Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." ~C.S. Lewis

As I sit here drinking my morning coffee, I think about tea.
Yes, tea.
I adore coffee in all forms (I generally drink it black in the mornings) but sometimes I think I prefer tea.
For one, tea doesn't usually give me a stomachache. >_<
When I am most likely to have tea, I am about to curl up with a book.
Or wind down for the evening.
So I put the kettle on and browse my tea shelf while I wait for the kettle to sing.

Tea and books.

Why is it that the two go together so well?
For me it's because 75% of what I read happens to be British, and they are always drinking tea.
Naturally, I want some.

So, in celebration of the union of tea and books, I present you with some literary teas.
At this point I have not actually tried any of these teas.
I will, of course, but anyway.

Bingley's Teas, Ltd. I found this company last year, and still haven't ordered anything! I really should.... As the name suggests, they have teas that are Jane Austen inspired. The link will take you to their Jane Austen Tea Series, which I think is quite clever. They sell other teas on the site, as well.

Steep Show Teas: Literary Collection I just love the name of this company; how cool! They have a small literary collection with teas inspired by various figures such as Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, and Oscar Wilde. They also sell a mug for each person. I'll definitely be checking these out soon.

Bag Ladies Tea: Novel Tea The Bag Ladies don't have specific teas for literary figures, fictional or otherwise, but they do have this Novel Tea, which is a box of tea bags with literary quotes on the tags. Simple but enjoyable, I'm sure. :)

Harry Potter House Teas I found these on Etsy! They sound delicious and I can't wait to try them.

And as seems common on the interwebs if you know where to look, there are probably many more literary teas out there.
What is your favorite tea to drink?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

It's kind of nice to finish a super long novel and then read one that only takes me a few days.
I probably could have read The Great Gatsby in one sitting, but I had other obligations.
Like putting all my books back on the shelves because we moved all the furniture around in the house...I'm still not done with that.
But it's the weekend so I thought the piles of books could be ignored for a little while.
Besides, I have to arrange them in a semblance of the Dewey Decimal System.
(I'm serious.)

So, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I thought I read this book while I was in high school, but maybe it was on my reading list and I never got around to it or something, because I honestly didn't recall any of the details. So when I stated in an earlier post that it was going to be a re-read, I guess I wasn't thinking. And thinking back, I didn't read much American literature; it was almost always English.


The thing I like best about Fitzgerald is his excellent lyricism. Some people just have a way with words, and he definitely does.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

Quotes like that are just absolutely beautiful.

Now on to the story. It isn't all that deep, really. Not at first, anyway. But as you read, learning about Jay Gatsby from Nick Carraway's point of view, you realize that's exactly the way Gatsby intends to be seen -- superficially. He hold these enormous parties to which only a few are ever invited but a myriad shows up. They party all night and, it seems, into the wee hours of the morning.

Nick's friends, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, are a youngish married couple who live across the bay from Gatsby. Little does Tom know that Gatsby only moved to Long Island so that he could be closer to Daisy, whom he has loved for some years now. (Was it six years? I think it was six. Anyway.) And of course, Tom has "another woman" too. I really don't know why so many people had to have affairs...whatever.

Most people have read this book because of high school literature classes, so I won't rehash the plot. I mainly want to state that this is the first book by F. Scott Fitzgerald that I read in its entirety, and I cannot wait to read more. He has a way of appearing to tell a superficial tale, but all of a sudden it gets gritty and real and it's not so superficial and glossed over anymore. And considering the era he was writing about...I think he captured the 1920s beautifully.

I'm not giving it five stars, but I will give it four. I think the reason I won't give it five is that for me it wasn't quite long enough. Upon finishing the book, I felt that there should have been an extra twenty pages or so...for what exactly, I'm not sure. But it seemed like something was missing at the end.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind, 75th Anniversary Edition

One of my life goals has been fulfilled.
I finally picked up and read Gone with the Wind in its entirety.
All 733 pages of tiny print and barely-there margins.
I'm guessing the book is normally well over 1000 pages, but the edition I own is rather scrunched together for appearance reasons, probably because it is part of the International Collectors Library. Beautiful book, actually. A friend bought it off Ebay with no real intentions of reading it, so I bought it from him. Nice arrangement. (The edition pictured here is not the one I have.)


I don't honestly know what to say about Margaret Mitchell's masterpiece other than that I absolutely adored it, but I will do my best. I think people dismiss it as a romance novel of some sort, but it's so much more than that. Yes, it is first and foremost a love story, but it's not merely the love story between the beautiful and ruthless Scarlett O'Hara and the dashing Rhett Butler; it is the love story of shy and quiet Melanie Hamilton and dreamer Ashley Wilkes (yes, Ashley is a man); it is the love story of Scarlett's father, Gerald O'Hara, and the plantation of Tara; it is these and more.

The title Gone with the Wind evokes something that has disappeared and will never return. To the people of the South in the days during and following the Civil War, they felt that their way of life had "gone with the wind" and they didn't know where to turn. Suddenly the plantation owners could no longer live their lives of leisure and contentment, dwelling safely on the fact that their slaves were tending the cotton and they were free to have barbeques and balls and all kinds of gatherings.

Margaret Mitchell's message is clear: war is wrong, no matter what one is fighting for. She carefully and succinctly illustrates how war changes society, people, and relationships. I realize it seems like she is advocating that the black people stay in slavery, but remember that this is from the point of view of the South. One cannot read this book and attempt to foist 21st century sensibilities and beliefs on it. It doesn't work that way. Gone with the Wind is no more racist than a cookbook; it is simply telling a tale of a time when things were vastly different.

Not all of the political and social history crammed into this book is completely factual, but even that isn't the point. Authors are allowed some poetic license; and besides that, it happens. People have different views, etc, etc. I scanned the reviews on Goodreads and I was appalled at how many people dismissed the book simply because they thought it was racist and politically incorrect. Well, I don't care how politically correct you want to be today (that's your business and not mine), but like I said, different century, different views. It says a lot about one's ignorance when they can't even leave an older novel alone.


As for the characters, I completely and utterly despised Scarlett. I apologize for my French, but she is a bitch. There's really no other way to describe her. But the other emotion I felt for her was pity; she was so strong and refused to truly rely on anyone else for help and in the end, she ended up with nothing because she was entirely too strong-willed and blind to realize that yes, someone did truly love her.

Rhett Butler was a hard one for me to care all that much about, either, until near the end of the book when he finally married Scarlett. But he's such an enigma. And I think it's easy, too, to write him off as a cad and scoundrel incapable of true love. If anyone thinks the same of him by the end of the book, though, they're sadly mistaken. He loved Scarlett from a distance for so long, and even attempted to gain her love by giving her everything she could ask for...and in the end even he gave up, because Scarlett was too blind until it was too late.

Ashley Wilkes sounds like someone I might be able to talk with for hours, since he apparently has a penchant for books and music and fine culture. But once the South fell and Reconstruction began, it was hard to admire him much, since he hadn't the strength to stand on his own. Not a particularly exciting character, but a good one nonetheless.

Melanie Hamilton, who becomes Melanie Wilkes quite early in the story, was probably my favorite character. I think she's the real heroine of the book. She somehow never finds any fault with Scarlett (which Scarlett hates), adores the Cause and the Confederacy for which the men fight, and is such a pillar of strength even when her own body is failing her. Her love for the people around her, her loyalty to Ashley and to Scarlett...she was just a wonderful person all around.

Obviously, there are many more characters in such an encompassing story, but I'll stop there.


Lastly, Margaret Mitchell's writing is amazing. She doesn't even use any super difficult words; it was all just so perfectly descriptive and, for lack of a better term, alive. While reading, I always felt that I was there with the characters, feeling their joy, feeling their pain, feeling the hot Georgia sun mixed with the scent of fear. I have not come across many novels written today that evoke the same emotions and reactions in me that the classics do. It's almost as if our world has lost not only the ability to create and craft such exquisite and intense tales, but most people have lost the ability to appreciate them, too.

I wholeheartedly give Gone with the Wind five stars, and I entreat all of you who read my blog to read it. The movie, though wonderful, does not do this story justice; that's always the case, of course. I know this book is long. I know you may feel that you don't have the time. But try. And if you read it and don't feel emotionally drained upon finishing the last page, I'm not really sure what else to tell you! :)

Monday, August 20, 2012

[reading books that take you out of your comfort zone]

There will be another book review in the next few days; I have less than 200 pages left in Gone with the Wind. Excellent book, by the way.

But I wanted to write a little bit about how and why I choose certain books to read. Maybe not how so much, because it seems to me that it always ends up being more of a "random chance" type of thing than anything systematic. But why I read certain books is important, at least to me.

As all of you know (I hope), I am a Christian. Jesus Christ is the center of my life and I strive to make that obvious daily. Granted, this isn't possible, since no one (and I repeat, no one) is perfect, but because of Jesus, my sins have been and always will be forgiven. But this isn't a post to talk specifically about my faith.

