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Favorite Albums of 2018

So, last year I somehow did not do my favorite album list. I apologize profusely. I’ll never know how to make up for it. Anyway, here’s my favorite albums of 2018. Number 20-11 will only be the name and a video, the top ten will have a few comments by me in addition to a video or two. Let me know in the comments what’s right and wrong about my list, what albums I missed, etc. Let’s go.

20. The New Respects – Before the Sun Goes Down

 

19. Jason Mraz – Know.

 

18. Florence + The Machine – High as Hope

 

 

16. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats – Tearing at the Seams

 

15. Punch Brothers – All Ashore

 

14. The Suffers – Everything Here

 

13. Logic – YSIV

 

12. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born Soundtrack

 

11. The Milk Carton Kids – All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do

 

10. Lucy Dacus – Historian

Yay, I finally get to talk about some music. I listened to Historian solely because of the name while looking at new releases one Friday. It took less than 7 minutes (the length of the first track) for me to realize this was something special. The heartbreak, the darkness, the hope, the light. The whispers and the screams. The loss of loved ones and the escape from others. All emotions, all of life was encompassed in these songs. The album was released in March and even though we don’t deserve more, she released an EP with her supergroup including Julian Baker and Phoebe Bridges: boygenius. Well, let’s hear a song. Here’s “Night Shift”, the opening track I mentioned before. If you have 7 minutes to spare, listen to the whole thing. You won’t regret it.

 

9. Noname – Room 25

I first learned about Noname because of her verses on the last Chance the Rapper record. I didn’t know you could be so understated and calm while rapping some of the most intense lyrics around. I quickly listened to her first album and watched all the live videos on YouTube, especially her Tiny Desk Concert. Her vibe is consistently chilled. Her words are not. Here’s the second track of Room 25 titled “Blaxpoitation”:

 

8. MAJOR. – Even More

This dude is criminally underrated.  Classically trained vocalist for opera and stage, MAJOR. has a powerful voice that would be perfect singing anything. Secretly, I want him to play George Washington in Hamilton on Broadway (call me Lin-Manuel). MAJOR.’s debut album, Even More, is upbeat and poppy. It’s a lot of fun from beginning to end. He borrows influence from soul, R&B, theater, pop and hip-hop. There’s world beats mixed in. He tends to make big, bold statements about himself and what the world needs. For example, here’s how he introduces the album:

Even More is my official statement to the world that hope in love, culture, and our future is not lost. Like my heroes Michael Jackson, MLK, & Stevie Wonder, I’ve accepted the charge to bring fearless love through every lyric, melody, & moment. The world is hurting. Even More is the solution.”

Let’s listen to “Honest”:

 

7. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

Being one of the biggest surprises of 2018, Cardi B’s debut studio album released to impressive critical acclaim and commercial success. Cardi B just has this presence that you can’t explain. Any verse from her is infectious. You’re required to listen. Whether you’re laughing or you’re shocked or even confused, you are still glad you did listen. NPR’s Ann Powers said it best: “She walks into a song and it changes.” It can be Maroon 5’s pop, Bruno Mars’ throwback funk or her own hip-hop. It doesn’t matter, she was meant to be there. The best example, “I Like It”, has her traveling between trap and salsa and R&B and hip-hop:

 

6. St. Vincent – MassEducation

Usually, I’m not a fan of most acoustic or stripped down albums. If you write an album with a full band, I wanna hear it with a full band. More often than not, these types of albums bore me. St. Vincent’s album MassEducation is an impressively lovely exception to this rule. In 2017, St. Vincent released one of the best albums of the year, Masseduction. Dark, sexy and infectiously poppy, I loved it. But when she stripped all the instruments and beats away and slowly sang the same songs over a piano, everything took a whole new meaning. The cute became sinister. The smiles became pain. Levels of emotion and sadness came out of the lyrics that were almost washed away behind the glitzy production of the original. Here’s a live performance of “Savior” stripped down to just a piano and her voice:

 

5. Ariana Grande – Sweetener 

2018 was the year of Ariana for all the right and wrong reasons. She showed strength and resilience after 2017’s horrific bombing at her concert in Manchester. She experienced heartbreak with the end of her relationship with Mac Miller, happiness with her dating and engagement to Pete Davidson then (I’d imagine) indescribable sadness with Mac Miller’s overdose and untimely death in September. The next month her and Davidson’s engagement was called off. In the midst of all the drama, she released an incredible album, Sweetener. This sugary, intimate album is a perfect snapshot of this time. She teaches us how to see the light in darkness, how to breathe during the pain, how to love the unlovable. And none of this touches on “thank u, next“, the sweetest breakup song ever.  But let’s listen to “breathin”:

 

4. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

NPR’s number one album of 2018 and for good reason. This afro-futuristic, pop and funk perfection has everything: catchy melodies, woman empowerment, funky guitars, political jabs, sexual fluidity, black empowerment, anger and harmonies, love and science fiction. And on top of all this, she also released a 50 minute “emotion picture” to accompany the album. Every song on here is damn near perfect so I’m having a hard time picking which to show you. Do you want pop? Or hip-hop? Let’s just keep it sexy with this Prince-inspired anthem, “Make Me Feel”:

 

3. Leon Bridges – Good Thing

I feel like this is the forgotten album of 2018. When the best of lists started coming out, this one was missing from most (if not all). And as you can see from my high placement, I have no clue why. Leon Bridges was able to get everything that made his debut incredible and bring it into the modern world. He brought his unmistakable voice and vibe into today’s R&B, soul and pop. And he did it all while still looking like the 1950s dressed him. I’m mad at all y’all that aren’t listening. Remedy this, quick. “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)”:

 

2.  Rosalía – El Mal Querer

I’m so happy to have found Rosalia this year. This Spanish singer seamlessly combines flamenco and pop music. Her traditional vibrato singing intertwines with trap beats, flamenco claps and Spanish guitars. She samples modern music like Justin Timberlake while telling the 13th century story of a woman accused of infidelity. El Mal Querer is a drastic shift from her debut album, a collection of flamenco classics performed with Raul Refree. I don’t speak Spanish and don’t want to translate songs so I have to guess what the songs mean based on the emotions portrayed by her voice. Frankly, it isn’t too hard. Enough with words, here’s “Di Mi Nombre”:

 

I mentioned sampling Justin Timberlake earlier. The next song has a Spanish version of “Cry Me a River” as the foundation. The song is “Bagdad”:

 

1. Christine and the Queens – Chris

I cannot stop listening to this album. Daily, weekly, I keep coming back to it. Christine and the Queens is the stage name for the French artist Héloïse Letissier. She sings in French and English and her performances are heavily choreographed, taking on a theatrical production. She blurs the boundary of music and theater, male and female, sex and love. Dance tells one story, while words tell another. Her voice is seducing you while her body is pushing you away. It doesn’t matter what language she chooses, her message is still clear. Actually, her album was released as a double album, the first half in English and the second with all the same songs in French. I listen from top to bottom, from English to French, every time I play it. She can sing to me in whatever language she wants.

All that said, let’s hear some songs. In “5 dollars”, she shows hickeys, scratch marks and bondage equipment, all covered up in a 3-piece suit:

 

“It doesn’t matter, does it / If I know any exit / If I believe in god and if god does exist / If I believe in god and if god does exist” is sung over playful choreography in a parking lot. “Doesn’t matter”:

 

The first single off the album, “Girlfriend”, gives serious Broadway vibes. Some 80s musical with a sultry, blue-collar love story or something. I’d watch it.

 

Christine and the Queens performed a 30 minute concert for Apple Music live at the Salle Pleyel, Paris. For whatever reason, it’s no longer on Apple Music but I did find it on some sketchy website. So I highly recommend watching it but can’t vouch for the website.


 

There it is, my favorite 20 albums of 2018. Here’s to a new year of music!

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Posted by on December 10, 2018 in Lists, Music, Music Review, MYNIYL

 

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In Preparation of Thailand

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If you follow me on any social media platforms, you might have seen the big news. Halie and I are moving to Bangkok this summer!! I’m really excited to move to a new country and experience a different culture and be immersed in a different language. But to prepare myself for this, I wanted to conduct a literary crash course in all things Thai. I wanted to tell you about a few books I read (titles are links to Amazon):

A History of Thailand by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit

51-twjc45jl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Of course I had to start with history. While looking for a book to begin I realized that there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to Thai history written in English. Plenty of travel books, not much history. But this one had good reviews so I decided to begin my literary journey here. And what a journey.

