Ten (well, six) Books for Which My Feelings Have Changed

Happy Tuesday, friends! The Broke and the Bookish are, as ever, hosting a Top Ten Tuesday, and I love the question for this week:

Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed (less love, more love, complicated feelings, indifference, thought it was great in a genre until you became more well read in that genre etc.)

I couldn’t think of ten — my initial responses to most of the books I read continue to hold true on rereads — but here are six, anyway!

1. Emma, by Jane Austen – I think the problem here is that I saw Clueless, one of the world’s most perfect movies, long before I read Emma, and it left me unfit to enjoy the book. It wasn’t that I thought Emma was a dick (I love Emma actually, and I super-identify with her), it was just that I thought the book she was in was terminally boring. I finally read it during a slow day at my second-ever job1 and couldn’t figure out what my problem with it had ever been. It’s my favorite Jane Austen book now!

Emma

2. Rose in Bloom, by Louisa May Alcott – No, I know, I’m hitting all the absolute high points in contemporary fiction with this list. DEAL WITH IT. When I read Rose in Bloom as a kid, I thought it was super boring and I didn’t understand why Rose was ever into Charlie in the first place. Or Mac. What was her deal, I thought. Rereading it as an adult (this is true of An Old-Fashioned Girl too actually!), I’m surprised by the level of nuance Alcott gets into both of those relationships. Young Jenny missed it completely.

3. Angela and Diabola, Lynne Reid Banks – I loved this book when I was a kid. As an adult, I felt slightly smug that I was never that into the Indian in the Cupboard books in the first place, reserving my true love for Lynne Reid Banks’s lesser-known, unracist kids’ books, including this one and the apocalyptically terrifying The Fairy Rebel. What superb critical taste my younger self had, I thought.

the pride before which a fall goeth

I recently reread Angela and Diabola and it was a hella rude awakening. (The Fairy Rebel is still fine. That book rocks. Don’t read it right before bed though, or if you have wasps living near you.) The good twin has fair skin and golden hair, and the bad twin is darker-skinned with corkscrew curls. The corkscrew curls are mentioned a lot. It is — uncomfortable to read. Would not give to a child.2

4. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson – When I lived in England, I checked this out of our library (which had a paternoster lift, see below for gif depiction) and thought I was going to die of boredom.

so called because you say a prayer when you get in it that you won’t die. Before you ask, yes, you can ride it over the top and down onto the other side

As with Emma, I don’t know what was going on in my head the first time I tried to read this book. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the furthest thing from boring, and I’m so glad book bloggers convinced me give Shirley Jackson another try. Thanks, bloggers!

5. Possession, A. S. Byatt – People who don’t do a lot of rereading often ask me if I worry that rereading a book will make me like it less. Yes, I think about that sometimes; but if what me and the book had was true love, not just a fling, it should stand the test of time. Possession is a rare but notable failure of rereading. When I first read this book I loved it. Couldn’t put it down. Called it the Arcadia of novels. Was baffled that I never got on with any of A. S. Byatt’s other books. Then I reread it and was like:

OH WELL. I guess it wasn’t true love.

6. Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones. Let me clarify something: My feelings for this book haven’t changed. I loved it when I first read it, I loved it every time I reread it, and I continue to love it with a fierce and abiding passion. What’s changed is that I realize now, in a way I didn’t as a teenager, how many legitimate truth bombs about morality and emotions and adulthood Diana Wynne Jones is dropping in this book. The example I always use is “being a hero means ignoring how silly you feel” — which, goddamn, that is the truest truth that maybe I have ever encountered in fiction. Standing up for what’s right does not actually have a stirring musical soundtrack. More like a soundtrack of chilly, uncomfortable, disapproving silence.

7. See also: The vast majority of Diana Wynne Jones books. I’ve disliked all but maybe four of her books, upon reading them for the first time. Not for nothing did they name Jenny’s Law after me: Diana Wynne Jones Is Better on a Reread.

What about you, friends? Are you a big rereader, or not so much? Do you generally stay true to your first impressions, or can you think of some books you’ve grown out of / into over the years?

  1. Shh, don’t tell my college bookstore.
  2. Just this last Christmas, by contrast, I gave The Fairy Rebel to a child of my acquaintance and she PROBABLY LOVED IT.

#BBAW: Introduce Yourself!

The time has come! The time is now! After a few years of lying fallow, Book Blogger Appreciation Week has returned! Huge, huge thanks to my co-hosts Heather, Andi, and Ana, and thanks to everyone who’s participating.

Day 1: Introduce yourself by telling us about five books that represent you as a person or your interests/lifestyle.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

I’m starting with an unoriginal one, I know! But Jane Eyre was the first book where I ever read the end before I read the middle. It gave me a taste for romance, for gothic novels, for crazypants plots where lunatics set things on fire, and for angry-girl heroines.

Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones

I mean, come on. I was never going to make this list without at least one Diana Wynne Jones book on it. Although Jenny’s Law states that Diana Wynne Jones is better on a reread, I have chosen one of the only DWJ books that I loved immediately. Fire and Hemlock is, nevertheless, everything I have ever loved about Diana Wynne Jones; in particular, the way that it’s packed full of adult truth bombs that gradually exploded as I’ve gotten older.

