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Zane's Top 10 Book List

 

Read or Not Read

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (December 2008 - January 2009)

    The only one on all 5 lists (Norwegian, Observer, BBC, and Sybervision) - 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.

 

2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (April 2010)

     Also on the Norwegian, Sybervision, and the 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.

 

3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (August 2011 - February 2012)

    Also on the Norwegian, Sybervision, 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.

 

4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (January - February 2011)

    Also on the Observer and the Norwegian lists - This was a rather odd book for me. At first I thought the book would never, ever, make it on to my Must Read List because of the semi-pornographic nature of the book. But it was worse than that, it made me feel awkward because it is all about a man who has sexual interest in pre-pubescent girls (around the age of 12-14). So all the while I am reading this I feel like I am going to get in trouble for child pornography. By once you get past the initial portion of the book things got really interesting. The second half of the book I found to be far the better half. It focused more on the mental anguish of the main character as he pursues his Lolita, both knowing that he has and will destroy her life, but also not being able to control himself. It is a perfect view into self-destructive behavior. The main plot point of the story is similar to another book I had read, An American Tragedy, which focused on a person in jail and you basically found out how he ended up there. But there is a difference in Lolita, where the story is a first person narrative of basically how he ended up in jail. And throughout the story you assume how he ended there but as you progress you realize you were wrong and it really is for something different. The story was actually rather riveting in this aspect and I did enjoy the second half of the story immensely. So, all in all, I can't recommend this story due to the awkward feeling first half (which is almost impossible to get through for several people) but I did enjoy it and would recommend it for those who could get past that point.

 

5. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1996ish)

    Also on the Norwegian, Sybervision, 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.

 

 

6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1998)

    Also on the Norwegian and Sybervision 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.

 

 

 

 

 

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1996?)

    Also on the Observer, Sybervision, 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.

 

 

 

8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

    Also on the Observer list -

 

9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov

     Partially included in a book on the Norwegian list

 

10. Middlemarch by George Eliot (January - March 2008)

    Also on the Norwegian, Sybervision, 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.