Top Ten Favorite Classic Books

I did not expect, when I first started this post, how hard it was going to be to define classic. If I included all the classic children’s books I loved, it would be a hundred items long. And do I include such mystery classics as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None? Or Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara, which is such a classic of fantasy that the entire genre as we know it wouldn’t be the same without it?

In the end, I stuck with a more traditional definition of classic, and tried to keep it to “adult” classics, not because I consider them “better,” (quite the opposite, in some cases), but because I just needed some framework for my choices. I did bend a little with my last one – it’s a classic of fantasy and a children’s classic, but I make no apologies. In my opinion, it’s a classic classic.

There are also lots of pictures in this post from film/TV adaptations of said classics. I make no apologies for them, either. Especially the Richard Armitage one.

As always, check out The Broke and Bookish for more top ten lists. And without further ado, I give you my Top Ten Favorite Classic Books.

Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell. I adore this book. I adore the characters, the relationships (not just the romantic ones), the simplicity that balances so well with the complexity of it, the way that unlike many (most) classic novels, you can’t necessarily predict how it’s all going to turn out in the end. It truly is what its subtitle claims: An Everyday Story, and I just love it for that.

Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery. I grew up with Anne smacking her slate over Gilbert’s head, with her dramatics and her passions, with her friendships and loves and hatreds, and while at times now I shake my head at the ridiculousness of everyone who meets her falling under her spell as she gets older, I do still love her. Not to mention Gilbert.

North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell. A book that made me think, and swoon, and think some more. It doesn’t hurt that Richard Armitage plays Mr Thornton in the BBC adaptation. I’ll leave Darcy for all the P&P fans; Mr Thornton for me, please.

Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. I watched the adaptation of this before I ever read the book – and I have no regrets. I love the book, and I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate it as much if I had just tackled it without already having some of the richness of color and character and setting imparted to me by the adaptation.

Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott. I read this when I was a kid – I don’t know if I would love it now upon re-reading. But oh, I adored it then. The chivalry, the pageantry, the disguises, Robin Hood and King Richard, the wicked Knights Templar, beautiful Rebecca and Rowena … I ate it all up. My fondness for Edward Eager’s Knight’s Castle might just possibly have contributed to my love.

Ivanhoe in a flying saucer. Who wouldn’t love that?

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. Jane is yet another heroine I met first through film (the Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke version, and I have yet to see more fitting portrayals of Rochester and Jane), and then grew to love more deeply through the book. I love her quiet strength, and her joyous passion. Rochester’s a jerk, but since Jane triumphs over his jerk-ness, I can forgive him.

Persuasion, Jane Austen. I like P&P, but it’s Persuasion that I return to almost every autumn, re-reading with pleasure, identifying with and enjoying Anne a little bit more each year. It’s such a quiet book, with hidden strength, rather like its heroine, and it is just sheer enjoyment to read.

The Psmith Books, PG Wodehouse. I confess: I can only read so much of Wooster and Jeeves before I start desperately wanting for Bertie to, just once, get the best of absolutely everyone else, including and especially Jeeves (I also have always wanted Wile E. Coyote to catch Road Runner at least once). I have no such difficulties with Psmith and faithful-but-exasperated Mike. Their adventures and misadventures are just sheer fun.

The Second Violin, Grace S Richmond. I don’t know if technically this one counts as a classic. Is it a classic if it’s old, but nobody has ever heard of it? Richmond’s books are romances, often moralistic, and while I can recognize their quality is not necessarily as great as one might like, I also enjoy reading them when I just want some harmless fluff. It helps that I have an antique copy of The Second Violin with a note to me from my grandfather on the frontspiece, one of the first presents he gave me after my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s had developed to the point where he had to do all the birthday and Christmas presents and hang on, BRB, need a tissue now.

I would love, for no other reason but snob points, to be able to end this with Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or Hugo or Eliot, but the fact of the matter is that my classics favorites have all been along similar lines to each other, simple and comfortable rather than challenging and painful. I have read Anna Karenina (ugh), Middlemarch (also ugh), as well as almost all the Brontes’ works, more by Eliot, more by Dickens, some Trollope … I just don’t love them (in fact, I can tell you right now that I hated many of them with a burning passion. Don’t even get me started on Wuthering Heights). And most of the classics I do love, aside from the ones already mentioned, are children’s books, of which, as I said at the start, there are too many for me to even name. So instead I think I will make my #10 pick …

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien. Technically a children’s book, but like Anne of Green Gables, so so much more than that. I have distinct memories of the first time I read The Hobbit, something rare for me, as most of my first reads are blurred by time. Not this, though … I remember running my finger along the books on the library shelf, looking for something new, wanting to find a book I had never seen before, pausing at the title and pulling it out. The green and blue cover, with mountains and forests and strange runes along the edge intrigued me, and I carried it over to the beanbags in the corner of the children’s room, settled down, and opened the first page.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

The rest was history.

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Top Ten Characters Who …

… I would want to be my friend. (Or, to put it in a more grammatically correct form: Top Ten Characters with whom I would want to be friends.)

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1. Betsy Ray, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. When I think of book friends, Betsy is the very first who springs to mind. How I would have loved to have her as a friend when I was young, and even now, I think how much fun she’d be to have around. The great thing about Betsy is that I kept “discovering” more of her books the older I got (sneakily and well done, parents), and so we really did grow up together. I read Betsy’s Wedding shortly after getting married myself … so in some ways it feels like we are old friends who grew up and experienced much of life together.

Betsy and Joe, also one of my very favorite literary couples!

Betsy and Joe, also one of my very favorite literary couples!

2. Lucy Pevensie, Tarkheena Aravis, Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. No offense to Susan or Jill or Polly – I like all of them, but it’s Lucy and Aravis I’ve always wanted to have as friends. Could you imagine the trouble we’d get into? It’d be awesome.

3. Randy and Rush Melendy, The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright. Re-reading all of Enright’s books recently reminded me again of how much I love this brother-sister team, and how badly I wanted them to be real people and my next-door neighbors when I was a kid.

4. Miss Marple, Agatha Christie. Dudes, can you imagine a better friend? No matter what’s going on in your life, Aunt Jane would have some gentle wisdom and humor to impart, and she would keep you from every being too conceited.

5. Sophie Hatter, Howl’s Moving Castle etc, by Diana Wynne Jones. SOPHIE. I want to hang out at the playground with Sophie, while my kids play with Morgan, and just talk. And then I want to foist our respective children off onto the husbands so Sophie and I can keep talking, without having to parent or wife at the same time.

6. Princess Cimorene, the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia C Wrede. Cimorene is another that I want to have as my friend now, not just as a kid. The younger Cimorene is awesome enough, but grown-up, mother-of-Daystar Cimorene is awesome as well, and I hope someday Wrede writes about some of Cimorene’s adventures between when Daystar was born and when he set off to rescue his father. Because we didn’t get to see nearly enough of her Being Awesome in Book 4.

I love Cimorene’s expression on this cover. It sums her up so well.

7. Tiffany Aching, Wee Free Men etc by Terry Pratchett. I actually think I’d like to hang out with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as well, but Tiffany is the one I’d most want to be friends with.

8. Brother Cadfael, the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. Like Miss Marple, Brother Cadfael would be a most comforting and wise friend to have. Also like her, extremely useful if one is ever accused of murder. (Wrongly accused, that is. Though if you’re a mostly-okay person, and the murder was provoked, even Brother Cadfael might find excuses for you. Not Miss Marple. She doesn’t approve of murder, no matter how justified.)

9. Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. I swoon more for Margaret and Mr Thornton from North & South, but I’d want to be friends with Molly and Roger. Both because I think they could use some like-minded friends, and because I think they would make wonderful friends in return.

10. Joy-in-the-Dance, Lucian, et al from The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander. I love all of Alexander’s characters, from all his books, but it’s the main cast of the Arkadians who most make me want to dive into the book and go adventuring with them. I wish he’d written more than one book about them all – I’ve always wanted to know what they did next.

Picture taken from my favorite cover of The Arkadians

Picture taken from my favorite cover of The Arkadians

And that, my friends, is my top ten. It surprised me, when I started writing it, how many of my favorite books and characters do not appeal to me as friends, however much I may love them for themselves (Lord Peter and Harriet, for example, I think would make me feel utterly stupid and inadequate, and that’s not exactly good for a friendship). Some of my opinions have changed since childhood, also – once upon a time, Anne Shirley would have been my ideal friend, but now I have a sneaking suspicion she would exhaust me after every visit. I haven’t outgrown her, but I have outgrown her friendship.

To see others’ top ten characters who … lists, check out The Broke and the Bookish. Happy reading!

Top Ten Unique Books

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1. Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers A detective story, a romance, a psychological novel, or something else entirely? I’ve never been able to make up my mind, but never have I read something so utterly unique and intriguing. I love this book.

2. Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein This one seems an obvious choice. A book one can’t even discuss without giving away crucial parts? Totally unique.

3. Jinx, Jinx’s Magic, Sage Blackwood At first glance, these seem like typical MG fantasies, with shades of Diana Wynne Jones, Lloyd Alexander, CS Lewis, (even Doctor Who!), and many others. But Jinx himself is such an unusual protagonist, a quiet, self-contained boy, enormously observant, often rude without realizing it, responsible yet frequently impulsive … I like to call these books quiet fantasy, which in no way takes away from their intensity. In fact, it might just increase it.

4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie It’s not entirely unique, because after she wrote this many others have copied the same trick – even Christie herself managed to recreate it a few times – but she was the first to attempt such blatant trickery of the reader, and to do it in a way no one could even justifiably resent afterward. Genius.

5. The Rope Trick, Lloyd Alexander All of Alexander’s books are faintly reminiscent of each other, with similar character types popping up in all. The Rope Trick stands out, though, in that Lidi, the main protag, is not like most of his heroines. And I’ve certainly never read any other fantasy of this type that ends with (Spoiler!) all of them dead.

6. Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace Oh, Emily. I’ve talked before about how much I love her. What makes this book truly unique, though, as well as contributing to its beauty and strength, are three things: (Spoilers ahead) Emily doesn’t marry her first crush; she doesn’t get to finally achieve her dream of going to college at the end; she is a quietly strong character, without a hint of feistiness. All three so very rare.

7. Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, AA Milne OK, random yes (although not if you know my household – we either listen to the audio books or have the hard copy lying around for anyone to browse through almost all the time, and Carl just finished reading them to the girls for bedtime stories AGAIN), but still. Have you ever read any other children’s book that is even remotely similar to these? That has humor for both adults and kids, that can suck you in whatever your age, that makes stuffed toys come so vividly alive? Good old Winnie-ther-Pooh.

8. Queen’s Thief series, Megan Whalen Turner Another obvious choice. I love these books, and even more do I love how MWT writes the books she wants to write, without worrying about conventions or expectations of the genre. These books are their own books, and they aren’t ashamed of that. (Because they’re AWESOME.)

9. Dark Lord of Derkholm, Diana Wynne Jones A rollicking, wickedly funny tear on traditional fantasy, this book, as with most DWJ, also manages to slide in some pretty sharp truths amidst the humor and nonsense. A book that both makes you laugh hysterically and catch your breath with its poignancy.

10. Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell I include this mainly because of my husband. He’s not a fan of most Jane Austen movies, because he can tell right off the bat what’s going to happen, who is going to end up with who and why, and he finds the progression boring. W&D, however, he started out confidently predicting how it was going to end up, and then found himself confounded at every turn, and ended up truly loving it. So I say that makes it pretty unique in its genre! It also happens to be one of the only unfinished books I love and adore and don’t even care that it’s unfinished, so there’s also that.

And there you have my top ten! I am realizing there’s a great deal of overlap between all of my top ten books. Either that means I have a very narrow selection of books to choose between (possible, since although I read a lot, most books I forget about almost as soon as I finish), or that my favorite books are my favorites for good reason: they all share a lot of great qualities.

Head over to The Broke and the Bookish for more lists!

TTT: Books That Make You Swoon

I usually let a few more days pass between posts, especially when my previous post was SHERLOCK!!!!!!!! … but once again, I couldn’t resist the topic.

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Books that make me swoon! I wasn’t sure at first if this was romantic swooning, or just “I adore this” swooning, or swooning over characters, or what. But I glanced at a few of the other posts, and it seems people are interpreting it however they wish, so I will too. Ha! It’ll be mostly “I adore this” swooning, but occasionally romantic swooning over characters as well.

1. Gaudy Night, Dorothy L Sayers It’s no secret that I am head-over-heels for Lord Peter Wimsey. Talk about swooning! But it’s this book, where the stormy relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane comes to a conclusion, that gets me the most. Not just the characters, but the way they settle their struggles, and the overall relationship and respect between them. The scene at the river’s side? *Faint*

2. Rilla of Ingleside, LM Montgomery I don’t care so much about the romance in this one, though as a kid I always had a crush on Walter. But the sad goodbye to one era, the hopeful looking toward a new, the slow, sorrowful, strong growing-up of Rilla, has always made me very swoony over this book.

3. The Castle of Llyr, Lloyd Alexander Taran Wanderer is my favorite of the Prydain Chronicles, but this one is definitely the most swoon-worthy. A quest to save Eilonwy, who in the end has to make the most gut-wrenching choice to save those she loves. Ah … perfection.

4. North & South, Elizabeth Gaskell Margaret Hale. John Thornton. This book is incredible, you guys. The mini-series BBC did was pretty darn good, too. Richard Armitage as John Thornton? Please excuse me while I go faint quietly in the corner.

5. Persuasion, Jane Austen I adore Anne Elliot. Captain Wentworth’s letter is pretty much the best romantic gesture ever. The scene between Anne and Wentworth at the concert in Bath is one of my favorite scenes between two romantic leads I’ve ever read. I love this book.

6. King of Attolia, Megan Whalen Turner *Do not read this entry if you’ve not yet read the Queen’s Thief books. PLEASE. I’m as fond of spoilers as anyone, but don’t, don’t ruin this for yourself. Just trust me on this.* It’s not just the relationship between Gen and Irene that I love in this book (although that alone would be enough!). It’s the relationship between Gen and Costis. The relationship between Costis and Teleus. Between Teleus and Irene. Irene and Relius. Relius and Gen. So many relationship, you guys. And all of them heart-rending.

7. Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones Sophie. I love Sophie, and I love Howl, and I love Sophie and Howl, and I love this book. Love, love, love.

8. Betsy’s Wedding, Maud Hart Lovelace This picture of the first few years of marriage between Betsy and Joe has always filled me with great joy. And them coming back from their honeymoon? Yes, definitely swoon-worthy.

9. Seaward, Susan Cooper Far less known than her Dark is Rising series, this book is eerie and lovely and sad, and just beautifully written.

10. Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold ISTA. Ista is the best. I love Ista. I want to be Ista. Well, no, because her life was horrible, but her strength and courage and humor are amazing. And her romance, while secondary to her adventures, is highly satisfying.

There you have it! My top ten swoon-worthy books. Head over to The Broke and The Bookish to see what others picked!

"She Was Only Anne"

I am not a book reviewer, and this blog is not a review blog. I adore book review blogs. I just don’t review very well. I have a hard time being objective, and looking at something as either well-done or poorly-done, instead of “I liked this” or “this irritated the heck out of me.”

However. I am re-reading Persuasion for, I don’t know, the seventh time? Tenth? I don’t keep track of how often I read books, honestly. I know I started reading Austen back in my college days, and have re-read her books many times since. Sense and Sensibility is my least favorite – I would venture so far as to say I rather dislike it, mostly because all the characters are in good need of a Gibbs-head-slap – and my favorite keeps changing throughout the years. Right now, and for a few years, it is Persuasion, followed closely by Emma.

I think Anne Elliot is the best of all Austen’s heroines. More depth to her character than Lizzy Bennet, more spirit than Fanny Price, more clarity of vision than Emma Woodhouse, more common sense than Cathy Morland, and more understanding and wisdom than the Dashwood sisters. I love, as I approach my thirtieth year, that she is an older heroine, and one who blossomed later in life instead of early. I love how she shows that gentleness does not equal weakness, just as Louisa Musgrove proves that spiritedness does not equal strength of character.

Captain Wentworth is, I think, a bit of a jerk. He’s held a grudge against Anne for years, is deliberately rude to her, and flirts with the Musgrove girls without a care for how he might be affecting them. Yet, he is no Darcy, because we get to see him improve slowly throughout the book – not just changing after he is confronted with his faults, because he wants to be worthy of his love (I really hate the message that sends – that if you love somebody enough, you can change their character flaws. IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY OUTSIDE THE MOVIE AND BOOK WORLD). He sees his flaws for himself, recognizes where he has been unjust and acted wrongly, and then moves decisively to correct himself.

And I think that’s one reason why Anne and Captain Wentworth are such a good match – they loved each other as youth, were separated and grew up apart from each other, each developing into their own person, and then came back together as fully realized adults, each offering something special to the other, to help make the other complete.

Persuasion is great not just for the MCs, though. The supporting characters are all brilliantly drawn too – Mary Musgrove cracks me up with every re-reading; Admiral and Mrs Croft are delightful; Mr Elliot and Mrs Clay are just the right sort of villains – not too obvious.

Then there is the scenery, and the overall feel of the book. I almost always read Persuasion in the autumn or winter months. It is that sort of book; it feels wrong to read it when it is light and sunny out. With only a few words Austen gives us a clear picture of Kellynch, of Lyme (oh how I want to visit there someday!), and of Bath. Bath comes through even clearer in Persuasion, I think, than in Northanger Abbey.

It shows the mark of being written by an older, experienced author. The pace is calmer, the humor subtler, the tone quieter and deeper than the others. It is, I think, Jane Austen’s masterpiece, and I think it a true pity that it is so often overshadowed by the brighter but shallower Pride and Prejudice.

Next up on my fall/winter reading list: Shakespeare and Elizabeth Gaskell! What are you planning on reading this month?