Books I “Hate”

I mean… “hate” is a strong word, and it implies a whole slew of negative things, which is not my intention with this post. All of the books mentioned here are great books, most with legendary authors who have more talent in their pinkie fingers than I have in my entire body. I just didn’t enjoy reading these particular books. But “Books I Didn’t Really Like But Lots of Other People Did and for Good Reason Because They Have Significant and Enduring Literary Merit” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, now, does it?

Also, for perspective, these are books I was assigned to read for various classes, which might have affected/skewed my overall opinion. Maybe I’ll give them another chance, someday. Probably not, but you never know.

1.) The Old Man and the SeaErnest Hemingway 
You know that scene in Silver Linings Playbook where Bradley Cooper is reading A Farewell to Arms and when he gets to the end he says “WHAT THE F*CK?” and chucks the book out the window? That’s how I feel about this book. This 1952 novel about an old Cuban fisherman battling with a massive marlin won a Pulitzer Prize, so it’s obviously an excellent book. But Santiago’s struggle and the whole Jesus parallel did not resonate with me at all when I read it in 9th grade English class. For the record, I enjoyed A Farewell to Arms, and admire all other Hemingway works that I have read.

2.) The Scarlet LetterNathaniel Hawthorne
Though I appreciate the messages this 1850 novel teaches about unfair judgment, sin/guilt, and the complexity of human morality and relationships, reading it felt like slogging through a dense swamp barefoot and without any supplies. It was just so tedious. The story of a woman branded with a scarlet letter “A” after committing adultery while the father of her illegitimate child grapples with his own sense of consuming guilt explores various themes and offers unique perspectives, but my god… I fell asleep reading it more than once because it was such a chore to get through. Each page felt like 1000. And I read it in 11th grade, when I wasn’t tired all the time, like I am now.

3.) Great Expectations Charles Dickens
Give me A Tale of Two Cities or A Christmas Carol any day, but keep this 1861 novel about the life of an orphan named Pip away from me. Granted, I read this book in eighth grade of my own accord for an assignment, which was a mistake. This book, like The Scarlet Letter, felt like it was 10,000 pages long. At times, it almost felt like a punishment. I appreciated the imagery and the themes, and it has a score of memorable characters – like the bitter Miss Havisham. But I was not a fan of the style – though, since I read it so long ago, this might be the one that I give another chance someday. Not any day soon, but someday. Maybe.

4.) Anthem Ayn Rand
I’ll be honest… I don’t remember a lot of this book, which I read in 10th grade. But I distinctly remember not liking it while I was reading it. I’m a big fan of dystopian books – Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 are two of my favorites, for example – but this one failed to resonate with me. However, I did appreciate the messages about individuality and freedom of thought.

5.) The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger
I think, for me, this book suffered from overhype, much like The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I kept hearing, before this book was assigned to me in 11th grade, that I was going to LOVE this book, so by the time it actually came to it… I felt mostly “meh” about it. I mean, this book will forever be my #1 reference point for the unreliable narrator, and it’s impossible to deny the influence this book and Holden Caulfield had on literature and popular culture, and I hope a film version never, ever gets made. But I didn’t enjoy reading it all that much.

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“Eff” The Police

When I told my mother that my friends and I were going to go sit in a graveyard and read classic literature, she said “Over my dead body.”

I laughed. She didn’t.

But after assuring her that it was a harmless activity (and that Dante was best read by candlelight next to a tombstone), she gave me her blessing. The questionable legality of the activity seemed unimportant, at the time.

There just so happened to be the perfect graveyard setting just about a mile or so away from one of my high school friend’s house, out in the backwoods of our tiny town. It was his idea, as he and some college friends from down south had done the same thing during the semester. We sat together, each taking a turn with a dusty volume – Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, others – filling the summer air with the almost unintelligible sounds of Middle English and the flowery prose of literature’s legendary greats. We defied logic and managed to turn the Canterbury Tales into a rap as our laughter bounced off the gravestones.

For the second round, about a week after the first, I drove to my friend’s house straight from work. I hungrily shoved my hand into the jumbo bag of Martin’s popcorn someone had brought for the occasion. There were about twelve of us. One friend carried the heavy books in a drawstring bag, someone else took a bag of candles (for ambiance). I brought the popcorn along with me – after eight hours of folding men’s khakis, I needed that popcorn. We prepared a handful of excuses if we happened to run into any figures of authority – for instance, “We’re a prayer circle” or “It’s a séance.”

