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The Sunday Salon: Halloween Book Coveting

The Sunday Salon.comAll of the recent Halloween reading challenge posts are making me covet a new monster book to read. The one monster book I know and love is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, a book I’ve read so many times I consider myself a bit of a nerdy expert on it. And the best part of that book is that it continues to inspire new books I want to read, hence my current coveting. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

frankenstein doverThe first time I read Frankenstein I was in 10th grade. My honors English class was reading the Dover classics edition of the book. My most distinct memory of that reading was when one student compared the book to one of those little dogs with lots of puffy fur — a lot of fluff, but not much there. It’s a somewhat apt description of the level of Romantic scene setting and imagery in the book, but obviously misses the bigger point of the novel and why it’s a classic. Unfortunately, 10th grade me didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have.

My second reading was for my freshman seminar class which looked at how Frankenstein has been used in literature and film. So we read the original, talked about the themes and motifs, and then watched a lot of Frankenstein movies like the original 1931 movie, Young Frankenstein, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein starring Kenneth Branaugh. Watching the way the book gets changed to reflect anxieties of the time regarding science, nature, and the idea of humanity.

frankenstein pictureThe last time I read Frankenstein was as part of my senior seminar class on rhetoric and narration. We spent a lot of time on how Frankenstein is a frame narrative with The Monster’s story framed by Frankenstein which is framed by Walton. When you look at the sort of boxes within boxes that the story gets told from, the book really becomes a classic. Mary Shelley was 18 when she wrote this story, yet she’s easily mastered this complicated narrative framework. I really admire that.

So, Frankenstein is an important book to me. I’ve read it so many times it’s one of the books I feel like I know the best. And it’s a book that I appreciate for how much it’s impacted literature and pop culture and society since it was written.

a monster's notesWhich finally leads me to the book I’m coveting at the moment, A Monster’s Notes by Laurie Spark. The book is another re-imagining of the Frankenstein story, this time from the Monster’s perspective. Mary Shelley meets the monster when she is a young girl which inspires her future novel. The Monster writes the book includes his notes trying to understand human culture and shows the path of Mary Shelley’s life.

This book sounds fascinating to me because of how it combines all of the things I love about Frankenstein — the complex narrative structure, the themes on science and creation and humanity, the Monster as a character to be both feared and appreciated. I can’t wait to see how those things come together.

It’s gotten mixed reviews so far, but I got a great recommendation from a friend who also read Frankenstein during our senior seminar. I trust his impressions of books that mix themes and genres, so I’m coveting this book. Too bad the hardcover is $30 — that’s just too much for a book for me right. But there’s the library, and when it’s out in paperback, trust me, I’ll be getting it.

Are there any books you find yourself reading so often you feel like you know them? That you could explain what the book is about and why it’s important? Is there a book you come to appreciate more each time you read it?

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  • Andi October 4, 2009, 1:42 pm

    I loved Frankenstein! Sadly (or maybe not so), I didn’t read it until I was in my late 20s. It’s sad because I would’ve loved to “discover” it before then, but it’s also a good thing because I think in those earlier readings I would’ve missed much of the nuance. I was incredibly impressed by the frame narrative, and it just bowled me over completely.

    I have A Monster’s Notes on my to-read list after seeing a review of it somewhere around the blogosphere.

    My staple re-read book is The Great Gatsby. I’ve read it at least five times, and I just notice more every single time! I love it to pieces.

    • Kim October 5, 2009, 8:57 am

      Andi: I missed a lot of the nuance of Frankenstein when I read it the first time as well; I’m glad I had the chance to read it a few more times. I read The Great Gatsby when I was in high school and didn’t love it — maybe that’s one I should re-read because I’d get more out of it now.

      I haven’t seen blogosphere reviews of A Monster’s Notes, but I’m on the lookout!

  • Nicole October 4, 2009, 2:30 pm

    I’m not a huge re-reader of books because I always have something else that I am racing and trying to get to, but I have re-read Pride & Prejudice and recently Anne of Green Gables & Kindred. I think that with each of the books that there were definitely layers that I missed upon first reading and that I am getting more from them now. I was happy to see that I have loved all the books that I have re-read so far. I know that things can change over the years, but so far so good.

    • Kim October 5, 2009, 8:59 am

      I’m not always a re-reader, Frankenstein just happened because of classes and requirements. I guess I’ve re-read Jane Eyre too, once for class and once on my own. I’m glad you’ve loved your re-reads, that’s always nice!

  • Kathy October 4, 2009, 3:05 pm

    I don’t re-read many books, but I do love Little Women and like to re-read it from time to time.

    • Kim October 5, 2009, 8:59 am

      I haven’t read Little Women since I was younger but I imagine it would be a good book on a second read.

  • Jenny October 4, 2009, 3:12 pm

    I’ve just finished reading Gaudy Night, and I definitely feel like it’s one of those books I appreciate more every time I reread it. It’s brilliant in so many ways – mmm, lovely.

    • Kim October 5, 2009, 9:01 am

      It is those sort of brilliant books you get more out of a second time — there are too many layers to get some books in just a reading. I’ve never heard of Gaudy Night though, hmm…

  • Amanda October 4, 2009, 5:27 pm

    OMG Frankenstein is my all time favorite classic monster book. I’ve read a number of them, but none of them make me come back again and again like Frankenstein. I haven’t heard of the other book, but it’s definitely on my TBR list now.

    As for a re-read, the Neverending Story is one I come back to again and again as well.

    • Kim October 5, 2009, 9:02 am

      Frankenstein has so many different ways to read the book, I think that’s what makes it a good re-read. Each time, you can get something different out of the book depending on what you’re looking for. I’ve never read The Neverending Story — the movie weirded me out when I was a little kid 🙂

  • Steph October 4, 2009, 7:37 pm

    I only read parts of Frankenstein for a seminar in my freshman year (and we were only supposed to read parts of it… I wasn’t being lazy!), so this is one that I’d like to eventually read in its entirety. Your notes on it have made me even more excited to do so!

    • Kim October 5, 2009, 9:03 am

      It’s weird you’d only read parts of it… the book isn’t that long or anything. Plus, taking the parts out of context might be weird because so much of the story is depended on the different frames and narrators. Weird! You should definitely read the whole book 🙂

  • Kailana October 4, 2009, 8:04 pm

    There could be books that I feel that way about, but despite my best attentions I am TERRIBLE at rereading books! I make great plans to do so, but then never do…

    • Kim October 5, 2009, 9:04 am

      I’m not always a big re-reader, like I said these were required. I can’t think of a voluntary re-read recently, but I think it’s because blogging makes me feel like I should read new books. But there are a ton of books I read before I blogged that would make interesting posts, so I should get over that pressure!

  • Becky October 5, 2009, 9:51 am

    I just *love* Frankenstein. I am one of the mixed reviews on Monster’s Notes. I went into a lot of detail in my review on what worked and didn’t work for me. I will say this, it gets better as it goes along. One book I’d be curious to read is The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd. I don’t know if it’s good or bad or just so-so. But I want to read it just to see…

    • Kim October 6, 2009, 4:07 pm

      Your review was great, I really enjoyed it! The things you pointed out were exactly the features I think my friend loved about it, so it’ll be fun to compare once I actually get to read it.

      The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein looks good too, thanks!

  • Jeanne October 5, 2009, 2:46 pm

    I reread a lot, and some of it for the books I teach. No matter how many times I teach Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, there’s always something new to say about it (some of that, unfortunately, connected to current events in the middle east). The literary work that has most rewarded rereading, for me, is Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock. It’s hysterical, but it takes a couple of times through for a modern reader, at least, to start getting the jokes.

    • Kim October 6, 2009, 4:09 pm

      The Handmaid’s Tale is great because is so easy to re-read. And especially given what’s happening in the Middle East, different parts become relevant over and over again. I think I’ve read that one twice and it doesn’t get any less disturbing. I’ve only read a tiny bit of Pope — that era just never does it for me 🙂

  • Rebecca Reid October 6, 2009, 12:40 pm

    I don’t think I’ve reread any books that many times…but now that I’m tracking my reading and blogging about it, I intend to! I’m so glad you love Frankenstein. I will get to it some day.

    • Kim October 6, 2009, 4:11 pm

      I think blogging makes re-reading seem like it makes sense — if you haven’t written a review, might as well. I don’t think I’ve re-read anything recently though, even though I really want to try Reading Lolita in Tehran again. Maybe Christmas…

  • Kay October 6, 2009, 2:02 pm

    Can you believe I haven’t read Frankenstein yet? It’s definitely on my to-read list though, and if anything you inspired me to pick it up maybe sooner than later!

    I’m not sure which book I would know. The first that comes to mind would be Little Women. Since I was a kid, I have seen the movie et read the book more times than a sane person would! I think because I started reading it and watching its movie for the first time when I was younger, it became a kind of “comfortable place” where I can always return to. A little like a book equivalent of home! Of course, my first reads where all about the story, but now I’m able to see the characters in a different way. I love that!

    • Kim October 6, 2009, 4:13 pm

      Yay, good! It’s really a brilliant book, although I don’t think it always gets the credit it deserves because it’s been so co-opted by pop culture and images of the brainless monster. I hope you like it when you get to it — don’t let the frame narrative get you down 🙂

      There is something nice about comfortable books, I feel that way about some of the first Harry Potter books. Little Women seems like it would mean different things depending when you read it — as someone young or as someone who is older and a mother with daughters of you own.