Have I read this before: Nope. I don’t think I’d ever even considered reading this one; it was just one on my list that consistently got overlooked.
Review: Yeah, so this is a completely different style of storytelling than what I’ve been reading so far on my list, haha. I think it took me a bit to get into it because of that, but once I got past the first 50 or so pages, I was pretty invested in the characters and seeing what all their traveling back and forth across the US would lead to. I really liked how unsettled everyone was, especially Dean. Like, even when he was “planted” in a city, he was still unsettled. The impulsivity is interesting and, sometimes, enviable.
Favorite part: I like how Sal keeps attributing the weirdness of San Francisco to it being “on the edge of the continent” or the “edge of America” so anything goes. I think that’s a really poetic way of describing it.
Have I read this before: Yup. I want to say high school or the first year of college, but I actually have no idea.
Review: This wasn’t quite as I remembered it, but was a good re-read. I love how so many ideas and concepts of this book are still used (Big Brother, 2 + 2 = 5, thoughtcrime, etc.). Hell, Muse has an album that mentions 1984 concepts throughout (“Resistance”). And we all know I love Muse.
I don’t really have too much to say about this one; it’s definitely a classic and one that I think most people have read. But if you haven’t, read it! It’s both terrifying and fascinating on a lot of different levels.
“He turned over toward the light and lay gazing into the glass paperweight. The inexhaustibly interesting thing was not the fragment of coral but the interior of the glass itself. There was such a depth of it, and yet it was almost as transparent as air. It was as though the surface of the glass had been the arch of the sky, enclosing a tiny world with its atmosphere complete.”
I just thought that was a particularly striking paragraph.
The interrogation/torture scenes at the end were also one of my favorite parts.
Have I read this before: I don’t think so. When I chose this book I thought I’d read it in junior high as one of my first books off my list, but I feel like I certainly would have remembered this story if I had.
Review: The alternate title for this should have been “An Anti-Tourism Pamphlet for the Small Town American Midwest.” I get that it’s a satirical take on small towns in the US, but holy crap. Lewis does do a good job of making Gopher Prairie (one of the said small towns) incredibly unappealing to Carol, the main character who came from a bigger city, but very homey and endearing to her husband, who is from the town. This was a very frustrating (but engaging) read because it’s hundreds of pages of Carol trying to better the town, the townspeople shutting down her ideas, Carol trying to conform to their ways, the townspeople shunning her because of where she came from, and this constant war she has with herself over feeling like she is basically losing every aspect of herself by being beaten down by the small town life (and trying to conform to it) and feeling guilty about wanting out and wanting to go back to the city.
Favorite part: As someone who grew up in a relatively small town (Moscow) and moved to a big city (Calgary), I really related to Will (Carol’s husband) upon returning to Gopher Prairie after an extended time away. He finds joy in the smallest, simplest changes about the town that he notices, like a new sign on a store or a neighbor’s new roof. I feel like I have that same sort of reaction every time I go back to Moscow, haha.
Have I read this before: Nope
Review: This is a very beautifully written and insightful coming of age story in the early 1900s. It’s long and covers a lot of the family’s history and Eugene’s growing up, but I like how it all works together and how it all is shown to shape who Eugene becomes when he finally leaves home. Also, the way it is written is very engaging and beautiful. Some of the descriptions used are so specific and perfect that they really stand out.
Favorite part: Ben’s death was particularly heartbreaking, because he’s built up (at least in my opinion) as a very sympathetic character and because of how close Eugene was to him. Also, a few phrases:
Gant trying to wake up his sons in the morning:
“‘When I was your age, I had milked four cows, done all the chores, and walked eight miles through the snow by this time.’
Indeed, when he described his early schooling, he furnished a landscape that was constantly three feet deep in snow, and frozen hard. He seemed never to have attended school save under polar conditions.
Ben, Eugene’s older brother, to Eugene after they have a fight over Eugene’s inability to let go of a woman he’d fallen in love with:
“‘There are a lot of bad days. There are a lot of good ones. You’ll forget. There are a lot of days. Let it go.’”
