I Visited Willa Cather’s Grave

One day while reading a short bio of Willa Cather I stumbled upon the fact that she’s buried in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, only an hour and a half from where I live.

As you can imagine, I was ecstatic.

I was shocked when I learned she’s buried in NH because I knew she was born in Virginia and raised in Nebraska. Though she died in Manhattan, she asked to be buried in Jeffrey because apparently it was where she wrote a lot of her novels. She’s buried there with Edith Lewis, the woman she lived with for decades.

The sign on the Meeting House in Jaffrey, NH.

Recently my mom and I made the trek to Jaffrey to see the grave in person. She’s buried in the Old Burial Ground behind the Meeting House, which is a really beautiful old building in and of itself. When we pulled into the dirt parking lot on that rainy Friday morning we weren’t quite sure where we were headed, but fortunately we easily found her grave site because it’s in a corner near a stone wall (which we had to hop). The burial ground itself was actually kind of beautiful, even though that might sound weird. There were so many old, weathered headstones in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Part of me wanted to just stroll through it row by row and take it all in, but the rain encouraged us to be quick to avoid getting completely soaked. I was almost glad it was raining because it made the day feel cozy, peaceful, and even sort of eerie.

When we finally arrived at her headstone I couldn’t help but gasp. There she was. There’s a great quote from My Ántonia on Cather’s headstone, which made me so happy because I love that book immensely. There were also a bunch of rocks and pennies on her grave, most likely from others who admire her work as well.

I was definitely the happiest person in this burial graveyard (and the only person besides my mom).

Standing in front of Willa Cather’s grave was surreal. Too often it can feel as though authors are these untouchable, legendary figures who live on forever through the pages of their work. While visiting a grave like this it’s impossible to not feel a wave of realization wash over you: this woman was human, with hopes and dreams and flaws and desires just like the rest of us. Though I sometimes like to believe that the books I love hold a sort of elevated notion of truth and meaning that emanates from their spines, it’s important to remember that these texts were written by people just like us. Writers exist beyond their work, which is easy to forget when you’re engrossed in their stories and captivated by their words. Visiting Cather’s grave made everything feel much more real, tangible, and within reach.

Needless to say, I want to read everything that Willa Cather has ever written now, even more so than I did before. I’m so happy I had the opportunity to visit such an interesting piece of literary history— it’s definitely a place I would visit again in the future!

Have you ever visited the grave sites of your favorite authors? (Also, how weird is that question out of context?!) Do you have a favorite novel or short story by Willa Cather? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

MATILDA as a Feminist Text | Discussion

While reading Matilda for the first time ever recently (gasp!), I loved how Roald Dahl places such an emphasis on gender equality in the story. If we consider feminism to be defined as equality between all genders, I would argue that this lovely children’s book is a strong example of a feminist text. Here are 5 quotes that help illustrate this point:

“Matilda said, “Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”

This quote depicts girls as active agents in their own lives rather than the passive, conforming subjects that they are often portrayed as in literature.

“A girl should think about making herself look attractive so she can get a good husband later on. Looks is more important than books, Miss Hunky…”
“The name is Honey,” Miss Honey said.
“Now look at me,” Mrs Wormwood said. “Then look at you. You chose books. I chose looks.”

Here Roald Dahl takes a feminist stance by making Matilda’s awful mother possess a misogynistic mindset. This obviously shines a negative light on such prejudice against women by showing how ridiculous it sounds, especially coming from Mrs. Wormwood. By this point in the story, the reader knows that Miss Honey is a kind, smart, lovely individual who is both beautiful and intelligent. In other words, there’s no such thing as having to choose between “looks” and “books”!!

“I’m afraid men are not always quite as clever as they think they are. You will learn that when you get a bit older, my girl.”

I think the message is pretty clear with this one: men are not the only clever ones!

“Being very small and very young, the only power Matilda had over anyone in her family was brain-power.”

Probably my favorite thing about Matilda as a character is that she is a role model for everyone who feels ostracized by a desire to learn and be smart. Here Roald Dahl asserts that intelligence is power– just because one is disadvantaged in other ways doesn’t mean you can’t fight back with words and ideas and wit. Taken even further, one could argue that this also applies to feminism: just because someone is viewed as inferior for being a woman doesn’t mean they can’t challenge this adversity with brain-power. 

“All the reading she had done had given her a view of life they had never seen.”

This might be my favorite quote of the entire book. When I came across it while reading I literally stopped and reread the same line five or six times because I think it perfectly encapsulates one of the most important values of reading. Reading teaches us empathy, something imperative to understanding and accepting everyone around us. If more people read and had empathy, then perhaps feminism would be embodied by everyone.

The fact that this children’s book has such a strong, smart, independent female protagonist is so important for all readers, but especially younger ones. Characters like bookish Hermione Granger and clever Nancy Drew had such a huge impact on me when I was younger and I know that Matilda would have done the same if I had read this book as child. This is just one of the many reasons why Matilda is truly an incredible book!

Would you consider Matilda to be a feminist text? What are your thoughts on what constitutes a “feminist text” in general? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

5 Books to Read If You Like TWIN PEAKS

Recently I finished watching Twin Peaks, the American drama TV series that ran from 1990-91. Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, Twin Peaks follows the mysterious events transpire in this small town after the murder of Laura Palmer, a local high school student. The best way I can describe this show is that it’s charmingly bizarre (meaning that it’s incredibly weird but in a good way). I loved this show (except for the horrible ending, which I just won’t talk about because AGH) and since I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it I thought I would turn my enthusiasm into a bookish post.

If you’re a fan of Twin Peaks, then you’ve come to the right place for some book recommendations! Here are five books I think you’ll enjoy if you like Twin Peaks (and vice versa):

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

If it’s the unexpectedly bizarre parts of Twin Peaks that you enjoyed most, then Far Far Away is the book for you. What’s more weird than a protagonist named Jeremy Johnson Johnson who can hear more voices than the average person, a talking ghost of Jacob Grimm, and a suspicious baker? It’s safe to say that I’ve never read anything quite like this entertaining, slightly twisted fairy tale retelling.

The Shining by Stephen King

I don’t think it’ll be a surprise to anyone that I’ve decided to include a Stephen King book in this list of recommendations. Not only are his books suspenseful and creepy like Twin Peaks, but they also tend to have a supernatural twist to them. It’s difficult to explain the kind of “otherworldly” elements in both Twin Peaks and The Shining (Is Jack Torrance being possessed by the hotel or is he just going insane?) which makes them a perfect pair.

The Woods by Harlan Coben

This murder mystery shares many parallels with Twin Peaks: the murders of teenagers, a woodsy setting, a protagonist called Cope (similar to Agent Cooper?), and a tangled web of characters that all have secrets of their own to look after. I read this while on a camping trip a few summers ago after my mom read it and absolutely loved it (on second thought, maybe a camping trip wasn’t the best place to read a murder mystery called The Woods…)

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Although this young adult fantasy book might seem out-of-place on this list at a first glance, in actuality it is more similar to Twin Peaks than it seems on the surface. Like Twin Peaks, The Raven Boys takes place in a small town where most people know each other, involves people with “otherworldly” powers, and focuses on the stories of both high schoolers and adults. (Also, Ronan sort of reminds me of the moody James who always rides a motorcycle on Twin Peaks, although I definitely like Ronan more.)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

When I think about how I often describe Twin Peaks as being “charmingly bizarre,” the first book that comes to mind is Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Everything in this short novel is incredibly unexpected and told in a way that will keep you entranced until the very last page has been turned, similar to the captivating suspense of Twin Peaks.

I hope these recommendations are helpful! Are you a fan of Twin Peaks? What are your thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

War and Peace Newbies Tag

Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is a classic I’ve always been curious about but I’ve never actually endeavored to read it. Fortunately, Laura @ Reading in Bed is hosting a read-a-long for especially for people who have never read this classic novel before. The read-a-long starts today and all of the details can be found on her blog here. Thanks so much to Laura for tagging me on Twitter!!

1. Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace? 

No, but it’s one of those classics that has always been on my TBR list.

2. What edition and translation are you reading?

I know that some people really research different editions of books before they settle on one, but for this read-a-long I didn’t really look into all of that in a lot of depth. I’ll be reading the Barnes & Nobles Classics edition solely because I bought it for a super cheap price. The pages are also wonderfully floppy– I mean, as floppy as a 1156 page brick can be. This edition is a translation to English by Constance Garnett.

3. How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc.)?

Absolutely nothing, though from what I gather there’s some fighting parts and non-fighting parts.

4. How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

Erm…. I’m not? I want to go into this read-a-long with as much of an open mind as possible, so I have done literally no preparation. I figure that if I need the help of a movie adaptation or background reading then I’ll just watch or read them as I go along.

