Archive for June, 2013

Deciding What to Read Next

One of the challenges I’ve found in following the 1001 list is that, with over 900 remaining choices, I never know what to read next! Do I hit up all the biggest classics? Do I dip my hand into the pile of those less well known in search of some lovely surprises? Do I try to explore as many different styles and genres and time periods as I can, or do I fall back on the sorts of books I know that I enjoy? Maybe I should just flip my copy of 1001 Books open to a random page and say, “Yes, that one!”

During the school year, I have a good portion of my 1001 books chosen for me through literature classes, and sometimes I take that a step further by expanding on the material covered in class. Like when we read a piece of a book and I decide to finish it. Or when I decided to read some books by Irish authors because of my Irish Lit class. But summer gives me so much freedom and so much time that I’m not sure what to do with it all.

So I’ve taken a look at my old fallback, the list of books that I’ve been meaning to get around to. I think every reader has a list like this, whether it takes the form of an actual written list or just a growing stack of books on the bedside table. My personal choice is a feature on LibraryThing that allows you to add books you want to read to a list just by clicking a button from the book’s page whenever you find one that interests you.

Unfortunately, these lists also have a mysterious tendency to keep growing and growing and growing, with many of the books on them remaining there for much longer than you originally thought. And when you sit there wondering what to read next, the mind has a tendency to skip right over them, saying, “Oh, yeah, I will read that someday, but I’m going to find something else for today.” I think most people have that one book that they’ve been meaning to read for years and have never quite gotten around to.

For me, that book is The House of the Seven Gables, and today is the day I finally cross it off the list! And the rest of the summer will be spent trying to do the same with as many books as possible. And then? Well, I guess then I’ll be really stuck not knowing what to pick up next! I’ll get to that problem someday, but I’m going to worry about something else for today. 😉

June 29, 2013 at 3:27 pm 7 comments

Invisible Man

I have to say, this book surprised me. When I decided to pick it up, I was expecting something heavy and depressing that I would refrain from complaining about this time because I knew what I was getting myself into. Except, apparently, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into because I rather enjoyed it.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s a happy book or even a book where everything is pretty much ok. Certain scenes were absolutely horrifying, particularly the battle royale scene that takes place near the beginning in which the white characters find entertainment in watching the pain and humiliation of the black characters. It really is one bad thing on top of the other, and, when it ends with the main character delivering a speech in between swallowing down blood and receiving a college scholarship, it seemed absolutely surreal.

I left that scene thinking how monstrously injust it all was, and I feel that’s the key to the entire book. It didn’t seem to be aimed at making the reader feel sorry for the main character, although I certainly did at times, but instead at revealing the grave injustices in the world and examining their many forms and effects.

The main character moves through a wide variety of experiences and undergoes many personal changes in these 500 pages, and this allows him to gain a deep understanding of the world and the racial injustice that exists within it. It unfolds more and more with each revelation he experiences until he reaches the point at which he concludes that he is really an invisible man: “when they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination– indeed, everything and anything except me.”

I only wish that I could have understood everything that he does. Don’t get me wrong, I followed the plot of the story perfectly. The trouble came when the narrator got into these deep reflections. I understood just enough to make me really want to understand, if that makes any sense.

I wonder if perhaps my age and my experiences are my enemies here. This book was first published in 1952. I was born in the nineties. And I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, where I honestly never saw much racism. My own mindset was already vastly different from the main character’s at the beginning of the novel, and I think this might be the reason that I understood without really understanding. I picked up on the meaning of what he was saying but only in a shallow sense. I feel bad that I don’t know how to fix that.

I do recall, though, one scene in the book where the main character’s grandfather leaves him a final message. The words have a great effect on him, but he doesn’t understand what his grandfather meant. And then somewhere around page 500, he remembers the advice and realizes that he could try it. He doesn’t know what his grandfather meant by it, but he after all he’s gone through he finally see a way that it might make sense for him. Maybe all it takes is time.

I realize that this isn’t much like an ordinary review, but I feel that it does do a good job of showing what my experience with this particular book was like. In the end, that’s what really matters to me, and it may give you a better idea of what you might expect than you would get from a normal review. Take it or leave it, this is the way I do things.

Three Stars

June 27, 2013 at 10:07 pm Leave a comment

Thoughts on The Casual Vacancy

I’ve wanted to read The Casual Vacancy since it came out a while ago, but I also wanted to wait until I could borrow it from the library and not be hold #37. Mission accomplished. I walked into my local library, and there it was, just sitting on the shelf among all the rest.

The description of the book interested me, but, yes, I will admit that I probably wouldn’t have read it if it hadn’t been written by J. K. Rowling. I did not, however, go into it thinking that it would be comparable to the Harry Potter books in any way. The only thing I expected was that it would have some characteristics of Rowling’s writing style. For the rest, I was curious to see what else she could do.

The first chapter quickly robbed me of any impression that the book might be light hearted or have a touch of humor. That was good because it helped me to adjust very quickly. This was a serious book. Alright.

Halfway through, my mom was curious to know what I thought of it. I may have mentioned that she works at the library, and she had heard that it wasn’t very good. Well, I had expected that the book might be getting some negative publicity simply because it was not what people were expecting. It wasn’t Harry Potter. It wasn’t close to Harry Potter. And, when I reached the end, I would probably decide that it wasn’t as good as Harry Potter for the simple reason that the bar had been set so incredibly high. It’s a book charged with the crime of not meeting people’s expectations.

At the time, I gave my mom a noncommital response, something like, “I don’t know, it’s ok.” As I said, I was halfway through, unwilling to commit to an opinion until I reached the end. All that could really be said was that I was still reading it, and fairly quickly. I was going to finish it.

A nice long book and a comfy chair on the back patio. What more could you want?

A nice long book and a comfy chair on the back patio. What more could you want?

I might have mentioned that, structurally, it reminded me of a modern day Middlemarch, but my mom has no idea what Middlemarch is. At that point, the only other thing I’d noticed was that Rowling skillfully handles a very large cast of characters in this book (from an omniscient viewpoint, no less), and this is something that has always impressed me about her writing. Just think about it, in Harry Potter, we had the main three, their classmates, all the teachers, and ghosts and paintings and magical creatures… The list goes on and on, and so many of the characters just popped right off the page. As a writer, I can tell you that it is very difficult to keep track of so many characters at once and make them all interesting and believable and unique.

So at halfway through, I knew I didn’t want to give up on it, and I finished in three days. Not bad for 500 pages. At that time, I had the day off of work and nothing else I had to do. It was just after 2:30 when I closed the book and went back inside. And then, for a few minutes, I just stood in the living room doorway, completely still. The ending had made an impact on me. And then, I found myself considering the book as a whole. Although I did move on to doing other things, the book was on my mind off and on for the rest of the day.

What did I think about it? I was asking myself that very question. All that time thinking about it, but no hard and fast opinions presented themselves. Instead, I was filled with questions, pondering the answers. Because these questions weren’t caused by confusion over what had happened in the book, they were questions about real life that the book had sparked me to ask. Questions like “is this what the book meant to say, and, if so, is that true?” and “what can be done to avoid this problem in the real world?” So many questions. Questions about what should have happened, questions about the characters, questions about human nature, questions about government and society…

So many questions, and I don’t have the answers yet. Not yet because I have a feeling that these questions are going to come to me again, one by one, and I’m going to keep thinking about them. It feels as though they’re working away somewhere at the back of my mind, like when you skip over a difficult problem on a math test and come back to find that it makes more sense because a little piece of your brain didn’t stop thinking about it.

What did I think of it? Before I fell asleep that night, I considered what I would say about it if I were to write a review of it here on my blog. What would I give it as a rating? And, to my surprise, I realized that I wanted to R. O. L. O. R. F. it. I felt that I had gotten something from this book that added value surpassing any discussion of ratings. How much I had enjoyed it seemed to be an irrelevant question in light of some personal relevations that all of these questions had sparked. And that is truly interesting.

“Now, come on, is it a good book or not?” you’re asking. (If anyone is in fact reading this, which I’m starting to doubt.) Well, you can go decide for yourself. Having been written by such a famous author, I’m sure there are tons of reviews out there written by people with a lot more professional credit than I have. I’ve even added links to a bunch of reviews by my fellow bloggers down at the end of this post. Or you could just read it. I got something out of it.

June 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm Leave a comment

The Hobbit

My general impression of The Hobbit? It’s a nice little fantasy adventure. Not very deep or complex in terms of the plot or the characters, but I don’t think that it set out to be.

I did end up enjoying it more than I enjoyed Lord of the Rings things that annoyed me in that book didn’t seem so bad in this one. The songs and poems that I found incredibly boring in LOTR didn’t really bother me in The Hobbit. Maybe they were shorter? Or had more relevance to the plot? It’s a bit hard for me to remember exactly how they were in LOTR now that it’s been a while since I read it. There was another battle scene that I didn’t care for, but it was thankfully short.

Towards the beginning, I wished that it could be more descriptive, but then something occurred to me. Some sentence or other popped out at me in a way that made me wonder how it would sound if I was reading this out loud, perhaps to a child. And then it clicked. That would be the perfect form for this story. I really could picture myself reading this book to my kids someday and adding all the little bits of tone and emphasis in my voice that would make it come to life. And now I actually look forward to doing that. You know, if I ever have kids.

I also ended up rather liking the character of Bilbo. He comes to enjoy the adventure, but he never lets it go to his head. He doesn’t become full of himself or become driven by greediness for the gold. He’s stays loyal to his friends and hopes that everything will turn out for the best for everyone. And he always does what he can. That’s really something to admire.

So, yeah, it was a good book. Not great, but pretty good. Really just a nice little story, which, in my opinion, is just fine.

Three Stars

June 10, 2013 at 8:05 pm Leave a comment

The Hobbit: Movie vs. Book

I’ve now passed the point in The Hobbit where the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey leaves off. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first in a series of three films based on the book, so it only covers about a third of the plot. As I read this portion of the book, I couldn’t help comparing it to the movie at every turn, and I found that there are actually significant differences.

I mentioned in my last post that I only gave the Lord of the Rings series two stars when I read it a couple years ago. That was because there were large portions of the book that just bored me. In my thread on LibraryThing, I cited some possible reasons for this: the many long songs and poems, the pages and pages of falling action, and the fact that the narration seemed so far removed from the characters. I got very caught up in Sam and Frodo’s journey to destroy the ring, but couldn’t care less about the battles and such that the other characters were going through, in the third book, particularly.

Now, as I read The Hobbit, I realized that many things I had seen in the movie were just not in the book, and most of these were plot points that ramped up the tension or increased the characters’ motivations, both things that really kept me from getting bored. Even little things like the way the movie played up the fact that the dwarves don’t think very highly of Bilbo initially or the fact that the dwarves aren’t very fond of the elves (resulting in the fact that they almost didn’t go to Rivendell at all) went a long way in my estimation. I actually prefer these sorts of conflicts to all the action and adventure and fight scenes, so that really helped. I also feel that the book emphasizes their journey as an attempt to reclaim stolen treasure, while the movie depicts it as an attempt to win back the dwarves’ rightful home, without which they are separated and scattered across the land. Treasure hunts are fine, but give me the second one any day.

I actually think that these elements from the movie have carried over into the way I think about the book, and I think it would be fair to say that they’ve increased my enjoyment of it. It also helps me to see the sorts of things that might have helped me to enjoy the Lord of the Rings trilogy more. For example, why is it important that they win those battles? Really show me. Give me background, personal stories, zero in on the personal motivation of one or two important characters, whatever will make me want to root them on instead of sitting back and waiting for it to be over.

Given all these things, I think we may actually have found a rare example of a movie that I like better than the book that it’s based on, an honor which has previously applied only to books and musicals (Wicked, anyone?). Amazing, since I overwhelmingly prefer the imaginative power of books and normally hate when Hollywood changes even the littlest detail from the source material. But I suppose that now we know anything is possible.

Where do you stand on books vs. movies? Do you prefer the books, like me? Do you watch movies based on books that you would never want to actually read? If anybody out there is actually reading this (and cares), feel free to jump in! Or bring up a different but slightly related topic. Ah, who am I kidding? I don’t care as long as you comment. Anything goes!

June 6, 2013 at 8:18 pm Leave a comment

Summer Days

Summer is here, and it has really opened up my reading time. I’ve been flying through books this past week, ever since I finished Castle Rackrent. Just for fun, I’ve read Insurgent and How to Say Goodbye in Robot, and now I’ve started on The Hobbit.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any of the Irish novels from the 1001 list that I was interested in at any of the libraries in my local system. Thus, The Hobbit. Like Lord of the Rings, it’s on the 1001 list, and since I saw the movie a few months back, I thought it was only fair that I should read the book. I usually have a rule about reading the book first, but some friends at school talked me into it. I was actually surprised that I enjoyed it, given that I rated the Lord of the Rings trilogy at 2 stars and I didn’t like the portion I saw of the first Lord of the Rings movie (although, granted, that was years ago).

I do remember, though, that one of my friends said that The Hobbit is much, much better than Lord of the Rings. He went into quite a bit of detail about how Tolkien hadn’t intended to write a sequel and how basically the whole first book was written while the author was trying to figure out what the plot should be. Well, I wouldn’t know, and I’m honestly a bit too lazy at the moment to bother with verifying that. Come on, it’s summer vacation! But I will see for myself how the books compare. Hopefully, The Hobbit is good, but, even if it’s not, it’ll be one more check mark.

Given that I’ve been reading so quickly lately, I anticipate being done with it quite soon. I have a part time job, but when I’m not working or writing my novel (and my Wattpad book) I have seemingly endless free time ahead of me. I would offer to put some more work into this blog for the next couple months, but I am starting to wonder if anybody really cares.

June 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm Leave a comment


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