I've been putting this review off, because I'm not sure I can do the book justice. Nothing will compare to reading it and discovering the magic of it...moreI've been putting this review off, because I'm not sure I can do the book justice. Nothing will compare to reading it and discovering the magic of it yourself. I'll try anyway...
As Americans, lessons of slavery, segregation, the Great Depression, and the justice system have been in the curriculum every year (in some form or another) of our education. We learned about slave ships, separate white & black drinking fountains, and Rosa Parks, soup kitchens, southern cotton pickin’, and the civil war; but after all, they were only school lessons. We had drooping eyelids, cramps, and boy problems, we were passing notes, doodling, and making jokes. We knew it had happened, but the people, they weren’t real to us, the places far away (in time and geographically). This is one of the reasons I love literature; transports us into other times, into lives and civilities of the past. To Kill A Mockingbird is a great example of this credo.
To Kill A Mockingbird is told through the eyes of a child, Scout Finch. She looks up to her brother, Jem, more than anyone in the world, while her father the lawyer, Atticus Finch, comes in a close second. They live in a close-knit southern community where everyone knows everyone's business. It is a slow, rather passionate time. The novel is a memory of Scout's, revealed to us through a series of summers, until finally wrapping up in a most unexpected way.
Harper Lee created a beautifully layered book. On the one hand, it is a story of the innocence and whimsey of being a child in the summertime: spending every day with the same few pals, believing legends and expanding them into your own run-wild imaginations, ice cold lemonade, and books of adventure. This aspect of the story reminds me so much of my own childhood, growing up with two brothers and a neigborhood full of children our age; very much like Lord of the Flies, we create a mini-society on our own. Nothing can compare to those experiences anywhere for rest of your life, but reading this book awakens those memories so deeply and happily engrained into your being, and lets you accept, and even adore, a juvinille narrator.
As the book progresses, the innocence fades, if only a bit by little bit, and we are introduced to the 'adult' concernes that surround the children. Scout and Jem's father, Atticus (how many people or pets in the world do you think have been named after Atticus Finch? I know two.), is asked to take a legal case that is causing an uproar within the community. He knows, and even explains to his children, that he would simply not be able to live with himself if he did not accept the case. It's a morally and emotionally trying situation for the whole town; everyone feels the overtone of darkness hovering them, surrounding and suffocating, and it brings out the worst in some. Throughout the duration of the case and trial, the Finch children are awakened to the world of adults, lies, senseless hatred, and justice - and through their eyes, we are able look upon these social and political situations with new eyes, the eyes of the child that still lives within each and every one of us. Every American must read this book. It is drenched in our history as a nation, and as a people. It's books like these, that have the power to change the world.(less)
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was first published in 1945, and takes place around that time period. One of the definitions of classic litera...moreThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was first published in 1945, and takes place around that time period. One of the definitions of classic literature is a piece that captures it’s time, and to me, this book does, describing within the story a mid-century New York City in all its glamour and grunge.
I first read this book as a junior in high school, and at that time I was on a mission to devour all the classic literature that I could (and it seems, I’m going through another of those phases more recently). Holden Caufield, the main character of this book, is a sixteen year old kid, who doesn’t really fit in, and is trying to figure out his place in the world, and what he believes in.
We meet Holden as he’s getting kicked out of his fourth boarding school. His family lives in New York City, and he heads back there a little early, since he got chucked again, but he checks into a hotel instead of going home to his family, who doesn’t quite understand him either.
I really related to it, as I read, and I think that most who read it can, in some way or another. He is a troubled youth, intellectually, who is jumping at the chance for a little freedom, who has a bit of an attitude problem. Um, that sounds just like me at 16, excepting that I’m a lady :-) Holden was constantly judging those around him, rather harshly, and quite immediately. He claimed that adults were phony, and everybody lied, so how could you trust anyone. While at the same time, Holden lies to nearly everyone he encounters, making himself both a phony liar and a hypocrite. Personally, I forgave him those qualities, partly because I see a little bit of myself in him, and partly because he was genuinely trying to sort out his thoughts about ‘bigger’ things. To me, that indicates intelligence, and I trust that because he is such a deep thinker, he will eventually get around to thinking his way through the way he sees others, once he’s figured everything else out.
I enjoyed the way Salinger wrote this book also. I think it takes a very skilled writer to turn writing into easy to follow, yet realistic portraying of the process of thought. Holden was constantly thinking his way around philosophic situations, and also constantly bickering with other people.
When you pick up a copy of The Catcher in the Rye, you may notice something simply by flipping through the pages. Something that just looks different from other books. What is it? Italics. Lots and lots of Italics. Probably 1 in 10 words are italicized….okay not that many, but generally you don’t see a lot of text variation in published books. I think it adds a lot to the story. Salinger doesn’t use it only in dialogue either, but even sometimes when Holden is thinking something to himself. The funniest examples are when only partial words are italicized: anything. It emphasizes Holden’s impatient attitude towards much of the world, and made the book a little more magical to read.
This book earns a 7.7 in my rating. I feel comfortable giving it such a high rating, not just because of the story itself of a young man discovering a little more about himself, but because of the writing, and by extension, the writer. I think that, with an open mind (which is how you should approach reading any book!), everyone can find enjoyment in reading The Catcher in the Rye. And when you pick up the book for the first time, try and let all the things you’ve heard about it slide from your mind; create a tabula rasa, and let J.D. Salinger paint you a pretty picture on it :-)(less)
Disclaimer: This book is heartbreaking. Do not read it on a happy day, but don't read it on too sad a day either.
First of all, a little background on...moreDisclaimer: This book is heartbreaking. Do not read it on a happy day, but don't read it on too sad a day either.
First of all, a little background on my experience with the book: I was never assigned to read this in school, though somehow, I ended up with a school's copy of the book. Probably one of my friends left it at my house, I'm not sure, but I didn't steal it! Anyway, I discovered that I had the book, and this is pretty much exactly what ran through my head. "Oh, I haven't read that book, ugh, it's a classic, but hey, it's really short, and they teach it in a public high school class (I was in AP and knew WE weren't reading it), I'm gonna read it just to say that I have! (Unfortunately that thought crossed my mind A LOT while skimming library shelves, and has led to a lot of recent rereading and rediscovering)" Anyway, I read it, at breakneck pace, and honestly wondered what the big deal was. Oh how naive I was then...
Of Mice and Men, written by John Steinbeck in 1937, portrays the era picture perfectly. Two men, who contrast beautifully juxtaposed, are traveling together to a job, working on a ranch. The entire book takes place over the course of two days, but doesn't feel rushed. The imagery in the beginning and ending sequences are exquisitely described, and provide a sort of circle around the story.
The characters in this book were men living day to day. They work in the fields, but only when they had to: work a month for fifty dollars, skive off to a pub or hot house until the money is gone, and off to work again. They all dream of bigger things, brighter things, having something of their own, but by circumstance and lifestyle choices, they never do. They follow the same cycle, like it's their nature, but they all hold the dream close, so that they have hope.
Lennie has a mental disability. He has a passion for soft things, and will do about anything to touch, to pet, anything soft to the touch. He is a big man, with a simple thinking mind, and the combination of those three things gets him in nearly constant unintentional trouble.
George is a smart guy, who takes care of Lennie. It is a big responsibility, and like all humans, sometimes doesn't always see the good in what he's doing. Often George rambles on to Lennie about how much easier his life may be without him. Lennie takes it in stride, and says that maybe he'll just run off and live alone then, and let George be, but they never do. George cares too much for Lennie, and Lennie wouldn't know what to do without George.
