The year I discovered imagery, classics, and Matilda’s book list | Classic Meme, Oct. 2020

The Classics Club Blog has rebooted their monthly memes. October’s question is about the classics I read as child. I’m surprised that I’ve never told this story before.

Reading Classics

When I was in elementary school (oh so long ago!) I was a terrible language arts student. I didn’t know how to interpret imagery. Whenever we were asked to complete a take-home or in-class essay, I simply summarized the major plot points of the books we were assigned. I was a literalist.

Then in 8th grade, my English teacher assigned us Lord of the Flies by William Golding. For the first time, I was taught how to go beyond the literal sense of a text. I remember failing the in-class essay not because I didn’t know what to write but because I had too much to say. Today, I am a PhD student in French literature, thanks in part to that 8th grade teacher.

8th grade was also the year that I discovered poetry and started reading more complicated classics. I borrowed a copy of A Tale of Two Cities, which I am pretty sure I never returned (oops!). The following summer, I visited the adult section of my local library and checked out Animal Farm by George Orwell, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (I thought Eyre was pronounced “ire”), Oliver Twist, and The Invisible Man — four of the fourteen books on Matilda’s book list. I also read Great Expectations. Yes, I was so obsessed with Roald Dahl’s novels and short stories that I decided to read the books that Matilda is said to have read at the age of 4!

Some people say that literature classes made them hate reading. I had the complete opposite experience. I fell in love with reading because of the classics and because I learned how to go beyond the literal plot of a story.

For your interest, below are all 14 books on Matilda’s list. Most of them seem a bit too mature for a 4 year old, but Roald Dahl would probably say that I’m just a snooty adult who underestimates children 😜 :

  1. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  2. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  5. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  6. Gone to Earth by Mary Webb
  7. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  8. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
  9. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  11. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  12. The Good Companions by J. B. Priestley
  13. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
  14. Animal Farm by George Orwell

How Do Academic Writers Engage With Existing Scholarship? | Rewriting by Joseph Harris

I have been taking language classes all of my life, but for some reason, I never really taught how I should cite existing scholarship. I knew that I was supposed to say something new and also acknowledge the contribution of other scholars in the field, but I didn’t know how to do that.


Enter Rewriting by Joseph Harris. Rewriting is all about how scholars and essayists position their arguments in relation to those of other thinkers. If there is one book that I would put into the hands of every incoming graduate student in the humanities, Rewriting would be it.

Harris focuses on three ways that academic writers engage with existing scholarship: forwarding, countering, and taking an approach. Forwarding is when a writer “takes terms and concepts from one text and applies them to a reading of other texts and situations” (6). The goal of forwarding is to show in what way an argument, term, or concept has been helpful in thinking about a new text. Countering is more intuitive. It involves disagreeing with a reading or a concept. The final way – taking an approach – involves applying a theory to a new set of texts or adopting the style of a certain author.

However, before an academic writer can forward, counter, or take an approach, she must come to terms with the scholarship. she must first be able to summarize in her own words the major arguments of the article, book chapter, or monograph in question. In order to find the gap in the scholarship, she must understand the scholarship.

I found the first chapter on coming to terms to be the most useful because it sets the groundwork for the later chapters on forwarding, countering, taking an approach, and rewriting. Here is how Joseph Harris explains coming to terms:

[T]he phrase suggests, a settling of accounts, a negotiation between reader and writer. In coming to terms, you need both to give a text its due and to show what uses you want to make of it. You are not simply re-presenting a text but incorporating it into your own project as a writer. You thus need not only to explain what you think it means but to say something about the perspective from which you are reading it (emphasis, my own) (15).

Harris recommends three practices to come to terms with a text:

  1. summarizing the writer’s project
  2. highlighting key passages and words
  3. considering possibilities and limitations of the approach

Only after an academic writer has come to terms with the text, can she begin to consider how an idea might be forwarded or countered. I often lose sight of the general approach that a scholar is taking, focusing instead on the facts. On the contrary, Harris views all writing – but specifically, academic writing – as a kind of negotiation. Forwarding, countering, and taking an approach involve negotiating terms, approaches, and truth claims. Even when a scholars counters, Harris believes that she should acknowledge her indebtedness (however little) to the formulations being countered. But before she can acknowledge her indebtedness to scholarship she must first come to terms with the scholarship.