If there had been the option for it when we elected senior superlatives, I would have been the hands-down winner of “most easily frightened.” The first time we ventured to the graveyard, arms laden with Shakespeare and Milton, a friend of mine decided it would be funny to hide behind a gravestone and jump out during the prologue of Paradise Lost. So I made sure I walked between two other friends as we trekked down the cornfield-lined road toward the sleepy graveyard. The rural outskirts of my hometown at night are unsettling to walk through, especially when the fog starts to come in. Even the chirping crickets seem to signal doom. It’s the perfect setting for a B+ horror film. And I’d never do anything like this now, because I watch far too many episodes of Forensic Files and other true crime shows.

The church was soon within view. We were almost there. And then someone spotted it. The unmistakable blue, white, and yellow cruiser with ‘YAPD’ stamped on the side. Sitting like a predator right in the church parking lot, just waiting for the whiff of something suspicious.

“Cop!”

My heart was thundering against my ribs as we abruptly turned around and started heading back up the road. I looked back over my shoulder and saw the cruiser crawl away into the night. We were safe.

…Until another cruiser came ambling up the road.

One friend summed it up nicely. “Well, shit.”

The female cop pulled the car up beside us, rolled down her window, and smirked at us. “Where are you kids going?”

“…Up the street.” We pointed.

“And where are you coming from?”

“…Down the street.” We pointed again.

Somehow, that mediocre explanation satisfied the cop and she just told us to be careful, before she drove away down the gravel road. I relaxed, and we hurried up the street, desperately seeking salvation. We were three houses away on my friend’s street when two cruisers rolled up to us. The man in the lead car had a different air about him. The iron-grey mustache on his face indicated importance.

As the burly cop roused himself from the squad car, I sincerely thought we were going to get charged with something. I was going to have a big blemish on my permanent record. But what were the charges going to be? Literary sacrilege? Crimes against fictional characters? Conspiracy to entertain the deceased? I didn’t know – all I could do was clutch the bag of popcorn like a salty, buttered teddy bear. As though, if I were carted off to jail that exact moment, the popcorn would valiantly save me. I mentally prepared an escape plan – settling on ‘throw popcorn at cop and run for the cornfield,’ though I highly doubted my trembling limbs would have listened to that mental command. I inwardly begged, “Please don’t ask about my popcorn. Please don’t ask about my popcorn.”

“Who’s the oldest?” The cop asked. That is the only time in my life I have ever been grateful that I am the youngest out of my immediate group of friends.

Our oldest friend stepped up to bat. The cop asked some routine questions, took down his contact info, and explained to us that so many cops were prowling the normally-dormant streets because there had recently been a string of car and house burglaries in the area, so we should head back home for the night and avoid getting into any trouble. They didn’t search our bags or ask any other questions. He just advised us to go home. And with that sage warning, he got back in his car and headed off down the road, the second car following suit, off to hunt for ne’er-do-wells.

We were at the mailbox of my friend’s house – so, so close to sanctuary – when the last cop car came into view. “Hey, did someone talk to you kids already?” The cop hollered from his car.

“YES!” My friends chimed in perfect unison. I just squeaked. I lose my voice around figures of authority.

The last cop drove away, but one friend couldn’t resist jumping into the middle of the street, his middle fingers pointed toward the stars, shouting “FUCK THE POLICE!!!” as the red brake lights faded in the distance. Some of my friends laughed, clapping him on the back as though he’d done something ground-breaking. I rolled my eyes and wondered where that bravado was when the frighteningly muscular cop was within earshot. It’s easy to have courage when the beast is facing away from you.

We gave up on our quest, moods spoiled, and just sat on the hoods of our cars in and discussed the unexpected events of the evening. The consensus seemed to be that the cops should have minded their own business instead of ruining our fun, and that we weren’t doing anything wrong. I bit my tongue. Because the way I saw it, we were a troupe of college kids carrying a bag full of books, a bag of candles, three flashlights, a bag of popcorn, and giggling like five year olds as we strolled down a dark back road on the outskirts of town at midnight. We might as well have been carrying a big neon sign that said, “LOOK, WE’RE SUSPICIOUS.” But who am I to be a wet blanket?

I couldn’t tell my friends that they were being ridiculous – nor could I just go along with the ‘fuck the police’ sentiment. All I could do was sit cross-legged on the hood of my Subaru, lean against the windshield, and keep my mouth shut, the bag of popcorn sitting forlornly by my front tire.

We should have told them ‘It’s a séance.’

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Meant to Be

Last Wednesday night, shortly after 10PM, I was forced to take a detour on my way home from work due to the endless amount of construction that swarms my pocket of PA this time of year. So, I turned off of my usual route and embarked upon the back way home. I made a turn onto a dark street, and soon spotted a fuzzy lump in the middle of the road.

At first, I assumed it was roadkill. It’s unfortunate, but it happens – bunnies, squirrels, gophers, other woodland creatures attempt to make their way across the street when they meet their untimely demise beneath a tire. But, as I was maneuvering to pass over the lump without striking it, a furry little head popped up and I caught the gleam of golden eyes in my headlights.

