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100 Greatest Novels: The Death of the Heart, Lord Jim & Ragtime

The next three from the 100 greatest novels were interesting in how different they were. I liked each one more than the one before it. We’ll get into the reasons below. I’m excited to talk about the last one though. Let’s go ahead and get to it.

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

220px-TheDeathOfTheHeartHere we are again with another British novel set in London in the early 1900s. I’m getting fairly tired of these novels but I feel bad for doing that. I would probably thoroughly enjoy some of them if it wasn’t for reading so many during this list. Anyway, let’s get to this novel. Like all of them, you have the one character that doesn’t fit into London society. This time it’s Portia, who moves in with her half-brother after her mother and their shared father dies. She, of course, falls in love with a friend of the family who tries to straddle his relationship with Portia and his obligations towards London society. The one thing that makes this story interesting is Portia’s age. She’s only 16 when she moves to London so we have somewhat of a coming-of-age story. We get the frustrations of a teenager towards her authority figures but how much authority can her half-brother and sister-in-law really hold over her?

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

2b6bcb34ed3d68ff7f7aaf65ce1987ceSo if you’ve read any of Conrad’s novels, you’ll know what to expect. The story usually has something to do with the sea and ships. And many of Conrad’s novels are structured by being a story told by Charles Marlow. He is usually with his fellow shipmates and he narrates the story. All of his narration is in quotations so any quotes told in the story use single quotation marks. Then it get’s real confusing when you have characters in the story quoting somebody else. Sometimes you end up with 3 or 4 levels of quotation marks! Once you get past all that and the introduction of the story into why this Jim character is named Lord Jim, it gets really interesting. Jim ends up in a secluded village and becomes a leader, a lord, to the people. And it’s a fascinating transition and ultimate ending to the story. Quick note, this is free on the Kindle.

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

RagtimeDoctrorowHardcoverReally, I just rushed through writing the above paragraphs because I’m so excited to talk about this novel. I wasn’t familiar with Doctorow when I started Ragtime and I did not read any synopsis of the story. I assumed it might have something to do with Scott Joplin or the musical genre ragtime. The novel alluded to the genre but it didn’t play a huge role.

Anyway, this book. This book is what I want every book I read to be. I had a hard time starting the next novel in the list because I just wanted to read everything by Doctorow. Let me tell you what I’m so excited about. This novel combined fact and fiction in such a flawless, beautiful way that I wanted to cry with joy. Historical characters are treated with the same care as fictional characters. Historical events are intertwined with fictional storylines. I’m going to quote Wikipedia’s paragraph about this because it explains it fairly well:

The novel is unusual for the irreverent way that historical figures and fictional characters are woven into the narrative, making for surprising connections and linking different events and trains of thought about fame and success, on the one hand, and poverty and racism on the other. Harry Houdini plays a prominent yet incidental part, reflecting on success and mortality. Arch-capitalist financier J.P. Morgan, pursuing his complex delusions of grandeur, is delivered a plainly spoken comeuppance from down-to-earth Henry Ford. Socialite Evelyn Nesbit becomes involved with the slum family and is aided by the anarchist agitator Emma Goldman. The black moderate politician Booker T. Washington tries to negotiate with Coalhouse Walker, without success.

I feel like a novel like this does better than any textbook or biography or history book at making the reader understand what a time period was like. We can google names and dates. But how do we understand what the wealthy and the poverty-stricken felt? How can we know what the average person felt about certain events or even decades? Can we know how the heroes viewed the citizens and vice versa? We can, but with only extensive research into the histories of the rich and famous and into the journals of the not rich and not famous, extensive research into the biographies of the mammoths of history and the news articles of the mundane events around town. Who has time for that? So read E. L. Doctorow. At least read Ragtime. I can’t vouch for the rest of his novels yet.

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Alright, next up is The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett, number 87 on the list. We’re getting seriously close to the end. What will I do with myself?

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2016 in 100 Greatest Novels, Book Review, Lists, Literature

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Adventures of Augie March, Angle of Repose, & A Bend in the River

Well, we’re into a new year. And hopefully this is the year I finish the 100 greatest novels. After the three novels we’re talking about today, I only have 17 left. That’s crazy. It’s been a long, challenging, and enjoyable adventure through these books. I’m not really sure how I’m going to choose what books to read if I don’t have a list to follow. Also, new books are expensive. It saved me money reading all these older cheap and sometimes free books. Anyway, let’s get to it.

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

AugiemarchI was really looking forward to reading this book because the previous novel by Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King, was a hilarious adventure. At first, I struggled to get into the story. It was nothing like Henderson the Rain King, it wasn’t even funny. But once I got past my hangups, the story really captured me. Following around Augie March from early childhood into adulthood, we get to watch him go through numerous adventures. Growing up in the Great Depression in Chicago to a poor family, Augie uses his wit and some good luck to more around from job to job, education opportunity to criminal opportunity, woman to woman. Living in drastically different situations from chapter to chapter, it was exciting to see where Augie would end up next. And through all of this, Saul Bellow gives us an incredible image of America (and Mexico for a few chapters) during this tumultuous time period. We get an exploration of a person, an exploration of a country, and an exploration of human existence. And it’s worth exploring all of this.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

So I went into this book not knowing anything about it or the author. And because of this, it AngleOfReposewas a great experience to unfold the layers of this story. At first we meet the main character, a disabled historian who has an obviously tense relationship with his son (and most likely the rest of his family). After learning of him and his situation, we find out he is writing a novel based on his grandmother’s experiences as an artist from the East coast who marries a miner and travels the western frontier in the late 18o0s. The novel jumps back and forth between the historian’s daily activities and issues and the engrossing story of this frontier woman trying to survive in these extreme places. In between these two narrations, we get sections and whole copies of letters from the grandmother sent to her friend who still lives in New York City. By the end of the novel, I wasn’t really sure whose story I was more involved in, whose story I cared more about. But once they get tied together, it’s an incredibly satisfying payoff for reading two distinct stories throughout.

A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul

BendInTheRiverAs you know, I’ve been somewhat annoyed with this list because of the similar narratives. Numerous British novels with almost identical stories. So anytime I get to a novel with a new location, a new story, anything, I’m excited. And this novel provided all of this and more. This novel is set in an unnamed country in central Africa during the tumultuous period after colonialism began to end. Many African countries accomplished their independence in from the European powers between the end of World War II and the 1970s. Sometimes independence came easily, bloodless. Sometimes it took years of warfare. And after independence, numerous countries dealt with civil wars and destabilized governments. Anyways, A Bend in the River takes place amongst all of this. And it’s really a simple story of a man who owns a store by the river and watches all the changes and growth of his city, his nation, and Africa in general. Between the numerous characters, we see how these changes effect different people: politicians, foreign businessmen, students, people from the tribes, people from the coast, etc. They all have unique experiences and deal with the changes around them differently. And this creates a dense, multi-faceted viewpoint of the decolonization of Africa.

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So let’s keep moving forward. Next is The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen. We should be coming to the end of the list soon!

 

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Favorite Albums of 2015

Now that we’re in December, it’s time for all the “Best of” lists from every blog/magazine. And for whatever reason, I have always added my list to the group but with using the word “favorite” instead of “best” because I don’t think I (or anybody else) is really able to say what is best. Also, I usually do only my top 10 but this year I decided to tell you about 20 albums. But in the effort of not taking too much of your time, I’m only going to add comments to the top ten. 20-11 will be just a youtube link to one of the songs from the album. That said, let’s get to it. As always, the titles of the album are links to iTunes. Let me know why my list sucks, what you would have added and taken away, etc.

