A Classic Couple: The Song of the Lark and Paper Towns

It seems fitting that books by two of my favorite authors—Willa Cather and John Green—would connect across different centuries. As mentioned in a past Top Ten Tuesday post about pairs of classic and contemporary novels, I’ve found many interesting parallels between Cather’s The Song of the Lark (1915) and Green’s Paper Towns (2008).

Thea and Margo || These protagonists are headstrong, determined, and different from the people in their hometowns. Thea loves music and is seen as a young woman who holds great potential, whereas Margo is an enigma that no one can understand. Despite the man differences between them, they nevertheless share the same reckless, carefree spirit.

Leaving home || Eventually Thea and Margo move away from their childhood homes, leaving behind people who love and care about them in order to chase the prospect of adventure. Thea heads to the big city of Chicago to pursue a career in music, later finding herself traveling to Arizona, Dresden, and New York City. Margo departs suddenly in a shroud of mystery; she doesn’t tell anyone that she’s leaving or where she’s going to. These young women are running to something—adventure, adulthood, independence—but they’re also running from something: their past identities and the preconceived notions held by people they grew up with of who they should become.

Resistance || In both novels, friends from their pasts find Thea and Margo in the new lives they’ve made for themselves and try to persuade them to come back home. Unexpectedly, Thea and Margo refuse. Though Thea does go back and visit her hometown, she does not stay long and feels as though she doesn’t belong there anymore. Margo won’t even entertain the idea of returning to the town where she attended a high school that she technically hasn’t graduated from yet. Their new ideas and identities seem to manifest themselves in new locations.

Wanting “more” || The underlying current that runs beneath The Song of the Lark and Paper Towns is the desire for more out of life. Thea is enchanted by fantasies of big cities, fame, and a life away from her small, dull town; Margo is denounces the “paper people” she grew up around, yearning for those who are less materialistic and actually genuine, authentic, and real. The question remains: Do they really reach their “more”?

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with The Song of the LarkWhat are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Top Ten Tuesday: Oxford Reading List

Happy Tuesday!! As you read this post I’ll be spending my first day abroad in England as I move into my room at Mansfield College in Oxford. (!!!!) Since today’s TTT topic is about our fall TBR lists, I thought I would share the ten novels I was assigned to read for my English Literature 1830-1910 tutorial this fall. I read these books over the summer to prepare for the course and I can’t wait to work with these texts in the actual tutorial. Get ready for a heavy dose of Victorian literature!

What are your thoughts on these books? What books are on your fall TBR list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Tomorrow is Travel Day! | Holly Goes Abroad

The day I’ve been awaiting for months is finally around the corner: travel day. Tomorrow I hop on a plane and leave the United States for the first time (eek!).

As I talked about in a past post, I’ll be studying English literature at Mansfield College within Oxford University during this academic year. Even just writing it out like that feels so surreal– I still can’t believe this is actually happening! I can’t wait to solely focus on studying literature for an entire year (of course, the fun adventures and exploring that come along with it aren’t too shabby, either).

This summer has been filled with packing, doing required reading, and preparing in any way I can for the huge leap I’ll be taking. I’m incredibly excited (and nervous!) for what this next year has in store for me!

My plan is to post weekly updates on what I’ve seen, experienced, and done throughout my study abroad experience. Not only is this a fun way to share the experience with others, but it also allows me to have a record of my year at Oxford. I’ll also be posting plenty of photos to my bookstagram (@nutfreenerd) so be sure to check it out!

I want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me along the way– your kindness and generosity means everything! ❤

Cheers!

Yours,

HOLLY

Unique Blogger Award

Sometimes little surprises can completely make your day. Every time I’m tagged or nominated in posts like this Unique Blogger Award it reminds me of the loveliness of the bookish blogging community. Thanks so much to Jenna @ Bookmark Your Thoughts for nominating me!!

  • Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.
  • Answer the questions.
  • In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award.
  • Ask them three questions.

What is your favorite Disney film and character (they don’t have to be from the same thing)? Why?

I have so many Disney favorites, but my most recent one is Rapunzel and Tangled in general. I love the songs, the humor, the story, THE LANTERNS– everything!

How do you handle your TBR list when it gets out of control?

Usually by piling more books on top of it *hides in shame.* In actuality, when I notice that my TBR is getting a little out of control (on my Goodreads shelf, for instance) I’ll go through it and weed out books that I’m not really interested in readying anymore. Sometimes I don’t even remember why I added a book to my TBR in the first place!

What is your favorite type of post to blog about?

