Top Ten Tuesday – Ten All Time Favourite Characters in Books

Apologies for neglecting this blog so soon after starting it! Real life became excessively hectic, but I’m going to try to get back in the groove now!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly series hosted by Broke and the Bookish. This is my first time participating, and I’m really excited about the topic! While it was difficult to narrow down my choices, I’m fairly satisfied with the results.

10.) Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)

Umbridge might be a foul excuse for a human being, but all the reasons we hate her are are the same reasons that make her an absolutely amazing character. In my opinion, Umbridge was the strongest villain in the HP series. Voldemort never truly frightened me, probably because he’s such an stereotypical fantasy antagonist. But Umbridge was 100% real. She reminds us that evil doesn’t always wear black clocks and masks. Sometimes – a LOT of times – they wear pink and drink sweet tea and cover their offices with pictures of adorable kittens. Prejudice, racism, closed-mindedness…this is how evil subtly invades our lives. Umbridge is one of the most frighteningly real villains of all time, and that makes her a fabulous character.

9.) Andrina Adamo (The Drina Ballerina series by Jean Estoril)

I doubt any of you have ever heard of this series (and if you have, PLEASE tell me so I can finally have someone to fangirl with!) It’s a children’s series of 11 books about a young girl named Drina who fights her way toward becoming a professional ballet dancer. This may sound like a million other “dancing” series, but it’s SO much more than that. Drina was the first book character to ever truly impact my life. She had an inner strength and amazing character that just resonated with me, even at such a young age. Drina battles tooth and nail for her career, against the express wishes of her grandmother, who wants nothing to do with the dancing world for reasons that soon become apparent to Drina. The main reason I adore Drina is because she is very, very much like me in terms of being over-emotional and allowing herself to be carried away by her feelings. She often finds things so intensely beautiful that ithurts, which is so like me. Instead of allowing this to make her weak, she channels her feelings into her dancing, allowing her to become intensely connected with her roles. She just sees the world so vividly and allows herself to love every moment of being alive. It’s amazing to read.

8.) Dorothy Gale (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum)

Dorothy captured me from the first moment I met her, which was admittedly when I  first saw the film adaptation. Her innocence, her imagination, and her kindness all made me just want to hug her and be her friend. When I read the book, I connected with her even more. I felt she came across as a bit younger than in the movie, and that only increased her charm. Dorothy rises to every challenge given her, and she does so seemingly without worry that she’ll fail. Of course, what truly makes me fond of her is her eternal desire to return home, despite her fantastic new surroundings, because she knows it’s where she ultimately belongs.

7.) Erik (The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux)

“Phans” of the PotO musical will no doubt find the original novel a bit of a shock, as I did when I first read it in high school, but it only intensified my love for this character. In the book, the Phantom – Erik – is fleshed out and given a past. He definitely comes across as crueler and more ruthless, no doubt due to the horrible torture he endured. At the same time, this makes him seem more human and less of a true phantom. And as Christine appears even more empty-headed than she does in the musical, Erik’s intense devotion to her is even more pitiable.

6.) Katie Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell)

I know many people who believe Scarlett is a selfish woman who cares only for her own happiness, but I always come away from this book with nothing but admiration and sympathy for her. Born to privilege and made to believe she could – and should – have anything and everything wanted, Scarlett grows to be a strong, self-sufficient woman who does whatever it takes to survive and protect her home. She covets Ashley, and yet she risks her own safety to protect Melanie and her deliver her baby safely. She steals her sister’s lover and marries him, but only to ensure she has money to keep her home safe. She’s arrogant and defiant, yet not too proud to wear a dress made out of velvet drapes. Scarlett is a survivor, and for that she has my utmost respect.

5.) Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)

Yes, yes, I know I already used an HP character, but it’s not MY fault JKR is so awesome!

Luna is amazing on so many levels, but most of them come down to two factors. The first is that she has an absolutely open mind. Nothing is impossible for Luna. Just because something can’t be proven doesn’t mean it’s false. She’ll believe anything you tell her, and while this definitely smacks of naivete, it’s also an incredible gift. Luna never feels closed in or tied down. If she can’t go forward or back, she’ll simply move diagonally. The second factor is that Luna is always completely, 100% herself. She never tries to conform, she never lies, she never feels the need to hide her opinions or beliefs. She is who she is, and that’s the end of it. That kind of personality is simply beautiful to me, and I envy it terribly.