It was a kitten, and it was alive.

Horrified, I had to turn off onto a different road and circle around in order to get back to the spot. I frantically called my mom (don’t talk on the phone and drive, folks…I’m a bad human, but I was at a stoplight and put her on speaker) and told her what I’d seen and that I was going to check it out further. Luckily, in the five minutes it took me to get back onto that stretch of road, no one else had hit the poor creature – though no one else had stopped, either. I’d hoped it would crawl away or get off the road in that time, but it was still there, curled up in the middle of the lane.

I put my blinkers on, carefully stepped out of my car, and approached the kitten. It made no sound, and it’s eyes were closed, but it was half-upright and didn’t appear to have any grave, visible wounds. So, careful as I could manage, I scooped the kitten up and carried it back to my car, and it sat on my lap the entire ride home. Halfway home, it started purring – which made me hopeful that it wasn’t grievously injured.

When I got home, my mom came out and wrapped Kitty in a towel – after determining the gender as female – and I ventured back out to grab kitten chow and a disposable litter box from the grocery store. We called the emergency vet, who informed us that they would just put Kitty down if we brought her in (especially if she was injured, but mainly because of her stray status) though the only apparent injury was an abrasion on her lip. So we resolved to keep her in a crate overnight (our adult cat was less than pleased by this) in my room and revisit the issue in the morning.

Morning came, and though Kitty was still groggy, she chowed down on kitten food and perked up quite a lot. I let her explore a bit around my room, sniffing and inspecting everything, and she eventually snuggled up on my lap to take a nap. She was so thin – when I ran my hand along her spine, I could feel each individual vertebrae, and her hip bones were protruding. After some phone calls and research, we resolved to go to the SPCA just to ask for some advice on what step to take next.

The dire nature of Kitty’s situation was revealed when we arrived, and the SPCA workers informed us that, because Kitty was so frail and possibly sick, they would likely euthanize her as well. Besides, their shelter was full because it’s kitten season, and they had no room for her. Because we couldn’t surrender Kitty without giving her a fighting chance, we kept her with us. A call to our regular vet to schedule an appointment for the next day and a stop at a local pet store yielded better results, as the manager gave us some helpful advice, a sample of wet food for free, and an abundance of well wishes.

The next day’s visit to our vet proved that Kitty was healthy, but thin – which made me doubly glad we hadn’t surrendered her anywhere that euthanizing was an option. They speculated that she had possibly been tossed from a car, due to the brush burn on her lip – which made my blood boil. The vet didn’t even charge us, because he and his wife asserted that we were doing the right thing by trying to save the poor kitten’s life. So my mom gave her a bath and I continued to let her explore my room, and her spirits seemed high. She even began to meow, though she’d been mostly silent since I’d found her, and her purring was nonstop.

After a handful of social media posts reaching out to family and friends proved fruitless, and local no-kill shelters informed us that they were already full, I began to really believe we wouldn’t find anyone to adopt Kitty, and, by default, she’d stay with us. I’ve wanted a cat to call my own for ages, and it seemed like the universe was telling me that it was time – a kitten had practically fallen into my lap. I was the one to spot the glint of her eyes in the headlights of my car, the one to scoop her up out of the road before a car could hit her, the one to buy her kitty chow and a litter box, the one to let her crawl around my room and explore and let her curl up and fall asleep on my chest, so she wouldn’t feel alone.

My friends and coworkers were convinced it was good karma in action, and I was meant to be the one to find Kitty. Though I had attempted not to grow attached to her, it was an impossible effort. She was just so adorable, and I even picked out a name for her in my head – Ripley, after one of my favorite badass female film heroes. Even my dad started growing attached to her.

Then, on Saturday, my mom called me at work, and informed me that she had pinned down a new home for Kitty – with a woman who works at a local vet’s office, and who is used to handling young kittens. And the wind was promptly sucked out of my sails. I didn’t want to let her go. I wanted her to be my cat, and I felt like she already was, even though she’d only been with me for a couple of days. She would even rub her face against mine, purring like a motorboat, and give me little kitty kisses before curling up to take a nap on my lap or chest.

And though I so, so badly wanted to tell my mom to call it off – to tell her that I was going to keep and care for Kitty on my own – I relented. Though I did make her drive Kitty to my job, so I could give her a cuddle and a kiss goodbye, and ensure that her last memory of me wouldn’t be when I’d put her back into her crate that morning.

I just couldn’t do it. I still live at home, and I’m trying to move out – potentially to a different state. I’m trying to get my second book published, and pay off student loans and my car. Not to mention that it would be very difficult to get a consistent training schedule in place for Kitty with my work schedule, and getting our adult cat, Reese, used to being around a rambunctious kitten would be a gargantuan challenge, considering Reese hates other cats and basically spent the entirety of the three days Kitty was with us hiding under my parents bed and hissing at us. My parents were okay with my keeping the kitten so long as I took full responsibility for her, and I would have done so – but since I haven’t been able to move out yet, I’d still be inflicting a curious new life (and her little claws) on their home, and their new furniture. The timing was bad – and though I know I could have eventually managed, and Kitty wouldn’t be a kitten forever, I just couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone involved, including Kitty.

img_20180609_150858_2561305050343.jpgIt’s been almost a week now, and initially, I was pretty bummed out – like, “have a nice cry in the shower” kind of bummed. But I know that I did the right thing, in the end. Everything that had happened in those three whirlwind days seemed to indicate that my finding Kitty was meant to be, and I do think that’s true – but in a different way. I think I was only meant to be the in-between, Kitty’s pit stop on the road to her forever home. And I am so thankful that I was able to help her, even a small amount. And in a way, Kitty helped me realize that in order to obtain the life I want, there are steps I need to take, and her sudden appearance in my life has inspired me to start taking action instead of letting fear and doubt rule me.

Too many people adopt pets without knowing the work involved – they see a cute kitten’s face or hear a puppy’s whine and think “Aw, I want one!” instead of considering that it’s an actual life you are committing to care for. That’s how shelters fill to the brim with poor creatures who don’t deserve to be mistreated, and how pets who deserve nothing but love are left to the wilderness to fend for themselves because irresponsible owners didn’t realize the level of care involved, and that’s cruelty to the highest degree. What happened to Kitty before our paths crossed is an unknown – perhaps she was dropped from a car, abandoned by her mother, or climbed up into a car and fell down mid-drive. Whatever it was, there’s a good chance it was cruel. But in the time she was with my family and me, and thanks to all of the outside help we received – advice from friends, kindness from pet store managers, and generosity from our vet – I realized that despite acts of cruelty and hate, kindness and love can still prevail.

And someday, when the time is right, I’ll have a cat to call my own.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Run, Birdy, Run!

There are thousands of mysteries – riddles with no easily discernible answers – that have plagued humanity for centuries. The origin of Stonehenge. The true identity of Jack the Ripper. How many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie-roll center of a Tootsie Pop.

But one of these conundrums has been on my mind for a while, and that is the eternal question of: Why do birds run?

Seriously. I find this absolutely mind-boggling. I wish I could communicate with birds, if only to ask them why they sprint across the street or through grass on their stick-thin, spindly little legs. First of all, they look absurd when they’re doing it. Second of all, THEY HAVE WINGS.

There are exceptions, of course. Ostriches. Emus. Sandpipers. Any bird that’s flightless. This question is predominantly aimed toward smaller strains and common species, birds that can be easily found in your backyard. Birds that terrorize cars with their poo – though that’s not really something they can help, since they lack muscularly functional sphincters.

Countless times, I have been driving down the road only to see a tiny bird, be it a robin or a finch or a sparrow, darting across the street instead of flying. Just this morning, I had to slow down to let a bird cross the road in my neighborhood, and it scuttled along the entire way… then, once across, it took flight and vanished into a copse of trees. A pigeon and a dove have (at separate times) smacked into my windshield, scaring the living daylights out of me and possibly suffering great injury, which could have been avoided if they used their wings and FLEW OUT OF THE WAY.

And to this, I have only one question: WHYYYY????? My mind is boggled. BOGGLED.

I don’t mean to shame birds for this, of course. I think birds are great, even if I don’t understand why they put themselves at risk by scurrying along pavement rather than lifting off with their wings.

I mean, maybe this phenomenon is because they have brains the size of peanuts, so their first instinct isn’t to fly. Or maybe they admire other animals, and want to emulate them, so they use their tiny legs instead of wings. Maybe they want to look for worms along the way, and that’s an activity that is easier to do  from the ground as opposed to the air. Maybe they’re training for a marathon. Maybe we will never have an answer to this enduring mystery. And maybe there is a lesson to be learned here, too.

Don’t let fear ground you. Why run, when you can fly?

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Worth 1000 Words #5: Our Little Life

In the late spring of 2014, I got to visit every English major’s dream locale; Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

I have actually been lucky enough to visit a few literature-based landmarks on my ventures across the pond, including the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens (Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie is one of my all-time favorite novels,) the infamous Platform 9 and 3/4 (though the ‘4’ had partially worn off when I went, so it was more like Platform 9 and 3/1… so Platform 12, I guess,) and the Jane Austen house in Bath. Stateside, I actually attended university in the same city where Dr. Seuss lived, and have seen many tributes to his works, including the famed Mulberry Street. The only place on my list I have left to visit is NZ (Hobbiton and such) and Tolkien’s grave in Oxford, which I did not have time to visit when I was there the last time.

But visiting Stratford is a different experience – more definitive, more meaningful. Because this is Shakespeare, we’re talking about. The MAN. The LEGEND. The BARD.

There is, undoubtedly, a reason that Shakespeare stands virtually unparalleled as perhaps the greatest wordsmith in history. Someone might personally find his writing boring or dull, his poems too florid, his histories tedious, his tragedies overly dramatic. I am especially fond of Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see All’s Well That Ends Well at the Globe Theater in London, plus I adore all of his poetry that I’ve read, and his sonnets are brilliant. However, I would be lying if I said that I like all of his works.

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The OJ and scones at this place are the bomb, btw.

I am not a big
Richard II fan, for instance, and I’ve struggled with reading some of his works in the past, so I guess I’ll never earn a true membership to the Shakespeare fan club.
But regardless of personal opinion, it’s impossible to deny that his influence has left a lasting impression on the literary world. The man paved the way for future literary giants and created stories, characters, words, and plots that continue to color and impact the writing of others to this day, centuries later. His works, from his sonnets to his plays, are still taught because of how dynamic, malleable, and utterly powerful they are, and there are hundreds of adaptations and versions of his work out there for consumption, a testament to his genius. His legacy has endured, and will likely continue to endure, for as long as writers and readers find something resonant in his words, and I wholly believe literature would not be what it is today without him. Besides, we have good ol’ Willie to thank for the words “besmirched,” “dwindle,” and perhaps most importantly,”hobnob.”

Sadly, I was on a time limit when I visited the Shakespeare house in Stratford, but for the brief time I was there, I got to experience quite a bit. Some actors put on a passage of a play (I believe A Midsummer Night’s Dream) for us while we snacked on scones and champagne/OJ, then we got to free-roam around the garden outside and tour the actual house at our leisure, as long as we met at the designated meeting place on time. I also might have shoved a gaggle of rambunctious French schoolchildren out of the way for a photo of Shakespeare’s cradle, but hey, my options were limited. Pardonne moi wasn’t working, their teacher wasn’t wrangling them in, and I wasn’t about to let them stand in my way of that photo op. I also procured a book of sonnets from the gift shop to add to my shelf, right next to my mini-edition of Romeo and Juliet that I bought at the Globe.

Before our tour group departed Stratford, so we could then head off to Bath and Stonehenge by way of the Cotswolds, I got to take a photo (see above) outside of the house. My dad took the photo, and he did not know how to use the zoom on my camera, so that’s why it looks like it was taken from a distance. And I had to crop some obnoxious kids out of the frame. But looking at the photo now, and recalling my visit to the birthplace of the Bard, I have a new perspective.

Being there, and learning about Shakespeare’s life, writings, and his massive accomplishments… it made me feel quite small. Not in a bad way, though. It’s not like I had an existential crisis about my mortality and my writing ability, bemoaning that I’ll never be as talented or leave an untouchable legacy as influential as Shakespeare. Because let’s face it; no one’s ever gonna do that, and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean that such efforts are wasted; that attempts to create beauty are all for naught, when such great lofty heights are impossibly distant. Creativity comes in various forms – small, large, far-reaching, close to the heart.

In this universe, we are all small. But being small isn’t so terrible, especially in a world as immense as ours; in fact, one might say that this great world consists of small things and would not exist without them. Though we may be small, everyone is capable of greatness in some capacity. As the Bard would say,”All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” If we are all players, not everyone will have the same role to play in their life; the spotlight might shine on a deserving star, while someone else is more suited to a side role, or even relegated to the stage crew. But in your own life, your own little life, you have the main role – and the stage is yours. Your role is what you make of it and your path is yours to forge, in your own life and on the world’s stage.

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Book Favorites: Childhood Edition

Here’s a list of books that I read in Elementary School, grades K-6, ages 5-12, which have stayed with me in some way, whether it be their story-lines, their inspiring characters, or an especially scarring scene. Most are from the later stages of primary schooling, but all of these titles have had an impact on me and continue to influence my writing to this day. This was before the age of the ebook, so I read all these books the good ol’ fashioned way, and I have fond memories of eagerly perusing the aisles in Barnes and Noble and Borders, waiting for a particularly intriguing spine to catch my eye…

The Silverwing Saga by Kenneth Oppel
I downloaded and read Oppel’s book This Dark Endeavor recently, and was immediately reminded of how much I loved his Silverwing books when I was growing up. The first book in the series, Silverwing, is one of my all-time favorites, and I read both Silverwing and Sunwing multiple times. I never expected to become so attached to books about bats, but the characters – Shade, Marina, Ariel, Orestes, Chinook, Frieda, Zephyr, Griffin, Luna, Java, Ishmael, Goth, etc – are so excellently written and the world-building in the novels is superb, I was engrossed from start to finish. I loved them so much I did a science project about bats when I was in elementary school. Shade and Marina’s adventures captivated me, the bats of the Vampyrum Spectrum terrified me, and I’m planning a reread in the near future. I also haven’t read the prequel novel Darkwing yet, so I should probably add that to my list!

The Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis
Honestly… did anyone not read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kidWe read the second (and likely, the most well known) book in the series in class (not sure which grade, maybe second) and I loved it so much my mom read a couple of the others to my sister and me as bedtime stories. I remember flipping through The Silver Chair to read ahead because I couldn’t wait to know what happened next. I have to say, my favorite is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but The Horse and His Boy is also high on the list. And I can’t leave out The Magician’s Nephew, which was actually the last one I read, despite it being the first book chronologically. I’ve read this series many times over and it never loses its appeal. For me, C.S. Lewis’s rich words and descriptions, his charming characters, and the fantastic, magical world of Narnia come second only to Tolkien and Middle Earth  when it comes to fantasy.

Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy
This is actually one title that I don’t have much to say in regards to the plot, because I don’t remember much of it. All I remember of the plot is that a young girl finds two dolls behind the wall in the attic of the house she is staying in, and they sort of become friends to her. But I do remember being utterly fascinated by this book when I read it, to the point where I read it again immediately after. And yet, I forgot about this book for a long time and even forgot the title. However, after some recent sleuthing, I was able to track it down and ordered myself an old copy, so I can get reacquainted. Hopefully it’s as magical as I recall.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My third grade teacher pulled me aside one day before our SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) period and asked me if I felt up to reading a book that was considered a bit out of my age range, and I happily agreed. The story of a spoiled, but dejected girl and her desire to discover the rumored “secret garden” as well as uncover the mysteries of the cries she hears at night was definitely difficult to read at that age. In fact, I went through and read it a second time just to be sure I understood it, and I’m glad I did, because once I had a clearer understanding of it, I felt that I could appreciate it more. This book taught me to pay close attention in order to see something for its true value; which could also be seen as a theme in the novel. I definitely credit this book for establishing my love for the “classics.”

Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
*cries forever*
I’m in my twenties now and just thinking about this book makes me emotional. WHY DO THEY LET CHILDREN READ THIS? I mean, we read it in sixth grade, but still… it packed a wallop. Worse than Old Yeller, even. But it did teach me a valuable lesson about loss and the love of a boy for his dogs, so I am glad that I read it, even if it did make me cry. And boy, did I cry…

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Before I had Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, and Anthem, to ponder, there was The Giver. We actually read this book aloud in class, but I don’t remember which grade it was – probably fifth or sixth. I do, however, remember the profound effect this novel had on me. Jonas’s struggles to understand the time and memories before “Sameness” took over society resonated with me, and I still remember realizing what “Elsewhere” meant. This book was haunting, but in a good way, and I credit it for helping establish my love for science fiction and dystopian fiction.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
We read this book in fifth grade, and I re-read it last year once I heard they were attempting a new film adaptation. L’Engle brought new ideas, fresh characters, a fusion of religious/spiritual and scientific thought, and a unique perspective to the fantasy/sci-fi genre with this book, as well as the subsequent titles in the series. The concept of “IT” still scares me, even now. There are still a few titles in the overall series that I haven’t read yet, but I hope to finish them someday.

Time Stops for No Mouse by Michael Hoeye
I read this book on my own when I was in sixth grade. I adored the title character, Hermux Tantamoq – largely because he was a mouse (I was very fond of rodents in my youth, not sure why) – but also because he was an unlikely hero with a heart of gold, and that made him all the more likable and easy to follow. This book is part mystery, part adventure, and all entertaining, with a great cast of characters and a plot that uses a familiar formula, but has a ton of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. I’m talking mole journalists, a rejuvenation potion, and mice who fly planes. I also just learned this book has sequels, so you can guess what I’ll be reading in the future…

The Tales of Dimwood Forest by Avi
You can probably sense a theme, here… I like books about animals, and that was especially true during my early years as a reader. Specifically, I liked rodents; of both the winged and non-winged variety. Redwall would be on this list but I didn’t read it until 7th grade. I actually read this series out of order; I started with Poppy and Rye, then Poppy, then Ereth’s Birthday, then Ragweed. Regardless, this series remains a fond favorite from my childhood and I literally (as in, two seconds after I wrote the previous sentence) JUST DISCOVERED that there are two titles in the series that I haven’t read, so I’ll be adding those to my “to-read” list in short order. I was enthralled by the tales of the brave mouse Poppy, the foul-mouthed porcupine Ereth, and the quiet, determined Rye, and a special shout out to Brian Floca, who did the illustrations. I can still clearly picture the characters in my head and I loved the way he drew them.

