Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Joy Luck Club*

It’s coming on back-to-school time again, and I’m only now beginning to realize that I’ve missed out on summer reading this year. My summer was spent instead on TV marathons and summer blockbusters. This would explain why my last two blog posts were inspired by TV shows rather than books. Have you ever just felt tired of reading? I have, so you’ll forgive me if I’ve given myself a break these last few months. Maybe TV-watching was my summer reading. Think of it as my way of giving my brain a vacation. School officially starts tomorrow here in my hometown, so I guess that means that it’s time to get back to work.

I do want to get back into a rhythm, but it’s been difficult to work myself up to that necessary level of excitement. However, in an attempt to find the joy of books again, I’ve been trying to think back to a time when I was enthusiastic about reading. Which begs the question: What was the last really good book I ever read? I can tell you, but first let me tell what it’s not. It’s not a Harry Potter book. It’s not a Twilight book. It isn’t a Shakespeare play or Austen or Dickens. Can you guess what it was?

The answer: Lord of the Rings.

The key to identifying a really good book is that you want to reread it again as soon as you finish it. Or read more, as in the case of a book series. Then you want to read it again, no matter how many times you've read it before. I've only read Lord of the Rings once, but nevertheless, it is still part of this club. Perhaps if the movies hadn’t come out so soon after I’d finished LOTR, I would have reread the book by now. But it’s a good thing the movies did come out when they did because I was a quick fanatic. Such books are few and far between. They are in a club all their own, beyond academics and above hype.

Matilda also belongs in this category for me, the book I read four times in a row when I was younger and could still pick up today with complete anticipation. To Kill a Mockingbird came later. I love To Kill a Mockingbird because I can pick it up, begin reading at any chapter, and still get lost in the story. It took time for me to warm to The Giver, but I came around. I think I was too young when I read it the first time, but giving it a second try made me want to give it a third.

Harry Potter counts, too, but strangely, I had also been so busy trying to finish the series, wondering what was going to happen next, and reading the books so quickly once I got them that I get the feeling I never took the time to really savor them. Harry Potter is a special circumstance because it is simultaneously a great book experience and a regrettable one.

Matilda, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Giver, Lord of the Rings. A very short list considering the amount of books I’ve read. It’s a very elite club, but they wouldn’t be so special if you read books like that every day. My very own Joy Luck Book Club. Joy, because I’m happy to have discovered them, and Luck because, well, I’m also lucky to have found them. No one knows for certain which books will hit all the right notes for any given person, even oneself. But that is what good fortune is: Joy and Luck. You may have to do a lot of reading to find the gems, but once you do, they are valuable beyond words.

Edit: I would also add A Christmas Carol to this list.

*Joy Luck Club is my favorite book by Amy Tan. Also, it was the first book I read of hers. I also recommend The Bonesetter's Daughter.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Little Women*

I just finished a major marathon of the TV show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I’ve been watching various episodes off and on for a while now, and it took only one weekend to get through the last season, start to finish. It’s funny because I remember seeing the movie years ago during a sleepover, and suffice it to say, it wasn’t a favorite, which is probably the reason why I was never interested in seeing the TV show. Thinking back, I wonder whether I would have given the TV show a chance while it was on if I hadn’t known about the movie. Now I’ll never know, but at least I’ve rectified my ignorance since. I know what you’re thinking: Hours of television = totally useless. Maybe it is, but watching Buffy did get me thinking about female heroes through the ages.

ELIZABETH BENNET (of Pride and Prejudice): I consider Elizabeth Bennet to be Cinderella. Classic. Indisputable. She is the fairy tale. I believe every woman needs a role model like her, namely, someone who literally lives happily ever after. And they need to believe in her. Is it unhealthy to think this way? Well, on the other hand, is it healthy to be a cynic about happily-ever-afters? Answer for yourself, but consider this last question while you’re at it: Is Elizabeth Bennet’s life perfect? Really? Having a happy life and having a perfect life are not the same thing. I believe that if everyone had a role model like Elizabeth Bennet, they’d reconsider what “happily ever after” really means, and consequently live happier, healthier lives for it.

JO MARCH (of Little Women): Jo March is my personal favorite. She loves books, writes for fun, lives in New England, and, best of all, loves her sisters, so for all those things I can identify with her personally. But what I like about her most is that she comes across as ordinary. Certainly, compared to the other women in this list, she may seem rather boring. She doesn’t go on any grand adventures. Her virtue is that she finds identity and happiness living an everyday life. She’s poor, she does not have superpowers, nor does she triumph over anything by kicking anyone’s butt. Jo conquers her problems through perseverance, talent, hard work, and family support. Yeah, I can dig that.

NANCY DREW: As far as heroines go, Nancy Drew is a relatively flat character. She never really evolves in any way through her stories, but remains the same. Each mystery is independent of the others because none of her stories seems to have an impact on the next one. But maybe her consistency is part of her appeal. No matter what, she always solves her case. She’s clever, attractive, smart, independent, strong, brave. Why mess with that?

LOIS LANE (of Superman): You can’t talk about Superman without including Lois Lane. I remember being obsessed over Superman when I was really young, ever since seeing Superman: The Movie. Lois Lane is probably my earliest fictional female icon, come to think of it. I mean, honestly, I wasn’t reading Pride and Prejudice when I was six. All that Austen wit would have gone right over my head. And I was definitely too young to be allowed to watch Terminator. She even beats out Nancy Drew because I fell in love with Superman before I ever read a Nancy Drew mystery. I think that maybe, subconsciously, I loved Superman because I wanted to be Lois Lane. Don’t get me wrong: The superpowers are great and everything, but Superman isn’t the same without her.

SARAH CONNOR (of the Terminator movies): The thing that attracts me to Sarah’s character is that she is a mother. She may not be the best mother, but it is what motivates her. It is what defines her. It’s also what keeps her grounded and holds her humanity intact. Perhaps more than any other heroine on this list, she is a fighter, but not to the point of becoming like the unfeeling robots that she’s forced to deal with. She represents the motherly instinct to a heightened, primal degree. And that rocks.

As Jo March defines it, she says, “I’ll try to be what he loves to call me, ‘a little woman’, and not be rough and wild; but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else” (Little Women, Chapter 1). Each of these women proves that regardless of time or place, “little women” have always been around and always will be. In fact, the title is kind of ironic because there’s nothing “little” about these women at all.

*Little Women actually comes in two parts. Louisa May Alcott's Good Wives is considered its sequel. Some publications of Little Women include Good Wives, some do not.