Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books on My Spring To-Read List

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

It’s finally warming up here in Idaho. I’ve always liked winter, but the weeks and weeks of snow and below 10 degree weather have been getting to me. Normally, spring is my least favorite season (daylight savings is the worst), but this year I could not be more excited that it has decided to make an appearance. I’m still getting used to the idea that I do not need to take my wool coat with me everywhere I go.

I think for many people spring means getting to go outside again, but for me it means getting to read outside again, which I love to do until the second bug comes near me.

Here are 10 books I plan on reading this season (you know, in between moving and visitors and wedding planning):

  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Our intrepid book club leader has chosen this book for our March meeting. She was a coxswain for her college rowing team. I’ve never read a lot about crew (or about sports in general), but I’m interested to see where this book goes as the story and time are really interesting.

  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

This is our book for the April book club meeting (at least I think it is. Maybe don’t quote me on this…). I know virtually nothing about it except for what I recently read about it on Goodreads, where it has excellent reviews. It seems to be a book about the Iroquois tribe and the Huron tribe, and is the story a young woman who was captured, her captor, and a missionary who travels with them.

  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

One of our members chose this book for May. I had heard the title of this book before, but I didn’t even realize it was nonfiction until I looked it up today to find the author’s name for this post. This book about Savannah, Georgia seems dark and strange–I can’t wait to read it.

  • The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance by Anders Rydell

I plucked this book off the shelf at the library, and I don’t know anything more about it than the title. But I figured since it has to do with WWII and books, I’m pretty much guaranteed to like it.

  • Nine Folds Makes a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan

Another book that I found by chance, this book’s title intrigued me. The story follows members of Ireland’s Jewish community following WWII.

  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

This is the only book from last year’s book club meetings that I haven’t finished yet. Mostly because the little paperback sort of got lost behind all the shiny library hardcovers I plunked in front of it.

  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I don’t know why, but I really want to read this book that has sat on my shelf forever with increasing urgency.

  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

I really enjoy reading Isabel Allende’s work, and when I read about this book in the NY Times Book Review, I knew I had to pick it up.

  • In the Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

This is another book I found while strolling down the library’s shelves. It follows a family whose ancestors were shipwrecked on a Caribbean island.

  • Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

This book follows the women in Louis XIV’s life. I’m fascinated with this time period in French history, and I’m always interested to read about the women behind the men.

Have you read any of these books? Do any of them pique your interest like they did mine? And what are you reading this spring? Let me know in the comments.

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Combating “Alternative Facts”

Last month, Ursula Le Guin, author extraordinaire, sent a letter to the Editor of the Oregonian. Someone had just recently published a letter in the newspaper that talked about how politicians using “alternative facts” was no different than science fiction.

Le Guin states that the two things could not be more different. Science fiction is, after all, fiction. Made up. Not real.

In contrast, when people purposefully say things that aren’t true in order to deceive, there’s only one word for that: a lie.

Her letter is short and eloquent (you should definitely read it). But I think it’s so important that as readers and critical thinkers that we demand truth. Because it’s only with real, solid, provable facts that we can make good decisions–no matter your beliefs or politics. We should all demand facts, so that we can move forward. We shouldn’t have to debate what’s real, but rather debate what’s the strategy to make life better.

The United States is a great place. And one of the things that makes us great is a search for truth. Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani recently said, “America’s enemies feared it for dealing in facts while they offered disinformation and conspiracy theories. All that changes when the White House embraces the notion of ‘alternative facts.'”

Facts, as Le Guin says, are hard won. They are discovered and uncovered. They are precious. Our press helps to keep us honest and accountable while our scientists help us move forward and learn more about the world around us. I think it’s so essential that we support good investigative journalism and remember that bad news, news we don’t want to hear, is not necessarily false or fake. We need to remember that getting multiple perspectives, that debate and discussion, are essential to democracy.

If we don’t demand truth and honesty, we can’t say anything when it’s not given to us.

As readers, we’re already primed to take in lots of information and keep open minds. We’re always using our skills to make judgments on whether a narrator is reliable or a story is true. Those same skills can be applied to everyday life, and I think those skills are more essential than they have been in a long time. Even if you’re not very interested in politics, I think it’s important to know what’s going on. That’s how we keep a democracy going–active involvement.

 

Where do you get your news? My favorite TV news program is PBS News Hour, which does a really good job looking at multiple sides of an issue, and my favorite print sources are The New York Times, The Washington Post, and BBC. Let me know your favorite places to get news in the comments!

Jane Austen Week: Northanger Abbey

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Hamlette is hosting a Jane Austen week, where lots of bloggers are posting on one of our favorite authors. There are discussions of her books and the various adaptations they’ve spawned in film and further. You can find all of the other posts here!

I chose to write about Northanger Abbey, one of the more overlooked Jane Austen books. It’s quite different in tone from Pride & PrejudiceEmma, or Sense & Sensibility. The heroine is a bit more naive, easily excited and frightened, and in the end learns that life isn’t like the Gothic novels she loves to read. It’s still social commentary, but in a very different way. Instead of being a novel of manners and conversation, it tends towards the meta-fictional; it’s a discussion about the nature of writing itself and how the novel and its author fit into the shape of the culture.

Northanger Abbey was the first book Jane Austen completed for publication, but it was not actually published until after she died. She sold the manuscript under a different title to the London bookseller Crosby & Co. They never published it, and eventually sold it back to Jane Austen’s brother. She ended up changing the main character’s name from Susan to Catherine and did some more revision, but ultimately it wasn’t published until six months after her death in 1817.

The story is a fairly simple one. Catherine is invited to stay in Bath with some friends of the family. While she is there she makes some friends, and is ultimately invited to Northanger in the days when “visits” lasted for weeks on end. She has a few anti-climatic adventures, and then is asked to leave, but this is Jane Austen so in the end everyone ends up happily.

At its core, Northanger Abbey is a satire of and confrontation with the popular Gothic novel. These novels, which had very little in them except for the macabre and the sensational, were designed to thrill and titillate. Jane Austen, through this work and her others, sees literature fulfilling a different purpose–that of entertainment and instruction. This goes against the more “serious” writing at the time, which suggested that anything written for entertainment at all was not worth the  paper it was written on and was meant for less serious people. In other words, it was meant for women. Austen pushes back against this idea to straddle the line between the two extremes, and by doing so makes her own monumental contribution to literature.

It’s also a novel about a women who learns how to read, not just the books that she so fancies, but the world around her as well. She has to see through what people say and learn to read their motivations.  It’s about a young woman learning that life isn’t as lurid as books would suggest, and that the truth or core of something is usually more mundane than it looks as well as much less good-natured. Austen suggests that this is a good thing–imagination has its place but being realistic means that you won’t be taken advantage of. This is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that this is a lesson Austen herself had to learn as a writer and a young woman. The fact that this novel was ready for publication first suggests that it might be something of a manifesto for what Austen would attempt to do as a writer in the future.

Catherine Morland is not exactly the picture of a Gothic heroine, which Jane Austen makes clear from the opening sentence, “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her to be born an heroine.” She is missing some of the more essential attributes, namely a dark and dismal past (her family being squarely middle class and still living and her childhood pleasant), a beautiful face (hers is only so-so), and intuition or a sense of fate. In short, she’s exactly the kind of girl who might be fascinated by Gothic novels because they represent the exotic and adventure. As Mr. Tilney tells her, she’s more likely to judge people based on her own good intentions and positive motivations, leaving her unable to understand or sniff out malice or even a lack of candor.

Mr. Tilney is an interesting character who is quite clever and observant. He’s not my favorite Austen leading man because his relationship with Catherine never feels quite as equal as Emma’s and Knightley’s for example or Lizzie’s and Darcy’s. However, he does his best to try and teach Catherine about herself and the world.

Northanger Abbey itself is a particularly intriguing setting for Austen. She often uses great houses as her settings (all of her heroines, no matter their sometimes precarious financial circumstances, live in what I would term a large house and have plenty of servants), but very few of them have the kind of historical weight or Gothic atmosphere that the Abbey does. But Austen does not allow the reader to bask in the romance of the setting, instead she focuses on the prosaic details. Even if Catherine doesn’t realize it at first, Northanger is nothing more than a big house, and is nothing to be in awe of or swoon over.

Catherine Morland wants to find adventures, and surely there is no better way to do so than uncovering secret letters and ancient mysteries. She’s caught spying around the house, of course, invading Mr. Tilney’s deceased mother’s rooms, but the most iconic episode of the book is her discovery of the lists. Catherine gets herself in a tizzy one stormy night and her eyes fall on a cabinet. She simply has to explore it, and she does while the wind howls. Conveniently, the key is in the cabinet, though it takes her several attempts to open the door. She searches every cranny (leaving the locked middle drawer for last)–remembering to check for false bottoms. Then she opens the last drawer and there at the back is a rolled up piece of paper. Before she can read a single word, her candle is promptly extinguished by the wind and she hops into bed, dropping the papers to the floor in her fright. She reads it in the morning, sure that it will contain all kinds of hidden secrets, and find that it contains…a few bills for the laundry and farrier. No episode could more clearly illustrate Austen’s feelings about Gothic novels. After being so scared, after building the episode in her mind up so much, there was nothing there but the trappings of economic privilege.

While Northanger Abbey is not my favorite Jane Austen novel, I think it’s a great one–especially to learn about Austen’s place in the literature of the era and to understand her opinions on novels. Although she’s often lumped together with the Bronte sisters, her goals in writing were very different. She presents herself in this first offering as a witty and independent mind whose goal is to reflect society back to itself, showing how the world has shaped the lives of the women living in it. Catherine may be one of her sillier protagonists, but she still shows the pressures of growing up into womanhood. If you haven’t read this one before, or you haven’t read it in a while, it may be time to pick this book up.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 of My Favorite Fictional Couples From Literature and Film

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I hope you are feeling the love today. Valentine’s Day has never been a really big deal to me. My fiance and I tend to do little things. He usually picks up flowers for me, usually some colorful daisies or pretty mums–something cheery–several days early so that I can enjoy them for a while. We like to go pick out chocolates at one of the places around town. Here in Boise our favorite spot to do that is Chocolat Bar, which makes the most amazing truffles. We also cook dinner together. It’s very mellow. Let me know if you have special plans for today in the comments!

Today’s topic is all about romance. So I thought I would share some of my favorite couples with you from literature and film. Here they are:

Literary Couples

  • Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma” I cannot make speeches, Emma. If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me. I have blamed you and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.”

Why they’re great: Knightley calls Emma out when she’s behaving selfishly and forces her to acknowledge what she’s doing. He’s also quick to praise when he approves, and he’s always acting on behalf of others. Emma meanwhile never just accepts Knightley’s opinions at face value and challenges him. This is a couple that will challenge each other to do good for other people. They have good communication established, and their relationship is founded on friendship and mutual respect.

  • Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter:  “Just because it’s taken you three years to notice, Ron, doesn’t mean no one else has spotted I’m a girl!”

Why they’re great: What makes Ron and Hermione good people is what helps to make them a good couple. Ron is loyal, brave, and true, while Hermione is strong, idealistic, and clever. Together they challenge each other. Ron tries to get Hermione to think outside the box and she helps bring him down to earth again. Even though they argue, their relationship is ultimately based on years of friendship that have been strengthened through the trials they’ve gone through together.

  • Arthur and Molly Weasley from Harry Potter“What do you like me to call you when we’re alone together?…Mollywobbles.”

Why they’re great: Arthur and Molly may not have much money, but that hasn’t interfered all that much with their relationship. Each is always concerned with the other’s welfare and takes their thoughts and feelings to heart. They don’t always agree or always understand each other’s position, but they are a united team.

  • Benedict and Beatrice from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing“I do love nothing in the world so well as you- is not that strange?”

Why they’re great: It takes them a while to figure out they’re the perfect couple, but it’s obvious to everyone else. No one can keep up with their wit and intelligence; they’re the best sparring partners. They keep each other on their toes. And in the end, Benedict is able to go beyond talking about his feelings and proves his love, challenging his dearest friend to a duel.

  • Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxanne from Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac“And what is a kiss, specifically? A pledge properly sealed, a promise seasoned to taste, a vow stamped with the immediacy of a lip, a rosy circle drawn around the verb ‘to love.’ A kiss is a message too intimate for the ear, infinity captured in the bee’s brief visit to a flower, secular communication with an aftertaste of heaven, the pulse rising from the heart to utter its name on a lover’s lip: ‘Forever.’”

Why they’re great: Roxanne longs to hear beautiful words and Cyrano longs to tell her them. Though I have to admit the fact that they’re cousins kind of weirds me out, their devotion and intelligence carries them through. The ending is tragic, but it’s so poignant.

Film Couples

  • Lucky Garnett and Penny Carroll in Swing Time“Listen. No one could teach you to dance in a million years. Take my advice and save your money!”

Why they’re great: They’re sometimes at cross purposes, but you know they’re going to get together, which means plenty of dancing and singing. I don’t know of a more wonderful couple than Fred and Ginger in whatever movie they did together. Astaire is full of grace and Rogers is full of fun and together they are amazing.

*I do think that as much as I really like this film I find the “bojangles” scene really racist and disturbing, and I think that’s really important to acknowledge. Even though it was the 1930s, and times were “different,” the caricature is prejudiced and unnecessary.*

  • Wesley and Buttercup in The Princess Bride“This is true love–you think this happens every day?”

Why they’re great: True love. Love deep enough and true enough to never be stopped by anything–not death, not distance, not time, not kings and queens and princes. Nothing.

  • Hubert Hawkins and Jean in The Court Jester: “The real king is on the throne, Jean is my very own, and life couldn’t possibly better be.”

Why they’re great: They’re relationship turns traditional gender roles on their head. Hawkins minds the child, the future King of England, and the Captain is off rallying new recruits, training, and leading them. She’s sharp and warm, he’s eager and funny. Together they show huge amounts of bravery and devotion, both to each other and their cause.

  • Don Lockwood and Cathy Seldon in Singin’ in the Rain: “You were meant for me/ and I was meant for you/ nature patterned you/ and when she was done/ you were all the sweet things/ rolled up in one”

Why they’re great: It may have started off in desperation (Lockwood fleeing from his over-eager fans), but it ends in love. Cathy’s talent, beauty, charisma, and good nature can’t help but win Don over and I think the same qualities are what let her put down her walls and fall for him.

  • Han Solo and Princess Leia in Star Wars“I love you. I know.”

Why they’re great: Both of them are strong characters in their own right, and together they make a pretty impressive pair. These rebels are meant to be together.

Top Ten Tuesday: 5 of My Least Favorite Historical Periods

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

Today’s topic is a freebie, so I thought I’d address a topic that I missed last year–my favorite historical periods to read and learn about. But it turned out to be very difficult to narrow these down, and I really like to read about almost everything. But these are the eras that I have a harder time reading, especially in historical fiction (but not including fantasy). Here they are in chronological order:

  • Classical era–Ancient Greece and Rome:

This is an interesting one for me–a really interesting time to read about in nonfiction contexts, but in fictional ones it becomes a little difficult. I think part of the problem is being so removed from the time frame. I can picture what somebody might speak like in the Renaissance or even the Middle Ages because we have the documentation, but with the separation of time and the language barrier, something about this fiction doesn’t quite ring true.

  • Middle Ages/Dark Ages

The problem with the dismantling of art and the limited spread of information during this period is that it’s all very…dark. On the whole, I find this era to be oppressive and brutish, at least in Europe. So much was lost during this time that would have to be rediscovered hundreds of years later. The extreme piety and religiosity of this time is also a little outside of my comfort zone.

  • War of the Roses

Don’t get me wrong–there are some very interesting moments before England descends into the hands of the Tudor family, but by and large I just don’t care about keeping it all straight.

  • World War I

The periods directly before and after this (the Belle Epoque/Victorian era on one hand and the Jazz age on the other) are some of my absolute favorites, but in general the movements of troops and armies is not all that fun for me, and combined with new advancements in warfare this war was absolutely brutal–so much suffering and loss of life.

  • Recent Past: 1970s-1990s

Suez Canal? Watergate? Gulf War? I just…don’t want to read about it. Now the early 70s are interesting enough, but let’s be real, as soon as the decade hit, Mad Men got weird, and everything got grimy and dirty. Not that history isn’t grimy–it’s just that the 1960s polished everything up and hid it under all that nice chrome and those pastel colors. I don’t know what it is–it just puts me to sleep.

 

Of course every time period has exceptions–especially when it’s fantasy we’re talking about. After all, most of Harry Potter is set in the 1980s, and Game of Thrones is Medieval with some War of the Roses inspiration. There are periods that I love that have produced books I hate and vice versa.

What are your least favorite time periods? Let me know in the comments. Also, if you have a book that you think will challenge my feelings about an era, let me know! I’d love to give it a try.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I’ve Read Recently that I Wasn’t Looking For But Glad I Found

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

I think that you find books at the right times to read them…or you don’t and you miss out on that book. Sometimes the book is the right one for you, and you can read it over and over again without it ever feeling stale. Sometimes you try to read it again, and the magic is gone. The books you find at the right time just by chance stick with you. Did someone in the know recommend it? Did you find it on a bookshelf while looking for something else? Where do you find books that you aren’t looking for?

These are some of my favorite books, even if they aren’t that great, even though they don’t do anything to help my TBR list. Sometimes it’s the right time to find a book that you weren’t looking for.

In addition, this list of books also only includes those that have fewer than 15,000 ratings on Goodreads.

In the “New Books” Section of the Library

Even when I tell myself that there should be a limit to the number of books I should be checking out, I always look over at the “new” section–just to see what’s there.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

About: A sort of Arabian Nights meets the digital world. Alif is the equivalent of a code   name, one he uses online where he protects anyone’s presence on the internet from the eyes of the Hand for a price. When weird things start to happen, Alif is shown an entirely new world that he never could have believed to exist, one that is far from virtual.

Verdict: This was a really fun read that I probably never would have come across if I had stuck to my reading schedule. It had really interesting things to say about technology, magic, and censorship–not to mention religion and government.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

About: This book is about Truman Capote through the eyes of the society women he captivated and later betrayed. The story is told through the women’s perspective and paints an interesting portrait of both society in question and of the writer.

Verdict: I read this book before In Cold Blood, and it actually gave me the determination I needed to start what I thought would be a pretty daunting venture (it really wasn’t, but I’m glad I was able to get into the book and see that). If you don’t like to read about wealthy women, you probably won’t enjoy this, but the characters, for all their privilege, are extremely vulnerable and interesting.

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

About: An eccentric young boy with a reclusive authoress as his mother and a nanny who’s been sent by the publisher to give his mother time to write. The book follows the nanny’s perspective (who in her regular job isn’t a nanny at all), her frustrations and trials as she deals with a child who dresses like he’s 30 years old in the 1930’s, knows everything there is to know about his favorite old movies, and doesn’t like his things being touched.

Verdict: This book is all about personalities, the most captivating one being Frank’s. This woman loves this family that doesn’t really accept her into it, at least not right away. I found this book to be charming. The plot moves slowly, but plot isn’t really the point here.

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

About: The last living descendant of the Bronte sisters enters a venerable old British institution. She’s told everyone that there’s no mystery fortune that’s been passed down from the Brontes, though the press refuses to believe it. But when she starts to receive copies of the Bronte’s books–books that should have been burnt in her father’s library years ago when it caught fire–she thinks maybe someone is trying to tell her something different.

Verdict: A modern, and only slightly gothic, romance/mystery that fits into the Bronte tradition. For anyone who likes Austen or the Bronte sisters.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

About: A classic trying-to-have-it-all story about a mother who thinks she can make everything balance until life starts getting crazy.

Verdict: This is a great beach/vacation/cozy time read. It’s not all that serious or difficult, and you could be finished with it in a couple sittings.

 

Found Wandering the Library

There are times when I’ll just wander through the shelves and see what strikes me. Some of these were found in specific sections (graphic novels are great for browsing, since there’s usually a limited number of them).

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

About: The book moves backward in time and follows the lives of two ex-pat families living in the Mediterranean. It’s sort of a Romeo and Juliet story with an olive grove twist.

Verdict: I’d seen this book many times at one of the bookstores I frequented in college. It always caught my eye, but I never bought it (mainly because I don’t usually buy books randomly). When I saw it on the shelf, I knew it was time. It wasn’t one of my favorites. I liked the time flow and loved the setting, but on the whole I found the characters difficult to either root for or summon much dislike for (with some exceptions). I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, but it was really a 3.5 I rounded up.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

About: The story/alternative history of the first computer.

Verdict: As I’ve mentioned before, this was one of my favorite books of the year, and I only found it by browsing the shelves.

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

About: One woman’s journey with her favorite book throughout her life. It’s part memoir and part literary criticism.

Verdict: Since I read Middlemarch the year before, it was definitely the right time to read this book, which turned out to be interesting and well-written and researched. Reading books like this is a holdover from my college days, and I always enjoy bringing new perspectives to a text.

 

Staff Picks at the Library

I gave this it’s own section because it’s more like getting a book recommendation rather than just strolling along a shelf.

James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner by Alfonso Zapico

About: The life of James Joyce in graphic novel form.

Verdict: A really great biography of a complicated man. Translated from Spanish.

 

Mom’s Recommendation

There actually would be more books in this section if I had been more dedicated to reading at the end of the year. My mom and I share books back and forth a lot, and she is really good at picking things out for me and vice versa.

Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones

About: An archaeologist hires a translator in China to help him in his quest for dig approval. (There’s no connection to the Bill Murray film just in case you were wondering)

Verdict: This book was so good! If you like archaeology and romance and a little history thrown in I think you should give this book a try. The characters are really interesting and the writing is atmospheric and sensual.

 

Reading is all about discovery. What have you “discovered” lately?

 

 

 

Changing the Blog Name

If you look up at the top of your screen, you’ll notice that the name of the blog is no longer “Aliza Shandel” but instead “Ink & Reel.” I’m not going to be changing the domain name yet (I’ll give a heads up before that happens), but I thought it would be nice to get a feel for this new name.

When I started this blog, I wanted the name to be much more general so that I could talk about whatever I wanted. But now that I’m farther into blogging, I’d like to make a step in a more specific direction.

Thanks for reading!

-Allison