I’m getting a bit worried that I’m not going to finish my current read in time to write my Wednesday post. I’ve already got a short audiobook ready in case I need to shove an extra one in somewhere. It all depends on tonight. Thankfully, I still managed to get my weekly audiobook finished in time. I can’t remember who first recommended Carmilla to me but it was definitely something that came out of Instagram. I think I was having a rant about how bored I was with vampire fiction. Over the years, vampires have lost their bite so I tend to ignore them. I’d never tried to read Carmilla though. I know that it was the inspiration for Dracula and one of the earliest vampire stories ever written. But if we go into that too much I’ll probably just start banging on about John Polidori again. And nobody wants that.
Do you have a favourite book? I know that it’s one of the most difficult questions that you could possibly ask a bookish person. We have shelves crammed full of books, how the hell are we meant to edit that down to just one deserving book? It’s all about context, timing, age, and countless other variables. Although, we all have books that we prefer to the others. It’s like children: we all know our parents have a favourite but they’re just kind enough to not tell us. I’d definitely place The Monk at the top of my favourites list. The rest of the books on there might change as time goes by but this has been there since I first read it. I’ve always been a fan of the Romantic period and, though my studies, I became enamoured with gothic fiction. You may remember that I wrote a beginner’s guide to gothic fiction of the 1790s. I wrote my postgraduate dissertation on it and it was mainly so I could use this book. I love it. I’ve tried to make so many people read it but it’s not for everyone. It’s a bit much but, then again, so am I.
I’m still not entirely convinced by Robert Pattinson. It’s not really his fault. I just haven’t seen that many of his films. Besides Harry Potter and Twilight I’ve managed to avoid the majority of Pattinson’s career. I didn’t really have a reaction when it was announced he was taking over as Batman. He’ll probably be quite good but, as we’ve seen, DC movies aren’t the most reliable. My heart just isn’t in it anymore. I’m willing to be proved wrong but I don’t see a new Batman story bringing anything new to the DCEU. So it doesn’t even really matter how good Pattinson is. I mean Christian Bale was an awful Batman but people still class him about Micheal Keaton (the actual best portrayal) because he’s the most recent. When it comes down to it, film fans have a very short attention span so whoever ends up wearing the cowl will, inevitably, become the favourite of most people. Now, I realise that I have been banging on about Batman for too long and it has nothing to do with why we’re here. To The Lighthouse… geddit? Cause of Virginia Woolf? Oh, fine.
As children we’re so often told that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a quaint little adage that I completely agree with when talking about people but not when talking about actual books. As any bookish person will tell you, you can very often tell whether or not you’ll like a book based on the cover art. I buy the majority of my books based on chance encounters in book shops. The typical romantic-comedy meet cute kind of thing. I walk into a bookshop, come face to face with something beautiful, everything gets a bit blurry, strings start playing in the background, I read the synopsis, we’re a perfect match, and we end up going home together. It’s a tale as old as time. And exactly what happened with the last book that I read. It was just your everyday lunchtime book shop browse and I fell in love. With a simple white cover with a black illustration. It was creepy. It was gorgeous. I had to pick it up. As soon as I read the word Frankenstein on the back I was doomed. I’d never read anything by Marcus Sedgwick but, if this cover told me anything, I knew this was going to be for me.
As you may have noticed from my last couple of book reviews, I was starting to get a bit cocky about the frequency with which I was starting to post them. I mean two in two weeks. Who would have thought it? Especially when a matter of weeks ago I was experiencing a devastating reading slump that saw me slog through Frankenstein in Baghdad for over two months! But, I admit, I was starting to get a bit too big for my boots. Something which promptly stopped the minute I realised I’d not read a damn thing for most of last week. I’m currently reading White Houses by Amy Bloom but I’ve not been feeling it this week. Nope, what I’ve been feeling is Project Runway and whatever other shit I could find on Netflix. So, when I wrote my Sunday Rundown this week I started panicking that I wouldn’t have anything to review tonight. So I did what any other good book blogger did and bought a book that I not only wanted to read but, more importantly, could finish in one night! Really the only reaction. So, yet again, I’m keeping up my streak. With a little sneakiness.
So, anyone paying attention to my Sunday Rundowns for the past few months will know that I’ve been suffering from a major reading slump recently. So much so that the last time I reviewed a book was way back in April. In fact, the book I’m reviewing tonight was one I started at the beginning of April. Yes, I stopped to read another book in between but after that it took bloody ages. I thought I was never going to finish. Every time I sat down to read I just couldn’t pluck up the energy. It’s a huge shame because I was so excited to read this novel. It was actually on my ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2018‘ list. For one thing, how can anyone ignore a title quite like that? It’s a fantastic thing. Especially for someone who loves Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein so much. The war in Iraq is modern history but is something that we all have memories of in some way. The idea that the two were being combined into something darkly comical was super appealing. It’s just a shame I lost my mood for reading. As much as I enjoyed this, I think it deserves a reread when I get to a suitable time in my life. Once I’ve stopped lending it to everyone I keep convincing to read it. I just can’t help myself. I’m obsessed with this book.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of this letter let me just say happy birthday. What a wonderful year; both of us celebrating significant ages. Your 200 does make my mere 30 years seem a bit trifling, so thanks for that, but at least you’re one of the few things that actually makes me feel young these days. And, let’s be honest, you look really great for it. If I look half as good when I reach my bicentenary year then I’ll be happier than a mad scientist bringing a corpse back to life.