5. What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

Ideally, I would love to finish this read-a-long with a love of War and Peace and Russian literature in general. At the very least I hope to gain a better understanding and appreciation for Russian literature.

6. What are you intimidated by?

A few months ago I read The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which is the first and only Russian novel I have read up until this point. From this experience I know that I tend to get confused by the complicated Russian names of characters– I can only imagine how confusing a novel of this length could be!! I’m going to try highlighting the names of different characters in different colors as I read and see if that helps me keep them all straight in my mind.

7. Do you think it’s okay to skip the “war” parts?

It depends what you mean by “okay.” Would I skip the “war” parts? Probably not, because I’d like to experience reading the full novel. However, I think if some people want to skip the “war” parts then they’re perfectly fine doing so (so long as they later recognize that they’ve skipped these parts and haven’t read the full) novel.

Thanks again to Laura for tagging me in this tag and for hosting this read-a-long! I can’t wait to get started!!

Have you ever read War and Peace? Do you have any advice for reading this novel or Russian literature in general? Will you be participating in this read-a-long? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

My Problem with Shakespeare | Discussion

Confession: I don’t particularly like Shakespeare.

Usually when I tell people I’m not a huge fan of Shakespeare I receive a piercing glare and a disapproving “Really?” This conversation inevitably results in me trying to defend my opinions while undergoing intense scrutiny from the opposing party. Apathy towards the Bard was the norm when I was in high school, but people’s expectations seemed to change as soon as I entered college. Some people apparently view being an English major and a Shakespeare enthusiast as characteristics that always go hand in hand, as though one cannot be the former without also identifying as the latter.

I hate that this stereotype of English majors exists. Though I love British authors like Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, I’m actually much more interested in American Literature than British literature. Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Willa Cather, Kate Chopin– these are the writers that fascinate me and make my little English major heart beat with bookish excitement. However, whenever I hear Shakespeare mentioned I can’t help but let out a little sigh of indifference.

The core of the problem is that I haven’t connected with Shakespeare’s works emotionally or deeply in any way. None of his plays have ever resonated with me personally like other texts often do. Does this come from my general disinterest in the time period? Or maybe it stems from the way I was taught to read Shakespeare in high school without actually seeing his plays performed? Whatever the reason, I find it difficult to empathize with his characters. For instance, Romeo and Juliet frustrated me endlessly with their impulsive decisions, melodrama, and plain foolishness. (Juliet, girl, you knew him for mere days!!)

Sometimes I feel like I’m missing the point of Shakespeare. I tend to take his works seriously and often literally when they’re probably meant to be comedic, ironic, sarcastic, or satiric. It’s probably safe to say that the Bard didn’t support the rash decision of the star-crossed lovers to give up their lives for one another; instead, he was probably trying to show how dramatic, emotional, and intense young love can be. (Never mind the fact that it makes for a really entertaining story.) I’m just not good at picking up on Shakespeare’s humor, which means that most of his works tend to fall flat for me. I completely recognize that this is an individual preference and I’m certainly not blaming Shakespeare for my inability to understand his intent– I just don’t the process of trying to figure it out!

I don’t mean to say that I hate Shakespeare’s works; rather, I’m sort of indifferent to them. Sometimes they’re enjoyable and entertaining, whereas other times I’m counting down the pages until I can close the play for good. However, I can say that I’ve recently gained a greater appreciation for his skill with language as well as his significant contributions to English literature in general. I still plan to continue reading as many of his plays as possible this summer to expand my Shakespeare horizons– fingers crossed I find one that I love!

Until then, the Bard and I will just have to agree to disagree.

What are your thoughts on Shakespeare? Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play? Have you encountered this English major stereotype before? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Are Book Hauls “Meaningless” Content? | Discussion

When I saw that Ariel Bissett made a video titled “Why Do Booktubers Make Book Hauls?” I was immediately intrigued. To tell you the truth, I had been asking myself the same question for quite some time. Book hauls have sort of been a controversial topic in the online bookish community as of late. Some people claim that they are “meaningless” content because the person talking about the books likely hasn’t even read them yet– what could they possibly have to say about it that is substantial or thought-provoking? Another common argument against book hauls is that they are “filler” content  solely used to generate large numbers of views, since these kinds of videos and posts tend to be really popular. There’s also the idea that book hauls are just a way for bloggers and booktubers to boast about how many books they accumulate on a regular basis, which can lead to the notion that in order to be successful in the online bookish community one has to have the privilege of being able to purchase and own all of the books you read.

