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!



Tags: , , , , ,

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


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?


Leave a comment

Posted by on November 22, 2015 in Music, MYNIYL


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.


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.


Tags: , , , , , ,

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.”


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…


Tags: , , , , , ,

C. S. Lewis – Historicism

“It is not a question of failing to know everything: it is a question (at least as regards quantity) of knowing next door to nothing. Each of us finds that in his own life every moment of time is completely filled. He is bombarded every second by sensations, emotions, thoughts, which he cannot attend to for multitude, and nine-tenths of which he must simply ignore. A single second of lived time contains more that can be recorded. And every second of past time has been like that for every man that ever lived. The past…in its reality, was a roaring cataract of billions upon billions of such moments: any one of them too complex to grasp in its entirety, and the aggregate beyond all imagination. By far the greater part of this teeming reality escaped human consciousness almost as soon as it occurred. None of us could at this moment give anything like a full account of his own life for the last twenty-four hours. We have already forgotten; even if we remembered, we have not time. The new moments are upon us. At every tick of the clock, in every inhabited part of the world, an unimaginable richness and variety of ‘history’ falls off the world into total oblivion. Most of the experiences in ‘the past as it really was’ were instantly forgotten by the subject himself. Of the small percentage which he remembered (and never remembered with perfect accuracy) a smaller percentage was ever communicated even to his closest intimates; of this, a smaller percentage was still recorded; of the recorded fraction only another fraction has ever reached posterity.”

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 20, 2015 in History, Literature, Quotes


Tags: ,

100 Greatest Novels: The House of Mirth & The Alexandria Quartet

So I apologize for the length of time since the last 100 greatest novels post. I’ve only read two more from the list but the second one, The Alexandria Quartet, is actually 4 novels. There’s my excuse. Let’s get to it.

The_House_of_MirthThe House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Similar to Wharton previous novel on this list, The Age of Innocence, this story is set around the high society of New York City in the late 1800s. Following one members rise and eventual fall through society, the story is Wharton’s critique of the very society she cannot stop talking about. While I enjoyed the scenery and the historical context leading to the turn of the century, I’m not sure how necessary or relevant the novel is today. There is no discovery of a character’s psyche, there’s no groundbreaking reveal of a world we did not previously know about. And I know these things aren’t necessary for a novel to be read but when there are so many books written by so many people (and multiple by Edith Wharton), I just have a hard time seeing the point. The main character, Lily Bart, isn’t likable or hate-able enough to be worth reading about. At least not for the story alone. So, like The Age of Innocence, if you’re looking for an older version of Gossip Girl then go ahead and read this. Otherwise, let’s move on.

TheAlexandriaQuartetThe Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

Now, to completely change gears, I loved this quartet. And I am so glad I read all the books. They are utterly necessary to appreciate this masterpiece. So this tetralogy is set in Alexandria, Egypt, before and during World War II. The first three novels follow the same events from different perspectives and then the last novel is a few years after the aforementioned events. Let me explain a little more.

The first novel, Justine, follows the events of a love…square between the narrator, his live-in girlfriend, a woman named Justine, and Justine’s husband. The narrator and Justine are sleeping together and ultimately Justine’s husband ends up sleeping with the narrator’s girlfriend. The story is not told “in the order in which they took place — for that is history — but in the order in which they first became significant for me.” So each section and each chapter are just different scenes between these characters exploring their relationships and the search for what love really is. Through all this we meet all kinds of crazy, interesting, and hilarious characters that really give the story the color it deserves. Nobody in the love-square is interesting enough to push the story forward. At least not at first.

The second novel, Balthazar, completely upsets everything we learned in the first. The narrator, who we finally find out is named Darley, sends the manuscript of the first novel to Balthazar and Balthazar returns it with notes added all throughout the pages. Apparently Darley has everything wrong. This second book goes back through numerous events we already know about but with new information. New scenes that deepens the characters and the overall story are also added in. At this point, I’m going to be a little more vague about the details because I don’t want to ruin the books in case you’d like to read it. Anyways, this second novel is written like the first. Short scenes in no apparent order. But now with new information and proof that what Darley believed to be happening was actually a farce. Intriguing…

Now for the third novel. Mountolive. Mountolive is the name of a character that was maybe named two or three times in the second novel but whom we have never met. I don’t think he was ever mentioned in the first. This story is written in standard chronological, normal paragraph and chapter length narration. It backs up in time to when Justine’s husband (Nessim) is a young man and his mother falls in love with a British dude named Mountolive. We follow their relationship through letters as he travels the world until we get to the point where the first two novels’ stories are. Then we get the full story of Justine and Nessim’s relationship. And. let. me. just. tell. you. Nothing we knew or believed or assumed or imagined is anywhere remotely close to what’s going on. This whole story breaks the confines of exploring love and relationships and bursts into the world of geopolitics, religion, diplomacy, and the history of Egypt and the Middle East. We are bombarded with Coptic stories, Muslim stories, British stories, Bedouin stories. We have a whole new world that did not exist to us. Or Darley. And it’s incredibly rewarding to discover. I’m excited for you.

And that brings us to the fourth and final novel, Clea. Now we are a few years past all the above events, we are back with Darley as the narrator, and yet we retain the writing style of the third novel. We go back through all the previously introduced characters, dead or alive, and kind of tie up their stories while continuing the original purpose of the first novel: Darley’s exploration of love and relationships. But with a new subject, Clea. This final novel is a darker, more melancholy, and yet more beautiful. Alexandria is in the midst of the nightly bombardments of World War II while the last remaining characters deal with the deaths, revelations, and relationships of the previous novels. And everything is ended with a poetically beautiful, bittersweet finale that we didn’t know we needed all along.


Whew, that last one took a lot out of me. As we get closer, I’m getting very excited and very scared to come to another James Joyce novel. But we still have a few more before that. Onwards we go.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 446 other followers

%d bloggers like this: