Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus is a play, so reading it as a novel has its disadvantages. That being said, I still found it to be a fascinating study on pride, desire, and what a person is willing to do to get what they feel they deserve.

The first thing the audience (or reader, in this case) is made to understand is that Dr. Faustus feels underappreciated and that he does not get the credit or riches he deserves. He decides to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for power and riches. Obviously, this isn’t an unheard-of idea, but Dr. Faustus is one of the earlier examples. What follows feels to me more like an examination of the value of a soul, and what exactly damns it, than anything else. That might disappoint some people, but I found it fascinating, especially when viewed through the lens of society at that time.

Mephistopheles was my favorite character (his name is absolutely absurd, though). On the surface, his driving force can be summed up when he utters the lines, “ O what will not I do to obtain his soul!”, but he is actually much more complicated than that. I see him as a representation between the religious expectation of the time and desire. There was kind of a “fall in line” attitude toward religion when this was originally written (in the early 1600’s, I think), so Mephistopheles is pretty much the personification of dissent. Plus, he was fun. He was so desperate to gather those souls!

The pacing is definitely odd, but a good chunk of that is because it’s supposed to be seen performed and I haven’t been able to yet. There are a plethora of monologues, and a lot of introspection, so it’s a slower and more complex read. What pushed The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus from a “like” to a “love” for me is the ending. I don’t want to give it away, but I’ll just say that it pretty perfectly embodies one of humanity’s more prevalent characteristics.

I highly recommend reading it.

Interview With a Middle-School Reader

The other day I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve picked my middle-schooler’s brain about books (zombie pun not intended, but still chuckle-inducing). The first time I interviewed him about what he’s been enjoying, he was in fifth grade. Now…he’s not. Time flies, unless it’s 2020. Then it crawls inexorably toward the next weird disaster. But I digress.

My middle-schooler is definitely leaning in the fantasy and sci-fi direction as far as his reading taste. I’m so proud. Here’s what he’s been reading over the last little bit:

The Frith Chonicles by Shami Stovall

I introduced my oldest to this book after having read and loved it. He enjoyed it so much that he kept on going. He’s now read all the books that are released and is eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. He says, “It was a very different fantasy from what I’m used to, but not in a bad way. I liked all the magical creatures and some were pretty cute. I liked the characters and the storyline was large and expansive. I definitely recommend it for slightly older kids, like teenagers.”

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris


My avid reader loved this one so much, he finished it in three hours.
He says “I really liked this one. It was nice and cute and it had some really good magic tricks. It was funny and I liked the illustrations. It also had some secret codes in it which were really hard to figure out, but once I did, they were fun and rewarding.”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

My oldest has mixed feelings on this one. He says, “I think I like it the most out of the quote- unquote “classics” I’ve read so far. I feel like it was written for a different generation, though.”

The Oddmire by William Ritter

I’ve read the first two books in the series (all that are out right now) and I loved them. Here’s what my oldest had to say: “I liked it! The first book felt like the beginning of a really important fantasy adventure. The second book was more straightforward than the first, but they were both great. I like Cole the best. He just seemed like an adventurous prankster type. I’m excited about the third book.”

There you have it. He just finished Huckleberry Finn and did not like it at all (to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of it when I read it either). He’s on to The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Beast and the Bethany next. I know he’s going to love meeting The Beast. So, readers: what are some more books that my oldest might like?

Live and Let Read: My Thoughts on Banned and Censored Books

This week is Banned Books Week, so I’m taking this opportunity to talk about something that I have a strong opinion about: banning and censoring books.

“We must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” (Cassandra Clare)

Let me start with a little backstory here. The banning of books is nothing new. In fact, it’s believed that the first widely banned book in the U.S. was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, banned for having a “pro-abolitionist agenda” (via lithub). While there are several varied reasons for banning or censoring books, sexual issues, age appropriateness, and the inclusion of witchcraft are pretty common. At one point, the poetry collection Howl (which is brilliant, by the way) was actually put on trial. The defendants had to prove that it had “literary merit.”

You’d think that, in this day and age, book banning or censoring is over and done with. Nope. The face of book banning may have changed, but there are always books being pulled from shelves or school libraries for all kinds of reasons.

Now, where do I stand on book banning and censorship? I am unequivocally against it. If you don’t agree with an idea a book is presenting, you absolutely have the right to choose not to read it. But denying others the right to make that decision for themselves is a slippery slope. Who should get to decide what content is appropriate for everyone?

The wonderful and-yes, sometimes scary- thing about books is how incredibly powerful they can be. They can comfort, educate, and challenge us. Books have the magical ability to both show us how vast this world is, while at the same time reminding us, that maybe we’re not so different or alone after all.

The list of banned and challenged books (a challenged book being one that a group has attempted to have access of removed or restricted) is huge. It includes ‘classics’ such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Catch 22. Children’s books as ubiquitous as Where’s Waldo and A Light in the Attic have also made the list. Unsurprisingly, Harry Potter is one of the most commonly challenged book series to date. Of course, don’t forget to add the Bible to the list: often challenged for violent content.

In fact, speaking of Harry Potter, I was told at one point that I needed to meet with someone to discuss my “unhealthy obsession with witchcraft” simply for reading those books. I was twenty eight years old at the time. See what I’m talking about when I say that book banning or censoring could become a dangerous slope?

I proudly say that I read banned and challenged books. My kids read them (I was so excited when they were introduced to Where the Wild Things Are). In fact, if you’re a reader, chances are you’ve enjoyed a book that’s been challenged or banned- whether you were aware of it or not.

There are many experiences that I haven’t had, shoes that I haven’t walked in, or situations that I haven’t dealt with…but books can help me understand and empathize with those who have. They teach us compassion and broaden our horizons. So, are they dangerous? I should hope so. After all, growth and change generally are.

What about you, Reader? Do you think books should be banned or censored? What “questionable” books have you read and loved? What books have changed you or caused you to see things differently?

Now, go live dangerously. READ.

*For more information about commonly challenged books over the years, check out http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10).

Image Credit: Grant Snider

Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes by Nicky Raven and John Howe

Hardcover Beowulf : A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes Book

The exhilarating epic blazes to life — featuring illustrations by a lead artist on the LORD OF THE RINGS film trilogy.

“Look into the flames and let your minds empty. . . . For this is a tale of blood and heat and ashes.”

It is a tale that has been retold countless times through the centuries — and here, in an enthralling edition illustrated by a noted Tolkien artist, the mighty Beowulf is well set to capture new legions of followers. This contemporary retelling of the ancient epic — narrated with a touch of banter by the faithful Wiglaf and featuring vividly dramatic illustrations — follows the mythic hero from his disarming of the gruesome Grendel to his sword battle with the monster’s sea hag mother to his final, fiery showdown with an avenging dragon. (taken from Amazon)
I love Beowulf. I have read a few different versions of it, as well as some novels that are inspired by this epic poem. When I found out that there is a retelling that includes illustrations by the artist John Howe, I just had to have it.

Like with any classic, there are translations and retellings. This would fall more under the “retelling” category than a full-blown new translation of the original text. It flows a little bit more like a fairy tale than like the epic itself. It’s also a bit simplified, which makes it more accessible to a broader age range. It’s a fantastic retelling, but in no way can it replace the original.

To be honest, what sold me on the book are the illustrations. Most of you know who John Howe is. For those who don’t let me give a little example of his fantasy cred: he was a concept designer for The Lord of the Rings movies (his style is very apparent in the Fell Beasts), has created cover art for many fantasy novels, worked on other movies such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and his art can even be found on Magic the Gathering cards (sadly, my own Magic cards don’t have his art on them). I personally also love his art in A Diversity of Dragons. And let me tell you, his popularity is well-deserved.

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His art in Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes is phenomenal. The depth and atmosphere he brought to the book elevates it from a story to something more. It drew me in. My oldest will be reading Beowulf  (Seamus Heaney’s translation) this school year and I am going to have him also read Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes. I am positive it will deepen his appreciation for the original, as well as give him an opportunity to enjoy some stunning artwork.

I highly suggest reading this book. Actually, just buy it and add it to your collection. I guarantee you’ll want to own it.

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The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper - Kindle edition by Gilman, Charlotte Perkins ...

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is told as a series of journal entries written by a woman who has gone to a country manor to recover from what is assumed at this time to be postpartum depression.  Her loving husband, John, follows the recommendation of doctors of the day (he is also a doctor), and sequesters the woman so that she might rest and recover. She is not supposed to exercise or write,  instead letting repose heal her. The woman (whose name is never learned) is not allowed to leave her room, which has yellow wallpaper. As time progresses, the woman becomes convinced that the wallpaper moves and there is someone in the wallpaper trying to get out.

I really can’t accurately describe the creepy feel of this story. While it is ultimately a tale of the deterioration of the woman’s mental state (due to the absolutely absurd treatment of mental illness in the late 1800’s, when this was written), there is an eerie vibe to it. The writing is astounding. I was immediately drawn in. I can see why this story is considered a classic.

When I began the book, I thought it was odd that the color of the wallpaper was such a big deal. However, I soon found that it makes perfect sense. The metaphors found throughout are amazing, conveying the hopelessness the woman felt regarding her situation.

It isn’t a happy-go-lucky story, but it is a compelling one. And the ending! Holy terror, Batman! Gilman’s writing is excellent. I highly recommend reading this story.

Books That I Think Will Be Future Classics

I saw this post on both Fictionophile’s and Orang-Utan Librarian’s fantastic blogs and I just had to take part. Credit for this fun post goes to Orangutan Librarian.

I like thinking about the books that will be considered ‘classics’ for future generations, and the reasons why. Here are a few that I think will fill that role in the coming years:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up. (taken from Amazon)

Aside from the fact that this is an incredibly moving book (it’s one of my top five favorites of all time), it’s an important book. Written solely through letters, this book covers subjects that are often considered taboo in the YA genre and it does it realistically and with grace. The simplicity of the writing makes it hit home all the more. I definitely see this one being considered a “classic” in the future.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. (taken from Amazon)

Admission: I haven’t read this book. However, it think it fits the criteria: it discusses an important subject, is relevant to the time (sadly), and -from what I’ve heard- it’s well-written.

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The Harry Potter series

Okay, hear me out: I’m not adding this series because it’s immensely popular. I’m adding it because of the changes it inspired in children’s literature, the first being that this series crosses from being kid lit., to being middle grade about halfway through the series. This is the first series that I can think of that was written with the goal of having the audience get older in conjunction with the characters. It also spawned a change in children’s literature: the discussion of difficult subjects without shying away or “dumbing it down” to meet the reader. Plus, there are the numerous books that have been quite obviously inspired by the changes Harry Potter affected in literature.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.

This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years. (taken from Amazon)

While it’s never actually confirmed in the book, most people agree that Christopher is on the spectrum. The way the author explored this is astounding. While it changes how Christopher handles things, it in no way shows him as being incapable or “lesser than.” It’s amazing how well-written this book is. It really made me think and I would be very surprised if this isn’t considered a classic in the future.

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Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.

This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

This seems like one of those books that intimidates a lot of people. I highly recommend giving it a go. I believe that- aside from the themes explored in the book- its odd writing style ( the endnotes! Endless endnotes!) will both fascinate and confuse for many generations to come.

If some of these are already considered classics, then yay and my bad. It’s been longer than I care to admit since I’ve had required reading of “classics.”

What do you think? What would you add?

Continuing On: Lesser-known sequels to popular books

Sometimes a book is so popular, and functions so well as a standalone, that I don’t realize there’s a sequel. This happened last year when I discovered that Richard Adams had revisited the world of Watership Down. Maybe I’m the only person who doesn’t always check for sequels, but here’s a list of sequels to popular books that may have been skipped over. Let’s give these books some attention!

Tales From Watership Down by Richard Adams: 

Image result for tales from watership downI’m one of those weirdos who actually really likes Watership Down. Yes, it’s odd, and the themes are harsh and rather upsetting, but I would argue that it’s an important book (even though the characters are adorable little rabbits). I have to be honest: I was disappointed by Tales From Watership Down. It felt like an unnecessary tack-on, which might be why it’s never talked about.

 Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott: 
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Here’s the thing: I really hate Little Women. Not the movie with Wynona Ryder, I like that one; I hate the book. I tried to reread it not too long ago, but the way the author beats the reader over the head with her life lessons was just flat-out annoying. I love Jo’s Boys, though. The lessons are still there, but they’re less in-your-face, and following Jo as she runs her school for boys is pretty cool. Don’t forget to read Little Men first!

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card: 

Paperback Speaker for the Dead Book
Without discussing the author’s behavior in any way, I think it’s pretty common knowledge that Ender’s Game is fabulous. The series continues in several more books. The Speaker for the Dead is the sequel and it is brilliant. I highly recommend it. I’d also suggest Ender’s Shadow, which is actually a parallel novel to Ender’s Game. It’s written from Bean’s perspective, and it really fleshes out his character and adds a new dimension to the original book.

Twenty Years After by Alexander Dumas:

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I fell in love with The Three Musketeers when I was pretty young (who doesn’t love buckling swash?) and I reread it a lot. It’s one of those books that’s just fun. Twenty Years After feels a little more serious to me, but it’s still very well-written, and definitely one worth reading.

                                                       Sequels I haven’t yet read

The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
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I haven’t read this one yet. I plan to get to it eventually, but I also plan on traveling the world, and actually having a clean house while my children still live here, neither of which has happened yet. We’ll see what I manage to accomplish first.

Closing Time by Joseph Heller:

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How did I not know about this book? I must be slipping in my old age. I’m actually rather annoyed at myself for not having gotten to it yet. I will definitely have to read this one soon!

Have you read any of these? What are some other sequels to popular books that I’ve missed? Let me know. I love to talk books!