Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanking the Handmaid (and a half dozen others)

Thanks to Beth Revis for encouraging bloggers to give thanks for their favorite books...and for giving us amazing motivation to do it.

I’ve wanted to enter this contest/blogfest for a while (seriously guys, have you seen the prizes?!) but I’ve been procrastinating because choosing a single book is just too hard with so many options... 

-- The Neverending Story, The Hobbit, A Wrinkle in Time, the Redwall books, and so many other favorite forms of escape growing up... 
-- Hamlet (aka the best thing ever written, no matter how cliché that sounds) for making me want to understand and analyze literature and propelling me towards a career in English…
-- The Virgin Suicides, which was mailed to me by mistake (or Fate) during the end of grad school and reminded me that immersing myself in language is even better than analyzing it…

So many books shaped me as a reader, a student, and a writer (which is why I’m totally cheating by listing a bunch of books that I’m “not going to talk about.” So sneaky, I know.) But I finally decided to officially give thanks for The Handmaid’s Tale
For some misguided reason I didn’t read The Handmaid’s Tale until grad school. By that point, I'd already read a ton of dystopian novels – I’d even written my undergrad thesis on three of the classics. And some of them hit me really deeply; I mean, who isn’t thrown into a deep, thought-provoking depression by 1984? But The Handmaid’s Tale is the first dystopian novel that really punched me in the stomach and terrified me to my very core. It made me think seriously about our current and future world, but it also ripped away my analytical distance and made me live the nightmare. And at the same time it made me relish every moment, because the prose was so incredibly beautiful. It resonated in every sense of the word.

It also made me want to read more by Atwood -- not just her other post-apocalypse/dystopias (Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood), but everything she wrote, and now Cat’s Eye and The Blind Assassin are among my favorite books. I'm pretty sure the next novel I read by her will join the list too. Atwood packs more observations and insights in each chapter than I think I’ll have in a lifetime.

And speaking of heart-wrenching, beautifully crafted dystopian novels, around the same time I was blown away by Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and OKAY FINE I’ll stop cheating by listing more books. Sheesh. 

What books make you want to give thanks?


  1. Well, there is no way I could only list one book so here's two - THE STAND by Stephen King and A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith. I read them both when I was very young and they made me want to write, to affect readers the way I was (in different ways!) by both of them.

    (Those Atwood dystopian titles reminded me of the recent WHEN SHE WOKE by Hilary Jordan. Really good read.)

  2. You actually aren't the first to recommend When She Woke to me - I think the blogosphere is trying to tell me something! (Not to put the book on my to-read list, because I already did that, but to get through the books that are ahead of it faster!)

  3. You and I have extremely similar taste in literature. I love Atwood and I love all your picks.

    Hmmm.... I'd add Shirley Jackson to the mix. Because that's the kind of mood I'm in today. :)

  4. Oooh, nice. I have to admit I've only read "The Lottery," but I have many other stories and novels from her on my list.

  5. I have actually never read that! I think I might just have to rectify that now.

  6. I read THE HANDMAID'S TALE for the first time last year; Atwood is boss. THE ROAD blew me away a couple years ago, and I still haven't recovered.

    ...and CONGRATS on reaching your November W1S1 goals!

  7. The first great books I read were Les Miserables and Crime and Punishment. I was hooked. I think my high school English teacher knew me better than I did. I could go on and on listing books for which I'm thankful, but one of the best I've read in the last two years is C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces. Congrats on meeting your November W1S1 goals.

  8. Hi Jillian!
    Congrats on W1S1

    Handmaid is great! Someone sent it me, said I had to read it.

    Till we have faces I read years and years ago, when I was a kid. It left a huge impression on me. It haunted me for years. I'm scared to read it again in case it doesn't live up to my memories of it.

    Two novels I always go back to are Shardik, which I read first when I was about 15, The Ring Master, and Jonathan Strange.

    But there are so many good books out there, it's hard to choose. I should have mentioned Earthsea. I have now.

  9. Great choices, Jeff.

    Lydia, I love Earthsea too. I've never read The Ring Master or Shardik (though I remember the Shardik references in the Dark Tower made me want to check it out) so I will definitely add those to the list.

    Thanks for stopping by!