I had always heard of Ayn Rand and I had seen her large major works at the book store, and I had even done a little research on her to see what all thI had always heard of Ayn Rand and I had seen her large major works at the book store, and I had even done a little research on her to see what all the hooplah was about her philosophy of objectivism. So I really didn't know what to think when I began this book. Would it read like a super-long essay with a thin plot spread over the top? Would it be a "preachy" novel? or would it just be boring? I was prepared for almost anything except what I got which was a nicely developed story with wonderfully complex characters.
On the surface, this is a story about architecture and the men and women of that industry in early 20th century New York. But really it's about a handful of characters who represent certain archetypes that Ms Rand uses to codify her objectivism philosophy. Howard Roark is the perfect man in her philosphy, unwilling to compromise one iota for his art even if it means near starvation as an architect. He is indifferent to the opinions of others and therefore "the one who is as man should be." Peter Keating is "the man who couldn't be successful but doesn't know it." Unlike Roark, he patterns his art after others, rationalizing that if he does the same thing then he will also be successful. Ultimately he is passed by because he just doesn't understand the neccessity of originality. Ellsworth Toohey knows he will never be successful in the same vein and so becomes successful at destroying others. He is the "man who couldn't be and knows it." And then Gail Wynand is the "one that could have been." Rising from poverty to be a powerful media mogul, he chooses to try to control others rather than create for himself. I'll leave it to others to debate the relative merits of Ms Rand's philosophy but for me, the characters and how they interact are prime; a great novel is a great novel because of the writing, the setting, the characters, the style, the plot, etc. And this is a great novel.
Is it perfect? No, I don't think so, even if one ignores the underlying phiosophy and only looks at it from a novel writing perspective. There are long passages where one character spews forth their point of view, detailing their particular philosophy on the nature of what makes for a good society, or a good relationship, or even on the very nature of good and evil, etc. Some people say this is "stilted" dialogue and I concur. It just wasn't realistic.
The novel is broken down into four parts, one for each of the main characters. That section tends to have more of the story presented from that person's point of view but the overall plot is consistent and chronological. The plot itself is masterful and includes elements of revenge, intrigue, power plays, romance, and courtroom drama. The pacing is spot on, driving the plot towards its powerful conclusion. I highly recommend this novel, whether reading for sheer pleasure or for a launching platform for philosophical discussions....more
So what can I say about this book that hasn't been said before? Having read it I can see how it has become regarded as classic fiction. Of course theSo what can I say about this book that hasn't been said before? Having read it I can see how it has become regarded as classic fiction. Of course the year 1984 has come and gone and many folks say had it been titled "2010" it would have been much more accurate. I chose this book because my son had to read it for school (I was never assigned this one myself) but I always felt I "should" read it. So I have now.
For those of you who haven't read it, it is a complex novel but with a fairly basic plot. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a functioning member of a society in the future who meets a woman he is attracted to. Much of the book surrounds their attempt to form a relationship in this society that just won't allow that sort of thing. Of course the real point and value of the novel is to illustrate where our current society may be headed if we don't change course, a sort of anti-utopian (dystopian?) novel. This book has brought us common terms such as "Big Brother", "doublethink", and "thought police." There are long sections where Winston reads to his girl friend from the official government manual detailing how the society came to be as well as the evolution of the government-speak ("Newspeak")language. I am glad that I've read this novel but at the same time I can't say that I would ever want to read it again. My political/societal views are already pretty much cemented in place and this book, while thought provoking, did not change my views. I do agree that it should be studied at the High School level though, not only for its value to the world of literature but also as a way to kick start young people's thinking on what a society should and shouldn't be. ...more
I always like to do a little research on books I read as well as their authors, particularly the classics. The first thing I discovered was that F. ScI always like to do a little research on books I read as well as their authors, particularly the classics. The first thing I discovered was that F. Scott Fitzgerald's full name is Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald and in fact, he was a distant relative of the author of the poem that became America's national anthem. Maybe that's well known but that particular piece of knowledge had somehow escaped me all these years. This book itself, was Fitzgerald's first published novel, and in fact, became a best seller and put him on the map. It is largely biographical. The story goes that he began writing the novel in Army training camp during WWI, but afterwards had to beg his lady friend, Zelda to come back to him. She agreed only on the condition that he finish the novel, publish it and become successful. This he did and the rest is history.
The novel itself is a coming of age novel wherein the protagonist, Amory Blaine never really does come of age. He is a child of privilege and thus has a condescending attitude toward most others, particularly women. He suffers from low self esteem but covers it up with glibness and sometimes arrogance but depite all of that, he is still a likeable character. He is very introspective and Fitzgerald spends a lot of time having Amory try to meld together the idealistic concepts of a Princeton student with the realities of early 20th century American life. Amory has several girlfriends during the course of the novel and it is through these foils that we see what makes Amory tick and how he grows. The story is written in several different forms, through prose, poetry, letters, and stage direction. That can be somewhat confusing when done in the audio format as I experienced this novel but I don't suspect it would be a problem in normal book form.
In many ways this could be considered a romantic tragedy. There are numerous similarities with the characterizations and style of The Great Gatsby and most people agree the later work is superior. It has been so long between experiencing the two novels that I can't say which I prefer. Both are classics and worthy novels to read....more
I had heard a lot about Rebecca but never thought it was one for me. While I do occasionally read classic literature, I tend to prefer more modern quiI had heard a lot about Rebecca but never thought it was one for me. While I do occasionally read classic literature, I tend to prefer more modern quick-paced novels. In Rebecca, I was expecting a sort of gothic romance...and that is more or less what it is. I have to say though that I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I would. The story itself took a little longer to tell than what modern audiences demand. It was a bit like watching an old black and white movie and several times (mostly at the beginning) I grew a little impatient with the pace of the plot. But stick with it for a very rewarding reading experience.
The story is told from the first person POV but since the protagonist is such a timid soul, she takes quite a while to work herself up to getting something done. Lots of musing about what people might think if such and such were to happen. But then again, since the story was published in the 1930s, perceptions and family status were paramount.
I have never read a book with so much "atmosphere." The setting is brilliantly written and is extremely important to the plot, in essence another major character. The characters themselves kept my attention despite the slow spots and the mystery elements were very intriguing. I am glad I experienced this compelling novel. Overall, it was a pleasant surprise....more
I never "had" to read this one back in high school like so many others did. If you fall in to that category and didn't like it, then I suggest you givI never "had" to read this one back in high school like so many others did. If you fall in to that category and didn't like it, then I suggest you give it a second try. I think it is especially relevant today given our current US political climate.
The novel is really two seperate stories. The first is the story of a young Lithuanian imigrant and his family who have left everything they've known and come to live the American dream at the dawn of the 20th century. That plan soon goes awry as he becomes enlightened to the realities of the poor: taken advantage of at every turn, forced to work in horrible conditions at an inhuman pace, and sucumbing to injuries that leave him out of work. That's the first story, about a man and his struggle.
The second story is the one that has made this book such an important one in American history. It is the story of "the system" in all of its unfairness, the story that lead to president Teddy Roosevelt's views on "muckraking" and led directly to the establishment of the US Food and Drug Administration. We've all experienced unfair situations in our lives but very few have had it piled on like what happens in this novel.
The final 30-40 pages are a diatribe on socialism and how that would correct all that's wrong with our system. I guess this added to the "importance" of the book in our history but the arguements are faulty and easily refuted. Our protagonist, however, is taken in and one assumes Upton Sinclair hopes the reader is as well. This is the only reason I gave it 3 stars instead of 4. Overall, the book is very readable, the plot moves along nicely, and I am very glad to have finally read this classic. ...more
What can I say about this one? The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is often held up as one of the finest examples of classic American literatureWhat can I say about this one? The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is often held up as one of the finest examples of classic American literature ever. It's also probably one of the most hated pieces of literature of all time as well due to the fact that it is so often assigned to American High School students, who mostly are not in the mood for such reading material. I seem to have had a somewhat different High School English experience and was never assigned this book to read. And so, once again, when my children were assigned the book to read, we got our own copy and now I, too, have completed it.
I think when one reads a "classic" novel at age 16 or 17 it is quite naturally a different experience than when reading it at 48. Still, when I read a novel, whether or not it is classic or just published last week, I read them the same way and look for the same sorts of things to satisfy my reading tastes. That is not to say that I expect them to read the same. Of course not. I value the era in which the novel was written. Thus I don't flinch at the use of the "n" word in Huckleberry Finn.
So overall, for me, this was a rather mediocre reading experience. I can appreciate Nathaniel Hawthorne's command of the language but it seems to me that he shows off when he writes. I thought much the same when I read The House of Seven Gables. The prose does describe a scene very well but its overabundance gets in the way of the story. The story itself is pretty straight forward by today's standards and yet still retains a hint of mystery and intrigue. So I'm glad I finally read this one but I'm looking forward to a bit more modern story telling in my next few choices. ...more
Having read Anne Frank's famous Diary, I chose to read this volume as well, almost a companion volume to the first. Her diary mentions her writing effHaving read Anne Frank's famous Diary, I chose to read this volume as well, almost a companion volume to the first. Her diary mentions her writing efforts and it is fun to read them here in their entirety. The quality of the stories increases immensely as we go from one to the next, proving the old axiom that the only way to improve your writing is to practice. But what is really amazing is the insights this young girl was able to bring to her stories. Several seem to be quite plain on the surface yet have an underlying message or theme. Most of them are understandably coming-of-age stories. In addition, we get a little more insight into her life in the attic and those people that surrounded her during that time.
If you enjoyed reading Anne Frank's Diary, then you will also enjoy this volume of stories. ...more
What can I add that has not already been said about this novel? It truly is one of the best novels ever written. I read over 75 books every year, manyWhat can I add that has not already been said about this novel? It truly is one of the best novels ever written. I read over 75 books every year, many of them historical novels. I don't know why I waited so long to read this one, but I'm glad I finally did. And no, I haven't seen the movie. The characters were multi-dimensional and despite their often-displayed negative qualities, we keep hoping for them. They are more real and probably like ourselves than most of us would care to admit. Perhaps that is the real beauty of the story. We can see how selfish actions can lead to consequences without having to live through the pain ourselves. The style is easy to read and enjoyable to follow. And the backdrop of the Civil War and the early reconstruction period (from the South's point of view) is among the best I've ever run across. Despite its length, the book keeps you enthralled, every step of the way. This is one of those classics that you simply must read, not because you should, but because you will be so glad you did....more
Absolutely the best mystery novel I have ever read. The intricacies of the plot were incredible. The way the ten suspects are eliminated one by one, kAbsolutely the best mystery novel I have ever read. The intricacies of the plot were incredible. The way the ten suspects are eliminated one by one, keeps you guessing. Even as I tried to outguess the author, I found myself going down the very path she wanted. I was trapped. I was flabbergasted at the end when the truth was revealed. Ms Christie has a superb reputation for creating such masterpieces and, believe me, it is well-deserved. I have read at least 15 Agatha Christie novels and this is the best so far. Make sure you read the book before reading any potential spoilers in somebody's review!...more
This is the third OZ book I've read now and I have finally seen a little of what other readers must see in the series. The story succeeds on several lThis is the third OZ book I've read now and I have finally seen a little of what other readers must see in the series. The story succeeds on several levels. Children will enjoy the fantasy of it while adults can see the deeper ironys that abound. In fact, I have read other books that I thought were completely original but now I realize the authors had read Oz! I was happy to read about a couple of new Oz characters teaming up with the old favorites. Like other Oz books, this is a quick read but I plan to read more in the series, just to see what happens....more
I chose this one because my high school son had performed the role of Thomas Putnam in the school play last year and the story was intriguing enough fI chose this one because my high school son had performed the role of Thomas Putnam in the school play last year and the story was intriguing enough for me to pursue reading the actual source material.
This, I believe, is the first play I've read since my own high school years. I think I prefer normal prose. I don't especially care for reading the character name in front of who is saying what all the time...it messes up the illusion of what the characters are saying. Plays also tend to be almost entirely dialogue (duh) with only some minimal stage direction so anything that is not said aloud is left to the imagination. I don't "see" where the characters are standing or moving in relationship with each other, etc. and my mind tends to picture a stage instead of a room, or village, or gallows, etc. It therefore introduces an artificiality that wouldn't be present in a normal story. And finally, I had just seen the play itself so I was picturing those actors (all high school students) in the major roles. Once again this makes it more difficult to suspend disbelief.
So, I have determined that when reading a play one should not compare it to the experience of reading a novel or short story. One should appreciate it for the medium that it is. The story itself, for those who don't know, concerns the era of the Salem Witch Trials, and it exposes the hipocracy and downright absurdity of such a thing. Mr. Miller wrote this play in the early 1950's as a response to McCarthyism, and the parallels are intriguing. In fact, Mr Miller, himself, was to be questioned by the House of Representatives' Committee on Un-American Activities and was actually found in contempt of Congress for failing to identify others at meetings he attended. Such is the central theme of this play as well. It isn't enough that the character of John Proctor bows to the pressure and confesses to his own involvement with "witches" but stops short of confessing for others....more
I completed the lengthy audio book of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath over the weekend. I had selected this audio book for several reasons: 1) II completed the lengthy audio book of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath over the weekend. I had selected this audio book for several reasons: 1) I always feel like I need to read more "classics" and this one was handy at the library, 2) I had read Of Mice and Men many years ago and enjoyed it pretty well, and 3) this is supposed to be one of the greatest American novels of all time. In fact, many people would put it number one on their list. And in case you didn't know, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel prize for Literature in 1962.
Many times I find the "classics" to be dull and even just plain boring. Not so this time although it is not an easy read and I would say it is usually depressing. This is truly an American story. We follow the Joad family for about nine months during the Dust Bowl/Great Depression days as they decide to uproot their family from Oklahoma where they have lived for generations as sharecroppers, and follow them to California as they search for a better life. Along the way they encounter numerous obstacles, many of them very dangerous, and we get an upfront and close personal view of their day-to-day lives. Once they finally reach California, they find it's not the paradise they have heard about and their daily struggle continues.
I believe this book can be read on several levels. The more scholarly types like to hold this book up as a classic example of the way one family has to exist in a system that favors the powerful land owner vs. the farmers and laborers. It's certainly true that Steinbeck's method of writing this book supports that view. He intersperses each lengthy chapter with a shorter "big picture" description of what is happening in the world at that time. The California scenes, especially, are poignant examples of the plight of migratory farm workers, a subject which Mr Steinbeck was almost obsessed. Some people criticise the book as too "socialistic" or even "communistic" but I see it as a reflection of the times in which it was written and in the timeframe it portrays.
While I can very much appreciate this novel on such a grandiose scale, I also appreciate they way the characters are written. I think most regular readers of this blog will know that characterization is the number one mark of a great novel for me and this one has it in spades. The entire Joad family, especially Tom, Ma, Uncle John, and the former preacher, Jim Casy are fantastic examples of greatly written characters. Tom Joad himself is as important a character in American fiction as Holden Caufield and Jay Gatsby and only a notch below Huckleberry Finn himself. I worry that many students were assigned this book to read in High School and came away with a complete distaste for Steinbeck. Actually I worry about that for all sorts of "classic" books. But now that I have achieved some level of maturity (I can't believe I just wrote that) it is possible that I can appreciate the true worth of a book like this....more
J.D. Salinger's most famous work, undoubtedly is Catcher in the Rye. I finally got around to reading that book, often considered among the very best oJ.D. Salinger's most famous work, undoubtedly is Catcher in the Rye. I finally got around to reading that book, often considered among the very best of American literature, last year because, once again, my son had to read it for his high school AP literature course. His class followed that up with a section on the short story form and used this book, Nine Stories, also by J.D Salinger, as one of their source texts. So...in my usual fashion, I never like to have a book on my shelf that I haven't read so I decided to give these stories a try, reading them over the past couple of months.
