Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2015: The Classics

I know, I know, this post is a bit late. So late, in fact, that 1/12 1/6 1/4 of this year's classics have in fact already been read (though none were particularly long).

After far too much synopsis-reading, page number consulting, nail-biting, spreadsheeting, and consulting of tea leaves, bird entrails, etc., BEHOLD! I give to you SF Road Warrior's Classic Novels of 2015:

JANUARY: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. "An American comic masterpiece. John Kennedy Toole's hero is one Ignatius J. Reilly, 'a huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter.' His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans' lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures." This is one of those books that shows up over & over again on "must-read" lists of American literature & I saw it on sale, so I figured what the heck. Review here.

FEBRUARY (Black History Month): The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. "Set in the author's girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, TBE tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, who prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, Pecola's life does change--in painful, devastating ways. What its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child's yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment." I was extra curious to read this book because I recently saw an interview with Toni Morrison about it where she mentioned that she looks back on this book now & sometimes thinks, "Oh dear. There are a lot of things I'd handle differently now." Review here.

MARCH (Women's History Month): A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. "A poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness." It sounded depressing, but considering I made it through Oscar Wao, I felt like it couldn't possibly be worse. Review here.

APRIL: (Women in Science Fiction Month)The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin. "The story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose--and change--their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters." Sounds interesting. And bizarre.

MAY: The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. "The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko's English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that things can change in a day, that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river." I started this book in college but now don't remember a single thing about it.

JUNE (Russian Heritage Month): Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. "The poverty-stricken Raskolnikov, a talented student, devises a theory about extraordinary men being above the law, since in their brilliance they think “new thoughts” and so contribute to society. He then sets out to prove his theory by murdering a vile, cynical old pawnbroker and her sister. The act brings Raskolnikov into contact with his own buried conscience and with two characters — the deeply religious Sonia, who has endured great suffering, and Porfiry, the intelligent and discerning official who is charged with investigating the murder—-both of whom compel Raskolnikov to feel the split in his nature. Dostoevsky provides readers with a suspenseful, penetrating psychological analysis that goes beyond the crime—-which in the course of the novel demands drastic punishment-—to reveal something about the human condition: The more we intellectualize, the more imprisoned we become."

JULY: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. "In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys – best friends – are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is extraordinary and terrifying."

AUGUST: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. "Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed." Fine, I'll read a parlor book. Only one per year, though!

SEPTEMBER (Banned Books Week):The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. "The brutally grim story of a Slavic family who emigrates to America, The Jungle tells of their rapid and inexorable descent into numbing poverty, moral degradation, and social and economic despair. Vulnerable and isolated, the family of Jurgis Rudkus struggles—unsuccessfully—to survive in an urban jungle. A shocking revelation of intolerable labor practices and unsanitary working conditions in the Chicago stockyards that aroused public sentiment and resulted in such federal legislation as the Pure Food and Drug Act." I can't really say I'm looking forward to this, but it sounds like one of those historical-significance-type books.

OCTOBER: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. "Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, 'a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.' Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment." Sounds kind of spooky, right?

***OCTOBER BONUS READ*** The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde. "Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gewndolen as Ernest while Algernon has also posed as Ernest to win the heart of Jack's ward, Cecily. When all four arrive at Jack's country home on the same weekend the "rivals" to fight for Ernest s undivided attention and the "Ernests" to claim their beloveds pandemonium breaks loose. Only a senile nursemaid and an old, discarded hand-bag can save the day!" It's so short I figured I should just tack it on to Dorian.

NOVEMBER: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. "In what may be Dickens's best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of "great expectations." In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride." Pretty sure I saw a bad film version of this in high school, but all I remember about it is Miss Havisham & how creepy she was.

DECEMBER: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey. "Tells the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the story through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them all imprisoned." I remember watching the movie & enjoying it, but I don't remember much about the story, so hey! Reading books!

Other Books I'm Planning to Read this Year...

(^ That's where you've give me your recommendations. ;) )

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