Travels with Charley belongs on my Best Books Ever list-- it's that good.
I have a deep admiration of Steinbeck's work. His novels have brilliantly capTravels with Charley belongs on my Best Books Ever list-- it's that good.
I have a deep admiration of Steinbeck's work. His novels have brilliantly captured the lives of working class Americans-- and Travels allows the readers to see his world without the filters of fictionalization.
At the start of his journey, Steinbeck laments the destruction of 'localness.' National radio and television, interstate highways, and pre-packaged foods were beginning to dilute local culture-- a national language without dialect and without idioms was beginning to spread like a disease, killing the identities of towns across America. By the end of his trek, he seems willing to accept conformity in the name of progress—especially after visiting the South.
In Maine, Steinbeck meets a group of Canucks who have made their annual migration from Canada to harvest potatoes. They're a self-sufficient clan who have been able to hold onto their traditions and language, despite the country's growing conformity. It’s not a new theme for Steinbeck, but he notes that migrants embody the hard-working ideals that many Americans take for granted: “"It occurs to me that, just as the Carthaginians hired mercenaries to do their fighting for them, we Americans bring in mercenaries to do our hard and humble work.” Fifty years later, we’re having the same conversations about immigrants and migrant workers—they do the work no one wants to do, but are disparaged by most Americans for not assimilating into our culture.
When Steinbeck reaches Texas and the Deep South, he really starts to question the regional traditions that people are unwilling to part with. I love Steinbeck’s observation about Texans: “Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word… a Texas outside Texas is a foreigner.” Texan first, American second. Not much has changed. Steinbeck was not warmly embraced in Texas—and even less so when he offered up his opinions about race to a hitch-hiker in Mississippi. (I’m still floored by the number of times someone in Mississippi asked if his dog, Charley, was a Negro. Seriously?!) Steinbeck may have admired the Canuck’s preservation of their culture, but the insititutional racism of the South really challenged his notion of ‘localness’—in this case, localness was nativism—fear and loathing of Blacks and Jews (among others).
Steinbeck returns home to NYC—but gets lost in Brooklyn. Not a wrong turn, but confusion about what it means to be American. Who’s more American—the guy in a Midwestern suburb eating McDonalds while watching a Yankees game on TV or the guy in the South comparing Blacks to dogs with a polite Southern accent?
The Hunger Games is one of the two most hyped books on GoodReads-- 19,000 reviews; 4.56 avg rating; #105 on the Best Novels of All Time List; #9 on thThe Hunger Games is one of the two most hyped books on GoodReads-- 19,000 reviews; 4.56 avg rating; #105 on the Best Novels of All Time List; #9 on the Best YA Novel of All Time List.
After seeing a copy at Costco for $5, I decided to give it a try and see what the buzz was all about.
Is it worthy of the GoodReads accolades? It’s not even close to the Best Novel Ever, but it’s an entertaining read and certainly worth the $5. I felt like the story was a mash-up of The Running Man, Survivor, and American Idol (or a total rip-off of Battle Royale). It lacks originality, but it’s a formula that works—especially when you add strong characters (like Katniss) to the mix. The story is fast-paced and surprisingly violent for a YA novel.
My biggest criticisms? --I hated the love story. It’s probably the reason why most people like this book—but I just thought it was way too contrived. Ironically, it was contrived for the purposes of the game—but I just didn’t buy into the real emotions between the two characters. And I especially hate when characters build a romantic relationship in the midst of combat/being chased/starving to death/dying in general. -- I still don’t know what the Hunger Games are or why they’re necessary. What exactly are the districts paying tribute to? Does the Capitol just have the games for the sake of having games? Maybe the other books in the series address this a little better?
Overall, I enjoyed the story a lot and recommend it to anyone who wants a quick, fun read. NOT the best book ever, but I’m looking forward to the next two volumes. ...more
Strike One: The title. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter sounds like melodramatic chick-lit or a bad romance novel.
Strike Two: The "Oprah's Book Club" sealStrike One: The title. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter sounds like melodramatic chick-lit or a bad romance novel.
Strike Two: The "Oprah's Book Club" seal on the cover of my copy.
Despite the 2 strikes against it, I decided to give Heart a chance... Wow. This is why we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. (Of course, if I DID judge this book by the photograph of Carson McCullers on the cover, I'd be expecting a romance novel with ZOMBIES. She looks pretty freakin' morose!)
McCullers wrote Heart when she was 22-- 22?!?! How?! How could she have written from the perspective of these characters?? How could she know what loneliness is at 22--and write about it so brilliantly??
On the surface, Heart is the story of how five people experience loneliness in a small Southern town. Four of the characters (a teenage girl, a Negro doctor, a middle-aged widower, and a drifter) are gravitated towards a deaf-mute who 'listens' to them while secretly longing for his friend who has been committed to an asylum. Beneath the surface, each of the characters is tackling larger societal issues that have isolated them from their community (race, politics, and sex).
Heart is the story of what loneliness is and how humans overcome it. Like the story's characters, often people are isolated due to a variety of factors beyond their direct control, and they encounter frustration when they don't have anyone to share their thoughts and feelings with. It's rare to find someone who understands you completely-- but it's comforting to find someone who will listen and allow you to share yourself-- someone who can assure you that you're not alone in your thoughts and feelings. This re-assurance provides us the courage and confidence to confront the issues that we believe to separate us from the rest of society.
McCullers work seems to be heavily influenced by Carl Rogers' "person-centered psychotherapy." Rogers believed a patient's well-being could be improved if they received 3 core conditions from the "therapist": unconditional positive regard, congruence (authenticity), and emphatic understanding. I'd love to learn more about McCullers and her influences-- like I said before, how could she have written about these themes at 22???
John Singer, the deaf-mute "therapist", is one of my favorite characters ever. It's heart-wrencing to watch Singer burdened with 'listening' and comforting the other characters, while lamenting the loss of his deaf-mute friend, the only person he can communicate his feelings to. To many, Singer was a messiah-- but he was just an ordinary man who's listening communicated understanding and empathy.
Ignore the title, cover, and Oprah recommendation and READ THIS BOOK. It's a beautiful story with so many diverse layers....more
Glasshouse reminds me of one of my two year-old daughter's paintings. We put the canvas on the easel, and there's so much potential---she makes a coupGlasshouse reminds me of one of my two year-old daughter's paintings. We put the canvas on the easel, and there's so much potential---she makes a couple of brush strokes, and I think "wow, she might paint an actual object."-- she adds a few colors to the canvas and eventually the 'picture' turns into a goopy brown blob--the paint starts dripping off the paper--it's a giant mess-- and then she says "all done" and finds a new activity. My daughter seems so happy and proud of her creation-- I appreciate her art and recognize her potential, but this painting really belongs in the garbage (typically, I save her artwork, but I already have a whole folder of "brown blob" paintings).
The premise of Glasshouse has so much promise. Set 700 years in the future, a mysterious character volunteers for an experiment that simulates a 'typical' town circa 1990s Earth. It's my understanding that the Stanford Prison Experiments inspired the story, and Stross even references the psychologist who initiated the experiments (Zimbardo). Basically, the Stanford experiments examined the power of authority and submission, but quickly grew out of hand when the 'prisoners' started to rebel against the authoritarian 'guards.' Glasshouse starts off going in the same direction as the infamous Stanford experiments, but the story quickly loses its way and becomes a complex mess.
The 'complex mess' refers to the main character's (Robin) identity crisis. Before the experiment, Robin's memories are partially erased-- so he/she spends a lot of time trying to determine if the existing memory fragments are real or implanted. Stross abandons the experiment's storyline and redirects his energy on Robin's back-story and her mental condition-- however, Robin's back-story is as clear as mud. Lots of talk about a virus, cat people, his/her/its mission, and technology that seems to provide anything you need--expect an explanation about what the hell is going on.
Despite my confusion, I pressed on. I wanted to see how the Experiment's storyline would be resolved....
330 pages into the novel--with only 5 pages left-- I think to myself, "There must be a sequel planned, because there's absolutely no way that Stross can wrap this story up in FIVE pages." But he does... in fact, he wraps it up in ONE freakin' sentence:
In grade school, I spent most of my free time glued to my Marvel comics or playing video games on the family's Apple IIc. I was a nerd who loved scienIn grade school, I spent most of my free time glued to my Marvel comics or playing video games on the family's Apple IIc. I was a nerd who loved science fiction-- but somehow overlooked A Wrinkle in Time?!?! I'm not sure how this happened!
Thirty years later, I decided to check out A Wrinkle in Time-- and I'm disappointed that I didn't discover it in my childhood. I'd like to know how I missed out on this book! It was absolutely fantastic!
Wrinkle reminds me of the original episodes of Star Trek that I grew up watching. Like Star Trek, Wrinkle's adventures take place on far-off imaginary worlds with creepy inhabitants, like an evil telepathic brain that possesses children. Both Star Trek and Wrinkle are set on alien worlds, but they use complex real-life scientific theories to keep the stories grounded to this world. The tales of adventure are entertaining and keep the plot moving forward-- but the action is just a means for delivering the creators' deeper messages of morality.
On the surface, Wrinkle is a basic conflict between Good and Evil-- but Meg's internal journey towards self-discovery is the true focal point of the novel. At the beginning of the story, Meg is a 'typical' teenager struggling over the issues of conformity and identity. Meg hates being different and wants to fit in with her classmates. Through her adventures, she recognizes the perils of conformity and begins to appreciate her unique gifts.
Another theme that resonated with me is that it's not important to know everything-- sometimes you just need to rely on faith. Like the novel's characters, I kept wanting to know what a tesseract really is and how it works-- and L'Engle NEVER provides an answer. (It reminds me of how viewers wanted to know ALL the secrets of the island on Lost... and were disappointed when the producers provide enough definitive answers). In response to Meg's desire to understand everything going on, her mom simply says, "Just because we don't understand doesn't mean an explanation doesn't exist." BRILLIANT. L'Engle, a 'Christian writer,' was probably making a statement about having faith in God, the ultimate unknown, but her message is universal-- we need to be open to appreciating things that we might not totally understand.
Overall, I'm glad I decided to give this novel a try -- 30 years later. I'm looking forward to giving copies to both of my daughters when they're able to read. Hopefully, they'll find it as enjoyable as I did....more
In college, I tried reading Ulysses and just didn't "get" Joyce's writing-- that experience led to an avoidance of other authors who relied on stream-In college, I tried reading Ulysses and just didn't "get" Joyce's writing-- that experience led to an avoidance of other authors who relied on stream-of-consciousness. Like Joyce, Faulkner has a reputation for producing 'difficult' and 'complex' novels using liberal amounts of stream-of-consciousness writing, and I feared a disastrous repeat of Ulysses.
One of my goals is to read the entire Modern Library Top 100, meaning I'd have to tackle THREE Faulkner novels (and Ulysses) at some point--- so I selected Light in August because several reviews suggested it was "Faulkner's most accessible novel."
Having finished Light, I NOW understand why Faulkner is so highly regarded. Light is complex and sometimes difficult-- and there's a dash of stream-of-consciousness-- but it's an outstanding and entertaining novel. I never thought I'd call Faulkner entertaining.
It's a little difficult to summarize this novel. The story begins with the travels of Lena Grove, a pregnant woman searching for the father of her child in the Deep South. After meeting a few people along the way, we leave her behind and the story focuses on the life of Joe Christmas, a (possibly) biracial orphan who has some 'issues' with religion, his identity, and women. Christmas is one hell of a character-- did I really feel sympathy for an unsympathetic sociopath?? In the end, Faulkner masterfully weaves several characters' seemingly unrelated stories together. He doesn't force his characters into their situations--they just seem to naturally drift together.
Light offers a lot of meat to sink your teeth into-- issues of race, religion, culture, morality, and sex. There's something for everyone. Personally, the message I gravitated towards the most involves the idea that most people are stuck in the past, and they don't allow themselves to live for the future-- and without a future, hope can not exist. Too often, we find ourselves in the shadows of our ancestors instead of living our own lives. In Light, Christmas is weighed down, obsessed, and identified by his father's race; the preacher, Hightower, wastes his life idolizing the heroic war exploits of his Confederate grandfather; and the curse of racism and the Civil War haunts the culture of the South (even today). Without giving away anything-- some of the story's characters liberate themselves from the past and embrace their uncertain (and possibly tragic) futures. Initially, the last two chapters seemed anti-climatic-- but were ultimately rewarding after thinking about the characters' situations in the context above.
For years, the Ulysses stream-of-consciousness experience corrupted my opinion of Faulkner. After finishing Light, I had an epiphany-- I must read more his work. But first, I need to rest my brain....more