On Ben’s death:
“We can believe in the nothingness of life, we can believe in the nothingness of death and of life after death – but who can believe in the nothingness of Ben?”
Have I read this before: Nope
Review: So this is the first time since high school that I’ve read something of Shakespeare’s that I’d never read before. That is, all the other Shakespeare that I’ve read on my list is stuff that I’ve read at least once before (in high school). I also knew nothing about the play before reading it, so this was kind of my test to see if I could figure out what exactly was going on without having read it before and/or having some sort of idea of what the play was about. Does that make me sound stupid? Probably. But (and I’ve mentioned this in a previous review I think) I think plays – especially Shakespearean plays – lose a lot in translation if they’re just read without acting them out or at least having different people “play” different roles. Is that just me? Like, when I read Julius Caesar a few weeks ago, I understood what was going on, I understood the dialogue and the actions, but it wasn’t super engaging, especially in comparison to when we read it aloud in high school and we had different people reading different parts. I had the same issue with Lear, but I was able to get the gist of it. It definitely wasn’t my favorite Shakespeare…but again, the reason for that might be because I just read it and didn’t get to see it acted or read by multiple people as different parts. Stupid, I know.
So I just ordered a physical copy of I, Claudius because I can’t get that damn book out of my head. And yes, even though I already have a Kindle version of it, I got a physical copy too. I did the same with A Prayer for Owen Meany a bit earlier in the year.
I have a thing when it comes to owning physical copies of books, especially fiction. Over the years, I’ve pared down my books (again, especially fiction) to only include those books that I really, really like. It seems like a lot of people I know just have a lot of books, but I’m pretty selective about what books I actually choose to own. I don’t know why. It might be because I’ll only re-read a book if I’ve really, really enjoyed it, and so I don’t feel the need to own books that I’d never read more than once.
Like…I have The Caine Mutiny, The Great Gatsby, a collection of Jules Verne’s stories, Lolita…all those books that I would willingly read again. And that’s it for fiction. For non-fiction I’m a bit more lenient, but I’m still rather particular about it.
I don’t know. Is anyone else like this?
Have I read this before: Yes! We read it in 8th grade. We actually read it as a play – we volunteered to read certain characters (I was Caesar because of course I was) and we read the whole thing aloud. I loved when we did that with plays. It made them so much more enjoyable. We did it with The Crucible in 9th grade (I was Parris) as well as some other plays that I can’t remember.
Review: Shakespeare is lost on junior high-schoolers, yo. Except for those junior high-schoolers that are really into Shakespeare. I don’t think I appreciated everything that was going on in the play back when I was 14 because of the language, but I definitely got a lot more out of it re-reading it now. I certainly didn’t pick up the extremes of Brutus’ moral dilemma in high school, but that was probably because my character was dead within the Third Act and so I just sat there not getting to read any lines, haha. Junior High Claudia, you were an idiot.
Favorite part: Probably the moral dilemma of Brutus! Because I missed that when I was younger.
Have I read this before: Nope! First time.
Review: Man, I was not expecting to like this book, but I got into it, yo. My knowledge of Roman emperors is (was?) close to 0%, especially with respect to timelines, families and relationships, and who did what. So I started this book thinking “haha, I’m not going to be able to place any of this in any sort of historical context, I’m not really interested in the time period, and I’m probably not going to get much enjoyment out of this.” But the way it’s written is so engaging and does such a good job of creating a clear timeline and a clear setup of the relationships amongst a lot of important historical characters that I’m now finding myself wanting to read more about that period of Roman history. The book is written as a fictional autobiography of Claudius and basically covers the period between Julius Caesar’s assassination and Caligula’s assassination, at which point Claudius becomes emperor. It’s a mixture of his telling of the history of many of his family members and relations and his personal experiences from childhood onward. He’s written as a very intelligent and sympathetic character. Great book. Read it.
Favorite part: There were a few lines/sections that were pretty great.