4.) Alice (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)

Ah, Alice. I’ve met very few people in my life who *don’t* love this little girl, and I very glad of it. I think what originally struck me about Alice was her overall reaction to Wonderland. She tries so hard to remain logical in the face of pure nonsense, which is terribly ironic because in the real world, SHE would be the one considered illogical. She’s nothing like what a proper lady of her rank should be, and she has no desire to conform to society’s expectations. But when faced with a world where NO ONE conforms, she finds that a little sense here and there goes a long way. In the end, she returns to the real world wiser and more intelligent, but also with a glint of madness that never truly fades away.

3.)  Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gabbles by L.M. Montgomery)

Whenever I’m asked which literary character I think I most resemble, at least in terms of personality, I always pick Anne. We’re both writers, dreamers and idealists. We both love to escape into fantasy worlds with dark, brooding men and strong, independent women. We both value our imaginations dearly. We both married men we met in school with the name Gilbert ❤  I also love Anne for her inner strength, for surviving a childhood bouncing back and forth between orphanages and horrible homes, all the while keeping her fiery spirit and dreams of a better future intact.  She’s a red-haired warrior with pen, ink and imagination as weapons, and I adore her for that.

2.) Beauty (Beauty and the Beast)

I’m not specifying a specific version of this tale, because I’ve honestly never read one where I didn’t fall in love with the portrayal of the “Beauty” character. Her personality is always a combination of bookishness and bravery. She’s generally an intelligent young woman who loves her father dearly and is both rather dreamy but also startlingly down to Earth. Despite her fears, she always agrees to take the place of her father, often believing she is trading her own life for his. She turns a dark castle into a home, tames a wild beast, and unravels a curse all while remaining true to herself and her beliefs. Her story is  the best way to prove that beauty itself is not skin deep, that personality counts for much, much more than physical looks, and that her name has absolutely nothing to do with her face and everything to do with her bright and shining soul.

1.) Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

I almost feel like I don’t need to say anything here, because Lizzie’s amazing personality basically speaks for herself. She is brave, witty, vivacious and charming. She refuses to conform to society, turning down not one but TWO perfectly eligible marriage proposals for lack of love, and – with the help of Darcy – she brings Regency snark to a whole new level. She is everything I could possibly want to be, and my admiration for her knows no bounds.

So there you have my favorites. Who are yours?

For more excellent characters, see responses from Coffee & Wizards, Samantha Lin and Mermaid Vision Books!

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OMG SNAPE *insert action here* IN HALF-BLOOD PRINCE!!!

I think we can all agree that un-wanted spoilers are no fun. We probably all have different levels of Spoiler Tolerance, and that no doubt changes based on what we’re reading. A spoiler for a one-shot romance novel is probably not so bad as the above spoiler for Harry Potter.


The point is, some people like spoilers and some people don’t, so it’s always best to error on the side of caution just in case.

…and then there’s me.

In my last post, I talked about how easy it is for me to get, shall we say, overly involved with my stories, to the point where I can have physical reactions to them. In some cases, it’s wonderful. I’m able to truly immerse myself in these beautiful worlds and experience them to the fullest. But when things get too tense, violent or simply death happy, I start to have problems. To combat this, if I think there’s a chance that I’ll have a more out-of-control reaction than I’d like, I’ll go ahead and “spoil” myself. This usually consists of going on Wikipedia to read the book summary, or asking someone who has already read the book to tell me about it. This way, I go into it with my eyes open, and I don’t have to worry about having a horrid headache after my favorite character takes a bullet to the brain.

The thing is, this process has become so common-place for me over the years that I don’t actually consider it to be spoiling me.

Yes, technically I know what’s coming, and that does take some of the surprise out of it. But suppose I knew what was going to happen when I picked up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Other than being elated that one of my least-favorite characters got what was coming to him, I truly wouldn’t feel fully spoiled. Simply knowing the action occurs doesn’t tell me much. When does it happen? Why? How? What’s the scene, the motivation, the story leading up to it?

