Halloween Creatures Book Tag

BOOO! Happy Halloween, everyone! I hope you’re having a lovely day of spooky celebrations and plenty of candy corn to go around. Today I’d like to celebrate with this Halloween Creatures Book Tag. Thanks so much to Theresa @ The Calico Books for tagging me!

Witch: A magical character or book.

How could I not mention one of my favorite books? The Hobbit is magical in so many senses of the word, from setting and characters to the warm, fuzzy feeling it gives me whenever I return to its faded pages.

Werewolf: The perfect book to read at night.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte has always struck me as the ideal book to read under the covers on a dark, stormy night. Is it the eerie setting? Cruel Heathcliff? Bronte’s lyrical writing? Or a combination of them all?

Frankenstein: A book that truly shocked you.

The existence of this book shocked me. I had no idea that my favorite movie and Michael Crichton’s brilliant book Jurassic Park was inspired by The Lost World, a 1912 novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, until I found it in a bookstore one day in Oxford.

The Devil: A dark, evil character.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is filled with complicated, ambiguous, surprising characters who may be considered a hero one minute and evil the next. I love a great character twist!

Grim Reaper: A character that should never have died.

I think Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling goes without explanation for this prompt. So sad!

Zombie: A book that made you hungry for more.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was the book that made me eager to read more classic literature. What would I be reading nowadays if not for my favorite genre?

Gargoyle: A character that you would protect at all costs.

I’m going to say Jim Burden from My Ántonia by Willa Cather, one of my favorite novels. Ántonia could definitely hold her own, but I’m not so sure about poor Jim…

Vampire: A book that sucked the life out of you.

I really enjoyed reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, but it took a long, long time. A few summers ago I read about a section a week for two months or so–splitting it up over the course of a summer definitely helped!

Ghost: A book that still haunts you.

Beloved by Toni Morrison is one of the most striking, unsettling, powerful, haunting books I have ever read. It’s a novel that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Demon: A book that really scared you.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is hilarious and witty while simultaneously terrifying. What if society goes in this direction? What does our future look like? Huxley offers a frightening example.

Skeleton: A character you have a bone to pick with.

Emma by Jane Austen was such a tedious book to read because I found so many of the characters annoying. I think it might be worth rereading someday, but for now I’m fine just watching Clueless. 

Mummy: A book you would preserve through time.

I have a strange attachment to Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis. I read it for an essay in my AP United States History class during my junior year of high school and I adored it.

Creepy Doll: A cover too scary to look at.

Even the spine of The Shining by Stephen King is creepy. I remember finishing this book while staying overnight in a lodge on a mountain in January… definitely fit the mood of the book!

YOU! Since Halloween is today, I’m not quite sure if anyone will want to do this tag. But if you’d like to, definitely go for it! Happy Halloween!!

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

Yours,

HOLLY

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WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys | Review

“Wide Sargasso Sea, a masterpiece of modern fiction, was Jean Rhys’s return to the literary center stage. She had a startling early career and was known for her extraordinary prose and haunting women characters. With Wide Sargasso Sea, her last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.”   {Goodreads}

As discussed in a past Classic Couple post, I have finally read Jean Rhys’s famous prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. First published in 1966, Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of what happened to Antoinette–otherwise known as Bertha Mason–who we only ever meet as the “madwoman in the attic” in the classic Victorian novel. Here Rhys turns what we think we know about this story on its head, providing an alternative look at what may have really happened to the first wife of Mr. Rochester.

What I love about this novel is that it unabashedly exposes the layers of racism, colonialism, and sexism present in Jane Eyre. Rhys does this largely by playing around with perspective. The novel begins by focusing on the experience of Antoinette, showing the reader that she is an intelligent, rational, emotional human being with family, desires, and fears just like anyone else. Rhys then switches the focus to that of Rochester, revealing the inner workings of his prejudiced mind. Rochester openly admits to the reader that he hoped Antoinette would become “more English” through marriage to him and that he is disappointed when she doesn’t change in this way. By switching perspectives, we see that Antoinette is not the one who is “crazy”; rather, the real “madwoman in the attic” is the “Bertha” figure that Rochester portrays her as in order to get what he desires.

Another major strength of the novel is the way Rhys seamlessly ties it into Jane Eyre without being glaringly obvious or over-the-top about it. The final few pages of the novel place Antoinette in the attic of Thornfield Hall, yet she is not portrayed as Rochester would have her represented. Instead, she longs for the past that she used to have and the future that Rochester ripped away from her with this twist in their distorted marriage. Jane is presented as more of a ghost than Antoinette, the two-dimensional figure that we only hear about but don’t really know. Instead, the reader can’t help but empathize with this woman who was torn from everything she knew simply because Rochester didn’t like her non-English background and customs. In this way, Rhys connects her novel with that of Charlotte by suggesting an alternate reading of one of its characters rather than entirely changing the classic’s story. 

With that being said, it feels as though Wide Sargasso Sea does invite us to go back and read Jane Eyre with this new perspective in mind. In fact, I think it would be a great idea to teach these novels alongside each other in classroom settings rather than simply encouraging students to read Brontë’s novel on the basis that it is yet another classic. I believe that more can be learned from reading these two together rather than apart.

Overall, the only regret I have about reading Wide Sargasso Sea is not having read it sooner. This is a brilliant novel that everyone who reads Jane Eyre should absolutely pick up.

What are your thoughts on Wide Sargasso Sea? Have you read any of Jean Rhys’s other writing? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Bookshop Qualities

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is supposed to highlight bookstores we’ve always wanted to visit; however, I thought it would be to share ten qualities that make for the best bookshops. In no particular order:

 

What are your favorite bookshop qualities? Do you have a favorite bookshop? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Avoiding Book Burnout as an English Major

Recently someone asked me in a comment how I avoid burning out as an English major–in other words, how do I keep from getting sick of reading? It might sound implausible that a bookworm could get tired of reading, but it definitely happens. When the line between work and play is blurred, it can suddenly feel like what was once a hobby is now homework–because it is. 

For each term at Oxford I had to read about sixteen novels, plus secondary reading during term itself. For my senior seminar at Wheaton right now I have to read about a dozen novels by Philip Roth–and that’s in addition to all the reading for my other English class, history class, and Honors Thesis. Needless to say, studying English literature involves a lot of reading. When you consider the sheer amount of pages being turned, it’s easy to imagine how someone could want to do something else in their sparse free time besides open even more books. 

So how do I avoid burning out? Here’s my advice:

Switch things up.

One of the problems I’ve encountered studying English literature is that the genre I would usually read for fun (classics) is precisely when I have to read for class. Instead, I try reading different genres, particularly children’s or young adult books. Because they’re different enough from what I read for class, my mind isn’t so quick to associate it with doing work.

Listen to audio books.

Listening to audio books is my favorite way to get extra reading in during the semester without feeling like I’m doing more work. I love not having to feel like I’m spending even more time with my eyes glued to a page, as well as the fact that I can get other things done (like laundry, cleaning, etc.) at the same time).

Make it social.

Join a book club. Read the same book as a friend. Be more active in the book blogging community. Sometimes adding a more social aspect to reading helps it feel less like homework and more like something you’re doing in your precious free time.

Take a break.

Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that bookish burnout is unavoidable without taking a bit of a break from reading for fun. Whenever I feel this tiredness coming on, I usually switch to listening to podcasts, knitting, or some other activity instead. Taking a break from reading doesn’t make you a “bad” bookworm in any way–partially because such a category doesn’t exist. There’s no denying that the reading you do for class is still reading, even if it’s not what you would choose to read on your own.

I hope these quick pieces of advice are helpful! Studying English literature can be surprisingly tricky for self-proclaimed bookworms, and it’s nice to know that it’s not just you falling out of love with reading–sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. 

How do you avoid burning out as an English major or college student in general? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: Masturbation Madness?

As I mentioned in my review of Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus collection, I’m currently taking senior seminar that solely focuses on Philip Roth. A few weeks ago I was assigned to read his 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint, and I have some thoughts. 

Portnoy’s Complaint is essentially one man’s long tirade about sex to his therapist. He starts by recounting his early years of experimenting with different ways of masturbating, from his sister’s bras to the liver that his family then ate for dinner. Throughout the novel we learn all about the women he’s hooked up with over the years, from prostitutes to random women he meets in his travels. Everything is described in graphic, explicit detail, including both the physical events as well as Alex’s (the narrator) thoughts about his many sexual experiences.

I don’t have a problem reading explicitly sexual books in class. What I have a problem is the blatant sexism in Roth’s novels and how it is often brushed off as being a mere “product of the time period.” Nope. Not an excuse. Just because something was written in a specific time and place does not mean it get’s a free pass to be read without any sort of discussion about its problematic elements. 

It also doesn’t help that the only women represented in Portnoy’s Complaint are those objectified for their bodies and who are thought of strictly in sexual terms. Even Alex’s mother is portrayed in this way, as shown when he implies that he wants to have sex with her (this novel is the definition of Freudian). And don’t get me started about Roth’s portrayal of menstruation: not only does he compare menstrual blood to that of meat, but he also claims that it was “better she should have bled herself out on the bathroom floor, better that, than to have sent an eleven-year-old boy in hot pursuit of sanitary napkins” (Roth 44). Why is this okay? And why don’t we talk about how it’s not okay?

Upon leaving my senior seminar on the day we discussed Portnoy’s Complaint, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed by all the things we hadn’t talked about. What about the way Alex calls one of the women he hooks up with “The Monkey”? What about how he only values women for their bodies, and once they start to talk about committed relationships or (gasp!) marriage, he calls them crazy and leaves them? Or what about the scene toward the end of the novel where he nearly rapes a woman? In what setting is it okay for these things to be brushed off in order to talk about Roth’s portrayal of Jewish identity for the millionth time this semester instead? 

Reading so much about masturbation from a man’s point of view also made me ask another important question: Why aren’t we reading about this from a woman’s point of view? Is there even an equivalent of this book written by a woman? If so, why isn’t it being talked about? If not, why hasn’t it been written? In a class dedicated to talking about the experiences of a man, I would hope for a bit more discussion about those of women. Considering recent events (particularly those in the United States), I feel as though Roth’s voice may not be the one that most desperately needs to be heard right now.

I understand the literary significance of Portnoy’s Complaint: it was revolutionary for its time, exploring topics of sex and masculinity in ways that hadn’t been done in such an explicit, graphic nature before. With that being said, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t discuss its enduring literary merit while also criticizing its problematic, sexist aspects. To do otherwise is to imply that what I feel as a woman reading this text doesn’t matter, that I should be able to turn off those emotions simply because it’s a “product of its time.” I’m sorry–I guess I’m just a product of my time, too.

Click here to check out other Feminist Friday posts!

What are your thoughts on Portnoy’s Complaint or about reading problematic/sexist texts in class? Have any feminist texts you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Waited A Long Time to Read

Happy Tuesday!! Technically today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic asks us to share the longest books we’ve ever read; however, I already made a list of a similar topic at the beginning of this year (which you can read by clicking here). Instead, I’m going to share books I waited a long time to read (AKA children’s books that I read for the first time within the past few years). If only I had read these gems sooner!

What are some books that you waited a long time to read? What do you think of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

SEPTEMBER 2018 | Wrap-Up

September has come and gone faster than I thought possible, especially considering how much has happened in the past month. It’s hard to believe that we’re already five weeks into the semester! Here’s what I’ve been up to:

In September I read a total of 8 books:

  1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
  2. Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera
  3. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
  4. Without a Name by Yvonne Vera
  5. Under the Tongue by Yvonne Vera
  6. The Stone Virgins by Yvonne Vera
  7. Narrative Form by Suzanne Keen
  8. The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth

As you can tell, I’ve read a lot of Yvonne Vera’s writing in the past month. I’m currently in the process of researching for my honors thesis, which involves reading a majority of what Vera has written and learning more about Zimbabwean literary traditions and narrative form. (Let me know if this is something you would be interested hearing more about!)

It’s difficult to choose a favorite book this month because I genuinely loved everything I read by Vera, although much of it was painfully sad and unsettling. However, I’m going to have to go with Butterfly Burning as my favorite book of September. Not only is it the first book by Vera that I ever read (making this a reread for me), but it is also provides one of the most striking, moving, thought-provoking reading experiences. Would absolutely recommend!

+ MOVIE: Moving back to Wheaton means hopping aboard the Film Club train again! One of my best friends is the president of our Film Club this year, which makes attending meetings even more fun. A few weeks ago we watched Loving Vincent (2017), the first fully painted feature film ever created. This film is breathtaking. The painting technique is absolutely incredible and the story is heart-wrenching. If you ever get the opportunity to see this film, please do. 

+ MUSIC: Dodie recently released a new song called “Human” from her upcoming album and it is so lovely. The music video literally made my jaw drop–it makes you think about the song in an entirely different way!

+ FOOD: Chex mix has been sustaining me these past few weeks–always a go-to snack!

+ PLACE: I fell in love with my suite this month. I absolutely love living with three of my closest friends and I can’t imagine spending senior year any other way.

September was a month of many transitory ups and downs. Adjusting back to Wheaton has been difficult after a year away, both in terms of academics and missing Oxford dearly. Fortunately, I have a group of amazing friends and people who are always willing to listen and help when I need some cheering up. It also helps that senior year is filled with plenty of exciting events (amidst the mountains of work, of course). I’m grateful that I’ve found time to make fun, hilarious memories in between classes, working on my honors thesis, and apply to law schools.

Wheaton’s nondenominational chapel, home to a cappella performances and drag shows.

 

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to see Chris Fleming perform life at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston, which was amazing. I’ve been a fan of his Gayle videos for years, so seeing him in person was surreal. If you’ve never seen his comedy before, then you should definitely check it out!

 Here are some notable posts from my blog this past month:

How was your month of September? What was the best book you read? Did you do anything really fun or exciting? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP by Marie Kondo | Review

“Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international best seller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home – and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.”   {Goodreads}

Sometimes it seems as though this book is everywhere. From bookstores to blogs, it felt like everyone had read this small, strange book but me. Until now.

