Have I read this before: Yes! I remember reading this in 10th grade
Review: This is another one of those “everyone considers it a classic” classics and is one that, I think, gets an unworthy amount of hate. I suspect a good amount of that comes from people being forced to read it in school, which really seems to kill a lot of peoples’ enjoyment of some really good books.
And this is a good book. I may be biased because I love books about sailing/ships/the sea, though. Yes, it is very tedious in places, but I don’t think it’s as bad as everyone says it is*. It’s got this weird mix of technical discussions mixed with infuriatingly beautiful prose that you would not expect to find in a book that’s basically an encyclopedic guide to whaling. Like, every 7th chapter is this beautiful philosophical reflection on some grand theme and then the chapters between are all, “here’s a detailed, graphic description of how you decapitate a sperm whale.” That contrast throws you around a lot as a reader. I kinda dig it.
Favorite part: There are a few phrases that stood out to me as examples of that “philosophical reflection” and/or beautiful prose I mentioned above. Like this one:
“Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic. The warmly cool, clear, ringing perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up – flaked up, with rose-water snow.”
“Consider once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began. Consider all this; and then turn to this green gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, though canst never return!”
[Here’s Starbuck talking to Ahab, warning him that it will be his obsession with the While Whale that will doom him as opposed to anything else.]
“Thou hast outraged, not insulted me, sir; but for that I ask thee not to beware of Starbuck; though wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.”
[And here’s Ahab, several chapters later, talking about how his pursuit of the whale is basically pre-determined and that he is not the one in control of his obsession.]
“Ahab is forever Ahab, man. This whole act’s immutably decreed. ‘Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders.”
*Though that might just be coming from the fact that my previous book was The Last of the Mohicans, and Cooper’s writing style is much more tedious than Melville’s in my opinion, even if the topics in The Last of the Mohicans weren’t as…generously described as they are in Moby Dick.
Have I read this before: Nope! I think it was because I could never find a physical copy of the book. But thanks to Kondle, that is no longer an issue! Thanks, Kondle!
Review: So here we have yet another book that needs this disclaimer: there are obvious racial stereotyping issues with the subject matter of this book – namely, the broad “noble savage” treatment that Cooper gives the Native Americans in the story in addition to how most of the Native Americans’ dialogue (when they’re not speaking Delaware) is basically just a bunch of grunts. The Last of the Mohicans was written in 1826, though, and is set in 1757 where these stereotypes were likely considered to be “true,” so that might put it in context, at least. As was the case with Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gone with the Wind, these issues shouldn’t be dismissed but should be actively considered while reading the book in its context. At least, that’s my opinion.
Anyway. The dramatic difference between Maya Angelou’s writing style (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings being the last book I read) and James Fenimore Cooper’s writing style is serious. It took me a while to get into The Last of the Mohicans because Cooper’s writing is so formal and even and he digs those long-ass sentences that meander on for a whole paragraph. But honestly? Once I got used to it, I kind of liked it. And the story itself is good, too. It jumps into the action quite quickly and remains very solidly an “action” story, despite what the writing style would have you believe.
Favorite part: I’m pretty sure Hawkeye’s gun, Killdeer, is mentioned more than some of the actual main characters. Hell, it’s basically a character all on its own. I think there were a total of like 10 phrases that Hawkeye spoke in which he didn’t mention Killdeer. I find that hilarious.
Have I read this before: Nope.
Review: There are a lot of coming-of-age stories on my list, and I have mixed feelings about them. Some of them I’ve found worthwhile, some of them have kind of fallen by the wayside for me. This coming-of-age story probably sits about at the “neutral” point for me. It’s very beautifully written and it’s memorable in the sense that it’s a story about a young girl who is not characterized as either “all good” or “all bad” – which is in part because it’s semi-autobiographical and is thus centered around a real person (Maya herself). It seems like a lot of coming-of-age stories center on a protagonist who is more moral than everyone else or smarter than everyone else or more disadvantaged than everyone else or who makes poorer choices than everyone else. So it’s nice to read about someone who’s “real” – not only in the sense that she’s a real person and not fictional, but that she’s not portrayed as being one extreme or the other. It was a refreshing change from those extremes in this type of genre.
Favorite part: You can really see the influences of individual people and individual actions on Maya. The book does a very good job at showing how one action or one word of encouragement or one criticism can really affect a person’s life, especially a young person.
Have I read this before: Nope.
Review: What a delightfully absurd book. This is another book like Dracula where all I knew about it was just from random references, parodies, and general pop culture. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t what the book actually was. It probably goes without saying that the humor and style of this book is vastly different from pretty much everything else on my book list. I was wary of it at first because I thought it might be one of those things where everyone says “this is something you’ll definitely love!” but I end up not really liking it (like Dr. Who), but I dug it.
Favorite part: There were a few lines that legit made me laugh out loud just because of the absurdity.
Zaphod Beeblebrox was on his way from the tiny spaceport on Easter Island (the name was entirely meaningless coincidence—in Galacticspeke, easter means small, flat and light-brown) to the Heart of Gold island, which by another meaningless coincidence was called France.
[Deep Thought talking/thinking]
“You ask this of me who have contemplated the very vectors of the atoms in the Big Bang itself? Molest me not with this pocket calculator stuff.” (“Molest me not with this pocket calculator stuff” is a fantastic line)
[In Slartibartfast’s study]
He gestured Arthur toward a chair which looked as if it had been made out of the rib cage of a stegosaurus.
“It was make out of the rib cage of a stegosaurus,” explained the old man.
Have I read this before: Yes. I think this was the very first (or very second) book I read off my list way back in 7th grade. I remember it was 7th grade because I had to take one of those stupid electronic STAR reading tests or whatever they were called for it to “count” as a book I’ve read for English.
Review: Okay, so obviously: racism. So much racism. And it’s not just racism exhibited by every single white character in the book, but the omniscient narrator exhibits it as well, which makes it all even worse. Everything else about the book is enjoyable – the writing style is very engaging, the pacing is good, Scarlet is a very fleshed-out, complex character who is way more complex than she initially appears (mainly because she has to adapt after going through a lot of shit), and there is a realism to how the South is depicted both before and after the Civil War that I haven’t seen duplicated anywhere else.
But you can’t get past the racism. And I don’t think you should be able to get past the racism. I think that if you’re at all a decent human being, you should come away from this book feeling uncomfortable. I think that should be this book’s place in the world of literature right now.
Favorite part: I appreciated the fact that Scarlett did not like babies/kids and never wavered on this point. You don’t see a lot of portrayals of women who just outright don’t like kids without eventually changing their minds, so that was refreshing at least.
Why had God invented children, she thought savagely as she turned her angle cruelly on the dark road—useless, crying nuisances they were, always demanding care, always in the way.
Babies, babies, babies. Why did God make so many babies? But no, God didn’t make them. Stupid people made them.
Have I read this before: Yup! I think I read it in 8th grade. I have vague memories of reading it in Mrs. Tragesser’s classroom.
Review: This is a great book. I’ve always liked stories that are told through a journal/log perspective and that plus the arc of Charlie’s story really makes the whole thing even more impactful. I like how you can see how he changes not only in the vocab he uses but in the way he writes and the way he slowly learns (and unlearns) spelling, grammar, and general sentence structure. The way these changes happen alongside his changes in how he views himself and the world is great.
Favorite part: Probably this passage, where Charlie is kind of at his “peak” of intelligence and has become very aware of who he is and where he stands in the universe:
“But then, I can’t blame him because he doesn’t realize that finding out who I really am—the meaning of my total existence involves knowing the possibilities of my future as well as my past, where I’m going as well as where I’ve been. Although we know the end of the maze holds death…I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being—one of many ways—and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.”
Have I read this before: No. I remember going to check it out at the U of C library once and it was this big honking 1,000-ish page book and I was like I’m not carrying that chunky thing around so I never did check it out, haha.
Review: So I’m pretty sure that even Gary Gilmore couldn’t have given a more thorough account of his own life. Gary Gilmore, in case you don’t know, admitted to committing two murders in Utah in 1976. He wished for the death penalty to be invoked and went through several stays of execution (mainly due to the American Civil Liberties Union’s efforts) before he was finally killed by firing squad.
This book is an insanely detailed story of his life, the events leading up to the murders, the murders themselves, and then his jail time and all the court appearances and stays of execution. At first I felt it was way too tedious, but after the first few chapters I really got into it and appreciated just how detailed it all was. It was almost like you were going alongside him in real time, watching everything he did and seeing everything he saw. Very interesting.
Favorite part: Mailer did a really good job of drawing out the stays of execution, one after another. Those last few hundred pages were very frustrating because you knew what was going to happen (that is, if you looked up Gary Gilmore prior to reading the book, which I did, haha) but each attempt at execution was thwarted until the very end.
Have I read this before: Nope!
Review: I enjoyed this book a lot more than I was expecting to. That’s probably due to the fact that all I really knew about Dracula/vampires prior to reading this pretty much came from parodies or mockeries or general pop culture references. So if you’re someone like me who has only experienced Dracula through those types of media and are wary of this book, just give it a shot. You’ll probably like it! The only thing I didn’t really like was the pacing at the end. The book was very slow in its building to the climax and the climax itself happened so quickly that the end felt unbalanced. But other than that, I thought it was pretty good.
