Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Seventeen-year-old Lola is unique. Each day, she presents a different version of herself to the world--dressed as a strawberry, a space cowgirl, the embodiment of fire-- because she "doesn't believe in fashion. [She] believes in costume." Lola lives in San Francisco in one of those pastel cookie-cutter Victorian homes (that we of the 90s will always associate with Full House). And in the lavender Victorian next door, a boy with the unlikely--yet adorable--name of Cricket Bell moves in. Or rather, moves back in. Two years ago Lola was in love with Cricket. But he broke her heart and moved away. Now our be-wigged heroine must determine whether she will pursue a romance with Cricket or continue in her illegal relationship with Max, a 22-year-old bad influence. Even more than finding love, Lola realizes she must find herself. Does she wear costumes because she doesn't know who she is? Or is costume a true expression of herself?

The Boy Next Door of the title, Cricket is a 6'4" science whiz who also has a quirky sense of style. His pants are always too short for his lanky frame and he always has on colorful or patterned socks. Surprisingly, I find Cricket's style to be adorable. (This is unexpected because I normally prefer guys in flannel and camouflage.) Ah, Cricket. He swept me off of my feet the first time that Lola looks out her bedroom window to see him sitting in his own bedroom window, waiting to talk to her, just like the old days. Only feet away, long legs dangling with rubber-banded wrists on the sill. As in Anna and the French Kiss, Perkins again manifests one of my teenage fantasies in novel form. Did anyone else dream about finding love with the boy whose window looks into yours from the house next door? (In my case, this was a fictional boy, in a fictional window, in a fictional house. I didn't have much to go on.)

Lola and the Boy Next Door is the first companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss. Similar themes are presented in Lola that were also explored in Anna. Aside from the set-up of a love triangle, Lola, too, must learn to take risks and make the right decisions, all while undergoing the normal growing pains of teenagedom. Perkins writes a long road to happiness. Lola must become the best version of Lola she can be before she can begin a relationship with the boy she has loved since she was five. Anna and St. Clair pop up occasionally from Anna and the French Kiss to show how adorable they are and to provide a foil to Lola and Max's dysfunctional relationship. I didn't identify with Lola as much as I did with Anna. Anna was more relatable to me, whereas Lola was flamboyant and mercurial. But I loved the character development, the very realistic dialogue, and Cricket's heart-melting earnestness.

There's something about blue eyes. The kind of blue that startles you every time they're lifted in your direction. The kind of blue that makes you ache for them to look at you again. Not the blue-green or blue-grey, the blue that's just blue. Cricket has those eyes.

Grade: 3.5/5 stars. Great writing. The characters and dialogue feel so real.

Looking forward to the third companion novel, Isla and the Happily Ever After.

Wuthering Wednesday: Chapters 27-34

This concludes the Book Club of Two's November reread of Wuthering Heights. Head over to TheLibrarian's blog today to see her answers and LindszerWest's.

To catch up on all the juicy Book Club of Two Discussions:

Week One: Chapters 1-8
Week Two: Chapters 9-17
Week Three: Chapters 18-26

The Librarian Asks... and I answer:

1. We've oft discussed Nelly Dean. In this section of our read, Zillah, the housekeeper of the Heights, gives us her take on the role of a servant in a household: 

" was no concern of mine either to advise or complain, and I always refused to meddle." (329, Barnes and Noble Classic ed.)

Do you think Bronte is giving us her opinion of how Nelly Dean handles a household? And/or Why set Zillah up as a perfect opposite to our narrator Nelly?

I smiled when I came across this in the reading. To me, it seemed more evidence of Bronte's sense of humor than anything. She is making sure the reader knows that our Nelly has meddled in this story, and is offering Zillah's "proper servant behavior" as a contrast to Nelly's behavior.

1.5 Bonus Question: If it was you tending house on the Heights...Would you meddle, or not?

Since I am allergic to drama, I think I probably wouldn’t. Let the psychos go nuts by themselves. But maybe I’d do the occasional minor meddle, just to attempt to keep everyone from the fiery pits of hell: “Heathcliff, perhaps you should reconsider kidnapping this young woman. It’s not very neighborly of you.”

2. Looking at all of the couples in this book; after reading all of the crazy in this book...Do you still believe that Love redeems? Does it make up for the rest of their lives?

Love can't redeem by itself. Heathcliff is an excellent example of this. No one is doubting that he LOVED Catherine. Well, actually, come to think of it, I am going to doubt it right now: I think he idolized Catherine. He isn't capable of a pure love, which is (to quote 1 Corinthians 13) patient, kind, not easily angered, doesn't keep a record of wrongs, not envious--and here's the kicker--does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. And Heathcliff, if he does anything, rejoices with the evil! So maybe a pure love can redeem, but that's not what we see here.

3. Final answer...Reflect on your re-read of this classic...What changed? Notice something new? How do you currently feel about the Heights?

I still love it... I love it even more, now. I'm never bothered by reading about lunatics, psychos, and jerks. That's what's fun about reading. I'd never encounter people like this outside of the pages of a book (knock on wood!). The whole theme of REVENGE went over my head when I was 17. All I remembered were the proclamations of love and passion. But now, I'd say that more than anything, this is a story of revenge, not love.

I ask... and answer...

The moors play a major role. Could this book have taken place elsewhere? The South of France, Jamaica, the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania?