We’ve all heard that old cliche that the journey matters more than the destination. I think the same thing is true here. My knowing that certain people get hurt or kidnapped or killed doesn’t lessen my enjoyment out of the book, because those facts are just the finish line. The devil is really in the details. For a fully concrete example, I have yet to read Game of Thrones *gasp shock!* and I am aware of The Event toward the end, and that doesn’t bother me one bit! I have only the vaguest idea of when and how it happens, and I know nothing of why or what motivated it. That’s enough for me!

But I know this is a weird view. Even my husband, who understands probably better than anyone why I do this and even helps me when it comes to books he’s read, doesn’t see how I can still consider myself unspoiled. And it does make it harder for me to discuss books and movies and television with others, because I need to be extra careful. Information that I wouldn’t even remotely consider spoiler-worthy could send other people into spasms of fangirl agony, and no one wants that!

I know it sounds weird, but this is how I roll! And while I certainly don’t skip ahead in all my books, this process does allow me to read things I probably wouldn’t be comfortable in trying otherwise, and for me, that’s all that matters.

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Shards in the Eye: Books and Emotions

In my first post, I addressed some of the attributes that set true book lovers apart from people who simply enjoy reading. But there’s another very important difference I didn’t mention, mainly because I realized it was entire post on it’s own.

Books make us feel.

Wait, what? Books make lots of people feel! If you read something you like, it makes you happy. If you read something you don’t like..well, maybe you don’t even finish it in that case. But it leaves a negative taste in your mouth just the same. That’s not what I mean, though. Pretty much all readers have some sort of emotional reaction to books they read, no matter how minor. I’m talking about something deeper. For true bibliophiles, every book is a red thread. We live the lives of the characters, we feed off their emotions, their hopes and dreams, their successes and failures. And if one of them dies? Best to be in another room.

But it’s when books provoke a physical reaction that things tend to get even messier.

The first time my parents had an inkling that perhaps I was experiencing books in a, shall we say, deeper manner than they realized, I was too young to understand what was happening. I think I was in second grade, maybe third, and we were reading fairytales in school. One day we read The Snow Queen. I don’t remember anything about it except that I came home from school rubbing my eye and complaining that it hurt. This apparently went on for the rest of the night and a bit into the next day. After ascertaining that there indeed was not anything wrong with my eye, my parents were confused. What could be causing this?

Most of you probably have the answer by now, but for us, it was a big revelation. There’s a section in the story where the little boy, Kay, turns evil because an mirror shard falls into his eye. Apparently, I was so connected to the story that *I* felt the pain of this shard, and it stuck with me.

This amazingly strong emotional connection is something that I still experience to this day. If a character I’m particularly attached to becomes physically injured in a book, I’ll feel it in the same spot. (Chest wounds are the worst, let me tell you!) The same is true with movies, though that’s probably a bit more understandable, since there are direct images to process. But I know I’m far from the only one to experience this emotional-physical connection. I’ve met other bibliophiles who share these feelings, who become so intensely drawn into the world that it has real-life consequences.

In some ways, this is probably not a good thing. It makes it hard for me to read certain stories. It’s the main reason I stay away from horror and anything with a lot of drawn-out, tension-filled plots. Physical or mental torture is a huge no-no.

And I still can’t read The Snow Queen without feeling weird. Just writing this is making my eye twitch.

But at the same time, it allows me to fully immerse myself in the author’s world, and turns reading into a truly active experience. When I say reading gives me the chance to live a thousand different lives, I mean that literally. It’s an amazing experience.

So even if you don’t have this connection to the same depth, I challenge you to make reading an active hobby. Don’t just sit in a chair and read about someone else’s life. Experience it for yourself. Live with them. You’ll be glad you did.

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My Basis for Comparison

”It’s not fair!”
“You say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

~ Sarah and Jareth

Many of you will get that reference without my help, but just in case, here’s the lowdown. In the movie Labyrinth, our heroine, Sarah, is having one of her frequent temper tantrums, and is informing the evil Goblin King that his actions – and the world in general – simply aren’t to her liking. (Considering she gets to spend 13 hours with an amazingly gorgeous fae always made me question her judgment, but we’ll leave that for another day.) The point is, since she’s always saying things are unfair, Jareth is curious as to how she can make this determination, as she doesn’t seem to view anything as fair to begin with.

