Literary Sad Girls: 8 Reads Guaranteed to Make You Feel All the Feels

Whether moody, pensive, or prone to heavy sighs and tears, those who self-identify as sad girls find solidarity in feeling all the feels, whenever and however they need to be felt. Online and off, women have found strength by reveling in their despair and frustration. From the endlessly celebrated Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton to Toni Morrison’s Jadine and the fiery stanzas of Kate Rushin’s poems, stories about unhappy and dissatisfied women have offered generations of readers catharsis. Here’s a few books where literary sad girls reign supreme.

The cover of the book PondPond

Claire-Louise Bennett

In Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut Pond, readers are transported into the mind of an unnamed and reclusive narrator. Living in an isolated cottage off the coast of Ireland, Bennet’s protagonist broods over the broken knobs of her kitchen stove and her professional and personal failures with an equal measure of melancholy. Contemplative and filled with dark humor, the interior world of Bennett’s narrator is undeniably somber, yet relatably so. As if rooted solely in the id of its fictive orator, Pond’s unabashed celebration of personal truth, even when discomforting, makes each musing as memorable as it is cathartic.

 

The cover of the book The LikenessThe Likeness

Tana French

New York Times bestseller Tana French’s sequel to In the Woods places Cassie Maddox at the epicenter of the investigation of a brutal murder. When it is revealed that the victim shares an uncanny resemblance to Cassie and goes by her alias Alexandra Madison, French’s heroine is drawn deep into the world of her deceased doppelgänger. As Cassie attempts to solve the crime, the lines between her own fears and those of her slain look-alike blur, resulting in an existential crisis that could jeopardize her life. A cautionary tale for anyone who’s ever wanted to swap lives with someone else, The Likeness reminds us that who we are is ultimately inescapable, for better or worse.

 

The cover of the book After BirthAfter Birth

Elisa Albert

Elisa Albert’s novel After Birth follows Ari, a new mom, as she struggles to cope with the birth of her son. Ari’s husband, although relatively attentive, seems unaware of her state of mind. Adrift in a proverbial sea of postpartum depression, Ari finds salvation through her friendship with former riot grrrl turned poet and mother-to-be Mina Morris. As the two grow closer and Mina’s due date approaches, Ari emerges from the fog of her own despair, revived by their shared sisterhood. Uplifting, insightful, and funny as hell, Albert’s novel is an anchor for anyone feeling lost.

 

The cover of the book A Girl Is a Half-formed ThingA Girl Is a Half-formed Thing

Eimear McBride

With captivating prose and precision, Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing perfectly captures the anxieties of adolescence. From the impact of her brother’s debilitating brain tumor to the abuse and the discord that defines her family home, McBride’s narrator’s trials are biblical in their own right, reminding her audience of the way the world can make, break, and reshape us, and the way suffering can sometimes lead to strength. Heartbreaking and honest, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is a haunting but necessary read.

 

The cover of the book Mr. FoxMr. Fox

Helen Oyeyemi

In her fourth novel, Helen Oyeyemi explores what happens when an artist’s muse strikes back. Mary Foxe, an embodied yet elusive protagonist, challenges her husband Mr. Fox’s metafictive killing sprees. Having grown tired of seeing the women in his stories discarded merely because they are too difficult for him to manage, Mary suggests that the two collaborate to avoid the further erasure of his protagonists. As they embark on their project, the lives that Mary conjures gradually reveal previously suppressed memories, passions, and fissures in her own psyche. In attempts to save the women in her husband’s stories, Mary is able to free herself from the constraints of the male gaze and its performative expectations. A sly and mesmerizing novel, Mr. Fox is a cryptic yet dazzling testament to the literal and figurative power of storytelling and owning one’s truth.

 

The cover of the book Today Will Be DifferentToday Will Be Different

Maria Semple

Eleanor Flood is a hot mess. There’s no denying it. As she struggles to find balance between the demands of her career, motherhood, and her marriage, Eleanor finds solace in the simple mantra: “Today will be different.” But, like most hopes, Eleanor’s affirmation quickly unravels from page one. Told within the span of a day, Maria Semple’s latest novel is a provocatively funny and engaging look at modern womanhood. Readers will find it difficult not to see themselves in Eleanor. Despite a rapidly growing list of crises and distractions, she clings to hope, even if begrudgingly so.

 

The cover of the book Bukowski in a SundressBukowski in a Sundress

Kim Addonizio

With scathing honesty and searing wit, Kim Addonizio offers an antidote to saddies of all stripes in her recent memoir Bukowski in a Sundress. “Go ahead and have a little more vodka with lemonade and get slightly drunk by dusk,” she writes. “Tell yourself you are foolish… Tell yourself you are lucky… don’t be such a goddamn little baby.” Upfront and relentless, Addonizio’s essays examine the pros and cons of being an artist, why it’s okay to be an occasional wreck, and the way being real with yourself and others (even at your worst) can help you be real on the page. Emotionally raw and wildly entertaining, Addonizio’s memoir, much like her poems, will change your life.

 

The cover of the book UmamiUmami

Laia Jufresa

A story rooted in communal loss, Laia Jufresa’s novel centers around the mysterious death of a young girl and the life of those left to live on without her. Through the precocious Ana, the wise Grandma Emma, and the guarded yet empathetic Linda Walker, Umami paints a portrait of bereavement, love, and familial bonds amidst the vivid landscape of Mexico City. Each character’s voice adds depth to Jufresa’s enthralling chorus. Each story forces readers to remember that even in our grief, we are not alone.

 

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Books to Film: June 2018

Tag, He’s ‘It’ for Another Year by Russel Adams (of The Wall Street Journal)

Image result for wsjTag (2018 film).pngMovie: Tag
When it comes out: June 15
What the book is about: Okay. So it’s not from a book, but it is based on a true story that was written about in the Wall Street Journal.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

13366259The Yellow Birds.jpgMovie: The Yellow Birds
When it comes out: June 15
What the book is about: “The war tried to kill us in the spring,” begins this breathtaking account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

6604712Eating Animals (2017)Movie: Eating Animals
When it comes out: June 15
What the book is about: Faced with the prospect of being unable to explain why we eat some animals and not others, Foer set out to explore the origins of many eating traditions and the fictions involved with creating them. Traveling to the darkest corners of our dining habits, Foer raises the unspoken question behind every fish we eat, every chicken we fry, and every burger we grill.

The Catcher Was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff

34629The Catcher Was a Spy.pngMovie: The Catcher Was a Spy
When it comes out: June 22
What the book is about: The only Major League ballplayer whose baseball card is on display at the headquarters of the CIA, Moe Berg has the singular distinction of having both a 15-year career as a catcher for such teams as the New York Robins and the Chicago White Sox and that of a spy for the OSS during World War II. Here, Dawidoff provides “a careful and sympathetic biography” (Chicago Sun-Times) of this enigmatic man.

 

 

 

8 Completed Series for Fantasy Fans to Devour

by Hayley, January 29, 2018, first appearing on Goodreads Blog

Fantasy fans are patient—not by nature, but by necessity. Coming of age in libraries full of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ books left them hungry for more, greedy for magical adventure and emotionally satisfying conclusions. Many of them having been learning to live without the latter for a very long time.

Take George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The first book, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996. Over two decades and one HBO show later, the final two books in the series are severely overdue with no confirmed release date in sight. Meanwhile, fans of Patrick Rothfuss’ 2007 fantasy bestseller, The Name of the Wind, waited four years for the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, and have now been waiting seven years for the conclusion to the trilogy.

It’s rough. For those of you who want your epics without accompanying “sequel angst,” check out our roundup of highly rated, completed fantasy series. (It’s by no means an exhaustive list, so please recommend your favorites in the comments!)

 

The Wheel of Time

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Start the series with The Eye of the World

Total books: 14

 

Farseer Trilogy

Robin Hobb

Start the series with Assassin’s Apprentice

Total books: 3 (plus additional series set in the same world)

 

The First Law

Joe Abercrombie

Start the series with The Blade Itself

Total book: 3

 

Mistborn

Brandon Sanderson

Start the series with The Final Empire

Total books: 3 (plus 4 additional books set 300 years later)

 

The Broken Earth

N.K. Jemisin

Start the series with The Fifth Season

Total books: 3

 

The Malazan Book of the Fallen

Steven Erikson

Start the series with Gardens of the Moon

Total books: 10

 

The Riyria Revelations

Michael J. Sullivan

Start the series with Theft of Swords

Total books: 3 (originally published as 6 books)

 

Powder Mage

Brian McClellan

Start the series with Promise of Blood

Total books: 3

Our 25 Favorite Opening Lines in Literature

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The opening line of a story is a tricky business. They are an author’s opportunity to introduce the reader to the world being crafted, but more importantly, a chance to invite the reader in. The opening line is the moment when a writer says to the reader, “Come a little closer. Listen. This is something you’re going to want to hear.” That’s a tough thing to get right, and while it isn’t the be-all, end-all of a great book, there’s just something to be said for a well-crafted opening line. We tend to remember the ones that speak to us.

For instance, I can still recall the moment I picked up Stephen King’s The Gunslinger in a small bookstore/coffee shop that sadly no longer exists on the sporadically reinvigorated main street of my hometown. I remember because of that opening line – simple, evocative, almost mythic. It seems to be the simple lines that speak to me; I still get a chuckle when I think of picking up Andy Weir’s The Martian to see what all the fuss was about and being greeted with, “I’m pretty much fucked.” That’s the beauty of a great first line. At times, the simple suffices (we’re looking at you, Mr. Melville). At others, a more meandering and circuitous form of prose sets the stage for what’s to come (hello, Messrs. Dickens and Chabon). Regardless, great opening lines are a rare creature. When you spot one in the wild, you’re not likely to forget where you found it. Here are some of our favorites.

 

The cover of the book One Hundred Years of SolitudeOne Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

 

The cover of the book Moby- DickMoby- Dick

Herman Melville

“Call me Ishmael.”

 

 

The cover of the book The GunslingerThe Gunslinger

Stephen King

“The Man in Black fled across the desert, the Gunslinger followed.”

 

 

The cover of the book The Name of the WindThe Name of the Wind

Patrick Rothfuss

“It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.”

 

The cover of the book Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

 

 

The cover of the book A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

 

The cover of the book Gravity's RainbowGravity’s Rainbow

Thomas Pynchon

“A Screaming comes across the sky.”

 

 

The cover of the book Anna KareninaAnna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

 

The cover of the book SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVESLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE

Kurt Vonnegut

“All of this happened, more or less.”

 

 

The cover of the book The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader

C.S. Lewis

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

 

The cover of the book Fear and Loathing in Las VegasFear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S. Thompson

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

 

The cover of the book The Color PurpleThe Color Purple

Alice Walker

“You better never tell nobody but God.”

 

 

The cover of the book MiddlesexMiddlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

 

The cover of the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

J.K. Rowling

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

 

The cover of the book ParadiseParadise

Toni Morrison

“They shoot the white girl first.”

 

 

The cover of the book The Year of Magical ThinkingThe Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion

“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. The question of self-pity.”

 

The cover of the book The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.”

 

The cover of the book The Bell JarThe Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

 

The cover of the book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

 

The cover of the book I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

“When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed – ‘To Whom It May Concern’ – that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas, c/o Mrs. Annie Henderson.”

 

The cover of the book The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride

William Goldman

“This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”

 

The cover of the book The MartianThe Martian

Andy Weir

“I’m pretty much fucked.”

 

 

The cover of the book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon

“In later years, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier’s greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini.”

 

The cover of the book Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice

Jane Austen

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

 

The cover of the book The RoadThe Road

Cormac McCarthy

“When he woke in the woods in the dark and cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.”

Beyond Baba Yaga: 8 Eastern European-Inspired Fantasies

Photo by Niilo Isotalo on Unsplash

Eastern European mythology, literature, and history are a gold mine for fans of speculative fiction. From the rich depth of Slavic folklore to the drama of the region’s history, there’s a wealth of elements for unfamiliar readers to discover, especially as translations from countries such as Russia and Poland make their way across the pond.

Readers interested in exploring Eastern European speculative fiction can check out these works by authors currently or previously living in Eastern European countries, as well as titles by American authors that draw inspiration from the region.

 

The cover of the book UprootedUprooted

NAOMI NOVIK

Every ten years, a girl from Agniezka’s village is taken by the wizard known as the Dragon who protects them from harm, and none of them return, even after the Dragon sets them free. Agniezka believes her perfect best friend Kasia will be the one chosen – but the Dragon chooses Agniezka instead.

This award-winning standalone novel begins as a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast with decidedly Eastern European influences. Novik crafts a fantastic world in Uprooted, so much so that it’s worth a read just to see what she does with it. And if you’re really into it, Novik’s returning readers to the same universe with the upcoming Spinning Silver.

 

The cover of the book Blood of ElvesBlood of Elves

ANDRZEJ SAPKOWSKI

The first novel in Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher Saga was published in the U.S. in 2009, following the 2007 release of The Witcher video game. Blood of Elves follows the series’ eponymous witcher, Geralt of Rivia, an assassin working to protect a child being hunted for her extraordinary powers.

Possibly the most widely-known franchise on the list, the Witcher Saga comprises 5 novels (the final book, Season of Storms, will be released April 2018) as well as two short story collections, which are both available in English. You may want to pick this series up fast: it’s currently being adapted as a Netflix series.

 

The cover of the book DeathlessDeathless

CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE

Deathless marries the Slavic folklore figure Koschei the Deathless with the war-ravaged Russia of the early twentieth century. Its heroine, Marya Morevna, is whisked away from post-Russian Revolution Leningrad by Koschei, who intends to take her as his bride.

Valente explores an older Russian tale in the context of the wars taking place across Europe during the early twentieth century, from the Russian Revolution to the second world war and beyond.

 

The cover of the book There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's BabyThere Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby

LUDMILLA PETRUSHEVSKAYA

I have to admit that out of the Ludmilla Petrushevskaya books currently available in English, I picked this one because of the impressively long, impressively creepy title. And with the subtitle “Scary Fairy Tales,” there’s got to be something in this short story collection to enthrall you.

Petrushevskaya was born in 1938 Moscow, and her supernatural tales allude to the bleak realities of life under the Soviet Union. There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby is a must-read introduction to one of Russia’s most prolific writers.

 

The cover of the book Blood Rose RebellionBlood Rose Rebellion

ROSALYN EVES

Unable to control her mysterious ability to break spells – and causing a disaster at her sister’s debut – British-born Anna Arden is banished to live with distant relatives in 1847 Hungary, where she’s drawn into the conspiracies simmering and about to boil over in the country.

The first book in Eves’ young adult fantasy trilogy is wonderfully researched and immersive, capturing the political unrest pervasive during the era. There are even some characters based on real people of 1840s Hungary, including one most readers might recognize: a young boy named Franz Ferdinand. Blood Rose Rebellion is an enthralling fantasy read, and it’s also one that can lead readers down new paths to learn about history they may not have encountered before.

 

The cover of the book Shadow and BoneShadow and Bone

LEIGH BARDUGO

Alina Starkov is an orphan and a soldier – at least until she accidentally unleashes magic she had no idea she even possessed. Drafted into the Grisha, the elite magical branch of the Ravka military, Alina struggles to learn how to manage her gift as the threat against Ravka grows.

Bardugo’s young adult Shadow and Bone trilogy is an absolute adventure and incorporates not only inspiration from Russian culture and history, but others as well. The trilogy is complete with Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising, for readers (like myself) who love binging the entire series at once.

 

The cover of the book The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale

KATHERINE ARDEN

Set at the edge of Russian wilderness, The Bear and the Nightingale is another novel that draws on the wealth of Eastern European folklore to craft a fantastical tale. Vasilisa and her siblings have always honored the spirits in their household – until their father comes home with a new wife, whose religious beliefs are at odds with the traditions Vasya has long held.

The Bear and the Nightingale is an excellent next-read for those who already read Uprooted, and as a story set in the icy Russian wilderness, it’s also a great book to cozy up with when snowed out of work or school.

 

The cover of the book Night WatchNight Watch

SERGEI LUKYANENKO

In Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series, supernatural beings known as Others swear allegiance to one of two factions: the Light and the Dark. Anton Gorodetsky is a Light magician who works for the Night Watch, which has helped to maintain peace for hundreds of years – but a cursed Other without an alliance may shatter that peace once and for all.

Night Watch is more of a thriller than a fairy tale, and the urban fantasy setting makes it a refreshing contrast to many of the titles on the list. Two films based on the series were released in Russia, and the complete six-book Night Watch series has been translated and published in the U.S.

Here’s Why Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women Is Forever Relevant

Kathryn Newton, Maya Hawke, Willa Fitzgerald, and Annes Elwy in Little Women (2017) © BBC

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room,” author Louisa May Alcott writes of her most famous heroine, Josephine March, “put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.” Indeed, Little Women, the first novel Jo appears in, traces her life as a poor but spitfire New England teen — one of four sisters — who moves to New York to pursue her literary dreams, marries well, and turns her aunt’s estate into a school for boys.

Though Alcott wrote Little Women at Orchard House, her family home and where she also placed the March sisters, the autobiography stopped short of Jo’s reverie in the “vortex” expressing “all her heart and soul.” Rather, Alcott was pressured by both her father and her publisher to write Little Women, and did so for money in record time. “I plod away,” is how Alcott herself summarized the process in her journal, “although I don’t enjoy this sort of thing.” The book debuted in 1868 and each further installment churned a buying frenzy not seen until more than a century later with the advent of Harry Potter.

That beloved character’s salty creator, J. K. Rowling, stands as a sort of proto-Alcott, as Alcott’s 40-year career spanned more than 200 works under an equally sexed nom de plume, and dashed off at high speeds, never for love, but always for money. Where the Rowling comparison really breaks down is under the pure American-ness of Alcott. PBS’s American Masters purports that with lovers like Emerson and Thoreau, and time spent as both a Civil War nurse and European Grand Tour companion, Alcott “was her own best character.”

“The real Louisa Alcott,” American Masters goes on to say, “was infinitely more interested in the darker side of human nature and experience than in telling polite stories to nice children. She was a protean personality, a turbulent force, a passionate fighter attracted to danger and violence.” Though Little Women is her best-known work, none of her eight works of juvenilia has ever gone out of print, and the same year she launched her March sisters saga, she also dashed off a short story featuring picnicking socialites getting blotto on hashish.

“I loved the book so much that I didn’t think twice about saying yes,” BBC show-runner Heidi Thomas tells an audience who’ve just watched the first part of her “Little Women” trilogy at the Tribeca Film Festival, “but then I sat down with the book and boy, did I think twice then! The thing is, the great books come up for adaptation perhaps once every generation, so I thought if I don’t do it now, the chance will never come again.”

“I think a novel about young women finding their voices and learning to sing is totally relevant,” Thomas continues, “and, as an older woman, I just wanted to pick that baton up and run with it. I read that book when I was eight and I just couldn’t not do it, but I was scared and overwhelmed. Still, I find that’s when I do my best work, when I’m scared and overwhelmed; that’s when I find something new.”

What she found was Colin Callender, executive producer for the BBC, and Rebecca Eaton, executive producer for PBS, putting her on a short, almost Alcott-esque turnaround for the miniseries. “This was January of last year,” Callender remembers, “so this was one of the fastest turn-arounds on a commission for the BBC.” But rather than the truncated production schedule, Thomas chooses to focus on the expanded breadth that the mini-series three-parter afforded her.

“The real gift was having three hours to tell the story,” Thomas adds, “because at the end of the day, it’s two novels: Little Womenand Good Wives (the two appeared as volumes in 1868 and 1869, respectively, but were published together as Little Women from 1880 onward) and when I was working on each of the three-part structures, I gave them each a theme. The first is childhood. You see the girls at the most joyful they will ever be again — that kind of running wild — so this was about lightness more than hope and optimism because at this point in life, the girls don’t even realize that hope and optimism are necessary to get them through life.”

“The second part is about challenge and the approach of adulthood,” Thomas continues. “Their sister dies and they’re having to deal with the idea of time. The tone darkens. And then part three was change. In that section, I found myself in Marmee’s shoes just watching these young women finding their place in their lives.” Thomas takes a pause, and then perfunctorily sums, “So: childhood, challenge, and change.” But she’s not quite done, not quite ready to move off Marmee, played here by Emily Watson.

“She was very much in my mind when I was writing,” Thomas explains of the Academy Award nominee. “It was a very interesting pair of shoes to walk through this in. I think of Marmee as being very liminal: saintly, but also very much present as a mother. You never know what you’ll find in a book and this time around for me, it was Marmee. She’s very complicated. She’s angry, but she doesn’t seem angry. There’s a prism with which you can look through that character that gives brilliant actors material they can thrive on and that’s a very, very important part of an adaptor’s craft.”

Thomas clearly has more to say, but Callender preempts with a congratulatory, “That was quite a piece of casting!” Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre since 1985, but rebranded as simply “Masterpiece” since 2008, has a slew of recent hits under her belt with both “Downton Abbey” and “Wolf Hall” and is by no means a shrinking violet, but does see an opportunity to talk about the complicated two-network deal. “I can tell you about the deal we made at Masterpiece with Colin?” she posits, almost as a question.

When no one speaks over her, she continues, “Well, this is a BBC production. It’s an American book and it’s a BBC production. Masterpiece hasn’t done much American drama, usually we do mid-Atlantics, the Edith Wartons or the Henry James, but this is an all-American book. But it was going to be British. Colin, the writer, and the director are British. So Colin and I made a deal: the girls would be American. They just had to be American. And he kept his word three out of the four times because lovely Beth is Welsh. But Colin also said all of the adults would be British-acting royalty and he was able to get that because the BBC has a lot of money — people like Sir Michael Gambon and Angela Lansbury, although I think a  lot of people think Angela is American.”

“She’s the best!” offers Kathryn Newton, who plays the blond, book-burning Amy March. “When she walked in, it’s just Angela. I loved talking to her about being our age and being a contract actress. She told me to never give up. That was her advice to me.” Newcomer Maya Hawke, who plays headstrong Jo March, adds, “She’s also so amazingly porous. There’s this false idea that people, as they get older, get more stuck, but she was more flexible — changeable — than anyone I ever met. She’d do each take so differently. She had a thought and you’d watch it going across her face. She was so hungry and passionate and curious and generous, it’s a real inspiration to meet someone who’s been doing something for this long and still finds such wonder in it.”

“You start with the book,” Hawke continues when asked how to tackle an iconic role she could probably still be researching, “everybody does. Preparing for this role, you love acting, but you will love this book from the moment you pick it up. Then you start to prepare the ways in which you let the book affect you. In the ways you let Jo and her independence and her bravery and her courage perforate your being as a young woman, and hopefully impact the ways in which you go about the world. And then you get sent a script and all of a sudden you are presented not with a character in a book, but an opportunity to perform and take yourself and this person and mold them together into one.”

“Then you get really inured,” Hawke expands, “and really historical about it; you read as much as you can and you go and visit the Orchard House, which is a really beautiful, historically preserved home in Concord, Massachusetts. And you visit Walden Pond and you read Emerson and Thoreau. You read The Bible and you think about all the things these women, both the real Alcotts and the March family, try to figure out. Where their minds were going and what they were thinking and feeling while they were growing up, and then you try to give yourself ownership to be yourself and not be too weighted down by all that information. And then you try to act on instinct and be brave.”

“It’s really lovely to hear you describe your process,” Thomas responds, “because it’s so similar to mine, and sometimes the script bridges the gap between our two disciplines. You go back and read the King James Bible, in particular, and it gives a certain cadence to the language because that was the most permeated piece of literature in that home. I would read Civil War magazines because you could see what women’s preoccupations were. There would be three advertisements for hair products and one advertisement for artificial limbs because your husband was likely to come home from the war with a missing arm. It was this textual peg for what was going on. It’s also what prevents the novel from feeling like it’s been preserved in aspic jelly; these women just leap off the page as being actual, and they were, they were just put there by Alcott in the 1860s.”