Many Christians I have known in my lifetime will only read the Holy Bible and specifically Christian books, both fiction and non-fiction. Think Francine Rivers or Tim LaHaye or anyone like that.While this isn't necessarily a problem, I believe that we as Christians should not try to keep our world too holy. First of all, you run the risk of becoming arrogant and thinking you're better than everyone who doesn't only read Christian authors. Believe me, I've seen it and been looked down upon for it.

Second, there are "Christian" authors in name only who take the "I lived a bad life and now I'm converting" approach to writing and cram everything illicit and sinful into their novels and then give some miraculous conversion near the end. I've even read a few supposedly Christian books that seemed to think that because the couple was married it was okay to describe their sexual intimacy. In detail. Uh, no. Please don't. Not that I haven't read other books that aren't labeled as inspirational fiction that have sex scenes, but I usually try to skip those parts and I honestly don't want to be reading about sex in a book that I thought was going to be cleaner because it's Christian. Okay. I hope that makes sense.

Third, there are far too many Christian authors who just really can't write any better than most YA authors can. Poor quality writing is so annoyingly prominent today. It's probably partly do to the fact that it's super easy to get certain kids of books published, but still. In these inspirational fiction books I think the only requirement is that it's overly spiritual and inspirational. If you don't know how to make your plot and your characters something other than one-dimensional, then just stop writing. Now.


I'm not saying there aren't good Christian authors out there. I'm not even saying that Francine Rivers and Tim LaHaye are bad writers. (Though I do actually think Tim LaHaye can't really write.) But there are far too many superficial stories with poor writing that are published under Christian labels. And oh so many of them have terrible theology because I'm sure the writers aren't all that trained in certain aspects of the Christian faith.

My point is this: read other books. Even if you never read a contemporary novel, maybe check out the classics. Try Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, or something by Charles Dickens. Try some of the medieval legends about King Arthur. Try some of the children's classics like Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden. And if you've already read these (good job!), I can easily recommend more.

Honestly, I can recommend some contemporary novels, too. And if you're at the bookstore or the library and there happens to be a modern novel that isn't in the Inspirational Fiction section and you think that you might like it, try it! Seriously. I'm not kidding. If you think that maybe you'd like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, try it. Yes, that book deals with a lot that is in no way Christian, but you can learn something from it.

So, keep reading inspirational fiction. But check out the classics. And certainly don't dismiss all contemporary fiction. Or even fantasy and sci-fi. There's more good than bad in most of them. And remember this -- branching out in your reading habits can most likely make you a better witness for Christ in our woefully fallen world. My main reason for reading contemporary novels is that then I can see how non-believers look at the world and thus I perhaps understand them just a little bit more. My reasons for reading the classics, old novels that aren't necessarily considered classics, and the fantasy/sci-fi genres are pretty much only that they're generally well-written, well-plotted, and I enjoy reading them.


This may not be the best organized post I've ever made, but I wanted to get it out there. Read something out of your comfort zone once in a while. I'm directing this at Christians specifically, but this goes for other readers, too. I used to be one of those people who only read what I knew I liked. But then I began to branch out and read books that I'd never considered before. And you know what? I liked them!

Go to the library or bookstore and pick out a book that you wouldn't normally read. You just might find that it's your new favorite. (Just please, please, please never have anything to do with Fifty Shades of Gray. I haven't read it, nor will I. I hear that it's the poorest quality of writing, and it's too dirty for anyone to be reading...I don't care how popular it is.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

For a book that deals with a world I am completely unfamiliar with -- sex, drugs, public high school, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show -- I totally fell in love with this book.
It's true.
Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower touched me very deeply.
No, I didn't agree with everything that happened in the book.
But sometimes, that's not the point.
You don't have to absolutely agree with all that the characters do and say to get something profound out of a book.


Charlie, the "wallflower" of the title, tells the story of his freshman year of high school in 1991 by writing letters to an unknown friend. We never learn the name of this friend, but that's not important anyway. What is important is that Charlie is incredibly intelligent for his age, he truly loves his whole family, and he thinks about everything. (See why I like him? I can actually relate/empathize with him because in those ways we are similar.) He is befriended by Patrick and Samantha, two seniors who are step-siblings. They really do take him under their wings and he joins their group of friends.

One of Charlie's teachers is always giving him books to read outside of class. One of these is The Great Gatsby. The rest are other great works of literature. This part of the story I really enjoyed, because, well, he was talking about the books.

In his position as "wallflower" among a group of mostly seniors, Charlie experiences a lot. He goes to his first party, he ends up trying drugs, etc, etc. He grows, he changes. And then the end of the year comes. And while it is the end of his freshman year of high school, most of his friends (particularly Patrick and Sam) are graduating and leaving. The most important part of the book is near the end, but I just can't write it out here because I really don't want to spoil it. Just know that a friend chastises Charlie for not being honest -- and it goes from there.

Because Charlie wasn't being honest, at least not in parts of his life. That's something anyone can learn. Be honest, even if it hurts you and/or the person with you.


I know that's kind of a lame review, but I have such strong feelings about this book and I'm having a hard time translating them into words. What I can say, however, is that this book really isn't appropriate for younger teenagers. I realize that Charlie is 14, but the stuff in this book is not what 14 year olds need to be reading. I am glad I read it now, at age 23, rather than when I was in high school, because it wouldn't have had the same impact on me then. As I said at the beginning of the review, Charlie's world is one I was totally unfamiliar with when I was his age; and I'm still unfamiliar with public high school (though not as much) and drugs (thank God!). And I really do not care much for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, haha. But really, none of that is the point.

Stephen Chbosky, though he riddled his book with sexual situations (both gay and straight...), drugs, cigarettes, a bit of language, and underage drinking, somehow knew how to capture the teenage spirit. At one point, early on in the story, Charlie is riding with Patrick and Sam in Sam's pickup truck. They are heading home from the homecoming dance, and before they go through a tunnel, they stop and Sam climbs in the back, wearing her nice dress. Patrick drives and they turn up the music. And suddenly they are out of the tunnel and they can see the lights of downtown. What Charlie says of that moment is perfect. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.


So, even with all the situations in this book that I didn't care for, I honestly have to give it five stars. Incredibly well-written, and Charlie was such a deep character. And like I said, Chbosky captures the teenage spirit. I can't recommend it to younger teens, and I grudgingly recommend it to older teens, but if your head and heart are in the right place, you're ready to read this book. Maybe you'll come away from it feeling emotionally drained (like I did), but knowing there was something special about it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Thirty-nine Steps

The Thirty-Nine Steps

One of my passions other than reading is watching Masterpiece Theatre on PBS.
I usually just watch Masterpiece Classic, though sometimes I watch Mystery.
The modern ones I don't know if I'd like that much.
But I digress.
Last year I watched The Thirty-nine Steps on Masterpiece Classic.
I absolutely loved it and proceeded to look up whether it had been based on a book or not.
What I found was chronicled over on my personal blog in this post.
Unfortunately, two of the photos on there aren't showing up for me, but at least the picture of my book is there.
The edition here from Amazon is not what I own because (and you'll know this from my other post) the one I do own is a First Edition from 1915.
Quite exciting, really.


Richard Hannay is incredibly bored with life. He wishes he had something different to amuse him. One evening a man from one of the upper flats (he says his name is Scudder) desperately wants to speak with Hannay and he wants to be hidden and says that he already happens to be dead. Well, that's intriguing.

Eventually, the man actually is killed, and because of what he has told Hannay concerning an assassination plot that could set off war in Europe, Hannay is afraid that the murderers will come for him next. And of course, it's entirely probable the police will try to pin the murder of Scudder on him. There's nothing for him to do but escape London and attempt to follow through with what (I think) Scudder was up to. Hannay bribes the milkman for his uniform and escapes London quite well.

What follows is a rather amusing and slightly unbelievable adventure throughout the countryside. Richard Hannay always just manages to escape being arrested. It's kind of hilarious in a way; John Buchan has such straightforward writing and there's no nonsense but some of the escapes are crazy.

Really, I can't tell you much more of the story without giving the whole thing away. The title does actually refer to a set of steps, though. That's important. You'll just have to read the book to find out! I wouldn't honestly recommend watching one of the movies first, because (and this is especially true of the 2008 version) there are added characters and stuff that totally change everything. Like, an added love interest.

I am certainly curious about why Buchan wrote the story the way he did. It's almost as if he had certain inside information about WWI, which I thought because of certain dialogue in the book (that I did not address here). Who knows. I found a blog post from 2008 that talks about it in great detail, and since it doesn't really spoil the book, I don't mind including it. (And, so you know, that post is all I read of that blog...I'm not endorsing anything. Just sharing someone's opinion!)


I enjoyed this adventure novel quite a bit. Apparently there are four other novels featuring Richard Hannay, and now that I know this, I of course have to find them. Eventually.

This book gets four stars. Good story, solid dialogue, simple and to-the-point writing, and not really a long read.

The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

Heroine's Bookshelf, The: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

It amuses me that the first non-fiction book I review on this blog is a book about books.
Go figure.

Anyway, I did finally pick up a non-fiction book after not reading any for almost a year. I seriously needed a break from books like that after being in college for 4 1/2 years.
But I picked up Erin Blakemore's book at the bookstore some months ago and I finally read it a few weeks ago when I couldn't decide which book on my summer reading list to read next. (That's one of the problems with making a list, but that's a topic for another post.)

Blakemore clearly demonstrates a love for literature in her book. That much I really enjoyed. But what I had a problem with were her ridiculously feministic ideals. Some of them were just not realistic, nor were they actually appropriate to the book she was talking about. But that's just me. I don't like the way the world reinterprets books written 100+ years ago to fit their post-modern philosophies. (Again, a topic for another post, so I won't go into any detail.)


There are twelve books/series and their heroines that Blakemore writes about, each under a specific theme.
1. SELF -- Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. (Favorite.)
2. FAITH -- Janie Crawford from Their Eyes Were Watching God (I haven't read this.)
3. HAPPINESS -- Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. (Favorite.)
4. DIGNITY -- Celie from The Color Purple. (I absolutely hated this book.)
5. FAMILY TIES -- Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (I haven't read this.)
6. INDULGENCE -- Claudine from the Claudine novels. (They're French...says a lot. I haven't read them, though.)
7. FIGHT -- Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind. (Reading this right now!)
8. COMPASSION -- Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. (Favorite.)
9. SIMPLICITY -- Laura Ingalls from specifically The Long Winter.
10. STEADFASTNESS -- Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre. (Favorite.)
11. AMBITION -- Jo March from Little Women. (Favorite.)
12. MAGIC -- Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. (Favorite.)


As you can see, about half of these are some of my favorite novels. Blakemore gives a lot of author background, which I definitely enjoyed. All of these are written by women, as well, which is another of her points. No male-oriented literature here. And she tells a few very inspiring tales about a few of the authors. Something I learned from this book is that a few of my favorite novels might never have been written if the author had a choice. Funny how that works; some of the most loved books today almost never happened.

It certainly wasn't a bad book, and I went into it expecting some feminist criticism. And it's always interesting to me to see how other people who have a different worldview look at novels that were written in a much more moral time period. (Other than the Claudine novels -- but like I said, they're French.)

I'll give it four stars, because it was well-written and Erin Blakemore makes such a wonderful case for rereading your favorite books once in a while that I can't just ignore her.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

[my summer absence]

I realize I mention my absences from this blog kind of a lot.
And it's not even that I forget about it.
Okay, maybe a little bit.

But seriously, the weather FINALLY cooled down enough to actually enjoy being outside this summer. So that's mostly what I've been doing. That, and a couple of weeks ago my youngest sister stayed with me for a week and so we were busy, busy, busy.

The thing is, I have done a lot of reading since then, and I am behind on reviews!

I've read three books and am halfway through a fourth.

I read The Heroine's Bookshelf, which was basically a book on literary criticism that I picked up at the bookstore earlier this year. I probably could write a whole review on it, and since I don't have any non-fiction reviews yet, I think I will. But the book bugged me because it was SO feminist. More on that later.

I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I kinda sorta absolutely loved, despite the sex, drugs, and other things. The voice of the narrator, Charlie, is so sweet and it's almost impossible not to love him. I empathized with him because in many ways he's a lot like me. More on that later, too.

I read The Thirty-nine Steps, which was a lot shorter than I expected and was a cleverly written tale of suspense and mystery set at the beginning of World War I (I believe). It was first published in 1915, and guess what, MY COPY IS FROM 1915. Yes, it is a First Edition. More on that later.

I am now reading Gone with the Wind, which I've been meaning to read for years, of course. Isn't this a typical response when someone asks if you've read That Super Long Classic Novel? Well, I'm finally doing it. Actually, for the last 4-5 years, I've been finally reading all those classics that I wanted to read for a long time. And the thing is, this is the best time for me to read them. I have finished college and have a lot of literature-learning behind me. Now I can apply it! Also, for the record, Gone with the Wind isn't really that old. It was published only a few years before they made the movie, so in the 1930s. Once I finish it, I will definitely be writing a long review because I am LOVING it.


So that's what I've been doing.
I might not make it through my summer reading list, but that's okay because it can just as easily be a fall reading list and a winter reading list.

Now I think I will go shower and then take a walk because it's SO NICE out.