Thursday, April 8, 2010

Final Review - Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936

Plot: ohmywordthisbookissolong! So that's the first word I can use to describe the plot...LONG. I believe it spans about 11 years, including the entirety of the Civil War and the majority of the Restoration that followed it. As you can imagine, a person goes through many many experiences in this length of time, and changes a great deal. So there was a lot to get through. I don't even know how to give it a score. It was a good story, and if you don't know the famous line (though just slightly different from the book) that ends the movie, it's not my fault. But you should know it doesn't exactly go the happily-ever-after route. Which is disappointing to me, because I learn more and more what a hopeless romantic I really am. But since this is my blog and I make the rules, I have decided to refuse to post a score on this fictional biography's plot.

Style: I'm not sure if this fits under style, per se, but holy cow I feel like I learned a ton about the Civil War and particularly the South reading this book. I recognize that this is historical fiction, but it was super interesting coming from a "Yankee" raised in our amazing public school system to recognize Lincoln as a hero for freeing the slaves. Which, of course slavery = bad, obviously, I hope that would go without saying, but everything else that played into it and the treatment of the South after the war was crazy! Very very informative on a cultural level for me. Overall I think it was good stylistically. Easy to read, easy to follow. Interestingly written. For example, when describing our main character, Scarlett O'Hara, Mitchell used descriptions that Scarlett would have thought of herself. And when dealing with that particular character, Mitchell would only write about things that Scarlett knew or felt. When she would occasionally write a part of the story that Scarlett was not present for, you would start to get a real idea of other peoples' emotions and motivations and learn how misguided Scarlett was. Good. 8/10

Rereadablilty: Rarely if ever. It was good, but it was just so LONG!

Final Decision: Shelf it

Friday, February 5, 2010

Final Review - Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, 1847

It took me a very long time to post this, partly because of lack of motivation (you can help! just comment once in a while...) and partly because I was super eager to read a Christmas gift I got called "King Leopold's Ghost" which frankly, blew my mind. It was an excellent read about the colonial history of the Congo (wow, that sounds boring, but I swear, it's amazing). So I'm a book and a good month or so removed from Jane Eyre, which I'm sure will color this review. So keep that in mind.

Plot: Super good. So good that I was tempted to flip through the last few pages just to see if things were going to go the way that I really wanted them to. (I did. I didn't really read anything, just looked for a certain name.) In case you don't know, Jane is an orphan who has a rough go of it, becomes a governess, falls in love, runs away, etc. Good drama, not all predictable stuff at all either, which was fun. 9/10

Style: Hands down the most romantic book I've ever read. Other well written books about love often tell you what characters think and do to get you to understand their feelings. Bronte did an excellent job of describing the feelings to you, so much so that I felt like I knew exactly what Jane was going through at times. I was impressed that the language used 150+ years ago could still make so much sense. 9/10

Hotness of the main character: Not Jane, of course, we'll talk about Mr. Rochester. The guy was old, not at all attractive, and prone to hiding the truth. But points for the battle of wits he frequently had with Jane, and for how much he loved her. 4/10

Re-readability: Occasionally

Final decision: Shelf it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Pearl - Final Review

The Pearl, Joh Steinbeck, 1945

Plot: Overall, predictable. But, as this is more like a fable, that is to be expected. This story (originally published in "Woman's Home Companion" in case that's interesting to anyone) reads very much like some Native American legend that I would have read in middle school. It has a good, though familiar, message; happiness can't be bought, as well as perhaps that one should accept one's station in life - aspirations are dangerous! Throw in something about not counting chickens and you've got the idea. It would follow then, that the ending wouldn't be a pleasant one and now I'm stuck. I have set a precedent of grading these books purely on story and not on the point behind them, however clear or vague that might be. But in this case I can't separate them. On the one hand, depressing. On the other I know it wouldn't make sense not to be. So...uh...6/10? Sometimes I hate the numbers.

Style: Super easy to read and beautiful. Seriously beautiful. I know I rave about Jane Austen because she is my favorite, but I would never describe her writing as beautiful. This guy knows how to get you in your soul. His descriptions are unique enough to really make me try to imagine the scene. Woven throughout the book is the theme of song. I can't do it justice so I won't try, all I'll say is that it has made me listen for music that I've never heard. I know that sounds really lame, just trust me. The book is super short. Read it and you'll know what I mean.