Ok, fine, we know you’re in love with David Bowie, but what does this have to do with books?

Bibliophiles can’t help but rank books as we read them. We don’t always mean to judge them, but we do. These rankings inevitably come from comparisons. Is this book better than the last you read? Worse? About the same? We remind ourselves that we’re often comparing apples to oranges, especially when we radically switch genres, but that doesn’t seem to matter. With so many sites like Amazon and GoodReads focusing on reader-based comments and reviews, we can’t help but give our opinions. But that means that, unlike Sarah, we actually DO have to have a basis for comparison. Every reader’s measuring stick will vary, but for me it inevitably comes down to the same basic question: What is the best book I’ve ever read, and how much lower on the totem pole does this one fall?

In some ways, I’m probably more guilty of this than most, because I was lucky enough to read my favorite book in fifth grade. Since I’ve loved it so deeply for so long, the chances of it being overthrown – or even challenged – are basically slim to none. But it does give me one heck of a measuring stick. You want to make it on my desert island list? Here’s your competition. Go.

The book to which I’m referring is Beauty by Robin McKinley, a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast. Since I love fairytales in general and BatB in particular, perhaps this comes as no real surprise. But McKinley managed to do what I’d previously considered almost impossible, which was to make a tale full of magic into something even more wondrous.

The story is told from the first person perspective of Beauty, whose real name is the somewhat questionable Honour. (Virtues are an interesting theme of this book. Her two sisters are named Grace and Hope, and a baby comes along with the name Mercy.) While the story follows the typical plot of the rich family suddenly losing their wealth and being forced to move to a small cottage in the woods, where the father encounters the horrible Beast when picking a rose for his daughter, McKinley gives every character so much personality that I can’t help but feeling like I’m reading this fairytale for the first time. In no other version have I felt as deep a connection to Beauty’s family as I do here. Her sisters have full-grown personalities, as do their love-interests, and I found myself bonding with them just as much as Beauty herself. Her father is an incredibly sympathetic character, and even though readers generally feel sorry for him in all versions, I felt even worse than normal. But perhaps what I love best is that the Beast has a depth to him I’ve never seen before. His emotions and motivations are clear for all the see, and the history of his disfigurement is explained in much greater detail, even going so far as to bring his parents into play. Even Beauty’s horse, Greatheart, has more personality than I’ve seen in the main characters of other novels!

With such a cast of characters, you might be worried that Beauty herself gets buried, but that’s not the case at all. By literally giving Beauty her own voice and allowing us to hear her thoughts directly, McKinley created a very real and very remarkable character. Instead of simply stating that Beauty was a great reader, McKinley shows her translating Sophocles from the original Greek and Catullus from the Latin. When her sanity is tested by the presence of invisible servants and a library containing books that don’t quite exist yet, we’re not only shown but made to feel her confusion, her anger, and eventually her acceptance. She is perhaps the most real character I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Unfortunately for other writers, McKinley not only set the bar so high in general, she basically ruined me for all other first-person novels. I judge them even harder than others, and I become frustrated exceedingly fast if I’m not immediately drawn into the person’s mind and world. It’s a tough act to beat, let me tell you.

I’m not positive how many times I’ve read Beauty. I’m guessing somewhere between 15 and 20, but it could be more. For a long time I read it at least once a year, sometimes more. It’s the book I always took on vacations just in case I couldn’t concentrate on a new story, and it’s the book I return to whenever I’m feeling really down. I’ve read it at hospitals and funerals just too keep me calm. The cover is heavily torn in several places, and there’s a giant rip in one of the pages where some kid tore it on a school bus way back in the day. But I can’t bear to get another copy. Not only is it the original cover, which I haven’t seen for years, even on eBay, but this book definitely has more history attached to it than any other. Giving it up for a shiny new version would feel so wrong.

I realize I’ve put this book on quite a pedestal, but I feel like it’s colored so much of my reading experience merely by existing that I can’t praise it enough. If someone asked me what book changed my life the most, this would without a doubt be the one. It’s definitely my ultimate basis of comparison!

