ABSALOM, ABSALOM! by William Faulkner | Review

William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! is genuinely one of the most challenging books I have ever read. My character map quickly became my best friend as I struggled to piece together what happens to the Sutpen family over several decades of scandal, marriage, and death. This book has been on my TBR list for years, though I’ve always been intimidated by how difficult everyone says it is to understand. Fortunately, its presence on my Oxford reading list finally pushed me to set aside my concerns and dive right in!

For me, the most challenging aspect of this novel was deciphering exactly what happened in the Sutpen family. Who married who? Who killed who? Who had children and who didn’t? Who is still alive? In what order did this all take place? These questions and many others remained at the forefront of my mind the entire time I was reading. There are so many characters, voices, and events– not to mention the fact that it’s not told in chronological order. It was fascinating and exciting to constantly learn new information; however, it also makes it much more confusing to read. I think this is a novel that would absolutely benefit from being reread in the future now that I have the basic plot in my mind.

I was thrilled when I realized this novel focuses mainly on Quentin and Shreve. Reading The Sound and the Fury only a few weeks before tackling this bookish obstacle gave me a greater appreciation for Quentin given his unpleasant family situation. The inclusion of these two characters also demonstrates one of my favorite things about Faulkner’s works: the countless connections that link them all together. I felt as though Quentin could have been fleshed out more as a character in The Sound and the Fury, so I was glad to hear more from him in Absalom, Absalom!.

Shreve often tells the story back to Quentin even though he clearly already knows it, which I think is an interesting narrative choice on Faulkner’s part. Shreve sort of takes on the position of the reader as he attempts to understand and wrap his head around what happened. His interpretation of past events is much more emotional than Quentin’s; for instance, he consistently refers to Thomas Sutpen as the “demon.” As readers we are able to have this guttural reaction to the Sutpen saga, but Quentin seems more reserved because it is his own family.

“Quentin did not answer, staring at the window; then he could not tell if it was the actual window or the window’s pale rectangle upon his eyelids, though after a moment it began to emerge. It began to take shape in its same curious, light, gravity-defying attitude–the once-folded sheet out of the wistaria Mississippi summer, the cigar smell, the random blowing of the fireflies. “The South,” Shreve said. “The South. Jesus. No wonder you folks all outlive yourselves by years and years and years.” It was becoming quite distinct. He would be able to decipher the words soon, in a moment; even almost now, now, now.

“I am older at twenty than a lot of people who have died,” Quentin said.”

There’s a point in the narrative when Quentin and Shreve seem to become the past, as though the present is nothing more than a blurry continuation of those convoluted events. Retelling the past from different perspectives is a common theme in Faulkner’s texts, which may explain his frequent use of multiple narrators in a single work. It brings up a lot of interesting questions pertaining to how we think about and interpret the past. Whose account of it is the most accurate: Rosa’s, Quentin’s, or Shreve’s? How do you judge the accuracy of someone talking about the past, especially when they haven’t lived through it? So many unanswered questions!

There is so much more I could say about Absalom, Absalom! but I’ll stop for now lest this review become a novel in itself. Overall, I was fascinated and captivated by this novel even though it was difficult to wade through. I wouldn’t recommend this as the first Faulkner text someone should read, but it’s certainly on the list!

What are your thoughts on Absalom, Absalom! ? What’s your favorite Faulkner novel? Have any recommendations? How do you deal with challenging narratives? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’m Thankful For

Happy Tuesday!! It’s one of my favorite times of the year: THANKSGIVING! Even though I won’t be in the States for Thanksgiving this year (shout out to my college at Oxford for having a dinner for the American students!) it’s still fun to get into the festive spirit. Today I’ll be sharing ten books that I’m thankful for (besides Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings because I feel like those are a given for me).

The BFG by Roald Dahl

I distinctly remember my fourth and fifth grade teacher reading this book aloud to us on multiple occasions and I simply adored it. Dahl’s creative, whimsical, witty stories are one of the things that made me fall in love with reading from a young age.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I read this novel several summers ago and it is one of the books that made me realize how fun and rewarding reading classics can be. It also expanded my horizons of romantic classics beyond the usual Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

THIS. BOOK. I read this book in on of my freshman year literature classes in college and I’m convinced that it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with literary criticism and now want to be a professor. It’s amazing how one book can change everything!

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

I read this in the very first college literature class I ever took and it completely changed the way I think about narrative, form, and linguistic expression. In many ways it’s the text I keep coming back to over and over again what it is that I really love about literature.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Not only did this collection spark me to read and write more poetry recently, but it also made me think about myself and the world from a different perspective. Rupi Kaur’s words have gotten me through many rough days, for which I am incredibly grateful.

How to Ruin Everything by George Watsky

I couldn’t be more thankful for this essay collection’s wit, humor, and important message: absolutely no one is perfect. Reading this book also launched me into the world of Watsky’s music, which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already!

1984 by George Orwell

I’m so grateful for this novel’s ability to spark and continue important conversations about where today’s society is headed tomorrow. The parallels between our modern world and the fictional society in this novel are terrifying and uncanny and real.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I’m thankful for the way this book has made me laugh, think, and realize that I wasn’t the only one experiencing frustrating high school drama. John Green is amazing at making you feel less alone.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

This book is a hilarious reminder that success doesn’t come easy, not even for those who you admire or who seem like they have everything figured out. (Besides, Mindy always makes me smile!)

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

I’m thankful for the way this book has made me smile, laugh, think, and look back on my own childhood nearly every summer for over a decade now.

Which books are you thankful for? What do you think about the ones I’ve mentioned? Do you have any fun Thanksgiving traditions or plans? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Brighton, England | Holly Goes Abroad

Recently my friends and I decided to break the cycle of reading and writing essays for the first time since coming here by taking a trip to the beautiful seaside town of Brighton. I haven’t spent much time outside of Oxford yet this term because we’ve had so much school work, but I figured it was high time to explore a new place. Brighton is a few hours away from Oxford, so getting there was a bit of a process. We ended up taking a bus from Oxford to London and then another one from London to Brighton (much cheaper than a direct bus, but also MUCH longer).

Downtown Brighton is adorable and has such a great array of shops, cafes, and restaurants. It was so difficult not to do all of my Christmas shopping there! The vibe is very artsy/indie/hipster/chill in this area, which is a nice change of pace from the always intellectual Oxford. I loved all the amazing graffiti and murals that are scattered all over buildings, walls, and signs on the streets. Everything is so colorful and bright and cheerful! (except the weather!)

After exploring downtown for a bit we headed over to the pier, which was SO FUN. It feels like what I always imagined a classic carnival would be! The ocean was absolutely gorgeous and it was surreal to be standing on a shore different from that of where I live in the States. There’s something so peaceful and satisfying about staring out at pale blue water that you’ve never seen before and you’re not sure that you’ll ever see again. (Eating fish and chips while gazing out at this beautiful view wasn’t too bad either!)

Our last stop on the trip was to the Seven Sisters, which are those white cliffs in the photo above. There are two different trails leading up to this viewing point, both of which take under an hour to walk. Pictures can’t do this breathtaking, magnificent view justice. I felt so lucky to be looking out at this amazing sight on such a beautiful day with my friends. It’s truly one of the most incredible places I have ever been.

I thoroughly enjoyed my short trip to Brighton and would go back for another visit in a heartbeat. If you’ve never journeyed to this adorable seaside town before, definitely add it to your bucket list!

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you ever been to Brighton, England? What’s your favorite seaside town? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Location Book Tag

I hope you’ve all had a lovely week! Today I’m here with the Location Book Tag from ages ago (I was tagged in the summer, I think). Thanks so much to Charlotte Annelise for tagging me!!

1. You’re sat in a coffee shop trying to read when a group of excited six year olds come in with their parents and begin screaming in the play area. Which book can you push past the noise and lose yourself in?

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Not only is this book incredibly suspenseful and gripping, but it’s also such a fun story. I could block out any and all noise while reading this!

2. Your (rich) friends dare you to spend the night in a haunted house for an undisclosed but inevitably large sum of money. Which book do you bring to distract yourself with?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Imagine reading Frankenstein in such a spooky atmosphere! It’s kind of like the time I read Stephen King’s The Shining while staying at a lodge on a mountain in the wintertime…

3. Though the landscapes are beautiful, your delayed train journey is starting to drag. Which book do you take out?

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. While reading this book I couldn’t help but think about the beautiful landscape it must have taken place in.

4. It’s beach time! You have your family and friends around you and don’t want to miss out on the conversation too much but still want to read. Which book do you choose?

Probably something I’ve read before and loved, such as The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg. I’ve read this book so many times that I feel like I know it by heart at this point!

5. You’re backstage ready for your big emotional scene but the tears just won’t come. Which book do you get out to make you cry?

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. This collection of poetry is so emotional, raw, and honest that it’s bound to make me tear up at times.

6. You’re camping in the woods with your friends and you’re the first to wake up. Which book do you read under the early morning light?

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. This lovely story set in a magical woods would be perfect to read from a cozy sleeping bag in a tent.

7. You’ve had an amazing day on your solo trip but now that you’re back at the hotel, you’re starting to feel a little homesick. What do you read to feel less lonely?

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. This book always reminds me of my childhood and is sure to make me feel less homesick.

8. You’ve been invited for an interview for a place at a prestigious university. Which book do you lay flat on your knee to hide the cover while you wait?

Probably something Shakespeare that I feel like I should have read by now as an English major.

9. The book exchange stall at the library finally has the book you’ve wanted for so long, and you have a book in your bag that you’ve been dying to get rid of. Which do you give away, and which do you take?

I’d give away The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han and I’d pick up Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.

10. You were just browsing the children’s section of the library and boom, you’re hit with a sudden blast from the past. Which book have you found that you haven’t seen for years but that you used to love as a child?

The BFG by Roald Dahl. I loved this book SO MUCH when I was younger. Recently I reread it and it was everything I remembered and more. Roald Dahl is a brilliant storyteller!

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

Yours,

HOLLY

STILETTO by Daniel O’Malley | Review

It’s happening, people! After months and months of saying I would reading Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley I have finally done it! *pats own shoulder with pride*

As the sequel to The Rook, this second installment in the Checquy Files continues the story of Myfanwy Thomas from a different perspective with new characters, problems, and wrinkles. Stiletto is brimming with supernatural mishaps, snarky humor, and enough plot twists to give you whiplash.

One of my favorite aspects of this series is its humor. The dialogue is quick and clever and even descriptive paragraphs are wittily written. I always looked forward to the hilarious banter between Felicity and Odette. For instance:

“[A]s someone who has seen living forms changed and twisted beyond recognition…’ She trailed off awkwardly.

‘Yeah?’

‘I hate to say it, but this dress is the worst crime against nature I have ever seen in my life.’

Felicity cringed a little. The dress lay on the bed, malignant and resentful, like an angry jellyfish. It was technically an evening grown, in the same way that dirt is technically edible.”

It takes skill to make a book about violence, war, and scary scientific advancements funny without downplaying the seriousness of the aforementioned topics. Fortunately, Daniel O’Malley seems to have mastered this skill. Though Stiletto is quite comedic, it also discusses actual problems that our society faces today (masked in supernatural elements, of course): inequality and tension between different groups of people, applying morality to scientific advancements, terrorism, family loyalty in the face of political differences, etc. It might seem like this novel is filled with fantasy, but the story actually reflects more about reality than one might initially expect.

The most remarkable aspect of Stiletto is its impressive world-building and attention to detail. The structure, history, and operations of the Checquy as a branch of the government are absolutely fascinating. I love when writers are able to create fictional elements that can be seamlessly interwoven with normal society. Daniel O’Malley almost makes it seem as though these supernatural occurrences could be right around the corner, unbeknownst to the reader; rather, the Checquy have simply taken care of it without us knowing! The most fun part about fictional worlds is becoming invested in them, which is exactly the opportunity the author provides the reader with Stiletto. 

Interestingly, this novel’s strength is also its weakness. Though the world-building is fascinating, it also slows down the pace of the story considerably. Sometimes there are too many “info dumps” (sections of the novel solely dedicated to rambling off information without actually furthering the plot). These sections aren’t explicitly necessary or relevant in the long run. I feel as though many of these “info dumps” could have been summarized instead of dragging on for pages and pages.

I might sound like a hypocrite for simultaneously praising and criticizing the intense world-building in this series; however, I believe it’s important (and possible) to find a careful balance between too many details and not enough information. Rather than criticizing the fictional world itself, I’m commenting on the way that the world is constructed.

Sometimes sequels are hit or miss, but Stiletto certainly hits the target. I highly recommend this series to anyone interested in supernatural creatures, secret government operations, and snarky banter.

What are your thoughts on Stiletto? Have you read The Rook? Have any recommendations for similar books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Want Kiddos to Read

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is simultaneously a throwback and a look at the future. Today I’ll be sharing ten books I hope kiddos continue to read decades from now. Reading played a huge role in shaping me as a child into the person I am now and I am so grateful to all of those who encouraged me to spend time with my nose between pages, eagerly flipping away. I hope that kiddos continue to have positive bookish experiences at an early age!

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda is such important role model for young readers, especially girls. She is intelligent, bookish, independent, courageous, and kind. I wish I had read this when I was younger!

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

I haven’t read this book in years, but I can still remember certain poems from when I read it as a child. I love this book because it shows kids that poetry doesn’t have to follow rules or conform to certain standards– it can be fun, funny, and silly!

If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Joffe Numeroff

I ADORED this book when I was younger (in fact, I think I still have it in my bedroom back home somewhere…). It’s such a fun read and the little pig is SO CUTE <3. It definitely made me want a little pig of my own!

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

I read this book for the first time this past summer and immediately wanted to flip back to the first page and read it all over again. I love everything about this book– if anything, I wish it were longer so I could revel in the story more! Isn’t that always the sign of a great book?

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Although I didn’t actually read this when I was younger (just last year!) I still enjoyed it immensely. Juster is incredibly clever, witty, and creative with his use of language to construct not only puns but also characters, settings, and even the plot. I hope both kiddos AND adults continue to read this book for generations to come!

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

This is yet another book that I read for the first time only recently, but I loved it all the same. I think this book is particularly great for reading at different ages because you can get something completely new out of it depending on your perspective. (The movie is excellent as well!)

The BFG by Roald Dahl

Am I mentioning Roald Dahl twice on this list? YES. Do I have regrets? NO. He’s definitely worth it! This is my favorite Roald Dahl book because one of my wonderful elementary school teachers used to read it aloud to us all the time when I was younger. It holds such a nostalgic place in my heart ❤

Holes by Louis Sachar

So fun! So bizarre! It would be a shame if kiddos stopped reading this wacky tale in the future (and if they stopped watching the excellent movie adaptation!). What would life be without the great fictional existence of Stanley Yelnats?

Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene

I LOVED the Nancy Drew mystery stories when I was younger, especially the original series. Learning that Carolyn Keene isn’t an actual person (it’s a fake name for a group of commissioned writers) was devastating. I desperately wanted there to be a mastermind behind all of those puzzling mysteries!

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

I would be amiss to not include the Harry Potter series in this list. I have a feeling kiddos and adults alike will be reading this for decades to come. I can’t even begin to imagine a childhood without the magical world of Harry Potter!

I think it’s interesting that many of these books are ones I’ve read recently rather than when I was actually a kiddo… though I really wish I had read them when I was younger because I know I would have loved them! ❤

What are books that you hope kids will read in the future? What do you think of the titles I’ve mentioned? What was your favorite book when you were younger? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Formal Dinners | Holly Goes Abroad

One of the questions I get asked most about studying abroad is How is the food? Fortunately, food at Oxford is excellent! Today I’ll be talking about formal hall, a three-course meal in your college’s dining hall at which you have to wear your gowns (black cape things) and sometimes even gowns (long dresses). I’ve eaten at formal hall a handful of times now, so I’m definitely ready to gush about it!

Formal dinner in Chapel Hall at Mansfield College

Each college does formal hall a little differently. At Mansfield College where I currently study, we have formal hall every Wednesday and Friday; however, it’s pretty expensive compared to a regular meal so people usually only go every once in a while. Other colleges, such as Merton, have formal hall every night (this is a pretty good indicator of which colleges have more money). People always joke here about making a bunch of friends from other colleges so you can go to their formals, but they’re only half kidding: going to formals at other colleges is a blast!

Formal hall at Merton College

When I first time I ate at formal hall I was taken aback by its fanciness. I had to ask people what silverware to use first, which glass to put wine vs. water in, how to open the weird glass bottles of water they place in the middle of the table, etc. A tutor speaks in Latin before we eat, resembling a sort of dining cultish chant (okay, that’s a little exaggerated– it was pretty strange, though!). Most importantly, the food is delicious!

Personally, the most impressive aspect of formal hall is the way they handle allergies. When you sign up to go to formal you write down any dietary restrictions you may have, which ultimately get written on a little card like the one shown above. You place this card in front of you during the meal to let the server know and they will adjust your meal accordingly. I’m always so surprised when they bring out a dessert that I can actually eat with my nut allergy because usually that’s the part of the meal that I have to skip. My favorite dessert so far has been apple pie…. how did they know I was craving autumn desserts?!

Formal hall may be expensive, but it’s definitely worth it for special occasions. Where else can you feel like you’re dining in the Great Hall at Hogwarts?

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you ever been to formal hall at Oxford? What’s the fanciest meal you’ve ever eaten? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

One Lovely Blog Award | 2

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’re all having a lovely November day (can you tell that this is my favorite month of the year?). Today I’m excited to share the One Lovely Blog Award. Thanks so much to Fran Laniado for nominating me!!

  1. Each nominee must THANK the person who nominated them and link their blog in the post.
  2. They must include the rules and add the blog award badge as an image.
  3. Must add 7 facts about themselves and then nominate 15 people.

  1. I’m currently studying abroad for a year at Mansfield College at Oxford University.
  2. Jaffa cakes are my new favorite snack. You can only get them here (or in specialty stores in the States) so I’m going to have to stock up before I go back home!
  3. I start listening to Christmas music ridiculously early every year (it’s fair game as long as Halloween is over!).
  4. I LOVE taking polaroid photos.
  5. I saw Rent (the movie based on the musical) for the first time a few weeks ago and have been listening to the soundtrack while writing essays ever since.
  6. I refuse to get a bike here even though it’s clearly the easiest and quickest way to get around. Cycling alongside all of those cars and big buses looks so terrifying!
  7. I miss tap dancing at my college back in the States immensely. I brought my shoes to England, but sadly there isn’t a tap dancing group here.

  1. Sarah @ Written Word Worlds
  2. RAIN @ The Withering 
  3. Carly @ The Hungry Little Bookworm 
  4. Anatomy of a Book Thief 
  5. Lucinda @ Lucinda is reading… 
  6. Alice @ Ink Fingerprints
  7. Lauren @ Books are Only the Beginning 
  8. Kawther @ The Villain Library
  9. Maddie @ Hedgehog Book Reviews
  10. Alison @ Hardcovers and Heroines 
  11. Abby @ Paw Print Pages
  12. Izzi @ Ravenclaw Book Club 
  13. Nada @ Early Bookish Birds
  14. Jessica @ Reading with Jessica 
  15. Morgan @ The Bookish Beagle

Thanks again to Fran for nominating me! ❤

What’s an fun fact about you? What do you think of mine? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

7 Reasons to Read THE SOUND AND THE FURY

William Faulkner’s classic novel The Sound and the Fury holds a special place in my heart as the first book I was ever assigned to read in college. Needless to say, we were all quite confused in my Introduction to Literature class. Why was Benjy also named Maury? Who were all of these different narrators? What happened to Quentin? And why were there suddenly two people named Quentin? We were fortunate enough to have a patient professor who answered these and countless other questions that we hurled at him. Gradually I came to realize and appreciate the brilliance of the novel and I promised myself that I would pick it up again someday.

Little did I know that day would come two years later as I was preparing for my Oxford tutorials.  Rereading The Sound and the Fury magnified my appreciation of it tenfold. Now that I understood the basic plot, I could focus more on the characters, language, and structure of the novel. This experience encapsulates why I love to reread books, especially ones as complex and intense as those that Faulkner writes.

In an attempt to spread my love for this novel, here are seven reasons why you should read The Sound and the Fury:

1 || Yoknapatawpha County. This novel is a great introduction to Yoknapatawpha County, the fictional county in Jefferson, Mississippi in which many of Faulkner’s novels and short stories take place.

2 || Narrative structure. With multiple narrators, narration styles, and dates, this story is bound to make your head spin at times (which might sound awful, but it’s actually really thought-provoking and fascinating and fun).

3 || It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Reading this novel is like putting together an enormous jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the final product is supposed to look like. Faulkner drops bits and pieces of information throughout the story, leaving the reader to make sense of the details. It feels amazing when you finally feel like you understand another aspect of the story!

4 || Names. One of the things that fascinates me about The Sound and the Fury (and Faulkner’s texts in general) is the immense power and importance of names. An obvious example is Maury, who is renamed Benjamin (shortened to Benjy) because his mother feels as though it is a better Christian name.

5 || Faulkner’s writing. It’s difficult to explain the beauty and brilliance of Faulkner’s writing—it’s much better to actually read it for yourself. (Trust me, it’s worth it.)

6 || Memorable characters. From independent Caddy and patient Dilsey to sorrowful Quentin and fiery Quentin, Faulkner’s characters are not easily forgotten. There are so many characters in this novel, yet they all have such interesting pasts and multifaceted personalities.

7 || It’ll make you think. The Sound and the Fury is a book that I could read over and over again and still walk away with something new to chew on until the next time I read it. Gender, race, class, growing up, time, truth, family, identity—you name it and Faulkner has discussed it!

Have I convinced you yet? What are your thoughts on The Sound and the Fury? What’s your favorite novel by Faulkner? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Fictional Women Leaders

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is one that I think is incredibly important: leadership in fiction. While being a fun source of entertainment, literature is also immensely valuable in providing role models for readers. In particular, I think it is incredibly important for literature to provide readers with women and girls that they can look up to in a society that is still dominated by masculine leadership. Today I’ll be sharing ten notable women leaders in fiction: 

Who are your favorite fictional women leaders? What do you think of the characters and books I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY