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Category Archives: Book Review

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.

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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.

 

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100 Greatest Novels: Of Human Bondage, Heart of Darkness, & Main Street

As we keep moving along, getting closer to the finish line, here’s three more of the 100 greatest novels. Let’s go ahead and get to it…

OfHumanBondageOf Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

Have any of you seen the film Boyhood? If so, it would be easy to compare this novel to that film. But only if the film started when the main character was much younger and followed them further into his adulthood. The novel starts with a nine year old Phillip Carey dealing with his mother’s death and follows him for a number of years. Phillip goes off to school, decides to drop school to follow different careers, and has numerous philosophical and physical struggles with who he is and what he’s supposed to do with life. He has numerous frustrating relationships with women and plenty of humorous and frustrating friendships. This novel is actually a pretty lengthy novel but it reads as Boyhood is portrayed. Following the events of a mundane life through the growth of a person. In the movie and this novel, I continuously expected some kind of dramatic event to happen and usually, it didn’t. You could make the argument that this means the novel or the movie is boring or you could make the argument that this means we are so conditioned to expect drama and unbelievable events that we don’t know what to do when a book or movie does not provide us with this. Anyways, while this was a slow moving and undramatic novel, I still really enjoyed reading it and looked forward to each new decision Phillip made about his life. I know I saw a lot of myself in him, not being completely sure what he desires to do for the rest of his life and seeing the easy road and the more alluring road and trying to decide which is better.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conradf94142d1-ebff-41a3-ac4f-d94300d03cdbimg100

This is a short and interesting novella. The story follows Marlow, the narrator, as he transports ivory down the Congo River in Africa. At times a damning presentation of European colonization and a racist depiction of civilization around the Congo, the book can be a frustrating read. But in the end the question is if the racism is there because that was the belief and images of Africa at the time or if it represents the actual beliefs of Joseph Conrad (the story is based on his experiences and travels in Africa). If it’s the former, than this is an important novella to question the importance and effectiveness of European colonization in Africa. If it’s the latter, than it’s an unnecessary story that as long as it continues to be read, it will continue to promote incorrect images of Africa then and now. I don’t really know who’s job it would be to decide this. Maybe nobody’s, maybe everybody’s. That said, if you have any interest in this time period or love a good boating story, it’s a quick read for you.

MainStreetNovelMain Street by Sinclair Lewis

This novel is a complete criticism of small-town life. Because of being raised in a smaller town and moving to a major city as soon as possible, I connected to a lot of what this novel tries to say. The story is about Carol, a young woman from Saint Paul, Minnesota, and her marriage to a small-town doctor. He convinces her to move to Gopher Prairie and ultimately, she could not have prepared herself for how much she disliked the town. But she decides that with her education and experience, she can transform the town into a cultured and beautiful mecca in the midwest. Coming up against small town politics, cliques, conservatism, backstabbing, and hypocrisy, it’s difficult to say she was successful. Then she starts making friends outside of her social class and this will create all new kinds of trouble. Although the story gets long-winded at parts and can seem somewhat meandering, I did enjoy it as a whole. The historical context of being set around World War I and the years leading up to Prohibition and the twenties also added great social insight into America at the end of our isolationism. But the best part of the novel might have been that my edition had pictures of different Main Streets from around the world to showcase how similar they all look and, we can assume, act.

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It’s feeling pretty good getting farther down the list. Next is #69, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I hated her novel Ethan Frome in high school so let’s see how this goes.

