Adventure-ing: Atwood, Alias Grace

I took a break from my Atwood/Didion adventure (to read their entire body of work, though they are both still living and still writing) after the wedding. I needed to check out some other stuff, lest my writing completely morph into Atwood-ian awesomeness and I can no longer separate my writing and reading selves. I read the Hunger Games series and some other small books I had around the house (and Bossy Pants). But! I am back in full swing of my Atwood campaign since after the holidays and have recently finished Alias Grace.

I have also just recently finished relaying the entire story to Kamel and telling him how much I want this to become a movie because it would be awesome. The plot is an Atwood classic. It starts off in one direction, an agreeable direction where the reader thinks she’s totally in on it. Almost to a fault, almost bordering on boring. When all of a sudden, BAM! the plot twists and I’m (again… because this happens ALL of the time when I’m reading Atwood) looking around the room like someone just slammed a door or slapped a child. I’m looking to make eye contact with someone else so I can say, “Can you fucking believe it?! I KNOW RIGHT?!” But of course, it’s just me… reading to myself quietly, so I get right back to it because wow I have to see what happens next.

God I love her.

Anyways, so searching for a picture of the cover for this blog post, I was delighted to stumble upon this little gem that says they actually are looking to turn Alias Grace into a movie! Wahhoo! I’m so excited, and I really hope this goes through. Not only is it a period piece (and you know I love me a good period piece), but it’s also got sex (the kinky kind… for being in the 1800s), murder, and a ghost story all wrapped into one. For the win.

So, as I am almost done with my little pile of unread books (currently working on the last one –Β  Native Speaker – and loving it), I need some book suggestions. I just cleaned out the little bookstore by my bus stop of all the Atwood novels I haven’t read yet and I’ll be sorting out more Didion, but I’m also going to need really great current reads to keep things mixed up Plus, I find myself out of the loop on who is hip and happenin’, who the next up and coming sweet young thang is. And so on. So I’m asking you, dear reader, to give me your top 3 recommended MUST reads in comments today. I’m looking to gather 12-15 new books to stack up in a big pile next to the bed and slowly chip away at. It’s going to be awesome.

(Spoiler alert: I don’t read Chuck Palahnuick, or any of the Dragon Tattoos)

70 thoughts on “Adventure-ing: Atwood, Alias Grace”

  1. Oh man. I don’t think I can only give you three. Can I give you more than three, and you can just pick three out of those? I’ll give you the categories:

    Fiction: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Written on the Body by Jeannette Winterson, Atonement by Ian McEwan, A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

    Historical fiction: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (etc., series)

    Southern memoir: The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr

    Supernatural-y: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

    Non-fiction: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead

    Okay… so that was… 9 books. Oops. Sorry I’m not very good at following instructions when it comes to book recommendations.

    1. Oh. The Time Traveler’s Wife is beautiful. But man–it got STUCK IN MY HEAD for weeks. I was seriously in a weird, weird funk for a very long time after finishing that book.

  2. I love classics. Maybe you’ve already read these, but:
    -Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (all-time fave!)
    -Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (the prose is amazing)
    -The Disinherited by Jack Conroy

  3. I don’t have three and I will be stalking the comments to get some ideas for myself, but I did just finish 11/22/63 by Stephen King and could not put it down. I have never read a book by him because I stay away from horror movies/stories, but this was different and so engrossing.

  4. I really liked Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad. Sort of like the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view. Have you read it yet? Super short and easy read, but very sassy.

    My three favorite books are Lolita, Illywhacker and The Gold Bug Variations, but I can never get anyone to read any of them. I wouldn’t have picked up either of the last two if it wasn’t for required lit class readings. I second The Time Traveller’s Wife, and The History of Love is beautiful without being punch you in the gut difficult to get through (like Gold Bug could be accused of being, at least according to my husband).

  5. these are not my top 3 must reads (i can’t do that — i hate desert island lists), but are 3 pretty great reads:
    1. divisadero by michael ondaatje (it feels vaguely like play it as it lays, which is my favorite didion);
    2. the marriage plot by jeff eugenides (because it’s new and trendy and enjoyable if you studied writing or literature); and
    3. animal dreams by barbara kingsolver (i just really love her).
    now you tell me, which atwood should i start with?

