Quick Reviews, Part VI

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#93 Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison

I wonder what it’s like to be casually extraordinary. Like, to casually accept prestigious writing awards and casually boggle minds. I’ll have to ask Toni Morrison someday—if, that is, I don’t collapse at her feet in a fit of casual tears.

Song of Solomon was (necessarily) a letdown after Beloved, but not by much. The story centers on Macon “Milkman” Dead and his dysfunctional family. After his ex-lover and his best friend attempt to kill him, on separate occasions and for separate reasons, Milkman journeys to the land of his ancestors in Shalimar, Virginia. There he hears the legend of his grandfather, Solomon, who escaped slavery in the South by flying back to Africa.

A multi-perspective novel with a touch of magical realism, Song of Solomon (1977) fits nicely within Morrison’s rich literary legacy… without, in my mind, transcending it. That said, the gaping emotional wreckage of these characters, wandering astray on their search for an identity, is palpable in a way that only Morrison could render. Just two books in to her long list of publications, I can safely consider all of her work a must-read.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

It’s not Morrison’s best work, IMHO, but she’s still way ahead of the competition by most measurements.

Favorite Quotes:

Milkman could hardly breathe. Hagar’s voice scooped up what little pieces of heart he had left to call his own. 

Macon kept telling me that the things we was scared of wasn’t real. What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?

Stop picking around the edges of the world. Take advantage, and if you can’t take advantage, take disadvantage. We live here. On this planet, in this nation, in this country right here. Nowhere else! We got a home in this rock, don’t you see! Nobody starving in my home; nobody crying in my home, and if I got a home you got one too! Grab it. Grab this land! Take it, hold it, my brothers, make it, my brothers, shake it, squeeze it, turn it, twist it, beat it, kick it, kiss it, whip it, stomp it, dig it, plow it, seed it, reap it, rent it, buy it, sell it, own it, build it, multiply it, and pass it on—can you hear me? Pass it on! 

Read: 2016


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#80 Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry

Malcolm Lowry’s 1947 novel—the last one he completed—depicts the final hours of Geoffrey Firmin’s alcohol-fueled life as a British consul in the shadow of two Mexican volcanoes. Full of literary references and allusions, Under the Volcano could serve as Exhibit A in my theory on Literary Incest (references within the classics to other classics). Lowry invokes, among others, Shakespeare, Dante, Baudelaire, and (especially) Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.

For all that, though, Under the Volcano only appealed to me stylistically—not thematically. Consider this passage:

It was a hangover like a great dark ocean swell finally rolled up against a foundering steamer, by countless gales to windward that have long since blown themselves out.

And this one:

There was something in the wild strength of this landscape, once a battlefield, that seemed to be shouting at him, a presence born of that strength whose cry his whole being recognized as familiar, caught and threw back into the wind, some youthful password of courage and pride—the passionate, yet so nearly always hypocritical, affirmation of one’s soul perhaps, he thought, of the desire to be, to do, good, what was right. It was as though he were gazing now beyond this expanse of plains and beyond the volcanoes out to the wide rolling blue ocean itself, feeling it in his heart still, the boundless impatience, the immeasurable longing.

Ooh, and this one:

He watched the clouds: dark swift horses surging up the sky. A black storm breaking out of its season! That was what love was like, he thought; love which came too late.

Lovely, right? RIGHT?? Sigh. If only the plot were as compelling as the writing. The story failed, at the end of the day (pun intended!), to keep a steady grip on my attention. Far from sitting on the edge of my spectator’s seat, emotionally invested in Geoffrey’s war with himself, I found myself wandering away from the battlefield, bored with the tedium of it all.

Here’s hoping my own end is quicker, less painful, and less lonely than the Consul’s—and my life story a little more cheerful.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

There’s so much potential here. For me, though, this book ultimately falls short of Greatness.

Favorite Quotes:

I learn that the world goes round so I am waiting here for my house to pass by.

Good God, if our civilization were to sober up for a couple of days it’d die of remorse on the third.

What is man but a little soul holding up a corpse? 

Read: 2017


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#37 Nostromo, Joseph Conrad

If Future Me had told Past Me, before I read Nostromo, that it would encompass love, betrayal, political intrigue, rebellion, shipwreck, and buried treasure, Past Me would have been like, “Yeah, but Joseph Conrad wrote it. So it’s monumentally boring, right?”

For what it’s worth, Past Me would have been right. And Future Me was, indeed, monumentally bored. In broad strokes, Nostromo (1904) is a story of colonialism and revolution set in the (fictional) South American country of Costaguana. In finer detail, it’s the series of events that lead an “incorruptible” man to corruption. (Spoiler alert: Those events are “greed” and “vanity.”) (Spoiler alert: Duh.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “I’d rather have written Nostromo than any other novel.” Robert Penn Warren called it “one of the few mastering visions of our historical moment and our human lot.” Both of them, in my mind, could work on their self-esteem, because I liked The Great Gatsby and All the King’s Men infinitely better than Nostromo.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time? 

I think I’ve said enough.

Favorite Quotes:

I suppose they are homesick. I suppose everybody must be always just a little homesick.

We have disturbed a good many snakes in that Paradise, Charley, haven’t we?

All the earth made by God is holy; but the sea, which knows nothing of kings and priests and tyrants, is the holiest of all.

Read: 2016


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#50 Tom Jones, Henry Fielding

For all its fame, acclaim, and longevity, Tom Jones (1749) didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Over eighteen books, we accompany the eponymous Tom Jones on his adventures and misadventures across the English countryside. Tom’s wild antics and eventual reformation made it hugely popular among 18th century readers, and the book remains influential even today.

Henry Fielding wrote much of himself into Tom Jones, from his unbridled personality to his political objections, and he remains a credit to the name of satire. Still, a (charmingly) cheeky narrator and an (occasionally) sparkling wit weren’t enough to rescue this book from my apathy. I may give it a reread someday, but only if my TBR is barren.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

I’m getting a little impatient with the chronic conflation of the world’s earliest novels with the world’s greatest novels. Tom Jones serves as a model for what came later, yes. But we’ve had a lot of time to practice and perfect the novel since.

Favorite Quotes:

It does not smell like a Christian.

For it is very uncommon, I believe, for men to ascribe the benefactions they receive to pure charity, when they can possibly impute them to any other motive.

Twelve times did the iron register of time beat on the sonorous bell-metal, summoning the ghosts to rise, and walk their nightly round. In plainer language, it was twelve o’clock.

Read: 2016


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#74 Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

If you’ve ever felt predestined to murder someone, and even justified in doing so, because murder is excusable for “higher” beings such as Napoleon, and ethics are just crutches for the weak—please, please rethink your value system. It’s possible you are actually a narcissist with a shoddy moral compass. Maybe.

Your name might also be Raskolnikov, and you might have been invented by Dostoyevsky. His ultra-famous Crime and Punishment (1866) serves as a profile in courage cowardice—a mug shot taken with a macro lens—of an angsty killer on the run. And by “on the run,” I mean wandering around acting transparently guilty, especially in his meetings with the local detective.

If character study is your thing, Crime and Punishment will probably be a page-turner. I can recall more expansive psychological portraits on The List, but never a more intensive one. We are tipped straight into Raskolnikov’s brain two days before he axe-murders a crooked pawnbroker and her half-sister, and don’t emerge from his foggy thought lanes until he’s doing time in a Siberian prison.

Note, if you will, that playing “And Then the Murders Began” would barely change a thing about this masterpiece…

…which, in my book, equals awesome.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time? 

I’m gonna have to go with YES.

Favorite Quotes:

Lying is man’s only privilege over all other organisms.

Suffering and pain are always obligatory for a broad consciousness and a deep heart. Truly great men, I think, must feel great sorrow in this world.

Just give yourself directly to life, without reasoning; don’t worry—it will carry you straight to shore and set you on your feet.

Read: 2016

This is the final installment in my Quick Reviews series! I’m sorry to have left so many “meh” books to the end, for your sake and mine. I’ll be sure to do things differently the next time I read and review The 100 Greatest Books of All Time (a.k.a. never, or at least not in this lifetime).

My last three reviews for The Challenge—Don Quixote, War and Peace, and Faust—will be up soon. In the meantime, happy reading!

Quick Reviews, Part V

#60 U.S.A., John Dos Passos

John Dos Passos’s historical novels The 42nd Parallel1919, and The Big Money were published together as the U.S.A. trilogy throughout the 1930s. Soaring in ambition, lengthy in execution, and experimental in styleU.S.A. chronicles the early decades of the 20th century—before, during, and after the First World War.

Each novel is constructed in four narrative modes. The first, and most familiar, is a series of fictional narratives following twelve characters as they make their way up the ladder of American society. The second, called the “Newsreel,” is a collection of headlines, article excerpts, advertisements, and song lyrics curated from major newspapers of the era. The third, known as the “Camera Eye,” is a stream-of-consciousness autobiography describing Dos Passos’s own life story. The fourth is an assortment of biographies recounting the lives of public figures from the period.

In other words, U.S.A. reads like a history book gone mad. It’s not exactly fiction, and it’s not exactly non-fiction, and it definitely stretches the definition of “novel.” It is equally concerned with real events and unreal characters. I may not be the target audience for this Frankenstein patchwork of a text, but I can think of a few people who are—and I don’t just mean the author’s contemporaries, who showered it with improbable acclaim.

Highlights of Dos Passos’s masterwork include:

  • Charlie’s bar fight with an opponent who whips out a machete,
  • learning that Thomas Edison first grew to fame at age 15 as the only person ever to print a newspaper from a moving train, and
  • the hopelessly obsolete slang terms, from “hunky dory” (good, fine) to “lettuce” and “kale” (both synonyms for money).

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

U.S.A. is original, but not especially well-crafted… so let’s call it one of the goodest books of all time and leave it at that.

Favorite Quotes:

Ned never said anything unless the talk came around to drinking or sailingships; whenever politics or the war or anything like that came up he had a way of closing his eyes and throwing back his head and saying Blahblahblahblah.

If they thought the war was lousy wait till they see the peace.

Read: 2016


#90 Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin

First things first: I loved this book. Loved it. This is the kind of book that makes the worst of The List worth fumbling through, and puts better-known authors to shame. This is the kind of book that sticks with you years later—that carries a great first impression into a long-term admiration. This is the kind of book you give enthusiastically as a gift, but only to readers you respect.

This is the kind of book that makes you jealous of the author.

Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) follows three generations of an African American family from the Reconstruction era in the South to the streets of 1930s Harlem. Relying heavily on Biblical themes, allusions, terminology, and rhythm of the King James variety, many critics have noted that the novel reads like a sermon.

Tackling heavyweight themes doesn’t always make for a Great book, but it doesn’t do this one any harm. The chief protagonist, 14-year-old John Grimes, struggles with family conflicts, a religious crisis, and his own coming-of-age, along with more peripheral issues like racism and sexuality. Go Tell It on the Mountain is, in fact, semi-autobiographical: After a religious awakening at the age of 14, Baldwin himself became a minister, preaching for three years at a Pentecostal church in Washington Heights.

Do yourself a favor and read this book. In a world of native advertising, Twitter, and emojis-as-wit, it might be time to remind ourselves what quality writing looks like.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

Lawd, yes.

Favorite Quotes:

As the years passed, she replied only: “I’m going away from here.” And it hung, this determination, like a heavy jewel between her breasts; it was written in fire on the dark sky of her mind.

Men spoke of how the heart broke up, but never spoke of how the soul hung speechless in the pause, the void, the terror between the living and the dead; how, all garments rent and cast aside, the naked soul passed over the very mouth of Hell.

With the birth of Gabriel, which occurred when she was five, her future was swallowed up. There was only one future in that house, and it was Gabriel’s—to which, since Gabriel was a manchild, all else must be sacrificed. Her mother did not, indeed, think of it as sacrifice, but as logic: Florence was a girl, and would by and by be married, and have children of her own, and all the duties of a woman; and this being so, her life in the cabin was the best possible preparation for her future life. But Gabriel was a man; he would go out one day into the world to do a man’s work, and he needed, therefore, meat, when there was any in the house, and clothes, whenever clothes could be bought, and the strong indulgence of his womenfolk, so that he would know how to be with women when he had a wife. And he needed the education that Florence desired far more than he, and that she might have got if he had not been born.

