Top Ten: Characters Who Remind Me of Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was characters who remind me of me.

♥ Beth from Attachments
♥ Esther from The Bell Jar
♥ Eleanor from Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
♥ Ann from A Great and Terrible Beauty
♥ Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower

♥ Lizzie from Queen of Babble
♥ Jessica from Sloppy Firsts
♥ Betsy from Smart Girls like Me
♥ Melinda from Speak
♥ Tally from Uglies

Top Ten: Required Reading I’d Change

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was a back-to-school freebie. Since my school was super white, the books I read were capital-C Classics. Below are eight titles I was assigned while in high school, matched with titles I wished I’d been assigned instead.

Bittersweet rather than The Great Gatsby: The Great Gatsby has its fans; I am not only of them. The ONLY thing I like about it is the fan theory that Jack Dawson survived the Titanic and made a new life for himself as Jay Gatsby. (No, seriously.) Not only is Bittersweet written by a woman, its two protagonists are women as well. Also, the tagline is “Suspenseful and cinematic, Bittersweet exposes the gothic underbelly of an idyllic world of privilege and an outsider’s hunger to belong” – which I find way more interesting than “It’s the Roaring Twenties, and New York City is the place to be. Everything can be purchased, everyone can be bought. But, can you make money erase your past?”

The Fever rather than The Crucible: Ugh. WHY was The Crucible required reading? To get the full effect, plays need to be performed; but, y’all, this play is so boring that I was still almost put to sleep while watching it live. (On Broadway! With Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw!) If I wanted to learn about the Salem Witch Trials, I’d rather read something like The Witches: Salem, 1692 instead of a sixty-year-old play that’s usurped actual fact. Do you want to teach mass hysteria brought on by an unexplainable illness that exposes a small town’s secrets? The Fever has all The Crucible’s juicy bits AND it was published within the last five years. Win-win.

Friday Night Lights rather than The Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck’s novels don’t do it for me anymore, and however many problems surround the writing of The Grapes of Wrath, it’s a novel of its time. But it’s not that relevant now. Instead of a migrant farm family trekking across the country in search of work during The Great Depression, why don’t we talk about racially-mixed small towns in the middle of economic recessions now? About how, for some families, their only chance at “making it” rests on their son nabbing a sports scholarship? And what happens when that dream fails? That’s what I want to read about.

A Game of Thrones rather than King Lear: Things I remember about King Lear: there are three daughters, two of whom are awful, one of whom is not. There are Life Lessons ™ from the comic relief. Lear goes blind in this metaphorically masterful scene. Honestly, I am not at all surprised that some people are put off by reading when forced to consume a 400-year-old play about a feuding family written in archaic English. In order for literature to be fun you have to teach fun literatureA Game of Thrones is fantasy, yes, but it also dips into history and politics and social customs and OH YEAH THERE ARE DRAGONS.

Monster rather than To Kill a Mockingbird: I’m honestly just tired of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’d rather read more about Tom from his own perspective than how ‘woke’ Scout gets because of his Noble Suffering (or ~whatever Lee calls it). Monster tackles race, culture, and the criminal justice system through the eyes of a black teen on trial for murder: it’s his story in his words.

Speak rather than The Scarlet Letter: There is so much else going on in The Scarlet Letter that its real star, Hester, is completely overshadowed by the completely over-dramatic Dimmesdale. I also don’t think an out-of-wedlock love affair between two consenting adults is all that interesting anymore. But Speak tactfully handles social stigmatization and sexual assault in high school – things real high schoolers might unfortunately encounter.

The Underground Railroad rather than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: I understand why The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is still taught in school, but there are so many novels that have been written in the last century in a half that focus on runaway slaves which give their black characters top billing or aren’t written by a white male. The Underground Railroad is both.

World War Z rather than The Plague: There’s more to The Plague than just, well, a plague. It’s a classic example of existentialist allegory on death. (Cool.) It’s also hypothetical. You know what can also serve as a “study of human life and its meaning in the face of a deadly virus”? World War Z. Except the book’s written as an oral history (which could be explored in its own right) and, oh, I don’t know, there are ZOMBIES. Way cooler than the Bubonic Plague.

Top Ten: Books Featuring High Schoolers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme was a back to school freebie, so I chose books featuring high school students because, to me, nothing screams “back to school” more than public school.

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The Bad Mother’s Handbook by Kate Long // Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes // Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik // Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger // Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

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Paper Towns by John Green // The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky // Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty // Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson // Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Five Favorite: Mute Narrators

“Five Favorite” is a feature on thewasofshall where I lay out my five favorite “x”. Sometimes they’re relevant to a season or holiday, mostly they’re not. It’s an all-around fun excuse to give my 100% amazingly awesome opinion. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

What makes someone mute? Well – a lot of things. They could actually be mute, having never been born with or lost their ability to speak, or they could have chosen a vow of silence – for the whole book or just a part of it. (And it could be a literal muteness or a figurative one, too.) Regardless of the reason, here are my five four* favorite.

1. Amy from The Passage by Justin Cronin
2. Chief Bromden from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
3. Dana from Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle
4. Melinda from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

*(Because I’m only including four, here are two more mute narrators that I’ve heard so much about but have never read: Chris from Lock In by John Scalzi and Jean-Dominique from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death by Jean-Dominique Bauby.)

Have your own five favorite mute narrators? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!

Top Ten: Books for Readers Who like Character Driven Novels

logo-TopTenTuesday Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme was character driven novels.

BitterIsTheNewBlackBitter Is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office by Jen Lancaster
There is a reason Lancaster has successfully published around eight memoirs – her real life escapades read like fiction and, in so doing, draw you into her world to the point where you either love her (and want to read more, more, more) or think she’s an annoying complain-a-lot. (Me? I want Jen and me to be besties.)

TheCatcherInTheRyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I have to admit that The Catcher in the Rye is definitely not one of my favorite books. (Not even a liked book.) Part of the reason is that nothing really happens during Holden Caulfield’s weekend jaunt after he decides to leave boarding school – and that’s the main reason why the book is on this list. What’s a more character driven novel than one almost devoid of plot but solely devoted to its characters?

GargoyleThe Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson I ache for the protagonist of Davidson’s novel – but not for the tragedy that propels the story into being and prompts the introduction of the character of Marianne Engel. I ache for everything that our narrator can’t remember and marvel at the fact that Davidson is so good at telling a story that the one thing I wasn’t told was the protagonist’s name.

GoneGirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I dislike this book not because Flynn’s a bad writer, the plot was boring, or her characters seemed hollow. I dislike this book because I loved it so freakin’ much that the ending came as a punch-in-the-gut disappointment. If you still haven’t read Gone Girl (for whatever reason), don’t leave it on the shelf because of Flynn’s characters. They’re manipulative, flawed, deceitful, shallow, intense, and so, so, real.

LittleBeeLittle Bee by Chris Cleave
Little Bee is the story of Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee stuck in an English immigration holding cell, and Sarah, a widowed suburbanite and mother of one. It’s about the enduring ties of compassion, regret, and choice. And it’s heartbreaking – because, no matter how much you wish differently, what you are reading is immutable and you can’t change one damn thing.

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
I seem to have a love-hate relationship with Eugenides’ fiction, but boy do I absolutely love this family-centric drama which is, and I quote, “a grand, original fable of crossed bloodlines, the intricacies of gender, and the deep, untidy promptings of desire.” If you only read one of his novels, make sure it’s this one; it will change the way you think about storytelling.

ThePassageThe Passage by Justin Cronin
Holy crap is The Passage one of my all-time favorite books. I understand that maybe you don’t like vampires or read “long books.” But an author cannot successfully write thousands of pages (like Cronin has) without tugging on my heart strings and making me root for, cry over, and scream at their characters. This book is amazing and what you feel for one character is not dulled or muted by the fact that Cronin introduces (and makes you feel for) dozens of other characters.

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak is about friendship and pain and the cruelty of teenagers. It’s about Melinda Sordino and her uphill battle to climb out of a pit of depression. And although it references and revolves around an Event that Melinda experienced prior to the start of the novel, it is not about that event. (Per say.) Speak is about how Melinda is defined by that event – and how she in turn reacts to that event – and how everyone around her reacts to that reaction. In short: it’s an extremely powerful work of fiction and one of my absolute favorites.

SpecialTopicsInCalamityPhysicsSpecial Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
Oh my gods did I want to be Blue van Meer when I read about her in Pessl’s novel. She’s just so smart and fiesty and go-getting that, instead of feeling dumb in her presence, she gives me a precipice for which I can aspire to reach.

WhiteOleanderWhite Oleander by Janet Fitch
Fitch’s novel is hard to read not for what happens but what fails to happen to White Oleander‘s protagonist, Astrid, as she grows up in foster homes after her mother, Ingrid, poisons a boyfriend and is sentenced to life in prison. Throughout the text, Ingrid looms larger than life, manipulating Astrid from behind bars and forcing her daughter to contemplate the existential.