Classics

War and Peace READALONG – Intro

 

Hanna at Booking in Heels is being a doll and hosting this epic War & Peace readalong! It, gratefully enough, is spread over the course of about three months, which I’m pretty sure is the only way I would be able to ever read this. For some reason, War & Peace is one of those books that I just kind of figured I’d never read, because it is just so damn giant and intimidating. Honestly, if the honeyman wasn’t away until June I probably wouldn’t have joined in. But since he’s away and I have nothing but time, I figured why not!

I’m reading the Pevear translation, because I’ve heard good things about his translations before. And, you know – it’s pretty. I currently have a copy from the library, but I’m going to buy my own soon so I can make a ton of notes in the margins. And I downloaded some free or 99 cent version of W&P for reading on my Kindle – we’ll see how that goes. Otherwise, I’ll probably just read at home.

I’d like to say that I’m going to start this tonight, but probably not – other blogging and stuff to catch up on. So hopefully tomorrow. And I’ll try to tweet along with the #ReadingTolstoyTogether hashtag as I go. Let’s do this!

image

~Sarah

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Bleak House Readalong – “lawyers lie like maggots in nuts.”

Bleak House

 

 

It’s here, it’s here! I admit, I was super psyched when Alice posted sign-ups for a Bleak House readalong (because these readalongs are the best, duh), and then I was kind of regretting it when I saw how massive Bleak House was. Why did I think it was a measly 400 pages? ANYWAYS. And yes, I put off reading until the weekend which clearly didn’t go well, and I was all whiny about it, but now I’m just kind of loving it. My mouth is open and I’m looking around with just a confused, happy grin on my face.

 

happy endings gif

So there’s some lawsuit called Jarndyce and Jarndyce that’s been dragging on for decades and it involves a ton of people in some way, and any inheritance coming to anybody is just getting gobbled up by the legal fees and such. And no one even remembers the particulars of the case. K. I still have no real clue what’s going on – we know a bit about that Jarndyce guy who killed himself, and that numerous characters are in some way attached to the case, and that’s about it.

Esther is an orphan character (man, Dickens loved him some orphans, didn’t he?) who grew up knowing that her godmother/aunt hated her and wished she’d never been born, and “I knew that I had brought no joy, at any time, to anybody’s heart,” and CHRIST, even I felt sad for her. And you know me, and my general not-giving-a-crap about sad kids. But Esther’s story is definitely a bit depressing, and somehow this Jarndyce guy hears about her and looks out for her. And there are two other young people, Ada and Richard, who are guardians of his, and Esther becomes a chaperone or something for Ada, I guess? All well and good, because she’s kind of obsessed with Ada and they become insta-besties. And while Esther COULD be annoying because she keeps putting herself down and she’s a bit chatty, she’s also just a really sweet girl and she’s just so damn happy and grateful all the time, and I like her.

HOWEVER, my favorite character so far is Mr. Boythorn. He’s probably not a main character in this giant story, but he’s LOUD and talks in superlatives constantly and is all ridiculously angry and threatening to beat people up, ALL WHILST HIS YELLOW CANARY IS PERCHED ON HIS HEAD. And and “It is morally impossible that his name can be Sir Leicester. It must be Sir Lucifer.” I can’t even.

Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardiggle (Dickens, you’re killing me with these names dude) are both just so ridiculous and I’m not sure who is worse. Mrs. Jellyby for blatantly ignoring her kids while she pretends to be charitable towards Africa, or Mrs. Pardiggle who drags her kids around everywhere while she belittles poor people with her fake, insincere good deeds.

captain hammer gif

Mrs. Pardiggle reincarnated?

 

Mr. Skimpole! GET A JOB, YOU LAZY MOOCH. How can Mr. Jarndyce stand this guy?

Besides the absolute absurdity of everything that’s going on so far, I gotta give it to Dickens – he can write pretty awesomely when he wants to. There have been a few sentences or passages that I highlighted just because I thought they were beautifully written and evoked really strong imagery. So, props to you dude, I guess.

Aaaaand I think that’s all I got for now. I wanted to talk about chapter 11 and how things just all of the sudden got a tiny bit creepy and then that dude died and Krook is acting kind of shifty, but *whispers* I didn’t finish the chapter yet.

look at my wrist i gotta go

 

~Sarah

 

 

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye

Christ, you guys. The Bluest Eye is absolutely heart-breaking.

This story is about a young girl named Pecola, a quiet black girl in America in the years after the Great Depression. Pecola’s parents fight all the time, and her brother runs away a lot – no one is there to pay attention to her. And her deepest wish is to have blue eyes – so that she will be beautiful, and loved, and worthy of attention to those around her.

The Bluest Eye takes a really good, long hard look at the implications that black isn’t beautiful. This poor girl has been taught by everyone around her that she isn’t worth noticing because she is ugly – she is not light-skinned, or blonde, or blue-eyed. Each chapter examines the lives of those around Pecola, and even though part of you hates them for how they’ve treated her – you also feel a bit bad for them too. The idea that white is beauty has had profound consequences on everyone in her life, and ultimately leads to her devastating story. I want to tell you more – about the intensely sad scene in which a black girl is given a white doll, about Pecola’s dad, about her mother’s job in a white household… but you’re really better off reading it yourself. Morrison’s writing is absolutely fantastic and that you need to read this book.

I want to mention two other things – that Chris Rock has a documentary called Good Hair, about how natural black hair is still considered “bad”, and that explores the many lengths the black community will go to in order to have “good” hair- in other words, hair that is more straight and “white”. The message in The Bluest Eye is clearly still extremely relevant.

The other thing is that there is brilliant song called “Thieves in the Night” by Talib Kweli and Mos Def that was inspired by this book, by this passage in particular:

“And fantasy is was, for we were not strong, on aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life.”

That passage is specifically referenced at 1:10 and 3:00 in the song. I’ve been listening to this song for YEARS, and never knew that it was a direct connection to the book. I highly suggest listening to it.

Toni Morrison has won a solid place on my shelf, and I’m really looking forward to reading more of her books. The Bluest Eye blew me away even more than Beloved did. Those two, and another of her books called Song of Solomon, are her most well-known books. I’ve had Song of Solomon on my shelf since I was about 16 and STILL haven’t read it, but I think now that I’m going to save it. I’m going to read some of Morrison’s other novels – Love, Paradise, A Mercy, Tar Baby, etc. and save Song of Solomon for later, if it’s considered one of her best.

Sarah Says: 5 stars

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger Albert Camus

I really liked The Stranger. It was different than what I thought it was going to be.

I’ve owned this book for YEARS without really knowing what it was about, until I saw Jo’s review over at Beyond Strange New Words, and even then it sounded interesting but it took me a long while to pick it up and try it. When I read Jo’s review,  I thought that the main character, Mersault, sounded a bit like a sociopath but I was so wrong.

Alright so after Mersault’s mother dies, he starts a relationship with a young woman named Marie and then befriends a local pimp, which leads him to committing a seemingly senseless murder on an Algerian beach. The first half of the book is getting to know Mersault and leads up to the murder on the beach. The second half of the book is the trial, in which the prosecutor focuses less on the crime and more on making Mersault look like some unfeeling, inhuman monster. And without going into detail, I was on his side.

I don’t know what this says about me… but I found Mersault to be a sympathetic character. His life is aimless – he has no ambition or motivations, and therefore is really distant and removed from other people. He appears emotionless, for the most part. Now, he does a few things that I thought were in bad taste. But overall he’s just kind of doing his thing and I actually related to him a few times – such as his wish that the lady crying at his mother’s funeral would just shut up. I mean, I’ll be BAWLING at my mom’s funeral someday (I love my mom), but I have been in situations like that and wishing that people would just relax and be quiet.

I guess that Camus was writing about “absurdism”, and society’s attempt to impose rationality and reason in an irrational world. Seeing as how I’m one of the “shit happens” kind of people (rather than a “things happen for a reason” kind of person), I guess this struck a chord with me and I enjoyed it. Also enjoyable was the fact that the person who possessed this book before me (her name is Ruby, according to the inside jacket) underlined things and took lots of notes, probably for a class, and I had fun arguing in my head at some of her statements.

Have any of you read this? Because this would be a really fun book to talk to other people about. And I mean fun as in discussing human nature and me defending people who seem cold and callous, and probably most people not agreeing with me but that’s alright. Tell me what you think!

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison

I read my first Toni Morrison!

I tried reading Beloved like 6 years ago, but I remember being really, really freaked out in the beginning and having to stop it. Like I distinctly remember that I was living at my sister’s house, reading on my bed, and it was scaring me and I had to quit. This is why it was on my R.I.P. VIII pile*, although now that I’ve successfully read it I realize it wasn’t THAT scary… definitely creepy, and horrifying overall because of the consequences of slavery… but now I’m getting ahead of myself. You might want to know what the book is about.

Sethe. Proud and beautiful, she escaped from slavery but is haunted by its heritage – from the fires of the flesh to the heartbreaking challenges to the spirit. Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War, this profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is Toni Morrison’s greatest novel – a dazzling achievement and a spellbinding reading experience.

That’s from the back of the book, and it honestly doesn’t tell much, but it also sums things up really articulately. Sethe IS proud and beautiful, and she IS haunted by her years as a slave. It IS profoundly affecting – I can’t say that it’s an enjoyable book to read, but it’s an important book to read, and disturbed me in several different ways.

But I’m going to tell you a little bit more, without being too spoiler-y. Sethe escaped from slavery 18 years ago, and she now lives in her mother-in-law’s house with her daughter Denver, and the house is haunted by an angry baby ghost. (Seriously, this isn’t a spoiler – it’s on the first page.) One day Paul D. shows up at the house – he was one of the slaves Sethe knew at Sweet Home, and his arrival changes everything. From there, the plot slowly unfolds – the story of Sethe’s escape from slavery, her arrival at her mother-in-law’s house, who the baby ghost is, and why it’s haunting them.

The things that happen in this book, to Paul D and to Sethe and her whole family, are fucked up. And that’s because slavery is fucked up, and this book shows that perfectly. Beloved excels at showing some of the darkest psychological impacts of slavery, which make it intense, uncomfortable, and terrifying to read. You know how sometimes you read a classic or an award-winning book and you think “Why? Why in the world would this win an award?” Well I totally get why Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I wish it was on all the high school reading lists, although I’m sure it would immediately be protested and stupid book-banning parents would fight it, but it’s IMPORTANT. The whole point of the book is the horrible, upsetting things that happen and students should read it and discuss it. It’s a tragic story, full of pain and sadness and regret, and that’s why it’s a really good book.

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

 

 

*Seriously, there’s an angry baby ghost. You guys know that babies/dolls/small children/gnomes/any small creatures freak me out, so obviously that was the scariest.

True Grit by Charles Portis

true grit charles portis

“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.”  

inigo montoya

Just replace “Inigo Montoya” with “Mattie Ross”.

So starts True Grit, the story of how young Mattie Ross sought vengeance for her father’s death. After realizing that the local authorities weren’t going to have catching her father’s killer high on their priority list, she seeks help on her own. She asks around for the best of the U.S. marshals, and she decides on the one with the meanest reputation – Rooster Cogburn. Mattie finds and hires him to accompany her into Indian Territory to bring Tom Chaney to justice. Complicating matters is LaBeouf, a Texas Ranger who has been hunting Chaney down for some unrelated crimes. Together the threesome sets out, and this is their story.

What really makes this novel brilliant is Mattie. As the narrator of her own story, she excels. For a fourteen-year-old, she is incredibly tough and mature. She’s assertive, determined, and her bargaining powers are nothing to be trifled with. I am basically just completely in awe of her. If I had a daughter (which I won’t, because screw having kids), I would want her to be a lot like Mattie. She’s blunt, and doesn’t waste time on things like redundant emotions or flowery descriptions. It’s refreshing. She has a lot of heart, despite her deadpan delivery and no-nonsense attitude.

I was a little disappointed in Rooster – I expected to like him more. And while I did enjoy how tough he was and how he sneered at a justice system that sets killers free, he was just a letdown. The only boring part of the novel were his drunken ramblings about his past. And LaBeouf was just an ass. I didn’t like him at all, but that was kind of the point of his character, I think.

Other than the aforementioned boring tales of Rooster’s past, True Grit is fast-paced and packed full with action near the end. There are some parts that made me burst out laughing (seriously, Mattie is a great narrator), and some parts that were a bit more on the sad side. I’m a bit confused as to why this isn’t on more classics lists, and why it’s not on high school reading lists. What better way to make kids appreciate how good they’ve got it than by shoving a girl like Mattie in their faces? And it would lead to great in-class discussions about how times have changed, responsibilities that kids have, western justice versus modern justice, and so on.

I’ve read a couple westerns before, but damn none of them could hold a candle to True Grit. I really, really liked it.  It’s definitely going to go on my shelf with my classics and be re-read at some point. I can’t wait to see the new version of the movie that came out a couple years ago – I already borrowed it from the library. I’m actually looking forward to sitting down and watching the movie this weekend while I’m at work. Do you know what a lazy movie-watcher I am? That’s a big deal.

I also want to point you to two excellent reviews of True Grit – one from Laura at Devouring Texts, and one from Alley at What Red Read. Their reviews are just so articulate and awesome and you should go read them. Right now.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

Classics Club August Question

What up, Classics Clubbers?

Alrighty, so the August question o’ the month! Here it is:

“Do you read forewords/notes that precede many classics?  Does it help you or hurt you in your enjoyment/understanding of the work?”

Well, sometimes. It depends on my mood really, but in general I usually skip the foreward or introduction in the beginning. More often than not, I’m too excited to actually start the story, and I also worry about spoilers. The times that I have read the foreward first, I can’t really remember if it helped or hindered, so I guess it didn’t much matter to me.

Thinking about this actually makes me wonder why they put these things at the start of the book – I feel like readers would get more out of them at the end of the book, after reading the story. That said, I hardly ever actually go back to the beginning to read the foreward. I only do that when I REALLY loved the book and I’m not quite ready to let it go yet.

*shrugs*

What about you guys? Do you read the forewards? Do they have value, or is it just a way for publishers to make their copy of that classic a little different from the others out there, since they usually have different people doing the introductions?

~Sarah

 

 

 

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Ernest J. Gaines, classics club

 

Well, I didn’t mean to read this book this month, but it was actually perfectly timed.

The Classics Club pick I meant to read this month was The Three Musketeers, but with only a week left in July I hadn’t even really started it yet (I was only about 10 pages in), and I knew that I wasn’t going to have the time for it. But I had hardly packed about half of my books, including my classics, so I didn’t have a lot of options. As I continued with the packing, I realized A Lesson Before Dying was still on my shelves and it was on the Classics Club’s Big List, so poof! I decided it seemed short enough that I’d be able to fit it in. I was right, because I ended up reading it in about two days.

A Lesson Before Dying tells the story of a small town in the 1940’s – a black man named Jefferson is sentenced to death by an all-white jury for a crime he didn’t commit. During the trial, one of the attorneys refers to Jefferson as simple-minded – almost like a hog instead of a human being. Grant Wiggins is a black schoolteacher, frustrated by the oppression and racism in his hometown but unable to escape it. He’s approached by his aunt and Jefferson’s godmother to visit Jefferson and reach him, to try to bring out the man in him and stand tall at his execution to prove those white people wrong – that he is a human being, not a hog.

Grant is the narrator, the main character, and honestly I didn’t like him much. At first it was because he was so angry and bitter, but that quickly became easy to understand, seeing the world through his eyes. I didn’t like the way he treated the people around him though, especially the ones he claimed to love. By the end of the book, as the bond between him and Jefferson grows, I started to like him more. By the end of the book, I wanted to cry along with him.

It seems like perfect timing to be reading about an unjust trial overflowing with racism *coughZimmermancough*. This story… sigh. It’s sad. To read about white people treating black people so cruelly is painful, and infuriating. And what’s even worse is that we STILL see that kind of injustice in the judicial system today. This is not an uplifting or hopeful kind of story, but it’s very realistic and I appreciated it for that. And after finishing the book, the story and the characters of Grant and Jefferson lingered with me.

This isn’t the kind of book that you enjoy, but it’s one that deserves attention and thought, and I’m glad to see it considered a classic even though it was published in 1993. Has anyone read anything else by Ernest J. Gaines?

 

Sarah Says: 4 stars

 

Classics Club July Question

Good morning there, book lovers 🙂

It’s time for the July question-of-the-month, courtesy of the Classics Club. Here’s the question:

“What classic book has changed your view on life, social mores, political views, or religion?”

shifty eyes

 

My initial reaction was “Umm, none.” Cause really, there are very few books at all that can change someone’s view on something. Maybe it will reinforce things you already felt, or give you a new point of view on an issue, but it seems a rarer thing for a book to actually change your mind on any issues that serious.

That being said, I wanted to come up with SOMETHING, so here we go:

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger made me realize how much I hate whiny teenage characters. And it might be why I have to little tolerance for them now. (I’m looking at you, 5th book Harry Potter).
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written by Alex Haley and Malcolm X, gave me a whole new perspective on the Civil Rights movement. Not only was the book completely engrossing, but I also realized that I liked his approach to black equality a lot more than MLK Jr.’s. It just made so much more sense. When I was a kid in school, we learned about MLK Jr every freaking February. Not ONCE was Malcolm X and his efforts mentioned in any of my classes. That’s a shame, and I’m glad that I eventually picked this book up. This is still one of my all-time favorites, one that I try to re-read every few years.
  • Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean – I’m not actually sure if this is considered a classic… But it spawned a movie AND a play and it’s 20 years old and still popular, so I’m going with it. This book made me look more into the capital punishment system and I guess made me think about which side of the capital punishment debate I’m on. The book itself is intense and full of information, but I did other research after reading it about the injustices of the judicial system and for that reason alone, I fall into the anti-death penalty camp.

Aaaand… that’s all I got! It’s REALLY hard to think of classics that would have had any effect on my opinions about politics, society, religion, etc – especially fiction classics. Maybe that’s because I didn’t read many classics until I was already out of my teen years, so I had already had opinions on these things? But that makes it sounds like I haven’t changed my mind about anything in the last decade and of course I have. Just not due to classics, I guess.

Anyways! What classics influenced or changed you in some way?

~Sarah

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

 

I have not been looking forward to writing this review, only because this was such a huge, epic, sprawling read and how am I possibly going to be articulate about it? I really liked East of Eden (let’s be honest, I didn’t have high expectations going in) and I have just so many thoughts! I feel like this would’ve been good for a readalong. I have PAGES of notes, ya’ll. I mean technically I read it for the Classics Club sync read, but it’s not the same. Anyways…

So. East of Eden is set in Salinas Valley in California, back in the day – mostly early 1900’s. And it’s about two families – the Hamiltons and the Trasks. Adam Trask comes out to California with his pregnant crazy wife and buys land near that of Sam Hamilton and his family. After Adam’s wife gives birth and her crazy side comes out in a big way, he’s left on his own to raise his twin boys – the fair, easy-to-love Aron and the darker, more lonely Cal. The book is written with a lot of allusions to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.

See, there’s so much I can’t say without giving away major spoilers, and I actually don’t want to ruin much for people. This kind of reads like an old farmer’s soap opera – there is so much drama happening in this book it’s ridiculous, but also NOT ridiculous and really believable and kind of touching. I am not a sentimental person much, but some of these characters and their inner struggle between good and bad actually got to me a bit. I’m sure there are plenty of papers written about how Steinbeck approaches the ideas of good and evil in men, so I’m not going to go into that except to say that it gave me a lot of food for thought, and I’d enjoy re-reading it with a group someday.

My favorite character was probably Lee, a Chinese man who works for Adam Trask and helps raise the boys. He was so wise, but also kind of sassy sometimes. Sam Hamilton was a good character, if a bit boring. But he was a happy, idealistic dreamer kind of guy and you couldn’t not like him. Cal was definitely my favorite character later in the book, which I wasn’t expecting. And Cathy (the twins’ mom)… she was one of my favorites only because she was batshit crazy and added a lot to the story. This would have been a boring ass book without her.

I’ve read Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck and found it boring and over-hyped. I read The Grapes of Wrath by him as part of a readalong that the awesome Laura hosted last fall, and while I started to fall in love with his writing a bit, I think I found his politics too off-putting and it had very little in the way of plot. But NOW I have a Steinbeck novel that I can say I genuinely enjoyed reading and would happily read again. I get why people say this is the best one, and why Steinbeck himself said that it was his greatest novel. I’m looking forward to trying more of Steinbeck’s other shorter works, but I don’t think any of them are going to compare to this at all.

Shall we end this with some of my favorite quotes? SURE!

“But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because ‘Thou mayest.’ “

“He developed a love for poor people he could not have conceived if he had not been poor himself.”

“To a man born without a conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous.”

“We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the neverending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal.”

 

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars