Saturday, December 18, 2010

Animal Farm by George Orwell

This is another book I read with my son Spencer.  It isn't really a kid book, but I was curious to see if he could understand it.  He did great.  

This is the story of some animals in farm in England that have enough with the farmer, kick him off the farm and have a full revolution. 

What is fascinating is that it shows that in most revolutions that the revolution really does go full circle.  The pigs are the smartest animals on the farm, and while they start out carrying their load of the work, it quickly becomes obvious that their best talent is thinking for others.  The concrete rules on which Animal Farm is established seem to change in order to fit the pigs, but the other animals have no choice but to accept it.  They are constantly being told that no matter how bad things get, it is always better than it was when the farmer was there.

In the end the pigs completely take over the role of the old farmer and the revolution is complete.

Orwell is a dark writer and seems to illustrate what can happy to society if not kept in check.  I thought this book was excellent.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

This book is about the fall of the Compson family.  They are a family from the South that was once proud and prominent and is crumbling into obscurity.  The main theme throughout the book seems to be the daughter of the family, Caddy.  The book is four chapters.  The first three are narratives of three of the brothers.  Chronology is kind of thrown out the window and the chapters don't really come in order of time.  The first three chapters follow a stream of consciousness narrative.  This means you get a peek into the characters mind and it jumps all over as he lives and remembers times past. 

The first chapter is by Benjy who is severely mentally retarded.  He love his sister Caddy and doesn't understand why she is in so much trouble all the time.

The Second chapter is by the extremely neurotic Quentin who has a break down when he finds out Caddy is pregnant and wants to claim to be the incestuous father.  His dad disregards and sends him off to school at Harvard. 

The third chapter is by Jason who is an over protective, self pitying, jerk who is thrown into the position of becoming the head of the family.  He basically brings up Caddy's illegitimate child, and thus drives her, the child away.  She leaves with a man from a traveling show and steels thousands of dollars that Caddy had been sending for her that Jason was keeping for himself.

The fourth chapter is in the voice of the author and you would think it would be there to fill in the blanks, but no.  It basically just gives a different perspective of the whole story focuses mainly on Dilsy, a black lady who is a servant in the Compson home who has played a huge role in raising the four Compson children and Miss Quentin, the illegitimate daughter of Caddy, as well.

The book is fascinating.  It throws most of what you expect in a narrative out the window.  There really isn't a story, it comes out of order and very important details are only assumed by the reader.  What the book does is show how shattered the post Civil War South was and how once great families and estates have crumbled with the end of Slavery.

I have to say that I could read the dialogue of the southern gentlemen Faulkner writes all day.  The word usage is very fun to me.

I am not sure if I would recommend this book to everyone.  I really liked it, but I didn't enjoy it.  It never grips you or brings you in and you are wondering what is going on the whole time.  It does seem to be some good mental exercise, though, if you are in to that.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway

So, I don't understand why I keep reading Hemmingway novels.  I don't enjoy them.  I think they are slow and the stories seem pointless.  He gives details that leave me scratching my head and the characters make dumb choices constantly.  But then when I finish them I think they are fascinating. 

Hemmingway seems to paint a picture of a person's life to show you how the conditions of the time have impacted that person.  This is book fits that description.  It is the story of a writer named Jake Barnes who lives in Post World War I Europe.  He and his friends are all damaged.  The ravages of war seem to have taken from them all hope in traditional love and family.  Half of this book is Jake and someone drinking something.  Jake loves this girl named Brett, but both are so messed up they know they can't be together, even though the always end up together, dreaming about how happy they could be together.

I really enjoyed how this book helped me to see Post World War I Europe. 

Even though I spent most of this book wanting it to be over; I am now in the middle of another Hemmingway novel.  I seem to be slow learner!

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

This book was strange.  It was a little hard to read because it uses the name of the Lord in vain constantly along with various other vulgar terms.  However, it wasn't really done in an offensive way; I know that sounds strange, but it just seemed to be the way the protagonist talked. 

Basically the story is about a boy in the 50's who comes from a wealthy family and has failed out of his fourth school.  He is smart enough, but he just thinks that social norms are phony and doesn't feel a desire to live up to them.  He hates plays, and pretty much all high society.  Basically the book is a few days of him wandering around after being expelled out of school before he is supposed to go home. 

I didn't like it while I was reading it.  However, when I finished on it and tried to figure out why anyone would like it, I think I understood the gist of it.  Basically it is about how not everyone fits into the social norms of society and how different is treated as bad, when maybe different is just different.  I think Holden, the main character, just has a hard time fitting in and never feels appreciated.  He seems to see through the false facades of others and is offended by them. 

I still don't think this would be a book I would really recommend.  The language and rambling style got old to me in a hurry.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Awesome, awesome book.  Steinbeck is quickly becoming one of my favorite all time authors.  He describes a scene in a way that I am right there.  His word choice is just phenomenal. 

This story is about the Joad family, who are poor farmers from Oklahoma that are driven off their land in the dustbowl at the beginning of the Great Depression.  They, with thousands of others, make a pilgrimage to California expecting to find the Promised Land where they can work and live.  When they get there they find that there is not enough work and they are hated for being there.  Big companies use the conditions smash out the smaller competition and families starve. 

I understand this book was quite controversial in its day.  I can see why.  It seems to offer a slap in the face at what can come out of unregulated capitalism.  It also shows what will happen to the land and people if we don't consider what the long term impact of our choices will be.  It also offers hope.  It shows that what it takes to make big changes is for a few to stand up for what is right who are willing to be sacrificed for the cause, then the masses will eventually pick up the torch and carry on. 

Something else I thought was fascinating about this book is that about every other chapter was not about the protagonist family, but about similar folks during the time.  Those chapters seemed to be there to paint a picture of just what the conditions were at the time and then would return in the next chapter to the experiences of the Joad family.  It really worked.

Absolutely brilliant book.  I loved it.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein

I tried to watch the movies once and it bored me.  Nothing happened in the first movie.  It seemed like all they did was spend three hours deciding to go somewhere and then the movie was over.  Now that I have read the books I would like to see the movies again. 

Tolkein does such a fantastic job in creating a world full of magic and mystery.  He develops the characters in a way that I felt a real connection to each and appreciated each creature. 

The story is about a Hobbit that is like a mini-person that ends up with a magical ring that is tied to the power of an evil ruler.  If the ring gets in the hands of the ruler it is all over for everyone, if the ring is destroyed all are saved.  Now just draw that out over a thousand pages. 

I was honestly sad when the book was done. 

What I think I liked the most of this book is that none of the heros were perfect.  They were all dependent on each other for their success and everyone played a vital role.  I think that is a good life lesson. 

If you haven't read this series you really should.  It is excellent

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

This book, written in the early 1930's, is about life 600 years in the future.  Science has made it possible for everyone to be happy by eliminating things that cause sadness.  There is no such thing as family, since while family can bring joy, it can also bring a lot of pain and suffering.  Babies are produced from harvested ovaries and in test tubes with conditioning being done throughout to produce the class characters necessary to properly populate society.  Father and Mother are crude ideas that are scoffed at and a person can "have" another person any time.  Paring off with only one person for an extended period of time is extremely frowned upon. 

This book, written in the early 1930's, is about life 600 years in the future.  Science has made it possible for everyone to be happy by eliminating things that cause sadness.  There is no such thing as family, since while family can bring joy, it can also bring a lot of pain and suffering.  Babies are produced from harvested ovaries and in test tubes with conditioning being done throughout to produce the class characters necessary to properly populate society.  Father and Mother are crude ideas that are scoffed at and a person can "have" another person any time.  Paring off with only one person for an extended period of time is extremely frowned upon. 

Then introduced into the story is a savage.  He is the son of a uper classman who is accidently born when his mother gets lost on a visit to a reservation where they keep wild people (people that live in families and live off the land in the parts of the world the new government doesn't feel it is worthwhile to dominate) When his true identity is discovered he is brought into the real world and the rest of the book is basically the clash between the modern and the traditional. 

The most fascinating part of this is how much of what Huxley describes about technology and ideology actually has happened in the last 70 years.  In fact, things are happening faster than the book predicts.  It basically paints a picture of what the world will look like if traditional values are all eliminated in the pursuit of happiness by eliminating pain and suffering.

I thought the book was excellent.  It was well written and provocative. 

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

This is a very strange book.  It has a lot of parts that are gross and seemed unnecessary until you consider the total picture that Márquez is trying to paint.  I didn't really enjoy reading the book, but I do like to think back on it and analyze its meaning.

The story in a nut shell is about the Buendía family and the founding of a little town in the middle of the jungle called Macondo.  They have really no connection with the outside world an live in an Eden state.  José Arcadio Buendía, the father of the group and founder of the town leads to the eventual distruction of the town because of his undying interest in science and the outside world.  Every bit of modernization that comes to the town brings with it destruction. 

You definitely feel a connection between faith and the magical as elements that are real and concrete.  The book is written in a way that the the spiritual and magical as anything physical.  The destruction of the town is prophesied by an old gypsy at the beginning of the town, which gives the impression that the lives and progress and eventual destruction of the town are all part of a predetermined cycle, similar to the world in the Bible.

Like I say, I thought the book was quite crude and strange while I was reading it.  I am not sure if I would suggest it, but it is definitely a masterpiece.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

This is a great book.  This is the story of a big dog that is half Shepherd and half St. Bernard that is stolen from his comfortable estate in California and shipped up to Alaska during a gold rush.  He is a beast and progresses to be the ultimate sled dog by becoming connected to his ancient ancestors.  His evolution takes him backwards until his ends up running, and leading the wolves.

Now what made this book great is that I read it with my son Spencer.  It was great to read with him something of great literary value.  Great time together and great learning for Spencer.

Jack London is an extraordinary writer of the outdoors.  I really felt like I was there with Buck, the dog, on the trails in Alaska.  It was fascinating to read a book where the hero was a dog and the people played back up roles. 

I loved this book and I bought it so I can read it with all of my kids as they grow up.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Now this is an AWESOME book.  I can't say just how much I loved this book.  It is bascially the story of two different people, Anna, who is married to a successful politician and lives for her son, and Levin who is a godless man who is trying to use logic and reason to figure life out.  He is a good man, and is in love with a beautiful girl who eventually loves him back, and he only wants to benefit others, but hates life and wants to kill himself.  Well, as the book goes on the lives of these two cross as Anna's life goes to the dumps when she tries to live on physical love alone, and Levin finds the ultimate joy and peace when he finds God and joy in his family. 

Plus, this book was a window into Russian society of the time.  I love when a book helps me feel like I can understand a time period of country more clearly. 

Tolstoy is not in a hurry to explain anything, and the character development was thorough, almost painfully so.  But in the end I really appreciated it.

I would definitely read this book again and recommend it whole heartedly.  This one will find a permanent spot in my library.

Lolita by Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov

This book is gross.  Basically it is the memoirs of a dying pedophile.  He takes you through the mindset of a man that loves pre-teen girls and what makes a desirable one.  He marries a woman so he can be close to her daughter.  He and his wife fight when she figures this out and she gets hit by a car and killed when she runs out of the house.  All seems perfect for our hero, until the girl, now a teenager runs off and gets pregnant with someone else. He then spend big chunk of the book looking for her. Really was disturbing.  I couldn't really get into this book and I only read through it to understand why it is so renowned. 

I think it was very provocative and revolutionary from a stylistic point of view.  The author showed no fear and made very graphic statements as if it were common place.  I think this book fits into the category of books that are more talked about than read.

Am I glad I read it? No really.  However, I am glad that when this book comes up I will at least know what people are talking about.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

So this is the story about the prince, Hamlet, who his uncle has his dad the king killed so he, the uncle, can marry the queen, his sister in law, and become the king.  Everybody dies.  The end.

I have seen the movie and thought it was alright.  I was hoping that reading the text would be better.  This story is just not for me.  If I am going to read a play I want a happy ending or at least some sort of sense of overcoming and conquer or something.

I do have to admit that the language and writing are, of course, incredible.  I did like some of the twists and turns that the story made.  I can indeed appreciate why this is regarded so highly as a literary work, but as for a story, it just didn't do much for me at all.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

I wanted to read something different and decided to read this book.  In a nut shell this is the story of a man that is raised the son of a Brahmin Priest and feels disillusioned, moves to the mountains to be a monk, get's his fill of that, goes to learn about love from a lady that runs a love garden (not graphic about this, thankfully) and then eventually ties all together and learns the meanings of life from a river and old boatman that runs a fairy there.  Of course I left a lot out, but that is the gist of it.

I absolutely loved this book.  It made me think and helped me to look at things differently.

For instance, here is a lesson from the river; the water that is right in front of you is only in front of you for an instant.  The water that is up-stream is coming fast and is hard to see.  The water downstream lasts the longest and eventually cycles through and ends up coming around again.  Therefore, if we make our decisions more based what we want to have done, rather than what we want to be doing now, we will make better decisions and be happier people. 

I am currently training for a half-marathon and I have tried to have this mentality in my training.  There have been several times that I have been tired and wanted to quit.  Instead of focusing on how I was feeling at the moment, I decided to think about how I would feel having had done it instead.  It really helped!

I would absolutely recommend this book.  It was different than anything I had ever read and I would like to read more books like it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I really enjoyed this book.  It was a little rough at first to get used to the "N" word being used so frequently, and I realized that it was intentional to show how things were at the time.  I think it was genius, in fact, how family friendly the language was in this book, accept for that word.  It really helped to point out what I felt was one of the main points of this book. 

I think Twain did an absolutely amazing job of capturing much of the southern lifestyle during the early 1800's.  Not only was this book a great example of how people felt about slavery and how black people in general were regarded in that time, but it also showed the relative lack of respect for life that existed.  The book was a great example of the downfall that comes from pride and the power that can come from humility.

Tom Sawyer drives me crazy.  I don't know if I will be able to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  I probably will... The kid just got old to me.  Over and over he has to make things so difficult and ridiculous because, "that is how it is supposed to be" because he has read about it in books and has such a crazy imagination.  At the same time, I can respect what Twain was showing through this of how much ridiculousness there is in the world as a result of pride and tradition when common sense is overlooked.

In summary, I loved this book.  Twain is a genius.  The use of dialect and writing through the lens of Huck was very engaging and harmless, while teaching some very heavy and important lessons.

Friday, October 1, 2010

1984 by George Orwell

This was one of those "So this is where that comes from!" books.  Such stuff I have always heard referred to like "Big Brother" and "Thought Police" that I pretty much knew what it meant, now has reason. 

I found the book to thought provoking and fascinating.  It was dark, though, and I can't say that I enjoyed reading it.  However, I do appreciate how fantastic it is that Orwell could write something in 1949 with elements of technology and even ideology that exist today.

I think what I like the most about the book was the idea about reality.  Much of what we perceive as reality is determined by our own perspective.  So, in part, when we control our perspective we control reality. 

One of the main elements in the book that is shown to be necessary to eliminate the will of man is to eliminate a belief in God.  I think that is because when we have a strong belief in God we are willing to always have in mind that God has a perfect perspective, and while things are unclear to us, they are always clear to Him.  So those that truly want to exercise full power over others only need to replace God with themselves in the lives of those they wish to control. 

This made me think of how much time we dedicate to meaningless things.  I think you could safely refer to them as Idols.  All of which are carefully crafted to influence our perspective and thus control our reality.

In summary, this is a dark book that makes you paranoid.  I liked it.  I think...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Alas! A book with a happy ending!  Well, for some of the characters anyway. Interesting little tidbit is that George is a woman.  Her real name was Mary Anne Evans.  My great great grandmother was named Mary Evans and she lived in England during the same time period.  I am glad she didn't go by George.

What I loved about this book was that it really helped me to get a better understanding of Provincial life in England.  How funny that I find out afterwards that the subtitle (don't know how I missed it before) was A Study of Provincial Life. It really seemed to show the battle between industrialization and maintaining the importance of family nobility.  It seems that for the antiquated traditions to continue to exist that the masses had to be held down.  This book basically shows those wanted to continue this and those that were in a station to help and chose to.

The major theme for me was that what goes around comes around, that sooner or later you reap what you sow.  I loved that the efforts of those that chose to do what was right first brought misery and gossip, but eventually brought freedom.

I would highly recommend this book, especially for someone who is just starting to read the classics.  The story and characters and the pace kept my interest.  I really felt myself pulling for the protagonists.

And, I am not afraid to admit this, there was a tear in my eye when the two people ended up kissing that you wanted end up kissing...Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare

Ahhh. What a fun refreshing little read.  I have seen the movie, but I had never actually read this.  I have decided to add the best of Shakespeare to my list.  That is one good thing I got out of Ulysses...

This is just a fun little story.  I loved how worked up everyone got about nothing.

What I got out of this story is the obvious one that things are not always as clear as they may seem.  What else I got is that two people can hate each other deeply and be tricked into liking each other and within a week be ready to live happily ever after.  That works.

Ulysses by James Joyce

This book was just painful to me.  It was so slow.  I did not need to hear about why a guy loves to eat animal organs and how he likes them prepared in such detail.  (Or what this same guy like to do to himself)

I thought I would like this book because I enjoyed the Portrait book by Joyce.  It even had one of the same protagonists in Stephen Dedalus.  But it was just so slow and gross.

So here is the deal.  In the original Odysses, Telemachus searches for Odysseus and Odysseus searches for Telemachus.  Basically a quest to find each other.  Well in this book Bloom is mentally trying to find his son, who I think is dead, and Stephen is looking for his dad, even though he has a dad, but his real dad is only his flesh dad and he needs a super smart dad, because he is now so smart.  Lame.

This book is at the top of many of the "greatest" lists.  I don't get it.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemmingway

OK, this is a bad book to read if you are expecting a baby soon.  Especially if the doctor thinks your baby might be breech!  (Our baby is not, and should be fine, but the timing is still awful)

So this is my first Hemmingway novel.  I thought it was pretty good.  He seems to really like short, rather abrupt sentences.  Kind of interesting.  I think. Definitely different.  Flow is strange.  Gets old.  But interesting.

With all the war books, I like that I am learning about history and time periods through these books.  I think overall I did enjoy this book will try another of Hemmingway's novels soon.

Favorite part of this book? I think when Henry is escaping from the war and is doing so by hiding on a train car full of weapons is a pretty interesting seen.  That the very tools of war are what hide his exit.  That was pretty cool.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I liked this one a lot.  It was quirky and disturbing and some parts made me uncomfortable but...

This is another book about war.  That seems to be a good topic if you want to have a "greatest book".  I think if you can write a book and include war, racism, sexual openness, and question religion then you will be golden. 

What I really liked about this book is that it helped me to see just how young the soldiers in a war really are; especially back when soldiers were drafted right out of high school.  To think these young men had their entire life ahead of them and off they went to die.  Just awful.

I thought Vonnegut's system of including time travel, and even space travel, were very interesting and I was surprised how fluid such a mixed up system turned out to be.

Oh, and the Slaughterhouse was actually an old slaughterhouse that they used during the war to keep prisoners in.  I was afraid it was going to be some gruesome place where they killed the soldiers.  I was glad it wasn't. 

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Gross.  This book was not for me.  I trudged through it to be able to put a mark next to it's name on the list.  I think this is a love it or hate it book.  I am in the hate it crowd. 

With that said, it was well done for what it is. 

Here is Catch-22.  If a person goes insane during war he can go home.  But he has to be declare himself insane.  But a person that would realize his life was in jeopardy and want to get out of the war because it is making him crazy is perfectly sane, and thus can't go home.

So what this book does is takes war and takes out the emotion of war and just makes it gross and vile, which I am sure war is, but Heller takes away all sense of patriotism and right and wrong and bases war on personal gain and carnal desire.  I had no idea that soldiers were so promiscuous.  OK maybe I had an idea but didn't want to think about it.  Let alone have it spelled out over and over.

I do see the merit it this book as a reference to the ideals of the 60’s when the idea of right and wrong came into such public scrutiny. 

I am glad when people refer to this book or the phrase Catch 22 I will at least know what they are talking about, but that is about it.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Awesome.  Absolutely awesome.

As of right now, if I were asked what the best novel I have ever read was, this would be it. 

I absolutely loved it.

My favorite thing about this book was how simple it was seeing it through the eyes of Scout, so brutally honest and incredibly innocent.  Lee handles some of the harshest aspects of humanity in racism and bigotry in such a delicate yet in your face way... just awesome.

My favorite part was, well the whole book.  But if I had to pick just one part it would be when Scout makes conversation with Mr. Walter Cunningham in front of the jail while Atticus is sitting out front to guard against Cunningham and his cronies.  To see how the boldness of this young lady and by simply reminding him of previous kindnesses helps to open his eyes to his current situation.

What a testament that hate blinds and love helps us see.  What a great book!

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I had forgotten about this book when I was writing the first few posts.  This was actually the first book I read on this new quest of mine.  It was suggested by the friend that made the reference that I should have known.

But when I was writing about  "A Portrait..." I remembered "The Picture...".

This book is like many of the classic books.  It is as if the author got a really clever idea and decided to write a story to use the idea, not so concerned about the actual story itself. 

Basically this book to me was the story of a guy that has a painting made of him that he falls in love with.  From then on he lives a life of debauchery and maintains all the purity of youth while the picture begins to show the signs of the wear and tear of his evil ways.  Yet, while he physically can withstand the consequences of his bad choices, his should cannot.  Pretty clever idea.

The book was short and easy to read. 

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Now this book is exactly why I started reading these books!  I had never heard of James Joyce.  Or, if I had heard of him, it didn't mean anything so I don't remember it. 

I thought this book was fascinating.  Joyce's writing style was so different from anything I have ever seen.  He goes in and out of the thoughts of characters and you find the craziest things. 

I didn't really enjoy the book, but I respect it.  I could definitely respect the genius of it Joyce and how revolutionary his writing style is. 

My favorite part was when Stephen Dedalus is trying to decide whether or not to repent of his sins against the law of chastity.  A very big chunk of the book is a sermon Stephen listens to on Hell, and the immense suffering the souls there will go through.  It describes it such pains taking detail...  Plus, as I mentioned before, we get the details of Stephen’s thoughts as a result of the listening to the sermon. Interestingly, it is effective, sort of... Stephen knows he needs to confess and forsake his sins.  However, he has to leave his Catholic school and finds another church to confess in.  He gets it all out and considers becoming a priest.  But then the same image of hell that moved him to repent is just too much to believe in and leads to him forsaking God the same way he forsook his previous sins. 

I bet we do this all the time.  We try to get people to be good by describing how awful the consequences of bad choices are, when the lasting result is to fear the Being that would make such awful consequences. 

This was no easy book to read but I am very glad I did. 

