classics

HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.30.17: Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited
By Evelyn Waugh

Waugh's surprisingly tender novel explores English life between the two World Wars through the eyes of a young man captivated by an aristocratic family. Waugh muses on privilege and ambition, class and religion, politics and faith in this classic book.

(Hey, are you a fan of the daily book deal? Leave a comment—we've been doing them for a couple of weeks and want to be sure we're not cluttering up the blog with stuff you don't want to see!)

 

We're highlighting our picks for best book deal of the day on the blog, but you can always find our favorite Kindle book deals here.


HSL Book Deal of the Day 5.19.17: Brave New World Audiobook

Reading the Brontes: The BookNerd’s Official Guide

Reading the Brontes: The BookNerd’s Official Guide

I loathe Wuthering Heights. I should probably tell you that right up front. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I had to read Emily Bronte’s (so-called) classic first in high school and hated every ridiculous humorless violent hateful brooding moment of it. Being a person who typically enjoys nineteenth century classic literature, though, I figured that it probably was my fault, so I tried it again in college, and once again despised every ridiculous humorless violent etc. moment. I gave it one last try a few years later and finally decided, nope, it’s not me. Wuthering Heights is indeed an terrible garbage fire of a book. (Except for all those people who inexplicably love it. I promise not to judge you if you’re one of those people. I mean, you’re clearly wrong, but we can still be friends.) 

That said, I’ve been a big fan of Charlotte Bronte’ s Jane Eyre since the very first time I read it, around age 13 or so. As I’ve reread it over the years I’ve found that I particularly enjoy different parts of it—my first time though, I was obsessed with Jane’s experiences at Lowood, the Boarding School From Hell, but during later reads I’ve been more interested in Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester, or the strength of will she finds to run away from Thornfield Hall. 

Recently, I had a wonderful time doing Jane Eyre as a read-aloud with my daughter, and that experience set me off on a reread through Bronte works, Bronte history, and Bronte miscellany. From that, I’ve come up with this list for anyone - homeschool student, homeschool parent, or interested bystander - who’d like to take a deep dive into the world of the Brontes. I’m happy to present: 

The BookNerd’s Official Guide to Reading the Brontes
(NOTE: Wuthering Heights NOT Included) 

1. Read Jane Eyre. If you’ve already done that, reread Jane Eyre. Better yet, find a 13-year-old (or thereabouts) girl to read it with you, so that the two of you can enjoy Jane’s near-constant fury at the circumstances of her life (not to mention her occasional snarkiness) together. I’ve found that 13-year-old young women in particular have a real connection to Jane’s anger. Plus you’ll need someone to talk with about how St. John is THE WORST. 

2. Read a biography of the Brontes. The lives of Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and supposed-to-be-the-Golden-Boy-but-never-got-his-act-together brother Branwell are at least as fascinating as their most famous novels. Claire Harman’s Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart and Rebecca Fraser’s The Brontes: Charlotte Bronte and Her Family are both very good. Spoiler: Branwell is THE WORST. 

3. Read more Charlotte. Both of her other major novels, Shirley and Villette, are good reads, though I’ve found that Villette stays with me longer and has more of an impact. Plus, after reading Villette, you can join in the great literary game of gossiping with your 13-year-old about what exactly happened in Belgium between Charlotte and her mentor, Constantin Heger. 

4. Read some Anne. Poor Anne. Poor neglected Anne. Posterity seems to have entirely forgotten about Anne, which is utterly unfair. Plus, if this To Hark a Vagrant strip is historically accurate (IT IS and I refuse to entertain any discussion to the contrary), she was the most awesome sister of all. I’ve enjoyed both Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but if you only read one, make it Tenant, which—with its plot of a woman escaping an abusive husband with her child, not to mention all the arrogant entitled would-be suitors of the heroine, who get really really angry with her when she chooses not to love them back—feels (sadly) contemporary at times. 

5. Read some fanfic. In this case, by fanfic, I mean some of the professionally published retellings of and homages to Bronte works that have appeared over the years. From Jean Rhys’ classic Wide Sargasso Sea (which tells the story of Bertha Rochester pre-attic), to Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair (set in a world where people can jump in and out of books to change the narrative), to my new favorite, Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele (“Reader, I murdered him”), there are plenty to choose from. 

6. Finally, as a reward for all that reading—not to mention all those moors and all that brooding—read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, in which a very sensible young woman visits the broody family Starkadder on their gloomy farm in deepest, darkest Sussex and proceeds to set everything right with a few common-sensical changes. I strongly suspect that Charlotte and Emily would have loathed this book (not Anne though, because she’s awesome), but it is enormously funny and one of my top-ten comfort book rereads. As a bonus, it was made into a wonderful movie with Kate Beckinsale as the heroine (and Stephen Fry as a delightfully smarmy Branwell fan). 

EXTRA CREDIT  This past year I finally got around to reading The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar . This book is a classic work of feminist literary criticism, first published in the 1970s, so I was a bit intimidated, but even as a layman I found it a fascinating read. I’m not exaggerating to say that it has changed the way I read novels written by women. But if that sounds a bit too much to tackle at the moment, you can pick up (the much shorter and much funnier) Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg for your homeschool (sample here ), secure in the knowledge that anyone who gets all the references in this book—conversations in text from literary figures including Medea, Hamlet, Lord Byron, Jo March, and Nancy Drew—can definitely consider themselves a well-read student of Western literature. 

Happy reading, everyone!


Bespoke Book List: The Essential Charles Dickens Reading List

Save for later: Good Dickens reading list for high school, with movie suggestions and other info, too. #homeschool

Two hundred years old and going strong, Charles Dickens still deserves his spot on your library list. 

It might seem like a stretch to compare the venerable novelist to Kim Kardashian, but the most photographed man of his day could barely walk outside without attracting a crowd. (Once, celebrity-crazed crowds literally ripped Dickens’ coat apart as he walked down the street.) Dickens was the first real pop-culture celebrity, though it was his hilarious sketches and unflinching social criticism that earned him the obsessive adoration of his Victorian peers. The late 20th century, however, was less kind: Though his books have never gone out of print, Dickens missed out on a Jane Austen-style renaissance and ended up relegated to sophomore English classes. In recent years, however, events have conspired to bring the Victorian novelist back to center stage. 

It started in 2012, when more than 3,000 volunteer editors signed on to help bring digitized editions of Dickens’ weekly magazines to the web. Hailing Dickens as “the first blogger,” academics lauded his incisive, anonymous indictments of Victorian society and politics. Director Mike Newell raised eyebrows in 2012 when he announced that his film version of Great Expectations (starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes) would have neither of Dickens’ original endings, eschewing the original gritty conclusion and the somewhat unrealistically romantic rewrite in favor of a new ending that the screenwriter says will fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Even 2012’s big hacker attack on the networking site LinkedIn has a Dickens connection: A computer security expert in Utah tests password strength using selections from A Tale of Two Cities. There’s never been a better time to get your Dickens on—even if you can’t hop across the pond to Dickens World in Chatham, where the big attraction is the Great Expectations Boat Ride.

 

The Essential Dickens: Books

The Pickwick Papers (1836)
Surely I’m not the only reader who discovered Dickens by way of Little Women. But Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy were not the only 19th century folks to get caught up in the laugh-out-loud antics of Samuel Pickwick and his friends. The book—a collection of humorous sketches in a narrative framework—sparked a craze in the 1830s and 40s, complete with spin-offs, character roleplay, and all the other fun you’d associate with a pop culture sensation. Dickens biographer Robert Douglas-Fairhurst compares Pickwick and his “assistant” Sam Weller to famous comedy duos like Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello. 

Oliver Twist (1839)
Memorable characters like Fagin and the Artful Dodger make Dickens’ no-holds-barred satire on early Victorian attitudes toward poverty a classic. Darker and less hilarious than The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist is still eminently readable and a good transition between shorter works, like A Christmas Carol, and Dickens’ bigger—in scale, scope, and page number—novels.

Great Expectations (1861)
he story of young Pip’s coming of age as a gentleman in Victorian London is vividly drawn, and Pip is a genuinely likable hero, sympathetic even in his obsession with the uninterested Estella. Dickens tackles the corrupt emotional landscape of a world where wealth is the most important asset by illuminating the redeeming power of love. If people read this instead of A Tale of Two Cities in high school, they’d probably have much fonder opinions of Dickens.

Bleak House (1853)
A vast cast of characters and complex plot line make Bleak House a better choice for older readers, but it’s worth waiting to dive into this richly detailed, fictional account of one of England’s most famous court cases. What happens when two decidedly different Last Wills and Testaments come to light and a nice little estate is at stake? Many depressing years of argument in the British Court of Chancery and a twist ending that’s genuinely shocking.

Dickens, by Peter Ackroyd (1992)
Equal parts novelist, critic, and historian, Ackroyd is just the man to tackle the complex and fascinating life of the creator of Miss Havisham and Augustus Snodgras. It takes Ackroyd more than a thousand pages, imagined dialogues (in which Dickens dismisses biographers as “novelists without imagination”), and a plethora of facts to capture Dickens’ life story, but it works. You’ll close this odd and enormous tome feeling like Dickens is an old friend.

 

The Essential Dickens: Film

David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Dame Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins, Sir Ian McKellen, Tom Wilkinson
Oliver!
Starring Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Mark Lester
Bleak House
Starring Gillian Anderson, Alun Armstrong, Charlie Brooks

David Copperfield (1999) 
Harry Potter fans will be thrilled to recognize Professor McGonagall, Dolores Umbridge, and a very young Daniel Radcliffe in this faithful but fast two-part BBC production.

Oliver! (1968)
Dickens purists may complain that this musical take on Oliver Twist simplifies the book’s complex plot more than they’d like, but the film captures the novel’s spirit and pays appropriate homage to its most unforgettable characters.

Bleak House (2005)
This exquisite, fifteen-part BBC serial is the kind of literary adaptation readers dream of: lavishly rendered, textually faithful, and brilliantly acted. Gillian Anderson gives a particularly nuanced performance as the tortured Lady Dedlock.


What You Should Read in High School

Great homeschool reading list for high school. #homeschool

In the summer issue of home/school/life, we're helping you figure out the best way for your family to homeschool high school — and for us, what to read is an essential piece of the puzzle. By high school, your reading list should reflect your teen’s interests, but we think these books are worthy contenders. 

The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
 

Why you should read it: Fitzgerald’s novel about love, success, and the Jazz Age is arguably the quintessential American novel, reflecting both the spirit of the American dream and the high cost paid for it.

 

Of Mice and Men
By John Steinbeck
 

Why you should read it: This simple-on-the-surface novella lends itself to deeper reading and raises compelling questions about friendship, love, and what happens when life doesn’t work out the way you’d imagined.

 

Why you should read it: Vonnegut writes in his introduction to this book that “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre” — and then proves himself completely wrong in the following funny, curious, heartbreaking pages that mix fact and fiction.

 

Brave New World
By Aldous Huxley
 

Why you should read it: Everyone is happy in this futuristic fantasy — and that’s terrifying. If you don’t recognize in this dystopia pieces of our own modern world — mood-lifting meds, technologically assisted everything — go back and look again.

 

Why you should read it: The brilliant, self-destructive narrator of this book is intriguingly complicated. Equal parts fascinating and repugnant, he’s the kind of complex character you can talk about for hours.

 

Why you should read it: Beckett’s masterpiece lacks sensible characters, a logical plotline, and a coherent setting, but teasing it out will uncover the genius — and hilarity — of this absurd play.

 

Why you should read it: Gleefully, manically, Heller reveals the absurdity of war through the twisty-turny stories of a group of World War II fighter pilots.

 

Why you should read it: Perhaps no author better captures the downward spiral of depression into madness than Plath does in this semi-autobiographical novel.

 

The Metamorphosis
By Franz Kafka
 

Why you should read it: Teenagers can really identify with Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into something else entirely, reviled by his family, and forced to question his own identity.

 

Why you should read it: If you read only one book in high school, it should be this one, which inspires all the questions that matter: Who am I? How do I live well? What is art? What is the meaning of my life?

 

Things Fall Apart
By Chinua Achebe
 

Why you should read it: The stark, simple tale of Igbo boy Okonokwo is both a richly resonant reflection of African culture and an indictment of European colonialism.

 

The Handmaid's Tale
By Margaret Atwood
 

Why you should read it: What’s terrifying about Atwood’s dystopian future, in which a totalitarian religious regime controls women’s lives completely, is how believable it is.

 

Why you should read it: What does it mean to be human? Dick’s twisted, dark tale of an android-hunter on a mission to take down rogue robots dives fearlessly into the question of self.

 

All Quiet on the Western Front
By Erich Maria Remarque
 

Why you should read it: This coming-of-age novel (set in World War I Germany) perfectly captures the experience of modern war — from the patriotic elation of joining up to the despair and disillusionment of the trenches.

 

Why you should read it: OK, this one’s not an easy read. But slow down, dig in, and let the rhythms of Faulkner’s language wash over you.

 

The Brothers Karamazov
By Fyodor Dostoevsky
 

Why you should read it: Kurt Vonnegut said that this Russian novel can teach you everything you need to know about life. I think he might be on to something.


What You Should Read in Elementary School

What You Should Read in Elementary School

Whatever else you read, make time for these classics before middle school.