Plays by Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim

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Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, a tenth-century German nun, is the first known female playwright. As you’d expect from a nun, her plays often praise virginity and martyrdom.

I felt the dialogue was rather simple with characters frequently agreeing with each other and repeatedly saying things like, “That’s true.” Since the characters are often either pure good or pure evil, they aren’t very interesting as people. The scenes often feel too short and the plays overall go by quickly without enough time to build up any tension.

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Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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Every Heart a Doorway takes place in a boarding school for children who have traveled through portals to other worlds and desperately want to go back because they don’t quite fit in to this world anymore. Their parents, while well-meaning, just don’t understand them. They think their children are fantasy-prone and didn’t really go to another world. However, Eleanor, the headmistress of the school, knows other worlds do exist because she has visited one herself.

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Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

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“To be in this world, you must always be a little less than yourself. With every day that passes, you must give up a little more.”

After the events described in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a fifteen-year-old Miranda arrives in Milan, but people treat her like a monster. They force her to stay in her room and make her wear a veil whenever she leaves. She wonders if she looks like a monster, although she doesn’t think she does.

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Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

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Ugh. This book. Where to begin? First off, its run-on sentences, paragraphs that are pages long, and chapters in which nothing much happens make it a chore to read. There are over a hundred pages of endnotes, so you have to keep flipping to the end of the book while you’re reading. Annoyingly, many of the endnotes didn’t need to be endnotes. The shorter ones could have been parenthetical statements, and the long ones should have just been chapters in their own right. If this wasn’t bad enough, several of the endnotes have footnotes of their own.

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs

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This was originally published anonymously, so the author goes by the name of Linda. Her father was a carpenter. His master hired him out and allowed him to keep some of the money he earned. He saved up and wanted to buy his children’s freedom, but he wasn’t allowed to. Her maternal grandmother was freed at her master’s death, but she got captured and sold to another, so even if a slave master freed his slaves at death, that was no guarantee they’d stay free. Her grandmother, who made money selling crackers, also wanted to purchase the freedom of her children, but her mistress borrowed the money from her and never paid her back.

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century. Written in 1852, it energized the anti-slavery movement and contributed to the start of the Civil War. It was translated into all major languages and made a worldwide impact. Today, it’s better known for its stereotypical depictions of black people. (There’s also an off-hand anti-Semitic remark and Haitians are called effeminate.) So while it was undoubtedly progressive for its day, it doesn’t entirely hold up now.

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