 

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100 Greatest Novels: A Clockwork Orange

Number sixty-five of the 100 greatest novels has been my favorite book since high school. Recommended to me by the school librarian, I couldn’t even start to guess how many times I’ve read it since then. I’ve gone through two copies of the paperback and have read it on my Kindle multiple times. With as many times as I’ve read it, I’ve never sat down and really tried to explain what makes this book so enjoyable for me and why I love to read it over and over. I’ve been looking forward to getting to it on this list for this exact reason. So here’s my paltry attempt to put my thoughts into words:

Clockwork_orangeA Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

I want to look at the novel two ways. First, why I think it’s a great work of art. Second, why I like it so much. Let’s start with the novel as great art. The first thing you notice when you start reading the novel is the language. Mostly that you can’t understand what you’re reading, almost at all. Let me explain. A Clockwork Orange is written in “Nadsat,” a language Anthony Burgess created for this novel. Nadsat is a Russified English used by teenagers in the world created for Clockwork. Nadsat uses a combination of Russian words, English words, made-up words, a few German words, words borrowed from Cockney rhyming slang, and childish English terms like eggiweg for “egg.” I know, that’s a lot to take in. At first it’s fairly off-putting but while reading, you start to learn what most of the words mean using context clues and process of elimination. Honestly, I can’t remember how difficult it was for me to read the first time since I’ve read it so many times. Sorry…

Once you get past the language, the novel gets into the storyline fairly quickly. Following the main character, Alex, and his droogs (friends), the story doesn’t take long to get into the drugs, alcohol, and violence that the novel (and movie) is famous for. Alex and his droogs are a gang of teenagers that go around stealing cars, beating up defenseless citizens, and breaking into houses to rape and pillage. Little is left to the imagination in this novel. It shows teenage-driven violence at it’s most horrible form. Ultimately, Alex is arrested for certain crimes. He’s put in jail or as he calls it, Staja (State jail). While in prison, he’s selected to take part in a new experiment in behavior modification. While drugging Alex, they force him to watch violent films. His body learns to associate his sickness with the violence to the point that any thought of violence will make him want to be sick. His only option is to do the exact opposite, go out of his way to be nice, to counteract the sick feelings. Using a chaplain in the jail and later some politicians that are fighting against the current government, the novel starts questioning some philosophical ideas. What is it to be good? Evil? Where does freewill come in? Is it better to choose to be evil or to have choice taken from you and be “good?”

Really, I don’t want to spoil to much of the novel for you but the story ultimately has a very satisfying ending. And when I say the story I mean specifically the novel. If you have any desire to watch the movie, go ahead. But be warned that the movie ends a chapter earlier than the novel. The movie leaves out the whole denouement of the story. The movie doesn’t have the growth of the character, the reason for the whole novel. If you are interested in reading the novel, make sure you purchase a copy with Anthony Burgess’s introduction titled “A Clockwork Orange Resucked.” He talks about why he hates this novel being his most popular, why the movie ends early and how he feels about it, and the importance of different parts of the novel. The intro is almost as good of a read as the whole novel.

220px-Clockwork_orangeA

Now, quickly, let me try to explain why I love this novel so much, this novel that has so many horrible events. First, this was the first novel I read that really pushed the boundaries of language. High school me didn’t know it was allowed to break so many rules while writing a novel. This book opened up a whole new world of literature for me. Not only language-breaking literature but also stories about dystopian future societies. Way before Hunger Games and Divergent, there was A Clockwork Orange, A Brave New World, 1984, etc. And I quickly read all of these. The other thing that really grabbed me about this novel was the use of music. I later learned that Anthony Burgess was a composer and music plays a large role in all of his novels but I loved how he works Alex’s love of classical music into the story. The dichotomy of this teenager that loves to destroy, rape, and steal also loves to lay in his bed and listen to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is incredible. And it’s not really a dichotomy for Alex, it’s his same desires being played out in two different mediums. And it’s powerful to see.

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Hopefully that came across coherently. Until next time!

 
 

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100 Greatest Novels: From Here to Eternity, The Wapshot Chronicle, & The Catcher in the Rye

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.

200px-JamesJones_FromHereToEternity1From 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.

220px-WapshotChronicleThe 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.

220px-Rye_catcherThe 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.

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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…

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Moviegoer & Death Comes for the Archbishop

So we have a new year. 2015. Hopefully this year will bring us great new changes in our lives, great experiences to live through, and great persons to love. Hopefully this year will bring us through many more of the 100 greatest novels. Let us go ahead and get us started with the first two of this year. I’ll try to get more to you soon.