Slow tears rose to her eyes; of joy, for what she had come to; of anguish, for the road that had brought her here.

Read: 2015


#97 Journey to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Like James Baldwin, Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s first book would become his most celebrated—and, like Go Tell It on the Mountain, Journey to the End of the Night (1932) is semi-autobiographical.

But this time we accompany antihero Ferdinand Bardamu from the trenches of World War I to the streets of colonial Africa. From there, he leads us to the Ford factory in Detroit and then homeward to France. Bardamu, disillusioned to the point of cynicism by his experiences as a soldier, is highly critical of the “slaughterhouse” of war, declaring cowardice to be the only safeguard against its lunacy.

My own flashbacks to Catch-22 proved relevant: Céline was, apparently, a substantial influence on Joseph Heller. But Céline’s influence was broader than that by far. French literature had never seen anything quite like Journey—full of slang, obscenities, and vernacular, with an emphasis on the rhythm of spoken language. The book’s release was met with controversy, and Céline narrowly missed out on the Prix Goncourt in a contentious vote.

The end of this anti-nationalist, anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist novel sees Bardamu working as a medical doctor in a poor suburb of Paris, calling war and illness “two infinities of nightmare.” It is precisely this beautiful, blunt language that makes Journey to the End of the Night so compelling—and precisely the kind of melancholy that makes it a tough read.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

I’m going to reserve my judgment until next time. This is going back on my TBR.

Favorite Quotes:

That was the only time France ever saved my life, otherwise the opposite has been closer to the truth.

After all, why wouldn’t there be an art of ugliness as well as beauty?

Certain words are hidden in with the rest, like stones. They’re not very noticeable, but before long they make all the life that’s in us tremble, every bit of it in its weakness and its strength.

You can lose your way groping among the shadows of the past.

Read: 2015


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#79 Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White

One of only a handful of classics focused entirely on animals, Charlotte’s Web is a masterpiece of children’s literature that resonates long into adulthood. Simple in style but warm in tone, E. B. White’s barnyard tale is a testament to the power of friendship, with no trace of sentimentality.

Wilbur the pig is the runt of the litter, but his life is saved by a farmer’s daughter named Fern. When Wilbur is sold to Fern’s uncle, he receives a chilly welcome from the other barnyard animals—except Charlotte the spider. Wilbur soon discovers that his days are numbered, and Charlotte devises a plan to save his life: Using magazine scraps as a guide, Charlotte weaves words of praise for Wilbur into her web, attracting attention from neighboring farmers and then regional publicity. As his fame grows, so do his chances of survival.

At the county fair, Charlotte spins an egg sac and warns Wilbur that her own life is nearly at an end. Wilbur heroically retrieves her unborn children and carries them back to the barn. Charlotte dies, and Wilbur is devastated when her babies abandon him, too—until he sees that the three smallest spiders stayed behind.

In case you haven’t read it, and in case this isn’t clear above, THIS BOOK WILL KARATE CHOP YOUR HEART INTO PIECES. It was one of the first children’s books to address death and grieving, and we’re clearly not prepared even now for its wistful poignancy.

Or maybe that’s just me.

My final word on this understated treasure of a book: Charlotte the spider is a feminist icon, and I don’t care who says otherwise. All the pathetic whiners who struggle to write female characters with agency can find a quick lesson right here. Charlotte is a brilliant, loyal, and tenderhearted badass who saves her friend’s life and never even asks for gratitude—all while pregnant. She’s an American hero. And if all spiders were a little more like her, I would not hide from them in a disgusted panic.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

If Wilbur is SOME PIG, this is undoubtedly SOME BOOK.

Favorite Quotes:

Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will. 

Life in the barn was very good—night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.

Read: 2016


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#92 A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange (1962) has the rare honor of being a source of shame and regret for its author, overtly and publicly. Nine years after its publication, a film adaptation led by Stanley Kubrick distorted, in Burgess’s view, the book’s most fundamental message—glorifying violence rather than condemning it. This, combined with his American publisher’s exclusion of the novel’s final chapter—in which the protagonist comes to view violence as “juvenile and boring”—left far too much room for misinterpretation, and Burgess spent much of his later career distancing himself from his most celebrated work.

We can destroy what we have written, but we cannot unwrite it,

he said in his introduction to the 1986 edition. Still, however much I sympathize with Burgess’s disappointment over the book’s misguided public perception, I’m very glad A Clockwork Orange exists.

Don’t get me wrong: The violence in A Clockwork Orange is brutal. It’s sickening and horrifying and repulsive. And, were it handled any differently, by a less talented author, I would have hated this book loudly and often for the rest of my life.

But Burgess paints his violence through a portrait, carefully and thoughtfully. The book’s protagonist, Alex, is a sociopath and gang leader in a dystopian future. Clever but cruel, Alex accompanies his friends on a series of random attacks before his arrest and conviction for murder. In prison, he is subjected to an experimental treatment called the Ludovico Technique that functions much like aversion therapy. Alex is temporarily “cured,” raising questions about free will and the evils of government. After a suicide attempt, he returns to his old ways… but in the final, long-omitted chapter, Alex matures enough to consider how his contributions to society might be constructive instead of destructive.

The novel’s most fascinating element, at least for me, was Burgess’s use of fictional slang terms he called, collectively, “Nadsat.” A mixture of Russian loan words, Cockney rhyming slang, Biblical language, German influences, and more, Nadsat is integrated into the text exceptionally well. I listened to A Clockwork Orange on audiobook and would recommend the same to anyone particularly interested in the inventive linguistic features of the novel.

And if you can’t/won’t do that, I’d still recommend reading it the traditional way.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

I’ve never seen these exact themes managed quite this well before. But a better reflection of this book’s distinct merit is, perhaps, that I fully expected to hate it, and ended up loving it. It’s tough to stomach, definitely, but well worth the effort.

Favorite Quotes:

What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?

Read: 2016

We’re officially winding down on the Quick Reviews series—only one more to go before I close out The 100 Greatest Books Challenge. If you missed any previous installments, check them out here:

Happy reading!

Quick Reviews, Part IV

#63 An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser 

It was, I think, Mignon McLaughlin who once said:

It’s innocence when it charms us, ignorance when it doesn’t.

This pretty much sums up my hatred for An American Tragedy (1925).

Everyone in this book is insufferable. Everyone. There’s Asa and Elvira Griffiths, hapless and helpless to the tips of their fingers. There’s Hortense Briggs, and her whining, and her shopping addiction. There’s Roberta Alden and her drab insecurity, Gilbert Griffiths and his pointless grudge, Sondra Finchley and her baby-talk, and the rest of the Lycurgus social elite. All of these people make Voldemort seem warmhearted and vivacious by comparison.

Most of all, there’s Clyde Griffiths, our watered-down protagonist, who pairs an insipid personality with a cutthroat sense of greed. THESE ARE A FEW NONE OF MY FAV-O-RITE THINGS.

There is, frankly, nothing and no one to like here. Dreiser’s plot is tedious, and his writing simplistic. The moral of the story seems to be that chasing the American Dream will get you strapped into an electric chair… but so will being a murderous asshole. By my estimation, we, the readers, are the real victims here—so Clyde can close his sniveling gripe-hole any time now.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

It wouldn’t be the greatest book of all time if it were the only book ever written. Stick to your day job, Dreiser.

Favorite Quotes:

As they sang, this nondescript and indifferent street audience gazed, held by the peculiarity of such an unimportant-looking family publicly raising its collective voice against the vast skepticism and apathy of life.

Read: 2016


#85 The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing

Now we’re talking. What do you get when you try to write four books at once?

A fifth book, apparently. A golden one.

At least, that’s how the story goes for Anna Wulf, who fills four color-coded notebooks with the most intimate of details: black for her childhood in Southern Rhodesia, red for her time in the Communist Party, yellow for her manuscripts, and blue for her personal diary. Anna decides, ultimately, to unite this fragmented rendering of her life into one final notebookThe Golden Notebook (1962).

This, folks, is what we call postmodernism.

Among Lessing’s more prominent themes are mental and societal breakdown, anti-war protest and communism, women’s liberation, romantic love, and parenthood. This takes it, inevitably, quite far from being a light read, but it is a compelling one. There is something raw and fearless about it, something deeply honest but carefully engineered—something that tells me I’ll pick this book up again someday to take another ride.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

I wouldn’t jump right to “Greatest” from a preliminary read, but there’s nothing else quite like it on The List.

Favorite Quotes:

I was filled with such a dangerous delicious intoxication that I could have walked straight off the steps into the air, climbing on the strength of my own drunkenness into the stars. And the intoxication, as I knew even then, was the recklessness of infinite possibility, of danger, the secret ugly frightening pulse of war itself, of the death that we all wanted, for each other and for ourselves. 

Time is the River on which the leaves of our thoughts are carried into oblivion.

People don’t mind immoral messages. They don’t mind art which says that murder is good, cruelty is good, sex for sex’s sake is good. They like it, provided the message is wrapped up a little. And they like messages saying that murder is bad, cruelty is bad, and love is love is love. What they can’t stand is to be told it all doesn’t matter, they can’t stand the formlessness. 

“For Christ’s sake, you must understand sex isn’t important to me, it just isn’t important.”
I said: “You mean sex is important but who you have it with isn’t.”

Read: 2014


#56 Animal Farm, George Orwell

George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) came out of left field and blew me away, to the point that I was disappointed when it ended.

Well, OK, almost disappointed. The List is really long, guys.

Orwell intended Animal Farm as an allegory for the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Stalin regime, and he was NOT subtle about it. Stalin is literally depicted as a tyrannical pig named Napoleon. Following a farm-wide rebellion against their cruel human caretakers, the crafty Napoleon wrests power away from his fellow leaders with an army of dogs. All the ideals of their revolution, from equality to loyalty, are either crushed or forgotten as time passes and oppression soars. In the chilling final pages of the story, the pigs begin to walk on two legs… much like their human masters of old.

A democratic socialist, Orwell opposed communism, along with the totalitarian propaganda that so often fuels it. He described Animal Farm as an effort “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole,” which sounds boring but isn’t. Take it from me—someone who is, broadly speaking, repulsed by politics—that this is worth a read anyway. Orwell’s writing style is simple but riveting, and his farm animal cast makes a play-by-play of totalitarianism surprisingly readable.

Just keep in mind that this is not “a fairy story” with a happy ending. After all, this is the book that gave us the famous saying “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

Absolutely. It meets my two criteria—originality + expert craftsmanship—and then some.

Favorite Quotes:

Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Read: 2015


 

#18 On the Road, Jack Kerouac

I’ve always understood On the Road (1957) to be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of phenomenon, like Taylor Swift or Marmite.

My take? It’s the same for all three, actually: something in between. I love them, sure, but only in small doses. I love them in spite of their flaws, and sometimes because of them. And I love them most of all for their ability to provoke, despite being pretty damn harmless.

The ultimate road trip narrative, On the Road is perhaps less about purpose or destination than the feeling of adventure. This book evokes travel, and the American landscape, like no other. There’s an undeniable appeal in the vitality of it—the anarchy of it—as it matches stroke for stroke, in form and function, the feel of being young, and wild, and free, and stupid. The manifesto of the Beat movement characterized by hedonism and experimentation, On the Road invites us on a spontaneous journey to rescue ourselves from tradition and conformity, all for the cost of paper and gas.

Jack Kerouac famously drafted On the Road on one continuous scroll of paper over the course of three weeks in 1951. The story follows Sal Paradise (based on the author) and Dean Moriarty (based on Neal Cassady) on a series of cross-country jaunts marked by sex, drugs, and jazz. Controversial at the time of publication, On the Road still marches to the beat of its own drum, occupying a unique corner in the American imagination.

As much as I admire Kerouac’s monument to freedom and Americana, I felt a restlessness reading On the Road that had less to do with my own life than the choices Sal and Dean made with theirs. As it turns out, even adventure can become monotonous. Which is why I’ll say it again: The best way to fall in love, with On the Road or with your own soul mate, is carefully, in small doses.

Marmite-style.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

I’m going to go with yes. It’s not perfect, but few classics are.

Favorite Quotes:

The whole mad swirl of everything that was to come began then.

I have finally taught him that he can do anything he wants, become mayor of Denver, marry a millionairess, or become the greatest poet since Rimbaud. But he keeps rushing out to see the midget auto races.

I told Terry I was leaving. She had been thinking about it all night and was resigned to it. Emotionlessly she kissed me in the vineyard and walked off down the row. We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time.

If nobody’s home, climb in through the window. Signed, Remi Boncoeur

What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?—it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

So I went up and there she was, the girl with the pure and innocent dear eyes that I had always searched for and for so long. We agreed to love each other madly.

“We gotta go and never stop going till we get there.”
“Where we going, man?”
“I don’t know but we gotta go.”

Read: 2014


#59 Gargantua & Pantagruel, François Rabelais 

Don’t be fooled by those back-cover references to the “dazzling and exuberant comic Chronicles of Rabelais,” or the “ingenious wordplay and mastery of language” evoked by Gargantua & Pantagruel (1532–1564).

This book is so, so boring.

Listen to some of these chapter titles:

  • On the Origins and Lineage of the great Pantagruel
  • How Pantagruel fairly judged an amazingly hard and obscure controversy so equitably that his judgement was termed more wonderful than that of Solomon’s
  • How Pantagruel departed from Paris on hearing news that the Dipsodes were invading the land of the Amaurots. And why the leagues are so short in France. And the Exposition of a saying inscribed upon a ring
  • How Gargamelle, when carrying Gargantua, took to eating a great profusion of tripe
  • How Gargantua was dressed
  • Gargantua’s colours and livery
  • What the colours white and blue do signify
  • How Gargantua spent his time when it was rainy
  • Why everyone avoids monks: and why some men have noses which are bigger than others
  • How Panurge had a flea in his ear and gave up sporting his magnificent codpiece
  • The Excuse of Panurge; and an exegesis of a monastical cabbala concerning salted beef
  • How lawsuits are born and how they grow to perfection
  • How Xenomanes describes Quarêmeprenant anatomically
  • How in the Court of the Master-Inventor Pantagruel denounced the Engastrimyths and the Gastrolaters

You’re already bored, aren’t you? I’m bored all over again just looking at this book.

It had potential. I’ll give Rabelais that much. This 16th-century pentalogy follows two giants (a father and son) on their many misadventures in Medieval/Renaissance France. Much is made of the book’s satirical, scatological, and violent themes, but even these could not deliver me from indifference. And just in case you don’t believe me, and want to try it out for yourself: Give those chapter titles one more read.

I think we’ll see eye to eye in no time.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

I don’t even know—I only half-paid attention.

Favorite Quotes:

Then they gave us heartfelt advice: if we wanted to rise in the courts of great noblemen, to be as economical as possible of the truth.

Would you say (as one may indeed logically infer) that the world was heretofore daft but now become wise? How many and what conditions were required to make it daft? And how many and wise to make it wise? And why was it daft? And why should it now be wise? By what qualities did you recognize its former folly? By what qualities, its present wisdom? Who made it daft? Who made it wise? Who form the greater number: those who liked it daft or those who like it wise? For how long was it daft? How long has it been wise? Whence proceeded its antecedent folly and whence its subsequent wisdom? Why did its antecedent folly end now and not later? Why did its present wisdom begin now and not earlier? What ill did that antecedent folly do to us? And what good, the subsequent wisdom? How could that old folly have been abolished? And how could the present wisdom be restored? 

Nothing is more dear nor more precious than time: let us spend it on good works.

Read: 2016

Check out Quick Reviews: Part I, Part II, and Part III for more fun and games whining and mocking.

Oh, and here’s the premise behind the Quick Reviews series. (I’ll give you a hint: It’s laziness.)

Quick Reviews (Greek Edition): #24 The Iliad, #29 The Odyssey, #49 The Aeneid

Needless to say, The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid are very, very old. Along with Oedipus the King, they are the oldest classics on The List by more than a thousand years.

But even within their ranks, The Iliad and The Odyssey—attributed to Homer in the 8th century BC—are far older than Oedipus the King (Sophocles, 5th century BC), and The Aeneid (Virgil, 1st century BC). In other words, Homer’s epics were to Virgil what Medieval literature is to us today.

Here’s what they have in common:

Characters. Many celebrated Greek and Trojan heroes make appearances—in real-time or in flashback—in all three. Among them are Achilles, Aeneas, Odysseus, Hector, Paris, and Helen.

Themes. The trio relies heavily on themes of duty and fate, as well as prophecy, divine intervention by squabbling gods, family, pride, and heroism.

Style. All three are written in verse (specifically dactylic hexameter), but with one important distinction: Homer is believed to have composed The Iliad and The Odyssey orally, while Virgil drafted and revised The Aeneid on paper over a ten-year period.

Setting/Plot. The Trojan War and its aftermath are central to each story line. The Odyssey and The Aeneid serve as parallel “sequels” to The Iliad, depicting the homeward journeys of Greek warrior Odysseus and Trojan warrior Aeneas, respectively. Odysseus and Aeneas even encounter some of the same places and faces on their concurrent sea voyages.

I waltzed up to each book with exactly zero background knowledge—a heinous mistake for which I’d like to kick my own ass. There is a clear sequence to follow (Iliad, then Odyssey, then Aeneid) for the best reading experience, and loads of inter-textual references to look out for. Virgil nods left and right to his long-dead bro Homer throughout The Aeneid, even going so far as to model the first half on The Odyssey and the second on The Iliad. I, of course, missed out entirely on this continuity and spend most of my free time grieving its void.

