Saturday, February 28, 2015

Best of the Bunch: February 2015

Today I'm sharing the best book I read in February.

Of the 16 books I read this month, three earned a 5-star review from me:

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Baby Meets World: Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle by Nicholas Day

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

It's a little bit hard to compare these three books, as one is a classic work of literature, one is a modern-day nonfiction look into the history and science of childrearing, and one is a memoir of a turbulent childhood. But if you asked me to recommend just one book from this month, I'd tell you the best of the bunch was...

This book explores what would happen if a mentally challenged man were given the opportunity to gain intelligence, eventually surpassing most of those around him. Through Charlie, we see how society isolates both those with low intelligence and those with high intelligence, and the dangers of intellectual development that outpaces emotional development. Keyes challenges the reader to wonder whether it's better to be mocked by others but be happy and think they're your friends, or to be aware of what's going on around you but be isolated and lonely. I found this an absolutely fascinating and worthwhile read that deserves its status as a classic.

What is the best book you read this month? Let me know in comments, or write your own post and link up below!

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Top Ten Favorite Heroines From Books

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

For this week's topic, I'm interested to see how other people define "heroine." I don't read much fantasy or sci-fi, and I feel like those are the traditional genres to have heroes and heroines, defined as someone who saves other people. I'm going to go with the dictionary definition of "a woman admired or idealized for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities."

1. Elizabeth McKenna from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This is an interesting one because Elizabeth isn't actually there for the present-day events of the novel, but she is frequently mentioned in the recollections of the other characters whose letters make up this book. Her kindness and courage touched all the people around her, and through the creation of the titular society, she found a way to bring the Guernsey islanders together for support during the German occupation of their island.

2. Frankie Landau-Banks from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
When she's excluded from her boarding school's secret society because she's female, Frankie finds a way to become the group's invisible leader, organizing the guys to pull off pranks that highlight the sexism at the school. She's a badass who doesn't let other people's perceptions of her define her.

3. Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
It's been a long time since I read this, but I remember Jane as a symbol of the independent woman. She saves the life of the guy she loves but then refuses to be his mistress after learning she can't marry him, and refuses to marry another guy she doesn't love. As a woman in the 1800s from a poor background, she needed a lot of guts to stand up for her values that way.

4. Julie/Queenie/Verity from Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
I can't say all the things that make this character a heroine without spoiling big parts of the book, but she's incredibly brave and willing to undergo a heck of a lot of stuff on behalf of her country.

5. Ma from Room by Emma Donoghue
We only ever know this character as "Ma," since the story is told from the perspective of her 5-year-old son. But through him we find out that she's been trying her hardest to create a safe and loving world for him within the confines of the room where she's been held captive since before he was born. And when she thinks he might be in danger, she starts plotting a way for them to escape.

6. Mariam from A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Mariam is married off to an abusive man who eventually takes a second wife, Laila. Although Mariam is initially angry with the younger Laila, she soon works together with her to try to leave and start a better life. In the end, she chooses to give Laila an opportunity to escape even if it means sacrificing herself.

7. Matilda Wormwood from Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda goes from a neglectful family to a school with an abusive headmistress. Rather than allowing these experiences to break her, she channels her frustration into power and ingenuity, finding clever ways to get back at those who have hurt her and others.

8. Parvana from The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
After the Taliban take her father away, young Parvana must dress as a boy and go out to earn money for her family. Some of the opportunities she finds — like digging up graves — are terrifying and distasteful, but she learns to be brave so that she can keep her family alive.

9. Sarah Grimké from The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
This is a fictionalized account of a real-life activist, so maybe it's cheating a little to include her on this list, but I didn't know she was a historical figure until after I finished the book. Not only did she work for the abolition of slavery, but she also stood up for women's rights, even within the abolitionist community.

10. Snow Flower from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
This is another case where I don't want to spoil too much, but Snow Flower manages to keep her dignity and strives to create a better life for herself in the midst of terrible circumstances, even when hiding the truth about those circumstances means risking the loss of her only friend and possibly her whole reputation. She seeks not to be held back by the many restrictions placed on women in 19th century rural China, even though there are ultimately aspects of her destiny she cannot control.

Who are your favorite fictional heroines?

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Top Ten Book-Related Problems I Have

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

I feel like this topic has been covered pretty effectively by Buzzfeed, what with the 26 worst things that can happen to a book lover and 17 problems only book lovers will understand, plus the Reader Problems questions I answered not too long ago.

Rather than trying to come up with my own list entirely from scratch, I'm going to first pull the parts of these lists that most resonated with me and then fill in with my own.

1. Getting interrupted while reading
This was something Mike had to learn early on in our relationship, and he still tries to talk to me sometimes while I'm reading. It's one thing if you're like, "Hey, Jess, can I interrupt you for a second?" but if you just start talking to me as if I'm not doing anything particularly important at the moment (SEE: A BOOK) you are going to get evil eyes from me.

2. Not remembering who I lent books to
I try to use Delicious Library to track this, but I have to do it immediately or I will forgot who I lent a book to or possibly that I lent out a book at all. And Mike sometimes lends our books out without remembering either. We had this conversation this past weekend:

Me: What book did we lend to someone yesterday?

Mike: I don't know. I don't think we lent out any books.

Me: Yes. We totally did. Maybe to... [Person A]?

Mike: Nope. We didn't lend her any books. I don't know what you're talking about. I don't think we lent any books out.

Me: No, we definitely did. ::pulls open Delicious Library and starts slowly looking through the entire list of books we own:: Oh, yeah, Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys! Remember?

Mike: Oh, that wasn't to [Person A]. That was [Person B].

Me: See?? I knew it!

3. Accidentally getting spoiled
About a third of the way through The Madness Underneath (book 2 in the Shades of London series) I went to the library website to put a hold on the newly released The Shadow Cabinet (book 3). In the course of waiting for the hold to take I read the blurb, which spoiled two major plot points from book 2. Ah! So annoying! This is why I try not to read book descriptions, even for the book I'm currently reading — they can give too much away.

4. Reading too fast and missing stuff
When I get really impatient to find out what's going to happen next (especially if I suspect there is Impending Doom), I will inadvertently start skimming or glance ahead to the next page, and inevitably I miss something and get confused and have to go back and carefully read the page again.

5. Being disappointed when someone doesn't like a book I recommended
I think this is self-explanatory. I try not to be all, "WASN'T IT AMAZING? DIDN'T YOU LOVE IT?" because I recognize everyone has different opinions on things, but c'mon... didn't you love it??

6. Finishing an amazing book and having no one to discuss it with
This is one reason I recommend books to other people, and also why I'm in so many book clubs. Some books are just begging to be discussed. If necessary I'll go read other people's Goodreads reviews of it just to share in the mutual excitement and love, but then I get angry when I see negative reviews of the book (see No. 5).

7. Not being able to join in discussions of the-book-of-the-moment
This is the flip side of No. 6. Because I get most of my books from the library, and I have a giant to-read list, and I'm in a lot of book clubs, my reading is rarely dictated by whatever the "hot" book of the moment is. This means that there's usually some book that everyone wants to talk about to which I can only say, "Yeah, that's on my to-read list! I'll get to it eventually..."

8. Trying to decide whether to bring up how many books I read
I was at book club one time last year and people were talking about their reading goals. Someone brought up how she reads about 60 books a year and everyone started acting like she was the most amazing person ever and asking how she does it and all this stuff. I felt like it was relevant to the conversation to bring up that I was on track to read twice that many books, but there wasn't any way to do it that didn't sound like, "Neener, neener, I read more than you!"

9. Finding a great series that takes a nosedive in quality
It's great when you read a fantastic book and then find out it's part of a series — more to read! More time with your favorite characters! It sucks when the rest of the books in the series are not nearly as good as the first one, or the series ends in a really stupid way (I'm looking at you, The Younger Gods). I hate this so much that I will usually seek out reviews of other books in a series before deciding whether to continue with it... unless there are such major cliffhangers that I'll keep reading just to find out what happens, even if it turns out to be stupid.

10. Having a ridiculously long to-read list
I go back and forth on whether this is actually a problem. At one point I tried to cap it at 200 books (approximately the amount I could read in two years), but I still wanted a way to remember which books to add once I had spaces open up again... so eventually it made sense to just add as many books as I wanted to the list. I've been pretty good about not adding any books this year unless I really, really want to read them, so I can feel like I'm at least starting to make a dent in the list. But I don't think I would ever want to clear out the list completely and have nothing I was particularly excited about reading next, right?

What are your biggest book-related problems?

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

What I've Been Reading Lately (Quick Lit)

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit to bring you some short and sweet reviews of what I've read in the past month. For longer reviews, you can always find me on Goodreads.

I've read a lot in the past month, in large part because I hit upon the idea of listening to children's books on audio while giving my son his bottles. He's not yet old enough to attend to and comprehend the stories, but I like the routine we've created, and it's given me an opportunity to tackle a lot of the classic children's literature on my list, which was one of my goals for 2015.

Without further ado, here's what I read in the past month:

The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan: The disjointed narrative confused me and I related to none of the characters. Despite being historical fiction, I felt like I learned little about the time period, and the story was a strung-together bunch of moments written for shock value. Not HSP-friendly.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I didn't LOVE it the way some people do, but it was a good story and the writing was beautiful. Although it went back and forth in time, it kept me in suspense on multiple fronts, and it resisted some of the well-worn plot grooves of WWII literature.

Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter: A solid contribution to this conversation, though not one of the best I've read. VanderWal-Gritter's goal is not to convince the reader of any particular theological position, but rather to argue for how to create faith communities that allow for true differences of opinion on issues surrounding sexual orientation and same-sex relationships. For pastors with that specific goal in mind, this is a good resource.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett: The message of this story, about acting with love toward others and bearing oneself with dignity regardless of one's circumstances, is a sweet one and presumably what has made this a classic children's book. I was ambivalent about the use of dramatic irony, but it was still an enjoyable read (or listen).

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: A cross between a novel and a collection of short stories, this book tells the story of one woman as seen from many perspectives (her husband, her daughter-in-law, her students, her neighbors), but the small town itself may be the real main character. The quiet portraiture of everyday life reminded me of Crossing to Safety, and I enjoyed the read more than I anticipated.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman: Given its incredible popularity, this was a major disappointment. I found the writing awkward, the transitions between past and present sometimes forced, and the dialogue highly unrealistic. There were inconsistencies, words used incorrectly, and too much stuff that was never explained well. By the end I didn't care what she ended up deciding.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri: I enjoyed this for what it was, but it wasn't a favorite. Anything that seemed to herald a major plot arc was resolved quickly (and often unrealistically), and it was too overtly religious for my taste.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh: So good. I even laughed at the stories I'd read before on her blog, and I thought she made good choices about which ones to include. I wish she'd chosen to end it on a different note, but that didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne: I was surprised how many of the stories I knew already from the Disney versions. There were some details and stories that understandably were left out of the Disney versions (like Christopher Robin accidentally shooting Winnie-the-Pooh, and the animals kidnapping baby Roo). But for the most part, there's a reason these are classic stories. They're sweet and funny and memorable.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes: The premise is fascinating and the story is incredibly well written. I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it. It touches on many important topics, such as societal prejudices, how intellect affects relationships, and the difference between intellectual and emotional maturity. I loved it.

Baby Meets World: Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle by Nicholas Day: An excellent, readable exploration into the history and science of child rearing. This book will not tell you how to raise your child, but it will reassure you that there are very few "wrong" ways to care for a baby. This book was fascinating, reassuring, and quite often funny as well.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: I reread this in anticipation of reading the sequels, and I remembered why I enjoyed it the first time. The story is suspenseful and engaging, with a good blend of action scenes and character development. Knowing what would happen made this a different but still great reading experience.

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson: This was... not as good. It's definitely an "in between" book, like the fifth Harry Potter book, with the plot mostly consisting of Rory brooding and lying to everyone she knows (sometimes for no good reason), until maybe the last quarter of the book when everything happens at once. There were too many things that didn't make sense (maybe because they'll be explained in the third book?), and the writing just generally didn't seem as careful as in the first book.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild: This is one of those Depression-era children's books that tout the value of hard work in the midst of poverty, but that doesn't make it inapplicable to today's children by any means. Three adopted sisters each have different interests (acting, mechanics, and dance), but they help support their family by getting theatre performance licenses when they each turn 12. Sometimes they have to make sacrifices in order to make sure everyone is taken care of. A sweet and enjoyable book.

Charming Billy by Alice McDermott: McDermott can write a good sentence, but this would have made a better short story than a book. If you like books with really, really detailed descriptions of moments in time and don't mind not having much of a plot, you might like this book. Otherwise, skip it.

What have you been reading this month? Share over at Modern Mrs. Darcy!

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Eight Things I Dislike When It Comes To Romances in Books (And Two I Like)

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

I didn't realize I had such strong opinions about fictional relationships until I started putting together a list of likes and dislikes for this week's linkup. Apparently I am very picky and could come up with way more things I disliked than those I liked. As much as I would love to cite specific examples for all of these, I am going to refrain in order to avoid spoilers (since a lot of these deal with spoilers). However, I will say that some of the books I had in mind while writing this were Americanah, 32 Candles, The Fire Horse Girl, The Language of Flowers, The Fault in Our Stars, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Goldfinch, Sloppy Firsts, Water for Elephants, Pillars of the Earth, and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. You can use your imagination about which is which, or tell me if you agree for the ones you've read!

Also, I should add that this discussion may get into some unpleasant territory, like discussing rape and other trauma, so keep that in mind.

Things I dislike in fictional romances:

1. "You said no because you don't know how much you love me yet!"
This rings it at No. 1 because it's so common and so frustrating. When a guy follows a girl home every day until she agrees to date him, that's somehow considered sweet when it's in a story. When it happens in real life, it's called stalking, and it's scary. Someone who refuses to believe another person when they say "no" is just about the unsexiest and creepiest thing to include in a love story. It's even worse when Person A talks Person B into having sex with them and then it's like, "And it was the best sex ever and Person B realized they really did love Person A!" No. Ugh. This kind of crap is why rape happens.

2. "At least we had sex one time before you died / went away forever!"
It pisses me off when one character dies or gets banished or something and then we're supposed to celebrate because we found out that before they left they got to have sex with their true love. Bonus points if one of them is now pregnant ("a piece of him lives on!"). First of all, first-time sex is not necessarily great. It might have been super awkward, terrible sex, and now that's the last thing they get to remember about each other. Secondly, that sucks to unexpectedly find yourself with the prospect of being a single parent. That is not necessarily a super-romantic prospect. Maybe you don't want your child to remind you for the rest of your life of the dead boyfriend you had sex with one time. Just a thought.

3. "We are the two main characters in this book, so I guess we should get together."
I hate when there are two characters you know are going to get together from the moment they're introduced, and then it's like the author doesn't even bother developing the relationship or chemistry between them, but they get together anyway because the main character is for some reason obligated to have a love interest and the book is obligated to end on a romantic "happily ever after." This is such a problem that I want to applaud when an author can write two straight characters of the opposite gender who are best friends or work together or go on a quest together or whatever and then don't end up falling in love with each other. Because even if you had literally no other close relationships in your life except this other person, that still doesn't mean you're going to want to get together with them romantically.

4. "It's OK to sleep with you even though I'm married to someone else because you're my real love."
I don't like the fetishization of affairs in books, or the idea that cheating is excused if you're married to a terrible person (or someone you think is terrible). If your spouse is a horrible person, then I may be rooting for you to get away from them, but make a clean break with them first, and then figure out what you want to do next. There seems to be this idea in some fiction that you can't possibly be passionately in love with someone you're married to; if you're married, and passionately in love, it must be with a different person than your spouse. As someone who truly loves my husband, I don't buy that.

5. "We've been apart for many, many years but we can pick up exactly where we left off."
I get that there are those friendships in which it seems like no time has passed when you see each other again, but romantic relationships tend to be more all-encompassing and complex. If you've been apart from a romantic partner for a decade or more, particularly with little or no communication, I have a hard time believing that none of your life experiences in the intervening years would have any effect on your passionate love for another person. I can buy, "I've never stopped loving you, but I need some time to get to know you again." But "I'm going to drop my entire new life and go back to how things were with you before" is too much.

6. "I suddenly woke up and realized I'm in love with you, so I am going to kiss you and we will immediately start a relationship."
If Character A has expressed interest in Character B, who is not interested but then later has a sudden revelation that they're interested too, then OK. This isn't terrible, but it tends to be lazy writing, to not have to show any development in or questioning of feelings over time. (Plus, if enough time has passed, it should not be assumed Character A still has the same feelings.) But if Characters A and B are just friends and then Character A suddenly realizes and confesses they're in love with Character B and they immediately start a relationship together, I'm like... what about Character B's feelings? Do they just do whatever Character A wants? Have they secretly loved Character A this whole time and we never heard about it? Did they have a sudden revelation at the exact same time?

7. "It's OK you lied about everything because it made me realize I actually love you."
I have an aversion to any plots that center on deception. I like it even less when there are no consequences for said deception because love conquers all or whatever. Also, going back to No. 1, I dislike the whole notion of "you don't know what you really want so I need to trick you into realizing it."

8. "You are so mysterious that I know nothing about you, so clearly I am in love with you!"
You can recognize that this trope exists because of plots that riff on it, like the movie While You Were Sleeping, where it turns out that you don't even like the mysterious stranger once you get to know them. Again, there's a difference between "This person is intriguing to me and I'd like to get to know them better" and "This person I've never spoken to and can't find out anything about is definitely the person I'm meant to be with forever."

After putting together this list, I realized that there are a lot of ways fictional romances can go wrong in my book. So what about relationships I actually like? What do they have in common?

Things I like in fictional romances:

1. "I respect your independence / Don't let our being together stop you from being you."
I have a big thing about maintaining independence in relationships. It was a Serious Issue when my husband and I first got together, and has continued to be a theme throughout our relationship. So when I see it as part of romances in books, it makes me happy. Most often it's about a female partner being able to maintain her career or interests or have private space when she needs it. Or, as an antithesis to my No. 1 Thing I Dislike, it's when a character says No or I'm Not Sure about getting together, and the other character's like, "OK, cool, I respect that, take as much time as you need to figure things out" and doesn't push them into making a decision or changing their mind. It's so refreshing! And awesome! And a good model for real-life interactions!

2. "We have fun and work well together."
I realized that most of the best fictional couples are not main characters of books, or their relationship is not the central drama of the book. Awesome couples in books are those who complement each other's strengths, who joke around lovingly with each other, who have learned to communicate well, and who treat each other with respect. This means that the central conflict of the book probably doesn't have to do with their relationship; they're more likely to be some character's cool parents who show up for brief snippets. Or, occasionally, it's the main character and their significant other, who they lean on through some crisis, but whose relationship is fairly unchanging. But if the relationship is the core of the story, then the author is likely to rely on some well-worn conflict from the list of Dislikes above to drive the plot, like, "You just don't realize how much you love me yet!" (No. 1) or "We are forcibly separated for many years!" (No. 5) or "I only met you after I married someone else!" (No. 4).

Knowing what I look for in fictional romances, and what turns me off, are there books you would recommend? Other books where you've seen the things above go wrong?

How about you? What do you like and dislike in romances in books?

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Six Reasons I Read Classics (Even When They're Boring)

On Tuesday I shared some of the classic books I should have read by now. This started me thinking about the reasons I make it a priority to read so-called classic literature, particularly when 1) many of these books are quite boring by today's standards and 2) the canon of traditional classics is heavily slanted toward white males. Why not spend my time only on books that are enjoyable to read?

Here are some of the reasons I came up with for why I read classic books:

1) I understand more references in other media. Books that have traditionally been read by many people over many decades are used as reference points in other stories. TV shows, movies, songs, and other books allude to these well-known stories in order to explain something, develop symbolism, or build their own plots as riffs on traditional stories. I feel like I had a deeper appreciation for The Art of Fielding because of having read Moby-Dick, and while The Lizzie Bennet Diaries can certain stand on its own, it was fun to see the clever ways the creators worked in aspects of the original Pride and Prejudice.

2) I get to be in on jokes/humor that reference classics. This is similar to No. 1, but deserves its own point, because so much humor is dependent on catching references to one thing or another. I remember watching the Jane Eyre skit on Saturday Night Live with Mike and finding it WAY funnier than he did because I had read Jane Eyre. In order to fully appreciate a good parody, you have to be familiar with the source material.

3) I can discuss them with others. We've established that I love discussing books with other people. Outside of book club and school, though, where we're all assigned to read the same book, there are two main categories of books that two random individuals are likely to have both read: contemporary bestsellers and classics. And while contemporary bestsellers may come up in a conversation about books, people are more likely to relate classics to a wide variety of situations. This means not only can I catch and appreciate these references (see No. 1 again), but I can also expand on and enrich the discussion because of having read the books myself.

4) I gain historical perspective without having to read histories. I do like reading histories when they're well done, and certainly novels aren't always going to provide an accurate or all-encompassing view of a place and time period, but there's something to be said for getting inside an individual's head as they experience the day-to-day reality of that time and place. Having a mental story about a specific person and what happens to them can help make that period of history more vivid; for example, the story of Oliver Twist is more interesting and memorable than a list of facts about the Industrial Revolution.

5) I get to have a richer reading experience. I love a good plot-driven book, but I also like a book that offers new insights and meanings each time you read it, and many books are classics for just this reason. More than a decade after finishing high school, I still visit SparkNotes to see what I might have missed while reading a classic book. Sometimes this helps me understand or like a book more, and sometimes it doesn't, but it has helped me learn to better recognize themes and symbolism in my reading in general. This means I can have a greater appreciation for a contemporary work like Speak that makes beautiful use of these literary tools.

6) Some stories are simply fantastic. Books are classics for a reason. Sometimes that reason is that they were the first book ever to use a particular writing style or they have a truly unique premise or they're rich with symbolism that scholars can spend decades analyzing, but this doesn't mean the book is actually enjoyable to read. Many, however, are classics because they're truly engaging and memorable. There are plenty of books I've picked up simply because they're "classics" and ended up greatly enjoying them. Yesterday I finished Flowers for Algernon, which I was reading primarily because it's one of the few books left on my list of classics to read, but I ended up loving it. If you're willing to read a book that has more long, detailed descriptions and less snappy dialogue than most contemporary reads, you may find yourself rewarded by a really excellent story.

I'm sure there are many more good reasons to read classic books. Do you make an effort to read classics, and if so, why?

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Top Ten Classic Books I Can't Believe I Haven't Read

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week's topic is to pick a genre of which you've read a lot but have managed to miss some staples. For me, I make an effort to read a lot of books that are generally referred to as "classics" — those that are commonly referenced not only by other books but by popular media in general. I've mentioned that I have a list of classic literature I've been working on for some time, which includes everything from Pride and Prejudice to Moby-Dick to Animal Farm. But there are some books not on this list that I really should have read by now but which are still sitting on my to-read list.

1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
At Christmastime my cousin's girlfriend was reading this book and I was like, "How is it? I've never read it." She said, "It's my favorite book — I read it every year," probably thinking, "You've never read it??" All I know about it is that it's supposed to be depressing, but I guess it must be really good as well. I'll have to pick it up when I'm in the right mood.

2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I haven't read any Dostoyevsky (The Brothers Karamazov is on my list as well) but I feel like he's pretty solidly considered a classic writer, so I will need to remedy that before too long.

3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
I read excerpts of this in school, but I have yet to tackle the full 900+ page book. I feel like most cultural references stick to the basic facts I already know (he charges at windmills and has a squire named Sancho), but I should really read the whole story at some point.

4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
I noted previously that this is a book I've avoided because I don't like horror, but if Frankenstein is any indication, classic science fiction / horror books are more literary and boring than they are scary.

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
I'm pretty sure my husband read this book for school, so it's even more unbelievable that I haven't read it yet, since he reads maybe two books a year to my hundred. It seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it book, so we'll see where I end up.

6. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Another 900+ page classic I haven't picked up yet. I remember liking Silas Marner OK, and this one seems to have more fans, so I imagine it's a good read.

7. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
This is another one with enough cultural allusions that I have a rough idea what it's about, but I'd like to read it for myself. For some reason, it makes me think of A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man (maybe because Picture/Portrait and both authors are Irish?), which I hated, so that has made me less eager to pick this one up even though I'm sure they're completely unrelated.

8. Sophie's Choice by William Styron
I've heard the premise of this one (a woman choosing between her two children's lives) and I think it has something to do with World War II, so I'm guessing this is another one I need to be in the right mood to read.

9. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
I've read quite a lot of Hemingway even though I didn't like A Farewell to Arms or A Moveable Feast very much; The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls I liked better. This is one of Hemingway's best-known works, so I'm surprised I haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

10. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
This book is referenced all the time, and I enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo (it's on my list of books to reread), so you'd think I would have read this other classic Dumas by now, but I haven't.

Which classics are on your to-read list?

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