Listening to this audio book was a… surprising experience. Once I adjusted to the soothing yet strangely robotic narrator, I found myself having mixed reactions to much of what Kondo proposed. What I imagined would be a practical book about tidying up actually advocates an emotional journey to find what brings you joy and to foster a stronger, more reciprocal connection with your home. While this is a fine turn for the book to take, I just wasn’t expecting such a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

 

Amidst this book’s strangeness (I’ll get to that later), there were several parts of that made me want to grab a pen and write down a quote to look at when I feel lost. Kondo is an excellent writer, able to construct the motivational, lyrical messages out of fairly simple concepts.

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

While some of her advice struck me as quite ridiculous, quotes like the one shown above helped me stay rooted to her narrative. Without gems like these, I probably would not have enjoyed the book very much. However, this momentary eloquence is precisely the issue: one minute she would be saying something motivational in a realistic, practical, and applicable sense, and the next she would be arguing that socks go on vacation and deserve to live the life of luxury:

“I pointed to the balled-up socks. “Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?” That’s right. The socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet. The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest. But if they are folded over, balled up, or tied, they are always in a state of tension, their fabric stretched and their elastic pulled. They roll about and bump into each other every time the drawer is opened and closed. Any socks and stockings unfortunate enough to get pushed to the back of the drawer are often forgotten for so long that their elastic stretches beyond recovery.”

I’m sorry: WHAT?! My socks cannot adequately rest because they bump into each other in my sock drawer? Is being balled up giving them wrinkles? Is that little buzzing I here sometimes actually my socks screaming out in agony from my dresser? I distinctly remember listening to this section and pausing my audio book so I could soak up the ridiculousness of this passage. I was genuinely bothered by the fact that Kondo could actually think that socks have feelings. Surely this is just a metaphor? Someone please tell me that she doesn’t expect me to cater to the whims of my socks?

But the bizarre statements didn’t stop there. She often urges the reader to foster a deeper relationship with their belongings, talking to them physically and emotionally through touch.

“Open the drawer and run your hands over the contents. Let them know you care and look forward to wearing them when they are next in season. This kind of “communication” helps your clothes stay vibrant and keeps your relationship with them alive longer.”

I can see it now: my roommate wakes up one morning to find me running my hands over all of my clothing, whispering sweet nothings to them as I take years to decide what to wear. How do I choose something when I know that all of my other outfits will be desperately disappointed that I didn’t pick them? The danger of these sections is that they diminish the credibility of Kondo’s other advice that may be valuable and rational. It’s difficult to take someone seriously when they’re suggesting such ridiculous ideas.

To be fair, there is some great advice in this book. Despite my sarcasm, I do appreciate Marie Kondo’s overall message: our surroundings are influential aspects of our lives that can work with us or against us. Changing our environment for the better means that many things about our personal lives (motivation, organization, mood, etc.) may also improve. However, Kondo could certainly have shared this important message in a way that didn’t make me question whether or not I should be chatting with my underwear drawer. 

Would I read this book again? Probably not, although parts may be useful to turn back to in the future. Would I recommend this book? Yes, but with the caveat to take everything with a grain of salt. As much as I love a clean room, I’d rather not have to worry about being an expert conversationalist with my wardrobe.

What are your thoughts on this book? Have you put any of its advice into practice? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Women Writers I’d Love to Meet

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to share a list of ten authors we would love to meet. In the past, I’ve found that the lists I’ve made like this tend to be fairly male-dominated; instead, this week I’d like to focus on ten women writers that I would love to have a conversation with.

What women writers would you love to meet? What do you think of the writers on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Unique Blogger Award | 3

What a better way to spend a lazy Sunday than sharing a bookish award? Thanks so much to Erin @ Pages of Milk and Honey for nominating me! Erin is lovely, so be sure to check out her blog.

  • Display the award!
  • Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
  • Answer the questions they’ve written for you!
  • Nominate 8-13 bloggers and give them three questions in the spirit of sharing love and solidarity within our blogging family!

If you could only choose one genre to read for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Definitely classic literature. It’s become my favorite genre over the past few years, despite its rather stuffy, dull reputation. (Click here to read more about my adoration of classics.

What is the worst book you have ever read?

I always struggle answering questions like this one because I generally tend to enjoy the books that I finish reading. However, one book that I did not enjoy was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. If you’ve been keeping up to date with the controversy surrounding this play, then you’re probably not surprised to hear that it left a proverbial sour taste in my bookworm mouth. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that it’s the absolute worst book I’ve ever read, but it’s definitely up there on the list!

Describe your perfect reading nook!

I’ll read pretty much anywhere, but my favorite places are outside with beautiful scenery in front of me: at the lake, on the quad of Wheaton (fondly known as the Dimple), or even in my back yard at home in New Hampshire.

Thanks again, Erin!

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

Yours,

HOLLY