It’s time for some good old Salinger today!
Have I read this before: Yes! I’ve actually read this twice before—once in high school during my “I am 2 cool 4 school” phase where I hid out in the bathroom during lunch and read books like Catcher in the Rye, and again in 2012 when I was in Tucson.
Review: Oh, Holden Caulfield. I really like the style of this book, how “casual” it’s written and how it’s basically almost like Holden’s stream of consciousness as he goes through the week. I guess that casual nature is part of why the book is considered a classic, though, eh? I also like his snarky humor throughout.
Favorite part: “‘How exciting,’ old Lillian said. Then she introduced me to the Navy guy. His name was Commander Blop or something. He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you. God, I hate that stuff.” I just really like that line, haha.
Book review time! Let’s look at Native Son by Richard Wright.
Have I read this before: I have! I read it in high school sometime. 11th grade? 12th grade? I think it was 12th grade, but I’m not totally sure.
Review: I’m a white chick from Idaho, so I don’t know how valid my opinion is on any of this, but given what’s been going on in the US with the Black Lives Matter movement, I think this is a book that everyone in the country should read right now. Wright puts into words a concept that I think is very central to BLM but is very difficult to understand or even express (especially if you’re white? I don’t know). He’s not using it as an excuse for Bigger’s actions, but he uses it as a way to explain why Bigger did what he did without even knowing why he did what he did. If that makes any sense at all.
Favorite part: There are a few, all related to what I was just talking about.
(This is Jan talking, a white man who actively supports the Civil Rights movement) “I don’t hate you for trying to blame this thing on me…maybe you had good reasons…I don’t know. And maybe in a certain sense, I’m the one who’s really guilty…” (…) “Bigger, I’ve never done anything against you and your people in my life. But I’m a white man and it would be asking too much to ask you not to hate me, when every white man you see hates you.”
(More Jan) “It taught me that it’s your right to hate me, Bigger. I see now that you couldn’t do anything else but that; it was all you had.” (…) “I was in jail grieving for Mary and then I thought of all the black men who’ve been killed, the black men who had to grieve when their people were snatched from them in slavery and since slavery. I thought that if they could stand it, then I ought to.”
This conversation about Bigger:
“A grave wrong has been done to two people who’ve helped Negroes more than anybody I know.”
“I sympathize with you, Mr. Dalton,” Max said. “But killing this boy [Bigger] isn’t going to help you or any of us.”
“I tried to help him,” Mr. Dalton said.
“We wanted to send him to school,” said Mrs. Dalton faintly.
“I know,” Max said. “But those things don’t touch the fundamental problem involved here. This boy comes from an oppressed people. Even if he’s done wrong, we must take that into consideration.”
Let’s review The Chosen today, shall we?
Have I read this before: I have, but I can’t remember when, exactly. High school, maybe?
Review: This is such a good book. Such an impactful book. I remembered a lot of this book from the first time I’d read it, and that’s saying something, especially considering I read it so long ago that I can’t actually remember when that was. I remember that the ending made me cry last time; it didn’t this time, but it was a very satisfying, complete ending, if that makes any sense. I don’t want to give away too much about this book, but if you’re looking for something thought-provoking that is super well-written and will stick in your brain for a while, read The Chosen.
Favorite part: This quote from Reuven’s father:
“Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? … I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant.”
Are you ready for some MARGARET ATWOOD!?!?!?
(You should be.)
Specifically, let’s review A Handmaid’s Tale.
Have I read this before: Indeed. I think I read this in the summer between high school and college. I’m too lazy to check my blog archive. HOW’S THAT FOR OVERACHIEVING?
Review: This book? It’s great…until the ending. I don’t know if it’s just me or if this is something that other people have thought about this book, but I was totally gung-ho and loving everything up until—quite literally—the last two pages. And that was the case both the first time I read it and this last time. I was thinking, during this last read, that my dislike for the ending might just have been because I was 18 and stupid and didn’t appreciate the way the story was finished. BUT NOPE! I got to those last two pages, everything ended, and I was like, “oh. Right. This.” Seriously. The whole book, save those last two pages, is fantastic. But maybe that’s just how I see it. Maybe you’d like the whole thing. Give it a read and see.
Favorite part: Anything but the ending.
Rating: 5/10 (because of the ending)
It’s Orwell time!
Have I read this before: Yes, but a loooong time ago. Like 8th grade or something. I didn’t really remember it very well.
Review: Really, now that I think about it, re-reading this was basically like reading it for the first time, ‘cause I didn’t remember a damn thing from the first time I read it, apart from the characters all being animals and one of them being named Napoleon. But yeah, it’s a good book. Everything escelated very quickly once the animals got control of the farm, but I guess I’d rather have that in a rather short book than have it drawn out too long in a longer book.
Favorite part: I like the repetition throughout the story. By that, I mean not only the repetition of some of the animals’ phrases/songs, but also the repetition of how the pigs justified their actions, how the “all animals are equal” and the Seven Commandments are slowly altered. Very cool.
WELL TODAY SUCKED.
But let’s not talk about that. Let’s do a book review instead.
Let’s review The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Clark! Spoilers as usual.
Have I read this before: Yes! Summer of 2007.
Review: I like this book, man. It’s technically a western, which is about on par with fantasy in terms of being a genre that I’m not particularly fond of, but it’s a good book. It’s a story about a mob that goes out searching for a group of supposed cattle rustlers and murderers. There is a wide variety of opinions within the mob regarding the legality and moral implications of their plans (lynching the suspected rustlers/murderers once they’re found). Even though the book is written from the perspective of one of the drifters who kind of gets drawn into the mob, you really get a good sense of these different perspectives, especially the perspective of Davies, the man who is most strongly opposed to the lynchings. Despite a decent amount of opposition once they find the three rustling/murdering suspects, the mob ends up lynching them. Once they return to town, they find out that the suspects were telling the truth—they neither rustled any cattle nor murdered anyone.
Favorite part: It’s pretty bad to say this is my favorite part, but I really enjoyed the struggle of Davies as he discusses his guilt with Art (one of the drifters) after they return to town from the lynching.
“There wasn’t proof,” I [Art] said angrily. “You don’t get all set for a hanging and stop for some little feeling you have.”
“You might,” he [Davies] said, “when you’re hanging on a feeling too.”
It’s another book review! Let’s look at Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
Have I read this before: Yes, but I can’t remember when. Which means it was a long time ago.
Review: The further I read into this, the more I remembered it from the first time I read it. I always like the idea of a book in the form of one of the characters just sitting down and relating the entire story; I think you get really immersed in their point of view and how they think. That works really well in this book. Janie sits down with a neighbor and basically relays the rest of the book as a story from her perspective, from her childhood all the way up to what led her to sitting with her neighbor. Since you get everything in her voice (literally), you can really see how she reacts in each relationship she discusses and how she matures through each one.
Favorite part: I like the tone of this book overall, but the small little part that really stuck out to me was the beautiful metaphor Janie describes near the beginning of the book. As a teen, she sees a bee gathering pollen from a cherry blossom, which becomes to her a representation of an ideal relationship. She sees it as a flawless, effortless coming together of two individuals rather than something that requires a lot of work. I just like how this metaphor stuck with her and kept coming up throughout the rest of the book.
Have I read this before: Yes! High school, I think. 10th grade?
Review: I think I was a little too young to really appreciate this the first time I read it. I like the characters and I like the progression of McMurphy’s antagonism toward Nurse Ratched. I also like how once Chief finally started talking, all the patients basically just took it in stride. It’s a really good book—one of those “classics” that I actually think everyone should.
Favorite part: The fishing trip is pretty great. And it sounds bad to say this, but I also really liked the electroshock therapy part. Not because it was happening, of course, but because I really like the way Kesey shows what the therapy does to Chief’s thought processes while it’s underway. It’s pretty scary.
Alright readers, sit your butts down because today we’re reviewing Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny. Spoilers (maybe?) ahead!
Have I read this before: Many times! This is my favorite book, y’all.
Review: Dude. Dude. I love this book. I love Captain Queeg. I’m pretty sure he’s my favorite literary character, apart from maaaaaaaaybe Jay Gatsby. I like the other characters in this book too, especially Maryk. While the plot may take a bit to start up (i.e., the first several chapters are a bit slow), I think the rather gradual introduction of the characters and the situation and Willie himself really help to amplify Queeg’s apparent craziness up to during the eventual mutiny. It also helped to show, once the trial for Maryk was underway, how the men who were against Queeg very quickly felt the ridiculousness of their claims of Queeg’s insanity were once they were all out of danger. The timing and tenseness of the book were really well done, in other words.
AND QUEEG. QUEEG IS GREAT.
Favorite part: The whole thing. But specifically:
- Willie not knowing any of the terminology/slang when he first got on the Caine.
“‘Sir, it was my fault,’ spoke up the boatswain’s mate. He began an alibi which sounded to Willie like this: ‘The port bandersnatch got fouled in the starboard rath when we tried to galumph the cutting cable so as not to trip the snozzle again. I had to unshackle the doppleganger and bend on two snarks instead so we could launch in a hurry.’”
- Queeg obsessing about all the wrong things at all the wrong times.
- The way the crew, once they were sick of Queeg, decided to basically make it look like they were responding to his requests/demands when in reality they were being ignored everywhere the captain wasn’t.
“The crew with its vast cunning had already charted most of the habits and pathways of the captain. He was moving now in a curious little circle of compliance that followed him like a spotlight, extending to the range of his eyes and ears; beyond that, the Caine remained the old Caine.”
- THE STRAWBERRIES
- The speech/rant Greenwald gives Keefer and Maryk near the end. It gives the lawyer (Greenwald) a lot of depth in very few pages. I like it.
Hey, it’s Flaubert time! LET’S DO THIS, Y’ALL. Spoilers as usual.
Have I read this before: Long, long ago, yes. This was probably the second or third book I read off of my original list, so that was likely in 7th or (at latest) 8th grade.
Review: This book is a lot sadder than I remember it being. Maybe because back in 7th grade I had basically zero concept of what a relationship really was (apart from wanting one with a certain someone, but WE WON’T GET INTO THAT) and what it meant to be in one. But this book is basically all about how miserable it can be to be in a relationship that you don’t want but can’t seem to find a way out of. Flaubert does a really excellent job of portraying the misery of Emma Bovary and how desperate she is to really try and find happiness in a relationship—whether that relationship is with her husband or not. I certainly didn’t remember the poison-induced suicide, though.
Also, I know this was written during a totally different time than today and social standards are a bit different, especially for women, but my mind was basically screaming “YOU PEOPLE NEED COMMUNICATION SKILLS” the entire time.
Favorite part: Lots of good quotes in this book, mostly about how much it sucks being unable to find happiness in a relationship.
- Before the wedding, she had believed herself in love. But not having obtained the happiness that should have resulted from that love, she now fancied that she must have been mistaken.
- As their [Emma and Charles, her husband] outward familiarities grew, she began to be inwardly detached, to hold herself more aloof from him.
- And all the time, deep within her, she was waiting for something to happen. … She had no idea what that chance would be, what wind would waft it to her, where it would set her ashore…But every morning when she woke she hoped to find it there. She listened to every sound, started out of bed, and was surprised when nothing came. Then at sunset, sadder every day, she longed for the morrow.
- (During her affair with Leon) They began to talk more of things indifferent to their love. … She would look forward to a profound happiness at next meeting, then have to admit that she felt nothing remarkable.
Hey, look who finally finished another book. It’s Camus party time!
Have I read this before: Um, I want to say yes, but it wasn’t familiar at all.
Review (spoilers): It’s an okay book. It’s not my favorite of Camus’ (that would be The Plague), but it’s not bad. You can really get a sense of the absurdity through the main character and the way he’s so emotionally detached from everything. Hell, he randomly murders two dudes. The pace is a bit slow, but hey, that’s Camus for ya. It is an interesting read, especially if you’re into the philosophy of the absurd and/or existentialism, but there’s a lot more of the former than the latter in here.
Have I read this before: A looooooong time ago, yes. I can’t even remember when.
Review: Ah, Cyrano. Gotta love him. This play has always seemed like Voltaire meets Beckett as far as its style and wit go.
Also, did you know there was a real Cyrano? He was a French playwright and duelist (apparently those things went hand in hand quite frequently in 1600s France) who did in fact have a big nose, but not nearly as big as fictional Cyrano’s. Real Cyrano did in fact fight in the Thirty Years’ War and there was a Christian fighting alongside him (who did marry Cyrano’s cousin), though the details of that relationship don’t resemble those in Rostand’s play.
Edit: hahaha, oh my god, I really want to read Real Cyrano’s play, L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon). According to Wiki, “Cyrano travels to the moon using rockets powered by firecrackers and meets the inhabitants. The moon-men have four legs, musical voices, and firearms that shoot game and cook it.” That sounds FANTASTIC.
(Edit 2: Okay, yeah, this was more of a review of Real Cyrano than the play. But the play is good. Read it.)
Favorite part: Christian’s complete lack of wit is pretty great.
(This is after Cyrano had been feeding eloquent lines to Christian, who spoke them up to Roxane from down below her window. Eventually, Christian thinks he can speak for himself and tells Cyrano to beat it.)
Is that you, Christian? Let us stay
Here, in the twilight.
They are gone.
The air Is fragrant.
We shall be alone. Sit down
Now tell me things.
I love you.
Speak to me about love…
I love you.
Be eloquent! …
You have your theme—
I love you so!
And then? …
And then…oh, I should be
So happy if you loved me too! Roxane,
Say that you love me too!
I ask for cream
You give me milk and water. Tell me first
A little, how you love me.
(This goes on for like another two pages, it’s great.)
Victor Hugo party central! Let’s do it.
Have I read this before: Way back in junior high. I actually think this might have been one of the first books on my list I read. Not the first first, but one of them.
Review: This story is intense, yo. Some of these reviews are hard ‘cause I was a Disney kid and thus always have the Disney versions in the back of my head somewhere. I don’t remember a freaking word of this from when I read it before, but I was actually surprised at some of the things that Disney kept almost directly from the story. Like Quasi holding Esmeralda up and yelling “sanctuary!” once he swung her into Notre Dame. And Quasi throwing rocks at and dumping molten metal on the dudes trying to break into the cathedral (granted, in Disney Movie Land they weren’t the tramps but the Frollo Army, but still). AND Frollo’s death.
I still feel bad for Frollo, man. I know he’s the “bad guy” and he’s creepy as hell at some parts of the novel, but Hugo does portray his torment as real and believable. The fact that he’s also shown as displaying quite a bit of compassion at parts makes him even more believable.
Favorite part: I feel weird saying this, especially since there are some super disturbing and sobering moments in this book, but parts of Hunchback are pretty hilarious. Oh my god.
- The deaf judge trying to interrogate the deaf Quasimodo. “Now, here was a case that the law had not provided for—the deaf interrogating the deaf.” The consequences of this scene were pretty bad, but the scene itself is freaking great.
- “Having reached the pillar gallery, he [Jehan] stood puffing for a moment then swore at the endless stairs by I don’t know how many million cartloads of devils.”
- Captain Phoebus can’t get Esmeralda’s name right. He calls her “Similar” for like three pages.
- “The thunderbolts of god are not hurled against a lettuce!”
It’s Ethan Frome time!
[There are spoilers ahead; avert thine eyes if you haven’t read this book yet and you don’t want me to ruin it for you]
Have I read this before: Indeed! I believe I read this in 10th grade advanced English class. We had an option of reading this or some other book that wasn’t on my list, so I chose this.
Review: This book is obscenely heartbreaking. It’s not heartbreaking in the same way that The Good Earth is or The Jungle is…that is, it’s not a “my farm/job/livelihood/luck failed me repeatedly and now my family is in dire straights and everyone is sick and everything is horrible and we’re all about to starve” type of heartbreaking. It’s more of the “I love someone but I’m stuck with this other person instead and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it even though I’m desperate to be with the one I love the only way out is death hey yeah death let’s take that route.” This story has really stuck with me ever since I first read it.
Favorite part: It’s hard to pick a favorite part because it’s such a short little story. I’d have to say either the way Wharton portrays the unspoken communication between Ethan and Mattie or the hints about the sledding “accident” scattered sparsely throughout. It’s mentioned just enough that you get a little suspicious, but it still hits you like a train at the end.
Or like a tree.
(God I’m a bad person.)
IT’S SARTRE TIME!
(Sorry for the long break between books. I got busy packing/panicking/wishing for death over the summer, but now I’m back and now I have the giant U of Calgary library to quench my reading needs. At least until I forget to return the books I check out and I rack up a $200 fee for late books.)
(It’s happened before.)
Have I read this before: Yes. End of 2009 I think? Not so long ago compared to some of the books I’m re-reading.
Review: I really didn’t remember much of this book from my first read. I remembered the names Mathieu and Marcelle, but that was pretty much it. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they find Sartre a very dry writer (both with his fiction and his philosophy), but I enjoyed the writing. I liked how he jumped between Mathieu and Daniel as kind of the “main” narrators for different parts of the story. And, of course, the angst they all feel—at different levels, of course—regarding their notion(s) of freedom. Interesting stuff.
Favorite part: The razor scene with Daniel. I guess it’s not so much of a scene as a pondering. But it’s very poetically written.
Have I read this before: Yup, up in Vancouver.
Review: Want to feel depressed, disgusted, discouraged, and disturbed? This is your book.
Seriously, this ranks up there as one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It follows Jurgis, a Yugoslavian immigrant, as he and his family try to “make it” in Chicago during the early 1900s. The book opens with Jurgis getting married to Ona, and that’s about where the happies stop.
Jurgis gets a job in the meat-packing industry and basically faces tragedy after tragedy after tragedy throughout the whole book. Not only do we get the horrible details of what the meat-packing industry was like for workers back then, but Sinclair also details how impossibly difficult it was for immigrant workers to even keep the most basic of jobs because of how unsafe the whole industry was. And many got screwed out of reasonable rent/housing because of greedy landlords and the language barrier.
This is a hard book to read, man. Not because of the way it’s written or anything like that—it’s just depressing as all hell. Which was one of Sinclair’s main points in writing it. He wanted to show how terrible it was for immigrant workers during that time.
So read it. But make sure you’ve got your Zoloft ready.
Favorite part: God, how can you have a favorite part of this book? I suppose the very detailed descriptions of the working conditions.
The hands of these men would be criss- crossed with cuts, until you could no longer pretend to count them or to trace them. They would have no nails, – they had worn them off pulling hides; their knuckles were swollen so that their fingers spread out like a fan…and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting, – sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!
Rating: 6/10 (just because it’s sooooo depressing)
Have I read this before: Yar! First time was in 10th grade English. We had a choice between this and some other book that wasn’t on my list. Hence, I chose Gatsby. I think I was the only one who did.
Review: Don’t make me review this. I don’t think I can. I love this book, yo. If you’ve read my 100 Things, you’ll know that character-wise, this is my favorite book. It’s such a compact story, but there’s so much in it. I think Gatsby is fascinating and for some reason I really like the fact that Nick, the narrator, doesn’t really have a voice of his own (at least compared to a lot of other narrators of books). He exists for things to happen around, it seems, and that puts an interesting twist on the whole story. He’s almost limited omniscient in that sense because he really gets the story from everybody’s angle but doesn’t get to be in anyone’s head but his own.
LSAjflakdjfasfjaskflj I just really like this story.
Also, if you ever want to listen to an audiobook version of this, I highly recommend the one read by Alexander Scourby. It’s unabridged and fantastic.
Favorite part: Oh, jeez.
“They’re a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time. His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption—and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them good-by.
Have I read this before: Nopers. I started it back in the summer of 2008 but only got like 30 pages in for some reason. Not sure why I stopped.
Review: I really like Dumas. The idea of four sword-fighting dudes fighting for the king sounds like an appealing story on its own, but Dumas seems to up the intrigue quite a bit by the way the story proceeds. Also, poisonings. That seems to be a thing for Dumas.
Anyway. I’ve always enjoyed stories that have characters with very distinct, almost trope-like personalities/personality traits. This is one of them. It’s like the three Karamazov brothers, but with more swords and less Russian name confusion.
(Okay, it’s not, really, but can you imagine how fantastic that would be?)
Also, Porthos will forever look like Oliver Platt in my mind. THANKS, DISNEY.
Favorite part: The death of Constance is really freaking sad. I hate to call that my favorite part, but it is. The vast majority of The Three Musketeers is either action or humor (or both), but that part was definitely very sad.
I also really liked the friendship that built between Athos and d’Artagnan.
Have I read this before: Nope! Brand new to my eyes.
Review: This is what I learned from this book: if you’re going to mess with someone, it probably shouldn’t be anywhere near the level of implying you want to marry them when you have absolutely no interest in them.
Also: don’t piss off the farmers.
Far from the Madding Crowd chronicles three very interesting relationships of Bathsheba Everdene, a woman left in charge of a large farm in, as far as I can tell, the mid-1800s. First is Gabriel Oak, the shepherd we’re introduced to in the first chapter and who we mainly follow throughout most of the book. He loves Bathsheba from practically the moment he sees her, but is reduced to having to watch her other relationships blossom throughout most of the novel. They refer to him as “Farmer Oak” throughout but I kept reading it as “Professor Oak” (thanks, Pokemon), so that made for some entertaining reading.
Farmer Boldwood is the second lover and is the victim of a very poorly thought-out prank (it’s not even a prank, it was like, “hey, let’s screw with Boldwood, he’s weird”).
Finally there’s the soldier Francis Troy, who’s basically the 19th century equivalent of Zapp Brannigan. I read all his dialogue in Zapp’s voice and kept waiting for Kif to show up. Again, that made for some entertaining reading.
Anyway. It’s a soap opera on a farm. That’s always entertaining, right?
Favorite part: I feel bad calling this my favorite part, but Hardy did a great job showing how devastated Boldwood had become after he realized that the whole “Bathsheba loves you HAHA JUST KIDDING LOLZ” incident. I felt bad for the dude.
Have I read this before: Yup! In fact, this was the very first book I read when I started my book list back in 7th grade.
Review: This is one of the longer ones (~700 pages in the copy I’ve got) and it doesn’t really pick up until Philip, the main character, leaves England and heads to Paris for art school.
Ah, Philip. I don’t know if it was Maugham’s intention to have the reader get ridiculously frustrated with Philip’s on/off relationship with Mildred (who is the most obnoxious character ever), but if it was, mission accomplished. By like the time he takes her in after she’s destroyed his life for like the fifth time, I was like “COME ON, PHILIP, NO!”
Anyway. Other than that, this was a very appropriate book for me to read at this point in my life. The book basically chronicles Philip’s attempts at “starting his life” and, in this process, all his social awkwardness, self-doubt, career changes, and fear. I don’t remember it being so relatable in 7th grade, but I totally felt it now. Like I said, it takes a little while to get into this book, but I think it’s worth it, especially for those of us in our 20s.
Favorite part: There were a few good lines/sections in here, particularly regarding the idea of free will and determinism. I particularly enjoyed Philip’s conversation with Cronshaw in chapter 45, all about free will vs. determinism. And this quote in chapter 28, as Philip is renouncing his religion: “From old habit, unconsciously he thanked God that he no longer believed in Him.”