A new favorite book: ‘Howards End’ by E.M. Forster

howards endToday, I finished one of the books I’ve been wanting to read forever, Howards End by E.M. Forster. Forster wrote one of my top 10 favorite books of all time (A Room With A View), and it’s clear from how effing amazing this book is that this is truly Forster’s masterpiece. It’s unique, endlessly poignant, surprising, and makes you go, “OH MY GOD THAT IS SO TRUE.” A new favorite, truly! Here’s what the big deal is all about.

What it’s about: It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what Howards End is about, because it’s about so many things: women versus men, socialism versus capitalism, town versus country, the inner life versus the outer, and our relationship to the earth. It’s also about home, and has a touch of magic to it.

However, the actual plot centers upon two families: the cultured London sisters Margaret and Helen Schlegel, and the Wilcox family of cold and practical businessmen. These two families are complete opposites and frequently butt heads, and their meetings, fights, and unions are characterized by rich discussions about all of the Big Questions of life. It’s also an indictment of common English practices and rigid social classes.

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Amazing fantasy by Neil Gaiman: ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’

Ho boy. This book was surely the perfect one to read to pull me out of a reading rut. This is my third Neil Gaiman novel, and the first that truly chilled me to the bone. It’s much more serious and much less whimsical than his other stories I’ve read, but no less magicalThe Ocean at the End of the Lane sparks some interesting questions about memory, childhood, and how adulthood morphs all of us. I would recommend this book to people of all ages.

the ocean at the end of the laneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane begins on a somber note: a middle-aged, divorced man returns to his Sussex home to attend a funeral, and in between the service and the luncheon, he finds himself driving to a spot he doesn’t realize until he gets there: an old farmhouse he used to know when he was a very small boy.

He sits by a pond at the edge of the land, and as he does, he remembers repressed memories from when he was seven years old, when an 11-year-old girl named Lettie Hempstock, whose family owned the farm, saved him from a dark, supernatural evil. His memories are triggered by the fact that Lettie called the small pond an “ocean.”

Through the eyes of the narrator, we get to know him as a shy, sensitive seven-year-old who uses books and stories to escape from everyday life. But the whole of the narrative is dominated by the (nameless) main character’s experience dealing with an evil being, who calls herself Ursula Monkton. He first comes into contact with the being when he wakes up choking on a coin, and learns from his enigmatic new friend Lettie Hempstock that a supernatural, devious force is trying to “give people what they want” and is doing it in a way that’ll harm humans.

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Wandering around a bookstore

One of the most therapeutic things I ever do is take an hour or two to wander around my Barnes & Noble. The best days are the ones that I don’t have much to do, anywhere to go, and nothing specific in mind. Especially when there are exciting new releases, I love to go and explore the shelves and see what stands out to me.

This is how I used to buy books when I was kid: there was no Goodreads or Amazon in my life, and no recommendations from friends. I had to pick books based on feelings, and yes, the covers. I try to do that more often: just wander around, pick books up and see what jumps out.

Today I did that, and I found some gems. Here’s what I bought:

I picked up The Golem and the Jinni from those New Releases tables, and the thing that first hooked me was, I won’t lie, the weight of the book. I think there’s something so much better about reading a physical book that feels good in your hand. When the binding is weak and the pages are light, I’m less satisfied with buying a book. I like it to feel weighty. And then I read the inside flap and decided to had to have it.

The first paragraph of the inside flap: “Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.” Seriously, so excited.

The second was a must-have: The Occupation Trilogy, three novels written in 1968 about the Occupation in Paris during World War II. This won a Nobel Prize in Literature. I’ve been fascinated with learning more about the Occupation ever since I read Edward Rutherfurd’s Paris, so this seemed like the perfect place to start.

I’m really excited to get into these! What’s your favorite way to find new books?

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September Reads & Recs

Colder months are approaching, a.k.a. the months that I sit and read 87% of the time. Can’t wait. After reading almost nothing for the month of August (and instead watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix obsessively and spending too much money on admittedly awesome events), I’m really itching to start reading some of these books.

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The first book I’m currently reading: Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation by Ruby Blondell. It’s a critical analysis of the figure of Helen of Troy throughout literature from the ancient, classical world to today, and what she means for culture. As a figure, Helen of Troy is perhaps the single most interesting “character” ever. I studied her in college and used this book as a resource, and now I’m going back to read the whole thing.

The second is collection of short stories about “loving and leaving New York”: Goodbye To All That. I love New York-inspired literature and I’m excited to get into these essays and short works of fiction.

And a classic: Villette by Charlotte Bronte. I bought this book a few years ago fully intent on reading it within the month, but alas, life happened. I can’t wait to read a Bronte novel I haven’t read yet. It’s giving me all kinds of bookish feels.

What are you all reading this fall?

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Going to San Francisco…

Hey friends! I’m excited to share some travel news. This summer my cousin and I are going to San Francisco to visit a friend, and I’m getting so excited to visit California for the first time. Yep—first time on the West Coast. We already have a long list of places to see and things to do, but if you’ve been to SF or live there, let me know if you have any recommendations! We want an action-packed week. 🙂

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LOVE.

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Reads & Recs: History, Classics, and a Kiddy Book

What is everyone reading this weekend? Here’s my weekend literary list and some great recommendations for you guys!

Anne-Boleyn-Ives  HISTORY: Yesterday I took The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn off my shelf for a long overdue re-read. The book, written by the late (but still great) historian and scholar Eric Ives, is the closest thing we’ll get to a definitive account of Anne Boleyn’s life and the circumstances that led to her untimely death. You may not know this but my blog is actually named for Anne Boleyn. I’ve been fascinated by her since I bought a children’s book about her when I was 10. She’s a very interesting and always inspiring historical figure, often maligned and almost always misunderstood. Eric Ives’s biography attempts to set the record straight about who she really was, and I think he succeeds.

Another good Anne Boleyn book I read recently was The Creation of Anne Boleyn. I wrote a review of it for this blog a while back, which takes a look at Anne Boleyn and how she’s considered a contemporary feminist icon. The review was also recently featured on  the author’s (Susan Bordo) press pages! Check it out here, and definitely read those books if you want to learn more about the real Anne Boleyn.

Les-Mis-PenguinCLASSICS: This weekend I’m going to set aside some time to write about the book I recently finished, Victor Hugo’s brilliant tour-de-force, Les Miserables. Ugh, I can’t even talk about it. I saw the film when it was released and just recently saw the musical revival on Broadway, so I knew the story. But at the end of reading the novel, I felt like I was a part of the story. Some books change you, some books are unforgettable, and some pull you in like a black hole and don’t ever let go. This was one of those books. It’s about the goodness of the human heart and about redemption, but most importantly, it’s about charity for your fellow man, regardless of their flaws and vices. It’s also extremely political and taught me a lot about France’s political turmoil from 1789 to the 1860s, far more than you’ll ever get from any European history textbook. Also–Gavroche! You gotta read it.

Also: the Penguin Classics clothbound edition sucks. Every time I picked up the book, the pretty printed design came off on my hands and now the cover looks so faded and worn. For such an expensive edition, it should at least be readable, not just attractive. I should have bought a secondhand one instead!

Westing-GameKIDDY BOOKS: I just got another job tutoring a sixth grader who is reading The Westing Game in class. Since I have to read it with her, I picked up a copy of the book I read when I was about 11 or 12, and let me tell you, it is kicking my ass. It’s simple to read but there’s so much action and so many characters, and coming from a long novel with more commentary than action, it’s a lot more difficult than it should be! I keep having to go back and reread what I just read, certain I missed something. It’s also a murder mystery, so attention to detail is of the utmost importance.

Still, this book reminds me what it was like to fall in love with reading when I was young, and it reminds me why I became the voracious reader I am today. I love YA and still read the books I bought when I was young. They never get old, in my opinion.