 1925, Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf. William Makepeace Thackeray was born on July 18, 1811. Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817. Horatio Alger also died on that date in 1899.

On July 19, 1692, five women—Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Sarah Wildes, and Rebecca Nurse—were hanged for witchcraft in Salem, MA. (my visit to Salem begins on that date next week!) The Salem witch trials served as inspiration for Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, as well as one of my favorite YA writers Ann Rinaldi’s book A Break with Charity. Elizabeth Howe is an ancestor of modern writer Katherine Howe, who also used Salem’s witchcraft history as inspiration for her novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (read my review).

On July 19, 1963, Australian author Garth Nix was born. I enjoyed his book Sabriel. My daughter loves his writing.

Transcendentalist writer Margaret Fuller died on July 19, 1850. Irish-American writer Frank McCourt died a year ago on July 19, 2009.