Now, in relation to a lot of the books on this list, we haven’t known each other for that long. I think I first read you as a 15-year-old probably. I guess I wasn’t in a big rush because I’d seen so many hammy, black and white film adaptations. You see a big lumbering monster capturing women and fleeing from angry mobs with pitchforks a hundred times then you’re not necessarily in a rush to read the book. I expected you to be camp and overly kitsch. A bit embarrassing. But, thankfully, I was introduced to an English teacher who made me read you. And I’m so glad they did.
Let me be honest with you for a second; I’m a pretty bad bookworm. I don’t tend to reread books all that often. There are certain ones I make an exception for but it’s very infrequent. I don’t set aside a few weeks every year to read the same novel again and again because I love it so much. There are more than a few people who I follow on Instagram who will read the Harry Potter series at least once a year sometimes more. How can they do that to themselves? Do they not have a massive library of unread books to read first? And, really, I’m of the belief that too much of something is a bad thing. If I were to revisit my favourite books too often then I’d eventually hate them. And I already dislike most of the books I read these days. I’d have nothing left. So I tend to just fall in love with a book and deposit it safely on my bookshelf and never speak to it again. Well, I might occasionally stroke it or take it down to photograph it but I tend not to open its pages. It’s safer.
But you broke the mould. You changed the rules. You have the honour of being the book that I have reread most in my lifetime. Okay, so we’ve established that that’s not a very meaningful title to give, especially after I’ve just read something by someone claiming to have read you 50 times, but for me its huge. I’d love to say I did it off my own back but I didn’t. Nope, you followed me everywhere I went. I couldn’t get away from you. You were my Annie Wilkes. Every time I thought I’d got away you would come back in and cut off another of my feet with your axe. I read you for about 5/6 years in a row for my English studies. I started to think I was cursed or something. Every time, I thought to myself, there is literally nothing more I can get from this book but, every time, I was wrong.
You are so much more than the story of a man creating a murderous monster. Yes, you’re the grandfather of modern science-fiction. Yes, there is a lot of mythology surrounding your creation. Yes, you revitalised gothic fiction of the age. But you have so much more to say. So much to say about the human spirit, about science, about obsession, and about fitting into society. You were revolutionary. You changed everything. You changed literature. You changed me. I enjoyed every new read even more than the first time. I fell more and more in love with you every time. And I will continue to fall in love with you every time I read you.
You are a beautifully crafted novel and by someone so young. There is such heartbreak and pain within your pages along with such exciting prose. You are, to borrow a word found so frequently in your film counterparts, alive! I don’t think any book out there has made me feel so many different emotions every single time. You have created some of the most memorable and human characters I’ve ever read and are one of the most interesting books I’ve ever studied. You could debate on who the real victim of this novel is for years and still change your mind every other week. You were, most likely, my first introduction to proper gothic fiction and I’m sure you started my obsession, even if I didn’t know it at the time. You are a book that I will never get bored with and will recommend to everyone. You are everything.
I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine
Dear Northanger Abbey,
I have a question for you: why do so many people hate you? I seriously do not understand it. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Jane Austen in general but I know a lot of people who are hardcore fans. And what confuses me more than their absolute adoration of her as a writer is that they all seem to share a dislike of you. Which is crazy. You’re the best thing she’s ever written. You are, by far, the most entertaining of the Austen novels I’ve read and you’re heroine is the one I found most endearing. I know everyone wants to be Lizzy Bennett but I always saw Catherine Morland as someone I may once have been.
Most book nerds have, unofficially, pronounced Belle from Beauty and the Beast as the icon of what we live for. She lives in her books and craves adventure so I get it. However, if we want to find a female character who really typifies what it means to be a book lover then it’s Catherine. She is so obsessed with what she reads that she imagines it happening around her. If she were living this day then she would be writing fanfiction and creating Tumblrs about her favourite ships. Belle has a pretentious side to her whilst Catherine is just straight up adorable. Naive, definitely, but her behaviour is totally forgivable. Totally understandable. I see people like her on Bookstagram all the time so I don’t see why more of them don’t adore her.
