Showing posts with label classics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classics. Show all posts

Friday, October 30, 2015

October Minis: Dracula, Meg Wolitzer, & more!

Hellooooo, readers!  And HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVE!  I will be celebrating this weekend by trick-or-treating with a small monkey and a Ninja Turtle.  Let's honor the holiday with my first round of mini book reviews for the month of October.  Three books to discuss with you today...

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Harper, 2011
personal purchase

Here we have a psychological thriller with a unique premise: Christine has suffered a brain injury that erases her memory almost completely every evening when she goes to sleep.  So each morning, she wakes up unaware of where she is, or who is sleeping next to her (poor, forgotten husband).  She has to re-learn her entire life.  Unfortunately, this also means that Christine is easy to manipulate--who can she really trust if she never remembers anyone from day to day?  She finds a journal that she's begun keeping with the help of her doctor, and realizes that her life may be very different than what is being presented to her.

While the suspense and twists in this book are intense (as expected), for me, they were slowed down quite a bit by Christine's journaling style (which is how much of the book is narrated).  For someone who has to furtively write in her journal each night before her husband catches her doing it, she writes in such flowy, painstaking detail.  This felt disingenuous and made it hard for me to find her believable as a character.  However, the story itself is delightfully convoluted and will get your heart rate up (even though I did figure out the "bad guy" a good bit before he/she was actually revealed).

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Grosset & Dunlap, 1897
personal purchase

The most famous vampire story!  I'd been saving this book as a spooky October read for years, and finally got around to it.  It was well-worth the wait, as this was a perfect novel for this time of year.  If you're unfamiliar, Dracula is the tale of how Jonathan & Mina Harker discover, and attempt to take down, the wily vampire Count Dracula, along with their mentor, Van Helsing, and a few brave friends.  There's garlic and wooden stakes and bats and a castle in Transylvania!  How can you go wrong?!?!  The story is told through letters, diary entries, telegrams, and journals written by the main characters.  I loved this format, as it gave the narrative a more modern, fast-paced feel than its publication date would have you expect.  I was a little annoyed by how Mina Harker is treated as a female character (Stoker alternately builds her up as a smart, independent woman, then breaks her down as the male characters keep her out of the loop in order to protect her delicate lady-brain), but otherwise this book was fantastic.  Do yourself a favor and put this one on your Halloween reading list!
(Has anyone seen the film adaptation of this from the early 90s?  From what I can see, it looks like Coppola kind of massacred the plot.  Also, Keanu Reeves?  Srsly?)

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
Scribner, 2003
personal purchase

This story is told by Joan Castleman, in her mid-60s and wife of the (fictional) famous novelist, Joe Castleman.  It's immediately clear that Joan is a tad bitter about her life these days.  As she flies to Finland with Joe to a ceremony in his honor, she flashes us back to their early days of courtship and marriage.  By the end of this quick 200-ish page read, you have a REALLY good understanding of why Joan is disgruntled.

This was my first Meg Wolitzer novel, and I was beyond pleased.  The writing is fantastic: snappy, beautiful, intelligent, and humorous, all at once.  While the title left me thinking that the purpose of the novel was a character study of Joan-as-wife, I soon realized that Wolitzer was also making some interesting statements about the "wife" role in general: what it symbolizes, its value within a family, and how much some women give of themselves when they take on the title.  There was even a surprising twist at the end.  I'm impressed with everything that Wolitzer was able to pack into such a short book, and I can't wait to read more of her work.

What was your best read of October?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: December 12, 1932
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his 
distress...

Huxley's ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.


My Review:

Brave New World has been on my TBR list for a long time, because it seemed like one of those books that everyone was assigned to read in high school/college, except me.  Beyond that, I had no idea what the book entailed, and it was nice going into it without any preconceived notions.  Huxley has created quite an interesting version of the future--not so much post-apocalyptic as it is post-war.

After many battles the world over, society has settled upon a structure focused upon our base nature (defined here as the pursuit of pleasure, and tangent to that, consumerism).  People no longer procreate through sex--all humans are "hatched" in labs, then brought up in massive nurseries, where they can be taught only the lessons that the new society deems correct.  Social structure dictates that there are different classes of people (Alpha, Beta, etc), with the Alphas doing complicated, thought-focused tasks, down to lowly Epsilons who happily do the menial work (as they were conditioned to do all their lives).

I didn't expect this book to be so philosophical (not usually my forte), but Huxley presents his arguments about human nature and social control in a fairly uncomplicated way.  Certainly the thing that made my wheels turn the most was the clash between the idea of simple (but socially-controlled) happiness, versus allowing people to have free will (which will certainly lead to unhappiness, in some instances).  Take, for example, the lower-class (Epsilon) group.  These people are genetically engineered to be physically and mentally lacking from birth.  They are then conditioned to want to do menial jobs, and to be glad they don't have to do the hard work reserved for Alphas.  In the end, they are happy, because they are doing exactly what they've always "wanted" to do.  But does their lifelong happiness mean anything if it has been socially/governmentally enforced?  Even if they don't realize it's been forced upon them, and that they're "missing out" on anything?  Is it worth it to sacrifice free will (and all the things that go along with it: disappointment, heart break, passion, etc) if it means contentment for life?

There is a lot more to the novel than that, but much of the plot is based around those central questions, so get ready to have your thinking cap on.  As far as how the story flows, the first part of the book is easy to fall into, because as with any dystopian world, you spend a lot of time learning the ins-and-outs of Huxley's imagined future.  After the first 25% or so, I did start to think it was a little overdone (he really goes to some extremes with certain aspects of the society), but once the plot twisted a bit (after a non-socially-controlled "savage" is introduced to the story) things evened out, and I got more involved in the philsophical questions being raised.

Overall, Brave New World is a quick read, but one that is worth your time if you're into a book that will challenge your critical thinking.

What books do you feel like everyone else had to read for assignments in high school/college, but you missed out on?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I'M FINALLY DONE! Moby-Dick by Herman Melville


Title: Moby-Dick
Author: Herman Melville
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: 1851
Source: received as a gift many moons ago!

Summary from Goodreads

In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author's lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humor, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

My Review:

Time to be corny!

Moby-Dick was my white whale.  (Ba-dum-ching!)

Seriously though.  FOUR months to finish it?  Oy vey.  But it is done.

Why did I feel such a compulsion to read this classic novel?  I'll chalk up a lot of it to the fact that I grew up in Connecticut.  Because of course, every Connecticuter (Connecticutian?) born before the early 90's has a deep, soulful connection to the HARTFORD WHALERS!
THE WHAAAALE!
What can I say.  My little state does not get much in the way of professional sports teams, and then they TAKETH IT AWAY.  So sad.

Anyway, the other thing is that I'm specifically from southeastern Connecticut, very near Mystic, which is home to the Mystic Seaport, a "living history" museum that chronicles a lot of the whaling history of the region.  Any kid who grew up in southeastern Connecticut went on AT LEAST one field trip to Mystic Seaport while they were in school.  Which means you toured a whaling ship and learned a lot about...whaling stuff.  All very relevant to Moby-Dick, RIGHT?!?!?

So I'm sure these are all important reasons why I made myself hang with this book for the first third of 2015.

Honestly, as time-consuming as this book was, it really was not a bad read.  Yes, there are some boring parts.  There are entire chapters devoted to whale anatomy and the proper dismantling of a dead whale and other such valuable whale-type knowledge.  There is also a lot of soliloquizing.  These sailors really like to listen to themselves talk!

But beyond that, there is also an interesting story.  Captain Ahab--you've all heard of him, but the guy is truly bonkers.  His journey to find Moby Dick is crazy and arrogant and foolhardy, which makes for excellent reading.  If you've ever heard anyone talk about this book over the years (and you likely have), you pretty much know what's coming from page 1.  But to watch it unfold is entertaining.  Figuring out Ahab, his fellow sailors, and the twists and turns of the journey itself, is certainly enough to keep you engaged.

There's also a lot of deeper meaning re: the arrogance of man, duty/honor, etc. but I'll let you hit up SparkNotes for that.  :)

I'm not going to try to go any deeper in my review about a book that's already been reviewed (and essayed, and analyzed) a billion times.  The question is, is Moby-Dick a book that you should pick up right now?  As always, it depends on what you're looking for.  If you want a classic with lots of subtle meaning, something that moves a bit slowly but still has an engaging story behind it...and you can stand all of the long-winded sections about whale biology, then I say, go for it.  I'm happy that I was able to experience this novel, despite the time it took to complete.

Have you read Moby-Dick?  For an assignment, or for fun?  Like or dislike?

This book is part of my 30 Before 35 list...woohoo!  It was also a pick from my TBR Book Baggie, so I took this opportunity to choose the next book from my bag.  The next one will be...

The Interrogator by Glenn Carle!

Stay tuned, hopefully I will get to it soon!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Thoughts on my "slow reading" of the classics...

I mentioned many (MANY) weeks ago that I started reading Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  This is a classic that's been on my TBR pile for a long, long time.  I even have a nice-to-look-at special Barnes & Noble hardcover edition to read.  I was excited to finally dive in!
I am going to fill this post with awesome Moby Dick jokes.
So I started it...and as with many classics, I moved slowly at first.  Older novels tend to be written in, well, older language, so it takes me a while to adapt to that style.  I didn't dislike it, but I couldn't fly through it the way I can with modern novels.

Then, when I was about 25% done, one of my book tour dates came up.  Okay, Moby Dick, move to the side for a moment.  I read the book tour book, and then picked up Moby again.

But then...oh wait!  A much-anticipated bestseller just went on sale, and I have an Amazon credit!  Just like that, the good ol' white whale takes a backseat while I gobble up another contemporary novel.

This cycle has repeated itself since December.  It is now March (OMG), and I still have about a quarter of the novel left to enjoy.

I don't dislike Moby Dick.  I mean, it's had some slow (okay, downright boring) parts at times, but overall, I do enjoy reading it.  So why can't I just bring myself to finish it?
(crazyhyena.com)
Honestly, this happens to me a lot with classic novels.  I start them, and then take aaaaages to finish them (or don't finish them at all, as happened with Middlemarch...though let's all just agree that that book is the torture chamber of the literary canon).  Even the ones that I like, or that have a fast-moving plot, take me much longer than usual to get through.  Why, oh why?

I have usually justified this behavior by saying that I like to "slow read" my classics--really submerge myself in the (often outdated) language and styling, take my time working through it.  Plus, the extra brainpower that classic books sometimes require makes me feel like it's okay to interrupt my reading with a quicker, modern novel once in a while.

However, I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I believe there's more to it than that.  Saying I like to "slow read" these tomes makes my constant interruption of them sound almost noble, in some way.  But truthfully: I think I'm also just taking them for granted.

Because let's face it: classics aren't going anywhere.  No one's going to forget about Moby Dick tomorrow.  It's still going to be world-renowned.  They're still going to teach it in high school English classes.  People are still going to make references to it in casual conversation ("this project at work is my white whale!").  If I don't finish it today, it's okay--because there's a whole world of readers who will still want to talk about it tomorrow.

Newer books, on the other hand, don't have that feeling of longevity.  Yes, there are modern classics...but you won't know what books have that kind of staying power until their popularity has been proven in 5, 10, 20 years.  So I suppose that's why I feel the need to devour them so quickly.  Are people still going to be going gaga over The Girl on the Train in six months?  Is anyone going to care if I decide to read/review The Last Lecture this year, since that book is soooo 2008?  There's a feeling of immediate relevancy with newer books.  They're important today, but they may not be tomorrow.

Plus, sometimes you just have a favorite modern author that you know you want to keep up with.  Jodi Picoult, Stephen King, Jon Krakauer, etc are still publishing books, and I know I want to read them.  ALL OF THEM!  So I put down Moby Dick in favor of these new releases, because Melville's bibliography ain't goin' nowhere.  No keeping up for me to do there.

I feel guilty admitting that.  But 'tis the truth.  I love the classics, I really do--but sometimes I just can't resist reading the Next Big Thing.  Especially when it's by an author that I know and love.  There are only so many books I can read in my little lifetime, and it's HARD to prioritize sometimes. #readerproblems

What say you, readers?  Do you often interrupt your reading of classic novels in order to tackle some newer material?  Or are you faithful to reading one book at a time, new stuff be damned?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Review: Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell


Title: Gone With The Wind
Author: Margaret Mitchell
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: September 1, 1936
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War, Margaret Mitchell's epic love story is an unforgettable tale of love and loss, of a nation mortally divided and its people forever changed. At the heart of all this chaos is the story of beautiful, ruthless Scarlett O'Hara and the dashing soldier of fortune, Rhett Butler.

My Review:

HOW to review a novel as vast, as famous, as this one??

This book has been on my TBR pile for a long, long time.  I operate on the principle that if there is a well-known movie based on a book, I must try to read the book first.  Such is the case with Gone With The Wind.  Somehow, I successfully avoided the movie for the last 30.5 years of my life (minus endless clips of Rhett Butler's famous "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn"...which was actually mildly spoilery for the book, by the way), and I was able to first enjoy this story in written form.  And enjoy it I did!  For over two months, in fact.  I spent most of the summer finishing this book, and I have zero regrets about savoring those 1024 pages for so long.

I knew that GWTW was a romance, but it is so much more than that.  Because first of all, how fantastic of a character is Scarlett O'Hara?  She is such a force to be reckoned with, especially for a woman in the Civil War era.  At the same time, she is outrageously self-centered and naive, very much to a fault.  I alternated frequently between cheering for her to get on with her bad self, and shaking my fist at her stupidity.  The complexities of her character are endless, though in the end I really did love her, despite her many faults.  (Okay, except maybe her role as a mother.  She was a positively horrid mother.)

Beyond the romance, beyond Scarlett, we have a novel set quite dramatically against the backdrop of the Civil War.  Scarlett and Rhett's story is inseparable from the tragedies of wartime in 1860's Atlanta.  Not only is their relationship perfectly woven into this turbulent time period, but the novel does a pretty excellent job of detailing Civil War history.  I was raised in Connecticut, where I imagine the Civil War is taught in schools with a bit of a different tone than it is in Georgia, or any of the southern states.  This was probably the first account of the Civil War that I've read from a southern perspective (albeit a fictional one), and it was extremely eye-opening.  The historical detail in this novel is every bit as compelling as Scarlett and Rhett's dramatic romance.

One of the most important messages in GWTW is this: be happy with what you have, when you have it.  The grass is not always greener.  Love the one you're with.  I won't tell you if Scarlett learns these lessons or not, but it's quite a ride watching her try to get there.

I am so glad that I finally got around to tackling this classic.  It is absolutely an epic novel that's worth your time!  Now I need to get to the movie...although I must admit, the few clips I watched on YouTube already have me feeling like it won't do the book justice.  (That famous Rhett quote isn't delivered in anywhere near the same tone it was written in the book...#readerproblems.)

This was my third pick from the TBR Book Baggie! My next pick from the baggie is:

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen!

YA up in the hizzy!  And another main character named Scarlett?  Weird.  Stay tuned for a review...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn



Title: How Green Was My Valley
Author: Richard Llewellyn
Publisher: Macmillan
Publication Date: 1939
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Huw Morgan, about to leave home forever, reminisces about the golden days of his youth, when South Wales still prospered and coal dust had not yet blackened the valley. Llewellyn's characters fight, love, laugh, and cry, creating an indelible portrait of a people.

My Review:

I picked up this book because I needed a novel set in Wales for last month's Around the World in 12 Books Challenge.  I was pretty excited to read about Wales, because my husband is 100% Welsh (or at least he thinks so...maybe some French Canadian in there?  But mostly Welsh).  And the only thing he has ever been able to tell me about the Welsh is that they are known for ditch digging.  I suspect that's about as accurate as saying my Irish ancestors are only known for being hungry for potatoes.  Ah, stereotypes!

When I finished this book, I turned to my husband and said, "You should read this.  It would make you feel proud to be Welsh."  Because seriously, what an epic, spirited portrayal of South Wales in the late 1800's.  This is easily one of the better classics that I've read in a LONG time.

Now, when I say this book would fill you with Welsh pride, I don't mean that everything in it is happy.  OH NO.  This book has tons of sads and feels.  The description above doesn't tell you much, but Huw is the youngest of six brothers, and he also has three sisters to boot.  The Morgans live in a valley of South Wales and work primarily as coal miners.  (Ditch digging, almost?)  The book begins with Huw as an adult, leaving his family home, but you don't find out why just yet.  Nope, because Huw then backtracks to when he was just a little boy (age six, I believe) and begins to tell us the story of his upbringing.

I love a well-done coming-of-age novel, and I daresay that Huw Morgan might be tied for my favorite coming-of-age character (alongside Francie Nolan of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn).  Llewellyn did an absolutely terrific job illustrating how Huw grows physically and emotionally throughout his life.  When the story opens, he's just an innocent kid living in pretty prosperous times.  But as the novel progresses, he faces his fair share of hard knocks (as does his family), and he matures before your eyes.  Llewellyn does this in such a way that the progression is evenly-paced, but not painfully slow (as can happen with some epic stories).  I was never, ever bored while reading this novel, and I found myself rooting for Huw all along the way.

Huw was obviously my favorite character, but the others in the novel became near and dear to my heart as well.  Each of Huw's MANY siblings had a distinct personality and passion that came through loud and clear.  For example, his sister Angharad, who became one of the best female characters in the history of ever when she told off a male suitor with this line:

"I am Angharad Morgan," she said, and the river never ran colder.  "Go to hell."

YOU SING IT, SISTER!!  PREACH!

And two of his friends (Dai Bando and Cyfartha) were probably my favorite side characters, because they were HILARIOUS.  (There are some really great one-liners in this book, which is not something I normally say about a classic.)  Honestly, the entire village of people around the Morgans was an amazing, cohesive unit that puts modern day neighborhood friendships to shame.  The comraderie and support among all of the characters was inspiring, and a big reason why I told my husband that this book would make him proud to be Welsh.

But one of the best characters of all?  WALES!  And you're thinking, wait, that's the setting.  EXACTLY.  Llewellyn basically turns this South Wales valley into a character all its own.  It's not just the descriptions of the picturesque mountains or the ever-changing winds, but the way that the setting plays a crucial role in many of the important events of the characters' lives.  This novel couldn't be set anywhere else and be able to tell the same story.

I haven't read a real epic classic in a while, mostly because Middlemarch scared me off a couple of years ago.  How Green Was My Valley was my first foray back into that territory, and I am not sorry. This is a truly fantastic book and it's going on my favorites shelf.  READ IT!

Other reviews of How Green Was My Valley:
Caribou's Mom
Impressions In Ink
Book Light Graveyard

Do you have a favorite classic?  And have you ever visited Wales?  Because now I want to go to there.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad



Title: Heart of Darkness
Author: Joseph Conrad
Publisher: Blackwoods Magazine (originally published there in three parts)
Publication Date: 1899
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

One of Conrad's finest stories, loosely based on the author's experience of rescuing a company agent from a remote station in the heart of the Congo, Heart of Darkness is set in an atmosphere of mystery and lurking danger, and tells of Marlow's perilous journey up the Congo River to relieve his employer's agent, the fabled and terrifying Mr. Kurtz. What Marlow sees on his journey horrifies and perplexes him, and what his encounter with Kurtz reveals calls into question all of his assumptions about civilization and human nature. 

My Review:

Last week, when I reviewed Just One Day, I was complaining to myself that there is nothing harder than reviewing a book that is a wildly-popular current fave.  But I was wrong--it's harder to review a classic!  What can you say about a book that's been around for 100+ years that hasn't already been said?

And what if you thought it was...just okay?  How do you approach a review of a classic with, "Eh, you know, it was so-so"?  English professors the world over would promptly drop dead.

Well, English profs, get your heart meds handy, because Heart of Darkness is going solidly in my "meh" category.  (The horror!)

...yes, that was a bit of a meta-joke, for those who got it.

Anyway, I think part of the issue for me was that my expectations were high.  I had no idea that the movie Apocalypse Now was based on this novella, and I think we can all agree that Apocalypse Now is a fan-friggin-tastic movie.  So when I found that out, I was pretty stoked.  However, I quickly realized that the movie is based more on the themes and tone of this book, rather than the actual details.

Heart of Darkness is the tale of Marlow, currently on a ship in England, who is telling his shipmates about a previous journey he took as a steamboat captain in the Belgian Congo.  The purpose of this journey was to recover Mr. Kurtz, an ivory trader gone rogue in the wilderness.  Which, if you've seen the movie, will get you amped up for some really weird stuff, because the movie-version Kurtz (Marlon Brando) is CRAY-CRAY.  However, the book-version Kurtz actually has very little physical presence in the story--he is only around for a small portion of it.  Instead, the "idea" of him and what he represents plays a much bigger role in the plot than what he actually says and does.

Don't get me wrong, the book is not a total disappointment.  I understand why it's used so much in literature classes, because Conrad touches on a lot of important themes (good vs evil, roles of women, colonialism, etc).  And the narrative style is interesting: Marlow is telling the story to his shipmates, so you get steeped in the plot for a while, and then randomly get pulled out of it as Marlow jumps back to present day at times. If I felt like doing a lot of analysis and interpretations, there's plenty here to keep me busy.  However, as far as just straight entertainment value, the book moved a lot slower than I expected, and ended on a rather anticlimactic note.

Overall, it's a classic, so I won't deter anyone from reading it.  It's one of those books you just have to say you've read at some point (at 105 pages, you have no excuse!).  But it's certainly a book to save for when you have the time for thoughtful reflection.

What are some of the best classics you've read lately?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Deja Vu Review (5)


The Deja Vu Review is hosted every Sunday by Brittany at The Book Addict's Guide.  It's a chance to mini-review books that I read in my pre-blogging days.  This week's topic is classics!  Here are two of my faves.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

When I was in high school, I found it really difficult to enjoy books that we were assigned to read for class.  (Sorry, Mr. Henderson and Mrs. Roth. Truth.)  Because we didn't just enjoy them--we analyzed and interpreted the crap out of them, sometimes until I wanted to tear my hair out.  It took a lot of the fun out of the whole reading thing.

So it should tell you something that when I read this book in high school, I loved it.  And then I re-read it 8 years later, and I loved it even more.  Catherine and Heathcliff = the most angrily passionate romance ever.  Their whole relationship is so crazy to me, it's like a train wreck that I can't look away from.  Plus, the writing style is great because the story is told by Lockwood and Nelly Dean, two characters who, while very familiar with Catherine, Heathcliff, and the other characters, are a bit distanced from the actual events that they are describing.  This leads to a lot of narrative bias, and as a reader you will be left wondering what the "true" story is at times.  I'm a sucker for unique uses of POV.

Oops, here I go--analyzing the crap out of this book.  I guess I must have learned something in school, eh?

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This is a "newer" classic (published in the 1940's), but a classic nonetheless.  If there was ever a book that earned placement in the "coming of age" genre, this is it.  Young Francie Nolan is one of my favorite narrators of all time.  She is growing up poor in Brooklyn around the turn of the century, and while this would probably leave many kids feeling downtrodden or apathetic, Francie is smart, quick, and displays more than a little boldness as she tells the story of her difficult upbringing.  The story unfolds beautifully and the relationships between Francie and the rest of her family are fascinating.  I will definitely be giving this a re-read one day.

Bonus: it contains one of my favorite book-related quotes!:
"Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world."

What are your favorite classics?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle



Title: A Wrinkle In Time
Author: Madeleine L'Engle
Original Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Original Publication Date: January 1962
Source: won from Shannon at Giraffe Days

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger. 

"Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract".

Meg's father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?


My Review:

Remember Banned Book Week not so long ago?  During that celebration, I won a giveaway hosted by Shannon over at Giraffe Days.  She was giving away one banned book of the winner's choice.  I couldn't decide, so I sent Shannon a list of 3 finalists and asked her to surprise me with one.  So you know what she did?  She sent me ALL THREE.  Like a BOSS.  And A Wrinkle In Time was one of them.  (The other two are The Color Purple and Flowers for Algernon...reviews to come!)

In the end, moral of the story?  Shannon is awesome, and so is this book.

I know I'm probably, at the age of 29, the last person in my generation to read this.  Which makes me sad, because I wish I could have experienced A Wrinkle In Time at the age of 10!  Remembering my love for Matilda, The Phantom Tollbooth, and the like, I know this would have made an impression on my little brain.  But instead, I enjoyed it as an adult, and that will have to be enough.  Fantasy is not my preferred genre nowadays, but I think middle-grade fantasy has a lot more to offer, because it's written to an audience that can appreciate it with more innocent eyes.

What did I love about this book the most?  The deeper meanings!  There are so many, and they made it pretty clear why this book is often taught in schools.  Good wins over evil.  You can get help from others, but sometimes you have to do things yourself--even if they're hard.  Freedom requires more choices and effort, but is better than settling for conformity:

"'You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet?  A strict form, but freedom within it?'
'Yes,' Mrs. Whatsit said.  'You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.  What you say is completely up to you.'"

As a whole, the book is allegorical without feeling overly preachy.

The sci-fi aspects of it were a tad confusing, so I could see that being a little hard for kids to get through.  But the idea of "tessering" (the method of time-travel used in the book) is explained easily enough that the other information (about first, second, third, fourth, and fifth dimensions...phew) doesn't need to be understood well in order to follow the plot.

I was a little surprised at the religious undertones throughout the book, especially because it is taught so widely in schools.  However, I wouldn't say this is a strictly Christian novel.  Yes, there are a few quoted Bible verses, and some of the characters are clearly meant to represent the devil, or angels, or maybe even God, but it's written in a way that I think other religions could easily input their own belief systems within the lessons of the text.  I think it teaches you to have faith and love--but it doesn't tell you that there is one right way to do that.  AWIT has often been banned for being too religious, or (on the flip side) anti-Christian, and I think it's silly to pin the book that way when what's it really teaching kids is to be NICE to each other and BELIEVE in themselves.  I don't think that's very threatening, do you?

One final note, about the characters.  Meg, the main character, is pretty great, but her younger brother Charles Wallace is awesome.  I want to take that kid home and just hug him.  Or maybe name my second-born after him, I don't know.  Either way, he is a very precocious little five-year-old, and his dialogue was so much fun to read.  Definitely going on my list of all-time favorite literary characters.

So, overall, A Wrinkle In Time gets a big thumbs-up from me.  It's truly timeless--nothing in the book let on to the fact that it was written 50 years ago.  It manages to be entertaining, fantastical, and thoughtful at the same time.  I wish Small Fry was old enough to read it now, but you can bet I'll be putting it in his hands in about 9 years or so.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Deja Vu Review (2)

The Deja Vu Review is hosted every Sunday by Brittany at The Book Addict's Guide.  It's a chance to mini-review books that I read pre-blog.  This week's topic is to choose some of the longest books you've read.  I was tempted to jump right to Stephen King (The Stand and Under the Dome?  Hello!).  But I read a lot of King, so I mixed it up.  Instead, I have 2 very different books to contribute!

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Yes, I read this monstrosity a few years ago.  It was my ultimate reading challenge for a long time; I had a vision in my head of completing W&P and automatically receiving a bejeweled crown and years of adoration from all that came into my presence.  Instead, I received looks of genuine puzzlement ("Wait...you didn't do it for a class or anything?") and carpal tunnel after holding up that heavy tome for 3 months.

Okay, it wasn't as bad as all that.  It's actually a pretty decent novel (English professors the world 'round are keeling over at me calling War and Peace "pretty decent").  There are a lot of intersecting storylines, all sorts of romantic drama, and hello!  War!  With Napoleon!  Good action there.  It's hard to keep all the Russian names straight, and the second epilogue made me want to cry (it's very philosophical, and I may have skipped it), but otherwise, if you have the time, it's not the boring trudge that everyone makes it out to be.  The bonus is that it will make you interesting at cocktail parties.

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

I told you I had two very different books to review!  I Am Charlotte Simmons is actually on my all-time favorites list.  It follows the title character as she begins her freshman year at fictional Dupont Univerity (a thinly-veiled Duke).  Charlotte is a bit sheltered, having been raised in a small North Carolina town.  She does not expect that she will so quickly have to deal with things like sex, drugs, and other debauchery when she reaches campus.  The book follows her throughout her first year, as her innocence and values are continually challenged, and she tries to discover herself through a new lens outside of her small town.

I read this book not long after I graduated from college, and I think that is a lot of why it spoke so loudly to me.  If you had the "traditional" 4-year university experience (living on campus, away from parents for the first time, etc), I'm sure at least some part of this book will resonate.  Wolfe does an awesome job of fleshing out Charlotte's character, and paints a realistic portrait of university life (as much as parents and college administrators probably wouldn't want to admit it).  Yes, it is long--but Wolfe takes his time telling Charlotte's story, and it's worth the extra pages.  I've been meaning to re-read this one for a while, because it's worth savoring again!

What are some of your longer reads?
 
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