Also it left me with a great love of cellists.1

White Is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi

Helen Oyeyemi is one of a very few writers whose books I will read purely for her writing. White Is for Witching is my favorite of her five so-far books. It is about, I swear, a xenophobic house and the family that lives in it. There are twins and pica and university examinations, and every one of the narrators is unreliable. (I LOVE UNRELIABLE NARRATORS.)

The Charioteer, Mary Renault

“Jenny, are you just including The Charioteer on your list because everyone you’ve ever recommended it to has thought it was super boring?”

Mary Renault has been a super formative author for me in my life, from when I read her Alexander the Great books in late middle school. The Charioteer is slightly atypical for her in that it has a modern (to Mary Renault! World War II!) setting, but it also requires the queer characters to speak to each other in a coded, roundabout, subtexty way. That she manages to make these unspoken relationships urgent is a testament to her powers as an author.2

The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason

The Lost Books of the Odyssey includes extensions of the Homer stories, alternate versions of them, stories that happen around the edges. It is stories, and it’s about stories, and I will read stories about stories every day until the heat death of the sun.

Happy first day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week! Head over to the Estella Society to link up your #BBAW posts.

  1. Jubilee on The Bachelor played the cello, yet Ben insanely sent her home. The other Ben from Kaitlyn’s season would never have done this.
  2. Mumsy, I forgive you for not loving this book. I mean, sort of. I mean, you did just make me cookies the other day.

Review: Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones

So Fire and Hemlock is a retelling of the ballad “Tam Lin”, but it incorporates elements from a dozen other fairy tales, myths, and legends.  I read this article one time that Diana Wynne Jones wrote, about the process of writing Fire and Hemlock and all the different strands of stories she used, which was quite, quite interesting.  The story begins with a young woman called Polly, who is packing her things for Oxford and has come across a book that she remembers being quite different to what it is now.  This leads her to the realization that she has two sets of memories, one perfectly ordinary and one – not quite.  She begins to remember a man called Tom Lynn, whom she befriended when she was ten years old, and with whom she created an imaginary, heroic world, the contents of which developed an alarming habit of coming (more or less) true.

You know what I love the most about this book?  The fact that even when they have lost touch he continues to send her books all the time, and she always reads them.  I have written something a bit like this into a story of mine because I love the idea so much.  How brilliant to have somebody with the same taste in books as you, constantly sending you wonderful things to read.  Wouldn’t it be good to have a book dealer like that?  Sending you books?

Okay, I’ll shut up about that.  There are other things in this book that are better and more relevant than just the book-sending.  These are a bunch of excellent characters and a set of true relationships – Polly’s fascination with Nina as a child and her developing a deeper friendship with Fiona; the okay-fine-then relationship she has with Seb; Ivy’s ways of moping and clinging.  As well as being a good fantasy story, this is one of the better growing up and figuring yourself out stories I’ve ever read.  You can see the influences everybody is having over Polly throughout her life (Nina, Ivy, Granny, Fiona, Tom), and it’s so interesting to see her noticing them and sorting out what she wants to do about them.  Because that’s just how it does work: You figure out what bits of other people have blended into you, and you decide whether it’s bits you want to keep.

Then of course this is also a book that produces an excellent mixture of myths and real life, funny and serious, endearing and creepy.  The family of Leroy, which has its hooks into Tom in some way Polly can’t quite figure out, is thoroughly unpleasant, and they spy on her and make whirling men out of garbage and scary living robot things.  Ick.  I love the idea of someone having two sets of memories, because that is cool.

And um – I am squirming with embarrassment as I bring this up – there’s this one bit where Polly spends a massive amount of time and energy writing a long book about the adventures of the fictional versions of herself and Tom, the hero personas she has made up for them, and – and – and, you know, she’s young and she’s in the throes of having written a whole book all by herself, and Tom writes back to her Sentimental drivel and then writes an even longer letter about how stupid this one particular scene is (what a mean, mean, mean meanie!  She’s fourteen years old!).  Oh, God, I hate that part of the book.  Polly reads back over the book she wrote, and she realizes it’s awful, and every single bit of it makes her cringe.  I read Fire and Hemlock to my little sister a few years ago, and I could hardly manage to read this section out loud.  I know exactly how she feels.  Poor little sausage.

Fire and Hemlock. Better than all of Diana Wynne Jones’s other books, and withdrawal from which is responsible for my spending a very pleasant afternoon sitting outside in the cool sunny weather and reading Tam Lin straight through from beginning to end.  Thank you, Pamela Dean, for writing a book to keep me from the agonies of Fire and Hemlock withdrawal.

Other people’s reviews:

Tales of the Reading Room
Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog (my friend Jane was squicked out by the end, by the way, but it didn’t bother me at all – everything had been leading up to it, I thought)
Dog Ear Diary
things mean a lot
Geranium Cat’s Bookshelf
Book Nut
Valentina’s Room
Fiddle-Dee-Dee’s Not English
everyday reads
Rhinoa’s Ramblings
Epiphany

Tell me if I missed yours!