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

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

GOODBYE, COLUMBUS AND FIVE SHORT STORIES by Philip Roth | Review

I’m currently in the middle of senior seminar all about Philip Roth. That’s right: I’ll be reading a dozen books by Philip Roth over the course of the next semester. In an effort to gather my thoughts on these similar yet disparate texts, I’ll be reviewing them throughout the upcoming months. How far will I be able to get without turning into Philip Roth himself? Only time will tell!

Published in 1959, Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories is exactly what the title promises: a collection including Philip Roth’s first novella Goodbye, Columbus as well as five short stories. Although quite different from one another, these stories are tied together through the common threads of Jewish American identity, class, growing up, memory, tradition, and community. These themes prevent the collection from feeling disconnected or disjointed, making for a seamless reading experience in which the texts build on one another. Rather than continue to talk about this collection generally, I’ve decided to discuss each story more specifically in an attempt to do them justice.

Goodbye, Columbus

This novella is the first and longest part of the collection. Here Roth tells the story of Neil and Brenda, a college-age couple from different socioeconomic backgrounds in New Jersey during the 1950s. I was particularly interested in the way relationship dynamics are described, from conversations about family and the future to birth control. How things have changed since then!

“The Conversion of the Jews”

Focusing on a thirteen-year-old boy, this story questions religious authority and forces the reader to wonder why we insist on upholding the traditions that we do. While a bit bizarre (a common theme with Roth), the ending of this story made it all worth it.

“The Defender of the Faith”

This is my favorite story out of the collection, perhaps in part because it was the most controversial of the bunch when it was first published. Roth has been accused of being anti-semitic by negatively portraying Jewish soldiers as manipulative, selfish, and conniving; however, one could argue (as I do) that Roth is simply writing about flawed characters that happen to be Jewish rather than trying to make a statement about Judaism.

“Epstein”

This story made me genuinely angry due to the overt sexism of the protagonist. At one point he describes the sagging, aged body of his wife and ultimately has an affair with the women who lives across the street, completely ignorant of the fact that his own aging body likely looks equally unpleasant, if not worse. While I understand the literary function of this sexism (Roth later exposes Epstein, forcing him to realize his own bodily flaws), it still is jarring and unsettling to read.

“You Can’t Tell A Man By the Song He Sings”

I always forget about this story because it seems like an outlier in this collection. Nevertheless, the high school setting and convict characters are clever, hilarious, and make for a surprising and thought-provoking conclusion.

“Eli, the Fanatic”

Arguably the strangest story in the collection, Roth somehow makes its bizarre elements combine into one cohesive narrative. While I was left with the most questions after reading this story, they were questions that I didn’t mind asking myself. “Eli, the Fanatic” forces you to consider human difference, community, law, and tradition from new perspectives, providing this collection with the ideal conclusion.

Overall, my first foray into Roth’s writing entertained, captivated, and frustrated me all at the same time. I’m looking forward to seeing how these short stories compare to the novels we will be reading as this Philip Roth seminar progresses.

What are your thoughts on Goodbye, Columbus and Five Other Stories? Do you have a favorite novel by Philip Roth? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE by Laura Esquivel | Review

“The number one bestseller in Mexico and America for almost two years, and subsequently a bestseller around the world, “Like Water For Chocolate” is a romantic, poignant tale, touched with moments of magic, graphic earthiness, bittersweet wit – and recipes.

A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next twenty-two years, Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds.” {Goodreads}

I had never heard of Like Water for Chocolate until my boss recently recommended it to me after I told her the vague plan for my honors thesis. “There’s a film,” she explained to me, “but knowing you, you’re probably more interested in the book.” As per usual, she was correct.

At first I was taken aback by the outrageous drama of this novel. There are points in the plot when the events are so ridiculously unbelievable and the relationships between characters (especially romantic ones!) are so intense that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at times. This unrealistic sense is exacerbated by the fact that there are some supernatural elements threaded throughout the story: for instance, Tita can unconsciously make people feel her emotions through what she cooks or bakes, such as when she cries into a dish and everyone who eats it feels deep sorrow. In this way, Like Water for Chocolate almost reads like a fairy tale.

However, these rather unbelievable moments are intertwined amongst a careful balance of realistic, understandable, relatable human emotions. The reader can empathize with Tita’s feeling of betrayal by Pedro, the injustice of Mama Elena’s enforced tradition, the freedom Gertrude embraces as she flees the home, the overwhelming emotions following childbirth, etc. These human emotions are what ground the novel in an innate foundation of truth, the pulse that keeps the reader glued to every page. While a reader may not be able to relate to the wild events of the plot, they can certainly see themselves in at least one of the emotions that fill Tita’s heart over the course of the book.

One of the most fun things about this novel is how it revolves around food. From the structure of the book itself with monthly recipes to the emphasis on cooking and baking in Tita’s life, Like Water for Chocolate is overflowing with references and imagery to work (and play!) in the kitchen. Not only does this emphasis give the reader a sense of the culture of the family, but it also helps conjure a distinct image of the setting in the reader’s mind. One can easily picture a bustling, crowded kitchen that exudes the most tantalizing smells right before dinner is served. These are the kinds of scenes that made me understand why this novel has the potential to be turned into an excellent film.

Overall, I enjoyed Like Water for Chocolate for the wild, unpredictable, tumultuous rollercoaster on which it brings its reader. This is a beautiful, moving, heart-wrenching novel that won’t easily be forgotten.

What are your thoughts on Like Water for Chocolate? Have you seen the film? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

TELL ME HOW IT ENDS by Valeria Luiselli | Review

“Structured around the forty questions Luiselli translates and asks undocumented Latin-American children facing deportation, Tell Me How It Ends (an expansion of her 2016 Freeman’s essay of the same name) humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradiction of the idea of America as a fiction for immigrants with the reality of racism and fear both here and back home.” {Goodreads}

I stumbled upon Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends in my local bookshop recently and was intrigued by the title. Tell her how what ends? What forty questions were being asked? When I discovered that this book was an extended essay about Luiselli’s time translating the responses of immigrant children, I immediately knew that I would have to bring a copy home with me. I read the entire text the next night before bed, completely enthralled by her experiences working with these children.

Anyone who pays any sort of attention to the news has likely gleaned that immigration has become not only a U.S.-Mexico issue, but a global matter. In this time of explosive, often polarizing politics, it’s refreshing to read a text about immigration that draws on more than solely party lines in order to convey its argument. Although Luiselli does get quite political at times, she does so when it is relevant and necessary to her narrative.

A major strength of this text is that its structure reflects the nature of its subject matter. The immigration issue is both deeply personal and entrenched in formal legal problems. Part of what makes it such a controversial topic is that it’s extremely difficult to separate one aspect from the other. Likewise, Luiselli’s essay weaves her own personal experiences translating children’s stories with information about methods of crossing the border, the social, economic, and political problems of various countries from which these children immigrate, etc. One page she’ll be recounting a story that still haunts her to this day, and the next she’ll be rattling off statistics and quotes and facts that further reinforce the need for books like Luiselli’s in the first place. This intertwining of personal experiences, emotional stories from children, and straight factual information makes Tell Me How It Ends a powerful, moving piece of writing that has the potential to open readers’ eyes about a side to the immigration issue that they may never have thought about before.

Overall, Tell Me How It Ends lived up to all of my expectations. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly its impact on children.

What are your thoughts on Tell Me How It Ends? Have any recommendations on similar books to read? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders | Review

In the span of just a few days, George Saunders’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo was recommended to me by three different friends, all of whom have very distinct reading tastes. Knowing a worthy book recommendation when I see one, I immediately knew that this novel had to go straight to the top of my reading list for the summer. It’s difficult to explain what this book is about, so I’ve included the Goodreads synopsis for clarification:

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the strangest novels I have ever read. Even calling it a novel feels a bit odd–it’s almost more like some sort of textual collage, a conglomeration of quotes that somehow comes together to form a whole. Though Lincoln in the Bardo may be bizarre, it’s also brilliant. In the spirit of Saunders’s mosaic of a novel, here’s a list of reasons why I loved it:

  • It’s unique–I have truly never read anything like it.
  • The blend of historical quotes and fictional pieces that Saunders writes to look like actual quotes from real people. This fiction/fact mix mirrors the more fantastical elements of the story itself.
  • Plays with the stereotypical image that many of us have of Abraham Lincoln by revealing a plethora of possible sides to his personality.
  • Fast-paced due to the constant changing perspectives and the wide variety of voices. Never feels like the story is dragging or moving too slowly.
  • Beautiful, lyrical writing. All of the characters have really distinct voices and Saunders’s writing style clearly portrays their different personalities and backgrounds.
  • So. Many. Emotions. You can’t help but feel for poor Lincoln, Willie, and all of the souls wondering where they went wrong in life.
  • Not a conventional “ghost” story, not a conventional historical fiction novel, not a conventional novel– I love how this book breaks all necessity to adhere to any sort of convention at all.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop my list there for now. Needless to say, I highly recommend Lincoln in the Bardo no matter what genre of books you tend to read. And thanks to all those who recommended it to me–you were so, so right!

What are your thoughts on Lincoln in the Bardo? Would you recommend any of Saunders’ other work? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Best 10 of 2018 {So Far}

Happy Tuesday!! Can you believe that we’re already over half way through 2018 already?! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to share the best 10 books we’ve read so far in 2018. I’ve already read far more than I expected to this year–mostly due to my sprawling required reading lists at Oxford–so I have plenty of books to choose from. Picking only ten won’t be easy!

Here’s to another six months of lovely reading days and great books! ❤

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

GRIMM TALES: FOR YOUNG AND OLD by Philip Pullman | Review

To be honest, my only real interaction with fairy tales prior to reading Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales: For Young and Old was from watching Disney movies and reading a plethora of retellings over the years. For some reason I never actually made a point to read the Grimms’ tales themselves, or even anything remotely similar. It wasn’t until I happened upon this book in a store in the Edinburgh airport that I decided it was maybe finally time to read them–and in what better form than a book by Philip Pullman, writer of The Golden Compass? 

What I really appreciate about this collection of stories is that they are told with that classic fairy tale charm that Pullman does so well. They’re not retold in a modern setting or given a creative twist; rather, they’re simply retold based on a conglomeration of Pullman’s research on the origins of each tale. While I immensely enjoyed reading the stories, my favorite aspect of this collection was actually the section after each story where Pullman explains a bit of its history. He also shares his thought process behind any editorial decisions he may have made. Did he favor one storyteller’s version of the ending over another’s? Was there a character that he gave a greater or lesser role to? What does he see as being the main function of the story? I loved gaining these little insights into how Pullman retold these stories. His authorial voice acts as the common thread tying this amalgamation of stories together.

I read this book in various airports and flights, which ended up being the perfect setting. I would highly recommend Grimm Tales as a great book to take traveling because a) the stories are captivating and entertaining, b) they’re concise, which is ideal for reading in short bursts in distracting places, and c) the stories don’t relate to each other, so you can easily put this book down and pick it up again later without having to worry about remembering where you left off. There’s also something really comforting about reading these familiar stories, which is a bonus if you’re like me and get nervous or stressed while traveling.

It was also really interesting to read fairy tales I thought I was familiar with from Disney movies or other retellings. How different the actual versions are from what we’re shown as kids! I loved the dark, rather sinister, clever twists incorporated in the earlier versions. Among my favorites were Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Rumpelstiltskin. I wish someone would make movies based on the original versions of the stories rather than the romanticized ones we’re shown when we’re young. They would be so interesting to watch!

Overall, I’m so glad that I randomly stumbled upon this book in the Edinburgh airport. Not only was it the perfect book to take traveling, but it also reminded me how much I enjoy reading short story collections and Philip Pullman’s writing in general. If you’re looking for a book to take with you on your summer adventures, then look no further than Grimm Tales! 

What are your thoughts on Grimm Tales? Do you have a favorite fairy tale? What do you like to read when you’re traveling? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by André Aciman | Review

“Andre Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera. Each is unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, when, during the restless summer weeks, unrelenting currents of obsession, fascination, and desire intensify their passion and test the charged ground between them. Recklessly, the two verge toward the one thing both fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy. It is an instant classic and one of the great love stories of our time.”  {Goodreads}

Call Me By Your Name is certainly one of the most hyped books of the past few months. Thanks to the popularity of the recent movie adaptation of the same name starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, there has been an incredible amount of buzz about this novel. While traveling to a handful of European cities over my spring break I visited many bookshops, yet there was  not a single one that did not have a display of this book somewhere on its premises. With the intent of seeing the film directly after reading it (which I still have not done…) I decided to give this highly sought after novel a try.

You know a book is great when it doesn’t pale in the face of exceedingly high expectations. I was afraid the overwhelming amount of hype would result in this book being an unfortunate disappoint, but it was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. A large part of this book’s appeal to me is the beautiful writing style. My favorite kind of writing is simple yet lyrical and brutally honest, and that is precisely the style that Aciman delivers. I also love how the voice of the Elio, the protagonist, is so strong throughout this entire novel. Writing from a first person perspective captures the emotional intensity in falling in love (and lust). What at first appears to be a simple reflection suddenly transforms into a gut-wrenching tug, as in the following quote:

“And on that evening when we grow older still we’ll speak about these two young men as though they were two strangers we met on the train and whom we admire and want to help along. And we’ll want to call it envy, because to call it regret would break our hearts.”

It also helps that the idyllic 1980s Italian setting of this novel is unbelievably captivating, charming, and enthralling. I read Call Me By Your Name in ebook form on my phone while in bed warding off the cold Oxford winter weather; however, the next time I read it (for there most certainly be a next time) I’ll be sure to do so while lounging in the sun in some sort of meadow or by a glimmering body of water. This novel screams SUMMER! with every fiber of its being, making it the perfect book to read in the warm weather.

A bookshop in Amsterdam… goes which book was number one?!

For me, the earnestness and honesty of the protagonist’s narration is what makes this novel work. Without such a likable narrator that can’t help but be empathized with, the bizarre sex scenes and strange musings about sex would feel pointless and out-of-place. However, this novel is as much about growing up and discovering oneself as it is about his burgeoning relationship with Oliver. In this way, Elio’s process of exploring his sexuality is an integral, essential component of such a story.

Speaking of sexuality, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the importance of this novel focusing on two men who are bisexual. It’s refreshing to read something beyond the usual heterosexual relationship, although as someone who isn’t bisexual I can’t speak to how effective the representation is in this case. There has been a bit of controversy due to the fact that Aciman is apparently heterosexual and therefore cannot speak to the experience of being a bisexual man. While I do not feel as though I am the right person to judge the validity of this controversy, I will say that I feel as though there is still value in such a relationship being represented in literature at all. 

Overall, I am ecstatic to say that I enjoyed Call Me By Your Name just as much as I hoped that I would, if not more so. This novel is far from your usual romantic story; in fact, I would argue that it’s less about romance than many of its other themes, such as identity, growing up, sexuality, and memory. If you’re in the mood for an emotional, intense, beautiful novel, then look no further!

What are your thoughts on Call Me By Your Name and/or the film adaptation? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY