Moving a little quicker through the list. I have three more of the 100 greatest novels for you today. I’ve been somewhat ill the last two weeks, taking a few days off of work, so I’ve had some undesired free time to read. So let’s get into them.
From Here to Eternity by James Jones
This long novel has a fairly interesting setting: following multiple members of the military stationed in Hawaii, in 1941, before Pearl Harbor was attacked. The story follows the daily life of a few characters in the barracks. Focusing on their stories, we don’t see as much as sense the build-up of military activity leading to the USA’s entry into World War II. Knowing the date and the inevitable events, each page and each chapter I was just waiting for the attack on Pearl Harbor to start. And it really added to the novel. Reading about these mundane activities and conflicts between members of our military while knowing that everything is about to change. Knowing that these characters are about to join one of the bloodiest global conflicts the world has seen. And they’re upset about whether someone will join the company boxing team or not. Their importance in the company depends on this decision and I’m just sitting there thinking, “You’re worried about boxing!? Your whole world is about to explode into bloodshed and you’re worried about somebody boxing or not!?” It’s a great dichotomy to experience while reading, my future knowledge combined with their focus on everything but.
The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever
This odd novel I really enjoyed reading. About a family living (the Wapshots) in a small Massachusetts town and their lives, the novel follows the father, Leander, dealing with growing old and his two sons, Coverly and Moses, dealing with going out in the world and trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, the novel jumps around between the three men from chapter to chapter. Some of Leander’s chapters are written as if he is writing his autobiography and he has a very disjointed style with every line containing multiple sentence fragments. Sometimes the truth is hidden behind this false pretense he gives you, which isn’t unique to an autobiography. Coverly and Moses go off to the big cities to find jobs, wives, etc. They are somewhat successful with a few hiccups along the way. Coverly, while dealing with problems with his marriage, also starts to experience feelings of bisexuality which opens up a whole new world of problems for him and his station in life. All in all, the characters present to you an interesting and sometimes humorous account of their lives and the whole novel ends up being a light and fun read.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
This is the quintessential novel about teenage angst, identity, and alienation. Loved by many, hated by more, Catcher follows Holden Caulfield as he is kicked out of a prep school and spends a few days around the school and in New York City before he goes home to deal with his parents’ anger. This is one of those novels that your experience with reading it depends on what point in life you are currently in. Reading as a teenager, I loved Holden and agreed with every complaint he had towards society and people. I finally found somebody who has expressed into words all the angst of being a teenager. When I reread the novel in college or soon after, I hated Holden. Here was this annoying little brat of a teenager who was more phony than every person he calls phony in every line of the novel. Was I ever like that? I sure hope not. Now reading again as somewhat of an adult, I still think Holden is pretty much an annoying bastard but I can understand what he’s going through. Whether it’s because I’m far enough from being that age that I’m okay with remembering it or because I deal with children as a teacher who are experiencing lots of the same things, I don’t just write Holden off. And when you don’t write him completely off, you come across some beautiful moments of clarity from him as he deals with his problems:
The best thing, though, in that museum was the everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way-I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.
Alright, there you go. Next up is my favorite novel of all time, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. I’m already fairly close to finishing so the next blog shouldn’t be too far behind this one. Till next time…