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.