220px-MoviegoerThe Moviegoer by Walker Percy

If you’re looking for a strong, driving plot full of loveably (or hate-able) characters, this novel isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking novel to make you feel like you might not be the only person who really isn’t sure who you are and what you should be doing, than I highly recommend this. Following Binx Bolling throughout New Orleans in the 1950s, this novel watches the protagonist struggle with alienation from his life possibly because of his memories from the Korean War and his alienation from his family because of their multiple problems. Some of his family members are dealing with mental illness, other with physical disabilities, and even a few with the breakup of their relationships. And Binx Bolling is supposed to be the anchor that everybody holds on to. And yet, he doesn’t want to be or is not able to be anything for anybody since he’s struggling with his search for who he is, his search for his inner self. And if the reader cannot find any connections to them, well, they might just be stuck in the everydayness of their own life. At least that’s what Binx Bolling says and I tend to agree with him.

DeathComes_ForTheArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

I really, really enjoyed reading this novel. I have never read any novel in this setting and really gave opportunity for some great writing. The story is about a French Catholic bishop and a French priest who are trying to establish a diocese in the newly created New Mexico territory in the mid 1800s. The area is religiously controlled by either Spanish missionaries left over from Spain’s attempt to conquer and convert the area or by local Native American tribes and their religious and cultural ways. The bishop and the priest meet really interesting characters as they go around dealing with the Mexican people, the Native tribes, and the Spanish clergy. A lot of their time and effort is spent trying to convince these people to give up some old traditions for more European ways of doing things. I don’t really know what about this novel makes for such an enthralling read. There’s no love story, no intense story lines with twists and surprises. But throughout the novel you learn to love the two dudes and really appreciate the care and love they have for the people of this strange, new land that they were sent to live with. And what makes it even better is this novel is actually based on the life of the real first Archbishop of Santa Fe, Jean-Baptiste Lamy.

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There you have it. Two more. And I would like to think the wait for the next two won’t be very long.

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Maltese Falcon, Parade’s End, The Age of Innocence, & Zuleika Dobson

It has been way too long since my last post. I have been able to read four more of the 100 greatest novels since the last post (impressive, huh…) amongst all the other things going on in my life. The Thanksgiving break gave me time to catch up on some reading and I was able to finish the last two novels we’re talking about today.

MalteseFalcon1930The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The first book is a detective novel written in 1929. Considered the novel that created the dark and brooding private detective, The Maltese Falcon follows Sam Spade as he tries to solve a murder while being questioned as a suspect. The novel was a fun, simple read with all the things you expect from a crime novel. While I did enjoy the novel, it did have numerous sexist themes and scenes that I thought were unnecessary to the novel. All in all I would recommend this novel if you’re a fan of the crime genre but if not, you can go ahead and skip it.

Some_Do_Not_(Ford_Madox_Ford_novel)Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford

I was actually really excited about this novel because I enjoyed Ford’s first novel in this list, The Good Soldier. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch played the main character in BBC’s adaptation of this novel and I love him as an actor. With all that being said, I just could not get into this novel. The writing was dense. The story was slow. The characters were unlikeable and unbelievable. The progression of events were disjointed and hard to follow. If you’re wanting to read a British novel written around World War I, there are plenty of other choices to make. Originally written as four separate novels, the tetralogy was later combined under the one title, Parade’s End. Honestly, I was only able to get through the first novel which was published under the title Some Do Not... . I decided not to continue because I wasted so much time struggling through the first one, I didn’t think I would ever finish all four

220px-TheAgeOfInnocenceThe Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The first novel written by a woman to win the Pulitzer Price in Fiction, The Age of Innocence reads like the television show Gossip Girl set in the late 1800s. Following the upper class families of New York, the story is a critic of the morals and traditions of this society. The novels revolves around the introduction of a woman with questionable morals and possible disgraces in her past and how this will shake the society’s belief system of what a woman should be, what a marriage should be, and how people of a society should handle outsiders. Without being a complete condemnation of this society, the novel is a great look into what New York was like in the late 1800s (at least for the wealthy). The details of the society parties, balls, dinners, and vacations make this book’s characters incredibly relatable even 150 years after they are placed. I really enjoyed this book and think anybody who loves New York or a good doomed love story should read it. Also, I don’t usually use this space to try to sell books but amazon.com has the paperback on sale right now for $3.15 (and free shipping if you have Prime like I do). So if you’d like to buy the book, just click on the cover to the left. All the images I use of the book covers are links to purchase the book.

220px-Zuleika-dobsonZuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm

This is the first novel I’ve read in a while that had me laughing out loud over and over. I’m not sure how much of the novel was supposed to be funny but it is a satirical look at university life at Oxford University in the early 1900s. The story follows Zuleika Dobson, a beautiful woman who is famous for being a mediocre magician, and her trip to the campus. All the undergraduates fall in love with her and hilarity ensues. My favorite part of the novel is when halfway through, the story starts to be written from a first-person narrator who begins speaking to the reader. He explains how he is able to know the thoughts and actions of all the characters (power given to him by Zeus as a favor for the Greek Muse Clio). He argues with the reader, bargains with the reader, and justifies his decision to the reader all while telling the story. And as the story goes, it becomes more and more ridiculous. But really, just the right amount of ridiculous. And I enjoyed every minute of reading it.

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Alright, sorry to have to drop so many on you right now. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a few more to you before the end of the year. Next is The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, number 60 in the list. I’m getting excited because I’m getting closer and closer to my favorite novel. You’ll find out soon enough.

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2014 in 100 Greatest Novels, Book Review, Literature

 

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100 Greatest Novels: Light in August & On the Road

Sorry for the long break since the last post. I’ve been reading a few other books and also have been preparing and switching to a new career. I’ll get to that in a few days. But let’s go ahead and get into two more of the 100 greatest novels.

LightInAugustLight in August by William Faulkner

This was a really interesting novel. Set in the 30s in southern America, the story starts off following Lena Grove, a pregnant young girl traveling to find the father of her child. Once she gets into Jefferson, Mississippi, the story shifts to a different character, Joe Christmas. Christmas looks like a white guy but believes he has black ancestry. After a few flashbacks showing Christmas’s upbringings, the story starts to revolve around a murder that Christmas and the father of Lena’s child are caught up in. Adding a few different characters, the story ultimately leads to it’s inevitable conclusion.

What really struck me about this novel was not so much the story but the way it was told. I felt like I was listening to some old Southern farmer tell a story. Every time a new character was introduced, we have to flashback to their story. Every time something in the story reminds him of a previous story, we have to backtrack to that. No matter how small or unnecessary to the plot, it has to be told. Sometimes this was annoying but overall it really puts you into the story and makes you feel like your old neighbor is telling you some community gossip from years back.

OnTheRoadOn the Road by Jack Kerouac 

Honestly, I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I guess I’ll tell you what I like about it before I get into what I don’t. Simply put, this novel is fun. The story follows interesting characters who spend their free time driving around America and partying. Nothing better than a road trip story! Sal Paradise, the narrator, is a likable enough character. The rest of the characters are all interesting.

But here’s my hang-up: the novel is considered one of the most defining works of the Beat poets. This simply written, semi-autobiographical story that can be read in one or two sittings is the defining work! For the Beat generation! This generation was about destroying old norms. Allen Ginsberg was pushing the limits of what a poem could be while being put onto obscenity trials for his works. William S. Burroughs was writing novels that completely upset the concept of chronological writing. He said the chapters of “Naked Lunch” can be read in any order! All this disruption of literature norms and Jack Kerouac is who we’re taught in school, who’s novel is read over and over. I mean, I guess it is the most accessible. But representative of the Beat generation? I don’t think so.

 

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Glad to get that out of my system! Onwards we go. Next is “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett, which I’m not familiar with. So that’s always exciting.

 

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Rainbow, Women in Love, & Tropic of Cancer

These next three novels have much in common. The first two were written by D. H. Lawrence with Women in Love being somewhat of a sequel to The Rainbow. The first Lawrence novel and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer were both banned and put on trial for obscenity. The Rainbow was prosecuted in 1915 which led to all copies being seized and burnt and the novel not being available in England for 11 years! Tropic of Cancer was originally published in France in 1934. The U.S. immediately banned the novel from being imported into the country. After numerous smuggling cases, the novel was declared obscene by multiple courts in the 50s. Finally being legally published in 1961, the novel was the subject of obscenity trials in 21 states. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Supreme Court overruled all the state court findings of the novel being obscene. What an impressive amount of censorship these three novels led to. But let’s get to what I thought of the content, not the controversy.

200px-RainbowcoverThe Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence

This novel is a large book spanning multiple generations of the Brangwen family starting in the mid 1800s. The story starts with the farming family that has little knowledge of the world beyond their city. As the generations go by and England becomes more modern and industrialized, the members of the family become more worldly and experienced. The first few sections of the novel deals with the relationships between husband and wife and parent and children through the generations. Most of the Brangwen family are simple speakers so as readers we follow the struggles through the characters’ thoughts. Depending on the chapter and the section, we get different points of view from different characters. The last and longest section follows Ursula, the third generation of the family the novel deals with. We see her deal with growing up in a small town on the cusp of modernization because of the coalmines. She struggles with finding her passion, her understanding of love, and her position in life. While the novel can seem somewhat longwinded in places, all the characters and struggles are very interesting and makes you want to keep reading. Even with it’s controversial history, the novel deals with sex and sensuality incredibly tamely (at least to our modern senses) but does a beautiful job of describing the emotional war that can be waged inside a relationship: sexual, familial, or professional.

WomenInLoveWomen in Love by D. H. Lawrence

This novel is considered a sequel to The Rainbow but holds its own as a standalone novel. Following Ursula and her younger sister Gundrun, the story deals with a completely new set of characters (except for a few short appearances of the sisters’ parents). There are two main differences between this and the previous novel. First, unlike the internal dialogues of The Rainbow, the characters in this story spend a lot of time philosophizing and arguing with each other. Conversation plays a larger role so we see the struggles and emotions of the first novel actually played out in the events. Which brings us to the second difference, a plot. Women in Love actually has one. Numerous events happen in the coalmine-driven cities while we watch the relationship between the two sisters and their respective attractions, Birkin and Gerald. While the reader should enjoy the growth and conflicts of their relationship, what makes this novel great is the ever-changing backdrop of industrialized England. Gerald is a coalmine heir who controls a vast industry. There is one section that follows the history of Gerald’s family, their ownership of the coalmine, and their struggles with the coalminers themselves. This passage is beautiful and depressing and is a great depiction of labor issues from the viewpoints of the laborers and the owners. While I enjoyed the whole novel and would recommend it to many, this passage is what will keep with me.

220px-TropicOfCancerTropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

After reading this novel, it’s pretty laughable that the previous two novels were ever banned. Some of the events described among the pages make The Rainbow seem like a Disney movie. Here’s an example. Warning, very graphic language. But what made this novel such an enjoyable read is that Miller can go from minutely describing the anatomy of a prostitute to writing poetic passages that are “an immersive meditation on the human condition.” Here’s how Miller describes the book in the first few pages:

This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse. …

How can you argue with a description like that? Some believe that this novel’s challenge to censorship and free speech in art is why we have the freedom of artistic license in today’s literature. I don’t know how true this is but I can believe this novel push enough buttons to force a change, or a reflection in the art world.

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And now we are officially at the halfway mark!! 50 novels down, 50 to go. Can you believe it?

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Sun Also Rises, The Secret Agent, & Nostromo

Another fairly large span of time between the last post and now. Sorry about that. I’ve been studying for my state exam working towards my teaching certificate. Anyways, let’s get to the novels. As we get closer to the halfway mark, here’s three more of the 100 greatest novels.

Hemingwaysun1The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Following a group of American and British citizens in Spain, this novel deals with numerous themes. Love and love lost plays heavy on the story. I really enjoyed the dry and direct writing which was very similar to the attitude and personality of the protagonist, Jake Barnes. Really, the whole novel is full of characters with strong and distinct flaws. From the promiscuity of Lady Brett Ashley, to the impotency of Jake, and the drunkenness of Mike Campbell, they’re all damaged by either the times or by their experiences in World War I. This novel also serves as a stark and interesting depiction of Spain in the early 1900s. Some Spanish citizens are friendly to foreigners and others aren’t but all of their reactions to the characters lend hilarious and sometimes dark scenes to the story.


SecretAgentThe Secret Agent 
by Joseph Conrad

The first of two books by Conrad next to each other in the list, The Secret Agent was an interesting departure from most of the novels on this list. This novel follows the protagonist’s dealings as a spy and how his job effects those around him. The novel is written in a way where not only do you get the point of view of each and every character, but the point of view moves from character to character each chapter and sometimes in the middle of the chapter. These switches makes for slow revealing of the plot but gives you a chance to see events and characters from numerous viewpoints. From chapter to chapter, a character can seem strong and resolute and then suddenly vapid and unimportant. The plot itself is actually very interesting but it almost becomes second place to the inner workings of each character. It really makes for an interesting read.

200px-Nostromo1stNostromo by Joseph Conrad

This novel took a while to get going for me but by the end, I really enjoyed it. I think the reason for the slow start was because during most of the first half, Nostromo is barely a named minor character. So much time is spent learning the histories of other characters and I was just thinking the book wasn’t named for them, let’s get to Nostromo. But beyond all that, the story was an interesting take on a fictional government in South America trying to find it’s way between colonialism and their own democracy. You learn of numerous coups and then the story goes into yet another one. Nostromo plays a major part in this revolution and the story follows him until the conclusion and beyond.

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Great! Let’s keep going. Currently, I’m on The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence. Thanks for keeping up with all this.

 

 

 

 

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100 Greatest Novels: A Dance to the Music of Time & Point Counter Point

First, let me sincerely apologize for not blogging in such a long time! It is inexcusable and I’ll try to not let it happen again. The first book is actually book one in a twelve book series. After reading the first book, I couldn’t decide to continue with the series or go on through the 100 great novels list. So instead, I read a few other books that I’ve been putting off. Then I decided it wasn’t economical to continue with the aforementioned series because each book was $8 a pop ($8×12=$96!!) so I moved on to the next novel in our list. With all the excuses out of the way, let’s get to the novels.

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

9780226677347The first book in this series, A Question of Upbringing, introduces us to Nick Jenkins. He is the narrator of the story and this novel follows him from his last school days up until he starts at a university. As far as plot or conflict, not much happens. I think it’s mainly because this is the first novel in a 12 book series so it’s more setting up the characters than telling an engaging story. I would like to ultimately finish this series because the characters are interesting enough and the writing is very clear and simple so I wouldn’t mind finding out what happens to Nick. But other than that, there’s not much to say about this introductory novel.

Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley

PointCounterPointComing from the same author that wrote A Brave New World, this novel and all his others are completely overshadowed. And while I love BNW, it’s sad that not many people (including myself until this list) know or have read this novel. Set in London in the during the 1920s, the novel follows numerous characters in the intellectual and artistic classes of England. Similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works, the novel reads as an expose of the the excess and irreverence of the ’20s. Characters succumb to passion, allow decorum to override emotions, and argue about politics and religion and the importance of arguments about politics and religion. While an incredibly enjoyable read, the novel finishes with the biggest hypocrites being the happiest and well, you can probably guess the rest.

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Again, sorry about the wait. I hope to not do that to you again. Next up is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Onwards we go.

 
 

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