My move is creeping up on me, and as of August 31 I’ll be living in a different state, and my stack of books read but not reviewed is climbing suspiciously close to my window’s bottom lip, so here begins the reviewing process, so I can actually pack and put away those books… I will admit, also, that
Paradise Lost by John Milton —
I read Paradise Lost, but had every intention of leaving it off this review list. Not because I don’t have opinions, but because I don’t feel like I have a strong enough grip on Christian mythos to really get everything in it. I will likely end up reading it again a few years from now, after I’ve got a better handle on all of the things Milton is using to inform his structure. Here’s what I will say– the story behind how Paradise Lost was written, and John Milton himself, are fascinating. I read a lot about him and a lot of his early poetry before tackling the beast itself. For now I’m not rating it, because I don’t feel like I actually read it.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi — great
I really loved this book, from a dorky book nerd kind of place deep in my heart. I’ve also never met a Persian/Iranian author I didn’t love. I did have trouble following the many different students for a while (I came pretty close to drawing a chart.) But there’s a lot of the technique in Nafisi’s character development that feels like a teacher getting to know students. At first the class seems incredibly homogenous– one lump of eyes staring at you, waiting for you to do something. Then, sometimes slowly, sometimes immediately, personalities leap out at you. If you’re interested in the Middle East, or even lit criticism (which a fair chunk of this is), or teaching, you should try this one on for size. I would love to be in Dr. Nafisi’s class, as a side note.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare — great
If you decide to read some Shakespeare on your own, The Tempest is an excellent place to begin. Also, from a Colonial/Post Colonial point of view, there are a lot of really interesting things happening with Ariel and Caliban. The mythology that Shakespeare uses and creates here is really interesting, in and of itself. I can dig it.
The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost — okay
I picked up this book as the result of a realization of mine. There’s very little YA Lit in translation, and the stuff that has been translated isn’t advertised as a book in translation. You often have to look at the copyright page to see that there was a translator at all. So, this little book is by a French author. The idea behind it is sort of Star Wars meets Indiana Jones. Traveling through time to save his father, the main character is able to go to various places throughout time and space, and meets a variety of people. There are some nifty gadgets, but overall the book feels episodic, and like a series of “hey isn’t that neat?”s, instead of something incredibly deliberate and crafted. I love me some chaos in the machine, but I love chaos that ends up driving to a point even more.
The Epic of Gilgamesh — fantastic
This is how you know I’m a classicist at heart. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s the world’s earliest recorded example of bromance. It’s fragmented, but that’s part of the lure. Even with chunks missing, it’s still an interesting and meaningful story.
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding — fantastic
I was not expecting this book to be poetic. I knew basically what I was getting into reading this book. It’s hard to get through a 4 year program in English literature without having a vague idea of what Lord of the Flies is all about. The thing I really admired about it, however, was the realism and surrealism coming together flawlessly. The poetic imagery Golding has, combined with the incredible tragedy and disintegration of society under duress. So much subtlety and psychology.
Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy — great/good
The other stories in the volume were Family Happiness, The Kreutzer Sonata, and Master and Man. Family Happiness was a pretty standard exercise in gender communication failure, but that being said, you do continue rooting for them to pull their heads out of their asses and have an actual conversation. Death of Ivan Ilych ran along similar themes, plus heavy melodrama. I could of course be saying more. Kreutzer Sonata was probably my favorite out of the four stories. Master and Man was a little heavy-handed, and read like a fable, almost. Definitely the saddest of the four. All of Tolstoy’s stories have really overt social criticism written into them, along with a lot of philosophy.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky — great
Cult classic, for good reason. Honestly, this might be in the top five coming of age stories I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of them. It gave me one of my new favorite feelings to ruminate over: what it is to feel infinite. It really is a beautiful little book.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams — fantastic
I want to do a whole series off of The Glass Menagerie. I’ve never read such a vividly created play. I loved it, I’m going to draw lots of pictures of it when I get the chance someday, and you should read it.
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami — good
This book follows four stories of Moroccan men and women attempting to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. The thing I liked best about this book was the fact that you don’t know what happens to everyone. Not everyone ends up where you think they will. Lives get better and worse. It feels like real life– no Hollywood endings.
The Absolutely True Diary of a part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie — fantastic
There are a couple of really easy, obvious reasons why I like this book. (1) It has pictures. I am a sucker for pictures. (2) Cultural collisions. I am kind of all about those. Beyond those two reasons, though, it’s an honest, insightful book. It’s looking at a minority that a lot of Americans forget about, and should be reminded about. It’s really fabulous, and in its own way, a really important book.
Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe — good
Yeah, yeah, Bunnicula is sharing space with Shakespeare, Milton, and a lot of other literary giants on this page. This is one of those ratings where you have to keep in mind the context I’m reading in. Is it the same kind of “good” that any of these other books are? Probably not. But it is good. I read the better part of it out loud to my ESL class, and they loved it. We had a fantastic time reading it out loud, and laughed so much and had such a good time that I would be committing some form of betrayal to downplay it, and what it meant for our little group. Would I read it on my own? Probably not. But with a bunch of 6th graders learning English who need to unwind? YES.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James — good
I liked it well enough, but in my head it’s going to be That Ghost Story About That Angry Ginger Fellow. The great thing about this story, however, is the ambiguity of the story. There’s so much that can’t be explained away as Crazy Governess Syndrome. Yet, there is definitely a screw loose in her head. Yeah, yeah, I’m punny. Pretty perfect place to start with James, in anyhow.
Daisy Miller by Henry James — great
The weirdest part about this novella is that you can hate Daisy, want to smack her, and still kind of want her to get redeemed. Or at least have her take off her prissy pants for a moment and realize what she’s doing. The power in this one comes from how much you want to beat her into a pulp, I think. Even by today’s standards, you still read and go “Woah, sister, cool your jets. You literally just met this guy. Want to think over what you just said?”
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather — great
This is one of those beautifully written family tragedies. I would totally call this a tragedy, even though the ending is mixed. Nothing ends up where it should be, with one exception. I really admire Willa Cather’s language and sense of space.
Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples — okay
I was busy this July anyway, but this took me the entire month to read. This one book. It was not long. It just…trudged, and I trudged with it. I lapped up the cultural stuff happily, but ultimately, I was really unhappy with the ending, the lead up to the ending, and basically the last 100 pages. I don’t even know how to fix it. I just… didn’t dig it.
You & Yours by Naomi Shihab Nye — great
Sometimes conversational, sometimes direct, sometimes abstract and quietly philosophical, she’s just a very interesting, accessible poet. More or less, if you were looking to get into poetry, or modern American poetry, more specifically, she’s a great, active poet, and my copy has a lot of underlining in it.
Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer — okay
There’s a part of me (the classicist part of me) that’s very entertained by the fact that Chaucer decided to write an epic poem pretending to be an ancient writer named LOLius (emphasis mine). I do love me some Trojan War, but there was something about this particular storyline that’s just so drippy and emo. I was glad Troilus didn’t just sadly give up and sit around waiting to die in the end, but I was really unsatisfied with Criseyde’s desertion. I know that the main point of the book was to follow the build up of their relationship. Structurally, as the intro to my edition pointed out, it’s perfectly parallel, and beautifully crafted.
The Eyeball Collector by F.E. Higgins — FANTASTIC
Let’s talk about how pretty it is, first. It’s pretty. I love the eyeball frontispiece. Like Kneebone Boy, this is an artist who was well-acquainted with the book, which makes me sooooooooooooooooo happy! I love book art. I love good book art even more. I also love the book. It was just good. A little bit steampunk, a little bit dystopian, and over all just very interesting. It moves fast, and best of all, it made me want to read the other things Higgins has written. That doesn’t happen every day.
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells — great
I surprised myself with how much I liked this book. The story was incredibly specific, and I love that no understanding was ever reached between Earth and Mars. None. I love that humanity was not what conquered Martians. I love that plants accidentally (?) came with them. You can really sense Wells’ background in science throughout this. It’s not just a little sci-fi book. It’s a reasonable premise, handled well, and treated realistically. Also, my mother: “War of the Worlds… isn’t that a comedy?” Actual quote.
Cradle Book by Craig Morgan Teicher — good
This is a book of short fiction and fables, organized into three themes. The organization of them is very good, actually, I think. They fit together like pieces of theses. They feel idiosyncratic. They feel true. A few of them came back to me as I’ve been continuing to read and write over the past few days. This is the kind of book whose impact is subtle, but has staying power.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — great
I really loved this book. Nigeria, family drama, sometime in the recent past. It’s really a thoughtfully constructed narrative, and one of the most poignant accounts of domestic violence and how a family deals with it. Adichie handles her subject matter well, and is skilled at dragging you along with her and her characters. At the core of this is the question of what it is to be a good person. How can a person be such a monster to his family, and such a benefactor to the community? Does one negate the other? There is also a link between her and Achebe… the first line of the book invokes his memory, and the culture of Igbo people and missionary Christianity feature prominently. Highly recommended.