For the familiar-in-need-of-a-refresher, and for the uninitiated-but-newly-curious, here are the basics on the Classical classics:

The Iliad

  • When The Iliad kicks off, we’re already well into the Trojan War’s fourth quarter. Ten years have passed since Paris whisked Helen away from her husband, the king of Sparta, and battle has raged ever since.
  • Enter Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors, with the greatest of weaknesses. No, not his heel, Sherlock—his pride. Less man-god than man-baby, Achilles throws a pouty tantrum and refuses to fight when his war trophy, the beautiful Briseis, is taken away from him.
  • The Greeks suffer great losses until Patroclus, Achilles’ best friend, sneaks off to battle in Achilles’ armor, only to be cut down by Hector, Prince of Troy. Achilles throws another tantrum and then takes his vengeance, triumphing over Hector in a one-on-one showdown.
  • Achilles’ final tantrum—which sees him dragging Hector’s corpse behind his chariot in a decidedly unsportsmanlike manner—ends only when the Trojan King Priam comes to beg for his son’s body back.
  • That’s it. That’s the end. All you’ve been waiting for, since page one, is the Trojan Horse, but The Iliad knocks off with Hector’s funeral and a few lame hints at Troy’s looming fate. Not cool, Homer.

The Odyssey

  • Fast-forward another ten years, and Odysseus, who fought alongside Achilles against the Trojans, still hasn’t made it home to Ithaca. Everyone assumes he is dead, and his wife Penelope is thronged with unwelcome suitors.
  • As it turns out, Odysseus isn’t dead. It’s just that Poseidon has it out for him, and controls the sea, so…
  • Odysseus tells the Phaeacian king and queen all that has befallen him since his departure from Troy: He and his men got high off lotus flowers and captured by a Cyclops. Then the witch-goddess Circe turned most of his crew into pigs. Odysseus went on to have a lot of sex with Circe, visit the Underworld to speak to the dead, bypass the deadly Sirens, and straddle the six-headed monster Scylla and whirlpool Charybdis, before spending seven years as prisoner to Calypso (a nymph).
  • Once home, finally, Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar to slaughter all of Penelope’s suitors. (I swear this makes sense in context.) (Kind of.)
  • Mention is made of the Trojan Horse, but we STILL don’t get the full story—even though it was Odysseus who led the whole scheme. Homer: you epically suck.

The Aeneid

  • Like The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Aeneid hits the ground running at the end of the Trojan War. This time we follow Trojan hero Aeneas out of his freshly ruined city to find a new home. His first stop is Carthage, where Queen Dido promptly falls in love with him.
  • Here and now, we hear the tale of the Trojan Horse at last. It was Odysseus’s idea for the Greeks to build a large wooden horse, hide inside it, offer it as a “parting gift” to the Trojans, and then emerge under cover of night to lay siege to the city—this time, from within its walls.
  • A few misunderstandings later, Aeneas unceremoniously abandons Dido. Dido ceremoniously kills herself.
  • Aeneas visits Sicily and the Underworld before settling in Latium, where his army immediately goes to war with the locals. And wins.
  • Remember that new home Aeneas wanted to build for the last of the Trojans? Well, he’s already there. Latium” is present-day Rome.

For the record, I enjoyed The Iliad the most. With an excellent sense of pacing and an unbiased narrative voice, it is often quite interesting and often quite beautiful. In the spirit of oral tradition, I listened to The Iliad on audiobook, and then wished I’d done the same for The Odyssey and The Aeneid. And while I’d prefer my Greeks (and Trojans) a little less bloodthirsty and a little more feminist, I can’t argue with the effusive spirit—at once larger-than-life and intensely human—that has made them immortal.

Now for a few fun facts. I’d skip them for the sake of time, but these are too fun not to share:

  • We know basically nothing about Homer, to whom both of the oldest known works of Western literature are attributed. We think he existed, we think he authored most (if not all) of The Iliad and The Odyssey, and we think he was blind.
  • The Aeneid was unfinished at the time of Virgil’s death. As legend has it, Virgil, ever the perfectionist, ordered the manuscript burned on his deathbed. Fortunately, Caesar Augustus intervened and, ironically, Virgil’s legacy has had extraordinary staying power.
  • A Classical civilization and literature teacher created this insanely great infographic devoted to all the deaths in The Iliad. She includes battle stats, top performances, and all the most gruesome deaths.
  • I’ve been keeping track (or trying to) of references within the classics to other classics on The List, and the Greeks show up EVERYWHERE: The Divine Comedy, Middlemarch, The Portrait of a Lady, The Magic Mountain, Tristram Shandy, Tom Jones, In Search of Lost Time, and more. James Joyce’s Ulysses in particular draws on The Odyssey in both character development and structure (not surprising, since “Ulysses” is Odysseus’ Latin name).
  • While there is, no doubt, much more legend than fact in all three Classical epics, the city of Troy and the Trojan War are believed to be real—at least, in some form. In the late 19th century, German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated the site we now assume to be the city of Troy in northwestern Turkey. Since then, we have found evidence of nine different cities built on the site across the centuries, as well as a war (or wars) that may have inspired Homer’s Iliad.

Are They Three of the Greatest Books of All Time?

I’ve been known to work up a lot of nerve, but even I won’t besmirch the names of the most Classic classics. You just don’t survive the onslaught of time unless you’re a warrior—and our beloved Greeks and Trojans were nothing if not that.

Favorite Quotes:

The Iliad

Long ago, I learned how to be brave, how to go forward always.

The Odyssey

His destiny, his homecoming, is at hand,
when he shall see his dearest, and walk on his own land.

As the goddess ended, Dawn came stitched in gold. 

The Aeneid

For now the seventh summer carries you,
a wanderer, across the lands and waters. 

In his deepest heart there surge
tremendous shame and madness mixed with sorrow
and love whipped on by frenzy and a courage
aware of its own worth.

Fortune helps those who dare.

Read: 2014 (Aeneid); 2015 (Odyssey); 2016 (Iliad)

Quick Reviews, Part II

Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited first book cover photo

#75 Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

If I’m being honest (and why wouldn’t I be), Brideshead Revisited (1945) didn’t leave much of an impression. It is a competent novel about the golden age of English aristocracy, following Charles Ryder along a nostalgic path toward his youthful encounters with the Marchmain family. There’s some drama about Catholicism. Everyone eats and drinks a lot, and we hear a lot about what they ate and drank. The point of it all is that being young and carefree is preferable to being old and alcoholic, which we all knew anyway.

I’m sorry I can’t offer more. I wish Brideshead Revisited had.

Is It One of the 100 Greatest Books of All Time?

I like my classics to do, or try to do, something new. Brideshead Revisited failed on both counts. But if you like Brit lit, it’s a satisfactory addition to the canon.

Favorite Quotes:

My theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of war-time. These memories, which are my life — for we possess nothing certainly except the past — were always with me.

“Sometimes,” said Julia, “I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.”

This was the creature, neither child nor woman, that drove me through the dusk that summer evening, untroubled by love, taken aback by the power of her own beauty, hesitating on the cool edge of life.

“What is it?”
“His heart; some long word at the heart. He is dying of a long word.”

Read: 2015


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#33 The Trial, Franz Kafka

Whether it’s Gregor Samsa morphing into a monstrous insect, or Josef K. battling a mysterious legal authority, Kafka is full of grim surprises. The Trial (1925) reads like a prolonged nightmare—a chain of eerie, inexplicable events doused in anxiety and irony. It is unlike anything else I’ve ever read, for The List or otherwise.

For Josef, the justice system is a dark labyrinth with no exit but death. He is arrested and tried in suffocating attic courtrooms with no inkling of his crime or effective legal support. Even the most alienated among us would feel #blessed after a glance at The Trial.

Baffling, infuriating, and haunting in turns, The Trial is memorable in all the most shudder-inducing ways. Save it for a wintry, overcast, couch-confined day, or it will start to feel like one.

Is It One of the 100 Greatest Books of All Time?

Kafka didn’t even finish it, and it still ranks among the best novels ever written. That’s got to count for something.

Favorite Quotes:

It’s in the nature of this judicial system that one is condemned not only in innocence but also in ignorance.

One lawyer leads his client by a slender thread to the judgment, but the other lifts his client onto his shoulders and carries him to the judgment and beyond, without ever setting him down.

Read: 2014


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#54 The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford

All I can think of these days when I come across this 1915 title is the hilariously terrible Alexis Bledel movie loosely based on it. Seriously, go watch it right now. It’s on Netflix as of this writing, and it needs to feed on your intellect to survive.

The novel itself is an intriguing—if rambling and jumbled-up—read. Ford opens the first act with this unforgettable line:

This is the saddest story I have ever heard.

And even if, like me, you never quite find yourself invested enough in The Good Soldier to actually feel sad, we can all agree the events of the novel are sad. Ford, in fact, wanted to call the book The Saddest Story, but his publisher thought the title inappropriate after World War I broke out.

Wise, that one.

This is, after all, no tale of war, but of woe—and the lover’s sort, at that. It’s a post-mortem of two failed marriages conducted by an unreliable narrator, out of order, in a seeming attempt to navigate the dark corridors of morality. Considering Ford’s own extramarital affairs (which informed, if not inspired, the novel), whether the “saddest part” of The Saddest Story is the endless parade of infidelities or the merry-go-round of suicides is anyone’s guess.

Is It One of the 100 Greatest Books of All Time?

I wouldn’t shelve it alongside the best, but I’d give it another read.

Favorite Quotes:

Six months ago I had never been to England, and, certainly, I had never sounded the depths of an English heart. I had known the shallows.

It is a thing, with all its accidents, that must be taken for granted, as, in a novel, or a biography, you take it for granted that the characters have their meals with some regularity.

Read: 2014


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#19 Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift

Swift’s crowning achievement, Gulliver’s Travels (1726), is a study in satire. Nipping sharply at the heels (or, well, tearing at the vital organs) of European society generally, and British society specifically, Swift nevertheless reveals his doubts that any nation or community can negotiate utopia.

The diverse peoples Gulliver encounters in his travels represent various aspects of human nature, human folly, and the human experience. The Lilliputians are both small-bodied and small-minded, symbolizing all that is egotistical and vain in our at-once proud and pathetic species. The Brobdingnagians reflect the more physical and personal facets of life—what we are up close and behind closed doors. The Laputans symbolize wasted knowledge and contemplation, and the Houyhnhnms show us that reason and harmony come only at the sacrifice of individuality.

All in all, it’s a pleasure to follow Gulliver to new worlds, discover new cultures, and learn new languages, even if they’re all made up. Like all forms of travel, Gulliver’s adventures teach us more about our home, our values, and ourselves than any foreign land.

Is It One of the 100 Greatest Books of All Time?

As one of only a handful of truly inventive works to come out of the 18th century, I’m going to let it keep its place among the Greats.

Favorite Quotes:

Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.

Read: 2014


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#38 Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

Nigeria. Warrior/farmer. Village elders. Colonialism. Family. Rigid gender roles, women as property. Domestic abuse. Locusts. Oracle. Sacrifice. Strength as weakness, pride as downfall.

Machetes. Guns. Religion. Exile. Ancestral spirits. Jail. Murder. Suicide.

Depressing. Not my thing.

Is It One of the 100 Greatest Books of All Time?

It stands out but isn’t outstanding, IMHO.

Favorite Quotes:

There was a saying in Umuofia that as a man danced so the drums were beaten for him. Mr. Smith danced a furious step and so the drums went mad.

The words of the hymn were like the drops of frozen rain melting on the dry palate of the panting earth.

Read: 2015


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#89 Herzog, Saul Bellow

Oh, misogyny. I never tire of your teeming delights.

Seriously, though, is there any major takeaway from Herzog besides misogyny? Because in my heart of hearts and my tapping fingers, I suspect Bellow’s predominant theme of being “Bitches be crazy!” And while, yes, they be crazy, bitches be no more crazy than the Herzogs of the world (and they be crazy, most often, because of them).

Here’s how it goes down: Moses Herzog is a middle-aged man who has made the mature decision to manage his life’s disappointments and failures by whining about them. There was some potential here, structurally: The novel is largely composed of letters Herzog drafts (but never sends) to the president, to his lawyer, to God, and to Heidegger, among others. But when most of them reflect a “hero” more bitter than thoughtful, we’re left wanting a little more.

I listened to Herzog on audiobook and physically cringed at passages such as:

Please, Ramona, Herzog wanted to say—you’re lovely, fragrant, sexual, good to touch—everything. But these lectures! For the love of God, Ramona, shut it up.

And:

It was true, he couldn’t offer much. He really was useless to her. With Gersbach she could still be a wife. He came home. She cooked, ironed, shopped, signed checks. Without him, she could not exist, cook, make beds. The trance would break. Then what?

And:

“Get yourself a housekeeper closer to your own age. And a good lay, too. What’s wrong with that? Or we’ll find you a gorgeous brownskin housekeeper. No more Japs for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean. Or maybe what you need is a girl who survived the concentration camps, and would be grateful for a good home. And you and I will lead the life.”

It is unfair, probably, to conflate a protagonist with his author… So it’s irrelevant, probably, that Bellow was divorced four times.

Right?

Is It One of the 100 Greatest Books of All Time?

Please no.

Favorite Quotes:

There was no need to be driven away by a little scandal. It would have been painful, grotesque, but a scandal was, after all, a sort of service to the community.

I thought I had entered into a secret understanding with life to spare me the worst.

But what about justice? – Justice! Look who wants justice! Most of mankind has lived and died without – totally without it. People by the billions and for ages sweated, gypped, enslaved, suffocated, bled to death, buried with no more justice than cattle.

One thought-murder a day keeps the psychiatrist away.

Read: 2015

If you missed Part I of the Quick Reviews series, you can find it here.

If you missed the premise behind the Quick Reviews series, you can find it here.

Quick Reviews, Part I

It’s time for my first round of Quick Reviews—critiques of those novels I am unwilling or unequipped to review more thoroughly.

Because isn’t it better to half-ass something than to none-ass it?


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#91 The Awakening, Kate Chopin

= Anna Karenina set in 1890s New Orleans.

(For the record, Anna Karenina = Madame Bovary set in 1870s Russia.)

Favorite Quotes:

They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels. 

At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life—that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.

It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her. 

She had all her life long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of struggles. They belonged to her and were her own, and she entertained the conviction that she had a right to them and that they concerned no one but herself. 

Read: 2013


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#26 A Passage to India, E. M. Forster

I wanted to love A Passage to India (1924). I really did. It touches on a number of thought-provoking themes, from colonialism and race to gender and justice. It encourages critical thinking and open-mindedness. It contains some lovely writing.

But I returned it to my bookshelf feeling neutral at best. I never quite found my rhythm with Forster and wound up too distracted to glean much from his poetic, metaphor-heavy writing style. With a bit more concentration than I am able to devote during my commute, this might be worth a read.

A Passage to India is the story of a criminal trial in the fictional city of Chandrapore, early in the 19th century when the nation remained under British rule. The case divides two populations already half a world apart and chronicles the cultural, political, and social upheaval that inevitably follows.

The ending is vaguely satisfying, if anticlimactic (and, perhaps, unrealistic). But that’s about the best we can hope for with the classics, isn’t it?

Favorite Quotes:

Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence.

We have a proverb in Urdu: “What does unhappiness matter when we are all unhappy together?”

I’d far rather leave a thought behind me than a child.

There are many ways of being a man; mine is to express what is deepest in my heart.

Read: 2014


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#67 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

As a major cultural reference, Alice and her adventures in Wonderland (1865) should need no introduction.

My take on the story? Well, it prompted me more times than I can count to ask myself the age-old question, “Am I an asshole?” Because how can any reader be expected to feel all the sympathy Carroll begs of us on Alice’s behalf? She is referred to as “poor Alice” on almost every page and had already cried three times less than a quarter of the way into the book.

Does anyone else find Alice insufferable? Or am I an asshole?

Favorite Quotes:

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” 

Read: 2013


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#83 Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Hamlet (~1600) is known to most of us as the story of a whiny prince doomed to tragedy, and by the rest as Shakespeare’s masterpiece among masterpieces.

I’m almost sure I’d read Hamlet before beginning my List. My high school Brit Lit teacher was obsessed with Shakespeare, and we spent two solid months covering his works in every imaginable form: We watched two film versions of Hamlet, listened to The Merchant of Venice on a cassette tape (well after cassette tapes had become outdated, mind you), read Macbeth aloud to each other in class, saw a stage version of Twelfth Night, and watched The Tempest in claymation. And somewhere in there, I’m almost sure I read Hamlet.

But I don’t have any actual definitive memory of reading it, the way I remember reading Othello in the parking lot of Chipotle, and Romeo and Juliet on a beanbag chair in my bedroom. And so, last summer, I gave it a(nother) quick run-through for good measure.

I have absolutely nothing to add to the worldwide Hamlet conversation (as should be obvious by now). Just read it. It’s really short.

Favorite Quotes:

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.

This above all,—to thine own self be true.

All that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.

I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart.

Read: 2014


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#44 Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

If I can save you from any mistake on this List, let it be Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights (1847) is about a horrible family full of horrible people who do horrible things to each other. Catherine Earnshaw quickly became one of my least favorite protagonists of all time, second only to Rabbit Angstrom. I am utterly baffled by Heathcliff’s status as a great romantic hero. He’s a piece of shit. He’s the shit that shit would shit if it were to shit.

As one reviewer put it, Wuthering Heights is:

a fiend of a book—an incredible monster … The action is laid in hell, only it seems places and people have English names there.

Wuthering Heights is not a love story, as far as I can tell. Mostly, it follows the vengeful warpaths of characters twisted by jealousy, rivalry, alienation, betrayal, and greed. Each blames the others for suffering that is plainly self-inflicted.

For decades.

This is miserable reading on its best day. Save yourselves; it’s too late for me.

Favorite Quotes:

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.

Read: 2014