Favorite part: Not gonna lie, I got a kick out of Dracula basically going “HE’S MINE, GET YOUR OWN!” to his brides when they were trying to feast on Harker.
Have I read this before: I thought I had, but once I got into it, it didn’t seem familiar. So I’m going to say no.
Review: Most of the books on my list fall into one of four categories: coming of age stories, tales of extreme loss/poverty/despair/death, adventure, or Faulkner. This one is of the second category. It gives a very clear picture of the effects of the societal structure in South Africa that created so many hardships. Every character in the book is affected by it at least a little bit and in slightly different ways, which did a good job of emphasizing the far-reaching impact of it even in people and places that might initially seem untouched by it.
Favorite part: This quote really stood out to me:
“Sorrow is better than fear, said Father Vincent doggedly. Fear is a journey, a terrible journey, but sorrow is at least an arriving.“
Have I read this before: Yes! I want to say I read this in junior high or high school. I remember reading it in the eye doctor’s waiting room at some point, haha.
Review: Man, what a sharp contrast from Walden, eh? This book follows Paul Baumer, a German soldier who is on the frontlines during WWI. It is a very detailed, graphic, and seemingly accurate portrayal of the horrific things that the soldiers had to do and had to go through. I liked how it was told in a way that seemed to be both full of emotion and very detached. I suspect that was intentionally done to show how detaching oneself from the actions and events of war is probably a very common coping mechanism for soldiers who go through so much physical and mental trauma.
Favorite part: The portrayal of the anguish of Paul and the anguish of the man who (eventually) dies by his hand is drawn out in a way that really makes both of their suffering very real and impactful. You can feel Paul’s remorse and devastation grow as the man he’d injured dies a slow and painful death near enough to him for him to hear it all. Very jarring.
Have I read this before: Nope. I may have started it long ago, but I’m pretty sure that if I did, I certainly didn’t get very far into it.
Review: This was a very enjoyable book. I love how it’s not just “here’s how I isolated in the woods for two years” (even though that’s the main part) but it also delves into how the villagers thought he was strange in wanting to isolate and how they actually looked down on him for “not contributing to the economy” by not buying goods. The whole discussion on what solitude actually is and what it means is really interesting, too. It was a lot more philosophical than I thought it would be, but I should have expected that because it’s Thoreau.
Favorite part: There are a few quotes that really stuck out to me.
[On loneliness brought on by solitude]
This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.
[On the success of his experiment]
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. … If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Have I read this before: Yes! This was actually one of the few books on my list that we were “required” to read in school. I think we had to read this one in 10th grade.
Review: So there are two things I know about this book that I didn’t know when I read it the first time: 1) Harriet Beecher Stowe was white (am I dumb? I’m dumb) and 2) a lot of the characters and characters’ stories were based on real people and events. And while the book played a large role in fueling the abolitionist movement in the mid-1800s, there is criticism that a lot of stereotypes about black people were popularized by it. I can see that, especially in the character of Tom. There’s also criticism that Stowe did a lot of her reading/research after publishing the book.
But even with these (valid) criticisms in mind, I think it still can be acknowledged that this book had a profound cultural impact when it was published (and that it still does today). I feel like this “good story, bad stereotypes, but common stereotypes of the time” is going to be a theme with a lot of these classics (I’m looking at you, Gone with the Wind), where there is obvious mistreatment or misrepresentation of some race/nationality/ethnicity, but it “fits” with the story in that it reflects common stereotypes or beliefs that were held at the time the book was written. That obviously doesn’t mean such things should be ignored or glossed over; rather, they should be acknowledged and actively considered both in the context of the book itself and in the impact they have. Hopefully that makes sense!
Have I read this before: I thought I had, but once I got into it, nothing seemed familiar. So I’m gonna say no.
Review: This was…tedious. Like, I’ve read The Metamorphosis and I dug it, so I went into this going “okay cool, this is gonna be weird and angsty and it’ll be great.” But, um…tedious. I get that that’s part of the point, but the style just didn’t jive with me. Unlike with most of the books I’ve read from my list, I found myself just wanting to get through it to get to the next one.
Favorite part: As much as I didn’t like the tedium, Kafka does do a good job with it. It causes frustration. There was a little bit too much of this frustration for my taste, but whatevs.
Have I read this before: No, surprisingly. This is one of those “everybody considers it a classic” books that I actually hadn’t read until now. I’m not sure why.
Review: This was better than I was expecting it to be, but that might be because my knowledge of it (apart from general references) has just been people saying “UGH I had to read this in high school and it was so booooring!”
That seems to be a theme with a lot of these books, eh?
But it was good and not at all boring! It was a lot more “modern” in its tone than I was anticipating, if that makes any sense. That is, even though the shaming of Hester was very “Puritan-esque,” it still felt like it was relevant to how people can be shunned and shamed today, especially with how peoples’ attitudes toward Hester bled over into their attitudes towards her daughter.
Favorite part: I honestly wasn’t expecting Dimmesdale to publicly confess what he’d done. Even with all the guilt he was feeling (and the way it was manifesting itself physically), I expected him to just let Hester and Pearl continue to take all the blame. It was a refreshing ending in the sense that it wasn’t what I thought would happen.
Have I read this before: Yes! We read this in high school. 10th grade, I believe. This was another one where we got to pick a part and read it out loud, which in my opinion makes the experience way more engaging than just reading it silently on your own. I was Tybalt. I don’t remember why I picked him.
Review: I said it in my Julius Caesar review and I’ll say it again here: Shakespeare is lost on high schoolers, except for those who are really into lit and/or Shakespeare. Like, I remember understanding the story and everything fine when I read it way back when (this is probably the most…accessible?…Shakespeare play I think), but I certainly didn’t appreciate the language and the subtleties of how it was told like I did this time. I dunno. Maybe I was just super dumb (highly likely). It makes me want to gather a group of friends* and just read it aloud like we did in high school.
Favorite part: I don’t know if this counts as a “favorite part,” but I’ve always found it weird how something that is so obviously a tragedy has been twisted into “RELATIONSHIP GOALS LOLZ.” Like…Much Ado About Nothing is so much more of a “relationship goals” story than Romes and Jules, let’s be real.
*Too bad I DON’T HAVE FRIENDS! Also, COVID.
Have I read this before: Indeed! I can’t remember when, exactly, but I’ve definitely read this one before. This would be a hard one to forget.
Review: Okay, turns out I’m a fart, I know exactly when I read it. As you can see in that post (if you bothered to click on the link; I’m actually not sure how many people click on the random links I put in these posts), I mention that I changed my mind about Kelno a whole bunch of times.
Yeah, that didn’t happen this time. I don’t know if it’s because I just recently read Exodus or if I’m just more mature now than I was when I first read this book, but the evidence presented by individuals who claimed to be hurt directly or indirectly by Kelno seemed to very obviously point at his involvement in sadistic concentration camp medical practices/procedures.
Also, I had no idea that this was loosely based on an actual case for defamation against Uris for his Exodus.
But anyway, this is a really good book. It’s not as intense as Exodus (though it definitely gets intense in places), but it still will be one of those books that will stick with you for a while after you read it.
Favorite part: This is kind of more of a side note of a point in the book, but I still really liked this quote. Super relevant to today.
“The crux of the problem is that there exists a basic flaw in the human race and that is man’s inevitable drive toward self-extinction. Instead of war, he has replaced war with things as deadly. He intends to destroy himself by contaminating the air he breathes, by burning and rioting and pillaging, by making a shambles of the institutions and rules of sanity, by mindless extermination of breeds of animals and the gifts of the soul and the sea, by poisoning himself into a slow lethargic death through drugs and dope.”
Have I read this before: Nope.
Review: Eh, this was okay. It follows a priest in Mexico during the time when Catholicism was outlawed (1930s), so he’s basically an outlaw. He struggles with the fact that he’s a drinker (when he can get it) and a father to a daughter – two things that oppose his moral views. It’s a decent story, but it wasn’t one of my favorites on my list.
Favorite Part: I did like how the priest realized that he was probably being led into a trap at the end of the book, but still chose to do what he was “meant” to do as a priest and hear the confession of a dying man. You get a pretty clear picture of the conflict he’s in but see that he really wants to do what is right.
Have I read this before: Nope! I’ve read all of Fitzgerald’s other “big” stories, but not this one for some reason.
Review: Well, it’s no Gatsby, but few things are. It’s no This Side of Paradise, either. But it precedes Gatsby, so I guess if it had any role in Fitzgerald’s penning of that novel, I can be down with it (The Great Gatsby is one of my absolute favorite books, in case you were unware).
ANYWAY. If Fitzgerald’s goal with this story was to produce two of the most unlikeable characters ever in Anthony and Gloria, mission accomplished. I don’t know if it’s because the book I read just before this one was All Quiet on the Western Front, which provided an incredibly detailed description of what it was like on the German front lines of WWI, but reading about these two selfish, self-absorbed, entitled bratty adults complain about everything was super grating. Especially Anthony’s “joining the army” for WWI and not having to leave the US at all before the war ended but still using his military “history” to gain praise, sympathy, and admiration.
I’ve read that part of the reason this story was a little over-done and over-written was because Fitzgerald was still coming off the high of the success of This Side of Paradise and felt like anything he wrote would be that big of a success. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I could believe it.
Favorite part: I don’t know if I have one. I was basically rooting for bad things to happen to Anthony and Gloria by the end. They were pretty unbearable, haha.
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.
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!”