There are clearly a lot of issues that need to be unpacked, here; fortunately, Ariel does a lot of that unpacking in her video. She counters many of these negative arguments by emphasizing that book hauls essentially do what most bloggers and booktubers endeavor to achieve with their posts and videos: spread a love of books and have FUN. Ariel also points out that book hauls allow us to keep up to date with what people are really excited about reading in general compared to the smaller number of books that they may actually be able to read in a given year. I highly recommend watching her video for a more accurate and detailed explanation of why book hauls can be really valuable and important.

Personally, I agree with a lot of Ariel’s arguments in support of books hauls. Yet I think an important point is missing: people find “meaning” in all kinds of content. Just because a book haul might not be discussing literature from a critical perspective in terms of having already read the books does not mean that it cannot offer interesting ideas for a thought-provoking discussion. Readers of posts and watchers of videos add their own meaning to the original content of the blogger or booktuber by sharing thoughts and opinions in the comments. A similar argument could be made regarding memes, tags, etc.; in other words, a book review or discussion is not the only kind of “meaningful” content. 

I think the most interesting aspect of this controversy over book hauls is the question it raises about bookish content in general: Who is to say what kind of content bloggers and booktubers should be sharing? My answer: NO ONE besides the bloggers and booktubers themselves. Create what makes you happy, what gets your message across, what shares the ideas and opinions and feelings that you want to express.

I haven’t posted a book haul in a while, mostly because I’ve been trying to buy fewer books and read the ones I already own. However, recently I’ve been thinking about maybe posting one in the near future.

Scratch that. I will post one in the near future.

What are your thoughts on Ariel’s video and book hauls in general? Do you post book hauls? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Why I’m No Longer Rating Books | Discussion

A book blogger who doesn’t rate books? *gasp!* What is this madness? Allow me to explain.

Lately rating books has felt more and more difficult. I’ve always used the usual 5-star (or smiley, in my case) system, with 1 being horrible and 5 being fantastic. In the past, this has generally been a reflection of my emotional response to a book. Did I like the characters? Did I agree with the characters’ decisions? Was I happy with the ending? Interestingly enough, these questions don’t feel as important to me as they used to. Of course, it’s always nice to have a story end in the way you would like it to end in an ideal world; however, I now feel as though there are more important things to consider when reading. Maybe this is a reflection of my growth as a reader or the fact that studying English literature in college has made me accustomed to thinking about literature more critically. Whatever the case may be, I no longer prioritize my emotional reaction to a book when I form an opinion about it. The emotional response is certainly still a component of that opinion, but it doesn’t solely make up the entire opinion.

At this point, rating books seems rather arbitrary to me. Trying to assign a number that accurately conveys my thoughts on a book has begun to feel like trying to paint a landscape with a single color. So much more influences my opinion of a book besides whether or not I simply enjoyed it. What does enjoying a book really even mean? There are plenty of books that I’ve “enjoyed” that are terribly sad or unsettling or creepy– that doesn’t mean I like feeling those emotions, but I appreciate the fact that the writing was able to evoke those emotions in me. So should we use the word appreciate instead of enjoy? 

(Sorry. I went on a bit of a tangent there.)

In short, I would much rather my book reviews be a sort of discussion of a book rather than a mere justification of why I settled on a certain number rating. I’ll probably still rate some books on Goodreads, but not necessarily if it doesn’t feel like I can easily do so.

I made this post not as a sort of announcement or declaration of this change, but rather as a way to spark discussion about this topic. So please, comment away!! How do you feel about rating books? Is there a certain rating system that you’ve found works best for you? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

My Personal Canon | 2017

Recently Jillian @ To Begin with I Read Jane Eyre created a post about her own personal literary canon and requested that I do the same. The goal is to compose a list of books that have greatly influenced your life, that you consider to be your favorite books, etc. I think this is a really interesting idea because there are so many different variables involved. On what criteria do you decide which books to include? Do you focus solely on books that have had a positive influence on your life? How long should your list be? Canon formation in general is really fascinating, but that’s a topic for another day.

For now, here is what I consider to be my personal canon. Some of these books I’ve read more times than I can count, while others I’ve only had the pleasure of experiencing once. Some have shaped who I’ve grown to be since childhood, while others have influenced my much more recently. Nevertheless, all of these books are ones that I love wholeheartedly, that I would read again and highly recommend to others. You’ll likely recognize these as ones I talk a lot about on this blog! In no particular order, they are:

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I don’t think this one needs much of an explanation. I first started this series when I was in second grade and in a way I don’t think I’ll ever be truly done with it completely. Even though I’ve certainly “finished” the series in the sense that I’ve read all seven books, I know that I’ll keep rereading it well into the future.

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Again, this one doesn’t require much of an explanation. I’ve reread these books more times than I can possibly count and they played a huge role in shaping my reading tastes and interests in middle school. They’re books I return to again and again for comfort, reassurance, and entertainment alike.

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg

I vividly remember buying my first and only copy of this book at a Scholastic book fair when I was in third grade. (Did anyone else LOVE those things?!?!) Since then I’ve reread it nearly every summer and each time I discover something new. What was at first a simple summer camp story in my ten-year-old eyes has transformed into a story of family, history, creativity, and resilience. (And THIS is why rereading is both important and awesome!)

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

I’m sure it is absolutely no surprise to anyone in the slightest that this book has a spot in my personal canon. Words cannot express how much I LOVE this book. It’s the one book I always bring with me to college each semester and that I talk about incessantly on this blog. For the millionth time, PLEASE read this fantastic novel. ❤

Gone by Michael Grant

Interestingly, this book’s influence comes from the context in which I first read it: a lunchtime book club in seventh grade. Through avidly reading and following this series’ six books I met one of my best friends, actually met Michael Grant in person at a book-signing, and realized how social reading could be.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

In reality, this is more of a placeholder for all of John Green’s books, though Looking for Alaska is probably my favorite. As with Gone, the context surrounding these books has been just as influential in my life (if not more so) than the content of the books themselves. John and Hank Green have shaped my life in countless ways at a time when I needed it most (I’m looking at you, tumultuous middle school years).

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reading this classic novel in my high school American literature class opened my eyes to the depth and breadth that symbolism could add to books. Though this symbolism is pretty obvious (colors, the green light, East and West Egg, the eyes, etc.) it nevertheless made me realize how interesting and fun analyzing literature with a critical eye could be.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Ah, Jane Eyre. I adore this novel not for the romance, writing, or plot (though all aspects of this book are fantastic) but primarily for the character of Jane herself. She is strong, independent, witty, kind, determined, and resilient– everything that I aspire to be. I’ve only read this novel once; however, it has lingered in my mind with more clarity than most other books I’ve read since then. I can’t wait to read it again soon!

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I ADORED this book when I was assigned to read it for my AP English class senior year of high school (much to the annoyance of the majority of my peers, who didn’t share my enthusiasm). I love watching Pip grow over time and overcome all of the obstacles he has to face. Dickens’ writing is witty and captivating, and the plot twist at the end had me gasping in surprise. This is another one that I definitely have to reread in the near future!

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass

Since reading this autobiography in my Intro to Literature class during my first semester of college I have written at least three papers about it and researched the critical reception of Douglass’ works in general. Something about Douglass’ life and use of language to transform himself in American society fascinates me like nothing else.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

I read this for my Cultural Diversity in American Literature class during my second semester of college and have not been able to stop thinking about it since (I’m only slightly exaggerating here). The narrative is constructed brilliantly and I think it’s fascinating how we only ever see Ántonia through the lens of Jim’s narration. Since then I’ve read two of Cather’s other novels and am eagerly looking forward to reading more!

There are so many books that I could have included, but I think this is a solid look into the books that have had the greatest influence on me thus far. Thanks so much to Jillian for asking me to make a personal canon! I had such a great time forming this list and thinking about all of the amazing books I’ve had the pleasure of reading over the years.

What books would be in your personal canon? What are you thoughts on any of the books that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

5 Reasons Why Molly Weasley is the Ultimate Mom

Happy Mother’s Day!! When I thought about making a Mother’s Day post about fictional moms, one woman immediately popped into my head: Molly Weasley. Every year this red-headed witch tops countless lists of fictional mothers… but why? In an attempt to answer this age-old question, here are 5 reasons why Mrs. Weasley is the ultimate fictional mom:

1. She does it all.

My jaw basically drops any time there’s a scene with Mrs. Weasley doing housework. She’s the master of multi-tasking, even if she does have the help of magic on her side.

2. She doesn’t take any $h!t.

Exhibit A: the Howler. Don’t mess with Molly Weasley, folks!