The moors are such a presence in the novel that they are practically a character. I don't think any other setting would capture the same melancholy, the same haunting effect of the moors. I'd love to go see the English moors. Just so long as I didn't see the ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff!

In Chapter 34 Nelly wonders if Heathcliff is not human after all, but a supernatural creature: "Is he a ghoul, or a vampire?" Do you think there is evidence in the text that Heathcliff may indeed be something other than human?

The legend of changelings came to my mind during the beginning of WH, when Mr. Earnshaw brings home the foundling Heathcliff. He definitely acts in ways that are something other than human, and the ambience of the moors and the superstitions of the locals could easily convince the reader that Heathcliff is a supernatural creature. But I think the fact that he is human is what makes his behavior so sinister. He should be susceptible to human emotions like guilt and shame, kindness and compassion... but he's NOT. And in the end, Heathcliff does end up as something other than human, doesn't he? He haunts the moors as a ghost! Or so they say...

There's a new movie version of WH in the works and the casting director wants you. What character would you want to play?

It'd be fun to play the embodiment of pure evil and be Heathcliff. But I don't think I'd quite be able to pull off that Tall, Dark, and Smoldering thing he's got going on. I'd be Catherine. She's psychotic enough to make it a fun role to play, she has two men in love with her, and she gets to make the passionate "I am Heathcliff!" speech.

Wuthering Heights Family Tree: 
The intermingled Houses of Earnshaw and Linton


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Ten Books In My 'To Be Read' Pile for Winter

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

1. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I love Hardy. There is something in my sick heart that craves tragedy. 

2. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I love reading about Russia/the Soviet Union. It is so sinister and creeps me out. It makes me want to paint my face blue and shout FREEEDOM at the top of my lungs. 

3. This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park. This is a lovely title and cover and I bought it when Borders went out of business.

4. Oliver Twist or A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Because, sinfully enough, I have only ever read one Dickens. And that was Great Expectations. And that was required reading in my ninth grade English class.

5. Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. Comes out today!  More Jamie Fraser! (Oh, and Lord John, you too.)

6. Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos. I read Love Walked In and thought it was a really beautiful novel. I like her writing. It helps that she is also a poet.

7. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It's time to cave and read this. I may be the only girl in America who graduated from a Christian college who has not read this.
8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I want to reread this before the new movie comes out with Leonardo DiCaprio. 

9. A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka. A love story from WWII Poland. One of my favorite settings for books. And what a fun title!

10. The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles. The story of a dark Victorian love triangle. Passion. Mystery. Seduction. OK. You got me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss

This is the story my 16-year-old self would have dreamed in the middle of 7th period math. Anna and the French Kiss is the stuff of my teenage daydreams: boarding school, Paris, gorgeous boy with an English accent. Need I say more? Yes, I think I do. About Paris. And that boy...

Forced by her fame-seeking, image-conscious author father, Anna is enrolled at an American boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school. And she can't be more upset. She's pulled away from friends, an almost-boyfriend, and her younger brother, who might accidentally ingest Red Dye #40 without the vigilant protection of his big sister. 

But Paris soon romances Anna and she falls in love with the City of Light: its cinemas, bridges, cathedrals, and pastries... and she's also falling for Étienne St. Clair, a boy who has quickly become one of her best friends. But there are two problems: St. Clair is already taken, and Anna is kinda taken, too. Will Anna and St. Clair's relationship ever move beyond friendship? Will Anna be swept away by love in the most romantic city on earth?

...Which brings me to the issue of the embarrassing title of this book. I've seen this book lauded online and in magazines for months; everyone seems to love it. Why can't it be called Anna in Paris? Or: Anna's Adventures at Boarding School in Which She Meets an American Boy with a French Name and an English Accent. I refrained from reading it until now due to sheer embarrassment. But I was swept away, too, despite the title.

Perkins writes real characters. Anna and St. Clair have dimension; they have faults and vulnerabilities. St. Clair doesn't have the courage to end a stale relationship because he's afraid of being alone and because change is...scary. Anna deals with the insecurity of being in a new school and the tension created by her parents' divorce. The plot bothered me, at first: I'm not into the idea of a person lining up a future someone while they have a current someone. But through Perkins' excellent character and plot development, the reader watches as both Anna and St. Clair mature and grow from their decisions. They learn what it means to do the right thing even if it's the hard thing, they learn the value of friendship, and what forgiveness really means.

And then there was Paris... I was a student in Paris, too, once upon a time. I was there for only five weeks, but I remember what it was to fall in love with that city. Watching Anna fall in love with it called to my mind my own memories of Paris. Anna's first glimpse of Notre-Dame Cathedral:

And then, as we're turning our attention back toward the river, I see it.
...The building is like a great ship steaming downriver. Massive. Monstrous. Majestic. It's lit in a way that absurdly reminds me of Disney World, but it's so much more magical than anything Walt could have dreamed up. 

When I first saw Notre-Dame, I cried. Which, admittedly, stemmed as much from being in Hour 37 of being awake as with the grandeur of the Cathedral. But it is majestic and awe-inspiring. It's fun to read the wonder and awe that I felt in another's voice. And I did love Anna's voice. She talks and thinks in crazy ways that I can relate to, "I love that the accent over his first name is called an acute accent, and that he has a cute accent." 

It was refreshing to read a Young Adult novel with nothing of the supernatural in it: no mythological creatures, no time travel, no dystopian society demanding blood. Just normal kids living normal lives: crushes, homework, friends, relationships, college plans. Rest assured that Étienne is not a warlock and Anna maintains her mortal humanity to the last page. 

 Grade: 4/5. Romantic and real. Great plot and character development.

"...we're kissing, at first quickly--to make up for lost time--and then slowly, because we have all the time in the world."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wuthering Wednesday: Chapters 18-26

 In which The Librarian, LindszerWest and RachelKiwi continue 
the reread of the gothic classic.
 The Librarian Asks and I answer: 
[Check out TheLibrarian's blog today... She made an awesome graphic for this week’s reading. I have a chart I'm posting next week, however, Sara's puts mine to shame. Mine is done with the ancient media of a pen and paper. The Librarian’s is much cooler.]
Which characters from the previous generation is Linton most like?
Edgar. He’s also a wuss.
What differences does Linton have from the previous generations?
Edgar had some redeeming qualities. He was a caring father, and he really did love Catherine. Young Linton loves no one but himself. Seriously, I can’t stand this kid. How did the magnificent Heathcliff spawn that?
What part does Linton play in the present?
I don’t know. I certainly have no use for him. :) He is setting up the love triangle between Hareton, himself and Cathy. He’s a contrast to the rustic Hareton. He helps show Heathcliff’s indifference and cruelty. He is a reason for Cathy to be up at the Heights, making Hareton jealous. Heathcliff has plans for Linton and Cathy’s marriage to further his revenge.
Catherine (2)
Which characters from the previous generation is Catherine (2) most like?
I think she’s a blend of her parents. She’s impetuous and passionate, like Catherine, but it’s diluted. And she has some of Edgar’s gentler qualities.  She has the capacity to be kind and I think she is capable of change, whereas Catherine was not.
What differences does Catherine (2) have from the previous generations?
I think the big difference in her is what we will see in the final section this week. She is  capable of self-reflection. She can and will change her attitude toward Hareton. Catherine was set in her opinions and attachments… you get the feeling that she was not to be reasoned with. But Cathy, who once teased Hareton, is going to reevaluate her relationship with him and be kind to him and love him instead. At least, I think that’s what happens. Check back in a week and see if I remembered correctly…
What part does Catherine (2) play in the present?
I like that Heathcliff has two people at the Heights who torment him just by their genetic make-up. Cathy, because she is the daughter of the woman he loved with the man he hated. And Linton, his own son, whom he detests because he reminds him of Edgar. If Catherine and Heathcliff had had a child, would Heathcliff have been a doting father?
Which characters from the previous generation is Hareton most like?
Heathcliff has made him into what he is. Without Heathcliff’s presence, Hareton would have been allowed to become the refined gentleman he was born to be. Hareton is what Heathcliff would have been had he not gone off and returned an educated man. (See the first question in the next section.)
What differences does Hareton have from the previous generations?
Hareton has a gentleness that must be from a formerly dormant gene from a mysterious Earnshaw ancestor. We need to come back to this next week, because Hareton’s real adventures are just beginning.
What part does Hareton play in the present?
He’s a pawn in Heathcliff’s game of destruction. Of the second generation, he is the one that Heathcliff has damaged the most. And Heathcliff admits that if not for Hareton’s genes, he could love him. That’s so sad, because if there’s anything that Hareton and Heathcliff need, it’s LOVE.

Bonus: Can anyone in this generation live a happy life? Who do you bet on and why? 

Cathy and Hareton sitting in a tree! K-I-S.... OK. Yes, Cathy and Hareton. Why? Because I remember the ending! But aside from that, they are the characters most capable of expressing the basic human emotions of: (read carefully, cause I know they are foreign words for this novel) gent-le-ness. And kind-ness. And a general sense of dec-en-cy.

 I ask... and answer:

My crush has shifted from Heathcliff to Hareton. Compare and contrast Heathcliff and Hareton.

Hareton's life is like the inverse of Heathcliff's. Heathcliff is without name, wealth, family, or pedigree when he arrives at Wuthering Heights. Later, he returns from his three year hiatus having made of himself a gentleman: he's well-spoken and educated. (Well, he has the appearance of a gentleman, but we know his heart...) He has a will of iron and a heart of ice. Hareton, on the other hand, was born into a life of privilege, with name, wealth, lands, and every likelihood that he would grow into the gentleman that he was born and bred to be. That is, until Heathcliff descends, wreaking havoc in Hareton's life until Hareton is nothing more than a crude, rough laborer, illiterate and inept. (But tall and athletic and handsome!)

Hareton doesn't seem to have the sense to realize that he's been cheated out of his birthright by the man he looks up to. I don't think he's exactly dumb, but he's not the brightest crayon in the box, either. But he lacks the will and the drive to make something of himself and maybe that's because he has some heart, too. Heathcliff's only impetus for bettering himself is for the eventual purpose of widespread revenge. Hareton has no such evil plans and he stays as he is, swindled and ignorant. But open to love... ;)

Reflecting back on something The Librarian commented on in Week One: Nelly does interfere a little bit in the story. Does this make you trust her less? Should we blame her? Or was she justified in her occasional meddling?

I don't have a problem with any interference Nelly plays in the story. She is frequently put in difficult positions and must resolve them, often while being the only sane mind around the place! And she's narrating this story for hundreds of pages, so you know what, she should be a part of it. 

Is Cathy Linton Catherine Earnshaw all over again?

Catherine: brat in general. Cathy: brat to Hareton. Don't you just ache for him when she laughs at his roughness and illiteracy? Catherine: love triangle with a handsome rogue and a wimp. Cathy: on the cusp of a love triangle with a handsome rogue and a wimp. At first glance, there are a lot of similarities between mother and daughter. But... I think that the Linton blood has diluted the feisty Earnshaw strain so that Cathy is more rational than her mother. Catherine wasn't capable of contentment, and if I remember correctly, Cathy ends up happily married. I'm hoping that Cathy will be the saving grace of the novel.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Top Ten Authors I'd Invite to Thanksgiving

  Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish

This is decidedly un-Thanksgiving-like. I'm not bringing these authors together to munch on turkey and sweet potatoes for camaraderie and discussion. My purpose is more sinister, because, see, there are things I want to know. I will ditch my normal sweet disposition and I will engage in coercion, blackmail, entrapment, and extortion to get what I want. I don't know what these words mean, but I love how they toss them around on cop shows and legal dramas. I've scoured my shelves (and cemeteries) to select the authors with whom I have some unfinished business. So watch out, Diana Gabaldon, I'm coming for YOU!

1. Diana Gabaldon: Please send me an advanced reading copy of Outlander #8. Like soon. As in, my birthday is December 9. Thanks. And please write William a good love interest. I feel bad for him. He's lonely

2. Maggie Stiefvater: You're AWESOME! Now, write adult fiction.  Also, be my friend.

3. Emily Bronte: Why do you have such a sick mind? Aren't you supposed to be a meek spinster? And how do you know so much about passion... did you have a Heathcliff of your own? You can come clean with me. I can keep a juicy secret. 

4. Anya Seton: How come smoking was cool in the 50s and it's not anymore? Oh wait, I know that answer. It kills you and it's dumb. But man, you rock that cigarette, lady.

5. Margaret Mitchell: Tell me fast, I can't handle it... Does Scarlett get Rhett back? But wait, don't tell me if it's not the answer I wanna hear, Peg!

6. Suzanne Collins: How could you? How could Katniss end up with *SPOILER ALERT* Peeta? Gale all the way, baby.

7. Jennifer Donnelly: More like The Winter Rose, please. Dig that Sid Malone. 

8. William Shakespeare: So did you write everything that is credited to you? Good, I thought so.

9. Stephenie Meyer. Write something else please. Loved The Host.

10. J.K. Rowling: You're awesome, too. Please grab the tab. Thanks.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I have been known to develop the occasional crush on a fictional character. OK, OK, I'll come clean. Frequent. Frequent crushes. My past flames include Heathcliff, Rhett Butler, Alexander Barrington, Edward Cullen, Cole St. Clair, Sid Malone, Mr. Rochester, Gilbert Blythe, and of course, Jamie Fraser.*

But Jane Hayes, heroine of Austenland, develops more than an innocent crush on Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice... she becomes obsessed. Not with the Mr. Darcy of the printed page, but with Mr. Darcy as portrayed by Colin Firth in the BBC production. Jane is a 33-year-old successful career woman, but her love-life can never really get off the ground, due to her many neuroses, one of which, of course, is her delusional attachment to Fitzwilliam Darcy, with his 10,000 a year. (No modern-day man can ever compare!) Jane's great-aunt dies (does everyone in books have a rich great-aunt?) and bequeaths to Jane an all-expenses paid vacation to Pembrook Park, an Austen-inspired Regency-era fantasyland in England, catering to fantasy-deluded women just like Jane. And Jane goes. But is it to have one last hurrah with the Mr. Darcy fantasy in order to put it aside forever?... or does she go with the hopes of meeting--finally--a 21st century Mr. Darcy of her own?

This is possibly the hokiest premise I've ever encountered. It's a reality show in novel form. At Pembrook Park, a huge estate in the English countryside, she is waited on by a team of servants (actors) and is entertained by walks on the grounds and games of whist with handsome young gentlemen (actors). Upon arrival, Jane must forfeit all technological devices and assume the name Miss Erstwhile. Failure to comply by the rules (use of contraband cellphones, being alone with a gentleman!) is grounds for immediate expulsion from the grounds. Some vacation. Jane embroiders in the afternoons, in the evenings she engages in witty banter with Mr. Nobley, and then sneaks out after dark to have normal 21st century conversations with Martin, an estate gardener who drinks root beer and watches Knicks games on his smuggled TV.

Jane and the other paying customers buy (or inherit) a three week sojourn into Regency life, which includes a man tailored just for them, who will woo and flatter with the goal that the women "fall in love." These same ladies then return to the 21st century to their careers--and in some cases, their husbands and children. I don't know whether I should classify this book as a fun read (because it was!) or the stupidest book ever (cause it kinda was that, too). But Jane is endearingly neurotic; her sense-of-humor and self-awareness are all that help keep the story in perspective and prevent it from sinking into total moronity (I made this word up).

I didn't find Pembrook Park to be a whimsical fantasy land. What it felt like to me was something darker; to me it felt like deception, obsession, insincerity and low-grade prostitution. (I just made that term up, too). Does Jane fall for the character assigned to her or the man he is behind the character? Where is the line that separates the two? And again, how is this going to help her get her head on straight and re-rail her love-life? The ending was unconvincing and unbelievable. I can be swept away by books just as much as the next girl. But I ain't cheap: a writer has to sweep me away with a tsunami of convincing plot or a tornado of beautiful language; Hale just gave me the tiniest of puffs of wind at my back.

Grade: 2.5 stars. It was the easy read that I wanted after Tinker, Tailor. But I can't recommend it. I take heart that I borrowed it from the library and didn't pay a cent for it.

*Can you name the books that feature these hunky heroes? I bet The Librarian can pass the test. If she doesn’t know Alexander, that’s because she hasn’t read The Bronze Horseman trilogy which I recommended to her in January. For shame.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

James Bond is the man who comes to mind when you think about British spies. He's handsome and cocky. He's swaggering and dangerous and his prowess with the ladies is much-vaunted. I'd like to introduce you to another British agent... Granted he's short, chubby, and middle-aged, bespectacled and prone to muttering to himself. He's the kind of man who remembers his umbrella on clear days and leaves it at home on days when it's bound to pour. He's married to a young beauty--but she's as faithless as his umbrella, and he doesn't have the guts to leave her. This is George Smiley and the fate of British intelligence lies in his pudgy hands. 

...Because it's the height of the Cold War and there is a Soviet mole inside the British intelligence agency. Smiley is pulled from recent retirement to investigate and with a small but trusted team, he follows paper trails and conducts interviews to determine the identity of the double agent.

I had a rough time adjusting to this book. Namely this was due to generational, cultural, and vocational reasons. And by that I mean that I am not an old English dude who majored in espionage. So when I couldn't understand something that I read, I asked myself, Is this one of those cute British terms like "knickers" for undies or "lift" for elevator? Or: Is this something I missed because I was born in 1983 and not 1923? Or did this go over my head because I am NOT a spy? (Although at the age of 10 I was fairly convinced that this was my life calling. See my self-published "spy newspaper" for further details. I'm sure my sister would be happy to supply this for you...) So I muddled through, trying to make sense of the puzzle on the page.

Tinker, Tailor doesn't contain the high-speed chases, torture scenes, explosions and physicality that we've come to expect from the spy genre. Tinker is more of a slow burn... how incendiary can following a paper trail really be? Yes, at one point Smiley draws a gun, but he's also standing in a pantry, barefoot, groping blindly, because age has diminished his night-vision.

And that's the true treasure of this book: we love George Smiley. Yes, he's pathetic and bumbling. But he's brave, he's a patriot, and he steps up to duty when his country needs him... and he's awesome at spy-stuff! And the best thing: we never forget that he's human. Even in the midst of the final showdown--the mole is about to be revealed!--he is mourning his wife and her infidelities. This guy has thoughts and feelings. Something we've never suspected of 007.

John le Carre (the nom de plume of David Cornwell) was an actual spy for MI5/6 during the Cold War and his cover was blown by a real Soviet mole! That was the end of his career in espionage and the beginning of his writing career. He is also credited as popularizing the term 'mole' to mean a double-agent. And apparently the spy jargon he created for his novels has been adopted by real spies. Imagine that.

A movie version is being released in December starring Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, and Gary Oldman as a rather thinner, less bumbling George Smiley.

Grade: 3/5 Great writing. Enjoyable, but that's enough le Carre for this girl unless they make an espionage glossary.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wuthering Wednesday: Chapters 9-17

 In which The Librarian, LindszerWest, and RachelKiwi continue the
reread of the gothic classic.

The Librarian asks and I answer:

1. Women and illness. So often in this book women are called ill when in reality they're just really emotional. But then, sometimes there seem to be real symptoms of sickness such as the Lintons getting sick and dying from Cathy's fever... What's up with that? Just a viewpoint of weak women's constitutions of the time or is Bronte saying something more?

Did you know that the words uterus and hysteria come from the same root? When a woman was called 'hysterical' it meant she was suffering from a 'woman's issue,' the source of her malady being her uterus (naturally!). So I think this view of women as 'ill' is just an example of the cultural and historical views toward women that existed centuries before and decades after the writing of WH. But if anyone deserves the mantle 'hysterical' and all that it entails, it's Cathy!  Also, people didn't have the long life spans that we enjoy today, so it makes sense that people would die young in Wuthering Heights, from all sorts of maladies. After all, the three Bronte sisters all died at around age 30. (Maybe Charlotte lived to be 40.)

2. Oh the things people say! Heathcliff and Cathy speak their minds in this book...Airing all thoughts without reservation. For example, that horrible scene with Isabella clawing her way out of the parlor. Why is everyone so harsh in this book? Does it work? Or is it too much? Thoughts...

I still hold with the argument that the air up there at the Heights is tainted. And it induces psychosis. Actually, I think everything comes back to the Earnshaws. They are harsh and unfeeling people. And maybe it's true what they say: One bad apple spoils the bunch. The Earnshaws have set a low standard for human behavior and now pretty much 'anything goes' in their little network of relationships. I love the forthrightness. For all their faults, the characters have the virtue of honesty--or at least sharing their true thoughts.

What I cannot believe is that Heathcliff really doesn't even try to deceive Isabella; he doesn't hide his bitter and cruel nature. He 'hangs up' her dog in front of her! (I don't really get that, maybe it was wearing a little item of dog clothing at the time?--but at any rate, I can recognize animal abuse!) And she just lets it slide! Isabella, this is the perfect warning that you are consorting with a maniac! Don't you know that animal abuse is one of the tell-tale signs of a serial killer? I think this is actually an excellent illustration of the excuses that women make for the men they 'love'. How many times have you known a girl who is blind to the true colors of her guy? Or sees it and suppresses the tiny voice of her conscience telling her she deserves better. Let Isabella be a warning!

3. Why we love. In our opening chapter Catherine gives her famous speech ending in "I am Heathcliff". Previous to that final statement she gives both shallow reasons for loving Linton and manically deep reasons for loving Heathcliff. Please provide your thoughts on this famous section and add your own reasons for loving your husband...

Right, and isn't this the best part of the novel so far? This speech is amazing. She is surprisingly selfless: "My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries" and beautifully passionate: "He's always, always in my mind." These are some of the loveliest words related to love that I've ever read. It's the first time that Catherine feels human to me. I hadn't been convinced up to this point that she reciprocated Heathcliff's feelings. 

Later she says: "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." This was what I was hoping to find in my own life, but that's a tall order. How could I find someone as weird as I? It's a lovely perk to be married to someone whose inner weirdness recognizes and loves your own inner weirdo. I wanted a best friend: someone to share my days with, to laugh with, to adventure with, to dream with, to love. And it turns out that the best friend that I had been hoping for and praying for all my life turned out to be my husband, too. I get to share my days and nights with the same buddy! I wouldn't go so far as to say "I am Nathan." That is crossing a line of weirdness that even I won't cross. And that's taking it a bit far, because to have a successful relationship, you must retain a strong sense of self, and blah blah blah, whatever the self-help books say. But to feel so close with a boy that you know what he is thinking, to not have to put on a mask before him, to be safe in his love and to feel a one-ness with him is a precious thing. And you could parallel Cathy's thoughts with the Biblical idea that a husband and wife are one flesh. Though that might introduce new questions about the full nature of Heathcliff and Cathy's relationship. (Which might be a good question for next week...)

Anyway, I'm getting carried away. That's what the subject of my handsome husband does to me. My declarations of love don't sound very gothic, do they? Here: and I married him because I knew his love would last until death parted us. (See, this sounds more in keeping with Wuthering Heights. Death!)

I ask (and answer!)

The Librarian doesn’t seem to be able to get it through her head that I LIKED Wuthering Heights the first time around.  ;) But I did, I swear it! At this point, pick a stance—like it, hate it, ambivalent about it—and give a three point argument about what there is to love or hate about it.

Needless to say, I LOVE it! Here's why:
    1. The passion (see: Cathy's speech). This is what spoke to my 17-year-old heart the first time I read it. At that point in my life, I thought that having a great passion would be the ultimate thing to have in a life. I still love how, no matter how crazy everybody is, they go ALL in. It's all hot or cold here, no lukewarm.

    2. The plot. In WH you get to see the inner-workings of the minds of lunatics. So what if you can’t relate to the characters? That’s a GOOD thing. The plot is a twisting, churning morass of love, jealousy and revenge. It’s a late-18th/early 19th century soap opera! The Days of our Twisted Lives. Passions on the Moors. We Need a Guiding Light. I Hate All My Children (that one’s from Hindley’s perspective, as he dangles baby Hareton over the balcony). OK, I’m done. (Cause I can’t think of any more soap operas. Not because I’m done thinking that’s funny.)

    3. The lovely writing. Knowing what I know about Emily Bronte, I just can’t help but be fascinated that THIS is the book she chose to write. You think she’s a meek spinster woman? Wrong! (Well, technically, RIGHT) but she also must have had a twisted brain to create Heathcliff and Catherine. That lady had a wild imagination.  And I love it!

    The occupants of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange live in almost total seclusion. Why has Bronte so secluded them?

    I think the seclusion adds to the creepiness, the sense of not-so-welcome solitude: there's nowhere to turn and no sane mind available to help! Also, I think a lot of things happen in the novel that don't seem likely for the time period. Catherine is raised in a way that is certainly not befitting a young lady. If Wuthering Heights had had a neighbor like Rachel Lynde, she would definitely trot over with something to say about that. But there is no well-meaning church lady or neighbor to take an interest in a poor motherless girl. And would a young lady of the upper classes be allowed to marry a foundling boy of questionable origins and with questionable finances? He has no name, he has no home. He has gone away and made a gentleman of himself--in aspect, at least--but that's not gonna magically welcome him into the fold of the upper classes. (Edgar didn't exactly allow this union, but he sure didn't do much to prevent it. It was also discussed that Edgar, too, married beneath him when he married Catherine, which might have been more socially acceptable.) And the times when Catherine is with Heathcliff, unchaperoned seems out of keeping with the time, as well. Since when would you allow your young wife to be alone with a hooligan who clearly wants her? So maybe the seclusion allows some plot points to happen because the distance from polite society has caused the occupants of TG and WH to loosen their hold on standards of propriety at the time. If no one from outside society knows, is it still wrong?

    In Chapter 11, Catherine accuses Heathcliff that his “bliss lies…in inflicting misery.” Has she hit the nail on the head? At this point, Heathcliff is hellbent on exacting his revenge, but imagine that the Lintons had never shown up… do you think he and Catherine could have settled in for a happy-ever-after? Is Heathcliff even capable of true contentment?

    Inflicting pain definitely has become the focus of Heathcliff's existence and the only derivation of any remaining joy for him. Obviously, Heathcliff could have been a different person if he was shown love and gentleness by everyone in the Earnshaw family. But that's not what happened, and even if the Lintons hadn't shown up, I don't picture Cathy and Heathcliff ever getting old together and rocking on the front porch in the evenings. Catherine is too selfish and Heathcliff too thin-skinned. If not the Lintons, some other force would have pulled them apart. They might have a passionate few years or so, but they would combust at some point; they aren't built for the long haul. I don't even think Heathcliff could ever be happy. He would invent reasons to be jealous of Catherine... he'd be the type to demand an accounting of every move she made, why is she late? who was she with? does she still love him? As I said, psycho.....

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    Ten Books I've Had On My Shelf the Longest Without Having Read

     1. Watership Down by Richard Adams. My mom gave this to me for Christmas, circa 1995. I know it's old because its pages have already yellowed and it sports the indentation of the "personal library embosser" I received for Christmas, also circa 1995. "This book belongs to the library of RKH." 

    2. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott. I think this is the book that is referred to in Little Women by Professor Bhaer with disappointment in the dark and sensational content of Jo's writing. So naturally I had to have it. This book was just a recent discovery when I brought it home to collect dust on my shelves; it was unearthed over a century after she wrote it. 

    3. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Read the first few pages and thought, nope. I will have to wait a few more years to see if I can grow enough brain cells to tackle this one. As it stands at the moment, I have far too few to handle this.

    4. A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot. Purchased in 1998-1999, at the beginning of my continued obsession with France.

    5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. Started a few times, but haven't yet been in the right mood for Quasimodo and Frollo.

    6. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I bought this on the recommendation of one of my professors. I think I'm finally in the mood for this one.

    7. The Diary of Anais Nin by Anais Nin. When I studied in Paris in the summer of 2004, I became fast friends with another girl from Pennsylvania. I took photography and she took a literature class that focused on French writers. At the end of the summer she gave me all of her books. Jackpot!

    8, 9, and 10. Geronimo: His Own Story by Geronimo; My People the Sioux by Standing Bear; The Autobiography of Red Cloud by Red Cloud. I bought these for a project for a memoir class in 2003. The fact that these famous Native Americans had written their own memoirs just about blew my socks off! It still does. And we know how I'm enthralled with Indians. But we ran out of time in the class and so the professor dropped the final project off of the syllabus and these chiefs are still waiting for me.

    Goal for 2012: Knock some of these books off of the list!

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    A Collage of Hunky Authors

    I have an insatiable curiosity, which is probably one of the reasons that I love to read. Reading is a delicious way to learn and help sate that curiosity. For every book I read, I go online and research the author, the historical context, and any other juicy details that help me get the most out of it. I just want to soak up as much interesting stuff as I can. I do this because I am by nature--as I said--a very curious person. Also, I am, by nature, a big nerd.

    I have learned many things in these frequent Wikipedia forays, of varying degrees of relevance. Of very little importance: Leo Tolstoy was a hunk! Who knew? I presumed that he was born a grizzled bearded old man! I discovered this last year and immediately texted this exact message to my sister: "Leo Tolstoy was a hunk!" This revelation didn't seem to faze her in any way. Let me add that the text wasn't totally out of context. She was reading War and Peace at the time. 

    So it seems deeply important that I share with you some of those other hunky authors you've been wondering about. Unfortunately, male authors tend not to be hunky, so I have a meager list for you.

    OK, we all know that John Grisham, courtroom suspense writer extraordinaire, is the reigning Hunk of All Authors. 

    So let's get to some of the Dead White Guys that may surprise you. First, the aforementioned Leo Tolstoy, bearded wonder. But take a gander at this:

    Très handsome. And scowling in a very Heathcliff-esque way.  Old Leo really sowed some wild oats in his day. Apparently he had an illegitimate child, contracted syphilis, and kept a lewd and graphic journal of all of his sexual exploits. And then he presented this journal to his innocent bride the night before the wedding! She was probably expecting some perfume or a nice lace nightgown. Not a pornographic account of her to-be husband's adventures in bed. She went through with the wedding, anyway, though. Maybe he looked at her like this, all moody and dark, and she was helpless before his brooding gaze and had to acquiesce (like the peasant girls on his father's farm).

    I assume this was taken prior to the creation of some of the longest and greatest novels ever written. He had to have had the beard at that point. With the beard comes wisdom. 

    Moving on to another Russian, Anton Chekhov. Now, admittedly, he's not as much of a looker as Leo. It's his image that is hunky. He's carefree and confident. He's got a certain swagger. Isn't Anton Chekhov an awesome name? Anton never wanted to get married. (He was probably sowing his wild oats like Tolstoy, though who knows if he recorded it all...) Both a doctor and a writer, he said that medicine was his lawful wife and literature his mistress. So maybe he felt he had no room for a real wife. He eventually did marry, though, and promptly died.*

    *This was a slight exaggeration for effect. I think he lasted three or four years.


    Here's Ernest Hemingway, circa 1918, when he was serving as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy in World War I. He was a handsome dude in his youth. Then he went on to write many well-received novels, win the Pulitzer Prize, get married four times, guzzle barrels of alcohol, kill big game, fall into depression, live in Cuba, have affairs, and grow a beard. 
    I've always felt that George Gordon, Lord Byron was hunky too. Alas, he lived before photography was invented and the portraits of him just don't do justice to the Byron of my imagination.