Note that all strategies of engaging with existing scholarship are ways of saying something new. The goal of academic writing should never be the regurgitation of past scholarship. When quoting from a work, the writer must demonstrate how the quoted passage contributes to the development of her own argument. This is why your high school teacher taught you to never end a paragraph with a quote.

As I’m writing this post, I am deeply aware of how hard it can be to come to terms with a text. Even Rewriting, despite giving clear and practical advice, can be challenging. I find it hard to summarize in writing the major moves that academic writers make. Thankfully, Harris illustrates what he is teaching. He situates his own craft book in relation to other books on academic writing. Furthermore, he never asks the secondary sources he cites to do the work for him. Instead, he explains how a quoted passage from a novel or essay illustrates the various moves of academic writing.

My only criticism is that Rewriting is riddled with typos. The proofreader must have been on leave because there were typos or every few pages. Nevertheless, I don’t think there is a better book out there about how academics engage and cite the work of others.


New Academic Year, New Mindset |PhD Journey

white and browm notebookNew (academic) year, new me. Right? Well, only if I take control of my career.

There are two major areas that need improvement in 2020-2021:

1) Latin. I need to have Latin proficiency by the time I defend my dissertation two years from now, otherwise I will never be an adequate Renaissance scholar. I’ve taken four semesters and one summer of Latin, so I technically should have an intermediate level of proficiency. Unfortunately, I never practice. How ironic that the one Western language that the general public dismisses as “dead” and “irrelevant” is the same language that I DESPERATELY need to know!

2) Writing. I feel like I have the same writing weaknesses that I had when I started the PhD program three years ago. I know that a regular writing practice would help, but I haven’t established one yet.

So what am I going to differently this year?

I’ve realized in the past week that I’m still in “student mode”. I haven’t yet acted on what I know will advance my career.

For starters, I will stop thinking of myself as a student and start thinking of myself as a scholar, even an entrepreneur. The academic job market may be a garbage fire, but the skills that universities look for in job candidates differ little from the skills that other businesses look for in their employees. Writing and project management are just as important in the corporate world as they are in Academia. If I focus on being a scholar who’s reasonably competitive on the job market, I will inevitably develop the skills I need to be marketable in other industries. No one, not even professors, care how many years someone has been a student.

This year, I will think of myself as and perform the tasks of an educator and a scholar. I will reflect on my teaching, develop new lessons, learn Latin, and implement a regular writing practice. I will do all of these things because they are the activities that matter the most to my current PhD and my future career (whether inside or outside Academia).


Classics Club Spin #24

Yay for another Classics Club Spin!! So I’ve noticed that most clubbers double up on numbers to increase their odds of having a certain book picked. So this time, I will only have 10 different books on my list, rather than 20. These are all chunksters because I want to get them off my TBR. They take up much room in my apartment.

1-2 The Aeneid by Virgil (trans. Allen Mandelbaum)

The Aeneid of Virgil, 35th Anniversary Edition by Virgil ...

3-4 East of Eden John Steinbeck

10 Books to Read: "East of Eden" — DIG MAG

5-6 Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens

Barnaby Rudge

7-8 The Odyssey by Homer (trans. Emily Wilson)

Amazon.com: The Odyssey (9780393089059): Homer, Wilson, Emily: Books

9-10 A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman

Amazon.com: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century eBook ...

11-12 La Chartreuse de Parme by Stendhal

La Chartreuse de Parme (French Edition) - Kindle edition by ...

13-14 Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede (trans. Leo Sherley-Price)

Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin Classics ...

15-16 Jehan de Saintré by Antoine de la Sale (trans. Michel Quereuil)

Jehan de Saintre (Ldp Let.Gothiq.) (French Edition): De La Sale, A ...

17-18 None Died in Vain: The Saga of the American Civil War by Robert Leckie

None Died in Vain: The Saga of the American Civil War: Leckie ...

19-20 Angel in the Whirlwind by Benson Bobrick

Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution by ...

These American histories are old enough that I will count them as classics in the history genre. I might be stretching the rules a bit…

Have you read any of these?


My All-Time Favorite French & Francophone Books

I realize that I have never posted a list of my all-time favorite French and Francophone works. As a PhD student in French literature, this is a huge oversight. These books are in loose, chronological order (by century). My favorite book, though, will always be Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I made videos for The Knight of the Cart, The Regrets, Montaillou, and The Red and the Black. The other links are to written reviews on this blog.

1. Aucassin et Nicolette (Aucassin and Nicolette) by Anonymous [12th/13th c.]
2. Yvain, ou le chevalier au lion (Yvain, or the Knight of the Lion) by Chrétien de Troyes [12th c.]
3. Le Chevalier de la charrette (The Knight of the Cart) by Chrétien de Troyes
4. Abraham sacrifiant (The Tragedy of Abraham’s Sacrifice) by Théodore de Bèze [16th c.]
5. Les Regrets (The Regrets) by Joachim du Bellay [16th c.]
6. Le Cid (The Cid) by Pierre Corneille [17th c.]
7. Dom Juan, ou le festin de pierre (Don Juan) by Molière [17th c.]
8. Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman) by Molière
9. Phèdre (Phedrus) by Racine [17th c.]
10. Le jeu de l’amour et du hasard (A Game of Love and Chance) by Marivaux [18th c.]
11. Lettres persanes (Persian Letters) by Montesquieu [18th c.]
12. Père Goriot (Father Goriot) by Honoré de Balzac [19th c.]
13. Le Colonel Chabert (Colonel Chabert) by Honoré de Balzac
14. Le Rouge et le noir (The Red and the Black) by Stendhal [19th c.]
15. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand [19th c.]
16. Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry [20th c.]
17. Terre des hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
18. Journal d’un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest) by Georges Bernanos [20th c.]
19. Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate) by Alain-Fournier [20th c.]
20. L’Amour, la fantasia (Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade) by Assia Djebar [20th c.]
21. Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land) by Aimé Césaire [20th c.]
22. La Place (The Place) by Annie Ernaux [20th c.]
23. La Symphonie pastorale (The Pastoral Symphony) by André Gide [20th c.]
24. Montaillou by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (history) [20th c.]
25. Réparer les vivants (Repair the Living / The Heart) by Maylis de Kerangal [21st c.]


20 Books of Summer

20 Books of Summer is hosted by Cathy @746 books. All of the French-language books on this list are on my PhD exam, which I will be taking at the end of August. You will also notice that there are two major themes in this list: the history of the Reformation and racial justice. My research is on accounts of heresy trials and massacres in 16th-century France and Geneva (pleasant, I know). The books on racial justice will help me understand the current moment. Since reading The New Jim CrowI’ve been very interested in learning more about racism in the US justice system. As you can tell, I have a broad interest in justice systems, whether in 16th-century Europe or in 21st-century America.

1. Les Tragiques by Agippa d’Aubigné

Les Tragiques by Théodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné

An epic of the Wars of Religion, written by a Calvinist soldier.

2. Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo (currently reading on by Booktube channel)

Notre-Dame de Paris - Victor Hugo - Payot

I need to know how this story differs from the Disney version. I expect a radically different plot.

3. The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak

The Architect's Apprentice: Amazon.co.uk: Shafak, Elif ...

Historical fiction set in 16th-century Istanbul. I have never read a story that takes place during the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, I don’t know very much about the Ottomans.

4. W ou le souvenir d’enfance by Georges Perec

W ou le souvenir d'enfance | Fahrenheit 451

An imaginative autobiography of Georges Perec. It’s an experimental work.

5. L’Amant by Marguerite Duras


I’m not usually into love stories, but The Lover is super famous, and it’s on my exam list.

6. Le Bleu du ciel by Georges Bataille

Le Bleu du Ciel | Lisez!

I don’t really look forward to this one since there are evidently some unpleasant sex scenes, but it’s on my list.

7. L’amour la fantasia by Assia Djebar

L'Amour, la fantasia (Le Livre De Poche): Amazon.de: Djebar, Assia ...

Djebar was an Algerian writer whose novels explored the female Muslim experience in Algeria.

8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Adams, Douglas ...

This will be a fun, escapist read. I really look forward to this.

9. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: a story of justice and redemption (English Edition ...

Bryan Stevenson was the defense attorney for an innocent Black man on death row.

10. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools: Amazon.co ...

1/3 of all girls arrested at school are Black. This book explores this phenomenon.

11. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – ESCA CancerSupport

Cell research has saved lives, but science can be racist. Henrietta Lacks was a poor Black woman, whose cells were taken without her permission and used to generate the first human cell cultures. Her cells have transformed genetics, but they were acquired without her consent.

12. The Armenian Book of Prayer (a.k.a. The Book of Lamentations) by Gregory of Narek (trans. Thomas J. Samuelian)

The Armenian Prayer Book of St. Gregory of Narek: Narekatsi, St ...

Gregory of Nark was an 11th-century Armenian Christian. His Book of Lamentations is a spiritual bestseller among Armenian Christians. I first heard about him when he was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015. Evidently, his poems speak a lot about suffering. Sounds appropriate.

13. Racial Justice and the Catholic Church by Bryan N. Massingale

Racial Justice and the Catholic Church: Massingale, Bryan N ...

I want to read Fr. Massingale’s book on racial justice in the Catholic Church before watching his interview with America magazine.

14. Fugitive Saints: Catholicism and the Politics of Slavery by Katie Walker Grimes

Fugitive Saints: Catholicism and the Politics of Slavery ...

Canonization is political. It’s not just a statement about a person’s sanctity but a call to imitation. Official Saints are canonized because they embody certain Catholic values. However, Grimes insists that some of these saints promote a White savior narrative at best and perpetuate racial injustice at worst.

15. Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life by Philippe Girard (reading in June)

Amazon.com: Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life ...

In 1791, Toussaint Louverture led the only successful slave rebellion in history. Thanks to his leadership and the courage of his fellow slaves, Haiti gained its independence from France in 1804. This book is a biography of Toussaint Louverture.

16. Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Amazon.com: Don't Call Us Dead: Poems (9781555977856): Smith ...

This is a poetry collection about racism, anti-LGBTQ+ policies, and police brutality. Danez Smith is a nonbinary Black poet. I don’t often read modern poetry, but this collection has been almost universally praised for its rawness.

17. Trent: What Happened at the Council by John W. O’Malley

Trent: What Happened at the Council: O'Malley, John W ...

I need a run-down of the what happened at Trent. John W. O’Malley, my favorite Jesuit historian, has me covered.

18. War Against the Idols by Carlos Eire

War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to ...

Iconoclasm was religious and political. It was particularly widespread in Switzerland (first in Zurich, then in Berne and Geneva). Taking down statues is nothing new. Indeed, it is one of the oldest means of protest.

19. Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution by Rebecca Stott

Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution: Stott, Rebecca ...

Isaac Newton said that he stood on the shoulders of giants. So did Charles Darwin. Rebecca Stott tells the story of those who helped plant the seeds of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.

20. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes: Egan, Dan: 9780393246438 ...

I am from the Great Lakes region (Cleveland). Non-Ohioans love refering to Cleveland as the “mistake on the lake”. But why was the Cuyahoga River on fire? The lake may not be as visibly polluted as it once was but Dan Egan reminds us that environmental degradation is a widespread problem in the Great Lakes region. Invasive species (such as Zebra mussels) have decimated native populations and destroyed the ecosystem.


Escapist/Comfort Reading Recommendation

I don’t need to tell you why a list like this is necessary at the moment. If I could reread Anne of Green Gables for the next three months, I would. Unfortunately, I have too many books on my physical TBR here in Geneva that I need to get to before I move back to the US.

These books are in no particular order. They are all fantastic, escapist reads.

1. Anne of Green Gables L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables: L.M. Montgomery: 9780553213133: Amazon.com ...

I never expected this book to be so good. I read it for the first time in 2014 because I thought the book would be twee and superficial. Boy was I wrong! Anne Shirley is one of the most relatable female protagonists. If you want lifelike characters in a cosy setting, Anne of Green Gables is a must read.

2. Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Heidi (Illustrated) (English Edition) eBook: Spyri, Johanna, Smith ...

Since I am currently living in Switzerland, I must mention Heidi. If you like twee, this is definitely the book for you. I found Heidi a bit too precious at times but the setting is breathtaking. I can’t dislike a book set in the Alps.

3. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & MR Norrell von Susanna Clarke. Bücher | Orell ...

If you are looking for a historical fantasy with a gothic vibe, I highly recommend Jonathan Strange and Mr NorrellSusanna Clarke is a master storyteller. The two title magicians are polar opposites of each other, but their stories complement each other well. You can read my review here. I recommend reading the ebook because this is a chunker.

4. Any of the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters

Amazon.com: A Morbid Taste for Bones (The Chronicles of Brother ...One Corpse Too Many (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael): Ellis ...Amazon.com: The Heretic's Apprentice (The Chronicles of Brother ...

I have read three of the Brother Cadfael mysteries and they have all been wonderful reads. My favorite so far has been The Heretic’s Apprentice. The series follows Brother Cadfael and the Benedictines of the 12th-century abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury. Cadfael is a former crusader of the First Crusade. When he’s not tending the abbey garden, he is investigating murders. These books are more than murder mysteries, however. Their secondary story lines are just as interesting. If I ever write a novel, it will be a historical murder mystery. My review of the first book is here.

5. Orlando Furioso by Ariosto

Matthew (Salt Lake City, UT)'s review of Orlando Furioso

This 16th-century epic is so much fun. Orlando Furioso is made up of several storylines, but the most prominent is Orlando’s obsession with Angelica. He quite literally loses his mind; his friend Adolpho flies to the moon on the back of a hippogryph to recover Orlando’s wits. This book has a wizard, magic rings, outrageous humor, and strong female characters. Orlando Furioso was Galileo’s favorite poem. It might become yours. I made a series of videos about this book on my BookTube channel “The Francophile Reader”.

6. The Lives of Christopher Chant by Dianna Wynne Jones

Amazon.com: The Lives of Christopher Chant (Chrestomanci Books ...

This is technically the second book in the Chrestomanci series, but it can be read as a stand-alone. I hope to get to the other books in the next year because The Lives of Christopher Chant was such a fun, comfort read. Christopher Chant has nine lives, but he keeps managing to get himself killed in an alternative universe. This book has amazing world building.

7. Bone by Jeff Smith

Out from Boneville (BONE #1): Smith, Jeff: 9780439706407: Amazon ...

I don’t usually read graphic novels, but the Bone series is a feast for the eyes and the heart. The characters are so adorable. Having read most of the books, I can safely say that the story gets better and better as the series goes on. Fone, Phoney and Smiley are three cousins who are driven out of Boneville because Phoney Bone is…well…phony.

8. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Keith Harrison

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight (Oxford World's Classics): Helen ...

This translation was my favorite book of 2018. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is perfect from start to finish. A green knight arrives on New Year’s Day with a challenge for the knights of King Arthur’s court. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge of cutting off the green knight’s head. But the green knight doesn’t die. He picks up his head and rides away, leaving Sir Gawain to contemplate how he will maintain his end of the bargain. How will Sir Gawain survive getting his own head chopped off? This translation is remarkable! Keith Harrison manages to preserve the alliteration of the original English. To get the full experience, you should read the poem aloud.

9. Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda: Dahl, Roald, Blake, Quentin: 9780670824397: Amazon.com: Books

I was absolutely obsessed with Roald Dahl’s books as a child. No one knew more about his career than me. I could have included any of Dahl’s children’s books, but I chose Matilda because the film adaptation is equally delightful. This book also has a special place in my heart. When I was 14, I decided to read all of the books Matilda read at the age of 5. I got through many of the books on the list, but not all. It’s one of my bucket list projects to read all of the books on Matilda’s list.

10. Terre des hommes (trans. Wind, Sand and Stars) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Best known for his book The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was also a mail carrier and fighter pilot during the early days of flight. He wrote several memoirs about the dangers of air travel in the 1930s. I recommend Wind, Sand and Stars because it is so hopeful. Like the pilot of the The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry crashed in the Sahara desert. The story of his rescue is a welcome reminder that humans are capable of generosity and love. Check out my review here.



The “I should Have Read That Book” Tag

It’s been a while since I did a tag, so I’m doing one today. The “I Should Have Read That Book” tag was created by Beth@BooksNest.

1) A book that a certain friend is always telling you to read.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Image result for the hours book cover

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is one of my all-time favorite books. I’ve read it several times. My last reread (and one of the very few Classics Spins I actually completed) inspired a creative review. But I haven’t read The Hours, which was inspired by Mrs. Dalloway. It won the Pulitzer and was adapted into an award-winning movie. I have a friend who’s always raving about this retelling, so I’d better get on it.

2) A book that’s been on your TBR forever and yet you still haven’t picked it up.

Image result for les miserables cover

This book has been on my bucket-list since high school. For the past few years I’m made it my resolution to read Les Misérables in French. I read the first few chapters, but I got distracted by other shiny books. Will 2020 be the year when I finally read this classic?

3) A book in a series you’ve started, but haven’t gotten around to finishing yet.

The Golden Wolf by Linnea Hartsuyker

Image result for the golden wolf

The series that I started but haven’t finished yet is Linnea Hartsuyker’s Half-Drowned King series. I read and loved the first two books, but haven’t yet read the last book in the trilogy: The Golden Wolf. The final book came out in 2018, so I should read it soon before I forget the plots of the first two. This is a historical novel set in 9th-century Iceland. We follow Ragnvald Eysteinsson and his sister Svanhild as they struggle to take back their father’s kingdom. Although this story is very violent (lots of content warnings), the female characters are written very well. There’s none of the misogyny of The Song of Ice and Fire.

4) A classic you’ve always liked the sound of, but never actually read.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Image result for doctor zhivago book cover

I’m not entirely sure why this classic appeals to me. Perhaps, it’s the wintery setting. Or maybe it’s the fact that this book inspired an award-winning film.

5) A popular book that it seems everyone but you has read.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Image result for 1984 george orwell book

I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who’s never read 1984. I read Orwell’s Animal Farm years ago and found it very disturbing. It actually reminded me quite a bit of Lord of the Flies by William Golding. But since everyone has already read 1984, I feel like I already know the plot. I’ll get to it someday.

6) A book that inspired a film/TV adaptation that you really love, but you just haven’t read yet.

Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton

Image result for bedknob and broomstick book

I don’t watch many book-to-film adaptations, so it was hard for me to come up with an answer to this question. But I rewatched the Disney film “Bedknobs and Brooksticks” recently, so I’ll go with the book Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton, the author of the Borrowers series.

7) A book you see all over Instagram [YouTube] but you haven’t picked up yet.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Image result for the handmaid's tale book

I am hardly ever on Instagram, so I’m going with a book that I’ve seen discussed all over Booktube: The Handmaid’s Tale. I guess I’m not a huge fan of the dystopian genre, seeing that two of the books on this list are dystopians.


Top 10 Favorite Books of 2018

This is my definitive Top Ten list for 2018. The books are in order, with #1 being my favorite book of 2018.

1. Le Rouge et le noir (The Red and the Black) by Stendhal

Image result for le rouge et le noir couverture

Julien Sorel is a character you either love or hate. I found his turbulent desires very relatable. He has become one of my favorite protagonists in fiction. The colors mentioned in the title symbolize the identities that Julien find the most attractive: soldier (red) and priest (black). Unfortunately, Julien doesn’t have what it takes to be a “great” man, so he turns to love as a means to social mobility. Julien’s messy romance with Mme de Rênal and his quest for greatness double as a social satire on post-Restoration France. If you like Balzac’s Father Goriot, you should definitely give The Red and the Black a try.

2. The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker

Image result for the half drowned king

The #2 spot goes to the first book in a historical fiction trilogy (The Golden Wolf Saga). The second book (The Sea Queen) came out this past August, and the last book will probably be released next year. The Half-Drowned King is set in 9th-century Norway and follows a brother and a sister in search of justice and honor. Ragnvald Eysteinsson and his sister Svanhild are growing up with their stepfather Olaf, who has taken the throne of Ragnvald’s father. At the start of the novel, Ragnvald is attacked by a shipmate named Solvi, whose father Ragnvald suspects has formed an alliance with Olaf. Now, Ragnvald wants revenge and a chance to win the throne from Olaf. This series has everything: a rich world, beautiful writing, compelling women, morally-complex characters, and great action scenes. If you like A Game of Thrones, I expect you will love this series. I have never been able to get past the first episode of A Game of Thrones (because I thought it was quite sexist), but I sped through the first two books of Hartsuyker’s trilogy. Leave it to a woman to write female characters well.

3. Réparer les vivants (Repair the Living, or The Heart) by Maylis de Kerangal

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Repair the Living is about a heart transplant. Simon Limbres, an avid surfer, dies in a car accident at the start of the novel. But his death is nothing like in the movies. His heart is still beating although his brain has stopped functioning. When Simon’s mother sees her son in the hospital, she thinks that he will soon revive from his coma. But he won’t. Simon is clinically dead. Modern medicine insists that the brain, not the heart, is the true locus of life. In France, unlike in the United States, a person is automatically considered an organ donor unless they officially opt out. Thus, Doctors Pierre Révol and Thomas Rémige have already identified Simon as an organ donor before they even meet with his surviving relatives. Repair the Living offers a kaleidoscopic perspective on life, death, grief, and, of course, the heart.

4. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

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I already knew I would like this book when I first heard about it on Booktube. Self-help is not usually a genre I reach for, but I am a huge believer in habit. I have broken some major habits in my life, but forming new habits has been much more challenging. I resist discipline because it takes too much effort. Duhigg demystifies habit through a number of case studies. It’s amazing how many things we do on a daily basis that are nothing more than ingrained habits. Understanding habit formation is particularly important today businesses (such as grocery stores) exploit research on human behavior to sell more product. They know, for example, that customers turn habitually to the right when they enter a store. Some organizations use this information more constructively. Starbucks trains its employees to adopt good habits so that they can be self-motivated and disciplined workers. And of course, there’s Alcoholics Anonymous; the 12-step program has helped thousands of people break habits of addiction. This is a fascinating book with implications for every aspect of business and life.

5. Les Lettres persanes (The Persian Letters) by Montesquieu

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This 1721 epistolary novel tells the story of two fictional travelers, Usbek and Rica, who leave Persia in search of enlightenment. Usbek is the older of the two, with five wives and a household of slaves. He is critical of the justice system in Persia, but he doesn’t necessarily find France to be any better. Usbek makes some incisive remarks about French society. But unlike other travel narratives and social satires of the 18th century, The Persian Letters is filled with morally-complex characters. Usbek and Rica are not merely observers and commentators, but social actors as well.

6. The Unseen World by Liz Moore

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The hype is well-deserved. The Unseen World by Liz Moore manages to be both thought-provoking and exhilarating – a combination scarcely found in fiction. Ada is a child prodigy whose father, David, heads a computer science lab. He has always been somewhat of an outsider, but in recent months he has started to forget things. Once, he goes missing an entire day. David had been diagnosed years ago with early-onset Alzheimer’s, but he had never told his daughter. Now that David can no longer care for himself, he must be admitted to a nursing home. But who is David? Ada meets a man at the nursing home who claims that her father isn’t who he claims to be. Unfortunately, David’s memory has so deteriorated that she can’t simply ask him to learn the truth. Instead, she has to decode a message her father left her on a floppy disk. I read this 452-page book in two days!

7. La Place (The Place) by Annie Ernaux

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This autobiography is more like a series of reflections about Annie Ernaux’s upbringing in a working-class French family. The death of Ernaux’s father at the start of the work elicits a series of reflections about social class and writing. She insists on writing about her father in plain, straightforward language, rather than the flowery style we are so accustomed to encountering in memoirs. Unlike the author’s father, who quit school early in order to work for his father and later owned his own grocery, Annie went to college, obtained her CAPES de lettres (Le certificat d’aptitude au professorat de l’enseignement du second degré), and became a teacher and writer. La Place gives the reader an insight into why Ernaux prefers a “flat” writing style over the “literary”.

8. The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Every year it seems, the Tolkien estate publishes another of the author’s unfinished writings. Some are interesting, while others are a waste of time. The Children of Húrin is one of Tolkien’s most complete posthumous writings, and definitely the most engaging. I want this book to become a movie or a mini-series so badly. The world-building and character development are impressive. It is also the most psychological and the most violent of Tolkien’s works. Early in the history of Middle-Earth, the evil Morgoth escapes establishes a fortress in the North and from there, encourages a war between elves. At the start of the novel, Túrin’s father Húrin is captured by Morgoth during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Consequently, Túrin is adopted by King Thingol of Doriath, an elf. But Túrin makes some unpleasant choices, which alienates him from the elves. The Children of Húrin is about the consequences of these choices on his family and friends.

9. Le Traité sur la tolérance (The Treatise on Tolerance) by Voltaire

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Thankfully, I don’t know anyone who supports the execution of religious dissidents, but well into the 18th century, people were tortured and killed for refusing to submit to the national religion. Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance is a plea for religious tolerance on the occasion of the death of Jean Calas, an Huguenot executed on spurious grounds. This essay is particularly relevant today, in an age of increasing intolerance. Voltaire was clearly up-to-date with the Biblical scholarship of his day.

10. Native Son by Richard Wright

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I am not entirely sure how I feel about Native Son. On the one hand, I flew through this work and was compelled by Bigger Thomas’s story. On the other hand, I felt like the novel was dismissive of the suffering of the female characters. But I have to include this work on the list because I was moved by the story and the author’s insights on race and class. Native Son is about the role systemic racism played in the lives of black men growing up in the Jim Crow era. But it’s message remains relevant today. Racism in the American criminal justice system is just as present today as it was before 1965. Except for the last 25 pages, this book was a page-turner. It honestly read like a thriller. The prose was also magnificent. Consequently, I look forward to reading Richard Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, in the near future.