Posts filed under ‘1001’

An Overview of my 1001 Journey: 2013

Well, let’s face it. As years go, 2013 was basically a bust. I haven’t read a book (a real book) since August, and that one never even got finished. My total 1001 books for the year? 8 Last year I read 21. But, as is my tradition, I will take the time now to talk about my year in review.

Spring

The year got off to a fair start with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and Heart of Darkness in January. Both books took me longer to read than I expected. For a lot of reasons. Which, looking back, look a lot like excuses. But, compared to the rest of the year, it looks pretty good.

Then I decided to read some Irish Literature because of a class I was taking and because of an upcoming trip to Ireland. And, well, basically because I thought it would be fun to try a month or two of reading in a theme. It didn’t turn out as well as I expected. I started out really excited and then… I got really busy.

Summer

In the summer, I finally got some time back, but I didn’t spend all of it reading 1001 books, choosing instead to try a few that I’d been wanting to get around to, like The Casual Vacancy. From the list, I read The Hobbit, which I was surprised to find that I enjoyed more than I had Lord of the Rings. I also read The Invisible Man, which I think was definitely worth the read, The House of the Seven Gables, which had been sitting on my bookshelf for ages, and The Drowned World, which takes the title of my favorite book of the year.

Fall

I went back to school intending to finish Neuromancer, the last book of the summer. With everything that came up, I never did. And I never even started another book. I kept thinking that I would after just this one last thing. And then something else would come up. Even my weekends were busy. And by the time my schedule finally freed up enough to get a free afternoon here and there, I knew that I couldn’t start a new book. Why? Because I knew that as soon as I started one, I would get so caught up in it that I wouldn’t be able to put it down until I finished it. And then I would never any work done once I got some again. And so ended the semester.

Winter

And my classes were so crazy last semester that I was actually finishing take home finals four days after the last official day of finals. And then I went back to work part time. And applied for a new internship. I got it, and it’s pretty awesome, but, you guessed it, it takes up a lot more time.

Ok, I’ll admit it. Without homework to worry about, I probably could have started a book or two once I finished the finals. But by now, I’m just tired. When I’m not working or catching up on all the other things that have to be done, I just feel like being lazy.

A New Year

Well, I would really like to end this post on a positive note somehow. It’s a new year. New opportunities, another chance. This is the year that I’m set to graduate; maybe after that I’ll have more time for reading. To be honest, I really don’t know what’s coming in the next twelve months, but I do know that I’m not giving up. Even though I’ve faced a few setbacks, I’m still determined to continue my 1001 journey. And, as I do, I will continue posting about it here, for any of my readers who are still around.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2014 at 11:18 am Leave a comment

The Most Memorable Thing

Today, I’ve decided to play a little game. I’m going to take the list of the books I’ve read from the 1001 list (the ones that currently have no review) and name off the first thing that I remember about each one. Sounds kind of fun, right? But I’m also hoping that it will reveal what is really memorable about each one, the one piece of the story that has really stuck with me.

And if you’ve read any of these, you can feel free to play along, too, in the comments section. Or write your own post with the books you’ve read and tell me about it. It would be interesting to see whether we all remember the same elements.

Of course, I’ll also be trying to keep this completely spoiler-free, so no worries!

Here We Go!

Things Fall Apart

Okonkwo. I remember that it took me a while to figure out how I should pronounce his name, and, after that, every single time I read it it just stuck out. On the more substantial side, I also remember the character himself: all of his traits, the way he made decisions, and the way he reacted to the events around him. I hadn’t read of any character quite like him before.

Pride and Prejudice

The scene where Elizabeth walks all the way to the Bingley’s house, even through the mud, just to visit her ill sister. I suppose it’s one of those scenes that really defines the character. Other scenes come to mind as well, like the hilarious proposal of Mr. Collins. Good stuff.

Jane Eyre

Jane’s departure. Not to spoil anything for those who haven’t read it, but I think that those who have know exactly what I’m talking about. Another big character moment, at least I thought so.

The Great Gatsby

The green light! And the color green in general, just for the huge importance it has in terms of symbolic value for that book. I can also never forget the scene where they all go to the city just to hang out and drink some mint juleps. They keep mentioning them over and over, and nobody ends up actually having one. Just a little detail that I personally thought was kind of funny.

Lord of the Flies

The skin-crawling war-dance thing that the boys did for hunting pigs. Complete with the chant. Ugh, I did not like that part, or that book, but it’s got a kind of savage power to it that I can’t quite explain.

The Scarlet Letter

Pearl the Faerie Child! Even though they never actually call her that in the book, it just fits way too well to pass over. Pearl is certainly a unique character, and not one to be forgotten.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Why is it that I can only think of the ending? I mean, I remember the rest of the book, but the ending just sweeps everything else out of the water.

Brave New World

The bottled babies! The happy pills! The ritualized celebration of lust! Just all of these disturbing aspects of Huxley’s dystopian future. And more. Let’s not let the world turn into this, ok?

To Kill a Mockingbird

I really remember the way all the little gifts kept appearing inside the little hole in the tree. I’m not sure why I remember that over all the other things that happened, but maybe it’s because I was kind of young when I read it. I’m not sure that I really got the full impact. Or it could just be because the tree was pictured on the cover of the edition I read. You know.

Life of Pi

Tiger in a boat. Seriously, that’s the entire story. The end. Yeah, I’m joking, but, still, I found that book to be pretty boring. I guess if I had to pick a second it would be that really weird island where the ground at night was like acid and there were all those little mammals running around. I want to say meerkats, but I’m pretty sure that’s not right.
Correction, actually, a quick Google search reveals that I’m exactly right. Go me!

The Things They Carried

The water buffalo. Don’t ask. Just go read it and you’ll totally understand.

1984

I’m going to have to go with the ending on this one, too. In my opinion, it’s just the crowning point in the story about a very messed up world.

Cry, the Beloved Country

Believe it or not, what’s sticking out for me at the moment is not a character or a piece of the plot but rather the passages that seemed to stop to have a chat. That’s really the best way I can think of to describe them without actually posting a full quote. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy handy. So yes, it’s basically the language of them and the way they pause the story and yet somehow also manage to really tie it all together. A technique that I have never seen used elsewhere.

The Pit and the Pendulum

In a short story like this there aren’t as many options, so I’m going to settle for the obvious choice. The pendulum. Who reads that story and doesn’t remember it?

The Purloined Letter

The ultimate reveal. Meaning the location where the stolen letter has been hiding undetected from a thorough police search. But, of course, I can’t spoil that.

A Modest Proposal

I’ve always particularly liked the line that makes a jab at the English landlords: ” I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children.” I love a good satire.

And… the end!

I think this post has gotten to be quite long enough. But if this post is popular enough, I might make another one in the future for a few more of the 1001 books I’ve read. Let me know what you think.

August 17, 2013 at 3:22 pm 3 comments

The Drowned World

Another one I’ve been meaning to read for a while. The Drowned World takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which the world has heated up to average temperatures of well over 100 degrees as a result of solar flares. The ice caps have melted and drowned out the cities of the world, rendering them almost completely uninhabitable. In order to escape the heat, the survivors have moved to the Arctic and Antarctic circles. The novel follows Robert Kerans, a scientist with an exploratory team studying the lagoons that have sprouted up over the remains of the city of London.

I found this book very interesting because I really liked it without completely understanding why. Something in the way it was written just appealed to me. I can’t remember the last time something like that has happened, but I’m really enjoying it.

I can tell you that I enjoyed the level of detail and description, particularly when it came to the images of the fantastical mixing of decaying modern cities and natural Triassic landscapes. I also thought the slow transformation the character’s undergo was handled particularly skillfully by the author, especially the psychological aspects. I know that for myself, as a reader, it really put me into an interesting and unusual perspective on the events, particularly those near the end of the novel.

Another thing that I noticed was strong symbolism, which was sometimes even stated explicitly. In my opinion, this made the story easier to follow and to engage with. Plus I had so much fun trying to catch as much of it as possible as I read. Although that may just be me.

As far as the characters go, I thought that they were fine overall, but I was kind of disappointed with Beatrice. I was just expecting her to… do more. You know, actually do something to help instead of letting the male characters control basically everything. I don’t know if it’s because of the year it was published (1962) or if it’s just weak character development. Or maybe it’s supposed to be some kind of huge character flaw? It’s hard to tell since she’s the only woman in the novel, but she seems more like a token woman than an actual rounded character. Kind of like Erewhon‘s Arowhena.

But all of this is a bit secondary to me. When I think of my enjoyment of the book overall, I just keep going back that thing I mentioned in the second paragraph. I can’t explain it, but I liked it.

three and a half stars.

August 6, 2013 at 7:57 pm Leave a comment

The House of the Seven Gables

As you can see, my copy is a bit used, but I got it for really cheap!

As you can see, my copy is a bit used, but I got it for really cheap!

If you’ve been following my reading this summer (which, I’ll admit, you probably haven’t been), you may have noticed that The House of the Seven Gables took me a bit of a long time to read. The truth is that I just had a bunch of trouble getting into it. And that about sums up my opinion on this one.

It started out promisingly enough. A drama of Puritan greed and witch hunting, a terrible curse and a sudden death. I was hoping for murder. Or a ghost. Or a family plagued by dramatic and terrible misfortunes at the hands of the dead wizard’s curse! So many possibilities, and, instead, there were pages and pages about an old woman running a cent shop with the help of her young cousin while taking care of her brother. And we learned about their personalities and their daily routines and how they got along with each other. We learned about the customers in the shop and the people who passed by the house and a whole lot of other things that made me wonder where exactly this plot was going.

Granted, The Scarlet Letter, which I enjoyed reading, didn’t have a whole lot of action, either, but at least there was a sort of tension. From the beginning we know the trouble that Hester is in, we see that her husband is out for revenge on the unknown father of Hester’s child, and basically that all is not well in Puritanville (disclaimer: this is not the town’s real name, although it should be). So as we learn about the internal struggles of Hester and see what Chillingworth is up to, we know why these things matter. In The House of the Seven Gables, I just wasn’t getting it.

I did like the ending when I finally got to it, and I will say that this may be one of those books that is better on the second read. For now, though, if I speak truthfully, it kind of bored me. And in my rating system that almost automatically equals a rating of:

Two Stars

July 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm Leave a comment

Emerson and Hawthorne in Conversation

As I read The House of the Seven Gables, a particular passage caught my attention. “That,” I said, “sounds exactly like something I read by Emerson last semester!”

It shouldn’t be surprising that these two writers influenced each other. Both lived in Massachusetts in the early 1800’s when, thanks to Emerson and his colleagues, the Transcendentalist movement was going strong. While Thoreau was practicing living deliberately at Walden Pond, Hawthorne was writing The Scarlet Letter less than 30 miles away. When Hawthorne and his wife were living in Concord, Emerson actually invited him to join his social circle. Clearly, Hawthorne was no stranger to Emerson or his Transcendentalism, and comparing passages from their work reveals two narrators who seem to be operating on the same wavelength.

An Imaginary Conversation

Just for fun, I’ve assembled the following out of quotes from Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables and Emerson’s essay Nature to create a dialogue of sorts. We begin by asking each for their opinion on society’s relation to the past:

Hawthorne responds by saying: “‘Shall we never, never get rid of this Past?’ … ‘It lies upon the Present like a giant’s dead body! In fact, the case is just as if a young giant were compelled to waste all his strength in carrying about the corpse of the old giant, his grandfather, who died a long while ago, and only needs to be decently buried.'”

