We often come back to our favorite books because it takes us back to a comfortable and happy place.
Recently, I finished re-reading Little Women.
Published in 1868 and written by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women is the story of the four March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy), growing up and coming of age in Civil War era New England. Meg is the proper eldest child, Jo is the tomboy, Beth is the homebody and Amy is the diva.
As the sisters grow and mature, each faces her own challenges on the way to adulthood.
Little Women still resonates because none of the sisters completely fits the stereotype that she is based on. Many readers (myself included) will also see themselves in more than one sister and may change who they relate to as they themselves grow and mature.
The book, at its heart, is about the relationships between the sisters. They have their fair share of disarrangement’s, but at the end of the day, the girls know that if there is no one else to turn to, her sisters will be there.
Alcott also wisely decided to make the marriage plot secondary. While, Meg, Jo and Amy do eventually marry (I won’t give away what happens to Beth if you haven’t read the novel), the narrative is not solely about the girls finding husbands.
And that is why I re-read Little Women.
Today I re-read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.
A prequel to Jane Eyre, it was published in the 1930’s. Taking place years before Jane Eyre meets Edward Rochester, the focus of the book is Antoinette Cosway, who is known to readers of Jane Eyre as Bertha Rochester, Mr. Rochester’s mad first wife. Antoinette Cosway and Edward Rochester are equally sold in the name of marriage. She is an heiress and he is a younger son in need of a wealthy wife.
What starts out as a story of young love turns into a story of vengeance, hate, mental illness and male power. If Bertha Rochester was Charlotte Bronte’s inner scream against the constraints that women were kept in during the 19th century, then Antoinette Cosway enlarges and opens up that inner scream.
I re-read Wide Sargasso Sea not only because today is National Book Lovers Day, but because the book publicly exposes the double standard that women have become the norm for women over the centuries.
Today I re-read Wide Sargasso Sea.
This past weekend was Yom HaShoah.
While I live in the safety and security of The United States, sometimes I need a reminder how quickly democracy and freedom can spiral into prejudice and murder.
Yesterday, I finished reading The Tailors of Tomaszow: A Memoir of Polish Jew. Co-written by child survivor Rena Margulies Chernoff and her son Alan Chernoff, the book is a memoir based on the memories of Mrs. Chernoff’s all too brief childhood and the horrors she went through during the Holocaust.
The reason I re-read the book can best be described by the late Elie Wiesel:
“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
The youngest of the survivors are in their 80’s and 90’s. Soon, only their words and memories, shared through others will keep the their murdered kin alive.
I re-read The Tailors of Tomaszow: A Memoir of Polish Jews so that the dead will never be forgotten.
In 2017, it’s easy for modern women to appreciate the rights and accomplishments that we can call our own. But, at the same time, we don’t have to travel that far to go back to a time when a woman’s sphere was limited to that of a wife, mother and homemaker.
Today I finished re-reading A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s by Stephanie Coontz. In the book, Ms. Coontz examines now only the impact of Betty Friedan’s world-changing book, The Feminine Mystique, but also the criticism that was lobbied at the book and Ms. Friedan.
I re-read A Strange Stirring for two reasons: 1) how far women have come in a short span of 2-3 generations and 2) I needed reminder of how complex the feminist movement is. It is more than the right to vote or to own property or to receive an education. It is our continued fight to be seen and appreciated as the complex and complicated human beings that we are.
I also recommend it, in case anyone has not read it.
There is nothing so defining as a woman’s relationship, or lack thereof, with her father. Regardless of the status of their relationship, a woman’s father will always play a role in her life.
Today I finished re-reading Washington Square, by Henry James. Catherine Sloper is the poor little rich girl. Her father, Dr. Austin Sloper is a successful doctor who lost his wife soon after Catherine’s birth. Still in mourning for his wife decades after her death, Dr. Sloper constantly demeans his daughter and makes impossible comparisons to his late wife. When Catherine meets and falls in love with Morris Townsend, her father suspects that Morris is after his daughter’s fortune more than he is her heart. Catherine must choose between being obedient to her father or marrying Morris and losing her inheritance.
I re-read the book because the movie adaptation of the book, The Heiress (1949) was on TV a few weekends ago. What strikes me about both the book and the movie is three things: the first thing is that a father plays a greater role in a daughter’s life than is something noticed. Growing up with her emotionally abusive father, Catherine’s self-esteem is shot. She has only known appeasement with her father, she has never known true paternal love that fosters a child’s emotional growth and self-respect. It’s no wonder that at the end of the novel, Catherine makes the decision she makes.
The second thing is that while the movie is amazing (I will at some point, feature the film in a Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday post) it does not allow for the character’s inner dialogue. In the movie, Morris is portrayed as a young man so earnest in his love for Catherine that he is willing to wait for her and put up with the abuse that Dr. Sloper dishes out. In the book, Morris is a little more questionable in his motives.
The third thing is that this book sheds a light on why we need feminism. Granted, this book does take place in the 19th century, but I kept thinking that if Catherine had the opportunities that woman have today, her choices might have been very different. She might have not been jockeyed between her father and her lover and have to choose one or the other.
Today I re-read Washington Square.
This past weekend, I finally purchased a copy of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. I’ve been in love with this book for nearly two years, but I was not sure if I wanted to buy it. On Sunday I gave in.
So, in no specific order, here are the reasons I re-read Bad Feminist…
• Bad Feminist is this generation’s The Feminine Mystique. Just like Betty Friedan’s now classic book asked our grandmothers to ask themselves hard questions, this book asks our generation to ask hard questions.
• Ms. Gay makes no apologies for who she is and what she believes in.
• She is not afraid to reveal her imperfections to the readers.
• She does not tolerate b*llsh*t, especially from members of the male sex who think they know more than she does.
• Her twitter feed is awesome and never dull.
• She is not afraid to call out the chinks in the armor of the feminist movement: the limited visibility of women of color, the limited visibility of LGBTQ women and other women who are doubly or triply stigmatized for their race, sex, sexual preference, etc.
• She would rather be a bad feminist than not be a feminist at all.
And those are the reasons why I re-read Bad Feminist.
Today I re-read Northanger Abbey.
I re-read it because I had Jane on the brain (as I frequently do).
I re-read it because I needed to be reminded that it is ok to be a bookworm.
I re-read it to get out of my life for a little bit and into someone else’s life.
I re-read it to remind myself that what is on the page is not always reality.
I re-read it for my younger self, the bookworm that I was.
I re-read it because sometimes we need to read a novel that is slightly trashy or is set in a reality that is far from ours.
Today I re-read Northanger Abbey.
Last week was not an easy one for me. While I will not go into specifics, I will say that I needed a pick me up. I need something warm and comforting to make me feel better.
I pulled my copy of Jane Eyre from my book shelf. There is nothing like literary comfort food when your feeling down.
I chose Jane Eyre because I needed a reminder that the most important thing we can do for ourselves is remain true to who we are.
I chose Jane Eyre because I was having an underdog moment and I needed the story of another underdog who finds success and love without comprising herself in the process.
I chose Jane Eyre because she had to face her the challenges set before her to reach that happy ending.
I chose Jane Eyre because I needed to be reminded to have faith and to know that things will always work out in the end.
And that is why I re-read Jane Eyre.