Hotness of the main character: Well Kino is a tanned, hard-working island man, so lots of points for that. But he also goes kind of crazy and develops a bit of a temper, so...5/10.

The character who I would most like to be: no thanks.

Re-readability: Rarely. It is short and easy to read, so that is in it's favor here, but it's also depressing. But it's beautiful.

Final decision: I can't decide. I think that I'll Shelf It, just because of the music.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sense and Sensibility - Final Review

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, 1811

I can't help by prefacing this review with a statement: I love love love Jane Austen. I fully admit it. Prior to this one, I had only read P&P by her, and had heard from many sources that it was by far her best work, which none of her other novels came close to matching. So though I was predisposed to like this book (having already enjoyed the movie as well), I wasn't as biased as you might think. That being said, I absolutely ate this book up. I have more reading time now that I'm riding the bus to work and I really couldn't wait to get on the bus and crack this book open. Loved it. Now, onto the official review:

Plot: I would say predictable, but I've seen the movie a couple of times so I'm not really sure. It definitely was a great narrative; it had tragic love, conflict, and above all, an exceedingly happy ending. Nothing too surprising goes on, but it is completely satisfying. 9.5/10

Style: The more comfortable I get with Austen, the more I love her style. Her use of sarcasm, both in describing the characters and in the words of the characters themselves, is funny and even potentially underused. She describes some conversations in great detail and leaves others to the reader's imagination, yet I never felt slighted by the details left out. There is no time wasted in superfluous description, which bores me to no end. She shows all of the traits of each character, whether flattering or not. There are even a few instances in which you change your opinion of a character just as Elinor or Marianne go through the same change of mind. 10/10

Hotness of the main character: Well the main characters are female, so I will defer on this point. And Austen knows exactly how hot she wishes each of the main male characters to be at different stages throughout the story, and tells you so, so this isn't really a question of opinion anyway.

The character who I would most like to be: I don't think there's any question to this one. Elinor is the older sister who basically holds her crazy family together. And she gets to marry Hugh mean Edward. :)

Re-readability: is daily an option? Seriously though, I could read this every year.

Final decision: SHELF IT, DUH.

Last thought: I wish people in real life would act like these characters in one respect: when someone realized they were wrong, all of them would instantly go to the offended party and beg for forgiveness. If someone criticized the actions of another, an instant apology would follow for the offense. It seems like "difficult" conversations would be just so much easier to have. So people: act like you're in a Jane Austen novel. :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Catch-22 - Final Review

Catch-22, Joseph Heller, 1955

Plot: Relatively non-existent. This book takes place with a squadron of bombadiers as WWII draws to a close and shares tons of little anecdotes about their time together. It is sort of in the middle, as about half of the stories are things that have already happened and half of the "plot" is moving forward. However, this book is much more about how the characters deal with their circumstances than a straightforward narrative. Because of this, it is hard to grade it down on plot when there wasn't really supposed to be one. I enjoyed the little stories though,

Style: I realize that I am far from the most well-read person ever, but I have never read a book with such an unusual style. Much of the stylistic characteristics of previous books I've read can (at least partly) be attributed to the time period. But in this instance, I think it is all Heller. This book was alternately hilarious and gruesome. The characters consistently talk in circles and have conversations with each other that go nowhere. It is funny, but hard to imagine anyone actually having that sort of conversation. Also, there were so many characters it was nearly impossible to keep them all straight, especially because he would mention them once and then not again for 5 chapters or so. Heller described people in great detail: their facial features, their mannerisms, but didn't do the same for the settings or environments. It was crazy and hard to follow at times, but it was so much fun to read. 8/10

Hotness of the main character: John "Yo-Yo" Yossarian. Physical attributes aside (partly because I don't remember them and partly because Heller seemed to describe everyone frankly and unflatteringly) he seems like a pretty normal guy. He cared about his friends, and didn't care about the other guys. All he wanted to do was go home. And also he slept around a lot. Too much of a charity case for me. :) 3/10

The character who I would most like to be: Oh wow there are so many to choose from. I think I'd pick Orr. He had infinite patience, made the best of every situation and was totally funny.

Re-readability: Occasionally. It might be nice to read again with a better understanding of the characters and where everything is going.

