Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Inspirational Characters

I just love Tuesdays don't you? It means that its time for another Top Ten Tuesday list, sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish.

Inspiration in a character can come from just about anywhere. My interperetation of the term 'inspirational' would be those characters who inspire you to be a better person, or to really examine the way you think about a situation, or the way a character's goodness and strength have shaped the events in a story. So with that in mind, here are my top ten.

1. Jane Eyre. I just finished reading this not too long ago (click here for my review!), and I was struck so much by how Jane would not be pushed around, even though societal conventions left most women in similar situations completely meek and docile. She values herself and her beliefs, and will not be shaken, not by love and not by force or hardship. There is something in Jane that I think we all can look to for inspiration-we can all use a little of her backbone at times!

2. Eleanore Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. She is the most levelheaded and selfless character I know-and always putting the needs of others before herself. While this almost leads to her perfect unhappiness, Jane Austen thankfully remembered poor Eleanore and her struggles and managed to give her the happy ending she so richly deserved.

3. Lady Jane Gray (lots of Janes, huh?). I know she was a real person, but her story is incredibly inspiring to me. She led a miserable 16 years and was forced onto the throne by her grasping family, supplanting the rightful heir, Mary I. But she was a brilliant scholar at that tender age, corresponding with the great minds of the world. She also had an unshakable devoutness for the Protestant faith-she clung to it to the very end, even when converting may have saved her life. To have such strength of belief and sharpness of mind at 16 years old is just amazing to me. Who knows what she may have achieved had she been allowed to live. See my review for the Alison Weir book based on Jane Grey, Innocent Traitor, here.

4. Benny Hogan, Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy. Benny is a larger girl with an even bigger heart who refuses to let anyone's preconceived notions of beauty get her down. She is determined to experience life to the utmost, and even when she is betrayed by those closest to her, she still doesn't shake that powerful inner core. Don't mess with Benny!

5. Elphaba from Wicked by Gregory Maguire. She goes to the farthest lengths to fight for what she believes in, despite major setbacks like green skin. Always misunderstood, she doesn't give up and strives to the very end to try to do what is right. I admire her strength of character very much. Before reading this book I never would have thought I'd be rooting for the Wicked Witch!

6. Novalee Nation from Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts. Talk about being given a bum hand. Everything that possibly can go wrong to Novalee does. But with a core of inner strength and a little kindness from strangers, she manages to rebuild her life, making it richer and more beautiful than it was before.

7. Aliena from Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Another shining example of not giving up even when the odds are against you. Her perserverance and sharp intellect navigated her and her brother from the depths of despair to shining victory. Richard never would have succeeded if it weren't for capable Aliena. Go girl!

8. Jo March from Little Women. Another strong woman who believes in her family, and also believes in her dreams. She gleefully marches to the beat of her own drummer and finds happiness waiting for her at the bend in the road.

9. Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. She talks her way into your heart with every page. Her thirst for life is truly infectious, inspiring you to see it through the rose colored glasses that she made.

10. Will from The Amber Spyglass and the Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman. I should also include Lyra here too, because they really were a team. But I admire Will's strength in being the sole caretaker of his mother, and for managing to find his way in a completely strange world. And the courage he brings to the team of Will and Lyra is crucial to its success.

I see a pattern up there-I tend to gravitate towards strong women who have to overcome something. How does your list compare?

Friday, January 14, 2011

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

This book is a fantastic tour through history, following the fate of one 500 year old Jewish prayer book, the Sarajevo Haggadah. While the stories are fictional, the actual book does exist, and it was saved by the muslim assistant curator when the museum was being bombed in the Bosnian war. It is also true that it was similarly saved by a muslim during WW2 when the Nazis took over Sarajevo. He managed to hide the book in a library in the country where it remained safely until the war's end. While these amazing true stories are included in the book, the author paints a portrait of other possible adventures the book had throughout history, including the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and the harrowing Inquisition that continued long after. Each chapter uncovers a 'mystery' of a certain part of the manuscript, whether it be a wine stain in one corner, or the fate of the missing clasps, or the white hair found on one of the illuminations. These stories are interspersed with the story of Hannah Heath, the modern book preserver who was in charge of preserving the book after the Bosnian war ends. She seeks to learn as much as she can about this book, but in the meantime steps inside her own drama.

