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Monthly Archives: November 2015

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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