The Sybervision Book List
Novels, Epic Poems and Legends
Also on the Norwegian list - Think the Bible written in ancient Greek time. Not as good as The Odyssey but still worth reading. The only problem is that it does not have a conclusion, it just sort of ends. Many of the activities associated with the Trojan War are not chronicled like some people think in the story like the Trojan Horse and the death of Achilles.
Also on the Norwegian list - The better of the two. Action and adventure on a worldwide (as the ancient Greeks knew it) scale. Worth reading if you can get past the Greek translation.
Also on the Norwegian list - This book was written as a way to give to the Romans what the Greeks had with The Iliad and The Odyssey. Unfortunately, that's how it reads as well. The first half follows The Odyssey almost to the point of even going to the exact same places as Odysseus. The second half is much better and kind of reads as its own story although it is still reminiscent of The Iliad.
The story of a famous man who slays several monsters and eventually gets killed while taking down a dragon. The story is rather difficult upon first reading because of the illusions created by the author. Unlike The Divine Comedy though the illusions are not related to contemporary concepts but it is more of a figurative language. For example, instead of saying "ocean" it becomes a "whale-path." So a first reading can be rather arduous but future readings are more understandable. Overall the storyline in very simplistic, it is the language that puts the story on the list. Not a particular favorite of mine, just because I'm more a storyline person with language I can easily understand.
Also on the Norwegian list - I read the Inferno in one of my college classes and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I purchased the entire series and I found Purgatory and Paradise very hard to follow. I believe it was because I did not have the guidance as I did in class and the translation was more like the original text in the last two. So my suggestion if you are going to read this, do so in a class or with a text to help understand the contemporary illusions and with an easy to understand translation.
At first I was rather intrigued by the book. I initially assumed it was a description of the adventures had by Marco Polo on his travels through Asia. As I read into the book it appeared to be more of the history of the Khans in Asia and mostly about Kublia Kahn. This part of the book was extremely interesting and the main story was heavily supplemented by notes on the text (at least in my Everyman's version of the text). The notes comprised ~25% of the 400 pages of the story and gave many clarifications and background on the text. However as the book went on, the majority of it just described city after city within China and the surrounding regions. Many with Chinese names that are not even close to the modern names, making it almost impossible to follow the travels without using the notes. On top of that, many of the town descriptions were heavily repetitive, making it a boring read after a while. I could recommend a condensed, simplified version of the "story", but a whole version is rather a slog to get through.
Also on the Norwegian list - I started off this book with reading the introduction, which in my version states that "Anyone who is too lazy to master the comparatively small glossary necessary to understand Chaucer deserves to be shut out from reading good books for ever," by Ezra Pound. Awesome. I had high hopes for this book in the beginning. My wife said it was great, she really enjoyed what she read so I'm all looking forward to it. Then I start to read it, and I don't understand it, at all. And this had nothing to do with the "small glossary" it was written with but with the fact that all of the words are misspellings of modern words, and not even consistently misspelled the same way. When you sound the words you can make sense of what is going on but my mind doesn't work that way. It turns out my wife read a more friendly translation than my original script of the book. Mine looks more like this: "And daunced wel, he wolde nat come ayeyn..." (and danced well, he would not come again). So it makes sense, but it took me about 400 pages to understand it on my first reading (about 1/2 the book). Anyway I got to reading a summary of what was happening on Gradesaver.com then reading the tales in the book, which was a lifesaver, because even if I missed a line or two I would still know what was happening. Anyway, on to the review of the book. It had it's high points and low points. A lot of the stories were actually rather fun and interesting, but a lot of them were a drudge to get through (i.e. The Tale of Melibee). Then the final story (The Parson's Tale) seems completely out of place and contradictory to everything he has stated before. After several tales of husbands and wives who sleep around he comes in with this sermon about the seven deadly sins, stating things like masturbation is basically homicide and if a woman were to indulge in sexual activity she should be stoned to death. It seemed so out of place, at times I felt like that it was on purpose, to kind of throw off the reader. So overall, Canterbury Tales is really a story that does not need to be read straight through. I recommend if you do want to read it to pick out the best sections and read them alone, because I feel Chaucer added some tales in more for context around that particular tale than actual enjoyment of reading.
Also on the Norwegian and the Observer lists - Whenever I hear anyone reference Don Quixote, it is frequently in regards to his fighting windmills, or riding around on an old horse with a fat squire on a donkey. Well, that is pretty much the first 20-50 pages of a 1,000 page long story. Preconceptions of the story do not really encompass the true breadth and depth of it. The story is about a man who feels he has been tasked with restoring knight errantry back to Spain and dupes a simple minded farmer to accompany him (Sancho Panza). When I first started to read the story, I felt like this was the story for me. It was serialized television long before television even existed. There were even phrases like "when we last left our heroes...". It seemed perfect for me. The translation I was reading was awesome as well (the Everyman edition). He translated it into basically a very readable sort of Old English with all of the poetry and songs maintaining their rhymes. I assume the context and feel of the story was maintained even though the wording needed to be changed. And my version extended the feel of the novel to the translation itself. The novel is written as if it is a Spanish translation of an older text (Arabic I believe), where my English translator even had notes added on top of his translation by an editor. It definitely gives it a story handed down through time aura about it.
The problems I have with the story started pretty early though. I felt the story started to drag on really early in the first part. Adventures seemed to take forever, there were many side stories that added little (if anything) to the overall narrative, and I just felt the pace of the story slowing down dramatically. I felt I needed to trudge through most of the middle part of the novel until hitting the second part. When I really started to enjoy the story was during the last third of the novel, when the story became self referential. The first half of the novel was apparently published earlier and characters within the second half of the story had often either read it or had heard of it. There is even parts where a real life sequel to the first book was published by a different author and the characters in the book go out of their way to prove that book to be a false sequel. It's actually pretty meta. As for the ending, it felt very very rush. The ending could have been placed at any point in the book and still have fit, there was no real build up to it during the narrative. It would have been better if certain story points (mainly Dulcinea del Toboso) were even addressed during the ending instead of just dropped as if she never even mattered. Overall, I would say the story was actually quite a bit of fun when it started to pick up during the later half but an abridged version of the story may be the way to go for many people (although I personally refuse to go abridged).
I had personally dreaded reading Paradise Lost, simply because most of the epic poetry on the list becomes dull and wearisome rather quickly, and pretty hard to understand through most of it. I was pleasantly surprised by Paradise Lost, at least in the beginning. The story is broken up into 12 Books, with each book lasting about 30 pages or so. My version of the book had illustrations by Gustave Doré, which gave the narrative a bit of a break and helped with the understanding quite a bit. However, the most import part aspect of the reading, was the fact that Milton provided a summary of at the beginning of each Book. That way the reader could more enjoy the prose instead of getting mired down in the text trying to figure out where the story is going (or even what was happening or where you were in the narrative). The story of Paradise Lost is not simply the telling of how Adam and Eve got kicked out of Eden. Instead it recounts everything that happened from the fall of Satan, to giving a "vision" of the future through the birth of Jesus. My favorite part of the book had to be the first half, where Satan is seen as a rather tragic character. Milton perfectly weaves in Greek and Roman mythology, making this story feel much more mythical than it is often depicted. However, the story takes a steep decline once we get to the point where God is chastising Adam and Eve. Eventually taking us to where Adam is shown a vision of the future (essentially the rest of the Bible) and he becomes much more content with being cast out into the world. I understand that this is based on the Bible, making the story source hard to debate, but the degree of punishment seems awfully petty. It's all based on Adam and Even breaking the rules and being told "...that to obey is best..." and women are essentially too weak to be trusted to do much. It gets to be a bit much by the end. Overall, the prose was fun to read and the first half of the story was great (as a mythology lover myself), but by the end, I was done, and getting more and more annoyed as it dragged on.
Also on the Observer list - I will start off my review of Pilgrim's Progress with my general review. This is an overly heavy-handed biblical allegory written at an elementary level. First off, almost every single character in the book is a trait that defines the character, i.e. Mr Honest, Faithful, Mr Worldly Wiseman, etc. (where sometimes the traits don't even make sense based on the way the character acts. It is as if the author didn't know the definition of some of the words he used). Second, the story is written very poorly. It feels like the writer has never actually written a book before. Phrases are repeated line after line and the setup of the book doesn't make sense. It is written as if it were a play, with the characters name spelled out where they should talk, but then it has a phase like "so and so says this." for instance:
"Christian: 'Truly,' said Christian, 'I do not know.'"
Why would you call out the character that is going to speak, then write again that they are speaking? And the story is beyond hypocritical. Maybe it is because I am not a religious person, but the main character, Christian, complains about nobody listening and doing what he tells them they should do, but he doesn't do anything they tell him he should do. Do as I say not as I do? Every single character is one note, and the women characters in the second part of the story are next to useless. Why make the second part centered around Christian's wife (whom he left willingly) to just make her a useless character that needs everyone around her to do everything for her? In short this is a overly heavy-handed, misogynistic, racist, piece of garbage that I am thankful that I will never have to read again.
Also on the Observer list - I got the feeling while I was reading this of Cast Away a lot. I know there were several people out there who thought that movie was boring. Well the book came across the same way. It just seemed to drag on for me. Every other page at the beginning I was expecting him to become ship wrecked, then when he finally was, nothing exciting happened. For a book that seemed to be billed as an action-adventure novel I got none of that through the narrative. It's not a totally bad book and I enjoyed the plot, I just felt it was really slow at times. I found it amusing how no matter what Robinson did he seemed to end up on the short end of things, although I found it irritating that all Native Americans/ Native Islanders were referred to as savages and cannibals. I can see how they might be thought of that way in the story until you meet them but Defoe continued to show them eating humans. Sorry but cannibalism was not that widespread.
I was hesitant to start reading Moll Flanders because Defoe's other work on the list, Robinson Crusoe, didn't really strike my fancy. I found Robinson Crusoe to be overly dragging and not that upbeat. Well, now we come to Moll Flanders and I have several of the same criticisms. Although the book is only 340ish pages long, it seemed to drag on forever. I could be reading twenty minutes and it felt like an hour. Defoe is often very repetitive, not only with small portions of text, saying almost the same bunch of sentences verbatim a few paragraphs later, but the plot itself was on a never-ending cycle of repeat. The story follows a woman who was raised as a cast off from a prisoner. The first third of the novel deals with her repeated marriages, which needless to say, got old really quickly. The second third of the novel actually got me back into the book. Although, this was also a bunch of the same, over and over again, I actually became interested in the character for once in the story. The character herself claims in the book this was because of people enjoy reading about her wickedness. I'm not sure if that was the case or if the author actually made the character interesting for once. The problems resurface again in the last portion, where the character is "redeemed". Even though she is redeemed, I never, ever, get the impression she is ever sorry for what she did and even remotely changed her ways. She was lying and manipulating people right up through the last page of the text. Overall, I am often harsh on books where it is difficult to get into a book because of the writing style. Defoe's writing style is fine, it's just his plots are overly redundant and slow paced. I can't recommend this story to anyone, sorry.
Also on the Norwegian and Observer lists - An enjoyable book that seems like fantasy but in reality was a political commentary on his time. Very enjoyable. Another book I read for my college class that I feel I should go back and read again now that I have a little more time and little less pressure to read it.
Also on the Observer list - Although it is a rather long book (my copy was over 850 pages) I did greatly enjoy reading it. The author is more of a narrator then an impartial observer. He readily makes comments throughout the book that makes you feel like you are sitting by a fire listening to him relay the story. It was definitely a different approach then most I have read and I greatly enjoyed it. The story was exquisite. It is about a bastard, Tom, who was abandoned by his mother to be raised by a very benevolent man. Although I did not readily agree with some of the lessons at the end of the book (how birth makes more of a difference on who the boy is, not just his character) I still enjoyed it and the ending did bring a tear to my cheek. I thought that how the author kept making Tom's situation worse and worse that there was no way to bring him back in a believable manner, but it worked out and rather well at that. I definitely enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone with a few months to read it.
This story is by a philosopher whose primary concern was optimism. In return the book turns out to be rather depressing, yet cheerful, at the same time. I am not sure how, it just does. It is written rather like a children's story. There is very little embellishments and the characters zip around from place to place in a rather short time frame. But there is a lot of death (or supposed death), rape, war, slavery and other "adult" concepts so it is definitely not a kid's story. The point of the story, I believe, was so that Voltaire could express his distaste for practically everything. This includes religion, war, and people's intolerance of each other (although he expresses his own intolerance rather well, a bit hypocritical). But anyway a rather interesting read, short (always a plus when your reading 300+ books), and I enjoyed it, but not enough to go on my list.
Before I started this book, I was expecting something in "Old English" similar to Beowulf and Shakespeare, neither of which I really enjoy all that much. This was much different though. It is written in the Old English style but in such a way that it it understandable for the most part. I admit I did have a little difficulty with the beginning though. This was the fastest read I have had on my list to date and I can't imagine anything taking less time. I read this in about 20 minutes and while I was reading it I found that I needed to say the words aloud to better understand them. This started as mumbling the words and eventually with my proudly stating all of the lines with gusto. Simply, the story was about a mariner who kills an albatross while sailing around, dooming all of his shipmates. I found the story very well written with a good moral; don't bite the hand that feeds you. A definite recommend.
Also on the Norwegian list - Upon reading the first few sentences of Part 1, I was thinking, "Yea, I can really get into this". Part 1 was written in a poem like style very similar to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which I also loved. So I could see some promise in this. Then the story shifted and it mimicked Book of Job, which I didn't like, but I felt the concept was good and could see where they could improve upon it. Later on, the story morphed again, this time feeling very much like Dante's Inferno. Another story that I rather enjoyed. So in general, I had some promise for this story. Throughout part 1 I was riveted and excited to see where the story went. When I reached the end of part 1, the way several things were revealed was amazing. Initially I had thought we were supposed to guess at what happened but then the author revealed what happened afterwords, letting the information flow out in an unexpected way. Very enjoyable and satisfactory. IF the story had ended after part 1, this would be a 100% recommend. However, it didn't. The story of Faust is written as a play, although there are so many characters at some points I can't imaging it actually being acted out. Faust is a scholar who makes a deal with the devil, another main character, in exchange for excitement (as I interpreted it). He uses the devil throughout the story in order to get his way and eventually ruins a girls life. And so ends part 1. Part 2, was published after Goethe's death and feels in many ways, like someone else wrote it. Or at the very least, like a different story. The plot is all over the place, sometimes it has Faust, but often it doesn't. The text is difficult to understand at times, perhaps due to the translation, more likely due to the story. At least there are some weak threads which tie back to the first part, especially the image of a beautiful girl seen in Part 1, who reappears for a large portion within the middle of the story. However, the story is barely intelligible and doesn't contain the magic emphasized in Part 1. So in summary, Part 1 is a definite recommend, but I personally can find no reason for anyone to read Part 2. There is a wrap-up to the part 1 story within Act V of Part 2, but really, it isn't all that fulfilling.
The Lady of the Lake is a story written as a rhyming poem where, for the most part, each line is eight syllables and every two lines rhyme throughout the entire poem. This structure is often interrupted though, when other aspects of the story take place, such as someone singing a song where the structure would change to every other line rhyming, or some other poetical construct. Structurally speaking this poem is a marvel to read. The poem is laid out fantastically and it is easy to get lost in the words on the page. Unfortunately, this is also a detriment to the story because I found it extremely difficult to follow due to getting lost in the words. Unlike Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, which I felt created a flowing poem and an easy to follow story, this story is very difficult to piece out of the poem. I had to read summaries of the chapters before and after reading them in order to fully understand what I had read. Also, many times the flow of the story would be interrupted by lines that were meant to rhyme but didn't. For instance "stood" and "blood" would be used as a rhyming pair and although they look like they should rhyme it really creates an incongruity within the flow. I wonder if perhaps some of these instances indicate that these words were pronounced differently back when this story was written. This also goes for words with extra syllables that didn't fit the pattern of the poem. It makes me stop and have to reread a line 3 or 4 times, breaking the flow of the story. As for the story, like I said, the story itself is difficult to piece out of this work and I wonder if that is even the reason it is on this list. I assume it is on the list because it is structurally a literary masterpiece but as a story I can not recommend it.
Think Robin Hood, because that was exactly the impression that I was getting through it. It even had Richard the Lion Hearted in it. A very enjoyable book and one of the few I know on these lists that takes place in medieval England.
Also on the Norwegian and the BBC lists - A book on my must read list and definitely my favorite of the Austen works. The story follows the lives of several people of different social standings all wooing each other. This results in people of completely different attitudes and mannerisms actually finding love with each other. Humorous at times and the easiest of Austen's works to read.
Also on the Observer list - The classic story of man trying to be God. A quick an easy book to read; I read it in 2 days. The story is presented in a unique way, as journal articles, not typically done although remarkably similar to Dracula. It makes the reader feel what is going through the doctor's mind. The book shows that the real monster, that one Dr. Frankenstein created, was in fact himself, and that the monster ended up having more humanity than the doctor was even capable of.
Also on the Norwegian list - Before I started reading The Red and the Black I was warned by a friend who kept saying that it really wasn't a good book. This did not get my hopes very high and I kept pushing the book off. However, since I am at the very end of the Sybervision Book List it was time to sit down and read it. The translation I read was that used in the Everyman's Library and was remarkable easy to read. That made the book rather enjoyable, at least at first, because I could jump right into the book without having to get used to the writing style. In regards to the story, I was under the impression (for some reason, I do not know) that this was a war story, similar to War and Peace or Les Miserables. Oh, how wrong I was. Apparently, this turned out to be a "romance" novel, and not one that was very well constructed. The main character, Julien Sorel, goes through two main loves in the book, which the book is divided into two main parts accordingly. Through most novels, the reader is made to feel for the protagonist, and to hope they succeed. Julien, though, was just a pain in the ass. At times he was overly arrogant, at others he was wishy-washy. He wanted one thing on one page, then would flip to the exact opposite the next. And the women he was lusting over had the same problems. The back and forths got to be so bad that I couldn't really care less what happened at any one moment, I just wished the story would progress somewhere, anywhere. I did find the hints of a fascinating story mixed in there though. There was at one point that Julien seemed to get mixed up in the politics of the time (just after the fall of Napoleon), which was the aristocracy versus the church, and he was to travel to England to deliver a message. However, that storyline was dropped so quickly that I had to go back and reread a few pages to find out what happened. That excitement is what gives me hope that the other Stendhal novel on my list, The Charterhouse of Parma, could be a great read, but I'm not holding out too much hope. Overall, the style of writing was very easy to follow and I just flew through this rather long novel, but the story itself kept having me banging my head against the wall. There is no way can I endorse this garbled mess.
I am conflicted about how I feel about The Last of the Mohicans. In one respect, this book is beautifully written with prose that just oozes with descriptions giving the reader a wonderfully rich experience that isn't overly cumbersome to dive through. On the other hand, this book is horribly racist towards Native Americans, displaying them as "brutal savages" who don't know any better. It is possible to view this book as a product of its time. If this were written today, it wouldn't make it passed the editor's office before being rejected outright. However, at the time it was written, this is how people thought (I assume). It's not even all of the Native American's which are depicted as moral-less savages, but they are all given pretty short shrift. I enjoyed the book though, once I was able to get beyond that. The story is basically divided into two parts. The first part is about a group of "white people" trying to make it to Fort William McHenry on Lake George in New York with the help of the last two Mohicans. I know this area very well, since some of my family is from there and I've been to this fort. So this part of the story was fun for me. I could picture the scenes in my head. However, the story was also rather confusing at times, especially keeping all the people straight. Cooper calls the main characters and tribes by different names frequently and alternates with just the first names or just the last names to the point that it took me about 100 pages before I was certain who was who and how many people were actually in the story. The second part of the story they travel up north and I won't go into any more for the risk of spoiling it for someone who may be interested in reading it. I found the ending though very satisfactory and the author didn't pull any punches. Overall, even with the poor representation of the Native Americans, I think this was a very well written, good story. It plays more as a historical reenactment than a work of fiction, and I think that is what helped me get through the racist elements. So I feel that I can recommend this book.
After having read several books on the list that were either partially or entirely a drag to read, it was a tremendous surprise to find out how much I really liked this book. The Three Musketeers is actually very easy to read and I swear, it feels as if it could have been written today. However, this is not one of those books that has a higher intellectual purpose. This is an action/adventure flick in book form. It goes from one action "scene" to the next all the way to the end. The story follows a man named D'Artanian, who, at the being of the story, was not a musketeer. Shortly he befriends three men who go by the names Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, which are the entitled Three Musketeers. The funny thing about this story though is that it really isn't about the three musketeers at all. They are supporting characters at best, and in the case of Porthos, he is even called out in the story as almost superfluous. Even with this, it doesn't detract from the story at all, and there are several instances where different character's fates were not what I was expecting at all (and if this was written today would have been completely different in my opinion). There were a couple of things that didn't work for me. The main one was the long winded section where Milady is describing her past and how she got to where she was at that point in the book. The problem is, all of that story was a lie, and the reader knew it was a lie while she was giving the story. So, it felt like a complete waste of the reader's time, which is already being taken up for a while with this >600 page book. But besides that, I ripped through this book faster than I have read a book in a long time. This is a must read that I'm adding onto my must-read list.
When I read some of these shorter, free books, on my wife's Kindle, I have a tendency to wonder if this is the actual book that is on the list. Carmen was one of these books because it took me three days to read, so I looked up the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, and lo and behold, yes this was the book on my list. Other than being remarkably short, I rather enjoyed the story. The book is broken up into 4 chapters with chapters 1 and 2 being the background of the narrator and his meeting with the principle character, Don Jose Navarro. Chapter 3 was the main story, and the one that the opera is based on. The final chapter, chapter 4, is a very weird chapter about gypsy life and language, that does not really follow the rest of the book at all. The main story, chapter three, is narrated by Don Jose from prison telling the main narrator about his life from being a good kid to his eventual outlaw ways, all because of the gypsy Carmen. I thought the story read very well and it was actually quite enjoyable, but I don't think it stood out enough for me to be considered a 100 Greatest Book. Usually those stories are pretty memorable and I feel this one will be quickly forgotten. A nice read, but not a must read.
Also on the the Observer and BBC lists - Another on my must read list. It follows the life of the title character as she starts in an orphanage and eventually goes on to live with Mr. Rochester. A fun romantic novel with an air of mystery.
One of the 2 on the 4 major lists - A very weird book, not at all what I thought it would be. I considered this to be what is termed "chic lit" (as seen on Jeopardy). I couldn't have been more off. This is one of the most depressing books I have read yet. It is more of how Satan himself can corrupt people in retched beings but in the end sometimes they pull through. Most of the story takes place as a flashback of one of the former housekeepers. It is a little confusing and un-enjoyable at first because of the erudite language she used, but after a few chapters I got used to it. After the flashback it shows an orphaned child, Heathcliff, brought back to the house who is shunned by all, who eventually takes over everything. Since most of this is known at the start of the story, it is interesting to see how everything comes about and to see how two separate families who differ in everything (intelligence, strength, and health intermingle). On my must read and it should be on yours.
Also on the Observer list - Vanity Fair had sat on my shelf for many years because I was not in the mood for more of the 18th century "romance novels". The kind of novels that were exemplified by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen's works. They are all right to read once, but too much of that stuff wears me down. I feel there is no real "meat" in those books, just all fluff. Vanity Fair, though, is not one of those 18th century romances. In fact, it is the quintessential opposite in which Thackeray purposely makes fun of those novels in his presentation. Thackeray's main characters are often vain ("vanity" is in the title), selfish, petulant, and immoral. Everything you wouldn't expect from an 18th romance novel. This actually made it a pleasant reading experience. I even laughed out loud at several instances throughout the book. The book is set up as written by someone who is acquainted with the main characters and is narrating their story as a storyteller would. This goes so far as to even have the narrator frequently making reference to the fact that you are reading a book that he is retelling. In terms of story, the main character, Becky Sharp, is not a hero. She is not even likable through much of the story. The only time that she may actually be likable is when you aren't sure if she is being sincere, which I am not convinced ever happens. Although she is the main character, the plot of the story works its way through two main families (the Crawleys and the Osbornes) as well, taking it's leave of Becky when other story lines would take precedent. The plot and time moves steadily on throughout the story with characters coming and going as needed. My main problem with the book, though is that even though the writing is very well done, the story itself is rather dull at times. At over 700 pages long, it takes a long time to work through the narrative. The story could have been trimmed up pretty easily making the pace move a bit faster. I would often get bored of reading the book and need to put it down for a few days because there was nothing drawing me to read more. However, as I moved on towards the end I felt the urge to keep reading build up. Overall, I would say that the story was enjoyable, and funny at times, if not a little bit long winded, but a recommend nonetheless.
Also on the Observer and the BBC lists - This was one of the longer books I have read in a while and I did greatly enjoy it. I found myself wondering what was coming around every turn of the story. Although, after reading the "review" that was found at the end of my version I did notice some rather odd things about the story. Mainly, the first part of the book felt very very different from the rest of the book. The first part was rather dark and things kept getting worse and worse for David. Once that portion was past though, the book seemed to level out and although there were some bad times, there was nothing quite like that first part. Another thing that has me confused is on the title itself. The story is named after the primary character, David, who for one doesn't go by "David" for the majority of the story. Also, the story focuses more on the supporting characters than on David himself. I felt I was watching the lives of the secondary characters pass through rather than seeing the story change by any actions of David himself. The story itself was very well written and I was surprised that characters that seemed to be one-note characters would constantly reappear later in the story. And although many of them got tiresome, they eventually did redeem themselves by the end. The story itself is easy to follow and well written and I must say this was the best Dicken's story I have read. And although some of the character arc conclusions left a little to be desired at the end I felt that overall the story was well done. In the end, I would have to recommend people to pick it up.
Also on the BBC list - An enjoyable book describing London and Paris (the 2 cities) during the time of the French and American Revolutions. The story describes a love story during a time of crisis and how far people are willing to go for the ones they love. A little confusing at times but still fun to read none the less.
Also on the Norwegian and BBC lists - My favorite of the Dickens' novels and on my must read list. It follows the life of Pip, as he is saved by a convict and eventually grows up and finds love. At times the plot moves a little slowly and through a variety of ups and downs in the character's life. All in all the balance is well written and easy to follow.
Also on the Observer list - I read this book as part of a literature class I was in and I did not understand everything about it. The beginning was extremely slow and has a tendency to drive people away from the book but it does get better fairly quickly. The story is an example of morality in a Puritan society where the main character must wear a bright red "A" to symbolize her adultery. The storyline follows her trials and tribulations in her society of Biblical law.
At first while reading this book I got the feeling I would have to dredge my way through it like I have through several on these lists. The writing was awkward in the beginning; either that or the translation was poor. Either way, I was not enjoying it. The story seemed rather random and it was kind of dull. But then something just clicked and not only did the reading get easier, the story was much better, and actually pulled me into it. I cared for the characters and was regretting what was bound to happen to them. The premise of the story is that the author comes across the estate sale of a very young (early 20’s) "kept" woman (Marguerite Gautier) (a "kept" woman is basically a high class prostitute) and purchases a book with an inscription inside it. The inscription is by a former love of the woman (Armond Duval) who had given the book to Marguerite as a gift. Days later Armond is at the author’s apartment trying to get the book back. What follows is a love story of what happened between the two people that is very touching, and possibly true. Although I figured out the "catch" towards the end, it did not in the least ruin the story for me and it was written in such a way I think anyone would have figured it out. But on the cover of one of the books it states that Henry James said this is "one of the greatest love stories of the world" and I would have to agree. It is riveting, intriguing, and heart rending, a definite recommend.
Also on the Norwegian and Observer lists - Forced to read in my high school senior year I was not looking forward to this book. It has the most memorable first line of any book out there except maybe A Tale of Two Cities. The story line is the classic of a man trying to take control of his fears and being destroyed in the process. The book reads slowly and the chapter describing whales escapes my understanding as to why it is even in the book. Not a recommendation by me but maybe just because I read it when I would not appreciate it.
Also on the Norwegian, Zane, and Observer lists - The first thing I noticed while reading this book was how well is flowed. One idea flowed into another, most of it without a break or pause. Seemingly unconnected thoughts were put together seamlessly in a string of narrative that I could only hope to replicate. I loved reading this book, especially after Canterbury Tales, since the language was so much easier to follow and I'm not trying to decipher what the author is saying, I'm just enjoying the words. I did have some problems with the book though. The first being the very weak female characters, especially the main character. She seemed mostly to be reacting to events in her life and not being proactive in any of her choices. Nothing she did was really in response to what she wanted and more in response to what someone else wanted. And her child was the most useless of characters, almost inconsequential for 99% of the story. So, even though it did have some weak points, it was a marvelously written story and I would definitely recommend this as a must read.
Idylls of the King is an epic poem written in free verse describing the time of King Arthur from the time when he meets Guinevere until the time of his death and the collapse of his Round Table. This is a spiritual sequel to The Lady of the Lake, and in more than one instance I had wished I had read that story immediately before beginning this one (although reading my review of how much I didn't like it, I'm probably sure I'm glad I didn't). At first, while reading through this poem I was greatly dismayed due to the difficulty in understanding anything that was going on. I would get lost in the poem not knowing who did what, or why, or even care who or why. I realized this had to be one of those stories where I read a summary of the events in each section before I read the section. After I started doing that, the story became much easier to follow. If I became lost at any point, I was able to pick the story thread back up fairly easily. The story is laid out in 12 chapters. Each chapter is essentially a stand alone story that occurs during the time of King Arthur, which few threads weaving through the whole narrative. The narrative builds though, and by the end does make a bit of sense. The primary underlying theme of the stories is Lancelot's eternal love for Queen Guinevere and how eventually they become lovers, bringing the downfall of Camelot. The story itself is often sparse, being filled with the flowery language of the poem. At times the poems is exquisitely worded, however those times would come and go. One thing that stood out to me was the consistently incorrect use of the words "past" instead of "passed" and "bad" instead of "bade". I wasn't sure if it was an editorial issue or that's just how it was, but it drove me nuts.Overall, I was rather bored by the poem and just wished it would be over. Luckily, it's short and that ending came pretty quickly.
This is the type of book that you sit back on a nice summer evening and read while relaxing. For the first half of the book I felt no pulling force that often makes you want to keep on reading once you get into the book and I just read it at my leisure. But around half way I hit the draw point and I finished the second half of the book in 2 days. This is a very sweet book about a man who got screwed early in life and became a recluse. He then got screwed again when he had his only reason for living stolen. This is the first half of the book. The second half deals with what does a person like this do when presented with an orphaned child. The book is very well written and flows smoothly but I feel it lacks that special something to place it on the 100 greatest list so it is not going on mine, although I do think people should read it.
Also on the Norwegian, Zane, and the BBC lists - I rather enjoyed this book, it started off slow but as the book went on it picked up its pace rather well. Although the book was the longest I have yet read, about 900 pages, the plot was simple enough that it was easy to follow through the whole book. Middlemarch is a town in England where the book follows the lives of the families there, mainly two different families and their daughters. The book also shows a lot of conflicts including doctors versus faith, modern medicine versus traditional medicine, and similar subjects. There was an initial period that took me to get used to the language but afterwards I easily understood and followed the story. I can easily recommend this book as a great story with good lessons, if you are willing to take the time to read it.
This book was absolutely enthralling. Having seen the play numerous times when I was younger I thought I would remember the story line but I did not. The story is two fold, one following the French Revolution following the fall of Napoleon at Waterloo, the second follows an ex-convict while he tries to redeem his life. I won't give away any details but the storyline does get a bit confusing at times but always keeps you guessing. Definitely on my must read list.
I have a tendency to like Russian literature a lot because, so far, they have been all very easy to understand and read. This book was no exception, although it was a bit odd at times. The story is very well written and the language used is immaculate but the plot seems to have lost meaning for me, especially around the end. It is about a pair of friends and their interactions with each other, their families, and society as a whole. The older friend, Bazarov, is a nihilist, meaning he believes in nothing and the younger is Arkady, his pupil. The plot evolves around how Arkady deals with his mentor's views and how his mentor comes to see those views himself. All this during the time when the serfs were freed, causing conflicts that the main characters have to work around, in order to maintain their principles. Arkady's plot ends where I felt it was going, but with Bazarov, I feel the author didn't know what to do with him so he just left him "high and dry". A good book, but not good enough to be on my list.
Also on the Norwegian and the BBC lists- Another book on my must read list. The story follows a man who feels he can commit the "perfect murder" then his resulting turmoil after the fact. The story was excellently written showing exactly how the main character felt through his entire ordeal. My only problem with the story is the epilogue because it was added afterwards. The only reason it was even in the story was because the publishers felt the story was not complete and they needed closure. It is obvious that the chapter was an afterthought and I feel it should not have been written but that is a little late now.
On the Norwegian and the Observer lists - This book read a lot like Crime and Punishment, which is the reason why I liked it. I probably would put it on my must read list but Crime and Punishment is already on the list and I thought that Crime and Punishment was a much better book. Overall I though the book was extremely well written, but long (~800 pages) and I did not fully understand the point of the epilogue. The story is about 3 (maybe 4) brothers all from the same father but different mothers. All of them have widely varied personalities ranging from borderline psychotic to deeply religious to the non-religious academic. The story culminates in a murder that we as the reader know the brother did not commit but he is put on trial for. I like the way the story was written, with us knowing more than the people in the trial and the ending for the most part made sense; again except for the epilogue. So if you are in the mood for a long but relatively uncomplicated read, I recommend this one.
Also on the Observer and the BBC lists - Typically when Little Women is mentioned, it is often regarded (at least in my mind) as a little girls-chick lit. I had tended to stay away from this book for that very reason and it might have worked out for the better. The way I read it was very slowly, about 10 pages or so a night, to my daughter, over most of the year. In this way I had a chance to grow with the characters as they were growing and watch my daughter grow as well. I become connected to them in a way that doesn't usually happen to me and when one of them died, I really felt the loss. This book was one of the better books I have read in a while and although it would probably still be considered a chick-lit book, I found the characters very engaging and the writing to be far superior to many books written for the same level. As the characters got older, the language in the book also seemed to be getting older, to the point that at the end I didn't know what several of the words even meant, or how to pronounce them. In the end, I would recommend this book, especially as a family read-time book. I had a great time reading it to my daughter and I could feel many families would enjoy a similar experience.
Also on the BBC list - I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand the ending was exactly as I had hoped for during the duration of the book and I felt excited that it was actually happening. I was also pleased that I wasn't sure exactly what direction the book was going for the majority of it. It kept me guessing. On the other hand I kind of get tired with books that take a strong female lead and beat her into submission for the majority of the book. The main female character, Bathsheba, was this strong, independent woman who could not stand to think of a relationship for the first half of the book. But then that one man comes into her life that spells trouble. The story revolves around the mistakes she has made in her 'love' life and how she must own up to them. The book is well written and easy to follow, so there were no problems there. At the end of the book I felt that it was a must recommend (based on that satisfactory conclusion) but for the majority of it I couldn't see this as being a good book in the modern context (I don't typically appreciate the degradation of a strong female character). So I will say that you should read it if you are aware of what you are in for and can accept that.
Having read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn first I was a little disappointed since the sequel was much better than this story but this one was good none the less. Having less of the political aspects and more of a "kid's story" attitude about it, this story is just fun to read. No in-depth analysis is needed for this story, its more about a kid manipulating others to get his way and having fun while doing it.