I found the historical chapters much more interesting than Hannah's, but thought they were a good way to tie-in all the adventures that this amazing book may have had, and all the history it has witnessed. A truly engaging book from start to finish, and I learned much of the fate of Jews in Europe in history earlier than WW2. I also learned a little about the process of book conversation and preservation, and how much the materials used to make books have changed in the last 500 years.

What is a Haggadah? s It is a Jewish religious text that sets out the order of the Passover Seder. Reading the Haggadah is a fulfillment of the scriptural commandment to each Jew to "tell your son" about the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus in the Torah. ("And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt. "

As of 2006, the oldest complete readable manuscript of the Haggadah is found in a prayer book compiled by Saadia Gaon in the tenth century. The earliest known Haggadot (the plural of Hagaddah) produced as works in their own right are manuscripts from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries such as "The Golden Haggadah" (probably Barcelona c. 1320) and the "Sarajevo Haggadah" (late fourteenth century). It is believed that the first printed Haggadot were produced in 1482, in Guadalajara, Spain; however this is mostly conjecture, as there is no printer's colophon. The oldest confirmed printed Haggadah was printed in Soncino, Italy in 1486 by the Soncino family.

The Sarajevo Haggadah (the book in which People of the Book is based) is one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world, originating in Barcelona around 1350. The Haggadah is presently owned by the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, where it is on permanent display.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold. It opens with 34 pages of illustrations of key scenes in the Bible from creation through the death of Moses. Its pages are stained with wine, evidence that it was used at many Passover Seders. In 1991 it was appraised at US$7 million

Other Books to Consider: The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, and The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I can see why this book is a classic, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. Jane is such an enduring character, and I was thoroughly engaged with her story from beginning to end. For those who haven't read it yet, the story portrays the life of Jane Eyre, a strong woman who was orphaned as an infant and left to the mercy of her Aunt, who treated her unkindly. Then she gets shipped off to an orphans school where the students starve while getting the bible stuffed down their throats. But she thrives into an independant and thoroughly level-headed woman. So she finishes school to become a private governess to the ward of the rich and not handsome Mr. Rochester. Does her wit and intelligence catch his eye? You'll have to read the book to find out. But let me say that it isn't your typical rags to riches fairy tale. It is about finding yourself and staying true to what you believe in no matter what gets thrown in your way.

I kept rooting for Jane the whole time that she would get her happy ending, because a woman with her strength of character definitely deserved to be happy. I see a lot of the person that I continually strive to be in Jane-strong but not forceful, who is always willing to stand up for those she loves and maintains a strong hold on what she believes in no matter what. Three cheers for Jane!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Resolutions

We are still in the process of creating resolutions here with Top Ten Tuesday, and this year is an overall book habit resolution list. I have a feeling that our lists this week will all be quite similar, but here goes.

1. Read books I own and whittle down that incredibly huge "plan to read" pile.

2. Don't let said "plan to read" pile grow to more than 150 books. This pile is comprised of books waiting to be read that I currently own, and it's in the 130s now. This doesn't include my wish list, which has all the books I'm salivating to own. Really need to cool it on the book buying.

3. Read more classics. I would like to see more of that 1001 books list on the "have read" shelf.

4. Use the library. This will help me with the classics. I plan to get audiobooks from the library to get these classics read while still tackling my physical pile.

5. Post reviews on my blog for just about every book I finish this year.

6. I don't know if this is a resolution or not, maybe just a goal. I'd like to reach 100 followers this year.

7. Get an e-reader. I have been holding off for what seems like forever. I need to get on this bandwagon already.

ok, thats it. I can't think of any more. Oh well.
So how does your list compare?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog Hop

The Blue Bookcase hosts this awesome new-ish blog hop, and I'm happy to participate! This week's question is:  
How did you find your way to reading literary fiction and nonfiction?

I've had a great love of reading since I was very small. My earliest memories of books revolve around my mother reading to me every night for many years. We delved into many classics, such as the Hobbit and the Chronicles of Narnia and Little Women, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, as well as many "biographies for kids" called Value Tales, which featured the lives of many prominent figures in history. So through that I not only gained a love of descriptive literary prose, but also of learning about the people and events that have shaped our past and, therefore, our future. I owe it all to my mom, and I will happily pay this gift forward when I have children of my own. 

I look forward to hearing about your literary beginnings! 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

So rarely does one come across something so original and innovative. Ella Minnow Pea and her beloved cousin Tassie live on the independent island nation of Nollop, just off the coast of North Carolina. Nollop is called thus in honor of Nevin Nollop (not backed up by Wikipedia-the name is probably made up), the supposed author of that famous pangram, The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, , which uses all the letters of the English language. A statue of the "almighty Nollop" stands in the Nollopton square, and has for 100 years, with the famous sentence affixed to it in tiles. But suddenly the tiles start to fall one by one. The Island Council has decided that the tiles falling is a sign from Nollop, who is telling them to strike these letters from every Nollopians' vocabulary. With this decree, things quickly spiral out of control. What can Ella do to save her society without the use of expression?

I loved the format of telling the story through letters, and really felt the struggle for words as more letters of the alphabet were banned with each chapter. A true picture of a dystopian society which becomes ever increasingly fanatical and oppressing, but Ella and her cousin Tassie remain voices of hope that they can make the madness end. A great example that big change can be brought by seemingly insignificant events, or from the unlikeliest of people. A big heart for my first completed book of the year-one I'll recommend to every lover of words!

Background information: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" is an English-language pangram, that is, a phrase that contains all of the letters of the alphabet. The earliest known appearance of the phrase is from The Michigan School Moderator, a journal that provided teachers with education-related news and suggestions for lessons. In an article titled "Interesting Notes" in the March 14, 1885 issue, the phrase is given as a suggestion for writing practice: "The following sentence makes a good copy for practice, as it contains every letter of the alphabet: 'A quick brown fox jumps over the very lazy dog.'

As the use of typewriters grew in the late 19th century, the phrase began appearing in typing and stenography lesson books as a practice sentence. By the turn of the 20th century, the phrase had become widely known. In the January 10, 1903, issue of Pitman's Phonetic Journal, it is referred to as "the well known memorized typing line embracing all the letters of the alphabet". Robert Baden-Powell's book Scouting for Boys (1908) uses the phrase as a practice sentence for signalling.

Other books you might like: The Giver by Lois Lowry (dystopian culture where no one sees colors), or The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (dystopian religious regime, where women are property)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: My to-read Resolutions

We all have those books that we feel incredibly guilty not getting to, whether they be lingering on our shelves since dirt was new, or remain unread as a result of a deficient education (or plain old procrastination, in my case). This year I really resolve to read more books from my physical bookshelf, and try to curttail the amount of books I buy in 2011. It's a goal anyway. That being said, these are the books I hope to get to in 2011:

1. The Princess and the Dragon by Roberto Pazzi. I picked this up at a garage sale for 50 cents about 2 1/2 years ago. While I originally thought it was a fantasy book, it turns out that it deals with Russia around the time of the revolution. Time to dust the sucker off.

2. Hood by Stephen Lawhead.
Another rummage sale book from over 2 years ago. I have been told that I will like Lawhead, but have been reluctant to being pulled into another series. Maybe this will be the year.

3. The Secret Bride by Diane Haeger. I took a break from Tudors in 2010, because I felt like I had heard the stories so many times I could recite them in my sleep. But this book is still on my shelf, demanding I read it.

4. The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory. See previous statement about Tudors. I've also resolved to read everything by Gregory, and this book is the next on my list.

5. The Epicure's Lament by Kate Christensen. The book sounded interesting when I snatched it up at a yard sale. Let's see, shall we?

6. Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund. I really enjoyed Sherlock in Love, also by this author, and am in need of a book that redeems Marie Antoinette just a little. Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, which I read a couple years ago, really does a great job of painting Marie as vapid and clueless. Was that all there was to her?

7. Helen of Troy by Margaret George. I read Memoirs of Cleopatra last year and enjoyed delving into Egyptian history. I look forward to doing the same with ancient Troy.

8. P.S. by Studs Terkel. I really want to read more of his books-so far, I've only gotten halfway through Hard Times. This is a short volume written at the end of his life. Let's start at the end and work our way backwards.

9. The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett. I have longed to read more Patchett since loving Bel Canto. I hope this one doesn't disappoint.

10. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami.
The next step on my quest to devour the complete works of this ingenious author. Should be fun.

There they are. How does my list compare to yours?