There have always been quotes that have stuck with me but more and more I find myself marking new passages as I read. Some speak to me; others make me laugh so much that I have to share them, and many say exactly what I’ve been thinking or feeling so much more eloquently than I ever could. I’ve decided to share some of these with you. These Quotes of the Week may be from a book I’ve read, or about books and reading, or just a quote I enjoy.
My inaugural Quote of the Week is a classic. I think we can all agree that this is one of the greatest lines of literature and one of the greatest quotes about reading ever:
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing”
But given the number of classic books that have been banned through the decades, who doesn’t? Without knowing it, I proudly declared some of those oft-banned books among my favorites. To Kill a Mockingbird, the entire Harry Potter series, A Wrinkle in Time, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein just to name a few. Seriously? What did they find offensive about the poetry of Shel Silverstein? Is it too funny, entertaining, and honest? That’s the key, isn’t it? Honesty. Certain factions of society don’t want people to develop open minds about the world, to see the world as it truly is, or to think for themselves. And they want to stop it as early as possible. That’s why so many of the books that have been banned are ones written for children and young adults. That makes me angry and that’s why I proudly declare I READ BANNED BOOKS! This week, September 20 – October 3, 2015, is banned books week. If you want to learn more about books that have been banned and see lists of the 100 most banned books from the last two decades, visit http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top100
I have observed that using a child or innocent character as the narrator of a story or book with adult themes can be most powerful. Just think of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, young Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, or seven year old Luke Chandler, narrator of John Grisham’s novel A Painted House, which may not be the classics the other two have become but made an impression on me in large part because of Luke’s narration. In Scout’s case, intelligent but naïve about the evils of the world, she brings a no-nonsense take on the events and people at the center of the story. The right thing to do seems so obvious when she points it out. Without the humor young Frank brings to his tale of growing up in Ireland, Angela’s Ashes has the potential to be one of the most agonizingly depressing books ever written but because of the young boy’s outlook and ability to see the humor in his tragic world, I often found myself laughing through my tears. In A Painted House, the narrator’s youth makes him an unreliable narrator because he cannot understand all that he sees and hears. His unreliability increases the suspense of the novel because the reader sees the events through Luke’s young eyes.
I just finished reading Dodie Smith’sI Capture the Castle and the narrator, Cassandra is another example of the power and wisdom of a young or innocent narrator. Though the novel only encompasses six months in Cassandra’s young life, she loses that innocence and it shows in her narration. In the first section, despite the hardships in her life, Cassandra’s writing is filled with wise and wonderful observations stated with a simplicity that can only come from innocent observers. I Capture the Castle is full of memorable quotes, such as:
“I have noticed that when things happen in one’s imaginings, they never happen in one’s life.”
“I have noticed that rooms which are extra clean feel extra cold.”
“I shouldn’t think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.”
But as the story moves forward and Cassandra begins to see the way the world really works and the true natures of the people she loves, her observations lose their humor and simplicity. They also become a little more self-centered as she grows more concerned with her own aching heart than her family and her loved ones or describing the world in which she lives. I guess we’re all like that. As children, we are focused on our family, then our friends, and on learning all we can about our world but when we reach adolescence, our focus is definitely on our own drama (real or imagined). When Cassandra does this, she admits that she loses her keen sense of observation. At her lowest, she fails to take in the city as she walks through the streets of London after leaving her sister. Something she would have relished only a month or two earlier.
Good books always seem to teach us something about ourselves regardless of the point of view. Maybe it is just that young or innocent narrators, like the children in our lives, are better at pointing out truths in the simplest terms than adults are.
What makes an unforgettable character? A hero you want to root for? A villain you love to hate? If I knew those answers, I’d probably be a better writer than I am. All I know is that there are some characters that have, for one reason or another, stayed with me since I met them. Some are like friends I visit often for some comfort and a good laugh, some just seem like they’d be fun to hang out with, some become book boyfriendsJ, and some are so wonderfully bad that I love to hate them. Now that I’ve added Soulless’sAlexia Tarabotti to my list of favorite characters – yes, I have a list, doesn’t everyone? – I thought I would introduce you to a few of my other favorites:
Yes, he’s brilliant and solves impossible cases but what I like most about Sherlock is his snark. In the books, he is excellent at insulting people without them realizing it. And, most of the time, he only insults the characters that deserve it. He’s actually pretty nice (by his standards) to the good people in the stories. He just has an awesome bulls**t detector.
Augustus McCrae – Lonesome Dove could be unbearably heavy and dreary without someone to lighten the mood (just read Streets of Laredo and tell me it’s not a bit depressing). But Gus isn’t just a funny guy who likes to enjoy his life. His quips and anecdotes are often full of wisdom and he really is a great leader of men. Unfortunately, he’s also stubborn as hell in the end. I’m still mad at him.
Ramona Quimby – In my younger days, I considered the star of Beverly Cleary’s delightful series one of my best friends. Like me, she is a little sister but she has the spunk I wish I had and the courage to get into all the trouble I wish I had been brave enough to get into.
My favorite Ramona book is Ramona the Pest when she’s in kindergarten. She chases a boy, pulls a classmate’s bouncy curls, draws her Qs into little cats, and gets into all sorts of scrapes at school and home. As a shy quiet child, I wanted to be Ramona.
Atticus Finch – I hope it isn’t a crime these days to say Atticus Finch is one my favorite characters. I haven’t read Go Set a Watchmanyet, so as far as I’m concerned, To Kill a Mockingbird is the only source for the character of Atticus or any of the Finches. He is probably the noblest character in American literature, living by and standing by his values even when it is difficult and potentially dangerous. Most importantly, though, he is the kind of father I would want for my children.
Sydney Carton – The main protagonist of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Citiesmay seem like the polar opposite of Atticus Finch what with his drinking, laziness, and gloomy view of the world but he is every bit as noble. He finally finds a cause or purpose, whatever you want to call it, and then sacrifices himself (literally!) for it. He dies so that the woman he loves can be happy with the man she loves. And right before he loses his head, he says one of the most beautiful lines in all of literature: “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
I would’ve loved you, Sydney!
Elizabeth Bennett– If I can’t actually be Pride and Prejudice’senviable heroine, Elizabeth Bennett, I would love to just hang out with her (and Jane, and Charlotte). Elizabeth is feisty, opinionated, intelligent, and has a wicked sense of humor. And she got the dreamy Mr. Darcy just by being her feisty, opinionated, intelligent self. And by learning to see beyond certain prejudices of course.
The mention of Mr. Darcy brings me to the subject of book boyfriends. Mr. Darcy is definitely on that list as are a few other Austen heroes. Mr. Tilney from Northanger Abbey runs a close second to Mr. Darcy thanks to his delightful sense of humor and Persuasion’sCaptain Wentworth is a favorite because of the incredibly romantic declaration of his love for Anne (swoon!). There are some fantastic fictional men not penned by Miss Austen. If you’re looking for a good man, try Levi from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Colin Byrne from Ain’t She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (he has kind of a Sherlock Holmes meets Mr. Darcy thing going on), Hugh of Harrowfield (also known as Red) from Daughter of the Forestby Juliet Marillier, Matthew Clairmont from Deborah Harkness’s All Souls trilogy (or Gallowglass if you prefer your vampires a little rougher around the edges, or everyone’s current favorite Scotsman, Jamie Fraser from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. There have been so many more literary men in my life; these are just a few of my favorites.
There are so many unforgettable characters out there, whether they are noble heroes, wicked villains, or scene-stealing secondary characters, that I can’t possibly go into detail about them all. Here are a few of my Honorable Mentions:
Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind(I’m not sure whether she falls under the category of chicks I’d like to hang out with or baddies I love to hate)
Bridget Jones from Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (I would definitely have fun hanging out with her)
As you’ve probably guessed, I could go on and on but for now, I’ve gone on and on long enough. These are just a few of the memorable characters I’ve encountered in my lifetime of reading. Who are your favorite characters?