Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

Texts From Jane Eyre is another very witty and clever book that I highly recommend for a change of pace and a good laugh. The book is comprised of short “screenshots” of text conversations between some of literature’s most memorable characters and authors, including Jane Eyre (hence the title), some done in a modern style and some retaining their classic voices.

Because it’s such a short book and again, I don’t want to spoil it for you, here are just a few classic characters you will “chat” with:

  • Circe:
    • “where did the pigs come from Circe?”
    • “i don’t know, a pig farm, a pig mommy and a pig daddy who loved each other very much…”
  • Jane Eyre:
    • “I KNEW IT. DID YOU LEAVE BECAUSE OF MY ATTIC WIFE IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT”
    • “yes. Absolutely.”
  • Hamlet:
    • “darling i don’t mean to criticize but you really hurt your father’s feelings last night”
    • “hes not my real dad. why do you even like him”
  • Nancy Drew:
    • “do you think you can come get me?”
    • “are you tied up again?”
    • “i’m just over at the cave by the old mill”
    • “so you’re tied up…in a cave.”

If you giggled at any one (or all!) of these, then you’ll really enjoy the rest. It’s a perfect way to get to “connect” with some of your favorite literary characters in one place. It’s fast paced, light fare, and well worth checking out!

 

 

 

 

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Banned & Challenged Books Week

Hi Everyone! I’m blogging outside the box today because it is #BannedBooksWeek! I decided to do a little research on the honorary week, and suggest you check out the American Library Association (ALA) list of banned and challenged books!

I did so myself, and wasn’t surprised at what I saw on the banned books list- mostly books that were ahead of their time or had controversial points of view. As it is, some of these are still talked about in controversy! What did surprise me is that I read most of these novels between middle and high school ages- formative years. Each one has broadened my understanding of the time periods, taught me to see both sides of conflicts and resolutions, helped me sort where my moral values stand, and fueled my love for historical fiction!

Banned Classics:

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Ulysses, by James Joyce
1984, by George Orwell
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

Then we reach the challenged books. This list really surprised me. I know I read about a third of these before I even entered middle school, and I haven’t read any of these post high school graduation. To think of a child reading challenged books- *gasp*! Of course, when I skimmed through the entire selection of challenged books, I understand many of them had adult themes- sex, mostly, but also drugs, violence, strong language and other controversial content that would make any movie “Rated R”. But some of these on my list- Junie B. Jones, REALLY?!- were shocking.

Challenged 1990-2009:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine

The Witches, by Roald Dahl

Blubber, by Judy Blume

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

Carrie, by Stephen King

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

 

So there you have it- I’m completely guilty of reading these books, and I’m thankful that I’ve had the freedom- AND HAVE BEEN ENCOURAGED- to read them all. I think that reading has helped me become the mature, well-rounded, educated woman that I am, and every book has allowed me to open my mind, experience life through someone else, and ingrained the moral of the stories into my body. I’ll always carry a bit of Scout, Scarlett, Ponyboy , Harry and the trio, Tom and Huck, and Gatsby and Daisy… all of them along within me. And, above all, I encourage others to do the same- to learn from these characters, to express their thoughts and ideas, and to keep their minds open.

Now, it’s your turn! Feel free to share what banned books you’ve read!

 

 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

As always, Jodi Picoult knows how to write a page turner, complete with uncomfortable controversy that squarely reflects current affairs. Small Great Things, published last year (2016), is her latest heavy-hitter, this time tackling the subject of race, privilege, and prejudice.

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse of twenty years, single mother of a straight-A student, and a well-educated, hard-working woman. Her mother, a domestic to a wealthy television personality’s family, gave her every opportunity she could to further Ruth’s education and independence. When Ruth found out she was pregnant while her husband was overseas fighting in the war on Afghanistan, she was determined to give her child the same opportunities to be successful and then some- anything to help overcome the imminent obstacles from being Black.

Turk Bauer is a new father to baby Davis, husband of Brittany, and son-in-law to infamous white supremacist Francis Mitchum. His childhood was rocky, to say the least. His father left the family when Turk was young, his brother was killed in a car accident, and his mother drank herself into a stupor that eventually left her dead. Lost and angry, Turk befriends followers of the Mitchums, learns the ways of white supremacists, and eventually marries into the Mitchum family. At the hospital with new baby Davis, the last thing Turk wants to see is nurse Ruth coming into the hospital room, examining his child and wife. As soon as she’s done, Davis’ file is slapped with a Post-it:

“NO AFRICAN-AMERICAN PERSONNEL TO CARE FOR THIS PATIENT.”

When baby Davis goes into cardiac arrest with only Ruth available to help, Ruth has to decide- disobey orders to try to save the baby’s life, or watch on as he’s unable to breathe and do nothing.

Following a typical Picoult plot, the situation plays out in court and the reader gets to see every facet of the argument with points of view from all the characters involved. I have always loved this about Picoult’s books, because she easily allows the reader to slip into the first person narrative from one character to the next. Reading from Ruth’s point of view, I find myself cringing at the blasé comments from Ruth’s white coworkers, and near tears when she is arrested maliciously in the middle of the night. Despite all that she has done to blend in, she still sticks out. She unknowingly surrounded herself with people in denial, not acceptance, of her color. When reading from Turk’s point of view, I absolutely despised him, even when I found that I was pitying him. His childhood was terrible, the situation with his son was terrible… but his anger and strife fueled hate, and he never sought to rise above, only to get even.

Throughout the novel, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable. I’m white, privileged, and one of those people who don’t like to ruffle feathers (so to speak), but I’m aware of the facts that others don’t have the same privileges I do because of the color of their skin. Yet, I haven’t gotten the courage to stand up against it- I’ve sat back and kept quiet in fear of sounding ignorant, naive, or racist, and that’s just as bad as encouraging it. Reading novels like this (or like this http://bit.ly/2voDbia ), makes me check my white privilege, and gives me the determination to discuss these issues, even when it makes me uncomfortable. As Picoult mentioned in her Author’s Note:

“Why was writing about a person of color any different? Because race is different. Racism is different. It’s fraught, and it’s hard to discuss, and so as a result we often don’t.”

These days, it’s easy enough to go on any social media outlet and find heated discussions on racism, but to actually discuss racism from an educational standpoint, without personal or political bias, is difficult. I applaud Picoult for encouraging these discussions in a thought-provoking manner, for writing this book, for helping others open their eyes and truly see color, rather than ignore it.

Small Great Things is absolutely a must read, and another that belongs on your bookshelves.

 

Root, Petal, Thorn by Ella Joy Olsen

“I was the model of efficiency…by taking advantage of the greatest invention since bacon…audio-books.”

First off, this quote was my favorite part of the whole book. How spot on is that statement?!

Anyways, lets jump right in.

Ivy Baygreen is a recently widowed woman with two teens and a century old house. Prior to his sudden death, her late husband Adam had made plans to renovate and refurbish the old home to bring back it’s old charm and character. Now surrounded by the half-finished projects and memories of Adam, Ivy knows she needs something to pull her out of her grief. Her brother, Stephen, suggests making a list and sticking to it, so Ivy creates six steps, including finishing the house projects Adam started. As Ivy starts tackling these projects, she ends up finding “easter eggs” from the house’s past owners. Curious to learn about her beloved home’s past, Ivy finds that her heart wasn’t the first broken in the home.

Going back through the years, the reader is introduced to the home’s first owners, the Lansings. Sisters Emmeline and Cora are new to the Sugar House, UT area. Bringing along few posessions, including a rose bush, the sisters learn to love their new home and a few local young men. From there, we meet Bitsy, Cora’s daughter, who watches her father stuggle to keep the house as the Great Depression hits. After some time, Eris Gianopolous and her Greek family come to owning the home. We watch Eris and her husband update the home as well, Eris’s own form of therapy while she awaits her son’s return from Japan during World War II. Then during the 1960’s, we meet Lainey Harper, the most recent occupant of the Downington Avenue home. Struggling manic-depressive disorder, Lainey is desperate to be a good mother to her daughter Sylvie.

As all the ghost’s of the house come to surface, Ivy learns that “there is a little sad in every story”.

Personally, I liked the idea of this book more that the book itself. I liked the concept of the common plot line where the main character discovers something historical in the attic and connects it with the present, so the reader gets a historical flashback. However, while reading, the entries from the past are rather scattered, in my opinion. I think that would’ve made the climaxes to each storyline have a stronger impact if they had been in a more consistent order. Also, the same goes for the “chapters” being separated by character- I like that style, but there wasn’t a real order to the characters as their stories intertwined. Overall though, once you have all the storylines figured out at the end of the book, the parallels of love and strife come together nicely between all the characters.

All in all, it’s not a ‘keeper’ for the bookshelves, but it wasn’t a bad read. As someone who has recently bought a house, I can definitely relate to the ‘home renovation as therapy’ theme.

 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Another recommendation from my friend from the stacks at the local public library.

The Nightingale took me a little time to get hooked on the story- it starts off rather slow (in my opinion). We are introduced to an unnamed elderly (but not old, as she would put it) lady who is reflecting on her life, and she eventually winds her way up to the attic and pulls out a memory box. Within the box, she finds documents dating back to World War II- specifically, identification papers of a Juliette Gervaise.

Trapped in the memory, the reader is taken back to France, 1939. We are introduced to Vianne Mauriac, a school teacher, mother, wife. On a perfectly normal day, she learns that her husband, Antoine, is being drafted to fight for France against the Germans. She is upset but permissive, believing that the talk of war is exaggerated and that he would be returning home soon. Imagining life without Antoine by her side was too much to think about for Vianne- after all, he had been there for as long as she could remember, certainly longer than her father had. Dealing with her own abandonment issues was Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle Rossignol. Rebelling against the traditional French-woman behavior, Isabelle ran away to home far too often, causing her to be expelled from many boarding schools. After the death of her mother, her father had abandoned them by dumping them at a boarding school. Where Vianne found Antoine and befriended a girl named Rachel, Isabelle was left behind, the forgotten little sister. Now as a rebellious young adult, Isabelle is running for another reason- to survive the storm of Germans coming to occupy Paris.

As the start of the war happens, Vianne and Isabelle can’t let go of the hurt from their past. With varying views on the German occupation, Isabelle decides to join the war effort by secretly aiding the Allies, and Vianne takes a more passive route, complying with billeting soldiers in her home and abiding the German command. As the war wages on, the two seem to lead separate lives. Vianne attempts to stay her ground, doing her best to protect her daughter Sophie from the damages of war, and her neighbors when she can, all the while trying to maintain hope that the war will end soon. Meanwhile, Isabelle is running risky operations to save downed Ally airmen, a crime punishable by death, under the noses of commanding German officers. It is only when their two worlds collide again that the sisters begin to realize that they must put aside their past and hope to have a chance at a future.

Hannah took about 100 pages to get me hooked, but when she did, the hook went straight to my heart. As you all know, I have a weakness for historical fiction, and in particular those surrounding WWII. My great-grandfather was a volunteer of the Red Cross and helped liberate concentration camps in Germany in 1944-1945. We found photos that he took during that time after he passed away… and they will haunt me forever. So when I read these fictional stories, I know there is a very similar non-fictional story out there. A biography, even. And it makes me incredibly hurt and amazed that mankind would do such horrible things to each other, and yet people survived, had a will to survive….

I  also wanted to note that while somewhere in the middle of this book, I kept thinking about another novel, Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, about WWII from the French perspective. I kept mentally comparing the two, and for about 100 pages, I kept thinking that de Rosnay’s was a more gripping read… and then Hannah’s hook got into me. What I found most interesting was that de Rosnay actually worked with Hannah on this novel, a few years after her own came out. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do so, and if you haven’t read The Nightingale, the same goes for it. Just be ready to grab a box of tissues.

Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach

I’ve been wanting to read Wild Ride for almost four years now. Maybe three months after I moved to Lexington, a friend and coworker was reading it and said it was really good. Fast forward four years, and I finally got the chance to read it, and I honestly think that I wouldn’t have appreciated the book as much as I do now.

See, being in the Bluegrass has really broadened my Thoroughbred knowledge, and I’ve gained a deeper respect for the industry in the area. Despite what you read in the media- because there is always a dark side of each industry- it is truly regarded as the Sport of Kings for good reason. Generations of families taking the chance on the next superstar, and pouring hours, years, lifetimes of dedication (and money) into their horses. Not only have I gained a deeper understanding of the industry, but I’ve also learned my way around (for the most part) Lexington and the surrounding area. I haven’t gone full local (because I still can’t stop acting like a tourist or shake my New England accent), but while reading Wild Ride, I could easily picture the locations mentioned, or the events occurring.

The byline of Wild Ride is “The Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty”, but Auerbach doesn’t just rehash the demise- she delves into the history of Calumet from the very origins of it’s founder, William Monroe Wright.

The reader learns about the self-made businessman who eventually decided to move from Chicago to the Bluegrass and start his own harness horse breeding operation. From there, his son Warren takes over the family operation, despite being at odds with the way his father ran the place. He converts what becomes Calumet Farm into a thoroughbred operation, and an empire is born. Though strong in business practice, the younger Wright had a lot of horsemanship skills to learn, but his progress turned out derby winners and two Triple Crown winners. Unfortunately, his health took a turn for the worse, and when he passed on, his wife and son became benefactors of his estate, and his wife Lucille inherited the farm, along with gigantic sums of money.

Lucille decides to keep the farm, and in doing so blossoms into one of the social elite. She meets Gene Markey and remarries, and the Markeys, adding a touch of glamour that the Wright men did not achieve, take Calumet to up the social ladder. While Lucille enjoyed being  Lady of Calumet, her son Warren Jr. was moved to the wayside. He didn’t care for the farm life, and had many peculiarities that made him difficult to work with. On top of that, there was some discrepancies about him being the legitimate son of Warren Wright Sr. Lucille did very little to defend her son because he was seen as an embarrassment in her circle. This feud caused much heartache for his wife and four children, and eventually the Wright family became estranged to the Markey family, most so after Warren Jr. succumbs to an early death.

Knowing fully about the family feud, Warren Jr.’s eldest daughter, Cindy, marries a man named J.T. Lundy. Determined to run Calumet, he pressures and fights with Lucille to run the farm. Lucille and Lundy stubbornly spar, neither one giving up, until Lucille’s age catches up to her. Through the will of Warren Sr., the farm is finally turned over the Wright children, and because of their disinterest in the farm due to all the past heartache, Lundy takes over in care of the Wrights. From here, as secretary Margaret Glass notes, Armageddon begins with the fall of Calumet.

If you live in the area, you can still drive past the farm, and see for yourself the images that Auerbach describes- the white double fencing, the devils-red trim on white washed barns, the acres of famous Kentucky bluegrass dotted with horses. But the Calumet you see isn’t the dynasty that existed prior to 1990, and reading about the fall brought chills to my spine.

If you’re a horse junky like me, or interested in historical novels (Kentucky history in particular), horse racing and breeding, or crime novels, Wild Ride is a must read.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

“She gave me a complicated smile. “You’ve heard the joke, haven’t you? Are you married or do you live in Kenya?“”

When my book-loving coworker suggested I read this novel, it didn’t take me long to reserve it at the library, nor did it take me long to read it. 350 pages, each one full of a romantic view of life in the 1920’s British East Africa as experienced by Beryl Clutterbuck. Though a fictional novel, Clutterbuck, who becomes Markham after her second marriage, is actually a nonfictional character, as well as the others described in the novel. When I finished reading, I couldn’t stop myself from doing some more historical research, trying to piece together the timeline and get better images of the people involved. I love when a book does that to me- inspires me to learn more.

Anyways, we are introduced to Beryl as a young girl living with her family in colonial Kenya. Her father is running a horse farm as a trainer and breeder of racing thoroughbreds, and Beryl wants to follow in his footsteps. When her mother and brother leave to return to England, she decides Kenya is her home, and she wants to stay with her father on the farm. As she reaches her teen years, she rebels against her father’s wishes to become a more suitable woman by taunting her new governess and running away from boarding school. She isn’t interested in becoming the expected civilized housewife. Growing up in the bush, she’s followed her best friend Kibii step for step as he learned from his tribe how to be a warrior. Matching his courage and skills, Beryl knows she can take on any man’s job with determination and hard work, and succeed. However, when she reaches the age of sixteen, the tables are turned when she learns her father’s business has gone bankrupt, and he must sell the farm and train at another stable, leaving Beryl to decide if she should stay on the farm, go work for her father, or become a wife.

She decides to marry Jock, a man who just moved to the colony near her father’s farm. The merge leaves Beryl with her father’s horses, but also with a loveless relationship. When it becomes obvious that the marriage isn’t going to work out, Beryl decides to separate from Jock to go work as a trainer on her friend and mentor’s farm. A turning point for Beryl, she becomes the first English licensed female horse trainer (at least in Kenya, maybe the world). As her reputation builds for her training, she also gains a reputation for being a nontraditional wife, if you catch my drift. Despite her successes at the racetrack, her personal life causes her difficulties in keeping clients. After some time, she requests a divorce from her husband. He isn’t willing to grant the divorce because he doesn’t want to be seen as a man who can’t control his wife, nor take a hit to his reputation. They fight- him by drinking and getting into physical altercations, her by holding her ground and occasionally another man. As her relationship with Jock flames out, a new one with Denys Finch- Hatton fires up.

While reading, not only does the personal drama keep things interesting, but the romance of living in such wild country in Africa draws you in. I loved imagining the red clay, the safari trips, the rain season, the flamingo flocks near where Beryl exercised her horses… all the imagery was lovely, even in terrifying moments. Because of McLain’s wordsmithery, I was living right with Beryl in the environment that she loved so much.

With so much depth and strength to the characters, the setting, and the overall complexity of human relationships, I’d recommend it to anyone, and especially for those with the additional interest in the female empowerment and equality. I’m amazed at what barriers Beryl broke back in the 1920/1930s, of how much has changed since pioneers like her broke traditional female roles, and of how we are still pushing to get through the glass ceiling today. “Circling the Sun” is a must read.