 

 

Forced To Read (But Actually Enjoyed): High School Edition

Students of all ages – even those who enjoy reading novels of various genres and styles from a multitude of time periods – are forced to read books throughout their academic career. As a lifelong, avid reader, I usually didn’t mind being assigned to read books, but I know for some people, being forced to read seems to suck the enjoyment out of it and turns reading into a chore, regardless of whether they like the book or not. In my classes, there was often a clear disparity between people who “loved” a book we were assigned and could appreciate it despite it being an assignment, and people who “hated it,” which generated intriguing discussions.

During my time at school, there were a couple of books that were given as an assignment and, despite literary legacy and widespread appeal, I ended up hating them (here’s looking at you, The Scarlet Letter), but, had they not been assignments, I might have enjoyed them more. On the flip side, there are several novels that I was forced to read during my English classes and I loved them so much they are now my personal favorites.

Here are the novels from my high school years that I was assigned to read but actually enjoyed on the initial read through!

Shane by Jack Shaefer
I honestly don’t know why Shane stuck with me as much as it did, because when I found out we had to read it, I dreaded it. I had to read this book over a break during my 9th grade year, and I remember coming back and discussing it with the rest of the class, only to discover that I was one of only a few who enjoyed it. The stump, man. The stump. The symbolism was so on point in this book. I’m not a huge Western fan, but there are a few titles that have impacted me in film (The Searchers, Stagecoach, McCabe and Mrs. Miller)… and yet, Shane is the only Western novel that I loved reading from start to finish. It’s a pretty straightforward, simple read – but despite that, it hits hard. It’s not a big, action-filled book rife with Western tropes, which I think makes it all the more of an effective story about working together, overcoming obstacles, and it redefined the image of a “cowboy” for me.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
I. LOVE. ETHAN. FROME. SO. MUCH. It is one of my favorite books of all time, and one that I absolutely need to reread soon. This was another book that we read over a break and when we came back to class to discuss it, I was one of few voices who spoke positively of it, and I could not fathom why. It’s a simple book, and yet, it’s so powerful – the tale of a man suffering from crippling indecision and who grapples with his own growing desires and a staunch sense of moral obligation, which culminates in a disastrous sled ride. I remember getting to the end and realizing that it was the most realistic, if depressing, conclusion that the characters could have come to. It’s not a happy book by any means, and, even though it’s basically a book  about crushed hopes and dreams, which discusses futility, desire, and the cruelty of fate, that’s why it worked so well for me – and that final plot twist at the end hit me right at the heart. That pickle dish haunts me still – such an effective symbol.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
I was the only person in my 9th grade English class who liked A Separate Peace. Literally the only one – which still confounds me. We had to read it the summer before classes started and I haven’t read it since, so some of the details are a bit fuzzy. I just remember Gene’s conflicted feelings and jealousy toward Phineas and his guilt over Phineas’s accident being so clearly depicted and well-written that I could almost feel it myself. It’s a novel that resonated with me because it felt very real, and all of the characters felt like they were actual people, not just names and descriptions on paper. It was a novel that was both blatant in some ways and subtle in others, spelling some messages and events out clearly while leaving others to be inferred, which is always a plus for me. Also, my hatred of Brinker lives on to this day.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
We had to read this novel over the same summer we read A Separate Peace, and my class definitely preferred this one as a whole. This book redefined my personal definition of scifi. I always pictured science fiction as aliens and the like, but thanks to books like Fahrenheit 451, my horizon has broadened for the better. The book presents intriguing ideas about censorship (as books are outlawed) and depicts an image of a corrupt society that discourages nonconformity. Firemen are literal firemen in this world – they set fire to books and banned materials instead of putting fires out. But ultimately, the book presents a hope for the future and belief in the ability of humanity to rise from the ashes. I find it extremely ironic and hilarious that this book is frequently challenged, likely because it supposedly encourages “dangerous” ideas about rebelling against social construct or whatever.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
This is a book that I fully expected to hate. I found the entire premise of the novel extraordinarily unappealing and dreaded when I saw it on the syllabus. Ultimately, my expectations were totally wrong and I ended up loving this novel. Like an ogre, this novel has layers upon layers, which are continually revealed through the interactions of the complex characters with each other and with the infamous Nurse Ratched. This book explores the dark side of life in an asylum (as it was back in that time period) and does not shy away from the horrific realities of mental illness / the poor treatment of the mentally ill, and presents a compelling, yet haunting commentary on authority and control. And the film adaptation is one of few that I’ve seen that remained faithful to the novel and evoked the same emotions that I felt from reading it. To this day, Chief Broom remains one of my favorite literary characters.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
This is one of few books I read after I saw the movie adaptation; specifically, the 1990 version. I actually stumbled upon the film partway through when it was on TV one morning, and was utterly horrified by some of the events that took place, but completely engrossed nonetheless. The images of two significant death scenes still haunt me. I was assigned to read the book over the summer in 10th grade (I think…it may have been 11th) and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. It was just as compelling as the film version, with greater insight into certain events/characters and how the mentality of the boys changes as their time on the deserted island grows bleaker and more hopeless. The descent into savagery is both disturbing and captivating. It’s chilling to think that the dystopian events of the novel could potentially happen in the real world…to a group of children, no less.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I don’t think this one needs much explaining. I’m fairly certain that every person in my 10th grade class enjoyed reading this novel. TKAM is a beautiful book. Atticus Finch is like, the epitome of a hero character. No, I haven’t read Go Set a Watchman, nor do I ever intend to. I want the magic of TKAM to remain unblemished in my mind.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The circumstances under which I read this book are a bit strange. We were assigned to read it during the summer before 11th grade… and I put it off until literally the day before my assignments were due. This is a 450+ page novel, mind you. I did finish it in one day… mostly because I really didn’t have a choice, but also because it gripped me right from the start. It’s not a happy book. It’s very grounded in reality. Reading about the various Joads, and their hopes for the future as they venture west to embark on a new life… I honestly anticipated a happy ending. But The Grapes of Wrath was one of the first definitive examples I’ve ever read of an ending that, while there is a glimmer of hope left, the lives of most of the Joad family are in shambles. Things just get progressively more awful as the book goes on, and there’s very limited reprieve. They get to their destination, the place they’ve been dreaming of, and things just get worse. This book hit me hard – even harder than Of Mice and Men, which I also loved. I honestly thought Steinbeck couldn’t produce anything sadder than Lennie and the rabbits… but that was before The Grapes of Wrath.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
I have a conflicted opinion of Dickens – his writing is renowned and revered for a reason, and I would never deny that he is a brilliant writer, but his books are always hit or miss for me. It is literally either the best of times or the worst of times whenever I pick up a Dickens title. I like A Christmas Carol. I hated Great Expectations. I absolutely LOVED A Tale of Two Cities – it is my all time favorite Dickens novel. It was assigned to my 12th grade English class and remains one of my favorite books today, even though it is, admittedly, a difficult read. I’m actually glad I was assigned to read it because I likely never would have read it otherwise. In this tale about the contrasting political and social structures of London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, Dickens weaves a compelling story with brilliant characters, delivering powerful messages about life, death, justice, and forgiveness. Sydney Carton is a hero, and his final words are some of the greatest ever written.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Like Fahrenheit 451, BNW paved the way for my enduring love of classic scifi. I was hooked right from the baby-shocking bit… that sounds wrong, but I just mean that the entire section shocked (no pun intended) me so much I had to know just how messed up the rest of the “utopian” society presented in this book was. And it totally delivered. The ideas presented in this novel are jarring, as is the picture Huxley paints of a warped future in a World State where “everyone belongs to everyone else” and “Lord” is replaced with “Ford.” The characters are all flawed, to some degree – making no clear hero, though one might say John is the closest to such an idea. To put it simply, the book expresses how messed up the future can become when conformity rules all and aberrations are seen as a threat. When I think of how long ago this book was written, the themes and content presented becomes even more alarming. The entire book is brilliant and it made a big impact on me. I absolutely consider it my favorite scifi novel of all time, and that is not likely to ever change.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The character of Jane Eyre is, to put it simply, a literary badass. She refuses to comply by the restraints foisted upon her by society, follows her own path, and has a strong sense of morality and dedication to her faith. Though she loves Rochester, she refuses to marry him once she learns he is already married. She is stubborn and spirited and totally admirable, and, as she is an independent female protagonist from a male-dominated time period, that really stuck with me. That, and the novel itself, presenting captivating ideas on feminism, morality, love, and spirituality  is exceptionally written and I was hooked from the start. Jane herself might be my favorite literary heroine of all time. And Rochester, a well-developed character in his own right, is a total catch, okay? Despite the whole crazy wife debacle, I like him even more than Darcy!

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Honestly… did anyone not like this book? The writing is utterly beautiful and the themes are well placed throughout in various symbols and the actions of the characters. The characters themselves are conflicted, intriguing, infuriating, multi-faceted, and their motivations, while at times unclear, are what kept me turning the pages. I have never hated a character more than I hate Daisy Buchanan. It’s a book that can be interpreted in many different ways depending on how each reader envisioned the characters – some may see Gatsby as a hero doomed by love, some think him a fool chasing an idea and denying reality. THE GREEN LIGHT, PEOPLE. It resonated with me as it did for Gatsby.

BONUS: Junior High

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This is the only book from 7-8th grade that has gone on to become one of my favorites. I loved the book so much I finished it in one sitting and then went through it again. For me, this book will always stay gold…see what I did there?