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Books I Probably Should Have Read…

As a voracious reader, I have always been aware that there are several (hundred) tomes which I should have read already, but haven’t.  I’m almost entirely sure that most readers have the same problem.  Rather than make this a self-pitying post to the tune of my never having picked up anything by Umberto Eco, for instance, I thought I would make a post detailing some of the books which I Probably Should Have Read to date.  I’m aware that I could probably fill a whole fortnight’s worth of posts with such material, but have decided to be relatively selective to compile a manageable list of ten.  (NB. It was not my intention at all to list almost solely books by men!)

 

86940051. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon – all sharpened to a glistening edge by wry humor and a ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where “the most interesting things happen at night.”

 

2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

 

402003. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Sugar, 19, prostitute in Victorian London, yearns for a better life. From brutal brothel-keeper Mrs Castaway, she ascends in society. Affections of self-involved perfume magnate William Rackham soon smells like love. Her social rise attracts preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all kinds.

 

4. The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
An American classic rediscovered by each generation, The Story of My Life is Helen Keller’s account of her triumph over deafness and blindness. Popularized by the stage play and movie The Miracle Worker, Keller’s story has become a symbol of hope for people all over the world.  This book–published when Keller was only twenty-two–portrays the wild child who is locked in the dark and silent prison of her own body. With an extraordinary immediacy, Keller reveals her frustrations and rage, and takes the reader on the unforgettable journey of her education and breakthroughs into the world of communication. From the moment Keller recognizes the word “water” when her teacher finger-spells the letters, we share her triumph as “that living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!” An unparalleled chronicle of courage, The Story of My Life remains startlingly fresh and vital more than a century after its first publication, a timeless testament to an indomitable will.

 

176905. The Trial by Franz Kafka
Written in 1914 but not published until 1925, a year after Kafka’s death, The Trial is the terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information. Whether read as an existential tale, a parable, or a prophecy of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the madness of totalitarianism, The Trial has resonated with chilling truth for generations of readers.

 

6. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
Steppenwolf is a poetical self-portrait of a man who felt himself to be half-human and half-wolf. This Faust-like and magical story is evidence of Hesse’s searching philosophy and extraordinary sense of humanity as he tells of the humanization of a middle-aged misanthrope. Yet this novel can also be seen as a plea for rigorous self-examination and an indictment of the intellectual hypocrisy of the period. As Hesse himself remarked, “Of all my books Steppenwolf is the one that was more often and more violently misunderstood than any other”.

 

7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess 227463
A vicious fifteen-year-old “droog” is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent film of the same title.  In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to “redeem” him—the novel asks, “At what cost?”

 

8. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Brothers Karamazov is a passionate philosophical novel set in 19th century Russia, that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. It is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia.

 

183067239. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society.  Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel’s seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.

 

10. The Stranger by Albert Camus
Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.” First published in English in 1946; now in a new translation by Matthew Ward.

 

Have you read – or not read – any of these?  I’m not going to pretend that I’ll get around to reading them very quickly at all, but hypothetically, which do you think I should begin with?

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Classics Club #95: ‘The Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka **

I was not looking forward to re-reading The Metamorphosis, a text which I first encountered some years ago and only read in the first place due to educational duress.  I placed it upon my Classics Club list, however, as I wanted to view the story from a more mature perspective, in order to see whether my opinion of it had altered at all.

The first time I read The Metamorphosis I was, to put it frankly, rather freaked out.  It is impossible to write a review about this book without mentioning Kafka’s use of magical realism, and the way in which the reader is forced, both out of their comfort zone, and to suspend their disbelief, in order to invest within the peculiar tale which ensues.

First published in 1915, the novella caused Czech author Kafka to ‘become a universal spokesman for [the] perplexed and frightened twentieth-century man’.  The introduction to the volume goes on to say that there is a ‘well-balanced coexistence of detached humor and deep-seated horror.  Kafka’s sympathetic portrayal of the trials of a petty bourgeois worker should not go unnoticed, either’.

I am sure that many people are vaguely familiar with the plot of The Metamorphosis, but just to recap, it begins in the following manner: ‘When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous bug’.  The initial description of travelling salesman Gregor’s new and bewildering form works well: ‘He lay on his back, which was hard as armor, and, when he lifted his head a little, he saw his belly – rounded, brown, partitioned by archlike ridges – on top of which the blanket, ready to slip off altogether, was just barely perched.  His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his girth, flickered helplessly before his eyes’.

Much of the story, as one might expect, deals with Gregor – and his family – having to get used to his new body, and all that it entails. His sister, Grete, becomes the go-between for he and their misunderstanding parents; she is the bridge, as it were, between her beloved sibling and the older generation.  Gregor alternates between wanting to thank her for her stellar efforts, and thinking thoughts such as this: ‘Gregor thought it might be a good thing after all if his mother came in, not every day of course, but perhaps once a week; after all, she understood everything much better than his sister, who, despite all her spunk, was still only a child and, in the final analysis, had perhaps undertaken such a difficult task only out of childish thoughlessness’.

Kafka is deft at showing all of the small but fundamental problems which Gregor comes up against – not being able to turn a key in a lock, for example.  As the story progresses, Kafka discusses the manner in which the human condition can adapt to practically any situation.

Whilst my re-read of The Metamorphosis was better than I remembered, I must admit that I still didn’t enjoy the story very much.  I do, however, admire the way in which Kafka writes, and will definitely be more open to trying more of his work in future.

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7

Most disappointing books of 2014

Hello and a Happy New Year! 🙂

I’m really sorry for my long absence from the blog, but things got really busy and time proved to be insufficient for most of my activities.

Instead of a list of the best books I read in 2014, I decided to compile a list of the most disappointing ones, because, sadly, there were quite a few of them. I will make some brief comments about why they were disappointing for me, so if you would like to see a full review on any of them just let me know 🙂 In no particular order, here is my list:

1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger **

I had heard so many great things about this book, and having bought it since last year, I was really looking forward to reading it. However, my high expectations were everything but met. I found the book rather dull and boring, and even though I expected to finish it within a few hours, it actually took me a couple of months to do it. I wasn’t particularly fond of the main character, Holden, either. I expected something big to happen by the end, but the book let me down in that aspect as well.

2. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut **

I am usually not so absolute with authors, but this book, having been the first of Vonnegut’s I read, made me reluctant to pick up any of his other books. The plot and the premise were so very interesting and I was convinced I would be in for a fabulous read, but that was far from what I eventually experienced. I recognise that Vonnegut has a rather poignantly humorous writing style, but I’m sad to say it was not for me. I caught myself struggling so much while reading, and I couldn’t wait until the book was finally over.

3. In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki ***

This book looked like one I would thoroughly enjoy, since its main theme is the praising of the Japanese lifestyle and parts of their culture. As a Japanophile, I usually adore such writings, but this one disappointed me a bit. It lacked the passion I expected it to have, and I found it a bit boring in some parts.

4. Happy Days by Samuel Beckett **

Since I’m usually not really fond of Beckett’s plays, I should have tried to avoid this one. However, I was obliged to read it for one of my university courses, and I have to admit that I have never struggled so much in reading a play. It is flooded by stage directions that obstruct the reading experience, and it tired me out so much. Despite its tiny length, I had to take many breaks whilst reading in order for me to concentrate on it. I’m not doubting the great messages its analysis brings to light, but I believe this play would probably be better watched rather than read.

5. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest ***

Another book I expected to thoroughly enjoy but didn’t. I love fantasy and science fiction, and this book was good, but nothing more than that. It didn’t make me feel very excited while reading and often I was quite reluctant to pick it up and continue reading it. The plot was nice, some of the characters wanted a bit more working out, but it wasn’t anything particularly great.

6. The Skriker by Caryl Churchill **

Who would have thought that a play about fairies would be so un-fairy-like? The dialogues were confusing, the characters not particularly interesting and the premise rather dull for my liking.

7. The Gunslinger by Stephen King **

That was my first Stephen King book, and I didn’t find it as compelling as I had expected. I didn’t really like the writing style and the plot was confusing and very disorganized. Despite the fact that it was the first book in the series, I believe King didn’t introduce his world and the characters adequately for the reader to grasp what is going on. Sometimes, the chapters seemed unconnected with each other, and it looked to me more like an amateur writer’s first draft than a book by such a well-known author.

8. The Metamosphosis by Franz Kafka **

This book had been sitting on my self since last year, as well. The plot had an interesting premise and again I had heard so many wonderful things about it, but when I finally got around to reading it I was very disappointed. It tired me quite a lot and it took me a long time to finish it. I didn’t ike the ending and I felt that even though the story wanted to convey a certain message, it failed in doing so for me.

I am sure you have read some of the books I mentioned here, so I would love to hear your opinions and thoughts on them.

I hope you all have a great (reading) year!