20. Billy Gibbons & the BFGs – Perfectamundo

19. The Lone Bellow – Then Came the Morning 

18. Leon Bridges – Coming Home

17. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

16. DNCE – SWAAY

15. Adele – 25

14. Wilco – Star Wars

13. Brandon Flowers – The Desired Effect

12. Nate Ruess – Grand Romantic

11. MUTEMATH – Vitals

10. Ben Folds – So There

Eight incredibly fun songs recorded and written with the chamber pop group yMusic. A beautiful piano concerto written by Ben Folds and performed with the Nashville Symphony. All on the same album! How could this not be great? And that’s a rhetorical question because there’s only one option. It’s really great. Here’s Ben Folds and yMusic performing the track “Capable of Anything:”

9. The Milk Carton Kids – Monterey

I love this folk duo. They follow the traditional style of flat-picking harmonies. There songs are perfectly written, perfectly harmonized. You can barely tell if the songs were recorded this year or 50 years ago. And that’s exactly what they want. Everything I’ve heard from them has had the same emotional effect on me and all the tracks on this album are no different. Here’s their song “Poison Tree” that makes me want to cry every time I hear it:

8. Sara Bareilles – What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress

I’m always excited about any new Sara Bareilles music. She has perfected piano-driven pop music, she sings incredibly, and puts on a killer live show. I didn’t really know what to expect from her newest album. Let me explain. Sara Bareilles wrote the score for a musical adaptation of a movie titled Waitress. The musical was very successful and is opening on Broadway next year. But before all that happens, Bareilles wanted to record some of the songs from the musical as her own usual pop songs. And because of this we get a collection of her usual pop songs but with the storytelling of a musical. And Jason Mraz is featured on two tracks. So I loved it. Here’s “She Used to be Mine:”

7. Jamie Cullum – Interlude

Jamie Cullum continuously releases albums that explore connections between pop and jazz. He’s a prolific jazz pianist that writes pop music. Or a pop songwriter that plays jazz piano. Anyway, each album he releases falls somewhere different on the spectrum between jazz and pop. This most recent release is his first full jazz album. Recorded with a big band and IN ONE TAKE (!!!!!!!), the album consists of jazz covers and includes two great duets. Here’s the opening track, “Interlude,” performed live:

6. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

Although this album opens up with what I consider a pretty weak song, the second track, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” is so good, I would still put the album in my top 10 even if it only had this song repeated a dozen times. And the rest of the songs are just as good. I don’t know another band playing right now that is as rock and roll, as raw, as good as this band. To prove it, here’s the band playing “Don’t Wanna Fight” live:

5. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

After the electronic perfection of The Age of Adz and the hip-hop collaborations under the names S / S / S and Sisyphus (both with Son Lux and the rapper Serengeti), I don’t think anybody really expected the understated simplicity and beauty that Carrie & Lowell is. After his mother died of stomach cancer in 2012, Sufjan Stevens used his songwriting to explore his grieving, his relationship with his mother, and his thoughts on death. The song “Fourth of July” is one of the most direct songs on the album, dealing with his mother’s cancer and death, opening with lines: “The evil it spread like a fever ahead / It was night when you died, my firefly / What could I have said to raise you from the dead? / Oh could I be the sky on the fourth of July?”

4. Punch Brothers – The Phosphorescent Blues

Consisting of five of the most talented musicians in the folk and bluegrass worlds, Punch Brothers released another great album this year. Each album explores the boundaries of what bluegrass instrumentation can accomplish. You never really know what sounds they’ll be able to create with their collection of instruments and it’s always fun to find out. And on top of all this experimentation, they just write some of the greatest songs coming out right now. Honestly, I don’t know how they continue to pump out all this music because they all have relentless touring, writing, and recording sessions as individual musicians and with other groups. When do they get together to write and record? Who knows. But I’m glad it happens. Here’s the band performing two tracks from the album, “My Oh My” and “Boll Weevil:”

3. Florence & The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

I think Florence Welch has one of the strongest and most interesting voices in music. Her and her band’s first two albums have some of the most ethereal, beautiful, and haunting music out there. But their third album is a little different. More raw, more in your face, more vulnerable. It’s so different but exactly what you’d expect. The album cover is just a picture of her staring into your soul with nothing around her and that is precisely what the album sounds like. Nothing between her voice and your ears. It just drives right into you. Every track, every melody just hits you in the bottom of your stomach. And I couldn’t stop listening to it for a long time after the album came out. On top of all the great songs, the music videos were cinematography masterpieces. They are being released as chapters in a story titled The Odyssey and so far they’ve released 6 chapters. I’m not sure how many chapters there will be. Anyway, here’s chapter 1, the video for “What Kind of Man:”

2. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Now if I would have attempted at making this list the “best of” and not my favorites, this album would have been number one. This is the most ambitious, most talked-about, most important release this year. On top of all that, it’s just a really great album. Blending hip-hop with jazz, funk, and spoken poetry, each track is an adventure. The lyrics throughout the album thoroughly dissect the experience of black Americans. Racism, hatred, hypocrisy, violence, religion, money, politics, police brutality, Wesley Snipes, drugs, Obama…Kendrick Lamar leaves no rock unturned. And with all this dense lyrical content, the album is incredibly playable also. So many fun jams, funky beats, and great raps throughout the whole album. Also, every time he’s played a track from the album on a talk show, it’s been incredible. All of them: his medley on the Late Show, SNL, and Ellen for some examples.  But his music videos are really where he hits hard. Let’s watch the video for “Alright,” which opens up with some spoken poetry and intense video clips, goes into a section of a song that’s not on the album, and then finally into the funky beat of the song:

1. Original Broadway Cast Recording – Hamilton

So I just told you guys about this recording last month. There really isn’t much I can add to what I’ve already said so just go read that post. But I’m still listening to it as much as ever. I’m still just as obsessed. I probably have more of it memorized than I’d care to admit. I closely follow Lin-Manuel Miranda through his whirlwind life showing up on talk shows, news channels, and television game shows. He freestyles on Fallon, he gave answers on Jeopardy, wrote music for the new Star Wars movie, and who knows what else. But back to the musical. Since it’s a Broadway play, there aren’t any music videos like all the previous albums. There are a few clips from the actual play but not too many. So instead, I guess I’ll just post the first 3 tracks from the recording. This will give you a pretty good idea of the music. The first song, “Alexander Hamilton,” gives us some biographical information and background story to Hamilton arriving in New York:

This brings us to Hamilton meeting Aaron Burr, his frenemy and the dude that ultimately kills him in a Duel. Really the majority of the conflict in the play is Aaron Burr’s desire to advance his career and how he blames Hamilton for most of his setbacks. That said, we don’t really see that conflict yet in the second song, “Aaron Burr, Sir:”

This brings us two the third track, “My Shot.” Lin-Manuel Miranda said he spent a year writing this song because he wanted every line to be perfect. This song encompasses his ambitions and his fears and introduces us to some of his friends. Listen:

From there it goes into the American Revolution and Hamilton meeting his future wife. After the war we get to the political battles between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, his sons death during a duel, and then Hamilton’s eventual death. You can listen to the whole cast recording on youtube. I highly recommend it. I mean, it is my favorite album of 2015.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2015 in Lists, Music, Music Review

 

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An Update on the 100 Greatest Novels (and Other Readings)

So it has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted any thing on here. And I have excuses. Many of them. Some have to do directly with the list of the 100 greatest novels we’ve been working through. Some have to do with new adventures and new cities in my life. And the rest have to do with my job situation. Let’s get started.

The 100 Greatest Novels: An Update

Joyce_wakeIf you read my last post on the 100 greatest novels, you’ll know that I’ve completed 76 novels from the list and started on #77, Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, a few months ago. I also mentioned my fear of reading this “novel” because of the difficulty involved. I have read everything else James Joyce has written and love every bit of it but Finnegans Wake is the most difficult piece of literature in the English language. I actually don’t agree with it’s addition into this list because it is nothing like any other book on here. How could anybody decide it is slightly better than #78 but not as good as #76? How can you compare this piece of art made from letters to these other novels with characters, plots, complete sentences, and lack of made up words? You can’t. At least I can’t.

I did start to work my way through it. I am currently on page 169 of 628. That said, nothing of the first 168 pages meant anything to me. I am literally looking at one collection of letters (in the form of made up words) after another. I’m slowly roaming my eyes across line after line, page after page, as if I’m looking through rooms in a modern art gallery. But am I getting anything out of it? It’s hard to say. I’m not thinking so. I have been taking a break from the book and reading other things (more on that later) so it’s been a few weeks since I’ve roamed the rooms of Finnegans Wake. 

So that brings up my next questions. Do I finish the book? I have completely read all of the first 76 books of this list and I fully intend to read numbers 78-100. So how could I leave this one unfinished? Wouldn’t that be a failure on my part? I do think so. But on the other hand, me looking at 459 more pages of this book will most likely not change anything about my understanding or appreciation of Finnegans Wake. I don’t think I’ll somehow be able to start comprehending anything differently in a few dozen or hundred pages. Could I, not being a Joycean scholar, add anything to the world’s knowledge of this book by completing it? I highly doubt it. So would my time be more wisely spent moving on to the rest of the novels and leaving Finnegans Wake for the students at Oxford? I would think so. But my mind isn’t made up yet.

Lack of Posting: Some Excuses

If you follow me on any of my other social outlets, you probably already know that at the beginning of August my wife and I moved to Philadelphia. With the process of preparing for the move, the actual move, and settling in to a new house and new city, I have had little time to “read” through Finnegans Wake or write any other type of posts for this blog. And I’m incredibly sorry for it. That said, I do love our new city. We’ve had an amazing time experiencing what Philly has to offer and have spent most of our free time exploring different areas. You can look up #pevetosinphilly on Instagram to see some of our pictures and adventures over the last few weeks.

As time got closer to school starting here, I had still not heard from the Department of Education about my teaching certificate transferring to Pennsylvania. Soon enough I realized there was little to no chance that my certificate would happen in time for me to find a teaching job and start the school year. So I started looking at other opportunities for an income. After thinking about what I can do, what I want to do, and what will help me in my future, I narrowed down my options to two part-time jobs until I can get back into teaching. So for this next year I’ll be substitute teaching for the School District of Philadelphia (to keep me connected to the schools) and giving historical walking tours of Philadelphia with Bow Tie Tours (to keep me connected to teaching history). Which brings me to my next topic…

Other Readings

To prepare for my historical walking tours of Old City Philadelphia, I’ve been reading and researching Philadelphia’s role in the American Revolution. I knew the facts of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the writing of the Constitution but I didn’t know all the stories of the Founders who accomplished all of this in 18th century Philadelphia. The owner of Bow Tie Tours recommended me a few books by historian Richard Beeman.

51-UyMUG4vLI first read his book on the Declaration of Independence: Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776And for a book with that pretentious of a title, I loved every page of it. This book gives us the stories of the Founders and the events that led them to our independence. It includes all of their bickering, their clashing egos, their imperfections and selfish desires. But through all this, Beeman really makes it clear how revolutionary, how incredible, and how audacious it was for this group of men to declare war against and independence from England, the strongest empire in the world.

After reading H. W. Brand’s mediocre biography of Benjamin Franklin, I started Beeman’s book on the Constitution a few days ago. This one is titled Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. With a considerably less pretentious name, this book is as good as his other. I’m not too far into it so I can’t really vouch for it as a whole, but I’m very excited about completing this one too.


With all this said, I guess I’ll have to decide if I’m going to complete Finnegans Wake after I’m done with my research mentioned above. Whatever decision I do make, I’ll try to keep all of you in the loop and I’ll try to get back to posting regularly.

 
 

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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: 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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