    1. Sandy!! I totally spaced on replying to this even though I meant to immediately. But all time fav atwood is Cat’s Eye. A coming of age story about Atwood herself. It’s amazingly written. πŸ™‚

  6. Seconding the Time Traveller’s Wife here, if you haven’t read it you should! (Also, Her Fearful Symmetry by the same author is amazing).

    For a politically loaded biography (because I love bios) I always recommend Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel. I loved how thought-provoking it was.

    For fantasy fluff, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart (and series).

    1. I want to second Her Fearful Symmetry. A lot of people who enjoyed Time Traveler’s Wife disliked HFS, but I loved it. Of course, I actually didn’t like TTW. Couldn’t tell you why, just didn’t. I thought HFS was much better!

  7. Read a book from the Voice of Witness series (edited by Dave Eggers) on something that interests you. It’s oral history from those who don’t otherwise have a voice. I’ve read the ones on Sudan, the wrongfully exonerated, and Hurricane Katrina. All eye-opening.

    http://www.voiceofwitness.org/

  8. I love a Discovery of Witches too, so I’m going to second that suggestion!

    My all time favorite books: Ferrol Sams’ trilogy (Run with the Horsemen, The Whisper of the River, When all the World was Young). They are (in my opinion) incredibly well written and occasionally absolutely hilarious.

    Also, I’ve been super into Tana French lately (In the Woods, the Likeness, Faithful Place). They aren’t exactly in a series, but have the occasional cross over character, and I had a hard time putting them down while reading them.

    There, that’s technically three suggestions, right?

  9. I am such a huge Atwood fan. Have you read A Blind Assassin yet? The skill by which she interweaves the three parallel stories together is just perfect.

    If you like Atwood I’d recommend:
    A Secret History by Donna Tart. A dark story about an outsider who becomes involved with a classics group at university and will do anything to fit in.
    American Gods by Neil Gaiman. What if the immigrants who arrived in America bought their gods with them?
    Atonement by Ian McEwan. About a young girl who misinterprets something she sees at a house party on the eve of WW1

      1. I still need to read American Gods, but pretty much anything by Neal Gaiman is gold. I follow his blog and have a total writer-crush on him.

        My favorite of his is currently “Anansi Boys.” Anansi is a man and a small god and is an old man who lives in Florida. This story is about his son Fat Charlie, who is an adult in England and engaged, and who suddenly discovers that his father’s antics are once again making his life…interesting.

          1. It was already on my list, but Rowan’s description sold me on it. There was an ebook sale online recently, but I missed it and I was super sad about that. I may have to hunt a copy down IRL.

  10. Oh, I love book recommendations! (And, I now really want to read Alias Grace – I have a copy, but never picked it up.)

    1. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf (If you haven’t read it yet, do it. It’s my favorite book of all time. There isn’t anything about it that isn’t perfect to me.)
    2. What is the What – Dave Eggers (Sort of an older hit, but SO good. And also, brings into question so much about identity, story, and privilege.)
    3. Rookery – Traci Brimhall (Just a really incredible book of poems.)

  11. You guys are phenom!!! I am going to share the list of books I hit up once I decide on them, so keep the suggestions coming!!

    Also – Time Traveler’s Wife is an all time favorite so you totally are on my wavelength. πŸ™‚

  12. I just finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I was surprised by how much I liked it and actually look forward to reading it again. (I haven’t seen the movie.) I also recently read the Maytrees by Annie Dillard and loved her writing. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is also a must read if you haven’t yet.

    One of my favorite modern classics is Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. And A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is an amazing book. It’s set in India, delves into the lives of “untouchables,” and has stayed with my heart for over 10 years.

    I also really enjoy reading Barbara Kingsolver…Pigs in Heaven, the follow-up to Bean Trees, might be my favorite. But Prodigal Summer, Animal Dreams and of course Poisonwood Bible are all good too.

    Are you on Goodreads? I keep track of all the books that sound good in that account. Plus it’s easy to get friend recommendations when they rate books. You might like it!

    1. I just finished Cutting for Stone and loved it. I moved onto State of Wonder which I’m in the middle of and am struck by some similarities (i.e. more medical references than I ever thought I’d be interested in, but I’m totally into it).

