Preview…If you’re looking for a crash course in ancient Greek mythology, there is perhaps no better choice of reading material than the exciting epic...morePreview…If you’re looking for a crash course in ancient Greek mythology, there is perhaps no better choice of reading material than the exciting epic poem “The Odyssey.” The details of Odysseus’ heroic journey home from the Trojan War were kept alive through oral tradition for hundreds of years before Homer ever set pen to parchment—which means every detail works together to weave a fascinating and rhythmic tale.
Athena, goddess of wisdom, is on Odysseus’ side. Unfortunately, Poseidon, god of the sea, wants for his destruction. Every time Athena helps him gain some ground, Poseidon finds a way to introduce new difficulties to our hero. Odysseus faces angry gods, lustful goddesses and princesses, tempting sirens, the deadly Scylla and the Charybdis, the haunted underworld, the cursed cattle of the sun, a hungry Cyclops and oh-so much more.
When he finally returns home, more than 10 years after the war’s end, he finds that a group of hostile suitors have taken over his palace in Ithaca. They are all vying for his wife Penelope’s hand; ultimately whoever she chooses will be made the new ruler. The suitors also have secret designs to murder Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, thus removing their last remaining obstacle.
Penelope, the faithful wife, has through a variety of tricks and stalls been able to put off choosing a groom thus far. Will Odysseus make it home in time to save his family and the kingdom? Even if you already know how the tale ends, it’s so exciting getting there that you won’t want to pass up the opportunity to give “The Odyssey” another look or to read it for the very first time.
You may like this book if…you like Greek mythology; you enjoy epic adventure tales, you like stories written in verse; the thought of gods meddling in the lives of mortals appeals to you; you’re intrigued by fantastic elements; you’re looking for something different than much of contemporary literature; you like reading books for free online.
You may not like this book if…you don’t like stories that couldn’t really happen; poetry annoys or confuses you; it bothers you that the male gods can take on lovers whenever they want but when Calypso wants the very same thing she isn’t allowed to have it; you don’t like how Penelope remains faithful for so many years but Odysseus engages in a string of love affairs.(less)
Preview…If ever there’s a book that refuses to fit cleanly inside the literary mode, it’s James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Upon my first reading attempt sever...morePreview…If ever there’s a book that refuses to fit cleanly inside the literary mode, it’s James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Upon my first reading attempt several years back, I quickly gave up, assigning the title of “literary Everest” to the lengthy tome. Now that I’ve finally climbed my mountain, I couldn’t be more thrilled! This is, without a doubt, one of the most worthwhile books that I’ve ever read (and don’t forget: it was voted the best English language novel of the twentieth century).
Having begun with a string of exorbitant praise, it’s time to get real. This is an extremely challenging read. Normally, I give a plot preview of my recommended novel, but today I’m going to share with you a few tips about wading through this novel’s stormy seas—tips that would have made my own journey simpler and perhaps more rewarding.
Familiarize yourself with works referenced or emulated within the text and/or invest in a critical companion to the novel. Here are the references that I found most vital: Homer’s "Odyssey”, Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”, Joyce’s own “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” and “Dubliners”, and, of course, the Bible.
Understand that “Ulysses” is a rhythmic, breathing work. Think of it like a song or a poem, not a novel in the traditional sense. Let the rhythm flow over your mind, or speak it aloud for added effect.
Know that the draw of the novel is not its plot. Yes, there is some form of a narrative arc, but if you focus on what’s going to happen next, you’re going to miss all the greatness that is happening right now.
Realize that “Ulysses” is made great because of its style. Joyce sought to write a novel for English professors, and he’s absolutely done that. Each chapter is written in a distinct, experimental style. A few of my favorites were told: via newspaper bylines, with a series of questions and answers and by highlighting the moving evolution of the English language.
Read online summaries as you go. While I was reading, I would visit sparknotes.com after each chapter to make sure that I didn’t miss anything important before continuing on—this is a strategy that I oft employ for more difficult reads (such as Dickens or Dostoevsky). It’s also helpful to secure a heads-up as to upcoming style techniques and relations to the Odyssean theme.
Give yourself time. Don’t expect to finish this book over your vacation. It took me one month to complete “Ulysses” satisfactorily—normally, I complete at least five books per month. Luckily, this novel’s focus on style over plot means it’s easy to set down and revisit at will, giving you no excuse to give up!
I didn’t fully appreciate the import of this novel until about halfway through, but I didn’t quit. Although it may take a while to get into, this novel is well worth a thorough read. It may be particularly enjoyable for those who consider themselves writers or historians.(less)
Preview… Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” has had an inarguably enormous effect on the literature of today. Widely considered the first English novel,...morePreview… Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” has had an inarguably enormous effect on the literature of today. Widely considered the first English novel, it recounts the “life and strange surprising adventures” of its protagonist, who is marooned on an unidentified South American island for 28 years before he is able to return to Europe
Crusoe lives in utter solitude for 25 years. Not a skilled tradesman, he must teach himself various crafts to aid in his comfort and basic survival. The simplest things take great amounts of time—our hero spends 42 days making a single shelf! Crusoe also spends a substantial amount of time reflecting on his plight in a spiritual manner. He alternately cries out to God for deliverance and praises his maker for sparing him death at sea.
One day, Crusoe sees a human footprint on the shore of his beach. He agonizes over its possible implications, restricting his activity for nearly seven years in order to remain safe. Later, he is able to rescue the intended victim of cannibalistic feasting, a young man he names Friday. Friday pledges himself to a life of servitude under Crusoe and is made “civilized” by learning the English language and religion and undergoing modest dietary changes. Friday quickly becomes indispensable to Crusoe as a companion and fellow survivor. He helps Crusoe defend the island and secure resources. He also offers valuable company.
How does social isolation affect the human psyche? How is religion a valuable coping mechanism? How does “Robinson Crusoe” espouse the protestant work ethic? Most interestingly, how does Crusoe finally escape, and how does he react upon his return to England after so many years alone on the island?
Although I find the novel a bit tedious at times, no one can deny its literary and cultural import or help but wonder how she might react if cast into a similar condition.
You may like this book if…you wonder how extreme isolation might affect the human mind; you like reading a character’s spiritual musings; you want to read the original survival novel; you just have to see what happens to Crusoe; you find cannibals to be interesting; you want to read a political/ moral portrait of the time; you want some pointers on making the best of a hopeless situation—just in case.
You may not like this book if…you expect the plot to follow the traditional story arc that is prominent in literature today; you are distracted by archaic grammar and spellings (viz., perswasion, prophetick); you can’t feel pity for a man who massacres cats; you can’t fathom reading about a society of cannibals—your brain is just too visual; you are too upset by ethnocentric, culturally imperialistic overtones; you desire a sense of immediacy to help heighten the conflict and sustain interest; religious back-and-forth annoys you.(less)
Preview…First and foremost, Fannie Flagg's poignant and light-hearted novel is a story about two friendships. The first of these friendships involves...morePreview…First and foremost, Fannie Flagg's poignant and light-hearted novel is a story about two friendships. The first of these friendships involves middle-aged Evelyn Couch as she struggles with being “too old to be young and too young to be old” in the mid-1980’s. While visiting her mother-in-law at the Rose Terrace Nursing Home, she happens upon good-hearted Ninny Threadgoode, who has an unending supply of stories to tell. Ninny recounts tales of her life in the small Alabama town of Whistle Stop (between 1920 and 1960), while the pair enjoys junk food treats and grows ever closer.
Featured prominently in Ninny’s stories are tales of Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison, lifelong friends who run the Whistle Stop Café. Idgie is a free-spirited tomboy, who continuously risks her reputation and safety to help people whom others consider undesirable. Idgie and Ruth become very close while Ruth is visiting a relative in town one summer. At the end of the season, Ruth returns to her home in Georgia to marry a man named Frank Bennett.
From time to time, Idgie journeys secretly to Georgia to make sure that Ruth is happy in her new life. On one such journey, she discovers that Frank is abusing his wife brutally. Idgie finally convinces her friend to leave her husband and to come stay with her in Whistle Stop, a very bold and dangerous move in the 1920’s.
Through Ninny’s narratives, old newspaper clippings, and a variety of inside-character perspectives, we become familiar with the residents of Whistle Stop, Alabama. We learn about charming bees, getting by with only one arm and the feats we would dare to help protect those we love. The story is also peppered with compelling mystery subplots, like ‘Who is Railroad Bill?’ and ‘Who killed Frank Bennet?” If you are looking for an entertaining read with deeper subtexts, then “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café” will be well worth your perusal.
You may like this book if…you enjoy warm-hearted Southern characters; you want to plunge deep into the ambiguous and touching relationships that women hold; you enjoyed the1991 film adaptation; you are interested in race relations in the early to mid-20th century; you like a strong-headed and strong-hearted heroine—Idgie Threadgoode stands tall above the rest; you— like Evelyn—feel stuck in an uncomfortable in between; you like books with neat chapter breakups that can be read slowly but that are so interesting you’ll probably charge through the whole thing in just a couple of days; you are looking for some good traditional home-cookin’ recipes (included at the book’s end).
You may not like this book if…you have difficulty keeping up with intricate casts of characters; you are annoyed by plot points that at times can seem just a little far-fetched; you have people like Ninny in your life, who can drone on forever, so you’d rather not voluntarily submit yourself to the ramblings of a charming old lady.(less)
Preview…Admittedly, it has been a few years since I last read George Orwell’s grim prediction for the future “1984”. This was one of those rare gems t...morePreview…Admittedly, it has been a few years since I last read George Orwell’s grim prediction for the future “1984”. This was one of those rare gems that was both entertaining enough to have read within a 24 stretch and meaningful enough to have left an indelible mark upon my mind. Our hero, Winston, lives in a totalitarian state run by Big Brother. Wherever he goes, he is monitored by television screens and by his peers. The worst crime anyone can commit is to have a thought against the party; yes, even thoughts are punishable offenses.
A seed of mistrust for the government enters Winston as he realizes that the government is altering history and lying to he and his fellows. Love for another, Julia, cements his hatred for the party, and together the pair seeks out entrance into a secret society, the Brotherhood, which aims to overthrow the party.
One unlucky misstep leads to capture and imprisonment in the brainwashing facility, the Ministry of Love. Months of torture all lead up to Winston’s entry into the dreaded Room 101 where he must face his most horrifying fear. Will Winston continue to oppose the party or will the events that unfold inside of Room 101 cause him to accept the party and its vision for society? This is one novel that everyone should have under their literary belts.
You may like this book if… you enjoy reading dystopian novels, you are interested in politics, history, sociology or the like, you are class conscious, you are a Marxist or Conflict Theorist, you are intrigued by the logic of contradiction, you enjoy dark novels, you like thinking “what if”, you are puzzled by the odd Apple Macintosh commercial
You may not like this book if… you have no interest in a book with many layers of meaning, it is difficult for you to imagine such a dark future, you approve of totalitarianism, you believe that love conquers all, you are afraid of rats(less)