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

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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.

Bye bye, 2016! A huge thank you to all who take a gander at my bookish photos 💜 #bestnine2016

A post shared by HOLLY 📓 20 (@nutfreenerd) on

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

2016: How Did I Do?

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Today I’m taking a look back on the 2016 resolutions I made last January to see what progress I made on these goals. I honestly haven’t looked at these resolutions since I first made them, so this will be as much of a surprise for you as it will be for me!

untitled-design-21. Read at least 24 books. I definitely completely this one! As of right now I have read 67 books, which is a lot more than I initially expected to read. I would say that about half of these are probably books I had to read for school, but reading is reading!

untitled-design-22. Read more classics. I just did a quick count, and out of the 67 books I read this year 18 of them were what I consider to be classics. I’m really happy with that number, especially since they generally take me longer to read because I like to take my time with them.  

untitled-design-23. Read more nonfiction/memoir. According to another quick count, I read 23 nonfiction books/memoirs in 2016! I can definitely thank my coursework for that high number. I feel like I found a new appreciation of nonfiction in 2016, which to me is a success in and of itself.

Charles Dickensuntitled-design4. Read more works by Charles Dickens. SUCH A FAILURE. I have yet to read another book by Charles Dickens and it makes me so sad. (Hint: sneak peek of my 2017 resolutions!)

untitled-design-25. Read at least 3 books in Spanish. This past semester I took a Spanish literature class in which I read three novels and countless short stories in Spanish, so this goal has definitely been achieved!

untitled-design-26. Organize my bookshelves. YES. Though I still have to donate quite a tall stack of books that have been sitting on my bedroom floor for months, I recently organized all of the books that I do not. Also: I GOT A NEW BOOKCASE. It’s glorious and shaped like a staircase and I love it so much.

a game of thrones coveruntitled-design7. Finally read A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. ANOTHER FAIL. I just can’t seem to prioritize reading this book. (2017, I’m looking at you to pull through!)

untitled-design-28. Read more of the books I own. Though I have acquired quite a few books over the past year (I just can’t help but gravitate towards used book sales!), I have made a conscious effort to read the books I already own while on breaks from school. Besides the occasional used book sale, I have also tried to limit the amount of books I buy. For example, I didn’t ask for any books for Christmas (so much self-control!).

untitled-design-29. Read slowly. This goal will always be a work in progress for me, but I think it’s say that I did make some improvement in this area over the past year. For instance, I’ve consciously chosen to take my time reading longer books such as Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It’s not perfect, but I’ll keep working on it!

untitled-design-210. Have fun! YES!! One of the ways I spruced up my bookish life in 2016 was by creating a bookstagram. I’ve had a blast taking photos and connecting with other readers on this fun platform. And, as always, blogging has made reading an amazing experience!

All in all, I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made achieving many of my 2016 resolutions. Hopefully I can be just as bookishly successful in 2017!

How did you do with your 2016 resolutions, bookish or otherwise? What were your most fun, challenging, and rewarding goals to work towards? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Cliches Book Tag

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Clichés are the best and worst things: though they can help you express your feelings quickly and easily, no one wants to hear the same old clichés over and over again. Luckily, the Clichés Book Tag puts a fresh twist on ancient sayings. Thanks so much to Ugne @ My Passion is Happiness for tagging me!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky“Actions speak loud”: A book that wasn’t or couldn’t be better than the film.

This question is really difficult for me to answer because I’m usually a big proponent of books over their movie adaptations. However, I must admit that I think the movie adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is just as good as the book, if not better. Although I really enjoyed the book, I have such fond memories of going to see the movie in a theater with my friends in high school. I love everything about it: the cast, the soundtrack, and the climactic tunnel scene. For me, it’s the exception to the rule!

Great Expectations“The grass is always greener on the other side”: rags to riches, or a riches to rags, story.

How could I not mention my beloved Great Expectations by Charles Dickens? Not only is this a lovely bildungsroman, but it’s also the ultimate story of inadvertently climbing the socioeconomic ladder. The journey is certainly a winding, twisting road, but fortunately it all works out for poor Pip in the end.

the raven boys“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”: A parent-child relationship you loved

No parent-child relationship is perfect, even in fiction. Still, I loved the relationship between Blue and her mother Maura in The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. This series has a strong family presence not often found in the Young Adult genre. Even more rare is that the family Blue lives with is all women– talk about female representation!

city of bones cover“You can’t judge a book by its cover”: A great book that NEEDS a better cover

Though I love Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series dearly, I have to be honest: I really dislike these cover designs! Models on covers are probably my least favorite design a book could have, and I think in this case it makes the covers look overdramatic and over the top. When it comes to cover designs, I believe that simple is always better!

My Antonia“You can’t please everyone”: A book you hated/loved that everyone else loves/hates

Last semester I was assigned to read My Ántonia by Willa Cather for my literature class and I immediately fell in love with it… the rest of my class, not so much. I loved the writing style, the almost ethereal ambience, the fascinating questions about nationality and gender performance that it raises.

16145154“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”: book you are better person for having read

Reading Seth Holmes’ ethnography Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States last semester for my Introduction to Anthropology class made me realize the horrors, struggles, and hardships behind the fresh fruit on my kitchen table. This book has opened my eyes to the maltreatment of migrant farmworkers and the long road we have ahead of us towards changing this horrid, unjust system.

All the Light We Cannot See“Love is blind”: book with disabled character or actual “blind love”

Yes! Another excuse to mention my love for Anthony Doerr’s amazing historical fiction novel All the Light We Cannot See. Featuring Marie-Laure, a blind French girl living in Paris during World War II, this heart-wrenching story will captivate you from the very first page and not let you go until you’ve turned the very last one.

29069989“Ignorance is bliss”: A book you know is bad you don’t want to admit it, or a book you don’t want to read in case it’s bad

Even though I’ve already read it and I strongly dislike it, I’m still going to mention Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. I went back and forth about reading this play for the longest time before finally giving in because I wanted to form my own educated opinion. I don’t necessarily regret my decision to read it, but I definitely could have lived my life without doing so. It’s safe to say that “disappointing” is definitely an understatement.

Jellicoe-Road-by-Melina-Marchetta_thumb“There is no time like the present”: Your favorite contemporary book

I’m going to go with my old standby favorite: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I’ve discussed this book countless times on my blog at this point, but that hasn’t stopped me from talking about it even more. If you haven’t read this book yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up ASAP!

a game of thrones cover“Better safe than sorry”: A book you don’t want to read in case it’s bad or vice versa

I’ve been contemplating reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin for what seems like ages, but I’m afraid that it’s going to be too graphic or unsettling for me. I’ve heard these things about the TV show and I can’t help but fear that it all stems from the original book series. If you’ve read this series, please let me know what your thoughts on it are!

What books do these clichés remind you of? What do you think of the books that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Recent TBR Additions

foodie-facts-about-me-6Happy Tuesday!! Now that November is in full swing I’ve been itching to jump into the holiday season, which makes it even harder to focus on the mountains of coursework that keep getting taller and taller. Nevertheless, I’m hanging in there!

This week’s topic is pretty self-explanatory: I’ll be sharing the Top Ten Recent Additions to My TBR List. I’ve managed to add quite a few titles to my list since my last TBR update in September.

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I’ve only added eight books to my list since my last update, but I’d say that’s a pretty good amount!

What books have you recently added to your TBR list? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned here? Any recommendations on where to start? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY