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100 Greatest Novels: The Adventures of Augie March, Angle of Repose, & A Bend in the River

Well, we’re into a new year. And hopefully this is the year I finish the 100 greatest novels. After the three novels we’re talking about today, I only have 17 left. That’s crazy. It’s been a long, challenging, and enjoyable adventure through these books. I’m not really sure how I’m going to choose what books to read if I don’t have a list to follow. Also, new books are expensive. It saved me money reading all these older cheap and sometimes free books. Anyway, let’s get to it.

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

AugiemarchI was really looking forward to reading this book because the previous novel by Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King, was a hilarious adventure. At first, I struggled to get into the story. It was nothing like Henderson the Rain King, it wasn’t even funny. But once I got past my hangups, the story really captured me. Following around Augie March from early childhood into adulthood, we get to watch him go through numerous adventures. Growing up in the Great Depression in Chicago to a poor family, Augie uses his wit and some good luck to more around from job to job, education opportunity to criminal opportunity, woman to woman. Living in drastically different situations from chapter to chapter, it was exciting to see where Augie would end up next. And through all of this, Saul Bellow gives us an incredible image of America (and Mexico for a few chapters) during this tumultuous time period. We get an exploration of a person, an exploration of a country, and an exploration of human existence. And it’s worth exploring all of this.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

So I went into this book not knowing anything about it or the author. And because of this, it AngleOfReposewas a great experience to unfold the layers of this story. At first we meet the main character, a disabled historian who has an obviously tense relationship with his son (and most likely the rest of his family). After learning of him and his situation, we find out he is writing a novel based on his grandmother’s experiences as an artist from the East coast who marries a miner and travels the western frontier in the late 18o0s. The novel jumps back and forth between the historian’s daily activities and issues and the engrossing story of this frontier woman trying to survive in these extreme places. In between these two narrations, we get sections and whole copies of letters from the grandmother sent to her friend who still lives in New York City. By the end of the novel, I wasn’t really sure whose story I was more involved in, whose story I cared more about. But once they get tied together, it’s an incredibly satisfying payoff for reading two distinct stories throughout.

A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul

BendInTheRiverAs you know, I’ve been somewhat annoyed with this list because of the similar narratives. Numerous British novels with almost identical stories. So anytime I get to a novel with a new location, a new story, anything, I’m excited. And this novel provided all of this and more. This novel is set in an unnamed country in central Africa during the tumultuous period after colonialism began to end. Many African countries accomplished their independence in from the European powers between the end of World War II and the 1970s. Sometimes independence came easily, bloodless. Sometimes it took years of warfare. And after independence, numerous countries dealt with civil wars and destabilized governments. Anyways, A Bend in the River takes place amongst all of this. And it’s really a simple story of a man who owns a store by the river and watches all the changes and growth of his city, his nation, and Africa in general. Between the numerous characters, we see how these changes effect different people: politicians, foreign businessmen, students, people from the tribes, people from the coast, etc. They all have unique experiences and deal with the changes around them differently. And this creates a dense, multi-faceted viewpoint of the decolonization of Africa.

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So let’s keep moving forward. Next is The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen. We should be coming to the end of the list soon!

 

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Favorite Albums of 2015

Now that we’re in December, it’s time for all the “Best of” lists from every blog/magazine. And for whatever reason, I have always added my list to the group but with using the word “favorite” instead of “best” because I don’t think I (or anybody else) is really able to say what is best. Also, I usually do only my top 10 but this year I decided to tell you about 20 albums. But in the effort of not taking too much of your time, I’m only going to add comments to the top ten. 20-11 will be just a youtube link to one of the songs from the album. That said, let’s get to it. As always, the titles of the album are links to iTunes. Let me know why my list sucks, what you would have added and taken away, etc.

20. Billy Gibbons & the BFGs – Perfectamundo

19. The Lone Bellow – Then Came the Morning 

18. Leon Bridges – Coming Home

17. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

16. DNCE – SWAAY

15. Adele – 25

14. Wilco – Star Wars

13. Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect

12. Nate Ruess – Grand Romantic

11. MUTEMATH – Vitals

10. Ben Folds – So There

Eight incredibly fun songs recorded and written with the chamber pop group yMusic. A beautiful piano concerto written by Ben Folds and performed with the Nashville Symphony. All on the same album! How could this not be great? And that’s a rhetorical question because there’s only one option. It’s really great. Here’s Ben Folds and yMusic performing the track “Capable of Anything:”

9. The Milk Carton Kids – Monterey

I love this folk duo. They follow the traditional style of flat-picking harmonies. There songs are perfectly written, perfectly harmonized. You can barely tell if the songs were recorded this year or 50 years ago. And that’s exactly what they want. Everything I’ve heard from them has had the same emotional effect on me and all the tracks on this album are no different. Here’s their song “Poison Tree” that makes me want to cry every time I hear it:

8. Sara Bareilles – What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress

I’m always excited about any new Sara Bareilles music. She has perfected piano-driven pop music, she sings incredibly, and puts on a killer live show. I didn’t really know what to expect from her newest album. Let me explain. Sara Bareilles wrote the score for a musical adaptation of a movie titled Waitress. The musical was very successful and is opening on Broadway next year. But before all that happens, Bareilles wanted to record some of the songs from the musical as her own usual pop songs. And because of this we get a collection of her usual pop songs but with the storytelling of a musical. And Jason Mraz is featured on two tracks. So I loved it. Here’s “She Used to be Mine:”

7. Jamie Cullum – Interlude

Jamie Cullum continuously releases albums that explore connections between pop and jazz. He’s a prolific jazz pianist that writes pop music. Or a pop songwriter that plays jazz piano. Anyway, each album he releases falls somewhere different on the spectrum between jazz and pop. This most recent release is his first full jazz album. Recorded with a big band and IN ONE TAKE (!!!!!!!), the album consists of jazz covers and includes two great duets. Here’s the opening track, “Interlude,” performed live:

6. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

Although this album opens up with what I consider a pretty weak song, the second track, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” is so good, I would still put the album in my top 10 even if it only had this song repeated a dozen times. And the rest of the songs are just as good. I don’t know another band playing right now that is as rock and roll, as raw, as good as this band. To prove it, here’s the band playing “Don’t Wanna Fight” live:

5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

After the electronic perfection of The Age of Adz and the hip-hop collaborations under the names S / S / S and Sisyphus (both with Son Lux and the rapper Serengeti), I don’t think anybody really expected the understated simplicity and beauty that Carrie & Lowell is. After his mother died of stomach cancer in 2012, Sufjan Stevens used his songwriting to explore his grieving, his relationship with his mother, and his thoughts on death. The song “Fourth of July” is one of the most direct songs on the album, dealing with his mother’s cancer and death, opening with lines: “The evil it spread like a fever ahead / It was night when you died, my firefly / What could I have said to raise you from the dead? / Oh could I be the sky on the fourth of July?”

4. Punch Brothers – The Phosphorescent Blues

Consisting of five of the most talented musicians in the folk and bluegrass worlds, Punch Brothers released another great album this year. Each album explores the boundaries of what bluegrass instrumentation can accomplish. You never really know what sounds they’ll be able to create with their collection of instruments and it’s always fun to find out. And on top of all this experimentation, they just write some of the greatest songs coming out right now. Honestly, I don’t know how they continue to pump out all this music because they all have relentless touring, writing, and recording sessions as individual musicians and with other groups. When do they get together to write and record? Who knows. But I’m glad it happens. Here’s the band performing two tracks from the album, “My Oh My” and “Boll Weevil:”

3. Florence & The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

I think Florence Welch has one of the strongest and most interesting voices in music. Her and her band’s first two albums have some of the most ethereal, beautiful, and haunting music out there. But their third album is a little different. More raw, more in your face, more vulnerable. It’s so different but exactly what you’d expect. The album cover is just a picture of her staring into your soul with nothing around her and that is precisely what the album sounds like. Nothing between her voice and your ears. It just drives right into you. Every track, every melody just hits you in the bottom of your stomach. And I couldn’t stop listening to it for a long time after the album came out. On top of all the great songs, the music videos were cinematography masterpieces. They are being released as chapters in a story titled The Odyssey and so far they’ve released 6 chapters. I’m not sure how many chapters there will be. Anyway, here’s chapter 1, the video for “What Kind of Man:”

2. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Now if I would have attempted at making this list the “best of” and not my favorites, this album would have been number one. This is the most ambitious, most talked-about, most important release this year. On top of all that, it’s just a really great album. Blending hip-hop with jazz, funk, and spoken poetry, each track is an adventure. The lyrics throughout the album thoroughly dissect the experience of black Americans. Racism, hatred, hypocrisy, violence, religion, money, politics, police brutality, Wesley Snipes, drugs, Obama…Kendrick Lamar leaves no rock unturned. And with all this dense lyrical content, the album is incredibly playable also. So many fun jams, funky beats, and great raps throughout the whole album. Also, every time he’s played a track from the album on a talk show, it’s been incredible. All of them: his medley on the Late Show, SNL, and Ellen for some examples.  But his music videos are really where he hits hard. Let’s watch the video for “Alright,” which opens up with some spoken poetry and intense video clips, goes into a section of a song that’s not on the album, and then finally into the funky beat of the song:

1. Original Broadway Cast Recording – Hamilton

So I just told you guys about this recording last month. There really isn’t much I can add to what I’ve already said so just go read that post. But I’m still listening to it as much as ever. I’m still just as obsessed. I probably have more of it memorized than I’d care to admit. I closely follow Lin-Manuel Miranda through his whirlwind life showing up on talk shows, news channels, and television game shows. He freestyles on Fallon, he gave answers on Jeopardy, wrote music for the new Star Wars movie, and who knows what else. But back to the musical. Since it’s a Broadway play, there aren’t any music videos like all the previous albums. There are a few clips from the actual play but not too many. So instead, I guess I’ll just post the first 3 tracks from the recording. This will give you a pretty good idea of the music. The first song, “Alexander Hamilton,” gives us some biographical information and background story to Hamilton arriving in New York:

This brings us to Hamilton meeting Aaron Burr, his frenemy and the dude that ultimately kills him in a Duel. Really the majority of the conflict in the play is Aaron Burr’s desire to advance his career and how he blames Hamilton for most of his setbacks. That said, we don’t really see that conflict yet in the second song, “Aaron Burr, Sir:”

This brings us two the third track, “My Shot.” Lin-Manuel Miranda said he spent a year writing this song because he wanted every line to be perfect. This song encompasses his ambitions and his fears and introduces us to some of his friends. Listen:

From there it goes into the American Revolution and Hamilton meeting his future wife. After the war we get to the political battles between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, his sons death during a duel, and then Hamilton’s eventual death. You can listen to the whole cast recording on youtube. I highly recommend it. I mean, it is my favorite album of 2015.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2015 in Lists, Music, Music Review

 

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100 Greatest Novels: Kim, A Room With a View, & Brideshead Revisited

So bringing us to eighty of the 100 greatest novels, I’ve finished three more books. All three by British authors but with very different stories. The books take us from India to Italy, back to England, a few paragraphs in North and South America, back to England a few more times. A chapter or two on a large passenger boat, plenty of chapters on religion, and a few too many chapters on British people being proper and what shenanigans that causes them. Anyways, let’s get to the individual books.

220px-KimKiplingKim by Rudyard Kipling

This was a really interesting, really fun book. Following the adventures of Kim, an orphaned son of Irish parents who grows up in India in the late 1800s and spends his childhood begging and running errands, the story is an incredible description of India during this time period. Through Kim’s travels we meet all types of people that make up the varied world of India. All religions, all socioeconomic statuses, and all cultures of this geographical area are represented throughout the novel. Kim begins his adventures after he meets a Tibetan Lama and becomes his disciple. Even though Kim isn’t necessarily religious, he helps the Lama in his quest to find a legendary river. Through this adventures, Kim is exposed to The Great Game, a historical conflict between Russia and England in Central Asia. He ultimately is separated by his Lama, sent to a British school, and becomes part of the spy games of this conflict.

This novel was fascinating because of what the story focuses on and how it finally ends. Throughout the story we get plenty of deep discussions of religion, politics, and what it means to be certain cultures. The political aspect of the story is riveting but always takes a back seat to the Lama’s simple desire to find this legendary river that will free himself of the Buddhist cycle of life. Each conflict could easily become a focal point of the political story or the religious story. Or both, or neither. And let’s just say the ending is incredibly…Eastern. If you’ve read any Eastern literature, I think you’ll understand what I’m hinting at.

200px-Book_a_room_with_a_viewA Room With a View by E. M. Forster

So this novel is finally the point in the list when I’m completely tired of reading about the damned British and their damned proper manners and how following these manners perfectly gets them into all kinds of trouble. There has been so many books about this throughout this list, some better than others. And this one really wasn’t bad…it’s just when I hit my limit, I guess. They all happen around the turn of the 20th century, they all have characters who love somebody they aren’t supposed to love because they’re from a different class, and they all have characters who don’t follow the rules of what British people are supposed to do in society and that just spoils everything. How dare they!?

Anyways, this book was okay. Easy to read, nothing special. But I just don’t want to read about proper British people refusing to follow their desires or whatever because of societal demands. Who cares?

220px-BRIDESHEADBrideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

This is the third novel by Evelyn Waugh on this list. The first was A Handful of Dust and the second was Scoop. I really, really liked both of them. They were hilarious reads and so much fun to go through. That said, I really wasn’t in the mood to read another British novel after the above mentioned Forster novel. And to my chagrin, this novel isn’t a humorous story like his others. And yet, it still was a really great novel. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where every few chapters I decided the point of the novel was something different. A theme is usually clear from the very beginning or left vague till the end. This novel had a new theme every few chapters. And it was so enjoyably to move around themes.

When I first started reading, the main character is a soldier during WWII. Cool, a war novel. I haven’t had one of these in a while. A few paragraphs later, he starts reminiscing about his time in college. Okay, so this is a coming of age story. I can get behind that. Well, a few chapters of that and we start learning about the character’s best friend’s spiral into alcoholism. And it was really well written. There hasn’t really been a novel dealing with alcoholism on this list and I think it’s important to discuss. After a thorough investigation into that, we move on to early adulthood stagnation. Then a story about a traveling artist (still the main character). Then a love story between two married people (one of them being the main character). Then the end of a family patriarch and the aristocratic family he represents (not the main character or the main character’s family). And amongst all this, a hefty sprinkling of religious discussion, particularly about Catholicism and it’s place in the lives of modern people.

Really, I have never read a book that tries to cover this many issues, this many stories, and overwhelmingly succeeds. I was blown away by how coherent the narration is, how consistent the story is, and how thorough all the above issues are dissected. And all in an impressively normal sized novel (a little over 400 pages). Bravo, Evelyn Waugh. Bravo.

 


Well, that brings us a little closer to the end. Next is The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. Until next time!

 

 
 

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MYNIYL – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

So for this episode of Music You Need in Your Life, I have to tell you about my obsession of the past few months, the original cast recording of the new Broadway musical Hamilton

hamilton-musical-broadway-album-2015-billboard-650x_650

I really don’t know where to start with this one. Let me try to explain what it is then we can get to the music. A Broadway musical about Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and our first Secretary of the Treasury. A musical that uses hip-hop, R&B, and pop to tell the story. A musical that is incredibly historically accurate (Chernow’s Hamilton biography was the inspiration for the musical). A musical that uses a predominately black and brown cast to tell the story of a bunch of dead white people. A musical with a cast recording so good, it’s the first 5-star review by Billboard and the only Broadway recording to ever hit #1 on Billboard’s Rap Chart.

So let’s get to the music. The man who wrote the music and lyrics (and plays Hamilton) is named Lin-Manuel Miranda. This is his second Broadway hit. He started writing Hamilton as a hip-hop concept album that ultimately turned into the musical we have today. He actually performed what would become the opening track in 2009 at the White House:

And Lin-Manuel Miranda is probably one of the weakest singers/rappers on the recording (musically speaking). Every time I listen to this, I’m blown away by the strength of Leslie Odom, Jr.’s voice. He plays Aaron Burr, the man who spent most of his life as Hamilton’s frenemy and ended up shooting Hamilton in a duel. Here’s Leslie Odom, Jr. as Burr singing about his jealousy towards Hamilton because Hamilton is happily married and Burr is in love with a married woman (amongst other things):

Now, I can’t talk about this musical without mentioning the cabinet rap battles between Hamilton and Jefferson (played by Daveed Diggs). There’s two of them and they have some incredible rapping all while arguing over the financial structure of our country or whether we should get involved with the French Revolution or not. Here’s Cabinet Battle #1:

There is one more song I’d like to show you. Jonathan Groff plays King George and he has three tracks where he sings the King’s reactions to the events in America. The songs are perfectly written examples of British pop and they’re pretty hilarious too. Here’s the first one, You’ll Be Back:

Since we’ve heard a few tracks and hopefully you want to go ahead and listen to the whole cast recording, I want to talk about this decision to cast an impressively diverse group of people to play all these white men and women. Since I’m not a person of color, I don’t really feel like it’s my place to vouch for the importance of this. But I think the following quote from the 60 minutes episode by cast member Leslie Odom, Jr. really makes the point for me: “He’s made these dead white guys make sense to a bunch of, you know, black and brown people. He’s made them make sense in the context of our time with our music.” What more could you ask for from a historical musical? Or even from just any Broadway?

 

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2015 in Music, MYNIYL

 

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An Update on the 100 Greatest Novels (and Other Readings)

So it has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted any thing on here. And I have excuses. Many of them. Some have to do directly with the list of the 100 greatest novels we’ve been working through. Some have to do with new adventures and new cities in my life. And the rest have to do with my job situation. Let’s get started.

The 100 Greatest Novels: An Update

Joyce_wakeIf you read my last post on the 100 greatest novels, you’ll know that I’ve completed 76 novels from the list and started on #77, Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, a few months ago. I also mentioned my fear of reading this “novel” because of the difficulty involved. I have read everything else James Joyce has written and love every bit of it but Finnegans Wake is the most difficult piece of literature in the English language. I actually don’t agree with it’s addition into this list because it is nothing like any other book on here. How could anybody decide it is slightly better than #78 but not as good as #76? How can you compare this piece of art made from letters to these other novels with characters, plots, complete sentences, and lack of made up words? You can’t. At least I can’t.

I did start to work my way through it. I am currently on page 169 of 628. That said, nothing of the first 168 pages meant anything to me. I am literally looking at one collection of letters (in the form of made up words) after another. I’m slowly roaming my eyes across line after line, page after page, as if I’m looking through rooms in a modern art gallery. But am I getting anything out of it? It’s hard to say. I’m not thinking so. I have been taking a break from the book and reading other things (more on that later) so it’s been a few weeks since I’ve roamed the rooms of Finnegans Wake. 

So that brings up my next questions. Do I finish the book? I have completely read all of the first 76 books of this list and I fully intend to read numbers 78-100. So how could I leave this one unfinished? Wouldn’t that be a failure on my part? I do think so. But on the other hand, me looking at 459 more pages of this book will most likely not change anything about my understanding or appreciation of Finnegans Wake. I don’t think I’ll somehow be able to start comprehending anything differently in a few dozen or hundred pages. Could I, not being a Joycean scholar, add anything to the world’s knowledge of this book by completing it? I highly doubt it. So would my time be more wisely spent moving on to the rest of the novels and leaving Finnegans Wake for the students at Oxford? I would think so. But my mind isn’t made up yet.

Lack of Posting: Some Excuses

If you follow me on any of my other social outlets, you probably already know that at the beginning of August my wife and I moved to Philadelphia. With the process of preparing for the move, the actual move, and settling in to a new house and new city, I have had little time to “read” through Finnegans Wake or write any other type of posts for this blog. And I’m incredibly sorry for it. That said, I do love our new city. We’ve had an amazing time experiencing what Philly has to offer and have spent most of our free time exploring different areas. You can look up #pevetosinphilly on Instagram to see some of our pictures and adventures over the last few weeks.

As time got closer to school starting here, I had still not heard from the Department of Education about my teaching certificate transferring to Pennsylvania. Soon enough I realized there was little to no chance that my certificate would happen in time for me to find a teaching job and start the school year. So I started looking at other opportunities for an income. After thinking about what I can do, what I want to do, and what will help me in my future, I narrowed down my options to two part-time jobs until I can get back into teaching. So for this next year I’ll be substitute teaching for the School District of Philadelphia (to keep me connected to the schools) and giving historical walking tours of Philadelphia with Bow Tie Tours (to keep me connected to teaching history). Which brings me to my next topic…

Other Readings

To prepare for my historical walking tours of Old City Philadelphia, I’ve been reading and researching Philadelphia’s role in the American Revolution. I knew the facts of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the writing of the Constitution but I didn’t know all the stories of the Founders who accomplished all of this in 18th century Philadelphia. The owner of Bow Tie Tours recommended me a few books by historian Richard Beeman.

51-UyMUG4vLI first read his book on the Declaration of Independence: Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776And for a book with that pretentious of a title, I loved every page of it. This book gives us the stories of the Founders and the events that led them to our independence. It includes all of their bickering, their clashing egos, their imperfections and selfish desires. But through all this, Beeman really makes it clear how revolutionary, how incredible, and how audacious it was for this group of men to declare war against and independence from England, the strongest empire in the world.

After reading H. W. Brand’s mediocre biography of Benjamin Franklin, I started Beeman’s book on the Constitution a few days ago. This one is titled Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. With a considerably less pretentious name, this book is as good as his other. I’m not too far into it so I can’t really vouch for it as a whole, but I’m very excited about completing this one too.


With all this said, I guess I’ll have to decide if I’m going to complete Finnegans Wake after I’m done with my research mentioned above. Whatever decision I do make, I’ll try to keep all of you in the loop and I’ll try to get back to posting regularly.

 
 

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100 Greatest Novels: A Farewell to Arms, Scoop, & The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Sorry, I’ve had these novels read for a while but have been crazy busy with other things to write this post. I’m currently working on getting my teaching certificate transferred to Pennsylvania and it isn’t an easy task. Anyways, I enjoyed all of the following novels from the 100 greatest novels list and I’m excited to tell you about them. Let’s get started.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

220px-Hemingway_farewellMy (current) favorite topic to study in history is World War I. The lack of bad guy vs. good guy, the crazy political alliances and nationalism that led to the war, and the disillusionment and despair that most soldiers ended up with make this war incredibly fascinating. And this is the backdrop for Hemingway’s first best-seller, A Farewell to Arms. Following an American ambulance driver who is a Lieutenant in the Italian army and his relationship with an English nurse, the novel gives us a great depiction of the Italian front of WWI without getting bogged down with historical information. The story is interesting and the writing is easy to read. You actually care for the protagonist. With a major loss against the Austrians, the war around Henry and Catharine start to unravel. And the story unravels with it with a gut-wrenching drive to the end of the story.

This is a near perfect war novel, a great love story, and an intense study of human nature. I’d recommend this to anybody.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

170px-ScoopwaughThis hilarious satirical novel takes a jab at journalism, specifically foreign correspondents and their reporting on foreign wars. A fictional war in a fictional East African nation is about to start. A British newspaper, The Beast, wants to send a popular novelist named Boot. Because of a mixup or employee laziness, the wrong Boot is sent. The man that’s sent to Africa is a lowly, naive nature journalist that hates to even visit London. And every step of his process of getting to Africa and every action he commits in Africa kept me laughing out loud during my reading. Of course, he is accidentally successful in Africa but when he finally makes it home, more confusions lead to more hilarity.

Scoop really was a quick, fun, and enjoyable read. Actually, everything I’ve read by Evelyn Waugh has been this way. I previously read Waugh’s A Handful of Dust for this list and while being completely different, the novel was just as fun.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

JeanbrodieNow this was a fairly odd novel. I was excited to read it because it’s about a teacher, Miss Brodie, and her unusual philosophies on teaching. She believes in being very open with her students and focusing her education on classical studies, art history, and stories of her travels and love life. The story follows the growth of a few of her students, the Brodie set, while the move up in the school and ultimately into being adults. The story isn’t told in sequential order but in short little events, using flashbacks and flash forwards to give us the whole picture. The headmistress of the school does not like Miss Brodie and tries to split the Brodie set up and gather information from them to use against Miss Brodie. I wouldn’t say the headmistress is very successful but one of the girls does “betray” Miss Brodie and parts of the novel are when Miss Brodie is much older and trying to figure out which student betrayed her. We learn of the betrayal fairly early on in the novel but don’t find out who it is till near the end. Overall, I’d say this novel is satisfying yet odd.

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So next up, #77, is Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. While I’m a huge fan of Joyce, I’m very afraid of this novel. “It is significant for its experimental style and reputation as one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language.” I have started reading (or struggling) through it but it will probably be a while before I finish. And on top of all this we’re in the process of moving to Philadelphia and I’m trying to find a teaching position up there. So, wish me luck with new cities, new jobs, and an insanely difficult novel.

 

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100 Greatest Novels: A High Wind in Jamaica, A House for Mr. Biswas, & The Day of the Locust

Well, these next three books from Modern Library’s 100 greatest novels bring us to some new locations that we haven’t really dealt with in the list. We have interesting stories, new locations, and authors that I’m not too familiar with. Exciting! Alright, let’s go ahead and get into it.

HighWindInJamaicaA High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

This first novel is an incredibly odd and almost fanciful story. Following some British children who live in Jamaica in the mid-1800s, the story begins with their house being destroyed by a hurricane. This prompts the parents to send the children back to England. While on the journey, their ship is commandeered by pirates. Ultimately the children end up on the pirate ship and the rest of the story is the events the children deal with as they travel on a pirate ship. I won’t spoil the rest of the story but what was so enjoyable was that the plot was near enough to being unbelievable that I never knew what was going to happen next. And written from the childrens’ point of view, all the horrific events have somewhat of a dream-like quality to it. All of this really makes for a quick, hilarious, and sometimes dark story.

HouseForMrBiswasA House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul

Now, to continue with the Caribbean locations and the odd stories, we move to A House for Mr. Biswas. Mr. Biswas is born on the island of Trinidad to an Indian family and this story follows him from his birth to his death. He’s not really likable, his family isn’t. He marries an unlikable woman, moves in with her unlikable family. Has some unlikable children and everybody is mean to everybody else. We follow him from job to job and from living quarters to living quarters until he finally buys his own (unlikable) house. And then he dies. That’s about it for the story. Really, I guess, the story is about someone who is trying to break out of traditional family roles and become a man of the modern world. Make his own money, live his own life.

With all this said, it was an enjoyable novel. The writing is incredible. You feel what Mr. Biswas feels, you see what he sees. The story can frustrate you, enrage you, and make you laugh. And what else can we ask from a novel?

West_locustThe Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West

This next novel somewhat keeps up the tropical theme. We’re now in California, Los Angeles to be exact. We’re in the middle of the Great Depression and following numerous characters trying to make it in the movie business. Without really talking about or even barely hinting at the depression, the main character makes some impressive revelations about the people he sees around him. And knowing about the Great Depression it is easy to make the connection between what he’s experiencing and what we’ve learned about the hardships of people during this time period. Following numerous characters making poor decision, this novel is a quick and fun read. Everyone we meet is pretty odd. They interact in odd ways. And we get to enjoy. So I wanted to show you the last paragraph of the novel because it made me laugh. Near the end, the main character gets stuck in a rowdy crowd that ends up becoming a violent mob. He’s ultimately saved by some cops and we get this ending:

“He was carried through the exit to the back street and lifted into a police car. The siren began to scream and at first he thought he was making the noise himself. He felt his lips with his hands. They were clamped tight. He knew then it was the siren. For some reason this made him laugh and he began to imitate the siren as loud as he could.”

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Alright, we’re one novel away from being in the last quarter of the list. It’s crazy to think about. We almost might finish this thing. Until next time…

 

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