I’ve been in a hellacious reading slump. There’s something about the start of summer that still signals the end of school for me, and with the end of school always came a blissful period of laziness that involved a fold-up chaise, a big travel mug full of sweet iced tea, and a spot in the sun with magazines and my Discman. I’ve gone to great bookish lengths to break this slump. I pulled a shelf of “desperate; read next” titles from my TBR. I’m currently in possession of exactly 2838702 library books. I’ve even, more than once, made my husband choose books at random in the hope that he’d spot something I couldn’t anymore. Nothing worked. Until this: I signed up for this edition of Buy, Borrow, Bypass in order to force myself to have some opinions about something, anything, oh god, who am I when I’m not reading? (Just kidding: I’m a person who binges TV super well.)
I landed on books from one of my favorite college classes, on the fairy tales of the Victorian era. The Victorian era needed the fairy tale, which allowed for both escape from and exploration of all the new discoveries in science and how they related to the arts, religion, philosophy, history, and all that other stuff involved in being, and thinking about being, human. I don’t have the course syllabus anymore. If I did, I would’ve just pasted the whole reading list here, with the word “BUY” flashing in a big, 1997-internet font. These tales simply never get old. This is a cheat, sorry, I thought I’d find a borrow in there but I just can’t. Buy them all.
Victorian Fairy Tale Book, ed. by Michael Patrick Hearn
John Ruskin, Robert Browning, W. M. Thackeray, buy, buy, buy. Plus it’s pretty. Yes, that’s a long list of dead white guys, so Borrow, tbh, if you’d rather, but these tales are all pretty great and some would even make for good bedtime reading, probably, if one had tiny goblins who needed reading to.
The Complete Fairy Tales of George MacDonald
George MacDonald is maybe my biggest dead white guy crush (besides young Rutherford B. Hayes, who is an unquestionable hottie worthy of objectification; google him, I’ll wait). MacDonald writes lovely, multilayered tales that feature female characters I enjoyed studying, unlike many of his Victorian peers. My favorites are “The Golden Key” and “The Light Princess,” which is about a girl who loses her gravity and has to find a way to get it back.
Bonus Borrow (well, Spotify stream): Tori Amos wrote a musical based on “The Light Princess,” if you’re into any combination of those three items.
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
I love this poem a little more every time I read it. It just gets better and better and opens up to more interpretation. I haven’t written a research paper (for a class) in nearly a decade, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still read journal articles about Rossetti and all the layers on layers of meaning in this, her freaking masterwork. The masterwork of this whole list, really. Have I mentioned it’s amazing? It takes on sexuality, sisterhood, women’s victimization, women’s agency, love, strength, power, everything. It takes on everything. Buy copies for everyone you know.