Does your country have a government? Does it like power? If so, then this novel is for you!
Really, the ideas in this book have become so ubiquitous thDoes your country have a government? Does it like power? If so, then this novel is for you!
Really, the ideas in this book have become so ubiquitous that there's not much of a point in rehashing them here. The only thing I'll note is it is definitely a plot-and-idea book: if you need massively riveting characters to get into a story, you might not get too into this one. But even so, the premise is so gut-wrenching and well-executed that it remains one of the best books of the twentieth century....more
For a book that's supposedly the source of "all modern American literature," there's a lot you can pick on. Like the careening plot, or the last ten cFor a book that's supposedly the source of "all modern American literature," there's a lot you can pick on. Like the careening plot, or the last ten chapters of the book (which is kind of like eating Sour Patch Kids after a chocolate souffle). I can just see Mark Twain paging anxiously through the first thirty-one chapters and muttering, "I can't take any more of this literary merit--if I don't bring in Tom Sawyer to screw things up, I'm going to have a freaking aneurysm."
In the end, though, this book is saved by two things. (1) Huck is simply one of the best characters ever created. (2) The unvarnished look at the antebellum Midwest and South, with scathing satire, is staggering. Even with the last fourth of the book being pretty much reduced to a relapse of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, it's still makes my top ten.
There is that whole thing about the explicit language, which has a lot more to do with the nearsightedness of social debates than any substantive dispute. One group offers flat arguments about literary merit while climbing over themselves to belittle other people's emotional trauma; the other group imagines that something so personally painful can't provide any positive service to any other member of society. Can we not just accept differences of effect and let the kids whose parents want to protect them read Native Son instead? No? Sorry, I can't hear you over the shouting....more
Without a doubt the three best summer reading books ever written for high school students are: Candide, The Old Man And The Sea, and Animal Farm. AllWithout a doubt the three best summer reading books ever written for high school students are: Candide, The Old Man And The Sea, and Animal Farm. All three are less than 150 pages and universally acclaimed works of literature. Two of them are even fun to read.
Animal Farm is one of the fun ones. It's like a fairy tale for grown ups. Oh, those crazy pigs! Watch out horsies--you're gradually falling under the iron-fisted dictatorship of your barnyard overlords! Sure, you know what happens at the end, but Orwell doesn't waste any time getting there and adds all the little touches that make the trip entertaining.
The thing that really makes it worth five stars (to a nerd like me, anyway) is the historical context. Orwell published this at a time when the Soviet Union was being lionized as an ally in World War II and political criticism was nonexistent. But he did it anyway, uniquely and effectively. And of course, he builds on the effectiveness of Animal Farm to write his real masterpiece, 1984, four years later. No matter what view you take--the cutesy short-term talking animal view or the long-term historical view--Animal Farm is eminently worth the hour and a half it takes to read....more
It's weird how dated books often get remembered for completely different reasons than the author could've possibly intended. I doubt Sylvia Plath thouIt's weird how dated books often get remembered for completely different reasons than the author could've possibly intended. I doubt Sylvia Plath thought to herself, "This semi-autobiographical novel will be a poignant look into my adolescence once I attain a cult following for sticking my head in an oven." Or, "I hope my book becomes regarded as a seminal work of postwar ennui and oppressive gender roles."
In The Savage God, A. Alvarez says Sylvia spoke of The Bell Jar "with some embarrassment as an autobiographical apprentice-work which she had to write in order to free herself from the past." I can forgive her for being so severe on herself. When you're writing the poems that later become Ariel, it's hard not to consider everything you've written before a steaming pile of crap. But there's an element of truth to her self-criticism.
I give it three stars on its own merits. The woman clearly knew how to write, and the imagery is utterly mind-blowing. With so much misinformation about depression being a primitive pity-fest--and the fact that there are so many pills you can take for it now--not many people realize what an expansive and inexplicable experience depression can be. You can't demean or diminish depression after you've read The Bell Jar.
I give it another star for cultural and historical relevance. This book could be read in a history class on the 1950s. While Betty Freidan was writing about "the problem that has no name," Sylvia Plath was creating a character that was acting it out. And Plath's poetic rendering of depression has taken on increased significance given the explosion of incidence rates since 1980.
But the book is very dated, in social setting, cultural references (she mentions the Rosenbergs in the first sentence to set the mood), and to a lesser extent language. These limitations wouldn't necessarily be problematic if the themes were more universal (cf. The Catcher in the Rye), but to some extent the resonance of the book is limited by its roots in specific social contexts (e.g., the gender roles) and its emphasis on describing a state of mind that is very hard to communicate and to which few people can relate directly (e.g., the depression). Although she does an amazing job translating such a specific experience into a novel that can be appreciated by anyone, she's right to point out that it's too rooted in specific themes and events to be as universally applicable as some of her later poems.
But there's no question that it's still worth everybody's time, and it's held up for me over multiple readings. She was a hell of an author. ...more