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.