Thailand’s history is a rollercoaster ride of monarchy and democracy and military coups. Thailand is unique in being the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized by a Western power. They were left as a buffer between French Indochina (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) and the British Empire in South Asia (India and Burma). During World War II, Thailand tried to stay neutral but with pressure from Japan (and subsequent invasion), they allowed free passage for Japanese soldiers and declared war against the United States and the UK. But by the end of the war, Thailand had emerged as an ally of the United States.

While the Cold War raged around the globe, the United States saw Thailand as the bulwark of “democracy” amongst all the communist nations of Southeast Asia. Because of this, the United States funded the Thai military and police. This caused political instability, military coups and the weakening of the monarchy’s power for decades well into the 1980s. Although Thai politics began to be more stable by the constitution of 1997, there has still continued to be political unrest and military coups. The most recent military coup was in 2014 and Thailand is still run by the military junta.

Theravada Buddhism by Diana & Richard St. Ruth

51uskueijul-_sx321_bo1204203200_I decided next to move from history to religion. 95% of Thailand’s citizens practice Theravada Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism that began in Sri Lanka and spread throughout Southeast Asia. This short guide explained the beginnings of Buddhism, the division of Theravada from other sects and the practices of the religion. I believe this has been very helpful in understanding some of the cultural practices of Thailand. Their interactions with their monarch, the temples and shrines everywhere and their relationships with each other can be explained in the context of Theravada Buddhist practices. The only issue I have with Buddhism is all the numbers! The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Threefold Discipline, the Seven Purifications… It just gets to be a little too much counting for me!

Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj

51qamujhwql-_sx322_bo1204203200_Published in the 1950s, this fascinating book follows minor nobility through major transformations of Thailand. Told through the point of view of a girl (and later woman) named Phloi, we follow her life during four different kings of Thailand, spanning the years 1890-1946. We get to see Thailand become a part of the global political world and part of the modern world. The end of the absolute monarchy and the introduction of the first constitution in 1932 is seen through the eyes of the citizens of Bangkok. We see, through Phloi’s experiences, when Japanese soldiers start marching through the streets during World War II and the different reactions of people depending on their place in Thai politics. The story ends with Phloi’s death at about the same time as her fourth king, Ananda Mahidol.

I would love for there to be a sequel, maybe titled One Reign, that follows a character similar to Phloi during the next king’s tenure. Bhumibol Adulyadej began his reign in 1946 and at the time of his death in October of last year, was the longest serving head of state (70 years). He was a much loved king that was a sign of stability for the citizens of Thailand during the tumultuous politics of the Cold War and into current events.

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

51wmtw359wlSo I didn’t talk about every book I read but I wanted to end my literary research (for now) and my blog with a modern Thai book. This debut book published in 2005 is a collection of seven stories. They are all set in modern-day Thailand, some in Bangkok and some in the Thai countryside. Most of the stories have young children as the protagonist and they all beautifully depict a different side of life in Thailand.

“Farangs,” the name of the first short story and the word for foreigners, gives us a picture of the interactions between tourist and Thai. “Sightseeing,” the fourth story, is a gut-wrenching example of the difficulties of growing up, especially with an aging and sickly family member. “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place” is a hilarious and touching story of an American father who becomes handicapped and forced to move to Thailand to live with his son and Thai daughter-in-law. As you an tell from the title, he’s not too excited to be there. “Priscilla the Cambodian” gives us a short look into the life of Southeast Asian refugees that are forced to live in Thailand. Really, all the stories are well worth reading. I’m excited to see what Lapcharoensap publishes in the future.

 

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Favorite Albums of 2016

December is here and the temperatures are dropping. Amazon.com is getting all our money. But more importantly, it’s time for my annual list of favorite (not best) albums that were released throughout the year. Last year I started doing 20 albums instead of 10 but #s 20-11 had only a music video posted. The top ten will have comments by me with a video or two. Also, the titles will be links to iTunes (but please purchase/stream however you prefer). I guess let’s get started.

20. Regina Spektor – Remember Us to Life

19. clipping. – Splendor & Misery

18. Dr. Dog – Abandoned Mansion 

17. Snow Tha Product – Half Way There…Pt. 1

16. Nick Jonas – Last Year was Complicated

15. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – This Unruly Mess I’ve Made

14. Haley Reinhart – Better

13. Wilco – Schmilco

12. Gallant – Ology

11. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

10. Norah Jones – Day Breaks

So finally, some words. So back in 2002 I watched VH1 before school. I enjoyed the music videos and the variety of music they played. One morning a beautiful voice sang to me over some jazz piano. That moment, I fell in love with Norah Jones. Fast forward 14 years through multiple albums spanning multiple genres (loved them all) and we get to 2016. I saw she was releasing a new album and the first single was up on Youtube. What I didn’t know before watching was she was using this album to harken back to her first jazz-driven album. The nostalgia of 2002, the sultry melodies and tinkling of the keys hit me in the stomach. The album releases and I quickly listened to it. And it’s perfect. It has the structures of the simple jazz pieces she wrote for her first album but the music itself borrows from all the experimentation with country and folk and pop and rock and hip-hop that she has delved in through the years. It blends seamlessly and I can’t get enough. So to the music, here’s the first single,”Carry On,” that knocked me out so surprisingly:

9. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered. 

A year after the release of the critically acclaimed and amazingly wonderful To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar surprised everybody by releasing a collection of demos and tracks from the recording of Butterfly. And although it’s supposed to be demos, untitled unmastered. has everything we loved about Butterfly. The experimentations with jazz, funk, soul, etc. are still there. The politically-driven lyrics are still there. The window into Lamar’s psyche is still there. This has to be one of the most solid collections of demos and outtakes from any band/musician. The first track from this album we heard was actually before the release of Butterfly on the Colbert Report. Here’s “Untitled:”

8. The Avett Brothers – True Sadness

A part of me feels like the Avett Brothers can do no wrong. They just keep pumping out great albums. Songwriting is consistently spot-on no matter what variation their albums take. We’ve seen them go further into country, into punk, into rock, into folk, pop, bluegrass. But they’re still two brothers that love to write the words that need to be written with the melodies that need to be sung. Some fans get hung up on what these words and melodies are placed over. Is the recording too polished? Is there too much drums? What’s with all the extra musicians now? Who cares. Let’s just enjoy the gift of their craft that they keep on giving us. “Ain’t No Man,” the first single:

7. Ariana Grande – Dangerous Woman

So one day I came across the video of Ariana Grande playing “Wheel of Musical Impressions” on Jimmy Fallon’s show. It was too good. After it ended, I said out loud, “Well, hell. If she can sing that good, I guess I gotta give her album a listen.” Luckily, she had just released Dangerous Woman so I pulled it up and gave it a listen. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised at how good the album was. Even though she’s obviously a powerful singer, she uses that whispery voice a good amount of the time. At first it somewhat annoyed me but listening through the album, I realized it made the moments she really belts it out more powerful. You get the drastic variations in her vocal range. I kept listening to the album and I still love it. I still listen through it about once a week. One of my favorite tracks of her album is the title track, posted below.

6. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

I won’t spend too much time on this album because I wrote about it back in May. But I’m still listening to it pretty regularly. It’s just so upbeat and happy. Chance is young, talented and taking over the world. Watch any late night, SNL, awards shows, and you’ll probably see him pop up. Daytime TV? Sure. He performed on Ellen. So since you can read my last blog, let’s listen to a song. Let’s chill the vibe a little with a live performance of the last track off the album, “Blessings (Reprise):”

5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

So everything surrounding this album perfectly encompasses Kanye West as a person. On one hand you have genius production, religious undertones, incredible features and samples that blow your mind. Then on the other: disastrous release, editing songs and changing tracks after the release, obviously misogynistic lyrics and cancelled tour dates because of mental health issues. While it’s not always easy defending Kanye, these dichotomies make him who he is. And his final products always speak for themselves. “Fade:”

4. Various Artists – The Hamilton Mixtape

So if you’ve been around me at any time over the last year or so, I probably talked to you about the Broadway musical Hamilton. I’ve been obsessed with the cast recording since it released. Halie and I saw the play on Broadway a few months ago. I pre-ordered and devoured the Hamiltome. All this led up to the release of the Mixtape a few weeks ago. Consisting of a few covers by pop and hip-hop stars, a few original songs influenced by the musical, demos cut from the play and covers of other demos, the album has a little bit of something for everybody. If you’ve listened to the cast recording as many times as I have, the covers might seem lacking. But the original tracks influenced by the play are incredible. And the covers of demos make me wish they were never cut. Before we hear a song, let me list a few artists on this mixtape: The Roots, Nas, Usher, Sia, Regina Spektor, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, Wiz Khalifa, John Legend, Chance the Rapper, etc. I know, I know. It’s crazy. Here’s “Wrote My Way Out” featuring Nas, Dave East, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Aloe Blacc:

3. DNCE – DNCE

So November was hard for a lot of people for…obvious reasons. Before that, Philly’s public transportation was on strike so I had to bike to work for a week. So I really needed something to get me through the rest of this year. And DNCE provided. They released the most fun album this year and I can’t stop dancing to it. From the first to the last track. From the upbeat to the chilled. They are all fun. They’re sexy, musical ear candy. Oh, and the lead singer is a Jonas Brother. So do what you will with that information. “Body Moves:”

2. Sia – This is Acting

So some of you might have forgotten about this album because it came out at the beginning of the year but Halie and I jam this an embarrassingly amount of times. Even though it’s a collection of songs Sia wrote for other pop stars that they ended up not using, this album sounds more cohesive than most artists’ releases. From beautiful ballads to infectious pop songs, I just can’t stop listening to Sia sing…anything. My favorite song, “Reaper,” was co-wrote with Kanye:

If you’ve watched any of her music videos, you probably know a little about Maddie Ziegler. She’s the young girl that does all the incredibly weird dancing for Sia. Whether it’s in a video or a live performance, I enjoy watching her dance almost as much as listening to Sia sing. Recently, Sia released a deluxe version of the album with the single “The Greatest,” a song and video honoring the victim’s of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting.  Watch it:

1. Beyonce – Lemonade

This should be on the top of every “Best Of” list. It has some of the best songs written in a long time and by far the best songs this year. The album encompasses pop, hip-hop, rock, country. And she does it really, really well. She released a complete visual album to go along with every song and introduced us to the great poet from Somalia, Warsan Shire. She opened her heart and her anger to the world about the pain of dealing with a cheating husband. But ultimately the album just has one incredible track after another. I can’t stop listening. Also, all the features on this album were exactly what each track needed. Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd. Loved it. But let’s get to some songs. In “Hold Up” we get to watch Beyonce walk down the street with a bat. You can guess what she’s doing with it:

Sometimes a whole song is really good but there’s just one small section, one little musical aspect that makes it your everything. For this next song it’s the slight use of horns. They always show up right when you need them. Here’s “All Night:”

And let’s finish this out with the most powerful track from the album. This was the first single and ended up being the last track. To some, this song was controversial but they’re just looking for something to get upset about because I loved it as soon as it was released. I loved the biographical lines, the glimpse into her and Jay-Z’s relationship. Mainly I just loved the brashness of this track, “Formation:”


Well, there you go. Another year down, another list complete. Let me know what you think or what I missed in the comments. Here’s to a great holiday season and a new year. To new adventures!

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2016 in Lists, Music, Music Review

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Sheltering Sky, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Ginger Man & The Magnificent Amberson

Here it is! The final 100 Greatest Novels post! Can you believe it? I can’t. These last four novels bring us to the final. I posted the blog introducing this idea almost 4 years ago. We completed the first novel, Ulysses, and posted the blog in August 2012. We finished the first 50 books with Tropic of Cancer, the blog being posted on April 2014. So that brings us to today with the last four books. Let’s get to it.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

ShelteringSkyThis novel shows that the idea of American tourist not knowing what the hell they’re doing in foreign countries isn’t new. The story follows an American couple from New York who travel to North Africa with a friend. The story starts off delving into the marital issues of the couple. They both want to get the spark in their relationship back but both are waiting for the other to make the move. They’re both desiring more while being complacent with how things are. But as the story progresses, their story somewhat takes the back-burner to the events around them. They’re interactions with the world around them become more and more dangerous as they get farther and farther from “civilization.” Interspersed throughout the story is incredibly moving descriptions of the Sahara Desert and the villages they come across.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Cain_The_Postman_Always_Rings_TwiceIf you like quick reads and/or crime novels, this is the book for you. Around 100 pages, you can knock this one out in an afternoon. I never figured out what the longish title meant but I did really enjoy this short book. The story follows Frank Chambers, a man who roams around California. He stops at a diner and ends up working for the Greek man that owns it. Soon Chambers strikes up a relationship with the owner’s wife. It’s a tumultuous, passionate affair. Soon they come up with an idea to get rid of the husband and have a life together. When that fails, they try another plan. And then things start getting unnecessarily complex. Let’s just say the story ends with one of them on death row…

The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy

220px-GingerManThis fun novel was one of those stories where you almost hate the main character the whole time but love reading about him. Sebastian Dangerfield is an American student of law at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He’s lazy, usually drunk and is horrible to his English wife and child. He spends all their rent money, he tries (and sometimes succeeds) to sleep with every woman that catches his eye. Him and all his friends are struggling to make their way in life, running out of money and wanting wives and wealth to just fall in their lap. The story was a crazy ride through pubs and cities and bedrooms and fights and screaming landlords. I heard a rumor that they’re making this into a movie starring Johnny Depp. I could get into that. It would be a lot of fun too watch. The only problem, he’s not ginger.

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

TheMagnificentAmbersonsThis was a great book to end the list on. Not life changing, but a really solid read. The story follows the Amberson family through their rise and fall leading into the Industrial age of the American midwest. Focusing on the grandson of the patriarch, George Amberson Minafar, we see what happens when somebody grows up with wealth and position and no understanding of why. George’s arrogance and position blinds him to what’s going on around him. And through him falling in love with a young lady, and his mother falling in love with her father, we see the Amberson fortune be swept away by the rising tide of industrialism. The book does a great job of portraying this idea in so many ways. They actual health and wellbeing of the family, the quality of the houses they live in, the importance of the neighborhood they reside in and the modes of transportation they choose to use. All these aspects of the Ambersons show how they miss the oncoming transformation of the world and what happens because of this. And it’s all masterly done by Booth Tarkington.

I finished this book on the train to work last Friday morning. Tears came to my eyes when I read the last words. I’m not sure if it was because of the beautiful ending to the book or because of me finishing the last novel in this large task of reading the 100 greatest novels.

Either way, I did it. We did it. Thanks for being with me these past four years. Onto the next project…

 

 

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100 Greatest Novels: Wide Sargasso Sea, Under the Net & Sophie’s Choice

Today we’re talking about three more of the 100 greatest novels. Two of them are by what is all too rare in this list, a woman! Finally. After this, I’ll probably only have one more post in this series for the last four books. Can you believe that!? Let’s get to it.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

JeanRhys_WideSargassoSeaThis book is somewhat unique (for this list, at least) because it was written as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. If you’re familiar with that book, this novel is the background of Mr. Rochester’s marriage that Jane learns a little about. If you’re not familiar with Jane Eyre, don’t worry. It’s not necessary to read and/or enjoy this novel. The story follows Antoinette Cosway’s childhood in Jamaica into her unhappy marriage with Mr. Rochester. This quick and easy to read novel also delves into many heavy issues. Racial inequality, the relationship between men and women, colonialism, displacement, all this plays a part in this novel.

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

UnderTheNetThis novel was a lot of fun to read. Set in London, it follows a young author as he’s kicked out of where he’s staying. His complex relationships with the lady who owned his flat and a pair of beautiful twins are thoroughly picked apart throughout his roaming. He get’s mixed up with the film rights of a French novel, philosophizes with an unnecessarily rich man, steals a movie star dog, almost becomes a Socialist, get’s an actual job for once, loses the job, makes a quick trip to Paris, decides he’s in love with a few different women…all in the few pages of this novel. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, this book was always entertaining.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

SophiesChoiceSome of you might be familiar with the movie that’s based off this novel featuring Meryl Streep. I haven’t seen the move so I can’t compare the two or tell you how closely one follows the other. Anyway, Sophie’s Choice. This was an incredibly fascinating novel for a few different reasons. First, one of the main characters, Sophie, is a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz and the novel is set in 1947. I’m not too familiar with that many novels about Holocaust survivors just a few years after the end of WWII. Usually, it’s about their experiences during the war, not after. And although Sophie’s Choice touches on most of Sophie’s experiences in and before Auschwitz, it’s still very interesting to read about her issues with survival: guilt and physical health being too of the biggest issues.

I’m kind of jumping around…let me tell you a little what the book is about. It’s narrated by Stingo, a 23-year old aspiring writer who moves to Brooklyn. At his new boarding house, he gets drawn into the tumultuous relationship between Sophie and Nathan, an American Jew who seems to be a genius. They have some of the most violent and emotionally intense arguments, have unnecessarily loud sex above Stingo’s bedroom and deeply discuss classical music and literature. All of this with Stingo hovering on the edge of their story, falling madly in love with Sophie. Through the novel, we slowly learn about Sophie’s life before WWII and her experiences in Auschwitz. Her story during the war and her story in the Brooklyn boarding house both lead her to a “choice” she has to make. A choice between life and death for too many people she cares about. I’ll let you read the novel (or I guess watch the movie) to figure out what choices she has to make and what consequences they lead to.


That’s it for today. The next novel is The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. I have a few ideas for some other blogs. You might see a few of those before the final post in the 100 greatest novels series. Until next time.

 

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100 Greatest Novels: Tobacco Road, Ironweed & The Magus

It doesn’t feel real to be this close to the end of the 100 greatest novels list. I truly can’t believe how close we’re getting. Today, I’m talking about three more: 91-93. Let’s go.

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell

220px-TobaccoRoadNovelThe first two novels we’ll be talking about were really quick reads from authors that I weren’t familiar with, both set in the Great Depression. First, we have this novel by Erskine (what a name!) Caldwell. Set in rural Georgia, the story follows a family of sharecroppers as they sink deeper and deeper into poverty and starvation. We meet an interesting swath of characters throughout the book. They’re all ignorant, stubborn and blindly religious. All the events are driven by their stupidity and are completely unnecessary. The dialogue is incredibly simplistic. The story is quick and fatalistic. Overall, I’d give it a big, “Eh…”

Ironweed by William Kennedy

220px-IronweedNovelOur second Great Depression novel, but this time in the North. Set in Albany, New York, this story follows an alcoholic homeless man when he returns to his hometown. He originally ran away because he accidentally killed his infant son. As he walks around his hometown looking for places to sleep, food to eat and quick jobs for a few bucks, he’s confronted with his past. He has hallucinations of deceased people from his past. Family members, people he killed and others all want to confront him. His mistakes with his family are weighing on him. His involvement with labor protests and strikes are being relived. And this all happens amongst more drinking and freezing nights on the street. This novel is the third book in a cycle of novels about Albany and I enjoyed it enough to want to read the other two. Maybe someday soon…

The Magus by John Fowles

Themagus_coverSo this book. I don’t even know where to start. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something so intriguing, so frustrating, so pretentious, yet so enjoyable. Some pages I hated it, I hated Fowles with a passion. The next pages I would think he’s a genius, one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century. But let me try to tell you a little about this book itself. So the story’s following this British dude named Nicholas Urfe who’s teaching English on a small Greek island. While bored and roaming around the island, he meets this rich eccentric named Maurice Conchis. While hearing the story of Conchis, Nicholas starts seeing ghosts and events from the past being performed. Assuming Conchis is playing some performance art of a game, he goes along with all he sees. Overtime he becomes more and more involved with the games until he’s a “performer” himself. I’ll let Wikipedia’s plot summary explain a little more because it’s written so well:

Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis’s psychological games, his paradoxical views on life, his mysterious persona, and his eccentric masques. At first, Nicholas takes these posturings of Conchis, what the novel terms the “godgame,” to be a joke, but they grow more elaborate and intense. Nicholas loses his ability to determine what is real and what is artifice. Against his will and knowledge, he becomes a performer in the godgame. Eventually, Nicholas realises that the re-enactments of the Nazi occupation, the absurd playlets after de Sade, and the obscene parodies of Greek myths are not about Conchis’ life, but his own.

The further I went into the novel and Nicholas into the godgame, the more mysterious it all became. Everything was a lie, everybody’s performing. Every page proved the previous page wrong. Every event was more real and more absurd and more false than the last. Combined with hundreds of references to Greek mythology, British playwrights, French philosophers and other, this all becomes incredibly pretentious and frustrating. But what an adventure, for Nicholas and the reader.


So this brings us to #94, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. We only have two or three more blog posts left in this list. What will I do then!?

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Old Wives’ Tale, The Call of the Wild, Loving & Midnight’s Children

Today we have to talk about 4 more novels from the list of the 100 greatest. These four bring us ever so close to the end. We actually only have ten left! Can you believe it? I can’t. We started this in the summer of 2012, posting the first on August 20th. I know it’s been a long journey but it’s exciting to finally get close to the conclusion. Well, let’s get to the books.

The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

The_Old_Wives_Tale_(Arnold_Bennett_novel)_cover_artThis first novel is a sweeping narrative of two sisters. It follows both their lives from childhood to death and covers most events, mundane to extreme, in great detail. The story is broken into four parts: the sisters’ childhood until their separation, each sisters’ individual life story through the many years of adulthood, and finally their old age together. The sisters are very different and while reading, you’ll relate to both in different ways at different parts of their stories. I really enjoyed Sophia’s adulthood chapter because she spends most of her years in Paris and it was fun to see how a English woman raised in a small town reacts and conforms to the life of a Parisian. This novel contains many frustrating situations and characters, just like real life. I hated Constance’s son. Hated him.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

220px-JackLondoncallwildI haven’t read a book this quick and easy in a long time. Finishing it in less than a day, this story is an intense survival story about a dog that’s stolen from his family and sold and shipped to Canada as a sled dog. And it’s told from the dog’s perspective, which is unique for this list of novels. As the dog, Buck, learns to survive in this harsh climate and harsh life, he slowly reverts back to a wild state. He hears the “call of the wild,” the call of his ancestors. The story deals with some difficult to read scenes with dogs and people not being able to handle the harsh climates of the Yukon and the difficult lives of a gold rush. But overall, the story has a satisfying conclusion. Plus, it’s free on Kindle so…

Loving by Henry Green

Loving_Henry_GreenThis novel is for all the Downton Abbey lovers out there. Set during World War II, the story is the lives of the servants and their employers at an Irish castle. It follows the conflicts, gossip and flirtations of the servants and how they intersect with the lives of their employers. At first, I had a difficult time getting into this novel. Multiple names are used for each character depending on who’s doing the talking. The storyline jumps around to different interactions around the castle. It read like a film that’s shot with one camera. We can only pick up one interaction after leaving another, even if we cut in halfway through a conversation and don’t really have an idea of what’s going on. It was somewhat confusing at first but over the course of the book, I learned the characters and really enjoyed the novel.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

MidnightsChildrenNow this was a fascinating read. I loved the adventure of these pages. This was a mystical story about Saleem Sinai, who is born at midnight. And not just any midnight but the moment that India gains it’s independence from England. The story starts with Saleem’s grandfather and works up to his birth. From his birth on, his life and the history of India are perfectly intertwined, mirrored upon each other. The story follows his life and the historical events at the beginning of India’s independence to the partitioning of India and Pakistan. As the story goes on, his life and India’s politics become more and more complex. We finally make it to the splitting of Pakistan into Bangladesh and Pakistan. We also get Pakistan and India’s battles over Kashmir in the story and in his life. We get the Emergency proclaimed by Indira Gandhi, a state of emergency called to suspend civil liberties and solidify her hold onto power. This event is the denouement of India’s early years of their independence and the denouement of Saleem’s story.

Oh, I forgot to mention. Saleem, and every other child born between midnight and 1:00am when India gained her independence, are born with special powers. Using his telepathic powers, Saleem brings all the Midnight Children together to try to use their powers for the betterment of India. This magical or mystical aspect of the novel really connects all the complex storylines and fascinating connections of history of country and of family into an incredible reading experience. I’d highly recommend this book to anybody.


This brings us to the final ten novels. Next is Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell. What a first name!

Until next time…

 

 

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