My Top Ten Books


            Today I came across a Facebook chain of listing ten top books that have impacted me. It was very tough and painful to narrow down to just ten as well as to just list the books without commenting on how they have influenced me. So in this blog entry, I will comment in depth on the impact of those ten books. In a later entry, I will list and comment on all of the books that have left footsteps on my heart.  

1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is subtitled “a fable about following your dream.” So it is a guidebook for a complete dreamer, with a lot of castles in the sky, like me. I have the glossy hardcover edition above. I read this book nearly ten years ago after it was recommended by my parents. The theme quote from the book is “When you want something, the entire universe conspires to help you achieve your dream.” This book is about a boy from Andalucia, Spain that seeks treasure and travels to Spain and falls in love with a beautiful Arabic girl along the way. I like those parts as I like Spain, Arabic culture, treasure and would like to visit Andalucia. I love This book is even referenced in Eleven Minutes, another book by the same author! I love how Coelho subtitles many of his books, “A Novel about….” I would like to buy all of Coelho’s books in the hardcover edition and line them up straight in my bookshelf. Coelho is philosophical, and all of his books convey messages. I think that I need to reread The Alchemist now to get inspired to follow my dream!

2. The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry

When I was little, I used to ask my Dad to read The Little Prince to me and my brother at bedtime every night. I remember that the reason that I was attracted to the book was because I thought it was a fairy tale about a prince, and I loved and continue to love fairy tales about princes and princesses. When I started to listen to the story, I found that it was quite different than what I imagined. It was quite complex. The main moral that I remember from the book is that children know everything while adults do not. In a sense, I do agree with that theory and cherish the bliss of childhood. I know that The Little Prince is replete with philosophy. It has been a long time since I read the book although I do own the hardcover color edition. The last time that I read it might have been for Enriched English in seventh grade. I think that it is time for a reread. However, I do love the beloved quote from The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” That quote is so warm and touching. It is completely true as well. I would like to explore the intricate poignancies of the heart.

3.     A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Notice that A Little Princess is listed right after The Little Prince? Well, that was deliberate! I remember when I was a child, once or twice seeing the two books listed next to each other, maybe in Childcraft, and wondering whether they were related to one another. It turned out that they were not related and were by completely different authors. I have the above book in the glossy color hardcover edition, although the same paperback edition came with a beautiful princess locket. I first started the book as a child and then left it. I finally took it up again and finished it when I was eighteen. I ended up really liking the book since the moral is that every little girl can be a princess and deserves that dream. I particularly like the quote by Sara Crewe, “"Yes," said Sara, "and I was thinking what would happen if I were a princess and you boxed my ears—what I should do to you. And I was thinking that if I were one, you would never dare to do it, whatever I said or did. And I was thinking how surprised and frightened you would be if you suddenly found out.” That quote could be a dramatic monologue for me since it really turns a chord in me. That quote really gives me comfort and hope. I secretly like to apply the same theory to myself whenever someone is not giving me the importance that I deserve. Just like the Little Princess, I dream of being a beautiful princess in a fairy tale and am the fairy princess of my own imaginary realm.

4.    La Princesse Lointaine by Edmond Rostand

I have always idealized the romantic archetype of the princesse lointaine, a breathtakingly beautiful maiden in medieval romance that the hero is lovestruck upon at first glance and embarks on painstaking quests to attain. So I thought that I should definitely read La Princesse Lointaine by Edmond Rostand, the namesake. I use the play as a Bible on how to showcase the princesse lointaine dimension of my persona. The play is based on the real life story of Jaufre Rudel, who fell in love with Hodierna of Tripoli from just hearing descriptions of her. In the play, Rudel also appears, but in love with an Oriental princess, Melissinde. The title role of Melissinde was written for Sarah Bernhardt. The play is all about beauty, love, and poetry. I have worked on the dramatic monologue by the title character in order to bring out the princesse lointaine aspect into my stage personality. I chose a signature monologue of the character, which exemplifies her beauty that has inspired poetry and the romance of her character:
It is because the humble people sang
That I am today the dearest of the dear.
The Lady of Rudel the Troubador
The object of a love miraculous!
This poet mine who lives away in France,
Began to love me for a random song;
And well you know the welcome heart that's lone
Reserves to love that fame has brought to us!
The common-place that binds us down to earth
Has made me thirst for love's sublimity!
These pilgrims, think! will wander over France,
And they will say of me, my eyes, my brow,
Poetic things that lead the youths to dream....
(Another character shortly comments)........................................................................
Perhaps, indeed, Rudel will hear of it.
An easy manner for a distant soul
To reach, beyond the vastness of the sea,
A sympathetic soul. 
(Another character shortly comments)........................................................................
.....................I would exalt in him the pride
Of thus adoring me. And that is why
I hailed these people thus. No kindness great,
But simply care to keep my legend bright!
(Another character comments)....................................................................................
I love his love, I love his soul, I love....

The monologue was cut at the part above, an appropriate part to shorten it. However, when I first presented the monologue, I included the proceeding part, which displays the dreaminess of her character, something that I also cherish within myself:
In my gardens that are moonly pale,
I hear the breeze among the myrtles sigh....
I sail along the green and placid lake
In which my galley, rich in ornaments,
Sheds rippling streams of flowers, or of light.
And, as the lute resounds, by plectra wooed,
I send on wings the verse I recite.
Then, in this palace seeking solitude,
I'm saddened,--and my sadness has its worth!--
Or else I wander here where lilies scent;
And dream, oping wide its labyrinth,
Compels me to desert reality;
And reason slumbers, as, unceasingly,
Unceasing fountains softly spout and splash! 

5.    A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite Shakespearean play and a play explored in my dissertation. I always liked the play since it has fairies in it. I first read the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was ten and then read the unabridged play when I was eleven. I remember when I was twelve, the time that I was most scholarly and wise, my favorite line was Puck’s “What fools these mortals be.” I like the fairies, magic, dream, love, and summer elements of the play. I love the quote at the end of the play, "'Tis fairy time." It represents the Elizabethan English belief in fairies during the evening. I plan to visit the fairy sites in England during fairy time! I also studied the play in Freshman English class in high school. There was a nice text edition of it, which I am still trying to find. I have also studied and written about the play many times in my higher education studies. I have come to understand the subtleties of the play. There is a lot of metatheatricality in the play, which I like. I still need to explore the metatheatrical elements. Shakespeare conveys in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that magic is a kind of theatre and theatre is a kind of magic and that life is a dream and the world is a stage. My favorite character is the fairy queen, Titania. Titania has natural charm and charisma and is magical. Titania, as a fairy queen, is a response to Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.

6.    The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

The Faerie Queene is another literary work that is explored in my dissertation. Again, the fairy queen in it, attracted me to it. It is a behemoth poem about different quests of different knights. The Faerie Queene, as a fairy tale in its comprisal of fairies, magic, dragons and setting of Fairy Land,was one of the precursors to modern fantasy. The Faerie Queene, as a romance, was also a precursor to romance. My favorite book is Book III, the book of Chastity, which is about the love stories of the three fairies, Amoret, Belphoebe, and Florimell. In the poem, there is a response to the contemporary belief in magic, which I am still trying to explore.

7.    Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

Don Quixote is listed as one of the books that changed the world! I first read this novel, which is the third novel in my dissertation, when I was twelve years old. However, it was only when I studied the novel in graduate school that I really began to grasp the complexity. On the exterior, it appears to be about a gentleman that tries to become a knight in an age when chivalry is starting to decline and thus on the surface a satire on medieval romance. However, below the surface, there is a lot more to it. Don Quixote is celebrated as the world’s first novel. There is also the element of metafiction and metaidentity. One of the main themes is that everyone creates an identity and life based on fiction. As a fan of puppetry and theatre, I also really like Maese Pedro’s puppet show, and my dissertation explores theories of puppetry. I visited a Maese Pedro puppet exhibition in Cervantes’s birthplace when I went to Spain. There is also a lot of enchantment and response to Spanish beliefs in magic in Don Quixote, a topic that I explore in my dissertation. My dissertation also analyzes Don Quixote in the realm of the fairy tale, interfaced with J.R.R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories.” Don Quixote approaches many additional genres, such as the medieval romance, the picaresque, the pastoral romance, etc., even the drama although it is not technically a play. There is also a lot of philosophy within the novel. Don Quixote makes a very wise statement about playacting in real life, that in real life, everyone also plays roles, just like the actors. This belief has been illustrated in many Renaissance texts, including those of Shakespeare. As I said in my last blog entry, when I visited Spain, I came to realize the extent to which Don Quixote is a part of Spanish pride and identity.

8.    Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet has been celebrated for centuries as the ultimate love story. It makes me wonder whether the word, “romance” was derived from “Romeo!” Of course, a hopeful romantic at heart like myself, would be enamored of this play! I first read the play when I was about twelve years old. I was amazed to discover then that Juliet was not even fourteen years old, yet experienced such a love story. I have studied this play in depth in English classes as well as in acting classes. My acting teacher said that at the beginning of the play, Juliet is less than fourteen, but by the end of the play, through her experiences, she has aged to twenty-eight. As I wrote in an earlier blog entry, Juliet is my favorite Shakespearean classic ingénue. My acting teacher said that she is a wise innocent, something that I aspire to be, and I was when I was twelve and had my first crush. I love that Juliet has all of the characteristics of the classic ingénue—she is innocent, sweet, shy, educated, romantic, and virginal. Juliet is another of my role models. I have studied the following monologue, which exemplifies Juliet’s innocence, youth, shyness, and romance:
Thou know’st the mask of night is on my face,
Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
For that which thou hast heard me speak tonight.
Fain would I dwell on form. Fain, fain deny
What I have spoke. But farewell compliment!
Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say “ay,”
And I will take thy word. Yet if thou swear’st
Thou mayst prove false. At lovers' perjuries,
They say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully.
Or if thou think’st I am too quickly won,
I’ll frown and be perverse and say thee nay,
So thou wilt woo. But else, not for the world.
In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond,
And therefore thou mayst think my 'havior light.
But trust me, gentleman, I’ll prove more true
Than those that have more coying to be strange.
I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou overheard’st, ere I was 'ware,
My true love’s passion. Therefore pardon me,
And not impute this yielding to light love,
Which the dark night hath so discovered. (II.ii.85-106)

I love the blush in the monologue, which as I had written earlier, showcases shyness and represents the dichotomy between sexual desire and the need to hold onto chastity and female honor.

9.    The Naughtiest Girl series by Enid Blyton

When I was a child, Enid Blyton was my favorite author! I remember saying when I was ten years old, that I wish that I could disappear into the land of Enid Blyton—a land where everything is ideal and the good are always celebrated and the bad are always frowned upon. I even found later that there was a Facebook group dedicated to those that wish that they were in the land of one of Enid Blyton’s books! The Naughtiest Girl series is my favorite of the Blyton books. It is about a charming, delightful girl, Elizabeth Allen who has a naughty nature and hot temper, but a heart of gold and is very clever and talented. In the books, is discovered by her classmates that Elizabeth can be both kind and unkind, foolish and wise, and impatient and patient and that they all know that she always tries to be fair, just, and loyal. Her friend, Julian says at the end of The Naughtiest Girl is a Monitor, “Funny person, aren’t you? The naughtiest girl in school, the best girl in school. Worst enemy, best friend. No matter, who you are, you’re always our Elizabeth, and we’re proud of you!” I liked the books a lot because I related a lot to her. I also am full of complexities and polarities like Elizabeth. I always wished to have such a strong presence as her, but unfortunately in my school days, I had a very low profile. I also like that I learned a lot about English boarding school in these books. It made me wish to go to boarding school.

10. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

 I first came across an adaptation of The Hundred Dresses in an American Girl magazine when I was a ten year-old fifth-grader. However, when I read the actual book that same year when I was staying at the library while my parents were at work, it made a big difference. I particularly remember fondly the title of one chapter, “A Bright Blue Day.” The story is about a poor girl, Wanda, who is mocked by her classmates for her claim that she has one hundred dresses at home, but in the end, she ends up being the winner of a contest where she designs one hundred dresses!

I really liked that book a lot because throughout my childhood, I was like Wanda—a painfully shy misfit who was made fun of. I love that the book has a surprise at the end where Wanda excels in something! I always wish that I could have excelled in something and shone as a star.

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