      My favorite Kingsolver book was The Lacuna! I must admit have ties to Asheville, NC so it may have made the scenes there even more powerful.

        1. I’m actually on Goodreads already. πŸ™‚ But I don’t use it anymore because it started giving me a complex that I wasn’t plowing through the books fast enough. Also, I’m lazy. And entering in everything I was reading was too hard (wahh!!) and I kept forgetting. Me and Goodreads, we’re on the outs.

  13. Here are three books! Obviously not my top 3 of all time, but they are my “top 3 that I thought of on this particular Wednesday”. Close enough, right?

    Sum by David Eaglemen. It’s a quick read, 40 short (short) pieces imagining the afterlife. Some are funny, some are sad, some are surprising. Mostly it’s just a fun read, thought-provoking.

    Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans KILLER short stories.

    A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Eagen Have you read this yet? OMG IT’S SO GOOD. I need to re-read it. I got it from the library, but I may have to go and buy this one, soon.

  14. I’ve added so many books to my “to-read” list – yay! For my own contribution, I just read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and absolutely adored her writing style (although I think maybe I liked to the story more in Bel Canto?).

  15. Yay, I love talking about reading on blogs I read every day. It’s like the person who I want to read everyday and the people who also want to read what s/he writes might share some degree of interests, attitudes, and reading levels. Crazy, right? I always get good recommendations from my favorite bloggers/fellow readers. So thanks for bringing this topic up! (Also, I support this mission. My most recent favorite Margaret Atwood book is The Year of the Flood which I loved so ridiculously more than Oryx and Crake.)

    Top Three is hard, but here are some of my all-time favorites (sorry it grew to 5, 3 is too difficult!):
    -Laurie King: Touchstone
    -Ann Patchett: Bel Canto
    -Marilynne Robinson: Gilead
    -Kent Myers: Work of Wolves
    -Paulo Coelho: The Witch of Portobello

    1. Have you read the Mary Russell series by Laurie King? I’ve re-read each book in that series at LEAST five times. They are my favorite “sitting around on a gloomy day with a mug of tea” or “i’m in a bad mood, i want an old friend” or “my brain is too tired to absorb anything new, lets go with a goodie” books.

      1. Yes! I love Laurie King’s Mary Russell. Except I haven’t read the very most recent one yet because I got swayed by reading bad-ish reviews on Amazon (which was a mistake because now I’m not excited about it like I normally would be) and because I just haven’t gotten to it yet. But I love loved The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, O Jerusalem and Locked Rooms especially.

        Touchstone has different characters (it’s not part of either the Mary Russel or the Kate Martinelli series) but is truly a great read.

        1. I’ve read it, and I love it! I’m not a huge fan of the Kate Martinelli series, but am on board with all of the others. And the most recent Laurie King was a bit more light hearted and frivolous than her past ones… not my favorite, but not terrible. I’d like a return to the days of Beekeepers Apprentice, O Jerusalem and Justice Hall (my favorites!)

  16. Top 3 is impossible but some recently read and enjoyed are:
    Lady of the Snakes by Rachel Pastan
    The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

    Also, Haruki Murakami is great, I haven’t read the new one but really enjoyed The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and his short stories are great too.

  17. Ok. I’m sure you’ve already read Harry Potter, so I won’t officially recommend πŸ˜‰ People may roll their eyes, but I think those books are a GREAT example of plotting and story structure. As a writer, I go back to them again and again.

    So, top 3 MUST-READ books (and just so you know, PICKING ONLY 3 IS REALLY HARD!):

    1) Watership Down, by Richard Adams. No, this is not a great literary masterpiece. But it is my favorite book of all time. It is a WONDERFUL story, and well written. Again, as a writer, another good example of how to tell a damn good story.

    2) The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Seriously changed my worldview.

    3) The Razor’s Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham. Beautifully written. Complex characters. And philosophical in the best way.

    And…I just realized all my recommendations (minus Harry Potter) are men writers. Clearly, I need to start reading more women writers πŸ˜›

  18. Oh, short story collection recommendation: “No one belongs here more than you.” by Miranda July. Did you ever see the movie she wrote, directed, starred in called “You and Me and Everyone We Know”? If not, rent it. It’s ADORABLE.

    Do you like magical realism? Salvador Plascencia’s “The People of Paper” ripped my little heart to shreds and glued them back together. (See what I did there? I’m so lame.)

  19. Ok, I’m going to suggest Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris as authors instead of books, because I can read anything by them and pretty much be sure to like it. Also, one book that I read and loved was Straight by Boy George. I wasn’t a huge BG fan, but I picked up the book at Good Will and after I read it fell in LOVE with it. Also, She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb is another book I picked up at a thrift shop and fell in love with. It’s been out for a long time, but was new to me. Classy: Exceptional Advice for the Extremely Modern Lady by Derek Blasberg was a gift I received at my bridal shower and it was pretty entertaining!

  20. A little sad you don’t read Palahnuick, but I’ll move on πŸ˜‰

    Giving only 3 is SO. HARD.

    1)East of Eden by John Steinbeck – a classic but one of my favorites
    2)Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – one I read a few years back and will recommend to anyone. It’s such a different/unique story and I couldn’t put it down.
    3)Columbine by Dave Cullen – yes, about the school shooting but it’s way more than that. I was talking about this book for weeks after I read it.

  21. I second the recommendation for A Secret History by Donna Tart – I was reading it on a train in Austria and I was so engrossed my traveling partner had to keep reminding me to look up and not miss the beautiful countryside going by the window.
    I am also a huge Bill Bryson fan, he writes travelogues – In a Sunburned Country is his best. I laughed so hard I fell out of my chair, really. He makes writing seem too easy.
    London by Edward Rutherford is a brick of a book, but it is so engrossing you don’t notice once you are into it.

  22. I’m glad you’ve read Hunger Games, or it would’ve been my first suggestion for you!
    On the note of excellent young adult lit, though, have you gone through the His Dark Materials trilogy (Golden Compass, etc) by Philip Pullman?

    Other favorites include:
    -The Alienist, by Caleb Carr (using turn-of-the-century psychology to catch a serial killer in NYC)
    -Never Let Me Go, by Kasuo Ishiguro (even if you’ve seen the movie, the book has such an elegance to its writing, and is beautifully sad)
    -Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessel (genius girl solves the mystery of her teacher’s death)
    -World War Z, by Max Brooks (the best-written zombie book I know)
    -The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obrect (family stories and fairy tales)
    -America Pacifica, by Anna North (almost scifi, just takes place in the near future on Earth after a huge climate shift…)
    -Ex Libris: Confessions of a common reader, by Anne Fadiman (a series of essays about how books are awesome and important)
    -As others have said, The Poisonwood Bible: if you haven’t read it already, I think you would *love* it.
    -(plus American Gods)
    -and my boyfriend and I are racing through Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, but that’s a serious page commitment.

    Hurray books!

  23. I can’t pick favorites, but here are three I couldn’t put down:

    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
    Wrecker by Summer Wood
    Rose by Martin Cruz Smith

    1. I’m about to start reading the Night Circus right now! I’ve heard great things about it, I’m pretty excited to get into it.

  24. Ok here are my official three recommendations:

    The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. Everybody should read this at least once in their lives because it is about dreams and treasure and discovering your personal legend. If I can only recommend one book, this is the one I would recommend to everybody.

    The Hollow Kingdom by Clare Dunkle. This is officially a YA book and not Fancy Grown-up Literature. However, it remains one of my most favorite books. It is actually a trilogy, but this particular book was the first book I read that felt like it wasn’t simply retelling a story I’d already read. You know what I mean? Brief synopsis: Orphan siblings Kate and Emily arrive at an ancestral home (Hollow Hill) in modern times only to discover goblins live under the hill — and goblin king Marak is determined to have Kate for his bride. But the girls are not the helpless traditional heroines, and the goblins are not the evil traditional villains. Easy read and super fun.

    Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce. Pierce has a history of writing strong young female leads, but it is Aly Homewood of her Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen books that most interests me. Aly is captured by slavers and sold in the Copper Isles, where rebellion is brewing. She uses her personality and cunning to not only survive but thrive in her new environment.

  25. And … you should read Julio Cortazar, he is my favorite author ever. Hopscotch is a good start, his greatest novel, but he also wrote plenty of short stories that are real good.

    Also, Milan Kundera, (The unbearable lightness of being, or The ignorance or Immortality).

    If you like biographies, I recently read “Storyteller”, Roald Dahl’s biography and I really really enjoyed it his life was fascinating. He writes about Dahl’s writing /creative process and routine so maybe that could be interesting for you as well.

  26. I just finished The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Simply amazing and great for anyone who loved fantasy as a kid – it’s essentially a grown-up fantasy novel, but set in our world. If that makes any sense… =)
    Also would highly recommend The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (best book ever) and My Life in France by Julia Child.

    1. To start off on some common ground, I love AAoK&C. It’s so fantastic.

      But I HAAAAAAAAAATED The Magicians: I thought it was just not good. I know a lot of people really liked it, given the rave reviews and huge sales, but I just don’t get why. I’d love to hear why you were such a fan so I can see if I just missed something, or read it differently than others. (other than the tagline of “It’s Harry Potter for grownups!” that I keep hearing: I have issues with that line too.)

      (I’m happy to give the many reasons I really didn’t like it, but am refraining from posting them right now so as to not berate anyone who did like it.)

      1. Hmm, well, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. Sometimes a writer’s style doesn’t suit you, or a plot decision doesn’t ring true. Nothing anyone can say might change your opinion. But for me, here are the main reasons I liked it so much: 1) The writing. Lev Grossman has a lovely style. He gets into Quentin’s brain, shows us who he is, and also paints the other characters in the book so well. I felt like he really depicted the struggle of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. I felt like he got into character’s minds and showed us why someone was behaving the way they did. It’s hard to successfully depict multiple characters’ motivations, and I so appreciated his skill in doing so. 2) The truth behind children who loved, for example, The Chronicles of Narnia. Calling it Harry Potter for Adults is simplifying it way too much. Yes, there are obvious parallels with both Narnia and Harry Potter. But he actively acknowledges those, even making some clever jokes about Quidditch, etc. I feel like he approached the similarity to Harry Potter with tongue firmly in cheek. And I think he greatly honored the millions of kids who read The Chronicles of Narnia and wished, very deeply, to get to make the same journey. 3) My final reason for loving The Magicians is that Grossman has Quentin say, early on in the book, that he feels like he is not the hero of his own story. And that absolutely turns out to be true. And I thought it was so brave and different a choice to make the protagonist *not* be the hero. In fact, sometimes Quentin is even someone you don’t like. But he is still your protagonist, and the person through whom you will view the entire story.

        Again, I don’t expect you to change your mind about the book. Some books just don’t sit right, no matter how well they’re written or how much someone else may love them. But I definitely think it’s a book worth reading.

        1. I guess a lot of the things you liked about it I just didn’t πŸ™‚

          For me, the story just wasn’t original, and so much of it felt like a fanfic-y ripoff of HP or Narnia, even with the acknowledgments. I mean, it’s one thing to be inspired by a work and create your own off of it, but it never got to that level of “ok, inspiration from these sources at the start, but now I’m going to take my story off in this new direction.” Everything just paralleled some other work, and what was new wasn’t very well constructed or structured (in the sense of the structure of a story).

          I also disliked Quentin, not because he was simply unlikeable (though I did feel that way), but because he was boring and not very useful, which doesn’t make for motivated reading. While I realize that real life isn’t always well-constructed, I want my fiction to be put together better, with interesting characters (not necessarily good, but interesting), and he really wasn’t for me. I’m not against having an antihero as long as they’re interesting and motivated to do, well, anything, good or bad.

          So while I liked some of the ideas (the adolescence to adulthood transition you mentioned, the “what would happen if these old tales/legends/fantasy worlds were real and we could explore them” longing), I didn’t think it was done well enough to deserve the massive amounts of praise it got. But hey, to each his own (and if Lauren reads this, I’d love to see her thoughts too!).

  27. A few awesome non-fictions:

    Why Women Should Rule the World – DeeDee Myers (first female White House Press Secretary)
    The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin
    Three Cups of Tea – can’t remember the author but it’s sort of a biography of Greg Mortenson, a guy who goes and builds schools in Central Asia in remote communities

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