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

I see why high school teachers like this book.  Crane jams as much imagery in a sentence as possible.  Sometimes more.  I thought it was strange and I didn't like that the metaphors were repeated over and over.  It was like having to listen to someone tell you the same clever anecdote over and over.  The first time it catches you, but after several times it just becomes cumbersome. I thought a couple of the analogies were strange too; reading about a civil war soldier bowing his head and running like a football player was just odd.

I thought it was strange that the narration referred to the characters as "the youth" and "the friend"-who for the first half was the "loud soldier" even know we as readers knew their names. 

Like I say, taken in pieces this book was great, taken as a whole it was just way to drawn out.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Now this was very interesting.  I am not sure why so many people consider this book to be one of greatest of all time.  It turns out that this book wasn't well received when it was written, but gained fame after the depression because it showed so well the mentality that led to financial disasters. 

I am not sure if I liked it or not. I do think it was well written. I like the character development. I thought the characters were all interesting except for Nick, the narrator. I had a hard time with how Nick observed every aspect of the book without having any impact, yet at the end it was up to him to wrap everything up. Looking back that is kind of another example of what the book really shows.  Too many people were willing to close their eyes to reality, only to have to pick up the pieces.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

This book was almost exactly opposite for me from A Tale of Two Cities  I ended up liking A Tale of Two Cities so much that I was excited to get into another one of his books.  But where I battled with the first two thirds of Two Cities and ended up loving it and seeing the genius at the end, I loved the first two thirds of Great Expectations and battled through the end. 

Really Mr. Dickens?  You couldn't have possibly made it so Pip could have got a hold of a little of his benefactor’s cash somehow?  I was hoping for some sort of "and upon returning to his room he noticed a small package under the bed that he hadn't noticed before..."  But no!  He is just poor and works for a while and finally ends up with Estella that has nothing going for her but looks, and those are basically gone by then, and for some reason, even though the whole book is put in the past tense, this last coming together is left basically at “and thus they lived, melancholy ever after…”

And I'll tell you who needs to read this book.  Anyone who says anything about how the world is getting vainer and that all that matters now is looks.  This book pretty much shows that attitude has been around for a long, long time.  I did find it fascinating that in my previous Dickens read we see the power of love, where in this book you can put your love in a sack and sink to the bottom of a river for all it will get you.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

This book was absolutely mesmerizing to me.  I felt like a bystander in every scene with a complete view of all the surroundings, Steinbeck described things so well. 

My favorite part of this book was the process he went through when deciding what would ultimately be best for Lennie.  It was like he wanted to give Lennie one last clear view of his heaven before sending him to it. 

I really like the parallels between Candy, his old dog, and Lennie.  The characters in the book all seemed to have the condescending attitude that they were deciding what would be best for the sufferer, but really they were selfishly pushing for what they felt would make life better for themselves.

I wonder if I do this, acting like I am trying to give someone something, or doing something for someone else, saying it is for their happiness, when really I am actually just thinking of myself. 

At tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

So I have to admit that for the first two thirds of this book I was wondering "Why on earth is this a Classic?!" It seemed that whenever the story was getting really good it would jump forward five years or so.  I started to wonder if I was going to make it through, but I decided to keep on plugging on and I made it two the last third which was excellent.  Dickens did such an excellent job of developing the characters that by the time the real story started I felt like I really know them. 

My favorite part of this book was the foil between Charles Darnay (Evrémonde) and Sydney Carton.  Here you have Charles born as a French Aristocrat with every reason to be biggoted, prideful person, and on the other hand you have Sydney who comes from a more humble, hardworking background but cares about no one and seems to have a disdain for everyone, including himself.

But with Lucie's love Darnay becomes an even better person who can't escape his true identity without the help of his look alike, Carton.  And with the idea that someone like Lucie could love someone such as himself, Carton shows the greatest love possible by giving his life so Lucie can be happy.

In summary, I almost quit reading this book I am so glad I didn't.  I loved Dickens word choice and I feel like I know a lot more about the time period because of this book.  I loved this book.