I love writing fun discussion posts for several reasons: a) they’re a blast to write, b) they spark awesome conversations in the comments section, and c) they help me look at other perspectives on a topic and see arguments from different angles.

  1. Do you have a favorite book genre?
  2. How do you feel about what is considered to be “classic” literature?
  3. What has been your favorite experience blogging so far?

Thanks again to Jenna for nominating me! What are your answers to these questions? What do you think of mine? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt | Review

I never realized how many popular children’s books I neglected to read when I was younger until I started talking about them with my friends one day. This led me to read books like Matilda by Roald Dahl and Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen in the midst of all my required summer reading to take a quick break from Victorian novels. Among those books was a gem that I still cannot believe I waited twenty years to read: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.

I can’t even tell you how much I loved this book. I read it in one sitting and immediately wanted to go right back to the beginning and read it all over again. In an effort to convince you to read this amazing children’s book if you haven’t (and to reread it if you already have!), here are five reasons why you should read Tuck Everlasting:

1 || The characters. Despite this book’s short length, I somehow managed to become incredibly invested in Babbitt’s masterfully developed characters. From lovely Winnie and courageous Mae to wise Angus and adorable Jesse, I couldn’t help but root for these charming characters.

2 || The suspense. The pacing of this book is so well done. There is never a moment that drags or feels out-of-place (if anything, I wish it were longer because I loved it so much!). The climax comes at the perfect moment: when you’re lulled into a state of bliss and start to forget about the worrisome foreshadowing that happened earlier on. Even though you know in the back of your mind that everything will eventually take a turn for the worse, you can’t help but hope for Winnie’s sake that life will be okay for a little longer!

3 || The writing. Not only is Natalie Babbitt an amazing storyteller, but she’s also a brilliant writer. There are countless lines in Tuck Everlasting that just seem to leap off the page and beg to be read again and again.

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

4 || The themes. Be curious. Seek adventure. Live in the moment. Be present. Care genuinely and wholeheartedly about others. I could go on and on listing all of the important messages this book delivers. These themes are what makes Tuck Everlasting a sort of universal novel– Who can’t benefit from being reminded of these life lessons every one and a while?

5 || The ending. I was completely surprised by the ending of this book. The typical fairy tale conclusion, all rosy and ideal and romantic, is not what Natalie Babbitt delivers. Instead, she leaves the reader with an ending that is bittersweet but still memorable, heartwarming, and that makes sense within the context of the rest of the story.

Have I convinced you yet? What are your thoughts on this book? Have any recommendations of other children’s books I might have missed out on when I was younger? What was your favorite book when you were a kid? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

A Classic Couple: 1984 and Illuminae

It’s time for another Classic Couple, a feature inspired by a past Top Ten Tuesday list. George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 is known for being an unsettling masterpiece of dystopian fiction. Its literary influence spans decades since its initial publication in 1949, as shown by the many elements it shares with contemporary fiction such as Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Though one the former novel takes place in a not-so-distant society on Earth and the latter is set in outer space, there are a surprising number of similarities between these two books.

 

Themes || Control. Authority. Civilization. Resistance. Rebellion. Independence. Individuality. Freedom. I could go on and on listing the countless themes and topics that permeate this classic couple. These themes are universal and always relevant in any society, which is likely why 1984 has thrived in the literary limelight.

A look ahead || These novels offer very different views of the future, one clearly more near than the other. Beneath the surface of these outlooks are warnings about what lies ahead should we take the wrong turn as a society. Will we let technology control us? Will we ruin our own planet? Will we lose all sense of individuality, freedom, and independence? The power of literature allows us to remember these warnings and (hopefully) take them to heart.

Technology || Technology plays an important role in these books, largely involving supervision, subjugation, and maintaining control. From AIDAN that controls the space ship to Big Brother that monitors everything and everyone, technology these writers clearly view technology as a tool that can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

A jaw-dropping ending || These books left me speechless as I turned their final pages. It sounds strange to say, but the endings are similar in their inhumanity: the torture described in 1984 is unimaginable and the rigid consciousness of AIDAN seems like a mockery of the human mind. I wish there was a sequel to 1984 like there is for Illuminae because I would love to see where that society goes in the future.

I still have yet to read the sequel to Illuminae, but I desperately want to! (I know, I know, I’ve been saying this for the longest time…) I highly recommend both of these fantastic books!

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with 1984? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Middle School Me

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is a throwback freebie, so I’ve decided to talk about some of my most tumultuous years: middle school. Though I loathed my middle school years, it was also when I read some of my favorite books. The following books are ones that I loved when I was twelve, thirteen, and fourteen years old. Cue the flashback!


Did anyone else have a dreadful middle school experience? What books did you love when you were in middle school? What do you think of the books that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

On Reading Classics | Discussion

I love classics. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that classics are my preferred genre. Some people can’t seem to fathom that I genuinely enjoy reading books like Faulkner’s Sartoris and Dickens’ Great Expectations and choose to read them in my free time. Perhaps this bewilderment is due to the bad reputation classics have gained from people’s negative experiences of being forced to read them in school. Or maybe classics have become too closely associated with the stereotypical pretentious air that some people put on when talking about this genre of literature. Whatever the reason may be, I’m here to break the barrier once and for all.

Classics don’t have to be scary, dull, or irrelevant; rather, they can be accessible, exciting, and relatable to our personal and societal experiences today. There are always going to be those books you just don’t click with (I’m sorry Bram Stoker, but I just reread Dracula and practically had to force myself to read the last hundred pages) but that doesn’t mean that the entire genre isn’t worth reading.

In an effort to spread my love of classics, here are some of my tips for reading them:

1 || Know the context. Before reading, take a few moments to research the time period and place in which the work was written as well as some information about the author. Knowing the context of a text is helpful for two reasons: a) you can better understand and relate to the characters when you know when, where, and how they are living and b) it helps explain any behaviors or beliefs that might seem odd or problematic to us today. Learning information about the author can also give us insight into why and how the text was written. For instance, while researching Faulkner I learned that he often listened to his elders tell stories about the Civil War, slavery, and his great-grandfather William Clark Falkner. The latter figure must have strongly influenced Faulkner because a similar legendary relative plays an important role in his novel Sartoris. Understanding the context of a work can make it easier to relate to the story overall.

2 || Make character maps. Wuthering Heights? The Sound and the Fury? Forget it: I would be completely lost and confused if I didn’t sketch out a character map. You can make one as you read, though I prefer to research the story ahead of time and map out the characters that way. There are countless helpful resources online that make creating character map easy and incredibly helpful. Even just writing a list of characters and some short descriptions of them can make following the story feel ten times easier.

3 || Take your time. Unless deadlines are imposed on you by others (teachers, professors, book clubs, etc.) there’s no specific point in time by which you have to read a classic. Go as slow as you need to in order to get the most out of the story, even if it takes you twice as long to finish as a different book normally would. Put it down and come back to it after a few days if you feel like you need a break or are feeling in the mood to read something else. There’s no pressure to read anything in one sitting or in a certain number of days, so don’t worry about how long it takes you to reach the final page. The more time you spend with a classic—or any book, for that matter—the more you’re likely to take away from the novel.

4 || Keep an open mind. As with anything you read, it’s important to keep an open mind that’s free from any preconceived judgments or expectations. There’s no use reading something when you already assume you’ll hate it before you even read the first page. Before starting Leo Tolstoy’s tome War and Peace I expected that it would bore me to tears; however, I was surprised to find that I actually looked forward to reading it more and more as I progressed through the novel. I know this tip probably sounds like basic common sense, but sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded of what would otherwise seem obvious. At times it can seem like classics are a genre of literature with their own rules and expectations; in actuality, they’re just like all other books!

It’s perfectly okay to not enjoy classics. I don’t go out of my way to pick up horror or paranormal novels and I don’t judge those who do. However, I do think that classics deserve a second chance.

Do you enjoy reading classics? Do you have a favorite? Did reading classics in school impact your feelings toward this genre? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Liebster Award | 6

I hope you’re all having a great Friday! Today I’m here to share another Liebster Award. Thanks so much to Lyndsey @ Lyndsey’s Book Blog for tagging me!!

  • Thank the person(s) who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions they gave you.
  • Nominate 11 blogs and let them know they’ve been tagged.
  • Give them 11 questions to answer.

If you could live in any fictional world (doesn’t have to be fantasy, just any book world) which would it be?

Definitely Middle-earth!! Choosing a specific location there would be really difficult, though… they all sound so beautiful.

Which fantasy creature would you love to have as a pet?

Probably a phoenix because Fawkes is so darn cute. 

If you could control one of the elements (earth, air, water, fire) which would you choose?

I would choose to control water because then I could walk around without an umbrella and not get wet.

Do you prefer tea or coffee? How do you take it?

I’m an avid tea drinker and always drink it black.

Would you rather be too hot or too cold?