Perhaps when the story was written it was original in it's premise but I feel it may have been over used in today's society. The basic plot is that a pauper dreams of seeing the prince one day, they meet, exchange clothes and find out they are identical. So much so that no one can tell the difference. The majority of the story then follows the prince as he tries to make his way back to the throne. I thought the story was enjoyable and short enough for a rather simple premise. However, I was disappointed by the end. I felt that the prince had built up some really great grudges by the end of the story and I couldn't wait to see what happened to those people but it was just written off with a few lines. I am also not sure what it is about Twain's writing and his "legacy" but I feel that none of his stories (at least the ones I have read) possess the wit that is supposed to be a hallmark of Mark Twain. The book was well written and fun but I was expecting something a little more clever witted/ humorous. Another problem I had with his writing was that in times when he would simulate a "historical observation" the text was rather dense and confusing to the point that I had a tendency to skim over those parts because I couldn't quite follow what was going on. On a whole, this was a nice, quick, enjoyable story but not one I would call one of Twain's best.
Also on the Norwegian, Zane, and the Observer lists - As most children I was forced to read this in school, a couple of times. Its actually one of the better novels most kids read (unfortunately closed-minded people try to ban this novel). It gives the "kid's adventure" that Mark Twain is known for but also has the racial issues of the time with the escaped slave Jim and how Huck eventually learned to just see him as a friend. A book that should be read just because of the criticism it receives from the ignorant people who can't get passed the language.
My previous Mark Twain book (The Prince and the Pauper) was alright, but it left me wanting for the well known wit of Mark Twain. I got that wit in this book. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court was everything that I had hoped The Prince and the Pauper would be and more. My only regret is that it took me so long to read because I had more important things going on. The story is written in the first person narrative of a man who is transported back in time to the 6th century from the 19th century. No time is spent discussing how he was transported back in time, which I assumed would eventually be resolved but it never was. Upon being transported back in time, he is almost immediately put to death. How he gets around this is pretending to be a sorcerer, even more powerful than Merlin (who in this book is completely incompetent). The Yankee proceeds to "improve" life back in the 6th century, trying to bring it up to "modern" 19th century standards. Twain makes almost everyone in the 6th century appear dimwitted, or even outright moronic, including King Arthur himself. This is not a trait I have seen attributed to these people of legend before and Twain was actually quite convincing in his representation of these characters. The biggest surprise was the ending, which I won't spoil, but I had assumed I knew exactly how the book was going to wind up, but as it turns out, I think I was wrong. It was rather vague though. Just like the time travel aspect at the beginning, the ending was never fully explained. One of the things that took me by surprise, though, was the strong anti-Catholic church feeling that the story kept bringing back. He even went so far as to try and convert all of England to a Protestant nation back in the 6th century. Overall, a very thoughtful, funny, and insightful book that will happily go on my must read list.
The only one on all 5 lists (Norwegian, Observer, BBC, and Zane)- Now to state first off I thought this was one of the most well written stories I have ever read. Tolstoy just flows with descriptions that make you feel you understand everything that is going on. The characters are extremely well developed and even though they are Russian (which has a tendency to jump around with names a bit) it is still easy to follow who is who. I enjoyed several of the references to early communist culture (the book takes place about 30 years before the communist revolution) and several of the characters' personality polarities and themes that are emphasized in the book (religious vs non-religious, upper vs lower class, etc.).
Onto my main gripe with the story; it seems like two separate stories going on at the same time. The "main" one should be the one with Anna but I got the feeling that for the most part it was the story line centered around Levin (who supposedly represented Tolstoy himself). The story about Anna I felt was enjoyable and well written. It focused around her leaving her husband for another man which that relationship slowly dissolves over the length of the book as well. While the story with Levin, although in parts were very good, I felt was very political and sometimes unimportant to anything. The whole last section (after the Anna story line was wrapped up) felt out of place and forced and left me wishing the book would just end. All in all I very much enjoyed the first half of the novel but the second half seemed to drag on a bit. I am not going to recommend this on my list and personally would not consider this the greatest book ever. But being that it is on so many book lists it probably should be one that you read.
Also on the Norwegian, Zane, and the BBC lists - This is often mentioned as one of those books known for just being long, and long it is (~1600 pages) but not many people can say what the main storyline is about. This book follows Napoleon's invasion of Russia during the early 1800's but most importantly during 1812. My overall impression of this book is that it feels like a typical Russian novel. The characters are a little easier to figure out than a typical Russian novel because he doesn't use as many names for the same character as Dostoevsky often does. Even so, he does has a lot of reoccurring characters. Even now I'm not sure if all of their story lines were wrapped up by the end of the novel. You forget about some of them, then all of the sudden they return. The story is a historical fiction novel with the characters interacting with historical figures. It actually felt like a history novel the situations played out so well. I would recommend this book to any history buff interested in the Napoleonic Wars, although I still don't understand why Napoleon was driven from Russian even now. The book is divided into 4 books, with 2 epilogues, and an appendix. The first epilogue felt so much like the rest of the book that I'm not sure why it was made as an epilogue. It just continued the story on from the previous section. It even has chapters. But the second epilogue is what broke me. After reading this book for 7 months you give me this theoretical musing on the purpose of war and why Napoleon did what he did. It was definitely a drudge to get through and I am convinced he wrote that last section just so people would never finish this book. The second epilogue mimicked the style used for the first one or two chapters of each book but this was just orders of magnitude worse. During the actual story, he would give an overall synopsis of the war and what Napoleon was thinking then move right back into the story but the epilogue had no place in this book and you would miss nothing by skipping it. Overall, I felt the story was good but I never felt anything for the characters. When they died, I didn't really care. And that about sums up my feelings on this book. It is over and I don't really care.
Thomas Hardy is able to paint a picture with his novels. When you read them you can be sure to smell the sweet fragrance of a passing flower or hear children playing on a distant hill. His ability to paint such a picture is almost unmatched. The Return of the Native flowed smoothly from the beginning picture he painted through much of the end. It was also a very easy read, once you got passed the little bit of the dated language. And I enjoyed it for the most part. The ending left much to be desired for. Not to spoil anything but the deaths that are depicted are pretty pathetic. One I still don't understand if it was by accident or if it was suicide (which might have been the intent of the author). He even included a footnote to state that the ending he originally intended was changed due to critical review. Also his depiction of women was pretty much atrocious. I have never met such meek women in my life, and most of those I know would never stand to be placed in similar circumstances as that. Now it may be a cultural thing but I have read many works by women of the time that do not portray women as such so I have to assume it is Hardy's inability to understand the female sex (not that I have any real understanding but I do not pretend to). So all in all an enjoyable read but not one I would include in the 100 greatest of all time.
Also on the BBC list - I am very conflicted with this book. First off, it is very well written and easy to read. This is a definite plus in my book. But rereading the summaries of the other Hardy books I had read so far (Far from the Madding Crowd and Return of the Native) I seemed to have similar feelings about them. All of the stories are well written but it is the story itself that I have problems with. First off, this is the best of the three Hardy books so far. But the problem is that Hardy likes to beat down the women in the book until the main character is almost not a character at all but just a plot device to drive the story forward. The story starts off with a peasant family by the name of Durbeyfield finding out they are actually descendants of the "great" house of D'Urberville. This gets them really nothing, however it propels the family forward into trying to get something from it and this is where the trouble starts. Tess is sent to another D'Urberville family thinking they are related, but in actuality they just took the name for prestige and she ends up getting pregnant out of wedlock. Her life is essentially ruined because of this but throughout the book there is a very interesting dynamic as many of the main characters are forced to face the harsh realities of Christian dogma and stigmas of the times. I found the way that the characters reacted to be rather truthful and interesting. Another problem I had with the pacing of the story would be that the plot of the story would be traveling along and then take a right turn when something would suddenly happen. It was often jarring throughout the story where the big events often felt rather forced. But part of these jarring instances was that the author would repeatedly bring back characters and ideas hinted at earlier in the book to play more pivotal parts later on. I did rather like that approach though. Overall, I would say that the story isn't "great" but it is a pretty good read and made me think a lot, which is not always a bad thing.
Also on the Observer list - The story follows an American moving to Europe and having to adapt from the free thinking of America to the more rigid thinking of England at the time. A very well written and easy to follow novel. Kind of unmemorable in my mind though. I enjoyed reading it and it flows very well but I cannot remember the plot overly well, hence the reason it does not make it to my must read list.
Looking back at a previous Henry James book I had read, The Portrait of a Lady, I mentioned that James was an easy author to read and the story simple to follow. Not so much this time. In this story, James had a tendency to write these really long run-on sentences the entire way through the book. I thought perhaps this would change because the story started off as a narrative by the person who is writing the framing story, supposedly James. The majority of the book though is based on a diary by a woman who the story happened to. The writing is exactly the same in both instances, with these long, drawn out sentences, all with quite a few commas in them. Here is one for instance: "The homage of which they were so lavish succeeded, in truth, for my nerves, quite as well as if I never appeared to myself, as I may say, literally to catch them at a purpose in it." This style is rather difficult to follow at times. Other than that though the book was rather interesting. It is about a woman who serves as a teacher for two students in a house which happens to be haunted by the former governess and the former handyman. The ending was rather cryptic though and the language made the entire book feel cryptic, like I wasn't entirely sure what was going on. But after reading a synopsis I think that I understood it pretty well as I was going. So, in summary, an intriguing story but a difficult one to understand.
Also on the BBC list - Actually a very quick read and its really fun. It was written as chapters to his kids bedtime story so each part moves the story along fairly quickly. I also read this after seeing Treasure Planet so that was all I could envision in my head. All in all, I recommend for a quick, fun book.
Also on the Observer list - A rather enjoyable book about a man who (unintentionally) sells his soul so that he may remain the Adonis that he is. Dorian Gray starts out pretty naive until he is told by a painter that he is the most beautiful person he has ever seen. After the portrait that he paints is complete, Dorian sees it and realizes that the painter is correct. At the same time he meets another man, Lord Henry, who says that it is a pity that he will lose his beauty at such a young age, prompting Dorian to sell his soul to maintain his current appearance.. Since that time Lord Henry had steadily corrupted Dorian, acting as a Satan character, leading him down a dark path. Fantastic book. The ending is perfect and unexpected. I recommend it to anyone interested in reading a fairly short enjoyable read. Wilde does go off on some tangents at times and some of Lord Henry's speeches are difficult to follow but enjoyable none-the-less.
Another fast paced action book that is more geared towards the geek in me. There is a lot of evolution in this book so if you are anti-evolution, don't bother with the book, it will just make you mad. Otherwise this is a great book, it is kind of slow at first but it draws you in to what is going on quite quickly. He does an amazing job of taking his modern day society and projecting what might happen with the human race several hundred thousand years in the future, then to the planet itself towards the end of the earth. Kind of a visionary work.
Everyone is familiar with the plot, or so I thought. This brings it back to the very beginning and it is interesting to see how the Dracula persona has changed through time. The story is written through a series of letters and journal entries, all from the first perspective but from several different characters. Not very fluid at times but still enjoyable none the less. Definitely recommend for those who want to read the original.
When I first started reading The Way of All Flesh, I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. I read one chapter, then two days later I started reading the second chapter and realized that I had absolutely no clue what happened in the first chapter. So I reread it. After the second chapter, I had another two day break and the same thing happened again. It wasn't that the story was difficult to read or hard to understand, it was just utterly forgettable. After the first 50 pages though, the story got much better. I realized that the reason I kept forgetting what was happening was because each chapter jumped in time, but only a little. It wasn't noticeable until you realized that the previous chapter did not follow the next one directly. A little confusing, but like I said, it got better as the story became more linear. The story follows the life of a man, Ernest Pontifex, as he is raised, then becomes ordained, and eventually finds life outside of the church. However, the first 100 pages or so are focused on the Ernest's ancestors as told by a family friend and godfather to Ernest. I was surprised at the story though and how anti-Christianity it was. Ernest's parents were proper Christian folk, with his father being an ordained minister. However, they were lying, deceitfully, cruel, and always blameless in their own eyes. In essence, horrible parents. Later in the story, as Ernest becomes ordained, he eventually falls out of the church by studying various aspects of the Bible and finding them unbelievable. By the end he is writing books all about how wrong Christianity is. I had not expected that when I went into the book but actually found the anti-church motif it rather interesting. The writers portrayal of women though was a little less desirable. There were three women in the story, the horrible mother, the alcoholic wife, and the obnoxious sister. Not a good one among the bunch. Overall, the writing of the book is ok, not great. Some of the sentences are difficult to read and I had to reread several of them just because they were awkwardly phrased. But in the end I would say that the book was ok, not great but not horrible either. I just felt "meh" when I finished it. Not much of an endorsement, I know.
Also on the Observer list - This book was fantastic. I highly recommend it to anyone especially dog lovers. It is gripping and it is intense, so much so it makes you want to read more and to top it all off, its short. Only about 80 pages. I read it in about 2 days and did not try that hard. It is about a dog, Buck, who was kidnapped from California and taken to Alaska to be a sled dog. The book is entirely through the dogs perspective but it does not have any of the cheesy "dog voices". Not once do you hear what they are saying but you get how he is feeling, especially among his interactions with other dogs and humans. Again I highly recommend, you won't be disappointed.
Babbitt is a rather interesting book. It takes place during the prohibition era of the early 1920's in middle America. It is set in the town of Zenith in a state that does not exist, but the main character, George F. Babbitt, frequently travels outside of Zenith to actual places like Chicago and Maine.The story is about an upper middle-class conservative businessman, who seemed unhappy with his life. Around the midpoint of the story, there is a breaking point that sends Babbitt off the deep end into a midlife crisis. During his midlife crisis, Babbitt eventually finds "liberalism" and "fun" (i.e. drink and carousing) and it seems like he supports those wanting to make a difference in society (the worker unions) but eventually he is brought back into the conservative/religious/anti-union fold. Although the story seemed to be rather plodding at times, it had an interesting subtext. I got the feeling that the author, Lewis, was promoting liberal thoughts and anti-religion, however in the book, conservatism and religion "won". Religion even seemed to be a joke to everyone involved at the end, which was something you just had to do whether you wanted to or not. It was weird. Overall the story was well written but the majority of the story was just dull. It was an alright book, but not one I would go out of my way to point out to someone to read.
First off, this is a very long book. I started it my senior year of high school, put it down then finally got back to it the end of my freshman year of college. That being said, I enjoyed it. It follows the life a seemingly ordinary boy until he commits this atrocious act and is sentenced to murder. The book is based on a real life event, where the author wanted to show this transition from good hometown boy to killer. The main reason it is not on my list is because it is a very long book, but it is very good.
Also on the Observer, Zane, and BBC lists - Like almost every kid, I had to read this, but it was so long ago I do not really remember the gist of it. The book follows the life of a man in the 1920's who created his fortune while living around people who inherited their fortunes. Two separate worlds clashing over what is proper. Reading reviews on this book leads me to believe that this is either a book about religion, poverty to wealth, love or something else entirely. A must reread in my mind, now that I am older.
The story takes place during World War I on the Italian front, following an American ambulance driver who falls in love with an English nurse. The story continues through the war as it evolves as does their love. Gripping and romantic. This book is another reason why Hemingway is my favorite author.
My favorite of the Hemingway books and one of the few with a plot I easily remember years later. The story follows an American soldier in the Spanish Civil War. There are 4 main characters each with opposing viewpoints on war and morality, some for it, some against, but all in it. Its a story that focuses on the morality of war and if this (or any) war is worth fighting. Another on my list of must reread and definitely on my list of best books.
Also on the Norwegian list - The classic everyone knows about the determination of an old fisherman and the fish that would not give up. A great short story about perseverance and old age. Must reread.
I know that the movie was based off of the book but it had been so long ago since I saw it that I don't remember any of the plot points so it didn't end up ruining any of the book for me. The movie and a lot of similar rip-off movies have the same motif. They contain this old detective feel; a black and white movie with the main detective doing a voice-over for much of the movie. Well, that was how this book read. It was exactly like Humphrey Bogart was reading the book aloud to me in my head. I actually enjoyed it though. It was different from most of the other books I have read and it was a consistent page turner, you must know what was going to happen next. The story was not too complicated, your basic murder mystery. A who done it and why sort of ordeal. Overall, it was a quick and easy read and I feel that everyone should read this if they are in the mood for an good old time detective story.
Also on the BBC list - Another of the school books everyone reads. I enjoyed it at the time and must reread it to enjoy with a more mature mind. The story is about two men, one intellectually stunted, Lennie, and the other that takes care of him and keeps him out of trouble, George. The plot follows the hard times of the great depression with the lone farm workers and how a relationship between two, especially those two, is a rare thing. On the reread list.
Also on the BBC list - Often when I start out reading a book I set goals for myself, such as 10 pages a day, or a chapter a day. The purpose for this is to keep me on pace and finish in a reasonable amount of time. I had done that with The Grapes of Wrath as well, setting my pace at 20 pages per day. One of the first things I noticed about the book, though was how easy it was to read. Twenty pages would fly by and I would keep on going, partially due to the ease of reading the story but also because I had become enraptured with the characters and the story. My page goal almost became a moot point, with the story drawing me along. The story is about a family from Oklahoma during the 1930's dust bowl, who believe they will find better fortune in California after being run off their land due to unpayable debts. And that is it. The family moves around during the Great Depression trying to find work and dealing with the situations that are happening all around them. This story became a cultural and political wake up call to the US government about how bad conditions had become in the country. I don't believe Steinbeck set out to write a social commentary, mostly because the worst things that happened to many of the migrants happened to only to the auxiliary characters, or were isolated to portions of the text not following the main plot. In many instances the main characters thrived in situations where a normal person would have been dealt a bad blow. They managed to get into camps that just happened to have an opening, or find ideal jobs when others are getting half the pay they get. I feel Steinbeck played it safe with his primary characters in instances that today an author wouldn't. It was the ending that really got to me though. Reading through this whole novel, I started to wonder where it was going. I felt that the characters could go on in this fashion for a long time, but clearly the novel is drawing to a close. It is when I hit the final two pages that I realized where Steinbeck was going. The ending provides the quintessential essence that the new generation must support the old, because they have become unable to do it themselves. The layout of the story was interesting, with every other chapter focusing on the main characters and the other chapters giving a parallel story not focused on the main characters, but written as a commentary on the social problems at the time. Overall, I felt the writing was fantastic, which produced a smooth read through of a fantastically well written story. A high recommend.