    What do you think? Did I miss any hunky authors?

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    The Scorpio Races

    There is so much to love about this book that I don't know where to start. 

    Thisby is a tiny island somewhere off of the coast of Scotland or Ireland or England. This is where the water horses--the capaill uisce*--live. And every October they emerge from the ocean onto Thisby’s shores and they prowl, carnivorous and hungry.

    And every November first, the very brave or the very foolish run these savage horses across the beach in a bloody and dangerous race. They are man-eaters. They are magic. Their magic may dim after years spent on land, but every November 1st, the magic of the sea pulls at them as they race on the beach. The depths call to the monsters within them, and these horses would just as soon dismember and eat their riders than carry them safely across the finish line.

    Sean Kendrick is the four-time Scorpio Races champion and is something of a water-horse whisperer. He’s a quiet boy, a loner, and he feels most comfortable on the back of Corr, the water-horse that he loves, the horse that he rode to victory in the previous four races. He communes with Corr, with the sea, with the island. And he doesn’t want—or need—anything else, until he meets Kate “Puck” Connolly.

    Puck is the first girl ever to ride in the races. And she needs to win just as much as Sean does. But when the day of the race dawns, there are just two questions: Who will win this race? and Who will die racing?

    Maggie Stiefvater again creates an entrancing world, a world of beautiful imagery, original characters and lyrical prose. Based on the old Celtic legends about water-horses, Stiefvater creates a mythology all of her own, but rooted in the old stories. I love the pagan magic that the riders employ to try to calm the untamable horses: lines curved in the sand by the toes of boots, spitting on hands to rub against velvety noses, throwing salt, tracing letters with fingers on necks, tying knots in manes. Counterclockwise motions, bells on their ankles. It’s a lovely reference to the pagan history of isles just like Thisby. These islanders are Catholics who remember the superstitions of their pagan ancestors.

    When I read, I see images in my head, just like a movie. Sometimes I rewind to reread a paragraph or two to refine the video scrolling through my head. Sometimes I fast-forward and read ahead (it’s horrible, I’m a read-aheader!) because I’m bored or because I can’t stand the suspense. I assume everybody sees pictures in their heads when they read. But reading The Scorpio Races was like having an Oscar-winning movie screening in my mind. The timing, the suspense, the beauty were so vivid that I could practically hear the film score as Sean burst onto the scene, riding bareback on Corr at the very edge of the cliffs, the waves raging below. (It was like Brad Pitt bursting over the hill among the herd of mustangs, cowboy hat, chaps and all in Legends of the Fall. And let me say, I do NOT use this comparison lightly. ;) )

    The characters frequently refer to each other by both first and last names. Is this a cultural thing? I think it might be. But I love it. Somehow, it adds weight and meaning to their interactions. Like this:

    I say, “I will not be your weakness, Sean Kendrick.”
    Now he looks at me. He says, very softly, “It’s late for that, Puck.”

    And this:

    My mouth quirks. “It looks like you won, Kate Connolly.”

    Why do I love this so much? I don’t know, but it thrills me. I kept rereading these passages and saying the words out loud. It’s wonderful to roll these Celtic names off of your tongue. I imagine Sean loves the sound of his name on Puck's lips. And I think Puck loves how it feels to say Sean Kendrick and feel a possessiveness in the saying of it. He probably notices the way her lips close and open over the words, how her tongue hits her teeth. Maybe they use first and last names to give the names the proper respect. Maybe they use both names to draw a name out, to savor the sound... and the newness, the mystery, the wonder of a new friendship. 

    I always relish the moments in stories when one lover first sees the other. Not meet. But sees. Maybe it's because I have such a vivid image in my mind of the first time I saw my husband. It's burned on my brain and I hope it always stays there. I walked through the cafeteria at college, holding my tray, toward the table my friends had already claimed. And then I saw him. Sitting with a bunch of guys, wearing his glasses and a navy blue jacket and he was laughing. Like, really laughing. I don't think I stopped there in the middle of the aisle, but it felt like I did. Because I just stared. I couldn't see his adorable freckles or his lopsided grin or his gorgeous blue eyes from that distance, but I remember thinking to myself, "That is the most beautiful boy I've ever seen." 

    So I love the moments in books and movies before the characters meet. When one character feels like time has frozen---did I really stop and stare, holding my tray?--but time ticks on. This is just the beginning. It's like the take-your-breath-away moment when Scarlett's eyes first lift to find Rhett staring at her. And The Scorpio Races has another delicious one:

    I look back at the boy at the counter. He turns then, so he's in profile, and suddenly, I think I know him from on the beach: the rider on the red stallion. Something about his expression and his wind-torn hair makes my heart go thump thump stop.

    "Puck Connolly," says the old man. "Don't be looking at him like that... He rides every year and I reckon he's the one to beat. Always is. But he's got one foot on the land and one foot in the sea. You steer clear of him."
    And if Puck needed any encouragement, these words, "Don't be looking at him like that" are all it would take. 

    Grade: 4.5/5 stars. Enchanting and lyrical and beautiful.

    So Maggie, when are you going to write adult fiction? 

    (* Pronounced copple ooshka)