3. She gives the best Christmas presents.

My goal in life is to receive one of Mrs. Weasley’s knitted jumpers for Christmas. A girl can dream, right?

4. She’s incredibly strong and independent.

I think my favorite scenes of Molly Weasley are in the epic battle at Hogwarts in the final book. Not only does she shout her famously bad@$$ line, but she also demonstrates that mothers (and people in general!) cannot be categorized in a single box. Mothers can be both sweet and strong, feminine and fighting experts.

5. You won’t find a more caring and loving witch.

Above all else, Mrs. Weasley is the ultimate fictional mom because she is endlessly caring, kind, thoughtful, and giving. She loves Harry as though he were her own son and always welcomes people into her home on holidays and when danger arises. She stands up for what she believes in and will stop at nothing to protect those she loves. ❤

Do you think Molly Weasley is the ultimate fictional mom? What are your favorite mothers in fiction? Let me know in the comments section below!

Happy Mother Day!!

Yours,

HOLLY

How to Read Sexist Texts When You’re a Feminist English Major | Discussion

Recently I had the displeasure of taking a course dedicated to Renaissance poetry, and MY OH MY were those old white men a bunch of misogynistic poets. While there were a few glimmers of hope amidst the nearly translucent pages of my weathered Norton Anthology of Poetry (as shown by my previous discussion of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2), the vast majority of the poems I read for this class made me wonder why they were even regarded as important and “great” pieces of writing in the first place, never mind why we continue to include them in poetry collections like this one. It’s safe to say that after reading dozens of these poems over the course of the semester, my patience was worn down to a precariously thin layer of frustration.

It was necessary for me to think of concrete ways of addressing this problem while still being able to do well in the class. Refusing to read the poems was obviously not an option for me, meaning that I had to get a bit creative with my reading strategy.

I must say up front that the following advice is purely based on my own personal experiences reading these works. These steps may not work for everyone and that is perfectly okay. We all have our own tips and tricks to help us confront, interpret, and challenge views that challenge our own– the following pieces of advice happen to be my own personal strategy. At any rate, I hope you find this discussion at least a bit helpful or thought-provoking in some way.

1. Actually read it.

Yes, actually read the incredibly sexist poem or story or novel that you’d desperately like to avoid at all costs (unless, of course, it contains something personally triggering– then do whatever you need to in order to practice self-care). The reason I urge you to read it is that it’s difficult (nigh impossible) to make an educated argument against something if you do not have relevant textual evidence with which to back up your claim.

2. Maintain your distance.

I’m sure there’s a better, clearer, more accurate and succinct way of saying this, but I’ll try my best.  I think it’s important to recognize that someone can acknowledge and understand another person’s opinions without believing in or agreeing with them. For instance, in my poetry class I was required to read, understand, and explicate these poems in order to receive a good grade. However, this did not stop me from challenging the ideas that these poems presented. It was vital that I read these poems with from a certain intellectual and ideological distance that allowed me to understand them without having to agree with their meaning.

3. Allow feminism to fuel your analysis.

While it’s important to understand and think about the poems according to the context in which they were written, it’s also valuable to read them through a feminist lens. Feminist literary theory exists for a reason: to be utilized. Moreover, this class forced me to become comfortable with directly pointing out the sexism in writing that is considered to be canonically “great.” I was not going to sit there and tell my professor that I support the inclusion of Robert Herrick’s “Upon Julia’s Breasts” in the Norton Anthology of Poetry over providing ample space for one of Lady Mary Wroth’s entire crown of sonnets. (Honestly, are those four lines of pure female objectification really a necessary component of this collection?) Just because something has been deemed a “classic” work of literature does not mean that it is without flaws.

4. Think about your own beliefs and values.

At the end of the day, I used this class as an opportunity to assess and spend time thinking about my own core beliefs. What about these poems did I find offensive and uncomfortable to read? Why did I feel this way about what I was reading in the first place? By using this as an opportunity for individual reflection I was able to better understand my own personal values.

Again, I hope this discussion is thought-provoking or beneficial in some way, whether that be in an academic setting or simply while reading in your daily life.

Have you ever read something that challenged your beliefs? How did you handle the situation? What do you think about the advice that I’ve offered? Do you have any advice for confronting issues like this? I would absolutely love to discuss these topics in greater detail, so please let me know what you think in the comments section down below!

Yours,

HOLLY