Also on the Observer and BBC lists - Typically, when I am reading one of the books on this list, I am usually thinking of what I am going to say as a review, at least during the last quarter of the book. However, for To Kill a Mockingbird, I had to wait a couple of days until after I finished the book. I had burned through it so quickly, and I'm still having a hard time putting together by thoughts. The book follows the life of a young girl, Scout Finch, living during the depression in a small town in Alabama. As is true with most children, she is inquisitive and playful and the book follows her through her games and exploration of the world around her. She has a mysterious neighbor, who the children are bent on tormenting, even though they have never seen him. An interesting story point that does come to fruition by the end of the story. The main point of the book however is regarded as background material throughout the first portion of the book. This story element, like many in the book, slowly reveals itself through the natural course of storytelling. Scout's father, Atticus, is a lawyer and is charged with defending an African American man accused of raping another man's daughter. How the story manifests itself through the eyes of Scout is truly remarkable. Several times throughout the book I felt myself well up at the sheer impact of the story. I'm not sure if it is because I am father of a young girl and I can place myself in Atticus's shoes at times, or not. But this is truly an emotional novel about race relations during the Great Depression, and how far we had to go at the time. The writing couldn't have been easier to follow, and the descriptions were truly outstanding. Harper Lee's descriptions would often flow through the story, not being placed at any particular point, but would appear as natural eddies in the narrative.This resulted in me flying through the novel, reading half of it in one day. This novel has easily ascended to become one of my favorite books of all time, well within my Top 5 favorites.
Science and Civilization
Read due to Humanities in college. Not recommended to anyone who enjoys reading. The reason for reading this is more for educational purposes than relaxation. Proceed at your own risk.
Although a very short book in comparison to the other books in this category, I felt the book had very little value. The best I could get out of it was a companion book on how to rule properly. Not in my top list of books to read, nor anywhere near it. I felt it was difficult to read but at least the contemporary illusions were explained so overall the book was not difficult to understand.
This is definitely not the best book I have ever read but it was interesting none the less. This was similar to the other political commentary books on the list as I'm sure they do not differ much in tone but it was written around the formation of the US Constitution and it is enlightening to see how this book influenced the formation of our country (our as in US citizens). I would not recommend this book since it is rather dry but it brings up some good points. The main few I noticed were that according to Rousseau the US is a representative aristocracy not a democracy. Because he, along with other political philosophers of his time, thought a large country would not be stable as a democracy so it could never work. The second is it showed the citizens of Europe that kings were not appointed by divine right but are only in power because the people let them be. This is partially what led to the civil unrest around the same time in many European countries. It you are interested in political theory then this book is for you, otherwise I would not bother.
I think the best response for this book is what I had said about it when I started reading it. I asked if it was possible for a book to be so very interesting yet so very boring at the same time. Now after finishing all 620 pages of it, I am reaffirmed of that opinion. The book is very long, longer than the 620 pages should have felt. And it was a drudge to get through. Many times he would talk about the price of one thing or another and how it has changed. This all being in British units, but the antiquated British units which are no longer used, so I had a tendency to gloss over those parts. When it got interesting, I found myself invested in the narrative, more like a history textbook than a literary novel. What was really interesting was that this book seemed to be written over several years during the American Revolution. It was really amazing to watch how different America's impact on this book was depending on the date at which he was writing each section, from before the war until well into it. In the end though, the book felt more like a textbook or a scientific article than a story, which is fine, but he repeated himself so often that I feel this book could have been half the length and gotten across the same amount of material. I have heard that this is required reading for many in business school and I feel sorry for you. It may be a cornerstone of our economic system but it is tiresome to read through. This is very similar to how I felt The Origin of Species is to paleontologists, an important, long, slowly paced, bore.
Ever read a textbook? Yup, that is how this reads. Granted the information is directly related to what I study, I still found this rather dull. To quote my former evolutionary biology teacher "Don't read this unless you have to." This is a science textbook that is 150 years out of date. The science is severely wrong in certain portions so I recommend that anyone reading this should have a good basis of evolutionary background so that you can understand where the science is wrong and where it is correct. The main problem I have with Darwin is that instead of doing science experiments he typically takes observations and makes large leaps to explain why they are the way they are. So not on my recommended list but an interesting read none-the-less.
76. Das Kapital by Karl Marx
77. The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler
This is one of the earliest writings that are on any of the lists and is about the gods, which is typical of the Greek and Roman literature at the time. More particularly Prometheus, the Titan who brought fire to mankind. The play takes place at the start of Zeus' punishment to Prometheus for doing this where he had Hephaestus chain Prometheus to a rock to be roasted alive everyday. This is a very short play, it took me only about 45 minutes to read and I could not find any strong "moral lesson" in it, so I am taking it as an entertaining piece. I at first thought it was about Prometheus' vanity and pride and that is why he was being punished but the more the play went on, the more it seemed to be anti-Zeus with his pride. Zeus' pride is shown when Prometheus reveals that he knows the possible downfall of Zeus and he is the only one who can stop it. Zeus then proceeds to torture Prometheus more until he reveals that information. Maybe this is a piece about pride? I am not really sure. Enjoyable but I feel not strong enough to be on my list.
Also on the Norwegian list - The classic play about a man who murders his father and marries his mother. The purpose of the play is more about fate. The more you try to avoid it the more likely your just turning it into a self-fulfilling prophesy. Very simple to understand and actually quite enjoyable.
Redone in so many movies its not even funny. Pretty much about a guy who teaches a girl how not to be such a shrew. The best of the comedies, but not the best of the best.
Also on the Norwegian and Zane lists - Considered the best Shakespeare play by most, except for maybe Macbeth. The tale everyone knows about a man trying to find the murderer of his father and the slow ensuing madness of most of the characters around him. Intriguing even to a non-Shakespeare fan.
Also on the Norwegian list - Not one of my favorites although I can see why people enjoy it. A dark play about love, interracial romance (taboo especially at that time), jealousy, and eventually death.
Similar to Oedipus in that it relies on prophecy, but the main difference is that instead of trying to prevent it Macbeth tries to make it happen, hence making it worse and eventually causing his downfall.
The weirdest of the Shakespeare plays. Dealing with a mystical island, witches and spells. I always had a problem reading Shakespeare but I found this one generally easy to follow, if not a little abstract.
Although I am not a big proponent of plays I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Enough so to put it on my list. The play only took me about 2 hours to finish and it was very easy to follow along. The plot is about this rich family where the father takes in this beggar (Tartuffe) and he dotes on him as a beloved son to the exclusion of his whole family. He does this to the point of pledging him to marry his daughter whom he already pledged to another man. The play is very witty and invokes a pretty good moral lesson. And best of all, everything works out in the end.
This was a play about a boy/man who started out running away from his troubles and inventing imaginary worlds from which to escape into. Although not the greatest of plays I have ever read, nor would I even include it on this list personally, it was not terrible. The moral of the story was a little late in coming but it came and the story felt rushed at points and dragged on at others but it may have been the translation I was using. The translator tried too hard to modernize the story and made it feel severely out of place at times. Not bad but definitely not great.
Also on the Norwegian list - This play is about women's lib 100 years before woman's lib. The play is basically about a woman who has done nothing with her life except try to please two men, her father and her husband, and it is when something tragic happens that she realizes that nothing is as perfect as it seems. The characters were written well and believable, and the story is very easy to read. I also have a problem with plays because I often miss the hidden themes and stuff like that but I feel in this play I caught most of them. I enjoyed it and it was a fast read.
The one thing I love about reading plays it that they are fast. You get the introduction, the conflict, and the resolution all within about 2 hours. This play was one of the shorter ones and it was rather funny. It is about a made up person named Earnest and two men who pretend to be him. Both who get engaged to different women. As you can imagine, hilarity ensues (I had to say that). It is a very fast paced narrative and the situations are not altogether unbelievable. I rather enjoyed it and will place it on my recommended reading list.
My wife found a website that sends a portion of a story each day in your email (DailyLit). I thought that I might try it on some of my shorter stories where purchasing the book did not seem like it was going to happen soon. Well after 62 installments I finished Cyrano de Bergerac and I not only highly enjoyed the story I also enjoyed the daily portions. The story is about an ugly, due to his large nose, but extremely eloquent and proud man named Cyrano who is in love with a beautiful woman, Roxane. Unfortunately Roxane is in love with another man, Christian, and asks Cyrano to help Christian talk to her. Eventually she falls in love not with the handsome Christian but with his "soul" that he expressed in his words and letters, the words and letters that Cyrano wrote. The story is humorous, heartfelt, and well written. I definitely recommend this to anyone in the mood for a romantic comedy, even though it is a play.
I like Chekhov, but the problem is that there as so many underlying things in his plays you know you are missing a ton when you finish it. This play usually hailed as his best. The plot mainly follows a mother who returns to her farm after her son drowns and watches as she slowly looses her farm. The story is pretty much about coping with loss.
This play makes a whole lot more sense if you read the preface to it, in addition to reading/ watching it. From the outside it appears to be a play about a normal American family but if you read the preface you would know that it is more than that. The family is meant to be timeless. A thing that was not known around Wilder's time. All the concurrent plays were grounded in a specific time whereas Wilder removed all props and set pieces to give the play a timeless quality. A play about any town in America. A play about any family, and although it still feels a little dated, it actually has remained quite timeless. The plot was fairly simple, about a family growing up, loving, and dying, in a small American town. And it was easy to follow, although there is that feeling that your missing something when you finish reading it. I'm still not quite sure what that was but I did enjoy it.
The play about the depression with a real life character that you can sympathize with. It has a strong emotion that creates one of the best loved plays performed worldwide.
This is a difficult book to describe. Pretty much it seems like common sense. Aristotle goes through and describes each of our emotional attributes and describes the extremes of them (i.e. bravery to cowardice). The result of his analysis was that the middle of the road response in most cases was the "good" response and that most people should strive for them to be "good" people. Overall I felt like I was reading a treatise on the seven deadly sins and I did not gain much afterwards. I would have to recommend this to go on people's skip list.
Meditations is only the first part of a two part work. The second part is the Objections and Replies to his original manuscript of Meditations that he sent out to a few colleagues. Now Descartes recommends reading both before making any assumptions about the work. I personally only wanted to read Meditations, so I opted to read a condensed versions of the Objections and Replies. So instead of the full 300 pages I only read about 35. Anyway my feeling on the work of Meditations did not change. In general, the work is written in a very abstract way of writing, where one has to reread the sentence several times just to understand what Descartes is trying to say. When I can understand his point it actually makes a lot of sense. He postulates that if he can make it seem as if nothing existed then he could prove that everything exists, based mostly on the fact that he is a thinking thing. Most of this I could follow and I would agree with, although his proof on the existence of God seemed rather circular, as several of the objections also said, and I never saw anything in his writing that proved otherwise. In general a pretty interesting work but I would not be likely to recommend it to anyone. As for the Objections and Replies, I couldn't find anything in there worth reading that would expand on the original work. The objections were interesting but Descartes replies seemed almost nonsensical to me.
The Critique of Pure Reason is one of eight books under the "Philosophy" section in the Sybervision Book List. Traditionally, these, along with the Science books, have not fared too well in my opinion since I read these stories mainly for entertainment and judge them under that criterion. The most notable exception being Walden, which I greatly enjoyed. Well, the Critique of Pure Reason also has many of the same flaws as the other Philosophy or Science books. The text is often hard to decipher and the author frequently uses vocabulary words that the reader is more than likely never to encounter again. I stopped reading the chapter and section titles because they were more often than not undecipherable. I read the unabridged version of the text, and I can now understand why they have abridged versions. More than once I found myself thinking that the author takes 10-20 pages to say something that he sums up in one line, and likely could have been left at just that one line. This book would improve greatly with a good abridgment. As I trudged my way through the first half of the book, I thought that the book was essentially nonredeemable, with the author bloviating on about "simple" concepts that should have been wrapped up hundreds of pages earlier. Kant breaks down every possible concept imaginable using strictly a priori (independent of experience) reason. Starting with the second half though, he starts to explore the foundations of God and whether he exists or not using the a priori reasoning. In the end he concludes that no, you can neither prove or disprove the existence of God. I would equate this to one of the most fundamental Agnostic reading materials created and it actually got rather interesting to read (for the majority of the second half). In summary, although the text could use for quite a bit of shortening, I was pleasantly surprised about the topics that were addressed. Even though I would not recommend others to read this, I am glad I did.
At long last I have finished the more than 1300 page drudge that is The World as Will and Presentation. This is the last philosophical books that are on the list and I am the more happy because of it. Schopenhauer states in the intro to the book that to truly understand the work, you should read it twice. I am not going to do that because honestly, it didn't interest me nearly that much. The premise of the book is that everything in life can be broken down into two categories, the Will and the Presentation (or the Idea, or Representation, all based on translation). The Will is the desire that resides in all of us. It is the will to live, the will to eat, the will to want what we (and everything) wants. The Will is everything inside us. The Presentation is how everything appears to us from the outside. It is how the world looks through our eyes. It is everything outside of us. Like most philosophical works, Schopenhauer proceeds from the small and works to the larger, until he is trying to explain everything from religion to science within the concepts he has stated. The problem with the work, and one that he seems to fail to notice, is that the book is way over bloated. He states almost identical phrases on numerous occasions and has a tendency to use 100 words to state something, when 10 would have done the job just fine. This book could easily be condensed down to a quarter it's actual size and have had all the depth and meaning that the original had. He needed an editor. That's not saying that the book isn't any good, it is, but only in parts. I occasionally found sections that I was deeply enraptured in but, but they were few and far between. It was like eating a bowl of cheap Raisin Bran, there were occasionally instances of delicious raisins, but mostly it was just bran. Also, one thing needs to be understood about this book. It is a product of it's times. Just like The Origin of Species, the science in The World as Will and Presentation is outdated and often insulting to the reader, where he makes general assumptions and runs with them (like everyone gets their intelligence only from their mother and that women are obviously the weaker sex that needs a man for everything). Reading this as a historical philosophy work and not a scientifically modern text is essential for getting the most out of the text.
In order to get the "full experience" from this book, it seemed that there needed to be some prerequisite reading. His entire philosophy is based on the works of Immanuel Kant. Luckily I had happened to read The Critique of Pure Reason before reading this book, but if I hadn't, I likely would have been mildly lost. He also mentions Descartes (Meditations) a lot, which again is useful to read beforehand. The one thing though that he insufferably keeps mentioning is his other "prize essays". It's rather sickening the amount that he mentions them, however the one true drawback was that he wrote this book with the assumption that the reader is fully acquainted with his essay "The Principle of Sufficient Ground", which obviously I had not read but apparently should have. The organization of the book is divided up into the main text, an appendix, and supplements to the text, totaling over 1300 pages. The main text only makes up about 475 pages of the document with the appendix finishing out the 600 page Volume 1. Volume 2 (all 700+ pages of it) is entirely made up of the supplements to the text. I wish I had known that the supplements are directly related to the chapters in the main text and broken up as such, otherwise I would not have read through the text cover to cover. If I had to do it over again, I would read the supplements in relation to the chapters as I was going through each chapter. Reading the book cover to cover, it felt as if I had read the main text twice. Once the first time, then again as an over bloated version in the supplemental chapters.
In general, the translation of the text can make or break this work. I am using the most up to date translation (Richard E Aquila's) and I believe it had made the difference. Often German to English translations feel rather clunky, however this one is remarkably easy to understand and process the information. A worse translation could have made this from a drudge to downright incomprehensible. Also, even though the author is extremely arrogant, he is also rather amusing by frequently insulting and mocking his contemporaries. It adds a bit of levity where this could be considered a very dry text. All in all, I would only recommend this text if you can get (1) A good translation and (2) a good abridgment of the text and (3) if you are into philosophical texts. The full version is not worth the effort of wading though, however the bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout the text did pique my interest sufficiently that I will go back to those specific section when I have more time.
This one threw me through a loop. Emerson wrote 3 different things entitled Nature. I was resolved to read all of them until I came across a website that stated that his first work (1936) was the most prominent and it is the only work before Self-Reliance. And since the works were listed chronologically, I assumed that this must be the one. It was not all together as exciting as I thought it would be. By far Thoreau seemed to have the same ideals but portrayed them better. Not my favorite of philosophers but I can see how it might have been groundbreaking at the time. You can read it online HERE or HERE.
Assuming I have the right essay, since there are 3 different Nature essays, this was a very short read. Although it did improved my opinion of Emerson. The first story that I read of his, Nature, was difficult to understand what he was talking about at times. Self-Reliance was anything but difficult. It was straight forward and actually provided a good lesson. The essay was about how man (and woman) have become too reliant on other people and things and that they are no longer their own person. He stated that we needed to break free of the things we rely on to truly become individuals. Only the individuals are remembered through history, not the ones who just copied other people. You can also find this one online HERE.
When I started this book I was expecting a rather long, dry, dull book, but I was pleasantly surprised. This is listed as a philosophy book but it reminds me much more of an amateur scientist, exploring the world and describing what he sees. The language it poetic and enjoyable to read. He often will comment on aspects of society that still are prevalent, including helping the needy and living for money. The premise of the book is he wanted to live outside of society with no reliance on it and he succeeded, for the most part. I feel that for an educational experience this book should definitely be on everyone's list.
This falls under the "Philosophy" section of the Sybervision book list. This section I have usually been a bit harsher on these, along with the "Science and Civilization" books, because I am reading them for an enjoyment factor and that is how I am going to rate them. A lot of the books in these sections read as if they are textbooks. Not this one though. This reads as if it were a journal article. The difference being that a textbook contains very little useless information. It is created to be as concise as possible. On the other hand journal articles usually are padded with "non-essential" information, i.e. background information and other ancillary stuff. That is how this book read. It was a discussion of, coincidentally enough, how we think. The author went into various ways we think and then into different scientific explanations. Overall I felt this was a rehash of what was blatantly obvious, but the "article" did make me think (shocker). It brought up points that I enjoyed and have not actually thought about before but overall I felt it was long and drawn-out and shouldn't have been added to the list. A definite not-recommend.