5 Books that Disturbed Me

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I share a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. Although today it’s more like the labyrinth of a library.

During the first round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, I read Lolita by Nabakov. This novel is often listed among the best ever written, and I agree that it was well-crafted and intriguing. But it was also incredibly disturbing, as it tells the story of a pedophile who pursues a relationship with a twelve-year-old girl. And it is told from his point of view. *shudder*

I got to thinking of books that stayed with me, crawled up my skin, lodged in my brain.

Dracula book coverDracula by Bram Stoker. I picked up the classic vampire novel my sophomore year in college. I remember it well because I was reading on a Saturday night while my roommate was out. (Yeah, yeah, I was a boring reading geek. Anyway…) My roommate unexpectedly came home early, and I nearly jumped to the ceiling.

I had been mesmerized by the eerie quality of this vampire who was nothing like the caricatures I had seen up to that point. Whenever people think they know who Dracula is, I ask whether they’ve read the book. The tale is sufficiently creepy, and hey, this is the one that started it all; without Dracula, there would be no Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Johnny Got His Gun book coverJohnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. This novel was recommended to me by a pacifist friend in college, but I didn’t pick it up until years later. Trumbo tells the story of a soldier horribly maimed in World War I. He cannot move, cannot speak, but his mind is completely intact.

The deep pain of his new existence is poured out onto the pages with gripping narrative. I’m among those believe that some wars are necessary, but it is chilling to know that the worst victims may not be the ones dead on the battlefield.

The Bell Jar book coverThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Sylvia Plath wrote this semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman who is slowly but surely losing her mind. She writes poignantly about the slow descent into mental instability. If you ever wanted to know what it’s like for those plagued with mental illness, this is an excellent read.

I just wish that Plath had overcome her own battle with depression. Instead, she committed suicide at the much-too-young age of 30.

Nineteen Eighty-Four book coverNineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Room 101. Just those words now send a chill up my spine. If you’ve read the novel, you know what I mean.

Published in 1949, George Orwell imagined a 1984 dystopian society in which Big Brother watches its citizens and assures compliance with the party line. The imaginary world Orwell constructs seems far-fetched, unless you’ve read any history of Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China. Even today in the United States, we worry about what technology allows others to know about us. And this is the book that got us thinking about the spies in our midst.

Lolita book coverLolita by Vladimir Nabakov. How did Nabakov so ably get into the head of a pedophile? Protagonist Humbert Humbert pines for a 12-year-old girl, and the novel tells of his desire, his pursuit, his success, and his demise. Having studied the psychology, I know that there are categories of pedophilia, and Nabakov seems to have achieved accuracy in his telling of an older man longing for a prepubescent girl. It’s sick honestly.

Typically, I want a main character that I can relate to and/or root for. Humbert was neither, but Nabakov kept me engaged because I was rooting–for the young girl and for Humbert to be stopped.

Just writing about these five books has my skin shivering a bit, but I would recommend all of them. They’re not vacation reads by any means, but they are well-written studies of personality and behavior.

ROW80 Update

  • Edit/rewrite SHARING HUNTER, a YA contemporary novel. Rewrote one chapter, then had to put this on hold to get ready for church camp (for which I write curriculum).
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. Not yet.
  • Read 10 fiction books: White Cat and Red Glove last week and Black Heart this week–all by Holly Black (Young Adult, Curse Workers series); now reading Firelands by Piper Bayard.
  • Finish craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. (I read the first half last round.) Not yet. I actually went back and scread Wired for Story by Lisa Cron–one of my favorite writing craft books.
  • Visit and comment on five ROW80 blog posts per week. Done.
  • Attend at least one RWA meeting. Printed out the national RWA membership application and have three chapters meetings on my calendar for August:West Houston RWANorthwest Houston RWA, and Houston Bay Area  RWA.

What books have you read that disturbed you? Do you recommend them anyway? And how was last week for you?

Friday Fiction: It’s a Classic!

Don’t know what to read?  Pick up a “classic.”

There is a reason that some books survive the weathering of time and become classics.  While we may not enjoy every read in that section of our library or bookstore, plenty of gems await those brave enough to read a work crafted by someone who lived 100 years or more before you spoke your first word.

Yes, the language is sometimes stilted or contains linguistic quirks of the day.  You may also need a little historical information to provide context to the story (e.g., knowing about the Napoleonic Wars helps when reading War and Peace).  It isn’t always as easy as picking up a contemporary work of fiction and breezing through it over a Starbucks’ coffee mug on the weekend.  But a classic is often worth the effort.  Classics, after all, are considered the best of the best. 

Several years ago, Penguin Classics came out with its 100 Classic Books You Must Read Before You Die List.  Several others have compiled lists of recommended reads in the classic literature area.  Library Booklists has a wonderful page linking to several of these.  As for myself, here are a few I think just about everyone should pick up at one time or another:

1984 by George Orwell – Orwell expertly wrote this dystopian novel in which the totalitarian government has eyes and ears in the form of the Brotherhood and one man’s love affair comes at great personal cost.  Because of this novel, I still shiver when I hear the words “Room 101.”

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – This is the sprawling tale (as Tolstoy is wont to write) of Anna Karenina, a woman whose marriage is unsatisfying and whose affair has consequences.  This novel also covers the politics of the day, while keeping readers engaged with the personal life of the protagonist.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Certainly one of my favorites of all time, this is a story of murder, love, choices, and consequences. Enough said.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra – Perhaps the most romantic character in literature, Don Quixote is half-mad and full of charm.  An ardent believer of chivalry, he is in pursuit of adventure and Dulcinea – the object of his affection.  So many quotable lines are in this book; I wish I had highlighted them all.

Dracula by Bram Stoker – The vampire book that started it all!  Stoker’s rendition has a creepiness all its own, and the vampire on these pages is quite different from the Dracula portrayed in films – far more menacing, I think.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – The best of the Brontë sisters is perhaps this novel in which Jane Eyre becomes the governess to Adéle, whose guardian is the enigmatic Mr. Rochester.  Jane and Rochester fall in love, but Rochester has a secret that threatens their happiness.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – Emma desires more than the boring life she leads with husband Charles Bovary, and she gets it.  Two love affairs and her fluctuating financial status give her life an up-and-down experience that has an impact on the people around her as well.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – It’s a toss-up for which Jane Austen book one should read, but this may be the most beloved.  Austen’s writing is always witty and enlightening, and the story of the Bennett daughters and proud Mr. Darcy is engaging throughout.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – The scarlet letter is an “A”, and if you don’t know why, you need to find out.  Hester Prynne’s pregnancy brings her shame and punishment in mid-17th century Boston, and the identity of the baby’s father overshadows her and the town.

What would be on your list of must-read classics?  Do you have any goals to read classic literature?  What classics have you not read yet but want to?

Friday Fiction: You’re So Vein

I am not a vampire expert, but I feel reasonably well-versed on the literary phenomenon of blood-suckers and eternity seekers.  It began with a late Saturday night reading of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which my college roommate interrupted by coming home early and startling me to the point of my heart skipping several beats.  Stoker’s Dracula still strikes me as one of the most frightening vampires because he came across as something entirely different from what he truly was – you know, evil.

Anne Rice then wrote The Vampire Chronicles, which I absolutely had to pick up.  Interview with a Vampire was a new perspective on the vampire tale.  This main character, Louis, was not a monster; you could root for him.  In fact, you could understand the dilemma he faced in needing to drink something he considered vile in order to survive.  Now he did have a friend named Lestat that was about as trustworthy as a drug-dealing baby daddy with a few arrest warrants.  The story of that vein-drainer was told in her second book, The Vampire Lestat – also an interesting read.  But by Queen of the Damned, her third one, it seemed she had lost her groove a bit.

I researched vampires at that time, however, and discovered some interesting facts which I still recall.  For instance, Dracula was named after Vlad Dracul, a ruler of Wallachia who was known for murdering his enemies by impaling them on long stakes driven into the ground.  Another interesting point is that many cultures have a vampire myth of some kind – tales of a creature who survives by drinking the blood of others.  The interest in blood as a life-giving substance was likely due to an ancient understanding of life and death.  Pre-surgery and scans, people couldn’t see the offending disease or injury at times, but they knew that if you lost too much blood, you died.  So what if you got the blood of another?  What effect would that have?

A few years down the road, having read the Lily Bard and Aurora Teagarden series by Charlaine Harris, I picked up the first Sookie Stackhouse book – in which a charming Civil-War-aged vampire woos a contemporary, small-town waitress and they solve mysteries.  At least, I guess that’s what happens in the series.  I read the first one and stopped.  I love Charlaine’s writing, but the series that spawned True Blood was a bit much for me.

And then comes Twilight and its three sequels, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn.  Now Stephanie Meyer takes the sympathetic vampire a vast jump forward into a modern-day Romeo.  We all know it’s a retelling of Romeo and Juliet.  The vampires are the Montagues, and the humans are the Capulets.  Bella and Edward have an impossible love story:  How can they ever be together?  She did change up some of the vampire myths; like how Edward merely sparkles in the bright daylight, rather than being burned by the sun.   And no coffins.  It’s a hopeful story.  In fact, other than the division of Team Edward vs. Team Jacob, all’s well that ends well.  (Wasn’t that Shakespeare too?)

Other vampire books I’ve read include:

Eight Grade Bites

Vladimir Tod series by Heather Brewer





Vampire Rising

Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising by Jason Henderson





Happy Hour at Casa Dracula

Casa Dracula series by Marta Acosta




And I’ve barely bitten into the vampire genre.  You could fill a large bookstore with vampire titles to seek your teeth into.  (Okay, enough with bad clichés.)

Anyway, I’m wondering what I should tackle next.  I can go either way on whether vampires are horrendously evil or inexplicably charming; whether they should be stabbed with a stake or served a tantalizing meal of rare sausage and blood soup; whether being bitten by a vampire involves certain death or passionate lovemaking for an eternity.   I just want a great story.  And I like hearing how people interpret the vampire myth differently.

So what vampire novels do you like?  Are you a fan of the vampire genre in general?  What do you think about our obsession with the vampire myth?

For my own self, by the way, I’m totally Team Edward.  I can’t imagine wanting to date a dog.  And getting nibbled on the neck can be kind of nice.