Too cold because you can always put on more layers. Also, sweaters! Fuzzy socks! Steaming mugs of tea!

What’s your favorite color?

Yellow! Though recently I’ve taken a liking to light pink as well.

 

Team Edward or Team Jacob?

EDWARD. Funny you should ask because my mom has been reading the Twilight series lately and watching the movies… I keep having flashbacks to when I read them in middle school!

Go to your Goodreads to read list, what’s the fifth book on your list?

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve been meaning to read it for YEARS, but I always forget about it when I go to pick up a new book.

Ketchup or mayonnaise?

Definitely ketchup! I hardly ever eat mayo.

Do you prefer paperbacks, hardbacks, ebooks or audiobooks?

PAPERBACKS. I love reading physical books and paperbacks are smaller and cheaper than hardbacks. I do like listening to audiobooks every once in a while, especially while doing other things like exercising, knitting, etc.

Who would be your dream book boy/girlfriend?

My answer to this question is always Jonah from Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. ❤

  1. What book are you currently reading?
  2. What book did you most recently finish?
  3. What is the prettiest book on your bookshelf?
  4. How do you organize the books you own?
  5. If you can learn any language, which one would you choose?
  6. Where have you always wanted to visit?
  7. What’s your favorite thing to use as a bookmark?
  8. Do your reading tastes change with the seasons?
  9. What is your favorite dessert to bake?
  10. Chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry?
  11. How has your day been so far?

What are your answers to these questions? What do you think of mine? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot | Review

George Eliot’s classic novel Middlemarch has been on my bibliophilic radar for years, though I never found time to read it until it appeared on one of my required reading lists for Oxford. I once had a professor who described Middlemarch as being a “smarter Pride and Prejudice. This comment immediately intrigued me. What did he mean by smarter? His remark came back to me as soon as I started reading Middlemarch and now that I’ve finished I think I may understand what he was trying to say.

Middlemarch is about so much more than courtship, engagements, and marriages; of course, the same rings true for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but in a more subtle way. Eliot uses Victorian romance and courtly love as a vehicle for telling the story she actually wants to convey. The hierarchy of socioeconomic class is at the heart of nearly every decision each character makes, whether that be in the form of their access to money, their thriving or dwindling social network, and even judgment from others. Dorothea Brooke, the protagonist, is an embodiment of this message. Though she quickly marries, she does so out of an intense desire to serve the greater good, gain valuable knowledge with which to help others, and help her new husband in his theological studies. Her decision later on in the novel regarding another love interest may appear to be solely a display of affection; however, it is actually a statement about defying the expectations that correspond with the socioeconomic hierarchy. Rather than comply with the wishes of her family and friends, she chooses to follow her gut instinct and disregard societal judgement.

We see the influence of social expectations reflected in nearly all the characters in Eliot’s fictional town. Though Dorothea may be considered the protagonist, Eliot brings us into the lives of several other notable figures as well. The focus often shifts from Dorothea’s predicaments to those of her sister and other local families, giving the reader a close look at several different relationships and scenarios. I was impressed by how seamlessly Eliot connects them all via engagements, business negotiations, family ties, and unexpected events. However, even with a rotating cast of characters, the pace of Middlemarch felt slow in the middle five hundred pages or so. It’s natural to have ups and downs in pacing as the plot thickens and then problems resolve, but at times the pace of the novel felt almost glacial.

The basic story of the novel wasn’t what I was initially expecting, though I enjoyed it nevertheless. I was surprised to realize how interesting doctors and medical treatment was during this time period. Because doctors were often expected to treat patients in their homes, there’s an important level of trust and intimacy between the patient, family, and medical provider. The socioeconomic hierarchy also plays an interesting role in this dynamic because the doctor wishes to be perceived as professional and competent enough to be called upon by wealthy, respected households. I appreciate Eliot’s focus on a rather mundane aspect of daily life because it reveals a surprising amount about social circles in a town such as Middlemarch.

Overall, Middlemarch was well worth the long wait it took to finally be read. Was my professor correct when he deemed Middlemarch to be a “smarter” Pride and Prejudice? I guess that depends how you define “smarter” as well as how determined you are to categorize or rank novels by certain (and rather arbitrary) criteria. Though Eliot may be blunter than Austen when it comes to portraying the influence of societal expectations, but I believe that both novels contain valuable insights about Victorian society.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! Especially to those who enjoy the work of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Elizabeth Gaskell.

What are your thoughts on Middlemarch? Have you read any of George Eliot’s other novels? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY