dste's Attempt to Read 1001
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I'm not sure if I will end up reading all 1001, since I highly doubt I will enjoy a few of the books on this list. I do plan to get started on the ones that look good to me and see where it goes from there. In a few years, maybe my reading tastes will have changed, who knows? I'm quite young, so I'd like to think that I have many more years before I have to worry. : )
I'm starting this quest, journey, whatever you want to call it, for a few reasons.
1- I like to read!
2- I hope to become a writer someday, and I've found that the more quality books I read, the better I become at writing.
3- I like discussing books with people. I've found here that the most fun books to discuss are those with real substance, like the classics. Also, it's highly likely that most people I'd like to discuss books with have read at least one of the books on this list.
I've already read 16 on the list, and I probably will end up reading more simply as part of a class. I think I'm off to a good start, and I'll list the books I've read and my opinions on them soon.
ETA: rephrasing for clarity
I think I'll start out by listing the 16 I've already read.
1- Life of Pi
2- The Things They Carried
3- To Kill a Mockingbird
4- Things Fall Apart
5- Lord of the Flies
7- Cry, the Beloved Country
8- Their Eyes were Watching God
9- Brave New World
10- The Great Gatsby
11- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
12- The Scarlet Letter
13- Jane Eyre
14- The Purloined Letter
15- The Pit and the Pendulum
16- Pride and Prejudice
9 of these I have read as part of classes I've taken, and a few others on the list of 1001 I have started but never finished (I haven't included those in this list).
Now, in no particular order, I'll just say a bit about each.
To start with, Jane Eyre. It's definitely my favorite on this list, and it's also one of my favorite books period. I simly love the main character and the style in which it is written. I found the plot to be enjoyable as well.
Lord of the Flies I hated this book. I couldn't find myself identifying with or even liking any of the characters. The descent into barbarianism was horrific, and I couldn't find a single thing to enjoy in the entire thing. I do understand why it is on the list, as I have no doubt others might enjoy it greatly. It just isn't my kind of book.
1/2 a star
1984- I read this because I was curious about the dystopia presented in it. It was alright, but my main problem with it was that I didn't find it believable. My interest in dystopias mainly stems from my wondering about how the future might turn out based on society today. In the beginning, I went along with it, but by the end I was convinced that this could never happen. I just don't think that there's anyone so purely evil that they would start a society like the one presented. It also creeped me out a bit.
2 1/2 stars
Brave New World- The other classic dystopia. I found this one much more believable than 1984. I honestly believe that the world should be more concerned about this becoming a reality. It was also thought-provoking. I like these qualities in a dystopia book.
Things Fall Apart- I thought that this book was alright, but I had some issues with the main character. Maybe I'm just not looking at it from the right cultural perspective, but I couldn't really see him as a hero type.
2 1/2 stars
Pride and Prejudice I see this as an average book. The main love story was engaging at times. This book doesn't really have anything wrong with it, but it simply failed to capture my full attention or to rouse my interest.
The Great Gatsby- Another average book. I ended up liking Gatsby and feeling sorry for him. I also like the symbolism and some of the commentary, especially near the end where it talks about how people like Daisy and her husband smashed up things and creatures and then retreated into their money or their vast carelessness. Beyond this, I found the book minimally interesting.
The Scarlet Letter- I thought this book was a bit fun to read. I liked all the descriptions of Pearl as not quite human and the long passages explaining Hester and Dimesdale's states of mind that really helped you understand them as characters. The plot was easy to follow, and I was able to get caught up in it.
Life of Pi- This book was alright, but it really bored me. I skipped over a lot of the beginning simply because it was so boring to me. Parts of it were interesting, which is why it got 1 star instead of 1/2 a star.
The Things They Carried- I hated this book. I never would have read it if I hadn't been forced to for class. There were places when I wanted to throw it at the wall because I was so disgusted with the characters. I really do not like war books, unless they have some other miraculously redeeming feature. The reason is that simple.
1/2 a star
Their Eyes were Watching God- I didn't really see anything particularly good or particularly bad about this book. The storyline was fine, as were the characters. The writing style was a bit interesting, and I can see that this book must have been important in a historical context. For me, though, an average read.
Cry, the Beloved Country- I think that this is a pretty good book. I like the slips into second person, the alternating viewpoint, and the inclusion of some of James Jarvis's letters and manuscript pieces. The descriptions of the land and discussions about fear also added to it. I think that this book is very well-written.
To Kill a Mockingbird- I thought that this book was alright. It has an interesting perspective in Scout. I found her opinions of school to be interesting, and, of course, the character of her father. Other parts I found a bit dull.
The Pit and the Pendulum- This book was at once creepy and strangely fascinating. It's been a while since I read this, but I seem to remember that I considered it to be a bit too long. At the same time, it was suspenseful.
Okay, a slight correction is needed here. Having looked at Boxall's book, I've realized that I need to take The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes off my list. I do have a book with that title, but it does not include the same stories as the one written about in the book. The bad news is I'll have to track down those stories that I haven't already read somehow.
The good news is that I can add another "book" that I skipped before. I've read A Modest Proposal, but I originally thought I would have to read it in a book with other writings by Swift. Apparently not, so I'm adding it to my list.
With this, I'm finished discussing the books I've already read (I read the Purloined Letter so long ago that I don't remember it very well). So from here on out, I'll be adding as I read.
I picked up Walden almost three weeks ago, and I'm still slogging my way through it. The beginning had so many deep thoughts all at once, and now the middle is so much description. I like parts of it, but I feel like other parts of it drag on. At times though, I get the feeling that this is more a problem with me than it is a problem with the book. In our society today, I don't think that many of us have the patience and attention spans needed to really appreciate a book of this type, especially considering that it's so focused on nature. Maybe that's a sign of something...
I'm finding a lot of the description to be nice, but I felt myself wanting to be there to see and experience for myself instead of reading Thoreau's often highly individualized descriptions.
All of this being said, I must mention that this is a book I never would have tried to finish if it hadn't been for the 1001 list. I would have given up after the first 20 pages, probably, and I'm glad I didn't do that.
I will return to complete my review and bestow my rating after I finish the last 50 or so pages. (Hopefully soon!)
Ok, well that took much longer than expected. I've finally finished Walden!
Walden seems to be one of those books that you have to take your time with. It's got so many ideas and images and little stories about nature that you can't possibly take it all in in one big gulp. Unfortunately, I'm still not sure what to rate this book. As I said before, a lot of the descriptions are nice, but I really wanted to see these things for myself instead of reading about them. Some of the stories (especially those about animals) made me smile, too. It does take a lot of patience, though, at least it did for me, more patience than I had because I found myself getting bored with it quite a lot. It's very possible that I'll return to this book someday and find myself enjoying it a lot more, but for now, I think I'll have to give it a rating in the middle.
Ok, number 18 is The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. I picked up a collection of Poe's short stories to read both this short story and the other Poe story from the list that I haven't yet read.
Obviously, this was a quick read. My basic impression of it is that it's typical Poe. The specifics of the ending were a surprise, but I was able to guess the basics very far in advance. There was a very large amount of buildup before anything happened, which wasn't really bad, but it wasn't really good either. I don't really have strong feelings about this story either way.
2 1/2 stars
Ok, now I've also finished Murder in the Rue Morgue. This one started out with a rather long discussion involving chess and draughts (which I only later realized was the British way of saying checkers). I still don't really understand what this had to do with the rest of the story. Anyway, after that, we meet the characters and get into the mystery. That's when I discovered that instead of being creepy/disturbing or being a mystery, as Poe stories usually are, this one is both.
Anyway, I found this story to be kind of fun (besides the intro) up until the end. I found it to be the type of mystery story where the reader is allowed several oppurtunities to make guesses for themselves. When I finally read who the culprit was, my only thought was "Could that really happen? Seriously?" If it could, I suppose that Poe deserves a "well done" for doing his homework and coming up with a mystery that very few could guess the solution to.
I've been finished with The Blind Assassin for a few days now, but I've been procrastinating posting it on the list because I haven't been sure what to say about it. It's a complex book, compiled from a mix of newspaper articles, a story of the life of an old woman, a story being written about the past of the aforementioned woman by the aforementioned woman, and a story about two lovers, which includes a science fiction story which one lover is telling to the other.
At first, I found the book to be not very interesting, aside from the science fiction story (which was disturbingly interesting). The descriptions in the book are quite good, very original and detailed. I was especially impressed when reading the first couple pages, which describe the death (probably suicide) of the old woman's sister.
"What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly for that one instant of held breath before the plummet?"
Of course, in my opinion, the appeal of good descriptions fades quickly when the story doesn't hold your attention.
I think that it took a bit too long for the old woman to get into talking about her past, which eventually did capture some of my interest. Once I was far enough into the book, however, I began to appreciate the narrative form of the story. "Oh, that's really clever," I thought as I neared the end.
Of course, the story didn't have enough happiness or hope in it for my taste, perhaps because I knew where it was going as a result of the format. Not that there isn't something to say for hopeless books, but those have to have some special factor in order to really claim my praise.
Overall, it just wasn't my kind of book, which makes me feel guilty in a similar way to when I read Walden. It's a bit different, though, because the problem wasn't my patience and attention span this time. The Blind Assassin is a well-written book, and, again, I can see why it deserves a spot on the list, but it just wasn't the book for me.
I finally got around to reading Never Let Me Go. It was a pretty good book. I really enjoyed the beginning, especially the way that it was formatted as a string of memories that the narrator was talking about. They all seemed so authentic because the narrator was trying to explain childhood logic and why she made the decisions that she did at the time, but she is not always able to do so. This really helped the beginning come across like real memories.
As the story moved on, it got more... I don't know if sad is the right word... maybe depressing. It just started to seem hopeless, as though their lives had no point anymore. What really got me was the characters' passivity. They knew what was going to happen, and none of them tried to fight it. Well, they did make a small attempt, but I kept thinking that they should protest or try to make others see that they were people too or try to run away or get a secret job while they had so much freedom in the middle.
There was one point where I almost cried, but most of the time I was just caught up in how empty the characters seemed to me. I found it had to relate to the characters in the end because of that.
17 - Exactly! I thought the book was good but I really didn't understand the passivity of all the characters. Is it really human nature to simply stand by and just let things happen?
One of the most striking parts of the book was how there really wasn't any restraint. The children could have escaped had they wanted too but a few carefully chosen stories/rumours was really all that was needed to keep them contained. And later on, when they were released, there was nothing to stop them from dissapearing. But yet they still stayed despite knowing exactly what their fate was.
I watched the movie The Island after reading this book and even though it was way over the top, the storyline was eerily similar but the characters actually fought back. They didn't just accept their fate but instead worked to escape and expose everything.
I think the difference between Never Let Me Go and The Island is that the children are brought up knowing their fate. And I think the beauty of the book is Ishiguro's ability to show you the passivity, the resignation, and to make the reader feel so uncomfortable with it. His book stirs the idea of what makes a human- DNA, personality, being unique? If I'm created for a singular purpose, does that make me something less than a person in my own right? For me, one of the reasons I loved the book is that he doesn't answer the question- he just presents it.
You make a good point. Ishiguro did allow the children to know their fate and that did make a difference in how they dealt with things. And you are right, he did make me feel very uncomfortable which I thought was great.
I think the thing that bothered me was that Ishiguro tried to show the world that these kids were human. Through their art, we were meant to see that they had the same depth and breadth that humans have. But a basic human characteristic is to question things. Now not everyone will but in this case, no one seemed to ever question that they could change anything. I know a huge rebellion would have ruined the story but I guess I was looking for someone to question things out loud.
Hi, I've just joined the group. As a listomaniac I really dig this kind of group.
I think I'll follow your example, dste, and start to read the books I'd really like to read and see where it will take me. As a former student of historical literature I've read a couple of the older books.
I'm living in Sweden and I wonder if those of you who are americans have the same impression as I do that it is an unproportionately percent of US books, at least of the youngest ones?
It may be because I'm not into the northern american literature, as european.
20- Yeah, I was looking for the characters to try harder, too. Or, alternatively, I suppose, just to give up completely. I think that what I found the most strange about it was that they seemed to care and not care at the same time. They're all basically voluntarily dying and it seems as though they see their lives as being empty/pointless quite a bit. Yet at the same time, we have the relationship between Kathy and Tommy and their plan. If Kathy really loved Tommy, and vice versa, why didn't they make a plan B, or try harder? And if they saw their situation as being so bad that their lives appeared pointless, why did they try at all? In the one scenario, we might end up with admirable characters fighting back (although not necessarily violently), and in the other we would have a very depressing story in which we could see the full impact of what society has done to these people. The fact that it seemed almost to be both at once was maybe what made it seem a bit off for me.
21- Hi, welcome to the group! I hope you enjoy following the list.
As for the disproportionate amount of American books, I hadn't really noticed. I haven't gotten very far, as you can see, but so far it seems to be a good mix of different countries. I think there's a slant towards books originally written in English, but that's a bit different. I suggest asking the opinion of someone who's been working on the challenge for longer.
For number 22, I have The Yellow Wallpaper. I read this in class a little while ago, but I didn't realize that it was on the 1001 list at first. I think that this is a really good short story. The way that the plot unravels on it's way to the ending is really skillful. I'm also impressed by the fact that the author went through a similar situation and was able to find her way out of it! Knowing that the author wrote from experience added a lot of credibility to the story as a whole.
I think this story resonated with me because I was so fascinated with the workings of the main character's mind as she slowly neared insanity. I was also fascinated with the relationship between the main character and her husband, the depiction of which I believed showed very clear details not only about the time period and the attitudes of the general public but about the characters presented. The whole story struck me as being very true to life. Even though I'm not quite convinced that the main character would have been so willingly obedient to and concerned about pleasing her husband, the fact that Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote it this way reveals things about both her and her character. I believe that the character experienced these thoughts and feelings, but not to the extremes that she claimed. I believe that both Gilman and her character were afraid to go too far in opposing the gender roles of the time period, knowing that people would read it. I think the narrator is a bit unreliable in this way, and that it indicates a lot about her personality because she wants to be seen as having done the right thing. She wants to feel the "right" way, to fit into the role assigned for her by society, and that is why she presents herself and her situation the way she does.
I've noticed that I, to my surprice, have read 59 of the 1001 books. And I have come to the middle of The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Marquez. So I will soon celebrate my 60th book; maybe with a glass of Champagne ;)
I recently finished The Old Man and the Sea. It was a short read, and overall it was quite plain and straightforward. I was a bit bored at times, but I think that was mostly because I don't know much about boats or fishing, which meant the author was talking about things that I didn't understand. Towards the end, I became much more engaged with the story, and I really felt for the old man.
3 1/2 stars
Wow, it's been a while since I last posted. I've been working my way (slowly) through Labyrinths. In the meantime, I read Cloud Atlas. I have some mixed feelings about this book, mostly because the parts of it are so different.
Overall, I liked the format. It had a lot of build, and the suspense carried me through the staggered conclusions. I found the first part of the book to be pretty boring until it got to the story of the Moriori, and even then still not really exciting. The next piece was only slightly better. When I got to the mystery, I started getting into it more, and by the time I'd finished the first half of the Orison of Sonmi, I was really loving it. The Sloosha's Crossing bit was alright; what really excited me at this point was that I discovered I would be returning to Sonmi's story. (I'd known this book had nested stories, but I had wondered whether the half stories were purposefully left unfinished. This possibility made me happy in relation to the first and second pieces because I was happy to leave them.) I'm not sure what to think about the whole reincarnation thing, though.
What I really liked about Cloud Atlas was how all the stories were connected, not only in the obvious way, but also through odd little poppings-up of elements of previously read stories. Some of these were fun to look for, and I felt really smart picking up on some of them. For example, the rumor that Buenas Yerbas (with a distorted version of its name) was among the towns that survived into the time of the Sloosha's Crossing story. Another thing I liked was the look at a future run by corporations and principles of consumerism. There was also the theme of human cruelty, especially slavery and war. It was really interesting that the story of the Moriori seemed to repeat itself before the reader's eyes in the Sloosha's Crossing story. Adam Eweing redeemed himself in my eyes by providing great thoughts on these things. Bonus: the title is actually in the text of the book- multiple times. I love books that do that!
3 1/2 stars
Interesting comments here. If you really liked Jane Eyre you might find MiddleMarchand Portait of a Lady very interesting as well.
I started my quest about a year ago and I have to say that the 1001 list introduced me to some authors and titles that I really dont think I would of read other wise. But with that said I have had a couple books that should of stayed in the darkness.
So yeah, I'm taking a break from Labyrinths, partially because I had to return it to the library, but mostly because trying to read it in Spanish gave my brain a workout and I'm feeling pretty lazy right now. I still plan to finish it before the end of the year, probably this summer.
In the meantime, I read the Lord of the Rings series. Believe it or not, I actually had no idea how the series ended (I've only seen part of the first movie, and I didn't enjoy it at the time), so I was really caught up in the action. I must admit that when I finished The Two Towers I rushed off to the library to get the final book, took one look at the first page, and broke my own rule about skipping ahead so that I could find out whether Sam was able to rescue Frodo. Of course, once I'd gotten far enough to relieve the suspense, I paged back to the beginning and forced myself to work through the battles and such. Does this story have a point? Two points, in fact: one- Tolkien really suceeded in making me care about his characters and in creating a lot of suspense, two- I found large parts of the series, such as the many songs and poems, the battles, and the pages and pages of falling action to be pretty boring. At times it read a bit like a history book.
That pretty much sums up my feelings about the series. The whole epic quest thing has never been one of my favorite forms. I probably would have also enjoyed it better if the narration hadn't seemed so far removed from the characters. I got through the series because I wanted to finish what I'd started for the 1001 list, because the story seemed 10 times more interesting while I was lying around in bed sick for a couple days with nothing else to do, and because I wanted to see whether Frodo would really be able to destroy that ring.
Sorry to hear that you didn't particularly enjoy LOTR. I love the book and read them a number of times when I was in my teens (a good while ago now). I much prefer the early parts - especially the suspense in 'Fellowship', being chased by Black Riders &c where the danger is so immediate but also mysterious, before it all becomes quite so "epic". I too found the battles pretty tiresome and, despite re-reading so many times, I don't think I've still read most of the songs and poems. I'm nervous about rereading it now, well over ten years after last reading it, in case I don't enjoy it in the same way I did before.
I agree with you about the suspense while the black riders are chasing them. There were some parts that kept me interested like that, but it had too many long and mostly boring parts in between.
I wouldn't be nervous about rereading it if I were you. I think that if you really enjoyed it when you were younger, rereading it will at least bring back some memories for you. I find that I enjoy some books just because I remember having read them when I was younger.
For number 26, I have The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This book was funny at times, but it was also mildly unsettling. The prologue, for example, made me laugh, as did a few other points, such as the part about the dolphins. I couldn't quite get over how lightly the destruction of the Earth and the murder of the billions of innocent people on it was treated. True, Arthur spends some time feeling terrible about it, but he gets over it exceedingly quickly. Maybe it's just me, but I thought the whole book seemed kind of empty, without purpose. And that's a little bit depressing.
Well, I finally finished reading Middlemarch, and I must say, it was quite an experience.
My first impression of it was that it was written in a lovely style that also took a bit longer to read. It reminded me of reading Shakespeare for the first time. Not to say that it was as difficult, but it took time to get used to, and the more of the book I read, the easier and more enjoyable it became. It also took me some time to get a feel for the characters. By the time I'd finished chapter three, I was thinking, "Ok, this Dorothea I kind of like. I can see this suitor trouble is going to last a long time. That will be interesting." And then the trouble was solved in the next two chapters.
It did hold my interest right up to the marriage, though. Then, it abruptly switched to Lydgate. And then to Rosamond. And then a bunch of new characters talking about Fred. Then Fred. And back to Rosamond... You get the picture. It was very disorienting. I was just settling down to spend the book with one set of characters when an entirely new set with very little connection to the last was thrown at me. I had to get a feel for the characters all over again. This was the sort of thing that characterized my journey through Middlemarch. I'd get into a character, a situation, then the situation would be resolved and a completely new character/situation reduced and my interest would drop again. So many characters! It was difficult to keep track of them all at first.
It took effort not to give up at several different points, but then there were points where I found myself compelled to continue without pause. Fred's going to find a way to pay back that debt right? Right? What's in that will? So it was very up-and-down.
Once I got past to the middle (ish) it was much easier to continue. Probably because I'd gotten used to the style and had met almost all of the characters. The fact that the point of view had switched so much actually led to interesting perspectives on the story that wouldn't have been there otherwise. As a reader, I tend to root for the main character (unless I hate him/her, which has happened), but in this book it seemed that there were several "main" characters. So in certain situations, I almost didn't know what outcome to hope for because of the conflicting interests of characters I'd gotten to like. I think in the end it also presented a fuller picture, which I believe is what the author was going for. I thoroughly enjoyed the ending; I was even making remarks out loud by that time, much to the annoyment of my sister. I think that if I ever choose to read it again, I'll find much more enjoyment in it than I did this time through.
This ended up being a long review, I suppose, but I think almost 800 pages and more than a month taken to read it make length in a review a virtual necessity. This is definitely a book I wouldn't have read (or stayed with) if it wasn't for the list, and, all in all, I think it was very worthwhile. Reading it was basically an adventure in itself, and I won't easily forget it.
3 1/2 stars
Ok. My number 28 is Agnes Grey. I enjoyed this book. It was a quick read, which is nice sometimes, especially after working through Middlemarch.
The first part of the book read like a babysitter's worst nightmare; I could hardly believe that the kids could be that consistently stubborn. If I hadn't known that the book was based on Anne Bronte's own experiences, I would have said that part of the book was unrealistic.
I enjoyed reading about Agnes' next job as a governess more. Although Rosalie was vain and conniving, I didn't mind her as much. I really liked the character of Mr. Weston, and as soon as he was introduced, I hoped that Agnes would fall for him.
I liked Agnes as a character as well. It was very easy to imagine myself in her situation making a lot of the same choices, and that always adds an extra bit of interest for me.
P.S. As promised, I really am going to be returning to Labyrinths soon. I haven't forgotten about it, honest!
Ok. Number 29 is The Woman in White. I thought that this one got off to a bit of a slow start, but after that it was really exciting. Several parts had me genuinely in suspense, which I always love in a book.
The format of having different people's reports of what happened was interesting. Sometimes I found myself laughing just because of the way the narrator put things (Mr. Fairlie). At a few points, however, I found it a bit dull, especially when it was going over things that had already been talked about in a different point of view.
I also could have done without the whole foreign societies thing. That pushed it just a bit too far in my opinion. Oh, and I didn't fall for the trick that I was supposed to, but that's ok.
Anyway, I liked the plot as a whole. It had action and then it was like a mystery, and the ending was satisfactory as well. All in all a good book.
30- The Moonstone
I didn't enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed The Woman in White. I was rooting for the Indians the entire time, which I suspect I wasn't supposed to be doing. Oh, well. I was basically annoyed at how long it took for things to happen or be revealed. The main difference between this book and The Woman in White, I think, is the lack of any sense of danger. In the beginning, I wasn't convinced that the Indians would kill Rachel if given the chance. I only thought that they might steal the diamond, and, as I mentioned, I would have been all the happier for that outcome. And after that the entire plot was the mystery.
Parts of the plot perked up my interest, of course, but for the most part I consider it an average read.
31- The Handmaid's Tale
This isn't the type of book I would have read normally, but I read it for class. Actually, I ended up liking it better than I liked The Blind Assassin.
I tend to like dystopian novels like this. I enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on in the society, how it had all come about, and more. Atwood did a great job in keeping me guessing while not keeping me so far in the dark as to frustrate me. I also spent a lot of time, as I read this book, considering what would happen if I was in that society. What would I do? Things like that kept me wanting to read even though I didn't particularly like the characters. Of course I felt sorry for the main character and others in terrible situations, but by the end I have to admit I just got fed up with her.
So basically, the best parts of this book were the wordplay and descriptions and the scope of the dystopian society.
Ok, so I've gotten behind on my reviews. Since last time, I've read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Erewhon.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was an interesting read. I was a bit surprised, though, because I was expecting it to have more psychological problems in it than it did. For example, I knew going in that the narrator was a patient in a mental hospital and had heard that he was unreliable due to mental illness, but apart from the first section of the book and a few scattered pieces, I found him to be very reliable in depicting what actually happened. I was also surprised at how you had to dig to find anything wrong with some of the characters in the hospital. It turns out that that's actually part of the story's point.
This book was clearly trying to tell the reader something or some things. I think you could get the most out of this book by going through and examining why the characters did what they did or even why they were the way they were and by contemplating the author's message. As is, I didn't do a lot of that. Maybe someday.
Erewhon was kind of boring. Some parts of it were difficult to get through because I didn't really care what they were saying. Mostly this happened during the long passages copied from the Erewhonian book about the prophets who talked about the rights of animals and vegetables. It was extremely essay-like, and if they'd been briefer or if they'd been about something that personally interested me I might have been more forgiving, but as it was, I didn't see much real value in these pieces. Another thing that maybe didn't help my enjoyment was that I found it a little too difficult to figure out what the author's viewpoint was. Sometimes he was poking at the Erewhonians. Other times he was using the Erewhonians to poke at English society. Granted, all the time he was trying to make points about English society, but sometimes it seemed that the Erewhonians were doing things "wrong" and sometimes it seemed that the Erewhonians were doing things "better than the way the English were."
It was also disappointing the lack of characterization and good dialogue and really just some basis fictional elements. Especially the parts with Arowhena. Ouch.
By the way, I'm almost done with Labyrinths, I promise!
Hey, look at that. I just realized it's been exactly a year since I started this thread.
34- The Virgin Suicides I don't quite know what to say about this one. It's a strange book, seemingly emphasizing meaninglessness and hopelessness.
35- The Picture of Dorian Gray I knew how this book was going to end before I'd even begun to read it, but even so the book as a whole was a bit different from my expectations.
I wasn't quite sure what to make of the character of Lord Henry. Sometimes he seemed insidious, but at the end he didn't react the way I expected him to. His use of epigrams could be tiring, and sometimes I just kind of skimmed over them without absorbing the meanings. I also got bored when the book was describing some of Dorian's artistic fascinations. So much repetition with jewels and fabrics, blah, blah, blah after awhile, though I tried to be patient.
I found it interesting that the book tended to gloss over things that Dorian did. It did a lot to separate the reader both from the actions themselves and their effects. Maybe the author made this decision consciously in order to avoid alienating the reader or to better control the reader's attitude towards the main character, but I would have liked a bit more detail in a few places.
Oops. I guess I forgot to write about Labyrinths when I finished it a while ago. Well, I always find it difficult to talk about short story collections because the stories are often so different, and in this case, the book had not only short stories but essays and fables. I found the essays to be pretty boring overall, I can't really say that I liked any of them, although some small parts were interesting. As for the short stories, some I really liked. My favorite was Tlan, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (hope I got that right). Others I thought were ok, and others I didn't really get.
What I can say about the whole collection is that it forces you to think. I don't mean that as in "it makes you think" but as in you have to really be focused to read it and sometimes you have to stop and think in order to understand what was just said. I went really slowly with this one, and I think that's the main reason. It felt to me like a book that was meant to be read slowly, a story here and a story there at the reader's pace.
Also, I just recently finished The Remains of the Day. This was, by contrast, a very quick read. The first thing I noticed was the voice. It seemed so accurate, and throughout it really gave the book a different kind of flavor. The point of view also did that, and I really enjoyed seeing how this butler thinks about his work and about the world. I guess overall I really liked the main character. I could understand his perspective and judge from my own at the same time, and I think that's the book's biggest strength.
At times, it had that same sort of sad, hopeless feel that I got from reading Never Let Me Go, which is the only other Ishiguro book I've read before. I found that interesting. I think it partially stems from this sense that people are stuck in their roles or in their ways. From the outside it appears that they have a choice, a chance to make things better for themselves, or at least try, but because of who the characters are they're never going to take it. In Never Let Me Go, I didn't understand why the characters didn't do something more, but in this book I did. If both were going for a similar effect, I have to say that it came through for me personally much more clearly in this one.
I do think that I missed some of the subtleties of this one because I finally realized something in the end that I think I should have been wondering about much, much sooner. On a reread perhaps it will be even better because of this. Of course, I don't hold this against the book because I think it would have been much more obvious to other people.
I read Remains of the Day a few years ago. The plot, such as it was, I already knew as I had watched the movie a few years earlier and I found it very slow and boring. The book was the better format for this story. So because I kind of already knew where the story was going the biggest surprise for me reading the book was the last chapter. It was beautiful.
I haven't seen the movie personally, but I imagine there are a lot of elements in the book that wouldn't transfer very well to film. There's something about a first person narrator that's incredibly personal.
38- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
This was a quick read, and I really enjoyed it. I liked the point of view and thought that it was well-handled by the author. He did a great job of laying down the structure of information that the reader needed to know in order to understand the main character's thoughts and feelings and keep the story going at the same time.
I also learned a few British words and phrases that I hadn't heard before reading this. That's always kind of fun, and it might prove useful if I run into them again.
I was a little disappointed in the ending, though. I thought that it could have ended a little better, although I'm not completely sure how.
Oh, look at that. I read another one from the list without realizing it.
Oroonoko was one that I didn't really enjoy. In its favor I suppose I could say that it showed me aspects of African tribal life of that time period that I hadn't been aware of. I suppose it's also interesting for the perspective on slavery. As I read, I kept trying to analyze the narrator's view in order to understand what it was and why she held those views. Oroonoko is the hero of the piece, but the narrator's regard for this African prince seems to hang entirely on the fact that he has something European about him: his physical appearance, his ability to speak French, etc. It also annoyed me that the narrator insisted on calling slaves by the names the slave owners gave them even when she knew their real African names.
I found most of the piece to be really unrealistic. I kept wondering why the characters acted the way they did, especially when they went through abrupt changes. I also found the second half of the story completely unconvincing until the end.
It's been so long since I've had time to come on here! The end of the semester was brutal! I'm a month behind on Clarissa...
But before things got so crazy, I did have time to finish The Glass Bead Game. This book was really different from the sort of thing I usually like to read, but I thought that it was really interesting. The author didn't go into a lot of the details of some of the more complex aspects of the society, like specific glass bead games, but I think it was better that way. Thinking of a game as though it was a piece of music made it much more easy to get a handle on, I thought.
I also thought the ideas it presented were interesting, particularly about how the intellectual world should relate to the rest of society. This book also made me think of meditation in a completely different way that made me understand how it might be appealing, which I never expected.
There's not much action, but the book doesn't need action, which I think is a great compliment to the author's skill.
I also reread Pride and Prejudice, and I enjoyed it much more the second time around, maybe because I've read more books from that period since. I found the characters more engaging and laughed several times, at Mr. Bennet's comments, Mr. Collins' proposal... Anyway, I think that it deserves an upgraded rating from 3 stars to 4.
Oh, I almost forgot! I also read my first Charles Dickens book!
41- Hard Times This book is divided into three sections. After the first, I wasn't finding anything in particular to like, but in the second it got better, and in the third I was invested enough to feel the suspense. I was happy to find that not all of the characters were completely static, which is what I was more or less suspecting after the first part. I ejoyed some of the symbolism and the fact that the reader was allowed to figure out certain things on their own without having to be told.
I thought some of the pieces that attempted to get the reader to support the idea of better, easier divorce laws were a bit heavy-handed, but it wasn't too bad. I also thought he took the Angel of the House ideal a bit too far, considering how a certain character ends up, but I know that allowances should be made for the time period the book was written in.
Overall it was enjoyable. In the future it will be nice to compare it with some of Dickens' more well known works when I get around to them.
3 1/2 stars
@ Pride & Prejudice:
I absolutely love mr Bennett's comments! But yet, despite the things he says, I do think he really loves his wife and daughters, deep down...
Have you ever watched the Pride and Prejudice miniseries that was made by the BBC (the one with Colin Firth)? Mr Bennett in that series is also really funny... And mr Collins absolutely cringe-worthy, but also in a funny way...
Yes, I have seen the miniseries! It was pretty fun to watch the first time, and after reading it the second time I watched some great clips from it. I watched the scene of Darcy's first proposal, for instance, and it was SO AWKWARD! I was cringing before he even said anything the way he was pacing around.
I agree that Mr. Bennett really does love his daughters, but I'm not so sure about his wife. I'm sure he was at least attracted to her at one point, but I feel like any real affection has faded. He's a good guy, so he won't ever treat her badly or anything like that, but I just don't think there's any real love.
Haha, Yeah, I guess the marriage proposals just aren't what a girl would want them to be ;)
And I did always think he did love his wife in the end... I mean, he's always saying things to vex her and saying that he won't do things for her, but in the end he always does. Like, at the beginning of the story when he says he won't visit mr Bingley, but then he goes out to visit him anyway. Though you might be right about it not necessarily being love. He does think she is rather silly (which, I have to admit, is true), but he makes allowances for it, and I guess that might be love, or just the fact that he feels he should because he's married to her and a soft-hearted person.
I'm just a romantic, I like to think he does love her. I find it comforting to think even very silly hysterical women might find a man that still loves them ;)
42- The Invisible Man This was a quick read. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. I was surprised that we didn't get to hear the invisible man's story until so far in. From the perspective and information given, it was like the fact that he was invisible was supposed to eventually strike us as a great surprise, but... it's called "The Invisible Man." Anyway, it did pick up once we finally heard his story.
From the beginning, I wanted to like the invisible man, or at least to have some sympathy for him. Oh, maybe he has a reason for not wanting to talk to anybody, I hoped, but he was just a bad-tempered jerk from the start. I feel like the author could have addressed some deeper themes here if the story had been just a little different, but maybe it's just supposed to be more of a fun read.
I did find the ideas about how he became invisible interesting-- the real science fiction part of it. I also laughed at one scene where he has a dreadful time trying to convince someone he's invisible, and the end was somewhat exciting.
43- The Thirteen Clocks This was an even quicker read! Very short, and a nice change of pace from the rest of the books on the list. A simple, fun story. Although in some ways it was your standard prince-tries-to-rescue-princess story, it had some things that made it feel new and different. I liked the Golux and his "indescribable" hat. I also liked the introduction by the author. I probably would have liked it more if I was younger when I read it, as is, I give it
3 1/2 stars
the fact that he was invisible was supposed to eventually strike us as a great surprise, but... it's called "The Invisible Man."
Ha ha ha ha ha. That's funny.
I don't understand why The Thirteen Clocks is on the list.
I started reading Crossfire, but I took a break from it to read I, Robot instead. This book reminded me of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles in some ways. It's a set of short stories connected by a thin narrative thread, in this case, the history of robotics.
The cover of the book was from the movie, which I haven't seen, so it confused me a bit. It didn't really seem to fit with the book, which makes me wonder whether the movie switched things around entirely.
So I was expecting something a little different as I read it, but I wasn't disappointed by what I found instead. A lot of it was about characters trying to understand why certain robots were acting the way they did, which always traced back to Asimov's three laws of robotics and the way they interplay with each other. You have to be paying attention in order to understand yourself.
I especially liked the first story about a robot named Robbie and one about a politician who's accused of being a robot. Overall it was pretty good, fairly enjoyable, basically an exploration of what the world might be like if there were robots in it, combined with space travel.
45- Crossfire I picked up this book thinking that it would be a quick and exciting read. It was fairly quick, but not quite so exciting.
I found the beginning interesting. I was getting used to the idea of a girl with the power to start fires and figuring out how the power works and how it affects her life. And then I got farther and I just didn't like it. I didn't really like the main character, and that's always important for me. Then we get this detective investigating the fires the main character starts, and that's kind of boring because the reader already knows exactly what happened.
I kept going though, and it did eventually get a bit better. The main character starts to have some doubts, the detective starts to clue in, and by the end it's pretty good.
Anyway, aside from the plot, I found it interesting to read a Japanese novel. There were lots of unusual names (from my perspective), some different customs, and it was interesting to see the attitudes about women in the workforce or their place as wives and mothers. There were also some ideas about Japenese youth, but because of the plot we didn't see a very representative sample. The book's a little out of date (written in 1998), but I still consider it a view into modern-day Japan.
So it was something different. Not bad, but I find it hard to like books unless I like the main character.
2 1/2 stars
46- The Plot Against America I loved the way this book began. It was so convincing-- all the real historical facts mixed so well with the fiction that it was difficult at times to tell where one stopped and the other began. Even the style contributed. It was like a mix of memoir and journalism, and all of that together made it terrifying.
I think the best part was the family trip to Washington D. C., especially when they're turned out of their hotel room. Little things like that are easier to believe than if something huge happened all of a sudden, and they really ramp up the tension and anticipation of something worse to come.
I should probably mention here that I'm going to talk about later events in the book, including the ending. So SPOILER ALERT. You have been warned.
I also had a strong reaction to the sketchy-sounding Homestead 42 program. As soon as the family got that letter, I started yelling at them. Canada! Go to Canada NOW! Of course, fictional characters never seem to listen to me.
That being said, I thought that the end was a bit disappointing. Of course the riots were awful. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the way Lindbergh just disappeared and the way that, later, history resumes its course as though nothing had happened. Would Pearl Harbor really still have happened after all that? I have to think that the situation would have been different enough to affect a few things on a longer term scale. It's all just a bit too convenient the way things turn out. Still, I suppose if everything hadn't returned to normal the book would have gone on and on, or it would have at least been a lot more complicated.
Anyway, overall the style, the writing, the way events are handled, the characters, and everything else is all very realistic and well-done. You could almost believe that all of this really happened.
I have the same problem with fictional characters: they never ever listen to me! And I give such good advice! Really, if they would just listen, so many books would be so different!
I also tend to yell at the tv when watching movies or series; tv-characters can be so annoyingly stupid... And they also never listen! ;)
I just finished two more.
The Collector has been on my list of books to read for a while. From the premise (a man kidnaps a girl and holds her captive in his cellar), I expected something really dark and creepy. I suppose it was, but not in the way that I expected. I think that might have been part of the point, that it subverts your expectations.
It was really interesting to read the viewpoint of the "collector" in the beginning, mostly to see the way he thinks. When the viewpoint switches to that of the girl, though, I didn't like it as much. I know I was supposed to feel bad for her, but I just didn't like her as a character. I did want her to be rescued, but I didn't really care to listen to all her thoughts.
The book didn't end the way I expected either. I actually didn't like the ending. I would suggest reading this book for the plot and the main character's psychology.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was really good. The post-apocalyptic Earth was a really interesting setting, especially with the changes in the culture. Things like the mood organ and the much-referenced catalogue made for a richer and more realistic future, in my opinion. Sure they had hovercars and space travel, but it didn't come across as though the author was saying, "Oh, look! Isn't technology amazing!" Too often it seems like the future is supposed to be just like the present, but with jetpacks.
The plot was exciting, but what I really liked about this book was that it had substance. You could dig deeper into it and think about how similar the androids are to humans or the potential benefits of Mercerism or whether, given the situation, it would be better to stick around on Earth or take a space ship to the colony on Mars. The fact that there weren't necessarily clear answers made it seem even more real.
I thought the ending was especially well done.
The one thing that didn't quite make sense to me was why, if androids sometimes escape, the manufacturers don't have a better way to track them down. A big part of the main character's job as a bounty hunter is trying to tell the androids apart from humans. If this can be so tricky, why don't they build in some inconspicous identifying feature, like a special tattoo or an internal tracking chip? Of course, that would have made the story much less interesting, but I couldn't help wondering.
49- The Time Machine
First off, I must say that I enjoyed this one much more than The Invisible Man. For one thing, it started by actually identifying the time traveler as a time traveler. (See post 51) It also began by explaining the scientific theory behind the time machine, speaking of time as the fourth dimension and so on. I thought that the explanation of the underlying theory was one of the most interesting parts of The Invisible Man, and the fact that this book began with something very similar ensured that it began on a good note.
I also thought that it was a smart move on the author’s part to have his character travel exclusively into the future. He did mention the possibilities that existed if one travelled into the past, but usually in literature (and in theory) travelling into the past exposes one to all sorts of possible dangers and paradoxes: If you change even some small aspect of the past, is the present you return to affected in some major way? What happens if you go back in time and accidentally cause the death of one of your ancestors? etc. Travelling into the future can affect only events that haven’t happened yet, and thus vastly simplifies things.
Travelling into the future also provided an opportunity for the author to engage in utopia and dystopia-type speculation, the eloi, of course, being the utopia, and, after the morlocks come into the picture, dystopia. I also noticed that Wells took a subtle dig at other utopias of his time: “This, I must warn you, was my theory at the time,” he says after explaining how the creatures of the time, the eloi and the morlocks, came to be. “I had no convenient cicerone in the pattern of the Utopian books.” Personally, I do think that the book was more interesting with the time traveler attempting to figure things out on his own instead of having another character explain everything to him. For one thing, it makes his final determination even more chilling.
One thing I should mention is that, because the story was told from the perspective of a character who is not the time traveler, the reader knows that the time traveller will make it back to his own time because he is telling the story after having already arrived there. That being said, I didn’t seem to mind, perhaps because there are further events after the time traveler tells his initial story. I thought this ending portion was one of the best parts of the book; I love the concluding lines especially.
(Also, I thought I'd throw in some shameless self-promotion here and mention that I recently began a blog. It's got reviews and stuff, so feel free to check it out.)
Ok, so The Time Machine was actually number 50. It turns out that when I read Beloved months ago, I never counted it towards my total! That's kind of a bummer because I'd planned to have Great Expectations, the book I just finished, be my fiftieth to mark that first milestone. Oh well, it does count as one more book. So...
51- Great Expectations
This book turned out to be more fun to read than I had originally anticipated. A large part of that was because of the writing. This is one of Dickens’ later books, which I know from reading the inside flap, and I would guess that Dickens’ acquired experience in writing was a great contribution to the style of this book. It was overall very clever, and that cleverness was by turns amusing, beautiful, and incredibly apt.
I first noticed this cleverness in the beginning of the book, where I often found myself laughing out loud. As the plot got underway, this same sort of cleverness worked itself into characters and descriptions and all sorts of other aspects of the story, so that everything seemed exceedingly well-painted and true to life. The beautiful comes in with some of the descriptions, like this one of the Thames River as the characters are rowing through it:
“The night was dark by this time… what light we had, seemed to come more from the river than the sky, as the oars in their dipping struck at a few reflected stars.”
Needless to say, I have great respect for Dickens’ writing abilities.
The plot was slow at times, especially in the middle, but it definitely had its moments. And when it had those moments, they were very exciting. Maybe they were even more so because I got used to the slower parts and was surprised when they abruptly changed. I also noticed, one night when I was looking for a place to stop in order to get some sleep, whenever I got to the end of a chapter or some other suitable place, there was some incident or plot point that made me say “just a little more” again and again. Although this feeling didn’t last throughout the book, it’s something that I love to see whenever I read. I think that most readers love that feeling of not wanting to put the book down and actively search out books like that.
I can not deny that I found myself actively engaged with this book. I wasn’t always happy with the characters, I didn’t always like them, but I experienced a lot of feelings as I read, and often very strong opinions to go with them. On my new blog, I began writing reflections as I read, and they were incredibly easy to write. I ranted about Estella, thought about Miss Havisham's weird and creepy life, and generally had so much to say about everyone and everything that the posts ended up being longer than I had thought. This was also a book where I did some talking out loud, although in this case it was more like annoyed muttering at something stupid Pip (the main character) was doing.
So, all in all, this was a pretty good one. I'd recommend it.
52- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
This is a book that I thought I'd already read when I started the list, but I found that I hadn't read all the stories contained in the official collection. See #11.
So I decided to start from the beginning and read it all over again, and I'm glad that I did. Unfortunately, I'm feeling a lot of laziness caused by an acute case of too-much-calculus-itis, so I don't feel like rewriting a review specially for Library thing. At least not today. If you'd like to read a review, you can check out the one I posted on my blog.
The Hound of the Baskervilles-
I just finished The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but I found myself really enjoying the fact that The Hound of the Baskervilles was longer. Maybe I just like novels, but I felt that it really gave the characters room to stretch. It also gave the plot time to develop slowly. Speaking of the plot, I liked that there was an ongoing danger in this one, rather than investigation after the fact of the crime, as many of the stories in Adventures were. Because of these two things, I found myself really caring about what happened to Sir Henry, not just because he was an innocent character, but because I’d gotten to know him a little.
I do wish that instead of having the customary wrap up where Holmes explains all the loose ends, just this once Arthur Conan Doyle could have found a way to reveal what was important during the course of the action and leave all the rest. I did want to know more about the criminal’s motive, but I didn’t really need to know some of the other things.
So the conclusion could have been a little better, but I enjoyed the rest of it even more than Adventures, so I decided to give it
I've heard that 1Q84 has been added to the 2012 edition of the list. I read that this summer, so I can now happily add it to my total! I did wonder whether it would be added to the list, but I would have read it anyway so it's a nice little bonus.
I thought that it was a pretty good book. I really liked the writing. It was my first Murakami, so I'm not sure whether all his books are like that, but I did like it. I especially liked the beginning. I will admit that at times it was a little too explicit for my taste, and it was also a bit strange, but overall it was alright.
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself.
Well, I have to admit that this one was kind of boring. Not all of it was, but long stretches of it were just “this happened to me”, “that happened to me”, “I saw this interesting thing”, “this is what it’s like in X place I visited”; just a long list of things like that. I actually smiled in the last chapter when he wrote “I therefore hasten to the conclusion of a narrative, which I fear the reader may think already sufficiently tedious.” I have to agree with that. He goes on to say that all the things he wrote about were important to him in some way, and I have no doubt of that, but the fact remains that I wasn’t interested in most of them.
I would also like to mention that I think that Olaudah Equiano was not a great poet. Sorry, but the long poem he included towards the end was just too straightforward and not poetic enough.
But there were portions of this book that were definitely much better than the others. It's in these sections that the real strength of the book reveals itself.
I think the first strength is that it’s realistic. I discussed this way back when I first starting reading this for my American Lit class and I was comparing it to Oroonoko. Everything he writes has the ring of authenticity to it. He’s telling the absolute truth, he knows what he’s talking about, and he makes both of these things clear from the start. Being able to trust the author really is instrumental in being able to take anything out of this first-hand account.
The second strength is the perspective. Of course his position as a former slave provides an inside perspective, a perspective from the point of view of a victim rather than an aggressor, but it’s about more than that as well. What I really noticed is that it’s not at all like reading a history book. Olaudah Equiano wrote about slavery in a time period when it still exists. He had no idea what the future will be like, and he would never have been able to guess what my perspective would be, reading this over 200 years later. He’s firmly placed within his time, and that makes it seem so much more real. He sees the problem of slavery as a very complex one. He wants it to be eliminated, and we see him trying a variety of approaches towards that end in the way of persuasion as he’s writing.
As I was reading some of his arguments against slavery, I found it very easy to compare the way that he was approaching the discussion to the way that we discuss important issues of our own day. Someday we might look back on the very things we’re arguing about right now and say “Oh, of course we should have done this” or “Of course that person was right”, but right now we are in the thick of it, just like he was. It’s interesting to consider.
So even though parts of it were boring, it was worth it overall. That's pretty much where I am with this one.
I liked this book in the beginning: the set up, getting familiar with the characters, etc. Then all the characters except the narrator abruptly dissapeared.
That would be fine except for the fact that the author had really given me no reason at all to care about the narrator up to this point. In fact, I thought that another character named Polly was the one that we were supposed to focus on (I also liked her best). For me, a huge part of any book is the characters, especially the main character. If I don’t like the main character, the book is basically sunk. In this case, I didn’t care about the main character, perhaps because there was so little revealed about her.
It got a little better once I adjusted, but it didn’t really pick up for me until the last 50 or so pages, at which point I found it difficult to put the book down. So that’s good, but I’m not sure that those 50 pages can entirely make up for the fact that the plot was SO SLOW to develop. I wasn't even sure what the real plot was supposed to be until I was more than halfway through the book.
It probably also didn’t help that I didn’t particularly care for a certain character that I’m sure I was supposed to like by the end. Nor did it help that I can’t speak a word of French (little bits of it pop up frequently, usually in dialogue). And it especially didn’t help that my dislike of the main character was exacerbated when she started acting ethnocentric, putting forth a somewhat stereotypical view of the French and taking quite a few jabs at Catholicism throughout.
I considered giving this book 3 stars, but the part where I was trying to figure out what was going on was just too long. If the portions I enjoyed would have been a greater part of the book, it might have made it there. As is, I’m disappointed to find that it wasn’t nearly as good as Jane Eyre, and I'm giving it
2 1/2 stars.
57. Wittgenstein's Mistress
This book was unlike any other that I have ever read. It has a forward motion in a sense, but it also circles back to bring forth observations that the narrator has already made or memories she has already mentioned. Often she uses the same sentences. Sometimes she uses those sentences in a form that while altered just slightly produces an entirely different effect.
There is no real plot to speak of, and yet it kept me engaged all the way through in a way that other books that have traditional plots have not been able to do. This made me wonder often what it was that was keeping me reading. The best answer that I could come up with was that I wanted to know more about this woman. I wanted to hear how she had come to where she was. I wanted to understand her mind.
She fills her life with all these thoughts of art and artists, writers and books, philosophers and philosophical thoughts. I wondered what purpose these served for her, whether they were roundabout ways of addressing subjects she didn’t want to think about or whether the loneliness and silence of her life created a void that needed to be filled with so much noise, like a hermit or a castaway talking to himself.
Really, I don’t understand it. At least not in any real and meaningful way, like the guy who wrote the afterword. Although there certainly is something there in my mind. It’s as though I’ve picked something up from this novel that I can’t quite see, like it’s a bit of a blur and if I only put on the right pair of glasses it would jump suddenly into perfect focus.
I’ve finally finished. At 984,870 words spread over nine volumes, it’s the longest book I’ve ever read. And now that I’ve been reading it for so long, I hardly know how to begin writing this review, but I’ll give it my best shot.
I suppose the first thing to talk about is the sheer length of it. It certainly presented an interesting change. In reading the 1001 list so far, I’ve had some challenges, but this one takes the cake for being the most monumental. There’s a great feeling of accomplishment that comes along with reading a book like this cover to cover. I certainly wouldn’t be feeling that right now if the book had been of a normal length.
On the other hand, it was so long that it dragged. On and on, often repeating the same points over and over again. And sometimes it picked up, getting so exciting that I was tempted into breaking my schedule by reading ahead. But that only made it more frustrating when it all slowed down again. I can’t help but wonder how much better Clarissa might have been if Samuel Richardson had edited it down to size.
The author himself recognized that many of his contemporary readers had expressed a similar opinion, and he addresses this, along with other complaints, in a postscript to the novel. He defends the length by quoting another writer, who says, “That if, in the history before us, it shall be found that the spirit is duly diffused throughout; that the characters are various and natural; well distinguished and uniformly supported and maintained; if there be a variety of incidents sufficient to excite attention, and those so conducted as to keep the reader always awake! the length then must add proportionably to the pleasure that every person of taste receives from a well-drawn picture of nature. But where the contrary of all these qualities shock the understanding, the extravagant performance will be judged tedious, though no longer than a fairy-tale.”
I agree completely! The problem is that this book does not provide “a variety of incidents sufficient to excite attention.” At least not enough to maintain it throughout a thousand plus pages. I would have given up on this book long ago if I had tried to read it as I would a normal book. The way I read it, though, a little bit at a time over months and months, made it enjoyable enough. If you read it, I'd definitely recommend reading it according to the dates on the letters, the way a group of us did. It’s a fine book to read if you have the patience to stick with it.
2 1/2 stars
59. A Christmas Carol
I was already familiar with the basics of this one. Ebenezer Scrooge is an old miser who says “Bah humbug” to Christmas and helping the poor and basically basically everything else. Until he’s visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley, who has been doomed to wander the earth in the chains he created in life. He warns Scrooge that unless he changes his ways, he will share the same fate. Scrooge is then visited by three spirits: the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
Even though I knew the story so well, it was still nice to see those aspects that don’t get covered in your average Christmas special. Like the fact that the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to visit many more places than just the Cratchit’s house. Or how the Ghost of Christmas Past has a constantly shifting appearance. The whole thing also had a certain Dickensian quality to it that doesn’t quite come through in modern adaptations.
It was basically a nice, short read, especially good for the holiday season.
Heart of Darkness- The anti-imperialist message in this book is strongly present, and I also think that’s one of the most interesting and valuable things about it. It’s even more interesting knowing that the author lived during a time when imperialism was widely accepted in England and that he’d actually gone to Africa himself and seen firsthand some of the things he writes about.
Beyond that, I thought that the text itself was good. I’ve seen other people who've read it complain that the language is too dense, but I actually found it to be nice. I will admit that it takes a lot of focus on a sentence-by-sentence level, but, once you add that extra bit of concentration, it’s really worth it. As the sentences unfold, you can almost hear the voice of the man telling the story and almost see the wilderness, the people, the action, playing out inside your head.
Many of the sentences struck me as being very beautiful. In fact, there are so many that I found that I couldn’t read too much at once. After reading for too long, my mind began to get filled up and I would find myself wanting to just skim through. That was when I knew that I needed to stop and take a break. When I picked it back up again an hour or two later, I would be in a mood to appreciate each sentence once again. It’s a bit like poetry in that way.
I did a lot of highlighting in this one.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency- This book didn’t turn out the way I had expected. I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a couple years ago, so, if anything, I imagined it would be something like that. The style of humor was similar, and this book did make me laugh a few times, but the story line of this one was less straightforward. Whereas in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the plot got a jump start with the destruction of the earth, and the characters’ subsequent adventures made up the rest, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency starts out with many different story threads. These threads all weave together to make a cohesive picture eventually, but in some cases, it takes quite a while. For example, the opening image of a mysterious tower remains mysterious until the very end. This made for an interesting dynamic, but it also makes it very difficult to explain exactly what the story is about.
On one hand, there’s a man named Richard who’s visiting an old college professor. He works for a man named Gordon Way. Then you’ve got Susan Way, who’s Richard’s girlfriend. And a robot called an Electric Monk who rides around on a horse and is slightly malfunctioning. And a guy named Michael Wenton-Weakes, who’s just upset because he’s lost control of his magazine. And later on you finally meet the Dirk Gently of the title. And, well, it all comes together in the end. Honestly, I think that I liked the horse the best. Just an ordinary horse, but he sure had to put up with a lot of strange situations, and he just dealt with it all the way an ordinary horse does, by going wherever his rider wants and munching on grass when it happens to be nearby.
I enjoyed the scattered bits of humor and the Coleridge references, mostly because I love The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I don’t have much to say about the rest one way or another. I didn’t especially like or dislike it. I just feel kind of lukewarm about the whole thing. So I guess I’ll just give it 3 stars.
62. Borstal Boy This book took me longer to read than I thought it would. The beginning was interesting, but as it went on, everything seemed to be taking a long time. Some anecdotes were quite enjoyable to read, but I found myself wondering when he would finally have his trial and then when he would get to Borstal (which didn’t happen until Part 3). I think it could have kept my interest better if it had cut out some of the less interesting parts in order to pick up the pace, but perhaps that’s just me. I don’t always have a lot of patience with memoirs or nonfiction books.
I did like that this book was a memoir because it showed everything as absolutely true to life. While it didn’t talk about the IRA as much as I had hoped that it might, there’s really no way to duplicate the kind of insider point of view that Behan offers us. The reader can see what the English prisons of this time really look like from the eyes of a prisoner, and since Behan goes through three different places, from prison to an allocation center to Borstal, the reader can also compare, seeing which are strict and which are more lenient and in what ways.
One thing that can really be seen are the developing relationships between the characters, as Brendan makes friends and finds ways to keep back enemies. This book is also very good for learning slang. There is an index in the back, but I hardly ever used it, as much of it is explained by the narrator the first time a word is used and much of the rest can be easily understood from context. By the end, I was actually impressed with how much of it I had learned. In fact, I begin to think that it’s kind of weird that I know so much about 20th century English prisons now.
I would recommend this book if you have an interest in Irish history or want an insider’s view of prison life in this time period. I probably would have found it boring if I hadn’t gone in wanting to learn something. As it was, I enjoyed it, but probably a bit less than average.
2 1/2 stars
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