Maybe it’s just that modern audiences don’t get the parody? I know a lot of people who have read this and then gone on to read The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is great because Ann Radcliffe is a sensation. However, it means you don’t get the context until after the fact. If you go into this book without an understand of what very early gothic fiction was like then you’ll think it’s all just melodramatic nonsense. Instead of a very clever parody. They won’t fully appreciate how intricate it all is. How funny. How subversive. You don’t get enough credit.
Neither does your romantic hero. There’s a lot of love for Mr Darcy out there. A lot. Another thing I don’t get about Austen fans. Darcy isn’t the kind of man you fall in love with. Who is the kind of guy you fall for? Why, Henry Tilney, of course. Henry doesn’t take time to get used to. He’s charming, funny, sweet, and kind from the off set. He is patient with Catherine and forgives her for being a bit excitable. He lacks the good looks of someone like Willoughby or Wickham but he’s in no way unattractive. He loves his sister and is an avid reader. Basically, Henry Tilney is the perfect man. So why don’t more people see it?
I don’t understand. I’ll always love you. You were the book that made me give Jane Austen a second chance. I was sure I would never be able to fully appreciate anything that she wrote until you came along. Now, I’m willing to see more positives. I reread Sense and Sensibility a few years after I read you and I enjoyed it more. You were the book that finally made me see that there was more to Jane Austen. I can’t say that you’ve fully changed my opinion but you’ve made me more open minded. You were my Henry Tilney.
I am delighted with the book!
Dear Wuthering Heights
You sat between the rest
You had a darkness dipped in Gothic black
So mean, so moody
How could I like you
When I wouldn’t try the classics?
Expected to, just hate you, too
Would not see it so imagine my surprise
When closing my wuthering, wuthering
I’ve come through, I’m now sold
You’ve let me in your covers
I’ve come through, I’m now sold
You’ve let me in your covers
Dear Mary Wollstonecraft,
Today is International Women’s Day so there was really nobody else who I could write today’s letter to. Especially a few days after Jeremy Corbyn decided that it’s time a statue of you is built. You are Britain’s first feminist. You were the forerunner to the whole Suffragette movement. You’re the woman who started it all off. You stood up and demanded that women and men be equal. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is so stuffed full of wonderful quotes that I could just spend this whole post continually quoting from it.
I haven’t always been the best kind of feminist. Obviously, I’ve always been pro-women’s rights and pro-equality. However, I’ve experienced the kind of shyness that made it difficult to admit it. I’m painfully British so I didn’t want to upset the status quo. I didn’t want to make a fuss by going on about it too much. Even during my university years I openly tried to stay away from openly feminist literature just in case people thought I was stirring up trouble. Now? I don’t give a shit what people think. I’ve read your work so many times at this point that I had to learn something eventually.
“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” It’s your most oft quoted maxim and for such good reason. So many times do you find yourself having to explain to men too stubborn to listen that, no, as a feminist I don’t want to take rights from men but, instead, ensure all women have the same rights. I struggle to do it quite so eloquently as you did but I’ll always try. I realise that the feminist movement has moved on since you first published your responses to The Rights of Men but you’re still my inspiration. Having the strength, especially during the period in which you were writing, to stand up for yourself and your gender is something I can’t fathom. You continue to inspire me to be better. To continually fight. You’re everything we needed.
Although, despite all of this respect I can’t, in all honesty, say that I have loved you since I first heard your name. It wasn’t reading your political writing that caused me to truly embrace you. That came by getting to know you personally… I mean not personally, obviously. You’d been dead for a fair bit before I was born. But allow me to take some artistic licence for a second. During my postgraduate degree I read Letters Written During a Short Residence for one of my modules. Now I’ve always been a bit obsessed with reading other people’s letters: probably because I’m so bloody nosy.
What I wasn’t expecting was to completely fall for you. Your husband, William Godwin, once wrote the following quote: “If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book.” Never have I agreed with Godwin more, although I would change the word “man” to “person” for obvious reasons. Your letters are emotional, intelligent and beautifully written. You bared your soul and, at times, it was heartbreaking. Yet you hold yourself with such grace that’s impossible not to love you. Despite your psychological pain, you engage with your audience and create a gripping narrative. Making it absolutely impossible for a young woman not to fall in love with you as Godwin once had.
And it’s getting out of control. Having read Mary and discussed it in my postgraduate dissertation I felt confident enough to recommend it to a friend. I knew almost instantly that she wouldn’t like it but couldn’t help it. You’re writing has wormed its way into my brain and has taken up residence. Other people should find out how good that feels. I could carry on writing this letter and talk about how important you are. How influential a figure you’ve been in British history. How vital you were to modern-day feminism. I could talk about how desperate I am to thrust a copy of your writing into the hands of young women so they can have the kind of enlightening experience that I once had. I could but I won’t. I will simply say, there is no woman I would rather be celebrating here today than you.
The beginning is always today,