[Claudius had a stutter among other things, and people assumed he was stupid (he wasn’t; he was quiet but very observant and intelligent). This is Claudius’ grandmother, Livia, explaining to Augustus why Claudius speaking clearly through a declamation didn’t mean he wasn’t an idiot]
“The surprise that you had behind that curtain was no greater and no less than the surprise we once had when the Indian Ambassador took the silk cloth off the gold cage…and we saw the bird Parrot for the first time with his emerald feathers and ruby necklet and heard him say, “Hail Caesar, Father of the Country!” It was not the remarkableness of the phrase…but that a *bird* spoke it astonished us. And nobody but a fool would praise Parrot for his wit in coming out with the appropriate words, for he did not know the meaning of any one of them. The credit goes to the man who trained the bird, by incredible patients, to repeat the phrase…So with Claudius, though it is hardly complimentary to Parrot, an undeniably handsome bird, to compare my grandson to him: what you heard was without the least doubt a speech that he (Claudius) had happened to learn by heart.
[Caligula, now emperor, has told Claudius that he (Caligula) and his sister are gods.]
I grovelled on the floor again and retired, backwards. Ganymede stopped me in the corridor and asked for the news. I said: “He’s just become a God and a very important one, he says. His face shines.”
“That’s bad news for us mortals,” said Ganymede. “But I saw it coming. Thanks for the tip. I’ll pass it on to the other fellows. Does Drusilla know? No? Then I’ll tell her.”
“Tell her she’s a goddess, too,” I said, “in case she hasn’t noticed it.”
[Talking about more Caligula doing Caligula stuff.]
Another chance remark that I made at supper about this time had an unexpected effect on Caligula. Someone mentioned epilepsy and I said that Carthaginian records showed Hannibal to have been an epileptic, and that Alexander and Julius Caesar were both subject to this mysterious disease, which seemed to be an almost inevitable accompaniment of superlative military genius. Caligula pricked up his ears at this, and a few days later he gave a very good imitation of an epileptic fit, falling on the floor in the Senate House and screaming at the top of his voice, his lips white with foam – soap-suds, probably.
[Even more Caligula madness.]
Soon after this he had a thunder-and-lightening machine made. He lit a fuse and it made a roar and a flash and catapulted stones in whatever direction he wanted. But I have it on good authority that whenever there was a real thunderstorm at night he used to creep under the bed. There is a good story about that. One day a storm burst when he was parading about dressed as Venus. He began to cry: “Father, Father, spare your pretty daughter!”
Have I read this before: Yes! I can’t remember when, though.
Review: So I don’t think I knew this the first time I read this book (it was a while ago…probably in high school), but the six characters that are followed in the book are real people. I think I had been under the impression that these were six fictional individuals that were introduced to describe the varying experiences and effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on six people who had no real reason to have survived it given where they were in the city. But the fact that they were real people who went through all that they went through makes this book even more impactful. The impact is further developed by the fact that Hersey doesn’t just describe the immediate effects of the bomb on these people but follows them throughout the rest of their lives and discusses all the ways the trauma and the radiation sickness effected them until they died.
Favorite part: I liked the way that the focus skipped from character to character throughout the book but also showed that several of them were actually connected in various ways and interacted in the book.
Have I read this before: Nope.
Review: I had trouble getting invested in this book and I’m not exactly sure why. It wasn’t like the writing style is bad or anything like that, but I just had a hard time getting into the story. The first main event/conflict in the book almost seemed disconnected with the rest of the story by the way it was introduced, and I think I just kept expecting the book to go back to that. I was so busy waiting for that that I didn’t even let myself get into the main event of the book. I don’t know. Maybe my brain just reacted to “here’s a book about church and god and Christianity” by kind of checking out.
Favorite part: Baldwin does do a good job of presenting this issue of a minister who is extremely dedicated to god but also very abusive towards his family.
Have I read this before: Yes, but it was a loooong time ago. I want to say this was one of the first several books I read on my list way back in 7th/8th grade, which means my memory of it is absolutely abysmal.
Review: Actually, now that I think about it, I had no memory of this book. I didn’t remember the main character or even the general plot, apart from the “books are being burned” thing. Apparently my retention levels for books when I was 13/14 was terrible.
ANYWAY. I enjoyed Bradbury’s writing style. Maybe it’s because I’d read Exodus before this, which was super heavy and also had a very blunt style to it, but Bradbury’s prose was a nice change from that (not that I didn’t enjoy Exodus, ‘cause I did).
Favorite part: This line really resonated with me:
With an effort, Montag reminded himself again that this was no fictional episode to be watched on his run to the river; it was in actuality his own chess game he was witnessing, move by move.
I think this stuck out to me so much because this is how I sometimes feel about all this pandemic nonsense. Sometimes it’s like I’m just watching a movie or reading a book in which this pandemic is taking place, and my mind just goes “haha, that sucks, glad that’s not really happening…oh” or “I’m glad I could just fast forward or flip to the end of the book to see what ends up happening…oh.” It’s a weird feeling. Is anyone else getting that feeling on occasion?
Have I read this before: I…think so? Maybe? Perhaps this is a book that I started but didn’t get very far into, because I remember like the first twenty pages but nothing beyond that (and there’s a lot beyond that). So let’s say…no.
Review: Oof. This book. This is basically “let’s tell the long history of suffering of the Jewish people through a handful of characters.” It’s super heavy and very disturbing at parts. I think that it’s definitely something people should read, especially people who aren’t very familiar with all the stuff Jewish people have had to go through throughout history (not just right before/during/right after WWII). Apparently Leon Uris wrote this with the goal to tell the story of Israel, but a lot of praise for the book acknowledges it as propaganda for the existence of Israel as an independent state. And beyond that, I don’t even really know what I can say about this book. It’s long, it’s dense, it’s disturbing, and it will stick in your memory for a long time. Read it.
Favorite part: there’s basically zero humor in this book due to the subject manner, but I did like the bit of humor at the end when the Jews from Yemen were being brought to Israel via plane. They had never seen a plane before and there’s a few pages of lighthearted chaos describing how they are acting while on the plane (lighting fires to celebrate, opening windows, etc.). It’s a bit of levity that really feels earned once you get to that point in the book; it’s like finally there’s some end to some of the suffering.
There’s also this line: Anti-Semitism was synonymous with the history of man, Johann Clement reasoned. It was a part of living – almost a scientific truth. Only the degree and the content varied.
Have I read this before: Nope! I think this was a book that I always had trouble finding in hard copy form, but that’s no longer an issue. KINDLE, BABY!!!
Review: I had a vague idea of what this book was about based on references to it in other forms of media I’ve seen, but I didn’t really know exactly what it was about until I read it. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was definitely a creepy read. Not the creepiest thing I’ve read, but pretty creepy. The ending wasn’t what I was expecting, either. I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t read it, but let me just say that my desire to go into the woods in the deep south has diminished (not like it was high in the first place).
Favorite part: I liked the tension built up around Ed’s climb up out of the gorge and his waiting at the top to do what he needs to do to get himself, Bobby, and Lewis out of the predicament they’re in. It’s a good build up in tension.
Have I read this before: Nope. I thought I had, since I remember reading Slaughterhouse Five when I was in junior high and figured I’d read the other Vonnegut novel on my list as well, but as I got into it, I’m pretty sure it was new to me. I’m sure I would have remembered this story.
Review: What a fantastically strange book. It was not at all what I was expecting, though I’m not sure what I was expecting. I love the level of detachment and nonchalant-ness everyone seems to have about everything, including the big thing with the ice-nine (won’t spoil it for anyone). It makes the whole book seem like it’s describing a dream in which the narrator (and everyone else) has no control over anything. If you like black humor and a heavy topic discussed very lightly and humorously, I think you’ll like this one.
Favorite part: the style of this book is very unique. That’s probably my favorite thing. But there are a few passages I liked as well.
This description of Mona is so quick and simple but does so much:
In The Books of Bokonon she is mentioned by name. One thing Bokonon says of her is this: ‘Mona has the simplicity of the all.’
Her dress was white and Greek.
She wore flat sandals on her small brown feet.
Her pale gold hair was lank and long.
Her hips were a lyre.
Peace and plenty forever.
And I liked this discussion of Frank Hoenikker after the narrator got a call from Frank Hoenikker and is discussing it with Castle.
“What was that all about?” asked Castle.
“I haven’t got the slightest idea. Frank Hoenikker wants to see me right away.”
“Take your time. Relax. He’s a moron.”
“He said it was important.”
“How does he know what’s important? I could carve a better man out of a banana.”
Have I read this before: Nope! First time.
Review: Oof, there’s a lot going on in this book. Not that that’s a bad thing. I knew nothing about the book before I started reading it, and after I was done I looked up some more info on it. Apparently Wolfe was trying to capture 1980s New York the same way Thackerary’s Vanity Fair tried to capture 19th century English society. Having read Vanity Fair, I think Wolfe does a pretty similar job of it. There’s a very serious issue going on at the main heart of the plot, but there’s a lot of humor and satire throughout. Also, a lot of the ideas and issues are still relevant in the US today…maybe even more so than they were, say, ten or twenty years ago, like the differences in wealthy and poor individuals and racial tension.
Favorite part: The style in which the book is written is very engaging and seems to poke fun at itself sometimes. Here are a few quick sections that I felt captured this pretty well:
“Who in the name of God would bring a half-eaten eight-ounce jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise to a public meeting?”
[Sherman on the elevator with his dog and another owner gets on.]
Browning stepped on. Browning looked Sherman and his country outfit and the dog up and down and said, without a trace of a smile, “Hello, Sherman.”
“Hello, Sherman” was on the end of a ten-foot pole and in a mere four syllables conveyed the message: “You and your clothes and your animal are letting down our new mahogany-paneled elevator.”
[Attorneys in their office.]
“Come on, Larry,” said Andriutti, “tell the truth. Deep down, don’t you wish you were Italian or Irish?”
“Yeah,” said Kramer, “that way I wouldn’t know what the fuck was going on in this fucking place.”
Caughey started laughing. “Well, don’t let Ahab see those shoes, Larry. He’ll have Jeanette issue a fucking memorandum.”
“No, he’ll call a fucking press conference,” said Andriutti.
“That’s always a safe fucking bet.”
And so another fucking day in the fucking Homicide Bureau of the Bronx Fucking District Attorney’s Office was off to a fucking start.
Have I read this before: Nope! I think I started reading it when I was down in Tucson, but then I moved back up to Moscow and had to return the book to the library, so that was that.
Review: This book was different from what I was expecting it to be. That’s probably because I had a very vague notion of what it was about that had been pieced together by random references to the book and was thus not a super accurate reflection of what the book was actually about. But I enjoyed it. I actually expected things to be expounded upon more (“things” meaning the incidents leading to the change in the thing in the book that changes…hahaha, vague enough? Don’t wanna spoil it) and I think I would have liked it more if there were more details in that respect, but it was still good.
Favorite part: I love the way that youth and beauty were described near the beginning of the book. For example, here’s Lord Henry talking to Dorian about his (Dorian’s) youth:
“It should matter everything to you, Mr. Gray.”
“Because you have the most marvellous youth, and youth is the one thing worth having…Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it, you will feel it terribly. Now, wherever you go, you charm the world. Will it always be so?…And beauty is a form of Genius – is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation. It is of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it.”
Hey, duders! So this was a super long book, which is why it took me about a week to get to another review, but let’s do it.
Have I read this before: Nope! I can’t remember if this was a book I had trouble finding in libraries or was one that just kept getting overlooked on my list, but I this was the first time I’ve ever read it.
Review: you guys. READ. THIS. BOOK. This is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read; it’s probably going to replace the The Ox-Bow Incident as my fifth favorite book. Like I mentioned, it’s a long book. It details the relationship between Owen Meany, a boy who feels like he is god’s instrument and believes that he’s foreseen his own death and the circumstances around it, and John, the narrator. The book goes back and forth between John in the present day (late 80s) and when the two were growing up together as boys/teenagers. It’s hard to summarize because there’s so much that happens and so many little scenes and ideas and phrases and actions, but all of it – all of it – comes together so beautifully in one single ending scene that it’s just perfect. So perfect. So good.
Favorite part: I love the way everything that the book had been working towards comes together in that one scene near the end. It’s done so well that I don’t know if I’ll ever be more satisfied with a “tie together” as I was with this book.
But I won’t spoil that for you. Instead, I’ll list a few humorous moments, because despite the seriousness of everything in this book, it actually is quite funny in places.
Hester, Noah, and Simon are the narrator’s cousins. They’re rambunctious little buggers:
“Last one through the house has to kiss Hester the Molester!” Noah said, and he and Simon were off running. In a panic, I looked at Hester and took off after them.
The narrator discussing why he was hesitant to let his cousins meet Owen:
It seemed to me that they would be driven insane by the sight of him, and when he *spoke*–when they first encountered that voice–I could visualize their reaction only in terms of their inventing ways for Owen to be a projectile.
Owen obviously believes in god, but he is critical and somewhat troubled by the organized church and its approach to belief and the interpretation of the Bible.
“JESUS ALREADY TOLD THE DUMB-SHIT DISCIPLES WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. ‘THE SON OF MAN WILL BE DELIVERED INTO THE HANDS OF MEN, AND THEY WILL KILL HIM…” REMEMBER? THAT WAS IN MARK—RIGHT?”
“Yes, but let’s not say ‘dumb-shit disciples’ in class, Owen,” Mr. Merrill said.
Owen and John attend Gravesend Academy. Everyone there loves Owen except for the headmaster, and there’s a whole big scene where Owen gets the basketball team to move a teacher’s car into the school’s auditorium, which the headmaster has a hell of a time trying to remove. The whole scene is pretty hysterical.
He (the headmaster) sat behind the wheel—with apparent jolts of extreme discomfort assailing him from the region of his lower back—and commanded the faculty to push him.
“Where?” Dan Needham asked the headmaster.
“Down the Jesus Fucking Christly stairs!” Headmaster White cried.
Kindle-driven reading obsession COMMENCE! Let’s do another review.
Have I read this before: Yes! I read this in 7th grade, I believe. I think it was one of the first books on my “classic books to read” list back when it was in its first iteration.
Review: I only vaguely remember this book, in part because 7th grade was like TWENTY YEARS AGO and in part because I was even more of an idiot back then than I am now and I don’t think I processed this book very well. But it’s good. Basically, a rope bridge collapses with a group of five people on it and a friar who witnessed the incident is interested in trying to determine why those individuals happened to be the ones who were on the bridge when it collapsed. Was there a reason it was, specifically, those five?
Favorite part: I liked the chapter-based focus on each individual (or set of individuals) and how they interrelate. This bit from Esteban really stood out to me as well; I think this stood out to me in 7th grade as well:
“You know,” cried Esteban, leaning across the table, “you’re not allowed to kill yourself; you know you’re not allowed. Everybody knows that. But if you jump into a burning house to save somebody, that wouldn’t be killing yourself. And if you became a matador and the bull caught you that wouldn’t be killing yourself. Only you mustn’t put yourself in the bull’s way on purpose.”
This Kindle is one of the best things I’ve bought in years, guys. I love it. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it so much, especially since I’ve always been wary of e-readers and figured that I would prefer a physical book to an e-reader, but now that I have one, I am not ashamed to say that I am an e-reader convert.
There’s something very cool about having immediate access to almost any book you’d want. Obviously you can get that through libraries as well, but with the Kindle:
a) I can find books that I’ve had trouble finding in libraries, or at least at libraries that aren’t the UI library. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find copies of some of the books on my list.
b) COVID, so I don’t think I’d want to go into a library right now regardless.
c) I am notorious for checking out a library book and then keeping it for like a decade. Not ideal for anyone involved.
d) The Kindle is small and light, which would make it easy to carry around once, you know, it’s safe to freaking travel again. Some of the books on my list are like 600+ pages, which make the physical books a bit more difficult to cart around.
e) Going back to the original reason why I bought the Kindle, I don’t have to worry about balancing a book on my treadmill’s little shelf while I walk. The Kindle fits there perfectly and I can increase the font size to whatever size I need to comfortably read while walking.
The Kindle has made me super enthusiastic about reading again. I don’t know if it’s because I feel like I have access to any book on my list now (not just the limited subset that I can find in the U of C library) or what, but hot damn I just want to read.
That’s a good feeling. I’ve missed that.
Have I read this before: Yup! I think this was one of the first books on my list that I read in junior high.
Review: Since I read this in junior high (or really early in high school), it’s obviously been a long time since I’ve read it. And it’s quite a bit different than I remembered it. For some reason, I thought that the crime in question was admitted to fairly early in the book, but I was very wrong, haha. Shows you how much I paid attention in 7th/8th/9th/whatever grade. But it is still a very enjoyable book. Also, as far as “this book has a lot of Russian names” books go, it’s not too bad. Better than War and Peace.
Favorite part: The tension builds nicely throughout the book. I also like how the main character keeps toying with his fate in the sense that he basically outright admits the crime he’s committed but does so in a way that it sounds like he’s just joking.
Hey, let’s do that thing where I review a thing and stuff.
Have I read this before: No! I’ve been wanting to read it for a long time, but I’ve never been able to find a copy in a library. But we went to Fair’s Fair’s big book warehouse thingy a while back and I finally found a copy. And now I finally had time to read it!
Review: Oh my god this book is glorious. The writing is simple but impactful. The characters are very believable and the relationship between Gene and Phineas is so genuine and natural and…ugh. I love it. This is how I’ve always wanted to write close friendships in my stories.
And the “climax” (if you want to call it that) was very unexpected and thus very heart-punching. It’s a short little book but so very memorable. Love it.
Favorite part: There are a lot of little quotes and moments that I adore in this, but here are a few:
He (Phineas) was disgusted with that summer’s athletic program – a little tennis, some swimming, clumsy softball games, badminton. “Badminton!” he exploded the day it entered the schedule. He said nothing else, but the shocked, outraged, despairing note of anguish in the word said all the rest. “Badminton!”
Bombs in Central Europe were completely unreal to us here, not because we couldn’t imagine it…but because our place here was too fair for us to accept something like that. We spent that summer in complete selfishness, I’m happy to say. The people in the world who could be selfish in the summer of 1942 were a small band, and we took advantage of it.
One day he (Phineas) broke the school swimming record.
“A. Hopkins Parker?” Finny squinted up at the name. “I don’t remember any A. Hopkins Parker.”
“He graduated before we got here.”
“You mean that record has been up there the whole time we’ve been at Devon and nobody’s busted it yet?”
He said blurringly, “I have a feeling I can swim faster than A. Hopkins Parker.”
Do you ever have the sudden urge to re-read books that you loved as a kid but haven’t read since then? I don’t know if it’s because COVID has me in a super nostalgic mood or what, but I really want to revisit some of the books I enjoyed as a kid. Some of the ones I can think of off the top of my head include:
ALL of The Baby-Sitters Club books (Ann M. Martin) – I had almost every single one of these books when I was a kid/early teen. I always liked that there was a character named Claudia and that she was super artsy.
Skinnybones (Barbara Park) – I remember this book being absolutely hilarious to me as a kid. I loved the writing style.
Sixth Grade Secrets (Louis Sachar – yes, the guy who wrote Holes) – Another book where I remember liking the writing style. I also liked the story.
Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade (Barthe DeClements) – I have vague memories of this book, so I’d like to read it again to see what I’m actually remembering.
The Fudge books (Judy Blume) – I had most of these as a kid, I think.
Crooked (Laura McNeal) – This was a book I read when I was a little bit older…7th grade, I think? I remember this was one of the first books I read that had a plot with a more “serious” tone. I remember liking it a lot.
Anyway. There were a lot of other books I read as a kid (obviously); I wish I had the memory to recall the names of all of them in case there were others I wanted to revisit.
Are there any books that you remember you liked as a kid that you would like to read again now that you’re an adult?
Holy crapples, I read a book! It’s been so long, right? I just checked and my last book review of a book from my “200 Books” list was in 2016.
But finally, thanks to having my first semester off since 2017, I had a chance to read a book!
(This was also a book I checked out from the U of C library back in like December last year and I still have it because the library’s been closed since March due to COVID, so…)
Have I read this before: Yes! I read this during my first year at UI, I think. I remember reading it on a band bus as we drove somewhere. Utah? Maybe.
Review: as a very brief summary of what this book is about, it is set in a period after there has been major nuclear war in the northern hemisphere of the world. Everyone in the north is dead (or slowly dying) and the book is from the perspective of several people living in Australia as they wait for the nuclear fallout to reach the southern hemisphere and kill them, too. It’s a very haunting book and does a really good job of showing how these people are still trying to live “normally” despite the fact that they all know they’re going to die very soon. I remember being very impacted by this book when I first read it; it’s stuck with me ever since and was just as good as I remember it being.
Favorite part: There are a few times where the characters talk about what’s eventually going to happen to them (death from radiation) but say that they can’t stop acting like things are “normal.”
“I went to Wilson’s today and bought a hundred daffodils,” she (Mary) said. … “I’m going to put them in that corner by the wall, where Peter took out the tree. It’s sheltered there. But I suppose if we’re all going to die that’s silly.”
(This is her friend, Moira) “Well, of course it’s sensible to put them in. You’ll see them anyway, and you’ll sort of feel you’ve done something.”
Mary looked at her gratefully. “Well, that’s what I think. I mean, I couldn’t bear to—to just stop doing things and do nothing. You might as well die now and get it over.”
Moira nodded. “If what they say is right, we’re none of us going to have time to do all that we planned to do. But we can keep on doing it as long as we can.”
And there’s a scene where they’re talking about going fishing but the season hasn’t opened yet, but even though they know they’ll be dead in a few weeks, they want to obey the law and not fish until the season has technically started.
It’s so very…human, I think.
So this was something Nate and I were talking about yesterday, but yesterday was BIRTHDAY MADNESS, so you’re getting this a day later instead.
I bring you my TOP FIVE BOOKS!
The rules are:
1. They have to be fiction.
2. They can’t all be The Caine Mutiny.
So let’s do it. From fifth to first:
#5: The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Choosing #5 was hardest, because there were three or four books that I could very easily see as my fifth favorite book of all time. But the winner ended up being The Ox-Bow Incident, mainly because it’s the book whose story has stuck with me the most out of the possible candidates. It speaks of the consequences of mob mentality and of abandoning established methods of seeking justice. Really good. Read it.
#4: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
I’m not a science fiction fan by any means, but I absolutely love Verne. And 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea just beats out Around the World In Eighty Days as my favorite of his stories. There’s just so much that happens and it’s written in that very characteristic “my writing style is rather dry LOL WAIT NO IT’S ALL AN ILLUSION YOU ARE ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT NOW AREN’T YOU” style that Verne has (at least in my opinion). I also really like stories about ships and the sea for some reason.
#3: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Okay, does Lolita focus on a disturbing topic? Yes. But is it beautifully written? YES. I have never had my reading arrested so many times by passages that just hit me in the heart with how astoundingly beautiful they are. Nabokov does this thing where he hints at a metaphor offhandedly and then, like 100 pages later, brings it up again and fleshes it out in a way that builds in the consequences of everything that’s happened in those intermittent 100 pages. And he does it with such smoothness that you don’t even notice it until you’ve finished the passage and go “…oh.” and have to set the book down to give your heart time to stop palpitating.
#2: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Would I have liked this book as much if I had been “forced” to read it in high school? I don’t know. I actually had a choice – it was this or some other book that was not on my “these are the books I need to read” list – and I remember I was the only one in our 10th grade class that chose this. I like Fitzgerald’s style in general (This Side of Paradise is another one of my favorites of his), but I just have a thing for the way the characters in this story are written and developed. And his style is nice and simple, but not boring. “Simple” in the sense that there is an ease to which the story unfolds, despite the fact that it is unfolding to uneasiness the whole time. I just…I really like this book.
#1: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
I don’t quite know how this book ended up on my “these are the books I need to read” list given how few people seem to know that this book even exists, but I’m glad it did. The sad part is that I can’t tell you exactly why I like this book so much. I just do. The characters, the writing style, the plot, the general mood it gives off – I just like it. I love it. It’s absolutely my favorite book. I think I first read it when I was in junior high and it has yet to be dethroned. Go read it, yo.
(Also, the copy I have has the best typeface.)