Bookish, College

Books I Wished I Had Been Assigned to Read as an English Major

In less than a week I graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English, and it’s a very bittersweet moment for me. Although I am very excited to move onto another chapter of my life, I’m also sad to leave my amazing friends and the lovely Wheaton community behind. However, the end of undergrad also marks the end of studying English for me, which is bittersweet in itself. Today I’m going to share some of the books I wish I had been assigned to read as an English major. Imagine the class discussions we could have had! Imagine how much better I would have understood these books! Maybe someday…

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Have I already read Moby Dick? Yes. However, I read it on a family road trip a few summers back and remember skimming through most of it. Let me tell you, it’s a good thing I was in a car for hours with nothing else to do because otherwise I probably would have stopped reading altogether. Yet I’ve never been able to shake this feeling that I’ve missed something fundamentally fascinating about this novel, like I just haven’t been able to crack its code. Something tells me that I would have appreciated this novel much more if I had read it in a classroom setting and really dove into some of its nuances and complexities. But alas! it remains a dull, dragging enigma.

Ulysses by James Joyce

Do I just want someone to explain big books to me? Maybe. While studying abroad at Oxford I actually attended nearly an entire James Joyce lecture series in which I learned all about A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, neither of which I have read. But I was so fascinated by the charts and webs the professor drew regarding all the mythological allusions in these texts, especially in Ulysses, that I couldn’t help but return to that lecture hall week after week to listen to someone talk about novels that I had never read. I know that some colleges offer classes solely on Ulysses, and I think it would have been fascinating to take one of these at some point in my college career.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

This is another novel that I read a few summers ago but wish I had gotten the opportunity to read it alongside a class. Brave New World is often lumped together with unsettling novels like 1984 by George Orwell. While Huxley’s novel is certainly unsettling at times, I was pleasantly surprised by its humor and wit. There’s a lighter tone here, a parodying of sorts perhaps, that makes me want to know more about what exactly this book is trying to say. Does the novel take itself seriously? Are we meant to take the novel seriously? These are the kinds of questions I would have loved to explore in a classroom setting.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I read this novel this past summer thinking that it might be helpful for writing my honors thesis. While I didn’t end up using it in my thesis, I’m still glad I read it because it offers a fascinating perspective that challenges one of my favorite novels, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Many of the parallels and oppositions are fairly easy and quick to spot, but I would have loved to learn more about the historical context in which this novel is set in order to better understand the significance of many of power dynamics, hierarchies, and systems that it draws on. Perhaps this would also make me think a bit more critically about Jane Eyre, despite my love for it.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

Continuing on with this Brontë theme, I wish I had been assigned this seldom discussed novel. Anne is the only Brontë sister I have never read anything by, as I feel is the case for most people who dabble in Victorian literature. It would have been interesting to read this novel alongside other people who are also missing a text by this third sister. If her writing is anything like that of Emily or Charlotte, it would also be helpful to have some guidance through its density of details and language.

Have you read any of these books or been assigned to read them for a class? What are your thoughts on them? Do you think reading them with a class made a difference? What are some books you wish you had been assigned to read? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Advertisements
Bookish

5 Books that Influenced Me as a College Senior

Seeing as I graduate from undergrad a week from tomorrow (eek!) I thought I would share 5 books that influenced me as a college senior. These are books that I’ve read throughout this academic year–assigned or otherwise–that have made me think about myself and world a bit differently. In no particular order:

Without a Name by Yvonne Vera

Yvonne Vera is one of two Zimbabwean women novelists I wrote about in my honors thesis. Going into this honors thesis I was not prepared for how intense, unsettling, and moving Vera’s novels would be. I remember reading the pivotal moment in Without a Name when the full force of the act of violence is revealed: I was sitting in South Station in Boston waiting for the last train of the night after attending a comedy show. (Yes, a rather odd setting to be reading this in!) I audibly gasped and then had to explain to my friends the shocking scene I had just taken in. Physically reacting to a novel like that and feeling the need to immediately talk to someone about it reminded me of the sheer power of literature and the significant influence they can have on whatever you’re going through at the time.

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by Audre Lorde

This brief essay collection was a gift from a friend that I finally got around to reading this past winter break. I remember reading it in a parking lot while waiting to go into an appointment and actually tearing up a bit. These essays are powerfully striking, so much so that I can see myself going back to them in the future for encouragement, motivation, and inspiration. Even the simplest statements–such as “there are no new pains”–are striking in their trueness, in the way they deeply resonate with the reader. I’m so grateful that my friend gifted me this book!

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

My friends and I decided to reread this old favorite of ours this past winter break. I hadn’t read it since I was fourteen or fifteen years old, so my memory of it was pretty foggy: I vaguely remembered a catering company and a car breaking down and a mom that was a real estate agent (aren’t they all?), but other than that I was basically going in as a clean slate. Reading this book after seven or eight years made me simultaneously realized how much has changed and how much has stayed the same in my reading tastes. Although I’m now more removed from the age of this book’s protagonist, I nevertheless found myself relating to her dilemmas, albeit in a different way from when I related to them years ago. Now I saw them from a nostalgic perspective, of looking back on that time in my life when I didn’t know what graduating high school or being 20 years old would look like. All in all, rereading The Truth About Forever was a lovely trip down memory lane.

The Latino Threat by Leo R. Chavez

I was assigned to read this book for my Latinos in the U.S. history class early on this semester, and it really changed the way I look at representations of Latinos in the media, on the big screen, and in what I read. The Latino Threat Narrative (the discriminatory idea that Latinos are dangerous, lazy, criminal, and are only in the US to “take advantage” of the system) is shockingly pervasive in our society today, and it seems almost impossible to not run into it in some capacity on a daily basis. Reading this book was also a fantastic way to start this class, as it really summed up a lot of the points that my professor wanted to make throughout the semester. I wish this book–or at least this concept–was mandatory material for high school students. I think having a specific name for this phenomenon really helps you pinpoint it, therefore allowing you to better challenge it in the world around you. Chavez also really forces you to think about how the Latino Threat Narrative plays into where our country is headed in the near future.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

View this post on Instagram

The Year of Magical Thinking is by far my favorite book that I’ve read this semester. I had never read anything by Joan Didion before, but I will absolutely be turning to more of her witty, honest words in the future. I’ve been fortunate enough to never have experienced such intense loss before, but this book made me feel the closest I have ever felt to experiencing it. I rarely cry while reading, yet this text was bookended by my tears. The last line left me gutted, wanting to reach out and embrace Didion as I sat in bed mulling over her experiences, conflicting emotions, and narration. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. • • • • • • #books #book #bookish #booklover #bibliophile #reading #amreading #reader #read #bookstagram #bookblogger #bookblog #blogger #blog #nutfreenerd #bookpics #instabooks #college #englishmajor #literature

A post shared by HOLLY (@nutfreenerd) on

I was assigned to read this book for my Postmodern American Fiction class about a month ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. This memoir recounts the year after the death of writer John Gregory Dunne, Didion’s beloved husband. We see her grapple with loss, identity, and the strong pull of the “vortex” of memories as she writes this narrative. Although I often cry while watching movies, it’s actually rare that I cry while reading books; however, I cried twice while reading this book, both times in front of other people. (If that’s not a testament to how stirring this book is, than I don’t know what is…) What strikes me the most about this book is how there is no resolution at the end–grief is not a linear process recovered from after a single year, which The Year of Magical Thinking really reflects.

Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts on them? What’s a book that greatly influenced you recently? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

College, Discussion

How I Came to Study English in College (and why I stayed that way)

A few months ago someone commented on one of my blog posts asking if I could write about how I came to study English literature in college. Since my second to last semester of college begins in just two days, I thought now would be a good time to finally answer this question.

Growing up, English was always my favorite subject in school. I hesitate to say that it was my favorite class; unfortunately, English class was often viewed as a bit of a joke, particularly in high school. It wasn’t viewed as a “real” subject worth studying; instead, English class was merely another requirement, an easy class used to boost people’s GPAs. I hated this negative, deceiving, false stigma associated with studying English. This stigma is partly why I started blogging in high school in the first place. I wanted an outlet where I could discuss books without being viewed as strange or being told that I was wasting my time on something that didn’t matter.

You can imagine what people thought when I told them that I wanted to major in English literature in college. This pill was made a bit easier to swallow by the fact that I later wanted to go to law school (phew! people undoubtedly thought. Some practical light at the end of the liberal arts tunnel!) The puzzled glances I received astounded me. What was so bad about studying English?

Then came the inevitable question: Did I want to be a teacher? While there is nothing wrong with being a teacher–it’s one of the most important jobs, in my opinion–it frustrated me that people could only see one path for my future. When I told them I wanted to pursue a career in law, their eyes grew even wider. Most of them said they couldn’t picture me as an attorney–that I wasn’t cutthroat enough, competitive enough, or loud enough. (I don’t know when they started measuring one’s volume on the LSAT, but apparently these people were privy to secret information that I wasn’t). One day while I was checking an old man’s book out at the local library where I worked, he helpfully reminded me that “You have to be smart to be a lawyer, you know.” Fortunately, one of my coworkers stood up for me, chiming in with a generous “Oh, Holly doesn’t have to worry about that.”

But his comment bothered me, and in some way still does. Why did studying English automatically categorize me as a particular kind of person in the eyes of so many people? What gave people the impression that teaching was not only the sole profession that English majors could choose, but that it was also the sole profession that we should choose? What was it about this specific subject that closed its students off from all other occupational pursuits?

However, my time in college as well as my experience holding various job positions has taught me that those people in my high school who held these negative opinions lack any understanding of what it is actually like to study English literature. I like to split my degree into two parts: content and skills. When people look down upon English majors, they often do so by emphasizing the content aspect of the degree. What use is knowledge of obscure books that only other English majors ever read? Who cares what Jane Austen or William Faulkner had to say in their novels? While this view is inherently false in its own right for reasons I’m sure most bookworms understand, it also completely disregards the other half of English degrees.

My favorite aspect of my English degree (and the part that I value most) is that it teaches me how to think critically, work with large amounts of information at once, organize my thoughts, form and defend evidence-based arguments, and write. These are valuable, practical, marketable skills that have served me well in nearly all courses, internships, and jobs I’ve experienced. Although these skills happen to be applied to English literature while earning the degree, they can be applied to any and all contexts: historical texts, financial grant applications, social media pages, etc. I truly believe that the ability to write well is a priceless skill—just ask all of the friends, coworkers, and family members who ask me to edit their writing on a regular basis.

To answer the reader’s initial question, I chose to study English literature in college because reading and writing have always been passions of mine. However, I think a more interesting and important question is why I’ve continued to be an English major after so many people have advised me otherwise. The answer: because I believe the degree offers valuable skills that are essential for my professional success.

What are your thoughts on studying English literature in college? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Discussion

What does it mean to be a “relevant” reader? | Discussion

Today I’d like to talk about a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: What does it mean to be a “relevant” reader?

Recently I watched a video by Ariel Bissett in which she talks about the pressure in the online book community to read certain books as soon as possible to be “relevant.” She emphasizes this stress particularly in the YA genre with popular new releases at the time such as When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Ariel discusses how before joining Booktube she didn’t have this large awareness of what was recently released, current trends and topics in specific genres, book “hype, etc. While this can certainly be an advantage of being immersed in this bookish community, it also comes at a price: feeling like a bad person or that you can’t be a proper reader unless you read the books that “everyone” is currently talking about. 

Ariel emphasizes that this need to be relevant is ridiculous. As she points out, the books that are deemed “relevant” are not always the books we’re most interested in reading. Her solution is to try to not give into this competitive feeling of needing to be relevant– yet she acknowledges that this is a really difficult thing to do. How do you participate in a community that focuses on reading competitively when that isn’t what you initially signed up for? (Metaphorically speaking, of course– there aren’t any sign-up sheets to be found here…)

Shortly after watching this video I read a great blog post by Hannah @ Mortal Reader in which she discusses feeling lost in the book community when she tries to keep up with all the constant cycle of new releases being published. She explains that she often finds herself picking books to read based on what she thinks the people who read her blog will be interested in rather than simply picking up whatever book she herself would like to read in that moment. Here is yet another manifestation of the pressure many of us feel to be relevant readers when we blog, make videos, and create other bookish content online.

 I’m certainly guilty of feeding into this competitive edge of reading as well. For instance, I definitely felt pressure to read John Green’s most recent novel Turtles All the Way Down as soon as possible once it was released so I could write about it. I also really relate to something that Ariel discusses in her video: the problem of viewing rereading as not making progress towards our reading goals. I LOVE rereading books and feel no shame at all when I reread old favorites… but why is this attitude the exception rather than the rule? Why does stigma exist? Why does rereading often make people feel as though they’re not staying “relevant”?

My way to deal with this notion of “relevant” and “competitive” reading is to try my best to ignore it. You may have noticed that I love reading classics and old books, which are mainly what I talk about on this blog. Are people dying to hear my thoughts on William Faulkner or Willa Cather? Probably not. But those are the kinds of books that I love to read, so why would I read anything else? Personally, reading what I enjoy is more important to me than “staying relevant”– whatever that means.

What are your thoughts on “relevant” and “competitive” reading? Do you feel this pressure to read certain books in the online bookish community? What can we do about this? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Discussion

Why I Love Character Maps | Discussion

Today I’m here to discuss one of my recent favorite things: character maps. I discovered the greatness of character maps while trudging through all of my required reading for my year at Oxford this past summer. Although there may be many differences between Victorian literature and the works of William Faulkner, there is one important feature that they have in common: SO. MANY. CHARACTERS. Fortunately, character maps are incredibly helpful in these bookish situations. Here’s why:

They help you keep everything straight while you read.

Map for THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner

If I know or even suspect that a novel will be confusing due to the sheer number of characters or complicated relationships between them, then I always look up a character map before diving into the actual book. Chances are that for most well-known classics there are character maps already available online, which is where I usually find mine. It’s so helpful being able to quickly refer back to the map whenever you’re unsure about who is related to who or where their marital status stands.

They give you valuable context before you start reading the novel.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte

Context is always key before starting a new text, especially if it’s something you’re reading for a course. Not only is context important for better understanding the novel itself, but it also helps get you in the right mindset to read the book. This latter aspect is also a valuable effect of writing down a character map before opening the first page.

They keep you accountable for actually understanding what is going on.

Map for AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner

Usually I write down character maps before I start reading a novel, but it can also be useful to create them as you read. Although you won’t be able to use it as a reference point in the beginning, creating a character map as you go along is a great way to make sure you’re following what’s happening in the story. You can always look up an actual map later on to ensure that you’re on the right track.

Do you ever create or use character maps? Am I the only one who always struggles to keep all of the characters straight in Wuthering Heights?  Do you have any helpful tips and tricks that you use while reading challenging books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Bookish, Discussion

On Reading Classics | Discussion

I love classics. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that classics are my preferred genre. Some people can’t seem to fathom that I genuinely enjoy reading books like Faulkner’s Sartoris and Dickens’ Great Expectations and choose to read them in my free time. Perhaps this bewilderment is due to the bad reputation classics have gained from people’s negative experiences of being forced to read them in school. Or maybe classics have become too closely associated with the stereotypical pretentious air that some people put on when talking about this genre of literature. Whatever the reason may be, I’m here to break the barrier once and for all.

Classics don’t have to be scary, dull, or irrelevant; rather, they can be accessible, exciting, and relatable to our personal and societal experiences today. There are always going to be those books you just don’t click with (I’m sorry Bram Stoker, but I just reread Dracula and practically had to force myself to read the last hundred pages) but that doesn’t mean that the entire genre isn’t worth reading.

In an effort to spread my love of classics, here are some of my tips for reading them:

1 || Know the context. Before reading, take a few moments to research the time period and place in which the work was written as well as some information about the author. Knowing the context of a text is helpful for two reasons: a) you can better understand and relate to the characters when you know when, where, and how they are living and b) it helps explain any behaviors or beliefs that might seem odd or problematic to us today. Learning information about the author can also give us insight into why and how the text was written. For instance, while researching Faulkner I learned that he often listened to his elders tell stories about the Civil War, slavery, and his great-grandfather William Clark Falkner. The latter figure must have strongly influenced Faulkner because a similar legendary relative plays an important role in his novel Sartoris. Understanding the context of a work can make it easier to relate to the story overall.

2 || Make character maps. Wuthering Heights? The Sound and the Fury? Forget it: I would be completely lost and confused if I didn’t sketch out a character map. You can make one as you read, though I prefer to research the story ahead of time and map out the characters that way. There are countless helpful resources online that make creating character map easy and incredibly helpful. Even just writing a list of characters and some short descriptions of them can make following the story feel ten times easier.

3 || Take your time. Unless deadlines are imposed on you by others (teachers, professors, book clubs, etc.) there’s no specific point in time by which you have to read a classic. Go as slow as you need to in order to get the most out of the story, even if it takes you twice as long to finish as a different book normally would. Put it down and come back to it after a few days if you feel like you need a break or are feeling in the mood to read something else. There’s no pressure to read anything in one sitting or in a certain number of days, so don’t worry about how long it takes you to reach the final page. The more time you spend with a classic—or any book, for that matter—the more you’re likely to take away from the novel.

4 || Keep an open mind. As with anything you read, it’s important to keep an open mind that’s free from any preconceived judgments or expectations. There’s no use reading something when you already assume you’ll hate it before you even read the first page. Before starting Leo Tolstoy’s tome War and Peace I expected that it would bore me to tears; however, I was surprised to find that I actually looked forward to reading it more and more as I progressed through the novel. I know this tip probably sounds like basic common sense, but sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded of what would otherwise seem obvious. At times it can seem like classics are a genre of literature with their own rules and expectations; in actuality, they’re just like all other books!

It’s perfectly okay to not enjoy classics. I don’t go out of my way to pick up horror or paranormal novels and I don’t judge those who do. However, I do think that classics deserve a second chance.

Do you enjoy reading classics? Do you have a favorite? Did reading classics in school impact your feelings toward this genre? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Bookish, Discussion

Is there more to Jane Austen than romance? (YES) | Discussion

Jane Austen’s works are often lauded as masterpieces of romantic fiction, and with good reason: her winding plots of courtships, engagements, and marriages have managed to captivate readers for centuries. Take the famous Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, for example, who seems to have been placed upon a pedestal as the ideal male love interest (though that’s a problematic topic for another day). Though Austen’s novels are multidimensional works of literature with numerous fascinating facets to consider, the majority of the discussion surrounding these texts (particularly in the online bookish community) focuses solely on the romances they contain. While there is certainly nothing wrong with highlighting the romantic relationships and how they inevitably unfold, I can’t help but feel as though we are missing out on some great discussions by not opening ourselves up to other topics.

For instance, why does no one seem to be talking about the socioeconomic divisions and hierarchies driving these plots forward?  In Emma, the protagonist initially convinces her friend Harriet to not marry Robert Martin because he is not of a sufficient social status and doesn’t possess impressive, influential social connections. Harriet’s eventual rejection of Robert Martin based on a class distinction is what allows her to later grow romantic feelings for Mr. Elton, etc. Towards the end of the novel Emma realizes that she has always thought of herself as the perfect match for Mr. Knightley—and what better way for them to be suited for each other than through their similar social statuses? From this perspective, the entire plot of the novel is in some way motivated and driven by an awareness of class. In fact, it could be argued that many of Austen’s fictional relationships are founded on the basis of class.

Another interesting topic within Austen’s works is the position of women in society. Obviously this comes into play when discussing romance, but here it is viewed from a slightly different angle. To use Emma as an example once more (can you tell which of Austen’s novels I recently read?), she makes it clear from the beginning of the story that she does not wish to be married anytime soon. I would describe Emma as an independent, strong-willed, bold, opinionated, intelligent young woman who can certainly take care of herself—that is, until she ultimately resorts to marriage like nearly every female character in the novel. I don’t mean to suggest that marriage reduces a woman’s independence, or that Austen didn’t believe in the resilience of her gender. Rather, I think these inevitable courtships, engagements, and marriages that keep happening in her novels are Austen’s way of showing us how trapped women were during her time. Even a strong character like Emma can’t make it through a novel without a ring on her finger.

This rambling post is merely my way of wishing for a broader, more varied discussion of Jane Austen’s works (and literature in general, ideally). Talking about books is so much more fun and interesting when a lot of new and different ideas are thrown into the mix. So why not start with these old favorites?

What do you think of Jane Austen’s novels? Do you have a favorite? What are some topics that you wish were more discussed in relation to literature? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Bookish, Discussion

“Well, at least you’re reading something…” | Discussion

Have you ever heard someone say to someone else: “Well, at least you’re reading something…“?

I hate that phrase.

I’ve usually heard it said in reference to a “fluffy” romance or young adult novel (Twilight often falls victim to this). It bothers me because it appears to come from a place of supposed superiority, as though the person saying it is somehow “more literate” or “intelligent” simply because they read different books. This phrase automatically categorizes certain books as being “better than nothing… but barely.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Reading is reading.

We talked a lot about stigmas attached to certain genres of literature in my Approaches to Literature and Culture class last semester and it all ultimately boiled down to a socially constructed divide between high and popular culture. This divide has been around for centuries in some form or another and it boggles my mind that people still get righteous and uppity about it today. For instance, we read this article written by Ruth Graham that was published by Slate in 2014. In the article, Graham argues that adults should not read books like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green because “if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.” She asserts that young adult novels are inherently less complex than novels written for adults because the plights of teenagers are also inherently less complex than those of adults. In her mind, “great” literature and “complexity” are inextricably linked, though how she measures this enigmatic characteristic of “complexity” is yet to be explained.

To me, Graham seems like the kind of reader who has likely said “Well, at least your reading something….” at one point. The idea that there is some sort of hierarchy of “great” literature is incredibly frustrating, especially when people are just reading for fun. Who cares if I read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury or John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars? I’ve enjoyed both novels immensely and see nothing wrong in being able to do so. This is one of the main reasons I try to read a wide variety of literature and reflect that in the book reviews I post on this blog. Reading is reading is reading and there’s nothing wrong with reading what you enjoy.

I might be preaching to the choir here because most book bloggers I’ve interacted with are wonderfully accepting of what other people read. Nevertheless, I think this is a really important topic to keep in mind.

Do you agree or disagree? What are some things people say about what people read that frustrate you? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Discussion

Debunking the Mythical “Beach Read” | Discussion

Each year as the temperature outside rises and spring gradually gives way to summer, one question is inevitably asked of readers everywhere: “What are you going to read at beach?”

The “beach read” genre has exploded recently, becoming an increasingly popular way of categorizing books that are “quick,” “light” and “fluffy.” When I hear this label I immediately think of contemporary YA novels I’ve brought to the beach in the past: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, This Is What Happiness Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith, etc. These are the kinds of books that have apparently been deemed perfect for reading by the water; however, they are certainly not the only books I read while lounging in the sun.

I’d like challenge this stereotypical “beach read” genre because I think that “beach reads” are based on each individual’s reading tastes and preferences. 

For instance, I tend to read longer, more challenging books during the summer months compared to what I read when classes are in session. Free from the burden of course work and a busy schedule of extracurriculars, I can now dedicate time to the texts I’ve been meaning to read for months. This summer I’m tackling Tolstoy’s War and Peace, though I probably wouldn’t lug it to the beach with me because it is a TOME. Nevertheless, this trend in my summer reading means that I’m likely to choose something outside of the “beach read” stereotype to pack in my tote bag.

I also love to read science fiction novels at the beach. My go-to author for this is Michael Crichton because his books are fast-paced, incredibly suspenseful, and dangerously easy to get sucked into reading for hours on end. Last summer I brought his novel Sphere with me to read by the lake while I was camping and I devoured it in a matter of two days. There’s nothing quite like being completely immersed in a novel with your toes in the sand.

In actuality, I rarely read what are considered “beach reads” at the beach– so doesn’t this necessitate a new way of thinking about this genre? Personally, I feel like the genre as a whole doesn’t even really exist; rather, “beach reads” are simply whatever we each prefer to read while enjoying some time in the sun. 

How do you define a “beach read”? Do you like to read at the beach? What kinds of books do you usually bring with you? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Bookish, Discussion

MATILDA as a Feminist Text | Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours,

HOLLY