Welcome! The stories I’ve carried with me since I was a child
Welcome to my new blog! While this blog will be devoted to reviewing contemporary pieces of work as well as showcasing and developing my own writing, I wanted to dedicate my first posting to some of the novels that truly inspired me as a sort of kick off event. Below is a list of books I have carried with me since childhood or my teenage years; each one possessing narratives and characters that have imprinted themselves and have helped shape the person I am today.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847) instead of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847) – The Bronte sisters were a force to be reckoned with in the mid-19th century literary era. They challenged preconceptions about female writers, weaving beautifully complex and thoughtful story lines that delved deep into the big world questions of life, love, existence, and morality. Their protagonists were strong characters, though sometimes wild, and without them feminist literature would look a lot different than what it is today. I am a big fan of both novels. Anyone who has ever read Jane Eyre would be naïve to dismiss the profound statements the story makes about the unconquerable will and strength of character of our formidable protagonist. Jane’s ability to not only survive the cruelty of Lowood, but to return with love and forgiveness still in her heart is a testament to the goodness that humankind is capable of. Her resolve to stay true to her own sense of morality despite the love she feels Mr. Rochester allows her to truly become independent and free. However, it is Wuthering Heights that really made an impression on me. It’s unfettered criticism of class, gender, religious hypocrisy, and racism challenged many of the traditional roles and discourses taking place at that time. What I love most about Emily Bronte’s characters is that at times they are uninhibited by the confines of “proper” and “civil” society, instead opting to succumb to their most basic desires and feelings. Whereas Jane Eyre demonstrates restraint and morality, Wuthering Heights is a beautifully imaginative and dark book that celebrates unrequited love and loss. My initial reading left me shocked and disgusted by the cruelty of the characters, but upon a second reading and then another I started to see the beauty and purity of true love hidden beneath the depravity.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899) – Probably one of my favorite feminist novels, The Awakening is set in New Orleans near the turn of the 20th century. The plot centers around the life of Edna Pontellier and how her developing love affair with young and charming Robert Lebrun forces her to deal with her personal struggles fulfilling the roles of mother and dutiful wife. The farther she pulls away and begins to develop her sense of identity separate from the one carved out for her by society the more society tries to suffocate her and bring her back under its control. While her ending is tragic, I revel in the sexual freedom that Kate Chopin gives to the main character. The awakening of female sexuality that is unrestrained and even reckless is still a conversation we are having today. The Awakening is a must read for any young woman because it forces her to think about how society oppresses and shames women who shun rigid gender roles while embracing their own sexual desires.
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936) – Ever since I first picked up Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind I have been in love with the book ever since. It has remained my number one favorite and its movie adaptation was a brilliant work all on its own. Many people criticize it for romanticizing slavery and while I can appreciate the merit of the argument it is not enough to sway my own infatuation for the fierce and independent Scarlett O’Hara. She is brash, courageous, intelligent, and unapologetic – though even in her selfishness she is devoted to those she loves and those who are unable to care for themselves. Gone With The Wind is a coming of age story that showcases poverty, slavery and the caste system, class and society, the Civil War era, and concepts of masculinity and femininity. Scarlett is ostracized for taking on masculine traits that are crucial to her and her family’s survival following the devastation of Georgia. Her character adapts to the changing environment while many in the Old Guard cling to the old ways of the South. This is a great story for anyone contemplating their own identity and what place they have in this world – is it one given to you that you settle for, or is it one that you decide to go out and get even in the face of near insurmountable odds?
Anthem by Ayn Rand (1938) – I don’t think there has been a literary voice that has influenced American society in the past century than that of Ayn Rand. I picked up The Fountainhead at a mere age of sixteen and spent the next eight hours oblivious to the world around me as I tumbled head first into the mind of someone who I have come to admire as one of the strongest advocates for reason as life’s guiding principle over faith and religion. As soon as I was finished I went out and bought Atlas Shrugged. For the next four years I would reread her two most popular novels every year. It wasn’t until I started branching out and reading some of her lectures and nonfiction pieces on Objectivisim and selfishness that I came across Anthem. I wish I had read this book first. It is a novella, a mere blip in comparison to the epic length of her more famous pieces, but it is equally moving. Anthem is a dystopian story set in the unspecified future in which technological advancement is carefully controlled and minimized by the Council of Vocations and the concept of individuality has been obliterated. The protagonist, Equality 7-2521, is a man who recognizes that he is different from those around him as he fights against his growing desire for knowledge and deny the affection he begins to feel for another like himself. But once he stumbles into an old sewage drain he discovers remnants from the past and throws caution to the wind. Anthem crystalized Rand’s concept of individualism and competition, not only influencing future literary works (1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Giver, etc…) but also politics, academia, and economics. For anyone who would like an introduction to Ayn Rand’s philosophies Anthem would be a good place to start.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958) – By now I am sure you are noticing a pattern. All the books I have referenced include strong, independent characters, conflicting societies, and endings that are rarely happy and conclusive. Things Fall Apart isn’t any different. It perfectly sums up the affects of colonialism in Africa and is considered one of the first great modern African novels that discusses national identity, cultural and religious contestation, and decolonization. Being a slight history buff myself, I loved how Achebe is able to portray Igbo life and culture from the point of view of an African man while still using the English language; subtly influencing the reader to feel sympathy for Igbo society while simultaneously challenging the common misconceptions of African society as savage and primitive. For anyone interested in the effects of cultural misunderstanding and ethnocentricism on an non-Western society, Things Fall Apart cleverly addresses these heavy topics but at the same time weaves a beautiful story of familial bond and adventure.