Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly discussion hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl (and formerly hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), and this week’s topic is “books on my TBR published before I was born.” These are all books I own, so I just looked at my nightstand and TBR cart for inspiration! Some of these were part of my challenge last year that I never completed, but that’s okay! I’m already a little more organized this year than I was last year.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – I am that English major who has never read any Woolf…
The Shining by Stephen King – The only King I’ve ever read is On Writing, and I’m definitely changing that this year.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – I want to read more of her mysteries, and I found a little mass market at the thrift store the other day!
Animal Farm by George Orwell – I feel like one should read both 1984 and this, so I want to get to this one this year.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – I’m trying to read the rest of Jane Austen, but I definitely wasn’t feeling the last one I tried to read.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – I read the abridged version of this, and the movie that came out a while ago is one of my favorites, so I should definitely read the unabridged version!
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – This is another one where I loved the mini series but have never read the book!
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin – Le Guin is one of my favorite writers, and I’m working on reading all of her work.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck – Another one where I feel like a bad English major, but I just read Of Mice and Men a couple years ago, and now it’s time to read this.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin – The two other books of his I’ve read have been amazing, so I want to read this one before I watch the movie.
What is your favorite book published before you were born?
Baldwin's haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.
Examining the mystery of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of death and desire that is revelatory in its insight.
People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen forget.
Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin, follows a brief episode of David, an American living in Paris who is desperately trying to figure out who he is, to himself and to the world. David meets Giovanni through an old man’s acquaintance, and he goes home with Giovanni. In poetic, lyrical language, Baldwin explores the nature of love juxtaposed with David’s idea of love. David’s idea of love clashes with his expression and exploration of love, which eventually culminates in an emotionally heart-wrenching separation.
I’ve often seen this book on lists of best gay novels, but this novel goes beyond a stark black-and-white view of homosexuality. Baldwin explores bisexuality in both David and Giovanni and how each of the two men come to terms with their emotions. David is presented as rather cool and logical, succumbing to his emotions but logically pilfering through them after. Giovanni’s behavior appears to be purely emotional and irrational at times, contrasting against David’s eventual cool behavior to Giovanni. Giovanni is that character who wants to live life to its fullest, no matter the cost to himself or anyone else. David is the sort of character that will risk it, but not too much, because David, in the end, is one who preserves himself above all else, even if it means giving up love.
David, unlike Giovanni, has a plan, knows his role back home in American society, and cannot deal with something so “extra” as a male lover. His fiancée Hella is off traveling in Spain, presumably with her own lovers, and her return to David is his savior on the horizon, a means by which he can escape back into a comfortable, unquestioning existence.
This novel not only about gay/bisexual love, but about the complexities of the emotion all together.
This short novel is heartbreakingly beautiful and tragic and should be on your reading list if you’ve not yet read it.
James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room is part of the classics challenge I am doing this year (and spectacularly failing at, but I still have time to catch up). The edition I have is part of Penguin’s Great Loves series that contains twenty volumes of love. The back cover of this says “Love can be dishonest.” In Giovanni’s Room, when David meets the sensual Giovanni in a bohemian bar, he is swept into a passionate love affair. But his girlfriend’s return to Paris destroys everything. Unable to admit to the truth, David pretends the liaison never happened – while Giovanni’s life descends into tragedy.
I stand at the window of this great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life. I have a drink in my hands, there is a bottle at my elbow. I watch my reflection in the darkening gleam of the window pane. My reflection is tall, perhaps rather like an arrow, my blond hair gleams. My face is like a face you have seen many times. My ancestors conquered a continent, pushing across death-laden plains, until they came to an ocean which faced away from Europe into a darker past.