Fun quote: "Why did you walk around all day with rubber balls in your hands?"..."I did it to protect my good reputation in case anyone ever caught me walking around with crab apples in my cheeks. With rubber balls in my hands I could deny there were crab apples in my cheeks. Every time someone asked me why I was walking around with crab apples in my cheeks, I'd just open my hands and show them it was rubber balls I was walking around with, not crab apples, and that they were in my hands, not my cheeks. It was a good story. But I never knew if it got across or not, since it's pretty tough to make people understand you when you're talking to them with two crab apples in your cheeks."

Final Decision: Shelf it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Great Expectations - Final Review

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, 1860

Plot: Terrible. Okay, so by the end it came together and the last quarter of the book had some decent action to it, but up until that point, absolutely nothing of interest happened. Add to that the fact that I still don't really understand the concept of a wealthy person using their own money to make some random poor kid a "gentleman" and you end up with pretty much blah. 3/10

Style: Oh boy. I love me some Dickens. Just about as soon as I'd get bogged down in the nothingness that was going on, he'd throw in some sarcasm or a great quip and I'd be stuck reading some more. And while I was disappointed in the amount of lead up it took to get to the good stuff, the good stuff was pretty dang good. 7/10

Hotness of the main character: Well he started out as a young kid, so we'll skip to the end for this part. Pip was a hopeless romantic (points for this) but was hung up on a girl who treated him terribly and couldn't get over her (negative points for this). He had a decent amount of debt and treated his family from before he became a gentleman with contempt. So those aren't particularly good traits. Still, he had a good heart and always felt remorse for these actions; to the point of complete humility and repentance at the end.

The character I would most like to be: I'd have to choose between the girl who all the boys love and the loyal best friend. The girl is a great manipulater and can make the boys do anything she wants...definitely a useful power, but sort of lonely I'd think. I'll go with Herbert I suppose.

Re-readability: Once in a blue moon. Dickens' writing is the only thing keeping me from making this never again. It was drugery to get through.

Final Decision: Sell it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Frankenstein - Final Review

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, 1816

Plot: Good stuff. Suspense, horror, action, foreshadowing all there. Still, fairly depressing...okay really depressing, with no redeeming happiness at the end. 6/10

Style: Mostly good. Had no difficulty following this at all, and for many sections was an easy read. Shelley though, worked very hard to make this about the human condition (which I will ignore, as I am uninterested in most big-picture metaphors and simply want a good story). And while some authors have succeeded in weaving their story with their agenda subtle-y and seamlessly, Shelley sort of randomly delves into these huge, philosophical monologues delivered by one of the main characters. It's probably halfway profound, decent stuff, but as mentioned, not the point for me. So those parts were a bit laborious. 6/10

Hotness of the main character: The main character is most definitely Victor Frankenstein, and not his monster, so let's just clarify that right out. :) He is a brilliant guy, always wants to be learning, on the forefront of science, etc. He loves Elizabeth from when they are children and wants to be with her forever, but sometimes his work comes first. As the book progresses, he becomes very depressed and frantic at what he has unleashed upon the world. His thoughts are always for the safety of others, but he gets sort of crazy. 5/10?

The character I would most like to be: Difficult, since [SPOILER ALERT] most people in this book end up dead. I'll go with Henry Clerval. He's a great friend, happy, optimistic about life, and gets to take this great trip! Yay for travel!

Re-readability: Rarely. I guess the end must have been really unsatisfactory, because I remember really enjoying this book, but right now, having just finished it, I'm okay with not reading it any more, or at least for a long long time.

Final Decision: Sell it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

An Observation

I have now read 6 "classics" and am about halfway through Frankenstein and I have had the following thought:

First of all, I realize that 6 is not really an acceptable sample size, but that's what I have to work with so far, so I will. I have chosen to shelf 5 of them (SPOILER ALERT: soon to be 6, I am loving Frankenstein) and sell back only 1. This is an over 80% success rate. I feel like these books are classics for a reason, and for some reason, that is nice to know. This is a strong contrast to the visual arts world, where the difference between "good" art and "bad" art seems amazingly arbitrary in my opinion. Of course, this observation could change as I continue reading, but for now, I thought I'd share it.

Thoughts? (Feel free to bash on modern art...)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wuthering Heights - Final Review

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte, 1847

Plot: Interesting. I think simply because of the time period and the culture, I had Jane Austen in mind when this book began, but the plot is so different from anything I have experienced of Austen. It was refreshing, in that way, though Austen is dear to my heart for her light heartedness and optimism and Bronte (at least this sister) didn't find that necessary. Still, the unpredictableness made it very interesting as I was never sure where it was going to end up. 8/10

Style: It is funny now to remember that I had a really hard time following this when I first started, because I got so used to it by the end that it wasn't difficult. Some of the challenge is cultural; Bronte's contemporaries would have understood when she said "the master" or Mr. So-and-So, (among a whole family of So-and-Sos) who exactly she was referring to. Also, one particular character has an accent written so thickly that I often found myself whispering the dialogue in order to understand it. This method rarely worked. Luckily, he was not primary to the story. What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that the difficulties I had with style were no fault of the authors, and there was one moment in particular that I was struck by the emotion and passion in her writing. I was all of a sudden absolutely captivated. Major points for that. 8/10

Hotness of the main character: I suppose the main character would be Mr. Heathcliff, although the narrative switches around throughout. He is sort of a terrible creature who is bent on revenge, etc. He seems to have no capacity for forgiveness or any sort of compassion. Even the narrator, who attempts to give him the benefit of the doubt for as long as possible, ends up hating his behaviour, if not himself. His one redeeming quality, and it is redeeming enough to make up for at least a few of his other shortcomings, is the strength of his love for Catherine and the lengths he goes through for her (though I suppose in retrospect, much of it was selfish as well). 3/10

The character I would most like to be: I've got nothing here. The masters of the houses all suffer pain and heartbreak and the others in their families are abused nonstop. Not to mention the incredible boredom of living in this society that I believe I have mentioned before.

Re-readability: I would like to read this again, since it is written a little bit backwards. Knowing how all the people grow up, it would be nice to see the beginning of the book again since I finally have all the characters straight.

Final Decision: Shelf it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dracula - Final Review

Dracula, Bram Stoker, 1897

Plot: Absolutely excellent. Begins with seemingly unrelated people and events and brings them together very well. There is a great deal of suspense, which is increased all the more by the well-rounded (if a bit caricature-ish) characters. As the reader, I felt almost a part of their group of friends who are willing to do anything to help each other, a theme that is repeated frequently. 9/10

Style: This book is written, not as a novel, but as a series of journal entries, newspaper clippings, telegrams, etc. Some of the journal entries are fairly long and read very much like a novel. It was a bit difficult to follow at times, because three of the main characters have a great deal of "journaling" included, and it switches back and forth many times. I had to keep checking back to see whose I was reading so that it would all make sense. I loved this format and thought it was very clever. It was a way to put the story into first person without the assumption that the narrator survives - an important point for the suspense. 9/10

Hotness of the main character: This is really made up of an ensemble "cast" and believe it or not, Dracula is not the main character, so I don't have to go there. There are, in essence, 5 men to speak of here. Dr. Van Helsing is old, but totally smart, loyal and awesome. Dr. Seward gets points (as do all of these men) for being willing to do anything to help his friends as they hunt the vampire. However, he runs an insane asylum and spends a great deal of time there. Jonathan Harker is brave, but is scarred emotionally from all that he experiences at the beginning of the book. Damaged goods. Plus, he's married. Arthur Holmwood is also awesomely brave and loyal. His drawback? [SPOILER ALERT] He was about to be married to Dracula's first victim, so he's got broken heart issues. Then we have Quincy Morris, my pick for best of the book. He's from Texas and he's kinda shy in all the right ways. He seems to be the most fiercely loyal one of the whole bunch. No numerical ratings for this group.

The character I would most like to be: [SPOILER ALERT] Well all of the girls get killed or almost killed by Dracula and deal with pretty nasty horrors. So I'm not going to really go there. I'll go with Dr. Van Helsing. He's an awesome dude. Totally cool under pressure, always knows the right steps to take, listens well to others' ideas and concedes when they are better than his own. (By the way, if you're imagining Hugh Jackman, you're doing it all wrong.)

Re-readability: Occasionally. I almost gave this a "frequently" rating, but then you take all the good suspense out of it. You have to let it sit for a while first.

Final Decision: SHELF IT!