Top Ten Favorite Literary Heroines

Image via The Broke and the Bookish

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is about–as Beyoncé puts it–who run the world. That’s right: GIRLS! Here are my top ten favorite literary heroines: from the fierce young ladies of our beloved YA series to the villains you always secretly admired, there are so many women in books who kick ass and take names.

They’ve battled everything and then some, including:

  • Crappy husbands
  • Dementors
  • Armored polar bears
  • Judgmental societies
  • Crazy ex-wives in attics
  • And, of course, the patriarchy

So check out my list below, and let me know who your favorite literary heroines are in the comments!

Young-Adult Do-Gooders

1. Hermione Granger from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series

2. Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series

3. Violet Baudelaire from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Classic-Lit Women Up Against the Odds

4. Jane Eyre from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre

5. Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

6. Edna Pontellier from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

7. Offred from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

8. Penelope from Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad

Anti-Heroines You Love to Hate

9. Lady Macbeth from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth

10. Medea from Euripides’ Medea

Audiobook Review: The Penelopiad

Cover via Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

It seems that I just can’t get enough of ancient Greek mythology, but it’s difficult to pick a good adaptation in the Aegean-sized sea of mediocrity. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry when Margaret Atwood is the one penning the words.

Atwood is, of course, the author of the renowned The Handmaid’s Tale, so it’s no surprise that she reimagines Homer’s Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective. Since the original poem concerns itself with warrior Odysseus and his arduous journey to return home to Ithaca, Atwood depicts what his wife was doing for those twenty years while he was gone.

True to her feminist form, Atwood gives Penelope more depth and dimension. The princess proves resourceful and cunning, evolving from a naive young girl into a strong leader of a kingdom. And as for those pesky suitors, she simply plays coy as to what really happened and whether she was really as faithful as history has made her out to be.

And given that Penelope is narrating her tale from the underworld, the reader also hears her insights on how religion and spirituality has changed from ancient Greece to the present day. For a woman who experienced the meddling of gods, it’s disconcerting to watch immortal power mocked by foolish fortune tellers and magicians.

What haunts Penelope the most, however, was her husband and son’s massacre of her 12 maids while she was asleep. I mean “haunt” literally, since the maids torment Penelope and Odysseus in the underworld for their unjust deaths.

This is one of the reasons many people, even Atwood herself, are hesitant to call The Penelopiad a feminist retelling. Penelope is naturally a biased narrator. Typical of ancient Greek drama, every now and then the maids appear as a chorus to reveal their point-of-view.

This proves most insightful, because while Penelope complains how her sister Helen’s vanity ruined her life by inciting the Trojan War, the maids point out that they were born poor, enslaved into an existence where they were raped by men and treated like cattle. The princess’ woes seem minor in comparison, as if the chorus serves as a reminder of real suffering unlike her #FirstWorldProblems.

The maids are probably the only reason why I would recommend this novella in audio. It was nice to hear them sing both as individuals and as a group, especially since their voices were enhanced with echoing to give off an even creepier vibe.

The Penelopiad (2005) would be a great addition to courses in classical literature, since its parallels to the Odyssey are so nuanced that they deserve closer academic research. I also learned that as a novella in the great Canongate Myth Series, The Penelopiad shares literary acclaim alongside other modern adaptations, including The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (2010) — a story by my favorite author Philip Pullman which I haven’t had the chance to read yet.

So if you also enjoy ancient Greek mythology, pick up The Penelopiad for an interesting take on one of the world’s most popular tales.

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

To explain today’s post, I have to use my fellow book blogger Wanton Creation’s intro, since he put it so perfectly:

“Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke And The Bookish. I haven’t participated in these before, but today’s one looked quite fun so I figured why not?”

Why not indeed? Let’s get started!

Image via The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

  1. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  2. His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman
  3. Demian – Hermann Hesse
  4. 1984 – George Orwell
  5. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  6. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  8. The Stranger – Albert Camus
  9. Fight Club –  Chuck Palahniuk
  10. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Reviewing this list, I realized some things. As much as I love The Lord of the Rings, I find that I do not recommend it often, since it’s truly an acquired taste that unless you’re giddy for fantasy, you won’t stomach well.

I also noticed how much I enjoy pushing classic dystopian and existential literature (also known as books to piss you off and shake things up!) onto those who have jumped onto The Hunger Games bandwagon. Orwell, Huxley, and Bradbury are my Holy Trinity of oppressive governments!

Lastly, Never Let Me Go will continue to be my top recommendation, for these reasons:

  • It’s a perfect blend of romance, tragedy, science fiction, and other genres–thus, appealing to a wide audience.
  • I can’t say much without giving away the plot, so the mystery gets people intrigued.
  • Ishiguro is a literary genius, and I would recommend anything he writes. 
  • It’s just what the world needs, given the over-saturation of Stephenie Meyer, E.L. James, and Nicholas Sparks. ESPECIALLY Nicholas Sparks. In fact, my loathing of him deserves its own blog post in the near future. So be on the look-out!

I would have included some ancient Greek and Shakespearean plays, but I don’t consider them “books,” so do a bit of searching, and I’m sure you’ll find some great choices.

So what would your top recommendations be? Would you veto any of mine? Sound off in the comments!

Dance like Big Brother’s Not Watching You: A Tribute to Dystopian Novels

I’m currently at a conference predominately catered toward analysts and engineers in the government sphere, which has got me thinking about some great novels about what can happen when governments grow too corrupt, using technology for devious purposes. This dystopian theme has garnered more popularity in the past few years, thanks to the rise of young adult thrillers like The Hunger Games, so I thought I would share some tidbits about the novels that make you want to wear an aluminum hat.

The Classics

1984 by George Orwell (1949): The king of dystopia, Orwell paints the bleak picture of a totalitarian state that not only watches your every move, but also sabotages your mind with double-think. The intensity of this story quickly made it one of my favorites of all time!

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932): This is an excellent portrayal of genetic engineering gone totally wrong, complete with drug-induced complacency. Read with caution, as it also contains more disturbing themes than the other two classics.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1950): A haunting commentary of society’s attention-deficiency and willingness to sacrifice literature and civil rights for mind-numbing entertainment. Its brevity proves that good things can come in small packages.

The Genre Re-Definers

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985): One of the most well-renowned feminist writers, Atwood illustrates an alternate dystopia where the feminist movement of the 1970s backfired, creating a twisted world where women are reproductive slaves. Given current politics in America, this story’s just as relevant almost 30 years later.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005): I’m hesitant to label this novel as science-fiction, or even describe its main premise for fear of spoiling the reading experience, but I will say that never have I seen an author blur the lines between genres as Ishiguro. A heartbreaking tale that transcends past, present, and future.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1988): I don’t normally include graphic novels, but this one epitomizes dystopia to the max. Based on the history of Guy Fawkes’ Day, it depicts the ultimate narrative of revolution. The V mask is a must-have for anarchists everywhere.

The Newcomers

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008): After flipping channels between reality TV and war footage, Collins wrote the bestselling trilogy of the ancient Greek-esque punishment for rebellion. Arguably too brutal for children, but it’s an apt critique of society’s desensitization of violence.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005): One of my favorite YA series, it demonstrates how our obsession with beauty and perfection often hides uglier interiors. Add an element of romance, and you’ve got the next silver screen contender.

Matched by Ally Condie (2010): Again, what’s a YA trilogy without a love triangle? Lit nerds will love its influence from poetry, and Twihards suffering withdrawals will soon have new boys to swoon over when Disney brings the adaptation to a theater near you.

So there you have it! My recommendations for those wanting to dive into dystopia! What other novels would you add to the list?

Masterpiece Monday: The Handmaid’s Tale

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 5 out of 5

Happy Victoria Day to all my Canadian readers! We here in the States don’t learn too much about Queen Victoria, unfortunately, and while I don’t really know how Canadians celebrate the queen’s birthday, I hear it’s full of fireworks, parades, and drinking–not unlike our own Memorial Day next week! So cheers to our neighbors up north!

I would have to say that the most famous Canadian author living today would be Margaret Atwood. I read her well-known novel The Handmaid’s Tale while attending UC Santa Cruz, and I immediately fell in love.

It seems only natural, since I’m never met a woman who disliked this feminist dystopian tale. Set in the near future, the Republic of Gilead (the former USA) is run by a racist, sexist, theocracy which completely reversed the progress made during the Feminist Movement of the 1970s.

In this society, women have no rights, forbidden from reading to possessing their own money. The protagonist Offred (name meaning “Of Fred,” referring to her master) serves as a handmaid, whose only job is to combat the declining birth rate and reproduce. If she fails, she’ll be declared an “unwoman” and discarded.

What’s interesting is that Offred is part of the first generation of handmaids, meaning that she remembers life pre-Gilead with her own husband and daughter. Now separated from them, the novel is written in the form of her diary as she flashes back and forth from her past and present.

Very few novels are able to create a dystopian universe that is this intricate and disturbing. Since Atwood is a devout feminist, much of the terminology in The Handmaid’s Tale is biblical, pointing to all the patriarchal notions that Christian theology encourages.  Because of these allusions, Atwood has created much controversy.

I would argue that this book should shake you up. The graphic scenes of the “Ceremonies” and the overall sense that women are nothing but wombs should make you angry, frustrated, and afraid. Because you just have to read the news of the right-wing fundamentalists trying to destroy Planned Parenthood and eliminate women’s reproductive rights to understand that this story is not as far-fetched as you might think.

Clearly, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the rest of Atwood’s work, is not for everybody. Many might find her writing too radical. However, if you’re an advocate for female empowerment and you enjoy literature that is mentally stimulating, then you’ll love this novel. I know I did!

Favorite Quote: “Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.” (Ch. 23)