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Tag Archives: Pat Barker

My Life in Books

Today’s post comes to you from Florida, where my family and I have come for some much needed relaxation before exam craziness begins. Every year around this time, we get time off from school and for the past several years we’ve been spending this time off in the sunshine state. We’ve been coming here since I was in grade 8 and now that I’ll be graduating from high school in a few months, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection lately.

Real Books > E Books

Today I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve changed since we started coming to Florida on this annual basis. I don’t have to say that I’ve changed a ton since I was 14, but I think what’s interesting is how I chart and measure that change. I think change is a really interesting topic, because, unlike in novels where you often see the characters changing blatantly before your eyes, in real life it’s so gradual and seemingly natural that you can only really see it retrospectively.Then, when you do introspect you’re often taken aback. “Was I really like that before?” or “How did I possibly manage to get where I am now?” are often the questions on my mind.

Even more often, I can hardly imagine life before the change which has taken place. I can hardly imagine, for example, spending this time-off at home. I can’t even recall what that was like. Another major change in my life, which I could have never imagined at the time, was reading Jane Austen’s works, starting with Pride and Prejudice. In fact, I sometimes think of my life in the context of “Before Jane” and “After Jane”. Okay, I don’t really think about my life that way, at least not in so many words, but that is essentially the big, defining change and revolutionary landmark in my life so far.

In fact, I completely track my progress as a person through the books I read. When I think back through the years since we started coming to Florida, and how much I’ve grown over the course of those years, the one thing I think about is what I was reading each year.

In grades 8 and 9, it was still Before Jane. I have very little recollection of what I read, and I certainly can’t distinguish between the two years. I know I had a pile of books from the YA section of the library selected almost solely on a “judging by the cover” basis. I definitely recall reading some of  the books in the The Clique series by the pool, but I couldn’t even tell you which books in the series they were. There was also one really good book, one of the few from my YA days which I still remember, called Pretty Face. It’s about a girl with weight and self-esteem issues, who overcomes these problems when she goes to Italy in the summer. (Please note that my brief synopsis makes it sound way more lame than it truly is.) However, after a quick google search (which informed me of this book’s title), it occurs to me that I’ve been melding about 5 books of similar theme into this one memory, which I guess goes to show the great quantity of low quality books I breezed through during this phase.

Then grade 10 hit and Jane Austen and I became very close friends. By the time April rolled around, I had just finished reading P&P for the first time. On our flight to Florida, I watched the brilliant, five-hour, twenty-three minute movie (or, you know, the first three hours of it) and it completely sealed the deal. I instantly became an ardent lover of all things Austen (except for, you know, Mansfield Park and Persuasion…) I have such lovely memories of lying on the beach re-reading and re-re-reading the best novel of all time (which is obviously P&P, you’re welcome to disagree on this point, but if you do, you’re also welcome to go find a different blog to read).

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Then last year in April I was going through my Anne of Green Gables phase. Yes, I’m aware that it was quite late, and in the natural order of things L. M. Montgomery should really come before Jane Austen, but the human experience is quite a complex thing (or so my Writer’s Craft teacher keeps saying). I was reading the last of the 8 books in the series, in which the focus switches from Anne to her youngest daughter Rilla, who is by this time around 15.  It takes place during WWI and the first time I read it I thought it was the most tragic book I’d ever read. When I read the part where Rilla’s brother dies in the trenches, I was sitting at the beach, wearing a big floppy hat and sunglasses, surrounded by happy, laughing children and I had tears positively pouring down my sun-screened cheeks. After I finished reading this book, I was so distraught that I was up half the night crying. I felt as though my own brother had died (which was perhaps a little melodramatic of me) and not even the fact that Rilla’s sweetheart came back safely in the end could comfort me.

This was before I had taken my Studies in Literature class, so I hadn’t learned anything about the literary movements. I was under the deluded impression that this was such a gruesome, realistic account of that era. I now realize how highly romanticized this was and that it’s very much like fluff (oh my God, how dare I? Sorry LMM) next to the postmodern nonsense (oh my God, how dare I? Sorry Pat Barker and Barbara Kingsolver) I read now for my Literature class. The boys in the Anne books were so noble and brave and strong for going to fight in the big, manly war. And Walter got to die fighting for his country, instead of coming back from war knowing about all that “ugliness”, while Rilla’s sweetheart, Kenneth, come home completely unharmed and completely not shell-shocked. As opposed to Regeneration, in which you see how horrible and almost futile fighting in the trenches really was. To be honest, I rather liked my ignorance and innocence (sorry English teachers, who think they’ve helped me grow, but whom I believe have broken me).

Last year also marked the first year I brought a journal with me. I had just began writing, and Miami beach was where I wrote the first poem I’ve had published. That was growth I had never imagined. Publication. When I wrote that poem, the idea that it could possibly be published, and read by anyone outside my family was just unfathomable.

That’s a lot of growth for a single post. Next time I’ll post about this year’s reading material, as I’ve already written an entire essay’s worth of words. I wish I could just hand this in, instead of writing the million and a half essays I have due in just over a month.

Have you read any books that changed everything? How do you track your personal growth?

My (Former) Reading Rules

If you’ve checked out my “currently reading” widget, you’ll have noticed that at the moment I’m in the middle of both Atonement by Ian McEwan and The Post Mistress by Sarah Blake. Now, I used to have this rule that I wouldn’t read two books simultaneously. I also used to have a rule that I would only read right before bed. Well, times are changing.

The Postmistress

Photo credit: good reads

This year I take grade 12 English, Writers Craft and Literature, so I no longer have such luxuries. Earlier this year I was reading one book for Lit., another for English and yet a third for my own personal pleasure. Some of my friends complain about such things. They also complain about the books we’re reading. They think books like Regeneration and Atonement are stupid and want to know why we can’t read “real” books, like the stuff by Jodi Picoult. I have no patience for such nonsense. They also complain that our teacher doesn’t give us enough time for the assigned reading. As if a month isn’t long enough to read a short book. Personally, that’s why I took three English classes, I LIKE to read. Reading is great. The books we read are great. (Except, perhaps, for Mrs. Dalloway, yes, I do understand its brilliance… it really is quite brilliant… but I didn’t enjoy it and I’m not really a fan of experimental works.)

So, now these rules seem to have gone out the window. It’s kind of post modern, the way I’m throwing away the rules and writing new ones. Rather experimental, you might even say. Okay, maybe you wouldn’t say that. And maybe I’m pulling connections out of the air just to finish up this post on a nice, tidy note. It’s kind of like English class, coming up with deeper meaning where there isn’t any. Maybe the author decided to kill that character just for kicks, not to emphasize some deep, insightful point about the randomness of life. On second thought, perhaps life is random and chaotic. Maybe there are no clear beginnings and middles and ends. No tidy conclusions. So maybe I’ll end this jumbled post on that random note (which was a major theme in The Postmistress, so maybe not that random after all) to emphasize that point.

Beware the ides of March!

Those are some wise, prophetic words, my friend. I recently found out that on March 15 I’ll be writing an in-class essay (on Regeneration — awesome book BTW) for my Studies in Literature class AND I’ll be having my graduation photo taken! Oh, the horror! That picture will end up on the wall of my school, for the whole, entire world to see, for all eternity! And EVERYONE in this town goes to my high school at some point in there lives! (Generally in grades 9 through 12…) And that essay? Well obviously my entire average, in ALL my courses rests solely on that single assessment, and if I do poorly (which is, like, an 80% at my school) my entire life will be over and no universities will want me! (Did you like my impression of 75% of the kids at my school?)

Hmm, I wonder what other great tragedies will befall me on that fateful day?

Favourite Books

Here’s a list of my favourite books so far, including when I read them and what led me to do so.  (This list starts in grade 10, because that’s when I discovered “real” books — I was a very literarily deprived child and my favourite books before then were along the lines of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and The Clique series *shudder*, but that was before I was enlightened by a certain amazing English teacher, whose class I’m no longer in this year 😦 )

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — although, the author should really be obvious and if it isn’t, I suggest you get off this blog and go read it, because if you haven’t read this book, you don’t deserve to read my blog. I read this in Grade 10; it was my first love, and by that I mean the first book with which I was in love, not the first love story I ever read. And then there was also my one-sided love affair with Mr. Darcy (*cough* Colin Firth *cough*). This was the first of many recommendations from the aforementioned English teacher. Click here  to hear (er, read) more.

Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Mansfield Park  and Persuasion I read these in quick succession of each other (in that order), shortly after reading P&P (i.e. the end of grade 10 until the beginning of grade 11). I started S&S after the same English teacher (not-so-subtly) hinted that it was time to move on from P&P. She also suggested Emma; the remaining three, I found all by myself. Mansfield Park and Persuasion were my least favourite, and Emma and Northanger Abbey both come in a close second to P&P. I may write posts elaborating on each at some point in the future.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was during the beginning grade 11. I remember not loving it and it being very different from what I would normally like, but I was unable to put it down. The recent movie adaptation did no justice to it, but made me realize how brilliant the book is (by comparison to the very un-brilliant movie) so I really want to re-read it when I get a chance. Can you guess who recommended it?

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, which, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but is pretty big here (in Canada) and everyone (who is a girl…) reads this book when they’re younger. Unless you’re me, in which case you’ll manage to make it until you’re sixteen before reading this book and the subsequent 7 in the series. I don’t know how I lived so long without Anne Shirley —  she and I are like the same person. I will definitely be expanding further about this series and the movie adaptation which was also incredibly amazing (seriously, it made me fall even more in love with Gilbert Blythe than I already was). Again, best teacher in the world told me that would would be my favourite book in the world — she was right.

After that was the Emily of New Moon trilogy, also by L.M.M. and which maybe shouldn’t be on my list of favourites, but is here anyways because it influenced me and my writing (Emily’s a writer). This was a follow-up recommendation, from the same teacher. (Are you starting to see a trend?) The final book in this series once kept me up half the night, worrying about Emily and her various suitors —  I think I get a little too involved in the books I read…

I read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne just before and during final exams. It was also recommended by my teacher — whose class I was actually in at the time. This was such an amazing, thought-provoking book and I just wanted to discuss and dissect it, because the ideas it presented were so intriguing and presented so beautifully. I was one of those psychopaths who actually wished I could learn about it in school and so we could have class discussions and worksheets and write essays about it. I was able to do the latter point this year, as I was able to choose it for my independent study novel. It was not quite as wonderful as I thought it would be (perhaps because I couldn’t focus on its brilliance and what intrigued me about it, but had to compare it to a movie in a slightly contrived manner — although, based on my grade, my teacher seemed to think it was a good essay).

Then this past summer I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which, shockingly, was not recommended by this teacher! This was an amazing, fun and easy read and I read it in my brand new hammock, under the gorgeous sun, which, of course, added tenfold to my  enjoyment. (And yes, it does get hot here in the summer and no, our houses don’t melt, because they’re made out of bricks, not ice). Less well-known, are two sequels called Little Men and Jo’s Boys which were both really cute (although they seemed to target a younger, more male audience, which didn’t detract from them, but I thought it was a little weird…) For more on my discovery of this excellent novel click here and here.

Which brings me to this year. I recently finished reading Regeneration by Pat Barker for my Studies in Lit class and it is one of the best books ever. It takes place in a mental hospital, during the first World War and it is far more “ugly” (if you know what I mean) and Postmodern than what I normally like, but my former English teacher (you know, the one I’ve mentioned about a thousand times in this post) told me I’d like it and (prepare yourselves) she was right. It was just really, really fascinating and I suggest you read it, because it kind of changed my life (okay, that may be a slight hyperbole, it isn’t Jane Austen or anything, but still).

Currently, I’m working my way through Adam Bede by George Eliot. It is amazing and I have no idea why it isn’t more popular (perhaps it’s been overshadowed by Middlemarch, which, the same English teacher (who, of course, told me to read this) claims isn’t even all that great! So, an appeal to the internet, I think you should all go read this book and realize how great it is, then tell all your friends and give it the popularity it deserves, because seriously, IT IS BRILLIANT. You know, in a occasionally-makes-me-want-to-throw-it-on-floor-because-the-characters-are-being-so-real-and-therefore-annoying kind of way.

Well, that was fun. Check back for elaborated posts on each of these books, coming soon to a computer near you. So, what are some of your favourite books?

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