I wanted so much to love this book, especially given that it was built up as one of the best books in the 20th century. But to be honest, I just didn'...moreI wanted so much to love this book, especially given that it was built up as one of the best books in the 20th century. But to be honest, I just didn't care. I suppose it's well-written enough, but I wasn't drawn to any of the characters and had no interest in the story. When a book is full of unlikable characters, I expect there to be something else to keep my interest -- either an interesting plot, or some humour, or at least characters that are believably unlikable. In The Great Gatsby, all I found was heavy-handed social commentary, very little plot, and a ton of self-indulgent and self-destructive behaviour that I was given no reason to regret. Perhaps I'm not giving the book enough credit for what it was trying to do, but there are more intriguing ways to deconstruct the American Dream.(less)
Victor Hugo, you have broken my heart. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (or, to use the more appropr...moreVictor Hugo, you have broken my heart. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (or, to use the more appropriate original title, Notre-Dame de Paris) is one of the most vivid novels I have read in ages. Medieval Paris is brought to life in a rush of characters, architecture, and religion. Oh, and a goat.
Technically Notre-Dame de Paris is the story of Esmeralda, a naive young girl living among Paris's "Gypsies", and the men who work their way into her life. But it also a story of Paris on the cusp of the Renaissance, a deconstruction of chivalric and religious ideals, and a comment on what happens to people who find themselves outside the realm of ordinary society. On top of that, it works with themes of love, fate, and the dangers of lacking balance between passion and reason. (Maybe that's why I enjoyed the emotional tone of the book despite normally despising melodrama.)
The narrative takes awhile to get going, but it's worth it. Parts of it moved me to tears and parts of it made me want to jump on a plane and go back to Paris right now. I can already tell that the story and characters will stay in my thoughts for a long time.(less)
This book is just plain fun. An eccentric rich man sets off around the world to win a spur-of-the-moment bet, accompanied by his servant and chased by...moreThis book is just plain fun. An eccentric rich man sets off around the world to win a spur-of-the-moment bet, accompanied by his servant and chased by a detective who is convinced that he is a bank robber. It's not believable in the least, relying heavily on coincidence and at one point "jumping the shark" (or in this case, the train) rather dramatically. But it's an adventure novel, not a travel log.
And who can not be entertained by Phileas Fogg? Apart from having a fantastic name, the man practically embodies the "screw the rules, I have money" trope, and that's always good fun... especially since he's still (mostly) a decent person. Plus, he manages to take absolutely everything, even the impending loss of his fortune, completely calmly.
I can definitely see the appeal for nineteenth-century travel or culture buffs, since Verne sometimes gives rather thorough descriptions of things that have little to do with the plot, such as when he discusses the detailed itinerary of a trans-American train route or the history of the Mormons. That kind of digression might not be to the taste of most modern readers, but thankfully it isn't not too common (unlike some books at that time... I'm looking at you, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea!) And it goes without saying that cultural perceptions have changed rather dramatically in the last century or so, meaning that there are some comments that are less acceptable today than when the book was first published. But it would be unfair to judge it by our standards, and there are actually some elements that are surprisingly progressive for the time.
All in all, it's about as light and quick a read as you'll find among the "classics", and it's an exciting story as well. (less)
Truman Capote, where have you been all my life? The prose in this novella is phenomenal. At several points, I actually stopped paused to bask in a wel...moreTruman Capote, where have you been all my life? The prose in this novella is phenomenal. At several points, I actually stopped paused to bask in a well-turned phrase, and then went back and read the paragraph again so I'd remember it better.
And of course, there's the famous Holly Golightly (seriously, with a name like that how can she be anything but memorable?). She's a country-girl-turned-socialite who hides her fears under a whole lot of nerve. I am incredibly intrigued by her despite being shocked and appalled by pretty much everything she does, maybe because there's just enough vulnerability there for me to feel for her.
I refrained from giving this five stars simply because it's too short. I know it takes a lot of talent to write something self-contained and brief, but I wanted more: more answers, more details, more narrator backstory, and more Holly.(less)
Where has this been all my life? As a Medieval Studies grad and King Arthur geek, I don't know what's more embarrassing: that I haven't read this poem...moreWhere has this been all my life? As a Medieval Studies grad and King Arthur geek, I don't know what's more embarrassing: that I haven't read this poem before, or that I'm reading it in translation. But the Borroff translation was the copy I happened to have on hand, so I thought that a translation was better than nothing.
And wow, am I glad I made that choice. The poem was written mainly in alliterative verse (think Beowulf), and Borroff maintains the alliterative and pulse of the line in her translation. It's an old, rollicking form of poetry, and I've always been fond of it. Reading her translation allows you to appreciate the poetic momentum without struggling over the famously difficult Middle English dialect.
I knew the story before (I actually had it in picture book form as a kid, which shows how far back my King Arthur fixation goes), but it's somehow much more effecive with the rhythmic, alliterative line. The plot itself is rather odd -- a strange knight bursts into a feast at Camelot, challenging the Knights of the Round Table to a bizarre wager in order to test their mettle. Gawain accepts, and the rest of the poem details how he deals with the consequences (and for all that he is a famous knight, he's not without his flaws). But it's the poetry and final message that make this a five-star read for me.(less)