I will say that I more or less "studied" The Catcher in the Rye as I read it, much like a student of literature would and my general feelings about it are not generally as good as most people's are. It's not that it was a bad book and I can certainly appreciate Mr Salinger's writing skills. It's just that I wasn't completely blown away. Perhaps my expectations were too high going in. So now when I approached this collection of nine short stories, I purposely set no expectations. That wasn't difficult since I had never heard of this collection but nevertheless, I wanted to just read them as I would any other short story collection and try to enjoy each on it's own merit.
Overall, as in every other collection out there, I enjoyed some more than others. Many are involved with the war, with soldiers who have recently returned and are trying to cope with what they saw. Some have humerous aspects while some have downright horrific aspects. Almost all of them had me scratching my head at some point and asking myself, "Where is he going with this?" Ocassionally I was satisfied with the ending but more often than not the ending seemed to leave me hanging or send me scrambling back to the last page to see if I had inadvertantly skipped it. Once again I appreciated his writing ability; he has a definite knack for letting you see a whole character with few words. Somehow we understand a lot more about them than what is described for us. I can see why a teacher would use this book as a tool for studying the short story form. But having said that, I was reading for enjoyment, for entertainment, and while it was OK for that, I find myself preferring more plot-oriented stories. The closest one of the bunch to that was the very last one, "Teddy" which was a very intriguing look at the nature of a young boy with an incredibly wise outlook on life and an eerily accurate ability to predict his own demise.
So if you like Salinger or classic short stories I would give this one a try but if you like a straight-forward beginning, middle, and end structural story you may want to skip these. ...more
This is another one of those books that we used for homeschooling our children. I'm not sure they ever read it but it was in my house...and I have thiThis is another one of those books that we used for homeschooling our children. I'm not sure they ever read it but it was in my house...and I have this thing about a book in my house that I haven't read...so I read it.
The Screwtape Letters was written by C.S. Lewis and therefore of immediate interest to me. I've always enjoyed his Narnia books so even though I knew this one wasn't a "fantasy" per se, I knew his writing ability would be well able to hold my attention. This book is a series of letters from Screwtape, a devil of some repute, to his nephew, Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of a normal young man. These letters are among the very best satire I have ever read. By having Screwtape advise his nephew on how to be a better demon, CS Lewis is actually pointing out the shortfalls of our own society. I think perhaps his comments are even more apropos to our society today than when he wrote them in the early 1940s. For example, when commenting on the educational system, the demons push for a dumbed down system in order to avoid any children being left behind. Of course that leads to mediocre results for everybody, a truly "dumbed down" system. Sound familiar?
Anyway, there are no sword fights or daring escapes, or other assorted thrills so if that's what you are looking for in a good read then best to skip this one. However, if you want a fairly short book to read that gives you a lot to think about and yet be entertaining at the same time, you could certainly do worse than this one....more
Ah, the Chronicles of Narnia. I've approached these classic works with the reverence they are due; that is I read them slowly over time. It's almost aAh, the Chronicles of Narnia. I've approached these classic works with the reverence they are due; that is I read them slowly over time. It's almost as if I feel that when I complete them all, there will be none remaining. Of course there is such a thing as re-reading (and I do that once in a while) but there is only one "first time" to read anything.
I've been reading them in order, having read The Magician's Nephew about 15 years ago. Ever since then it's been about one every three years or so. Usually there is some sort of impetus to remind me it's time for another. Lately it's been because a movie version is about to come out and so I want to make certain I read that book before I see the film. A couple of weeks ago I saw that there is a new Narnia movie about to hit the streets on the Dawn Treader so I quickly brought my guns to bear.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis is another classic. I believe it to be the last one which includes the Pevensie children, although only Edmund and Lucy this time. But it also introduces their cousin Eustace who, as I understand, will play a major role in the last two books of the series as well. Those three characters along with Caspian and a fantastic supporting cast have great adventures on the ship, Dawn Treader. Having so recently read C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, I found even more examples of witty satire in this book, probably more than I would have if I wasn't looking for it.
So at my present rate, I will complete the Chronicles of Narnia after only two more volumes...sometime in 2016. ...more