What book (or books) have impacted your life as a reader to a large extent? Do you have a book you’d consider your own basis for comparison?

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What Makes a Bibliophile?

Before getting into discussions *about* books, I thought we should start by talking about us. The readers. The lovers. The bibliophiles.

Most people enjoy reading in some capacity. Sometimes they have very specific likes and dislikes and will only read certain types of stories, but they can at least find some pleasure in those few books. But then there are those of us whose lives often revolve around books, who don’t feel quite right if we’re not always reading something. We’re the ones who buy purses based on whether or not a good size hardcover can fit inside comfortably, who don’t step foot out the house without at least one book with us. We’re a unique breed, and sometimes it’s hard for non-bibliophiles to understand us.

So what exactly makes a bibliophile? Here are some of my definitions:

1.) Bibliophiles love everything about reading. From the moment we see a book to the moment we finish the last page, we’re in love. For us, it’s an experience, a journey. We can live thousands of lifetimes and see worlds upon worlds without ever leaving the house. Just seeing a room full of books gives us pleasure, because in them we see unlimited possibilities. Opening a new book is like beginning a new life. For us, it’s not so much about what we’re reading but simply the fact that we are reading. Each experience is a gift. Because of that, we often feel bad for those people who don’t enjoy reading for whatever reason. We feel like they miss so much!

2.) Books are prized, irreplaceable possessions. No, I don’t care that if something happens to my book I can go out and buy another copy at Barnes & Noble. THAT book doesn’t have the right number of creases the spine, showing how often I’ve read it. THAT book doesn’t have the tiny rip in the bottom right side of the cover where my cat chewed on it. THAT book didn’t travel across the country with me. While we love spreading the joy of reading, we’re much more likely to go out and just BUY the book for someone rather than lending out own copy. Over-protective? Maybe. But there you have it. Books are priceless.

3.) Bibliophiles will try almost any book. We all have our deal-breakers, of course. (I don’t care how much you absolutely adored Stephen King’s It, I’m just never going to read it because I enjoy sleeping at night!) But at least 80% of the time, if you extol the virtues of your favorite book often enough, we’ll put it on our to-read list, even if we’re not positive we’ll love it. But YOU love it, and that’s often good enough for us.

4.) Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – we like books better than other people. I find this to be one of the hardest things for non-bibliophiles to truly grasp. We’re not being rude when we go off in a corner to read, it’s just that the book is THAT GOOD and we honestly can’t wait to turn to next page. I used to eat in a communal lunch room and one co-worker in particular would always come up and sit with me when I was reading. She couldn’t understand why I’d want to be alone when there were other people around. But here’s the thing – when we read, we’re not alone! We’re surrounded by other people.We’re interacting with an entire cast of characters. Coming up and suddenly talking to me while I’m reading is just like interrupting a conversation. If I’m reading, I’m basically talking to someone else. (Also, if you call my name when I’m reading and I don’t answer, I’m really not ignoring you! I’ve just tuned out all the background noise and I honestly can’t hear you!)

5.) We can be a bit elitist about our books. Just because we’ll try everything doesn’t mean we’ll LIKE everything. And, while we’re more likely to find at least some good in every book we read, if we reeeaaaalllly hate something, we’re not shy about saying so. Just don’t confuse this kind of elitist with someone saying you should only read so-called classics or high-brow literature. We enjoy popcorn chick-lit and sappy romances as much as Austen and Bronte! It’s more whether or not the book lives up to its own expectations. If I’m reading a romance, I expect it to be romantic. If I’m reading historical fiction, I expect to see an adequate representation of history. It’s when the book falls short of it’s own goals that we get snippy.

6.) We believe utterly and completely that books can literally change lives. We don’t mean this as a joke, or a metaphor, or an exaggeration. Books can change people. They make them think and feel new things, give them new experiences and ideas. Books can save. They can cheer us up when we’re sad, they can heal us when we’re hurting, and they feed our creativity and imagination. After reading a book, we’ve essentially lived a new life, and that can be a mind-altering experience. If we say a book impacted our lives, we mean it.

What makes you a bibliophile? Do you fall into any of these categories, or is there something else that makes you a true lover of books?

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