Tag Archives: literature

Digging Deeper or Branching Out: What Are You Reading?

So I used to be unable to say who my favorite author was. To be honest, I still don’t know that I’d have a straight answer. But my main issue was this: I rarely read more than one book by the same issue.

What? How could that be?

I guess my problem is I’m always so eager for new and different content that I tend to just run to another author instead of checking the library catalogue to see what else that single author has written.

But in the last two years I’ve finished all the novels by two different women. And it made me start to think more about this reading dilemma. Is it better to branch out to new things, or to dig deeper into an author’s works to get a better understanding?

My college required us to take two “advanced studies” literature classes. These involved honing in on an author of my professor’s choosing. For my British literature professor it was C.S. Lewis. For my American one it was a slightly less well known historical fiction author named Denise Giardina.

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The thing was, I’d not only never had the chance to really dig deep into an author’s works on my own time, but I had never done it in a class either. Most of my professors had us read a dozen texts over a semester, spending a maximum of a week with each author. So to have the time to really sink into someone’s works and study them was incredible.

It gave a better feeling of the author as a whole. We noticed Lewis’s incredible metaphors, his regular and saddening misogyny, his clear influence from George MacDonald, Tolkien, and others. With Giardina we noted her themes of universal salvation, the regular brokenness between fathers and children, the continual concern for the earth and the animals.

Recently I finished reading all of Rainbow Rowell’s novels (though not her short stories yet). I’m not trying to put her on the same level as my literature classes. But I do really enjoy her works. And it was very wonderful to think by the end how much more I noticed repetition and variation between the books. Even with a teen fiction writer like Rowell, I think reading more than one book of hers has made me better away of her writing. Her simple yet humorous style. Her concern for body positivity. Her regular theme of choices and how those affect us.

The reality is I think we need to do a little of both. There are some people who just sit and read one author’s works, or maybe a couple they  rotate through. And then there are others who never touch the same author twice.

I think it’s good to have a mix. Have authors you can delve a little deeper into and understand more about their writing individually. And have other books that are a little more out of the blue. I think nothing is more important for a reader, and especially for a writer, than to absorb a variety, but maybe not at the cost of losing any sense of roots.

Do you stick with one author? Do you branch out? Do you have any authors you’ve read multiple works by? Have you ever taken a class devoted to just one writer? Any other thoughts are great too, but there are a few to get you started!

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Reading Challenge 19: A Book You Were Supposed to Read in School but Didn’t

As an English major, I’m going to go ahead and be honest about how many reading assignments I skipped… none.

All right, so that seems a little fishy most likely, so I’ll go ahead and clarify that I did skip some poetry readings, journal articles, or literary criticism articles (I don’t remember which ones), and I definitely was guilty of doing some serious skimming at times. But I have always loved reading, and I usually didn’t have too much of a problem finishing up what was required of me, even if I didn’t read it as well as I should have.

So instead of selecting a book I was assigned and never read, I went with selecting a commonly read classic that is often assigned in school. I had several choices for this, there are lots of lists of canon high school reads (see for example this Goodreads one of which I’ve read 45). But I finally settled on one my father suggested, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

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This book tells the story of two men looking for work in California while they dream of a better future on a farm of their own. Lennie is strong but utterly simple, he relies on George to direct their path, which George tries his best to do while dealing with the problems that Lennie has created in the past. Together they find work on a ranch, but even with their hopes of a better life ahead, there are still many obstacles in their way.

I started this book having only experienced Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, which I read in high school. I remembered not really caring for the book overall, but that was likely just my youth speaking, and I’d have to read it again to remember better. So, I went into reading Of Mice and Men thinking I’d probably hate it, only grateful it was short.

I’ve never been so wrong in my life.

This book has quickly become one of my favorites of all time. It’s short, true, but it’s incredibly poignant, and the story is simply incredible and touching. I nearly teared up sitting in the dentist waiting room with this one, which was more than a bit embarrassing. I fell in love with simple, naive Lenny and sympathized with George’s concerns for their future. And of course, I loved that it was an easy and uncomplicated read after finishing off Tender is the Night. This is definitely a book I’d encourage everyone to try. I think it has a beautiful story that should be shared with the world.

How often did you skip reading material required in school? What “classics” have you not managed to read? How would you choose to fulfill this challenge?

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Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Previous Posts:

1. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Solely for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published this Year

7. A Book by an Author You Love

9. A Book with a Color in the Title

10. A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

11. A Book You Started but Never Finished

12. A Book with a Lion, a Witch, or a Wardrobe

14. A Book Set in Summer

15. A Book of Poems

16. A Book You Learned About Because of this Challenge

17. A Book that Will Make You Smarter

20. A Book EVERYONE but You Has Read

21. A Book with a Great First Line

22. A Book with Pictures

24. A Book You Loved…Read it Again!

26. A Book Based on a True Story

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Reading Challenge 14: A Book Set in the Summer

You’ve heard of Christmas in July, right? So here’s my version with a summer book in the winter! I suppose if I’d started the challenge in January, and followed it chronologically this book would have lined up nicely with summer time, but due to how I decided to skip around this has ended up being one of my December reads.

The problem with this challenge, is that if you look at a list of books set in summer…they tend to largely be…well…lesser quality works. No judgement to those of you who like paperback romance novels, but they’re really not my cup of tea. So setting into this challenge, was definitely a challenge for me to find something that’s less of a beach novel and more of a literary one.

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A snip of the Goodreads set in summer list

I found Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald listed somewhere on the internet on a list of books set in summer. My other two choices were A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (but I took one look at the size of that volume and was thoroughly done with the idea) and Atonement by Ian McEwan which still remains on my reading list. However, I was curious to try out another Fitzgerald novel, so I decided to give this one a go.

Tender is the Night follows the story of the Divers, a psychologist and his mental patient who have married and are living a sort of extravagant life in Europe. A young American starlet named Rosemary becomes involved with the couple one summer, traveling with them and quickly becomes immersed in their troubled marriage.

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That’s about all that can be fit in a nutshell without becoming too complicated. The main thing I’d like to say in my own review of this book is that I think any naive reader like myself needs to be aware of how foolish it is to align this book with The Great Gatsby. While this book still maintains Fitzgerald’s poetic prose and fantastic characters, it is in every way its own story and deserves its own analysis without the bias of Gatsby in the background. However, I went in with this tainted view, and for that reason I think I cannot love this book as much as I would like to.

The book is more difficult to follow than Gatsby. It has a tricky sort of flashback structure that can be a little confusing. I will definitely admit I glanced over Sparknotes to make sure I hadn’t missed too many major details. I really wish I’d given more time to reading this book, because I think that would have helped me understand it more. I also feel like it lacks the cohesiveness of Gatsby’s plot. It is more drawn out, and I kept waiting for some surprising turn that never truly came.

However, to me the Divers are truly fascinating characters. Rosemary is a bit dull, but I think the main couple makes up for her by being so compelling in terms of their problems. Nicole in particular just had me riveted to the story with her horrible background and all of her terrible mental problems. I think the dynamic between her and Dick is quite interesting and really redeemed the novel for me in terms of feeling like it let me down after Gatsby.

There are many positives about this book, and the main one for me was that it was a summer novel that still had a story of love and betrayal while being something of a challenge to consume, which was exactly what I wanted to fit this challenge.

How do you feel about a typical “summer book”? Does your reading list change during the summer at all? Have you ever judged a book by its author’s past works instead of its own merits? Always love hearing from my readers!

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Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

Previous Posts:

1. A Book You Own But Haven’t Read

2. A Book that was Made into a Movie

3. A Book You Pick Solely for the Cover

4. A Book Your Friend Loves

5. A Book Published this Year

7. A Book by an Author You Love

9. A Book with a Color in the Title

10. A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

11. A Book You Started but Never Finished

12. A Book with a Lion, a Witch, or a Wardrobe

15. A Book of Poems

16. A Book You Learned About Because of this Challenge

17. A Book that Will Make You Smarter

20. A Book EVERYONE but You Has Read

21. A Book with a Great First Line

22. A Book with Pictures

24. A Book You Loved…Read it Again!

26. A Book Based on a True Story

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How Being an English Major Ruined my Life

Oh don’t worry. This won’t be a post about some literature student starving on the streets because she chose to major in an unusable subject with little career success. We’ll save that for when I graduate, alright?

No, this is going to be a post about how studying literature has made it impossible for me to see the world the same way. Because while we might see literary critical lenses as a pair of glasses to slide on and off, they’ve really become more like permanent eye surgery.

My Literary Foundation of Women’s Studies class so far has been the best example of how being an English major can be difficult for me at times.

I went into the class excited to learn more about a feminist literary perspective. I identify myself as a feminist, but am still learning a lot about the history and other important elements. So I was looking forward to taking a class solely from that viewpoint. My excitement grew when I noticed that one of my favorite novels of all time was on the reading list: Jane Eyre.

I had always been told this book was an example of early feminist literature. I mean Charlotte Brontë was an early female writer, and how impressive is that? So I assumed we’d be looking at it from that perspective. Reading and saying “Wow this was so progressive for her time!” was what I had pictured. I was startled to instead find myself in the realm of criticism and skepticism; fellow female classmates shook their heads at the end and said they were unsatisfied with how things had turned out. Even my professor, who I had initially thought liked the book, seemed to be showing some disdain for certain elements. And our next book on the reading list didn’t help matters.

Continue reading

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Faces Behind the Pages

It’s easy to see books as just paper and ink. Sometimes I suppose that makes us a bit overly critical of them. Because tearing apart these two substances can’t really hurt can it?

I’m taking a class on controversial topics right now; it’s a required class to graduate form my college. Being forced to take a class is never fun. And reading a text that you are forced to is equally unenjoyable at times. So it is with the book we were asked to read for class, it shall remain unmentioned as I wish to avoid biasing anyone towards it.

I tried to go in with an open mind. But I’ll face up to the fact that I can be a pretty opinionated and judgmental person sometimes, especially when I set my mind to it. Being an English major also never helps when trying to go into a book with openness as the key approach. Continue reading

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Reader Confessions Pt 2

One of my most popular posts is my Confessions of a Reader, where I delved into what issues I needed to get off my chest about how I read. But I have a few more I suppose I should talk about today because the truth is…I haven’t been much of a reader in the last few months. And so I shall regale you with my woeful tale of how I have strayed from the goodness of literature in a tale of my seven recent deadly sins of reading.

Sin #1: I started off the year great! With tons of free time before I left to study abroad I had a ridiculous goal to read a book every day! I read nine…and slowly started drifting further and further away from my goal. Soon it was a book every three days. Then one a week. And by the time I was off on study abroad I’d almost completely forgotten what I’d set out to accomplish. Summary: I set too lofty of goals, as I often do, and quickly fell short only to give up rather than choosing to revise my previous goal.

Sin #2: Studying abroad was fun of course, but it gave me a good excuse not to read. Because reading in English would completely distract me from learning French, right? And reading French is much too hard! I brought a total of one book with me. Figured I could read some ebooks on my iphone if I got truly bored. I read the one book, picked one lame free ebook and started trying to read Sherlock Holmes. And yet, without classes to get me reading literature, or a goal of some kind, I slowly slipped away from the world of reading and wasted my life on the internet instead. Summary: I allowed slothful behavior to dictate my life in the name of becoming better at French (and yet spent plenty of time on English using internet pages) and was too lazy to try reading more French books in the name of frugality and avoiding feeling overwhelmed.

Sin #3: I read one French book for my class as part of a project. I showed my professor my choice (recommended by my host mom) and she told me it was too hard. Stubbornness kicked in and I read it anyways…or rather did my best struggling all the while before reading summaries to improve my meager understanding. Summary:  Rather than taking the advice of my professor, I chose to pursue the book and in doing so over-challenged myself to an extent where I had to rely on Sparknotes rather than truly delving into the literature.

Sin #4: I picked up a few paperback books for my trip home, figured I should try to get back into reading. Should be easy right? Wrong! I had to force myself to finish most every book I had other than The Marriage Plot (a fantastic read if anyone wants a recommendation). And I did so in the name of reading. Summary: Should reading be forced? Maybe after a study abroad where I’d done none. But this will follow into sin 5.

Sin #5: I came home and read one book this summer. ONE! It was a good book, but I look over my reading list and am shocked to see the horrible results of where my sloth led. The main reason I failed is because, like with my trip home, I was trying to force myself to read what I really didn’t want to. Classics. I love good classic literature, but the problem is when it comes between playing games on the internet, or reading a book that takes time and concentration- internet wins out every time. Summary: I failed to choose books I actually really wanted to read after several months of reading nothing. This was an utter misunderstanding of how hard it would be to get back into the habit of picking up books. And thereby I did next to no reading this summer.

Sin #6: I assumed I could just jump back into school. Funny after spending months not doing any practice. But somehow I just assumed I could do it. If any professors are reading this, my apologies, but I definitely didn’t do a thorough reading of the first few weeks material. Even now it’s still a struggle sometimes. Even making myself read Jane Eyre again, my all time favorite book was hard! Summary: I may or may not have made good use of Sparknotes (after having read of course!) and definitely felt no joy reading any material for my classes the first weeks. Also, reading 150 Shakespearean sonnets after a semester of almost no reading is the worst punishment imaginable and I like Shakespeare.

Sin #7: I have begun reading Divergent series in an attempt to get back on track. Nothing wrong with reading some poorly written teen fiction of course, but the only reason I have started is because my computer is broken, and I’m left to using the school ones during the day. Hence, my start of these is simply for the fact that I am bored without internet and again not out of true love of what I have to read. Summary: If you take my computer, I’ll begin reading. Sad fact of life I suppose. I’m an internet addict who loses her reading skills due to the copious amounts of time she spends on it.

So those are my reading confessions to get off my chest and tell the world. Hoping to get back in and start working on improving my skills again, letting go of my laziness and embracing the joy of reading once more.

Anyone else want to get any confessions out there? I promise I won’t judge. Can’t really be cruel after displaying my own literary faults to the world.

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What is Love?

Please tell me you sung my title. Because if you didn’t I’m extremely disappointed. However, no, this won’t actually be a post about love. This is an English Major blog, and therefore it’s going to be more focused on A Midsummer Night’s Dream because I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on that play, and even more so on one of the central themes: what is the nature of love?

For any who haven’t seen/read the play, I’ll cue you in to the basic plot. But hey, there will be spoilers. So we start with Theseus who’s getting married. Like any Shakespeare play there are going to be a lot of characters, so hold onto your hats. Theseus, ruler of Athens, is helping Egeus settle a conflict with his daughter. Egeus wants his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius, but Hermia wants to marry Lysander instead. Even worse, Demetrius has already courted another girl named Helena, who is madly in love with him in spite of him not returning her affections anymore. Hermia is told she can marry Demetrius, die, or be a nun. Her choice. She and Lysander plan to run away that night, telling Helena of their plan, who in turn tells Demetrius hoping he’ll love her. Lysander and Hermia flee pursued by Demetrius who is pursued by Hermia. In the meantime, players try to create a play for Theseus’ wedding based on the Greek tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe. The lead actor Bottom is ridiculous (he comes into play later). In the meantime, the fairy king and queen (Oberon and Titania) are fighting. To get revenge Oberon anoints her eyes with a love potion and she falls for the actor Bottom who is mischievously transformed to have the head of a donkey, thus making him all the more repulsive. Seeing Helena’s plight, Oberon also instructs his servant to anoint Demetrius’ eyes to fall for Helen, but the servant instead anoints Lysander’s. At one point both men are spelled in love with Helena rather than Hermia. The couples end up fighting wildly and finally all is set right again. They marry, Bottom is transformed back and performs his terrible play. Happy endings all around.

But not quite. I suppose what troubled me most in my reading of this play was questioning what love really means, particularly in the context of Helena and Demetrius. And perhaps Shakespeare intended his audience to question such. Lysander tries to make love sound rational, and yet others describe Cupid as being blind, and Titania’s love at first sight for the hideous donkey-man is appalling.

However, it is in Helena and Demetrius that we perhaps most question the idea of love. While Lysander and Hermia are happy, Titania and Oberon reconcile their lover’s quarrels, and Theseus and Hippolyta seem to marry quite contentedly, Demetrius only does so under the effects of a spell in the same way that Titania fell for the awful and hideous Bottom.

Someone in my class today asked if we’re supposed to feel sorry for Demetrius. And I would answer yes. But perhaps that’s personal experience coming into the mix. I had a friend (who shall remain anonymous but nonetheless agreed to let me post this) who recently was in a bad relationship. Looking back she realized that she’d been emotionally abused, and that it hadn’t been healthy overall. And she still continues to struggle with that. When she attempted to leave the relationship she was threatened, though not in the means you might think. Rather she was told she was responsible for a potential suicide in the making and that was a shocking and horrifying thing for her. And yet there continued to be this idea of “love” that the relationship she’d been in was beautiful and close, in spite of how much damage it had done. Having to try to drop all contact and later finding herself stalked was scary. Talking with her I was reminded of Helena’s obsessive pursuit of Demetrius. Though he once claimed to love her, he’s moved on. And yet she can’t seem to take no for an answer, even when he seems to be positively vile to her. He threatens what we could take as rape, threatens to leave her in the wilds to death. And yet she still follows him acting as moonstruck as can be.

Is either of their behaviors love? Demetrius must be spelled to love her. And Helena refuses to leave no matter how much Demetrius pushes her away. Is it love to not give someone space? To threaten either to gain freedom or to keep a relationship going? To not respect someone’s wishes to be left alone? Helena verges on stalker status, Demetrius on vile spousal abuser. And I look at my friend who’s being stalked in the name of love and think, this isn’t love. This isn’t right.

I come from a Christian background, and you can think what you want about that, but it always brings me back to what 1st Corinthians says about love: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Before anyone gets onto me about being preachy, I’ll quickly say I have no quarrels with anyone having their own beliefs. But I suppose I’m just highlighting these are mine. And I want love to be something beautiful and freeing rather than the unnatural feeling of obsession.

I think in the end Shakespeare is just creating the real fact, that love is a mystery. He who married a woman far older than him, perhaps he questioned why that was, what had happened. Did he feel like Demetrius trapped because of his initial pursuit of her, a possible pregnancy in the making? Did he fall irrationally like Titania for bottom? Or did he come to love her gradually and reasonably like Lysander? It is hard to say. But these various contrasting couples, all concluded as Thisbe and Pyramus murder each other in the name of love, continues to call to question this strange force we claim to know so much about.

All I know is this, I will never consider the disgusting way Helena pursues an abusive man like Demetrius to be love. Stalking and refusing to leave someone alone is not love. Threatening someone is not love. Killing oneself over someone else, is not love. What is love? I can’t tell you. But I definitely know that as I read Shakespeare I have a very good idea of what it’s not.

Helena:

And even for that do I love you the more.
I am your spaniel. And, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you.
Use me but as your spaniel—spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me. Only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love—
And yet a place of high respect with me—
Than to be usèd as you use your dog?

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