Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Can Never Remember

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is brought to the book blogging community by That Artsy Reader Girl who wants us to share books that we really liked but can’t remember much about. Honestly, there are SO MANY books that I could list here because I’m notoriously bad at remembering tiny details of books. Character names? Plot twists? Basic summaries? They all tend to vanish from my memory as soon as I finish reading the very last page. It’s a shame because these books definitely deserve to be remembered!

What books do you have a hard time remembering? What do you think of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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OLIVER TWIST by Charles Dickens | Review

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is one of those classic stories that everyone thinks they know– that is, until they actually sit down to read the novel in its entirety. Prior to starting this book in the middle of a flight from England back to the States, I thought this would be the simple story of an orphan boy struggling to survive in Victorian England. This novel is exactly that– and so, so much more complicated. I should have known that nothing Dickensian could ever be simple!

The first thing that struck me is how violent, unsettling, and sad this novel is compared to what I thought it would be– though I suppose this should be expected from Dickens. A constant stream of Poor Oliver! ran through my head the entire time I was reading, especially in the beginning before I realized that this would be the tone of the whole novel. Unfortunately, the unrelenting dark tone of the novel ultimately made it seem as though the plot dragged on for far too long. There are only so many unpleasant plot twists one can endure before it all seems too much. The plot itself wasn’t slow– there were plenty of surprises along the way– but the unwavering misfortunes that occur made the books seem much longer than it needed to be.

The major redeeming quality of this book for me was Dickens’ clever, witty writing. While his characters may be over-the-top at times, the exaggerated characteristics they possess all say important things about society in the Victorian Era. For instance, the fact that Mr. Bumble is willing to give Oliver away reflects the harsh reality that orphans during this time period had to face as poverty reigned in urban areas. There’s no denying that Dickens was a masterful writer and storyteller, weaving bits of everyday life into his fiction.

“But, tears were not the things to find their way to Mr. Bumble’s soul; his heart was waterproof.”

I don’t have a lot to say about Oliver Twist in general because I have rather lukewarm feelings toward the novel. I didn’t love it nearly as much as I adored Great Expectations, but I didn’t completely dislike it, either. Personally, I feel as though this might have been a timing misjudgment on my part– I tend to be a mood reader, and starting this novel on a long flight when I was tired and didn’t have the energy to focus on Dickens’ curving, swerving plots. I’d definitely be willing to give it another chance in the future!

I would recommend this to anyone who, like me before I read this novel, thinks they know the story of Oliver Twist– chances are that you’ll be at least a bit surprised!

What are your thoughts on Oliver Twist? Do you have a favorite Dickens novel? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

2017 Resolutions: How did I do?

Last January I made this list of my top ten bookish resolutions for 2017… and now the time has come to see how I did! I’ve completely forgotten what my resolutions were, so this should be an interesting trip down memory lane.

1. Read 24 books. Done! Somehow the stars aligned this year and I actually managed to read THIS MANY books… don’t ask me how! (Come to think of it, I know exactly how: SO MUCH required reading for college!) Although I don’t really care about the number of books I read, I can’t help but be pleased with this count!

2. Read more classics. Done! This goal can also be credited to the many books I was required to read for my courses this year, especially for my tutorials at Oxford. So much Victorian literature!

3. Read something by Zadie Smith. Done! Luckily enough, White Teeth was on the list of assigned reading for the Writing Feminisms tutorial I’m taking this upcoming term so I finally got around to reading something by Zadie Smith. (Also, it was AMAZING. Would definitely recommend!)

4. Read more by Charles Dickens. Done! I ended up reading two more novels by Dickens this year: Hard Times and Oliver Twist. I enjoyed both, though not as much as Great Expectations. (How I love that novel…)

5. Read A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Nope! I feel as though I’m just destined to not read this book. Despite my incessant inclusion of this novel in countless TBR lists, for some reason I can’t seem to get around to reading it. Will 2018 finally be the year???

6. Continue posting to my bookstagram. Done! I’ve had such a blast updating my bookstagram, especially now that I have the privilege of being surrounded by so many beautiful buildings and scenes at Oxford.

7. Write more discussion posts. Done! I feel like I’ve definitely made an improvement by writing longer posts about my study abroad experiences and introducing weekly features like Feminist Fridays onto my blog. (Pssst! Any feedback on this point would be very appreciated!)

8. Be more engaged with the online book community. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to go with a no for this one. Although I’ve had an amazing time studying abroad, being at Oxford does mean that I have less time to blog. I’ve really missed reading and commenting on everyone’s posts!

9. Read slowly. Hmm…. probably not. Again, having so much work at Oxford means that I really can’t afford to spend my time slowly wading through novels like I’d love to do. So much to read, so little time!

10. Have fun!! DEFINITELY! One reason I love blogging is that it always reminds me to have fun with what I read. After all, what good is reading if you don’t enjoy it?

I unknowingly achieved over half of my bookish resolutions 2017– who would have thought?

What were your resolutions for 2017? Did you achieve them? Will you carry them over into 2018? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Oxford Reading List

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

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

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Slow Starters

Happy Tuesday!! We’ve all read those books that seem to drag on forever at the beginning before suddenly picking up and becoming an unexpectedly great read. This week, the lovely bloggers behind The Broke and the Bookish are asking us to showcase those books that we had a tough time with at first. Without further ado, here are ten slow starters that I ended up loving. 

Despite their slow starts, I highly recommend each and every one of these books!

What books have you enjoyed that started off kind of slow? What do you think of the books I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

A Classic Couple: GREAT EXPECTATIONS and A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY

In a past Top Ten Tuesday post I paired Charles Dickens’ classic novel Great Expectations with the more contemporary novel A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Many people expressed interest in hearing more about the connection I see between these two works of literature even though they seem very different at a first glance. While there are many differences between them— publication dates, settings, time periods—they also share several important similarities.

Protagonists || Both novels focus on the lives of young boys as they mature into adulthood. In Great Expectations, Dickens tells the story of naïve Pip as he moves away from home learns what it’s like to live in the real world. Interestingly, it could be argued that there are two protagonists in A Prayer for Owen Meany: Owen Meany himself as well as John Wheelwright, the narrator through which we are told the events of both of their lives. Pip, Owen, and John all undergo significant character development as time passes, circumstances change, and unforeseen events take place.

Genre || Though these books are of distinct genres– Victorian literature and contemporary fiction– they’re also part of a shared genre: Bildungsroman. Both novels are coming-of-age stories with characters you can’t help but root for along the way. They might make some frustratingly foolish decisions at times—but who hasn’t? What I love about this genre is that it is primarily character-driven. The plot is important, but it is often secondary to what the characters are experiencing and feeling.

Plans || Speaking of plot, the events of these books can get complicated. There are so many tiny details to keep track of that at times it can seem a bit overwhelming. However, Dickens and Irving somehow manage to pull it all together at the end and connect the many dots that never made sense before. I distinctly remember reading the ending of A Prayer for Owen Meany and being absolutely blown away. All of those seemingly random symbols and details suddenly made perfect sense in a way that I never expected. It’s clear that these writers had plans in mind when writing these brilliant books (or maybe they’re just really good at spontaneous success!).

What are your thoughts on these two books? Would you pair them together? Are there books that would make a more suitable pair? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

HARD TIMES by Charles Dickens

Hard Times by Charles Dickens is the first book I was assigned to read over the summer to prepare for the English Literature 1830-1910 tutorial I’ll be taking during my first term at Oxford. I was thrilled when I saw this title on the list because I’ve been meaning to read more by Dickens since reading A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations during my senior year of high school. While doing a bit of research I found that Hard Times is often considered to be his least successful and least read work. This surprised me: What was it doing on my reading list, then? Determined to come to my own conclusions, I set out to read this novel in a single weekend.

If this is Dickens’ “least successful” text, then I’d say he’s done pretty well for himself.

I imagine that the primary reason we’ve been assigned to read this novel is its focus on the “social problem” in England during the nineteenth century. The factory workers of Coketown are known as the “Hands” and are nearly always viewed as a homogenous, ungrateful, lazy group by those in the upper classes. Mr. Bounderby, an owner of a mill who prides himself on being a so-called “self-made man,” believes that all Hands have one object: “to be fed on turtle soup and version with a gold spoon”. (In other words, to live lives of luxury without earning it through hard work.) We see how entrenched this ignorant opinion of the Hands has become when Louisa visits Stephen Blackpool’s room and realizes that not only is it the first time she’s visited the house of a Hand, but it’s also the first time she’s thought of them as individuals rather than as a single group. Prior to this visit, Louisa “had scarcely thought more of separating them into units, than of separating the sea itself into its component drops.” On the whole, Hard Times exposes the unjust gap between the rich and the poor and criticizes the way the lower classes are treated as less than human.

An important and fascinating theme that runs through the entirety of Hard Times is the duality of “Fact” vs. “Fantasy.” Thomas Gradgrind impresses the importance of Fact on his children, essentially brainwashing them into believing that fairy tales and imagination deserve no place even in the lives of children. On the flip side of this rigid mindset are the zany circus members that thrive on creativity, spontaneity, and fun. As Louisa Gradgrind grows older she begins to realize that she can’t live a happy, fulfilling life without the emotion and passion that comes with “Fantasy.” I think this theme is incredibly interesting because it’s both connected with and disconnected from the socioeconomic issues of the novel. The coldness of apathetic “Fact” is what allows people like Mr. Bounderby to treat the factory workers like they are mere numbers, whereas Louisa’s internal struggle mainly revolves around her own emotional dissatisfaction. The message here is overwhelmingly clear: a balance between Fact and Fantasy is key.

At the core of every Dickens novel is his undeniable gift for storytelling. I can’t help but become incredibly invested in his stories once I begin reading them. His characters are carefully crafted with unique struggles, desires, eccentricities, and beliefs. Hard Times has been criticized for its “puppet-like” characters that sometimes said to be mediocre representations of actual “Coketown” residents (much of the novel was constructed from Dickens’ observations of a manufacturing town rather than personal experience living there). Whether or not that criticism is warranted, I wish to highlight an important redeeming quality of Dickens’ characters: they evoke emotion and human connection. I found myself holding my breath whenever a plot twist occurred (and trust me, there are many), anxiously awaiting to see how it would affect the characters involved. At one point while reading I actually gasped out loud when something bad happened to one of the characters I particularly liked– needless to say, my family members in the next room were pretty confused. The fact that readers can connect so easily and deeply with Dickens’ characters is a major strength of his work and abilities as a writer.

Though Hard Times is not my favorite Dickens novel, I still believe it deserves to be read widely and often. Definitely don’t let a misleading reputation keep you from reading this gem!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! I think this is an excellent read whether or not you’ve read Dickens before.

What are your thoughts on Hard Times? What’s your favorite Dickens novel? Which one should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

JULY 2017 | Wrap-Up

July was a blur of hot days, air-conditioned office spaces, lakeside reading, and time spent with friends and family… not a bad way to spend the bulk of summer! Here’s what I was up to this past month:

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In July I read a total of 9 books:

  1. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  3. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  5. George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl
  6. Echo by Nadette Rae Rodgers
  7. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
  8. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

I honestly can’t believe I read so many books this past month, especially since many of them are LONG (I’m looking at you, Middlemarch). Picking a favorite is difficult, but I think the best book I read in July has to be Tuck Everlasting. This short little read was absolutely adorable, charming, and insightful. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it! I never read it when I was younger but I wish I had– I feel like it’s something I would have loved.

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It happened, people: I finally visited Willa Cather’s grave!! This is something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I learned a few months ago that it’s located a little over an hour away from where I live. Willa Cather is one of my favorite authors, so standing at the foot of her grave was absolutely surreal. I went on a rather dreary day, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying every second of it. You can read more about my adventures in this graveyard here. 

My family and I were also able to spend a few days by the lake in July, which means I had plenty of reading time by the water. And who can pass up the opportunity to take some bookish photos in such a beautiful place? (Not me!)

The majority of July was spent trying to plow through my required reading for Oxford, finishing up paperwork for studying abroad, spending time with friends I haven’t seen in a while, and working. It’s strange to think that we’re already more than half way through summer… September will be here before we know it! Also, I started watching the TV series Fargo… is anyone else obsessed with this series?!?!?!

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This past week I also had the amazing opportunity to participate in the Booktube-A-Thon. As you can tell from my initial TBR post, I really wasn’t expecting to get through much reading in a single week. However, in twist that I never saw coming I was actually able to complete almost all of the challenges and read even more than what I had put on my TBR!! I’m so happy with the progress I made and I actually miss the Booktube-A-Thon already. There’s just such fantastic positive bookish energy during those intense seven days of reading! ❤

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

Here are some posts that I loved reading this month (there are so many!!):

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

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish Had A Faster Pace

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Happy Tuesday!! Have you ever wished that a story would pick up the speed just a little bit? (Or maybe a lot?) If so, you’re not alone! In this week’s installment of Top Ten Tuesday I’m sharing ten books that I wish had a faster pace. While I do love slow-burning novels driven by character development, it can never hurt to have an exciting plot to keep readers on their toes!

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Do you ever wish that certain books were more fast-paced? What do you think of the books on my list? Any recommendations for fast-paced books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: 2017 Bookish Resolutions

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Happy Tuesday!! I know that today’s official Top Ten Tuesday theme is about our most anticipated 2017 debuts, but here’s my dilemma: I really don’t know any upcoming debuts being published in 2017. Due to an incredibly busy college semester I’ve been out of the bookish loop for so long that I haven’t been able to stay up to date with new releases. Rather than ramble on about books I know nothing about, I’ve decided to share my Top Ten 2017 Resolutions instead. (Look at me, starting off the New Year as a blogging rebel!)

1.Read 24 books. Though I easily surpassed this Goodreads Challenge goal in 2016, I’m nevertheless going to set the same overall reading goal for 2017. I like to have something to work towards, but I never want to feel pressured to read an impossibly and impractically high number of books. Two books a month feels just right!

2. Read more classics. Yet another resolution that I’m borrowing from last year’s list (I assure you, there’s a purposeful trend here). Over the past few years I’ve been really enjoying reading classics and I’d love to continue expanding the network of authors and genres within classical literature that I’ve read.

42003. Read something by Zadie Smith. 

Ever since reading her interview on the New York Times’ By the Book column I’ve had the itch to read something by Zadie Smith. Her most recent novel Swing Time has received fantastic reviews, but I think I might start with her debut novel White Teeth and then work my way forward from there. As long as get around to reading one book by this fascinating, highly-praised author this year, I’ll be happy!

Charles Dickens4. Read more by Charles Dickens. If this goal looks familiar, it’s because I sadly failed to accomplish it last year. I absolutely adored Great Expectations when I read it two (three???) years ago, but since then I have read nothing else by Dickens. I desperately need to remedy this in 2017! Any suggestions on where to start would be greatly appreciated! The only other book I’ve read by Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, so everything else is fair game for a recommendation.

a game of thrones cover5. Read A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. That’s right: another goal that I failed to accomplish in 2016. I’ve honestly been meaning to read this book for years but for some reason my inner bibliophile is really intimidated by it, both in terms of size and content. A little pep talk, anyone?

6. Continue posting to my bookstagramCreating a bookstagram was one of the best bookish decisions I made in 2016. I randomly decided to make one over the summer and I’ve had a blast doing it every since! In 2016, I want to continue posting photos and exploring different themes and angles.

7. Write more discussion posts. Lately I feel as though I’ve been getting into a blogging rut. My blog has been mostly tags and Top Ten Tuesday posts lately with the occasional review mixed in, so I want to make an effort to write more discussion posts in 2016. I was surprised and overjoyed by the positive and thoughtful comments left on my recent discussion post (Why It’s Okay to NOT Make Time for Reading). Discussions in the comments section always remind me how amazing the online book community is!

8. Be more engaged with the online book community. With my discussion post goal in mind, I would also like to be more engaged in the online book community in other ways. Recently I’ve been using Twitter (@peanutfreeisme) more, but I would also like to be more active on Goodreads and other platforms. Feel free to reach out and follow/friend me on any of these platforms!

9. Read slowly. As I recently mentioned when taking a look at my 2016 resolutions, reading slowly and taking the time to appreciate and absorb each book I read is always something that I can improve upon. It’s easy to feel as though we have to rush through books to achieve reading goals or read as much as possible, but where’s the fun in that?

10. Have fun!! As always, I include this final resolution as a reminder to myself that reading is for ENJOYMENT. I want to read to have fun, to learn, and to be inspired– not merely to check off books on a list or achieve a Goodreads challenge.

What are your 2017 resolutions, bookish or otherwise? What do you think of the goals I’ve set for myself? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY