Behemoth the cat is hysterical. The apartment raid had me laughing so uncontrollably that I had to leave the room where my friends were talking. "I ch...moreBehemoth the cat is hysterical. The apartment raid had me laughing so uncontrollably that I had to leave the room where my friends were talking. "I challenge you to a duel!"(less)
What a heartbreaking story. Few books have ever made me cry, and this is one of them. To see some of my favorite characters of all time fall into abje...moreWhat a heartbreaking story. Few books have ever made me cry, and this is one of them. To see some of my favorite characters of all time fall into abject despair after a shocking tragedy was painful for me to read about. It was also eerily reminiscent of a drama I went through a couple years ago, which amplified my emotional response. I can't even write an objective review of without my emotions taking control, so I'm not going to try.(less)
In the Alps of Bavaria there is a place of wonder and wisdom. Its remoteness welcomes those that are ill, both from treatable diseases and psychologic...moreIn the Alps of Bavaria there is a place of wonder and wisdom. Its remoteness welcomes those that are ill, both from treatable diseases and psychological malaises brought about from living in industrial civilization. Hans Canstorp is a member of this latter group, and he visits the mountains initially to see his cousin, but he finds so much peace and comfort in their solitude that time slows down and swallows him inside their location.
The Magic Mountain is a meditation on time, elevation, genius, sociology, biology, and metaphysics at the beginning of the 20th century, just before the thunderbolt of World War 1 went crashing down across Europe. It’s the coming-of-age story about a young man caught between the ideologies of two talented debaters: Settembrini, a poster child of the Enlightenment, and Naptha, a fascist Jesuit. Like the lost corridors and unpredictable weather patterns of the chaotic mountains, their discussions dish up a storm of contradictions that rattle our minds with the ambiguity of confusion. But somewhere lingering inside the ongoing war between love and reason, a magical philosophy breaths clarity into the minds of those patient enough to persevere through the novel’s length. The mountains know this philosophy, and it is the destiny of our protagonist to find it.
Although we must go through long stretches of disinterest and inactivity, we are served several golden nuggets of literature scattered in between them. Research is what I believe to be one of the greatest chapters ever written- a meditation on the parallels between biology and the cosmos. Walpurgis Night is as seductively memorable as The City of God is intellectually stimulating. Snow is the most famous of them- an atmospheric skiing adventure that blurs the distinction between fantasy and reality. Finally, the book ends with The Thunderbolt- an invasion of the senses from the Underworld.
Fans of plotless literature and challenging structures should enjoy this. If you’re looking for a light read filled with bare-chested warriors, flaming dragons, and cheap romance, then stop what you’re doing and run.(less)
At the beginning of a long line of Great American Novels, there is The Scarlet Letter . It is the earliest in a group of publications that scholars o...moreAt the beginning of a long line of Great American Novels, there is The Scarlet Letter . It is the earliest in a group of publications that scholars of literature have deemed worth of it. Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Invisible Man, Blood Meridian and American Pastoral are some of its successors. I don't think it's on the same level as some of these other novels, but it certainly put American lit. on the map.
The Scarlet Letter takes us all the way back into the 1640s, when the colonization of America had just gotten underway. It’s set in a Puritan community, where a woman commits adultery with an unknown man and must face the social consequences of her actions. She births an impish child with the man, and her husband is dead set on finding and getting revenge on who it is that has wronged him.
The depth of character exploration in The Scarlet Letter is its greatest strength. Each chapter lets us venture inside the heads of one of its four main characters- Chillingworth, Hester Prynne, Pearl, and the minister- so that we may be shown their psychological dilemmas in brute form, whether they be the absolving of guilt, the seeking of forgiveness, or the desire for retribution and repentance for or against sinners, the community, and the Church. Hawthorne shows us that while we may be wrong in our actions, mercy will be given to us after we’ve faced their consequences for long enough, and forgiveness is the greatest healer of wounds in our hearts. Seems pretty straight forward, but the iconic symbolism gives it some extra juice.(less)
Invisible Man is as powerful as any book out there. It's a snapshot of 1950s America, set in the increasingly disruptive district of Harlem. The main...moreInvisible Man is as powerful as any book out there. It's a snapshot of 1950s America, set in the increasingly disruptive district of Harlem. The main character is the narrator, and he goes through a lot of intense coming-of-age situations which involve keen opportunists and the use of his race for their benefit.
In my opinion, it isn't only the color of his skin that makes him invisible. It is also the power and originality of his voice, which is something a lot of people have ostracized themselves over, regardless of race. He knew that his ideas and talents aroused a lot of jealousy and insecurity in people that knew him, so he decided to cut the ties that bound him to them. A lot of us can empathize with this. We've all had to become socially invisible at times, and that's what makes this book a classic for all demographics.(less)
And Then There Were None is widely regarded as the best mystery novel ever written. Ten people who don’t know each other are summoned to an island a...more And Then There Were None is widely regarded as the best mystery novel ever written. Ten people who don’t know each other are summoned to an island and they don’t know why. None of them are aware of what they all have in common- they’ve each committed murder and were not convicted of it. After three of them are found dead the surviving members scramble to figure out which of them is the killer while getting increasingly paranoid.
Much of the enjoyment from reading this comes from figuring out who the killer is and what kind of psychological affect an atmosphere of death and paranoia has on its victims. There are about six solid suspects and you always find yourself second-guessing who the killer is by each twist of the plot. Christie has a talent for putting yourself in each character’s shoes and using that to play with your suspicions about them. First I thought the killer was Justice Wargrave, then I thought it was Blore, then Miss Brent, and about halfway through I settled on Vera (no spoilers- read it for yourself to see who it really is). It’s also easy to read and not a long book by any stretch; in fact most people could probably read it in the span of a day. Highly recommended for mystery fans and leisurely readers.(less)
I’m rating this based on it’s memorability and not on how much I enjoyed it. The bone-chilling ending threw my thoughts on it sideways and I can't say...moreI’m rating this based on it’s memorability and not on how much I enjoyed it. The bone-chilling ending threw my thoughts on it sideways and I can't say I'd recommend it to anyone due to its sheer unbelievability. It also takes a long time to get into, partly because the main character isn’t introduced until halfway through the book and partly because the subject material jumps around. Huxley has created here a “utopian dystopia” in which everyone is happy but for all the wrong reasons. Brainwashing, cloning, conditioning, and class stratification are all morally compromised in order to make the world a “better place”. The writer does a tremendous job of undermining the philosophy of the World State by making examples of his characters. It’s also a satire but I only found it moderately funny. Books like 1984, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Infinite Jest must have taken ideas from Brave New World, so that gets it extra brownie points from me.
*Spoilers* The dynamic between Lenina and John is particularly interesting to me. John was affluent in Shakespeare and Brave New World ended up being sort of being a cross between Othello and Romeo & Juliet. It is a doomed romance, but only one of the lovers ends up committing suicide- the male one, for his guilt in raping (not killing) the woman he “loved”. You have to feel sorry for both Lenina and John. Lenina was this empty beauty queen who’d finally found a man that didn’t just want her for sex, and in the end we see her crying and holding her heart because she clearly missed John. Then John broke her heart by doing what he did, but was it really his fault? John had to succumb to the conditioned masses because someone had released soma into the air. Then they harassed him into doing the very thing he sought to exile himself from. It begs the question: if drugs and conditioning made rape orgies socially acceptable- praised even to the point of glorification- would people still do it? I like to think not.(less)
It can be argued that Voltaire is the cornerstone behind the civil rights movement, starting with the French Revolution and ending not any time soon,...moreIt can be argued that Voltaire is the cornerstone behind the civil rights movement, starting with the French Revolution and ending not any time soon, making him the most important writer of the 18th century. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that he directly influenced 20th century rights, but if you want to connect the dots then sure, he did help spark the French Revolution, which in turn ousted authoritarianism and kickstarted democratic processes.
The important thing about Candide is that it rejected the blind optimism taught by the Church, which had more power then than it does today. It’s entertaining shock value made it an instant success, and people around Europe began to value reason over faith. It single handedly made Voltaire a God of the Enlightenment, and for good reason (no pun intended).
My criticism about Candide is that the protagonists fail to see the good side of dilemmas despite being optimists. Optimism itself is important for healthy living, and even though it may seem like nothing goes in your favor there are things one should be grateful for (such as being alive, having friends, health, certain liberties, the chance of opportunity and change). Also, while the events were gripping and often funny, the writing felt a bit watered down. Might have been a translation issue.(less)
Moby Dick is incredible, not only for the adventure it takes you on, but for the way Melville writes and all the symbolism he uses. Unfortunately, lon...moreMoby Dick is incredible, not only for the adventure it takes you on, but for the way Melville writes and all the symbolism he uses. Unfortunately, long ago, the poor reputation it had in the adolescent gossip wars prevented me from fully delving into it and exploring its mysteries. I had always thought it was a generic story until I finally grew up and read the whole thing, disregarding what others felt about it.
Melville foreshadowed many things in this classic novel, which is a testament to its greatness. At the time of its release (1851) it was panned by critics, and did not reach the status of fame it has today until about the 1950s. He seemed to predict that America would eventually become a melting pot of mixed races, since the crew aboard the Pequod contained members of several races and all got along with their white superiors. Keep in mind that this was written just before the Civil War- a time of segregation in America- and Queequeg, a black pagan protagonist, engages in what may be a homosexual relationship with the main character, a white Christian. If that’s not pushing the envelop in 1850s America then I don’t know what is.
Further symbolism can be realized by looking at the relationship between Ahab the whale. Ahab, a madman bound to his fate, is everything that man faces when confronted with the merciless power of nature. The whale, in turn, represents the chaotic cosmic forces that man can never control, no matter how much he tries. Not only is Ahab a prototype of the human condition, but his animated, hysterical dialogue is one of the most quirky in all literature. His descent into madness, along with Ishmael’s yielding of the plot to his perspective, is what keeps us glued to the pages even though we know what will happen to him. With all that in mind, Moby Dick is not only a philosophical treaty on fate, but a prime candidate for the “great American novel” so argued about over the years.
Also, the way in which Melville constructs his chapters had a major influence on modernist writers, including James Joyce and DH Lawrence. If it weren’t for Moby Dick, literature wouldn’t have been as convoluted as it became in the 1920s (well, maybe it would have, but MD was the first to claim the broken streamy style). Especially prominent are the chapters in which Melville’s talent as a poetic pioneer of fractured narratives really shine, including “The Whiteness of the Whale”, “The Grand Armada”, “The Symphony”, and of course “The Chase”. Also, for those interested in whales, there is no shortage of interesting information about whaling in Moby Dick. It almost reads like an encyclopedia sometimes.
Who knew that such praise could be given to an adventure story that is simple and frankly generic? Next to Les Miserables it’s probably the best book of the 19th century.(less)
The psychological cataclysm that lead to Sylvia Plath's suicide is well-represented here. Passionate, bitter, feminist, a woman whose betrayals turned...moreThe psychological cataclysm that lead to Sylvia Plath's suicide is well-represented here. Passionate, bitter, feminist, a woman whose betrayals turned to fury: the full arsenal of her broken heart is transposed on these pages. Be sure to pick up the restored edition, because the original was edited by her ex-husband (a man whom she severely chastised), and it is much better.(less)
Upton Sinclair’s landmark novel The Jungle proved that the written word of a single individual can change society. Granted, he had much grander ambiti...moreUpton Sinclair’s landmark novel The Jungle proved that the written word of a single individual can change society. Granted, he had much grander ambitions than only taking down the meat-packing industry, but at least it wasn’t for nothing. The first third of the novel is a frightening, detailed description of the malpractice used in certain industrial sectors prior to World War 1. The second third is an adult adventure: a harrowing, downward spiral that an immigrant faces as a result of constantly being swindled by greedy manipulators. The final third is the light at the end of the tunnel: that somewhere in this immigrant’s near future, union power and Socialism may emerge as an unstoppable political force, creating a utopia in which greed and other agents of misery become obsolete.
Sinclair was a young man when he wrote this, and his idealism shines with a fanatical energy that may have inspired many laborers to action in the early 1900’s. In fact, many of the rights that laborers take for granted today are brutally retraced in Sinclair’s pre-modern composition. Frankly, I’m surprised the book wasn’t banned in more places, because the last few chapters have some of the most radical, passionate discourses against capitalism that can be found in literature. There are many great chapters in here, but Chapter 28- the one with the speech- really stood out for me. The Jungle is essential reading for those interested in political theory and economic reform.(less)
Book 1, in which he writes about the various things that he learned from others throughout his life, from those closest to him to those he briefly kne...moreBook 1, in which he writes about the various things that he learned from others throughout his life, from those closest to him to those he briefly knew, is divinely inspirational. I would like to write something like that when I am older.
As for the rest of the book, Aurelias' philosophy is the western parallel to eastern philosophy. Do your work and do it well, but don't be a dick about it.(less)
Ugh, I'm all for shock art and breaking new ground but this is so disjointed and disgusting that the narrator gives me the impression of a rambling me...moreUgh, I'm all for shock art and breaking new ground but this is so disjointed and disgusting that the narrator gives me the impression of a rambling mental case. Now, sometimes mental cases are misunderstood geniuses, and perhaps I've misunderstood Burroughs, so I can't help but feel a sense of shame for siding with the conventional structure of literature this time.(less)
The classic of classics, the catalogue of mythological stories that inspired it all; Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an undulating flow of intricate transformat...moreThe classic of classics, the catalogue of mythological stories that inspired it all; Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an undulating flow of intricate transformations pasted on the canvas of a Mediterranean atlas, in which Gods, Goddesses, and humans mingle and cast their passion on the heavens, told in a sprawling web of lingering sentences that meander through pre-Roman history like the course of the Tiber, tumbling and free, under the chariot of the Latium sun.(less)