The writing is excellent. The imagry is what first attracted me, and the characters are so real, you can almost smell the dirt under their fingernails, and see the bent, dirty cards they use to play solitaire in the meager light of the bunk house. Steinbeck's descriptions aren't lengthy, but somehow a combination of all of his techniques pull together an unforgettable image of 1930s field labor men.
This book is only 100 pages long, and deserves to be read at least once. I urge you though, not to whip through it like I did the first time, but to slow down and let Steinbeck tell you the story as he intended it.(less)
Ender's Game is about the government 'breeding' genius children to be trained in a military operation to obliterate an alien species which had attacke...moreEnder's Game is about the government 'breeding' genius children to be trained in a military operation to obliterate an alien species which had attacked planet Earth in the past, the Buggars. Ender is one of the children they accept into the training program, which is located in space.
I may be biased, since I basically grew up reading this book, but I seriously love Ender's Game. It is a commentary about government and the way adults treat children. It isn't a super long book, and the reading level isn't difficult. I first read it when I was probably ten. The idea of him training to guide whole armies in a weightless enviroment stuck with me.
I have read many reviews concerning this novel. It seems people either love or hate it. Some of the complaints are how young the children are, the slang terms they use, that the characters were one dimensional, he is obsessed with a game, that Card doesn't give you enough information to understand what is going on. Personally, I think that these people shouldn't be reading science fiction if they don't want to read about cultures different from theirs. This is a unique world Card creates (and continued to write about in a series of novels). And personally, I think he gives just enough information about the world, and he doesn't give it all away at once, which I think is a characteristic of great writing.
If you are looking for a Utopian book, this is not it. It is full of lies and deceit and unfairmess and fear. But you are right there inside Ender's head as he is going through these trials of character. I am confident that if you read it, you will love Ender too, and you will be surprised by the ending, and it will stick with you too.(less)
We’ve all had the feeling of someone’s eyes on the back of your neck… my generation might think of ‘The Truman Show’ to equate the feeling, a Jim Carr...moreWe’ve all had the feeling of someone’s eyes on the back of your neck… my generation might think of ‘The Truman Show’ to equate the feeling, a Jim Carrey movie in which a man is born and lives on the ultimate reality TV Show (before reality TV was cool…possibly before it even existed), only he doesn’t know he is on one. But my parents’ generation would think first, of Big Brother. Have you heard of him; the man that watches your every move, no matter where you are? 1984.
Penned by George Orwell (a pen name, did you know that?), a man of whom the term “Orwellian” was created, referring to oppression and the elimination of personal freedoms, 1984, is his Mona Lisa (Animal Farm is second most popular, read that?). It was originally published in 1948, so 1984 was a plausible future dystopia for those who read it in the first few years. It was set just far enough in the future that most of them would still be around to experience it.
1984 is set in a bleak future world, where Earth has been divided into three world powers, Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia, which are in a perpetual state of war. Winston, our main character, is living in England, I believe in the capitol of the ‘Party’, seeing as all the Ministry buildings are in his area. Winston himself works at the Ministry of Truth, the branch of government responsible for creating, maintaining, and distributing media to the people. Winston spends his days altering past published material, to fit whatever the present state of affairs are, completely erasing whatever had once been ‘the truth’. You can see the irony in the Ministry name. A few more examples, the Ministry of Love houses the thought police, and torture chambers of those who are disloyal or unorthodox; the Ministry of Peace is all about the everlasting war; the Ministry of Plenty is what handles the rationing of materials, and along with it, the illusion of how good or bad the war/economy is doing (these figures are announced constantly throughout the day on small speaker boxes/video cameras called telescreens, which are literally everywhere). There are Inner Party members, Outer Party members, and the Proles. Oh yeah, and Big Brother, the ‘creator’ of it all. Though everyone insists he is a real man, no one has ever met him, or even seen him before. My person favorite aspect of this new world is the language they are incorporating, created everyday at the Ministry of Truth. Instead of adding words to this language, the dictionary is constantly shrinking, the object being to eliminate any words deemed ‘unnecessary’. For example, attractive, beautiful, stunning, loveliness, gorgeous, and striking would all be reduced to one word, perhaps pretty, though it would hardly be used; or liberty, freedom, choice, free will, and lack of restrictions would not even exist, for what is the idea of freedom, besides rebellion from those who govern you?
The concept is genius, an intense commentary on government, and the people’s willingness to be governed. In a world where Big Brother and his thought police are watching your every move (Thought Police is exactly what it sounds like, thinking rebelliously will get you ‘vaporized’, think Salem Witch Trials), people disappear, or in the vernacular, are vaporized, every day. Adults usually keep to themselves so as not to draw attention to their own actions, but it is the children, born and raised in this overlord society, who are constantly denouncing people.
Orwell sketched perfectly a world in transition, the King (Big Brother, or the idea of Big Brother), the Nobels (Inner Party Members), the Court(Outer Party), and the common people (Proles, I don’t think the government minds them really, they basically live in squalor, but as anyone living in squalor would live if they lived today), and each class with a different level of devotion/orthodoxy. I think the best example of this, again, is the new language, Newspeak. The language is still in production, and many people only use a few of the words at work, some people know more than others, and the higher ups realize this. Their hope is in it for the children. Children who won’t know how a word to describe freedom, and they would not see the concept around them (except maybe in the birds they see out their windows), so how could they think of being free? Talk about manipulation….
The book is written in three parts, which I didn’t understand until the last twenty pages. Opening, we are introduced to Winston, and by extension the tedious world he lives in. Immediately we’re aware that Winston lives in constant silent rebellion, for that is the only kind there is in Outer Party members. Keeping a diary is his first offence (actually buying the diary and the pen to write in it with, were his first offences…), and he is only able to do so because there is a tiny corner in his house where the telescreen is not able to see him. Even a split second wrong reaction in front of a telescreen can mean vaporization, if it’s watching you (and you never know if it’s watching you). As I got into the second two parts, I got a little less invested, I guess. Just keep in mind as you’re reading, this book isn’t so much about the characters as a commentary on politics (is it still called politics if it’s not a democracy? I’m SO unworldly.) I loved the first section because we are the only ones allowed in Winston’s head, and I’m a sucker for character driven works (lit, movies, tv shows…).
This is an excellent book. There is a reason everyone has heard of it, and most people have read it at least once in their lives. I love promoting quasi-political books like this, because it endorses the importance of being aware of your governors, thinking for yourself, and not letting government ‘rule’ you and your freedoms. If you haven’t read this before, read it soon. 1984 will always be a classic. You can quote me.(less)
I am currently reading A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway. I started a few days ago, after a short lull of indecision in what to read next.
I have...moreI am currently reading A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway. I started a few days ago, after a short lull of indecision in what to read next.
I have already read this book, once, when I was in high school. Though I read it quickly and didn't absorb much. Basically I remembered it was about World War I in Italy. Though when I read it the first time, I remembered that I loved it.
When I started to read this time, I fell in love all over again. It isn't just the story, but the writing. I read the first few pages slower than I have probably ever read before. I was trying to savor each word, each sentence. For example, two sentences from the first paragraph of the book. "Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves." Such a long and wonderful scene. Poetic.
The story, as I understand it so far, is about an American man, Frederic Henry, who serves in the Italian military as an ambulance driver, during World War I. He has a roommate, Rinaldi, who is a surgeon and very funny, and frankly, an alcoholic. He is courting a young English nurse, Catherine Barkley, who had lost a childhood love in the war, and is grieving his loss. Hemingway makes the mood of the people in the war so apparent, you feel it yourself. I love the way he writes dialogue also:
"You're dirty," he said. "You ought to wash. Where did you go and what did you do? Tell me everything at once." "I went everywehere. Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples, Villa San Giovanni, Messina, Taormina--" "You talk like a time-table. Did you have any beautiful adventures?" "Yes." "Where?" "Milano, Firenze, Roma, Napoli--" "That's enough. Tell me really what was the best." "In Milano." "That was because it was first. Where did you meet her? In the Cova? Where did you go? How did you feel? Tell me everything at once. Did you stay all night?" "Yes." "That's nothing. Here now we have beautiful girls. New girls never been to the front before." "Wonderful." "You don't believe me? We will go now this afternoon and see." (Page 11)
His writing is very direct, and while it occasionally mentions feelings, it would be more accurate to say you feel them. The characters seemed so alive for me. The things they described, the things they noticed, like it happened, for real; not like a book, but a story.
Frederick Henry began as a 'typical' wartime bachelor man, who had a particular weakness for alcohol and women, though it never took up too much thought within the writing, it was all in the background. Now that I think of it, it is hard to pinpoint what I loved so much about the writing, except it seemed like magic. Real people, real situations, real feelings. They were like old friends even as I met the characters. The sentences varied from long meandering sentences, or rushed and panicked, to short and simple and plain. When we meet Catherine, she is a little 'crazy', and she asks Frederick many times whether she is good for him or if he will leave or if he really does love her, even though they had just met the previous day. As the story progresses, the war goes on in the background of the love story between Catherine and Frederick. She is completely devoted to him from the get-go. Frederick however, takes some time to warm up to her, we know because it is his story and we know his feelings, though he still tells her everything she wants to hear. She asks him if he had stayed with any girls and he of course says no. But then that issue is revisited near the end and he admits he had gonorrhea, and she says she wishes she had it too so she would know how it was for him firsthand. She says she wants to be the same one (person) as him. Once he is injured, he sees her at the hospital and realizes he is completely in love with her and does not care about much else in the world, except being with her. Their romance continues and (spoiler) we find out she is pregnant just about the time he has to go back to the front. When he arrives he finds he doesn't fit quite as well. His comrades tell him he acts like a married man.The conversations he takes part in are about the war, and how everyone can feel it, and that now, more than ever, people realize the war. Like a fog, people feel like it cannot be worse, and that they will give up, the war, over. During the retreat, it becomes impossible for him to do his duties and is stranded in the middle of nowhere in the war zone with three other soldiers. When one of his companions was shot, the realization of the unfairness of war became obvious to him. Seperated now from the rest of his companions, it become a quest of survival. He manages to make it to a town he is familiar with, but has to hide from the Italian troops and government. They are very scared of impostors and are shooting (what we are led to believe, but not directly) innocents. He would have left the country himself, but could not bear to leave Catherine behind, so he goes after her. The barman, who is a friend of Frederick's, warns him of his impending arrest, and helps to smuggle him out of the country. Once they are there, they share a wonderful cabin in the Swiss mountains, until Catherine goes into labor with their child. The labor seemed drawn out to me, and very sad. In the end the baby dies, and Catherine dies, and Frederick is left, all all alone, a wanted war deserter in a foreign country. A little ironic, considering he escaped the war and found love and family, but perhaps this was meant to convey the irony of war (going as an honor to your country, and dying, being injured/otherwise incapacitated), or a reflection of his own personal heartache in Italy.
I did a bit of research on Hemingway and found that A Farewell to Arms is based off of events in Hemingway's own life. He volunteered to drive ambulances in Italy in World War I. He was injured in his first few months of duty by a mortar shell after retrieving chocolate and cigarettes (Macaroni and cheese in the novel) for troops. He was transported to Milan to have surgery and recover. He fell in love with a nurse there (though in real life 'she' married someone else and left him broken-hearted). I also learned he wrote the scene of Catherine's labor as his own wife was having a Cesarean section. After reading these facts about his own life, and seeing how they correspond with his real life experiences, I'm eager to read more Hemingway. I currently own For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, which I will perhaps get to in the next year as well :-)(less)