And Emerson’s answer comes in perfect agreement: “Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes.”

Hawthorne provides more examples: “‘A dead man, if he happen to have made a will, disposes of wealth no longer his own; or, if he die intestate, it is distributed in accordance with the notions of men much longer dead than he. A dead man sits on all our judgment seats; and living judges do but search out and repeat his decisions. We read in dead men’s books! We laugh at dead men’s jokes, and cry at dead men’s pathos! We are sick of dead men’s diseases, physical and moral, and die of the same remedies with which dead doctors killed their patients! We worship the living Deity according to dead men’s forms and creeds. Whatever we seek to do, of our own free motion, a dead man’s icy hand obstructs us!'”

Emerson nods in agreement and asks: “Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?”

Hawthorne: “‘I ought to have said, too, that we live in dead men’s houses… But we shall live to see the day, I trust… when no man shall build his house for posterity… If each generation were allowed and expected to build its own house, that simple change, comparatively unimportant in itself, would imply almost every reform which society is now suffering for. I doubt whether even our public edifices– our capitols, state houses, courthouses, city halls, and churches– ought to be built of such permanent materials as stone or brick. It were better that they should crumble to ruin once in twenty years, or thereabouts, as a hint to the people to examine into and reform the institutions which they symbolize.”

And Emerson concludes: “Why should we grope among the dry bones of the past…? The sun shines today also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.”

A Bit of Bubble Bursting

Yeah, that’s right, I’m going to burst my own bubble here. It’s unfortunately necessary because, while Emerson is writing out his own ideas in his own voice, we must remember that The House of the Seven Gables is a novel. If you noticed the constant use of triple quotes, it’s because they were all taken from the dialogue of a character named Holgrave, which means that they can’t actually be connected in any way to Hawthorne’s real opinions on Transcendental thought. In fact, Holgrave himself appears to change his mind near the end of the story, saying of a certain house that it should have been built of stone rather than wood so that it could last longer.

To take things a step farther, I found out while doing a bit of research for this post that Hawthorne apparently had no love for Transcendentalism, having lived in a failed Utopian community based on those ideas. His novel The Blithedale Romance (which I unfortunately have yet to read) is said to satirize the Transcendental movement by drawing upon his experiences there.

So if Emerson and Hawthorne really sat down to have a discussion on Transcendentalism, it probably would have looked much less like this “great minds think alike” sort of exchange I made up and a lot more like a great big, cleverly worded argument. Now that is something I would really like to see!

July 25, 2013 at 4:45 pm Leave a comment

First Question: What Exactly is a Gable?

When reading a book entitled The House of the Seven Gables, it generally helps to know the answer to this question. I’m hoping here that I’m not the only one who has wondered this because, otherwise, this post is bound to make me look really stupid.

After a quick Google search (Google really is your best friend for these sorts of quick questions), I have discovered that a gable is actually a rather common bit of architecture. My other good friend Wikipedia tells me that a gable is the “triangular portion of a wall between the edges of a sloping roof”, which means you might have had one without even knowing it! A quick look around my neighborhood shows that they are everywhere.

 

See? I found one!

See? I found one!

 

Having seven of them, though, would make for an interesting look on a house. Wouldn’t it? Hooray for Google image search! Ah, the wonders of the internet. It turns out that the book was inspired by a real seven-gabled house in Salem! I could actually take a tour of it. You know, if I lived anywhere near Massachusetts. Or had the time and the money to go there. Which I don’t. But I can give you this handy link so you can see for yourself what it really looks like. Or you could just read the description from the book.

“On every side the seven gables pointed sharply towards the sky, and presented the aspect of a whole sisterhood of edifices, breathing through the spiracles of one great chimney.” – The House of the Seven Gables, page 7

Now I just have to find out what a spiracle is…

July 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm Leave a comment

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

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