Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"The Only Thing You Absolutely Have to Know Is the Location of the Library"

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”  - John Greene, The Fault in Our Stars

This post isn't about Turkey or health or travelling or any of that stuff that normally takes up enough space in my brain for me to have to eventually have to transcribe it to paper (electronic or otherwise). Rather, this post is all about my literary pursuits.

 It seems like everybody is in search of a good book, and I'm no different. I love reading. Once, when I was younger, I pretended to be sick just so I could finish The Witches instead of going to school. However, I will say that, in high school, I read so many books that I didn't have the wherewithal, perspective, or time to fully appreciate them. So, I've been doing a massive re-read of books I read but didn't fully digest interspersed with titles new to me. So, if you're a fellow bibliophile, I encourage you to scrounge through my (growing) list of titles and please, please, please add your suggestions in the comments!!!


Blatantly disobeying my own rule, I saw the movie version of this prior to reading the book. Normally, I spend a great deal of time and energy being annoyed that the book was so far superior to the movie that the latter doesn't even deserve to exist, but I found both the movie and the book of The Fault in Our Stars pretty darn mediocre. Once in a while, the John Green would surprise the reader with a tremendous trinket that interrupted his otherwise trite writing, but in general, you kind of expected everything. 

That said, it was still enjoyable. It was a very easy read and of a higher caliber than, say, a romance novel. Still, it is literary junk food. 

Best Quote: "If the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God know everyone else does."

Rating: 5/10


Evidently I did not finish reading this book in high school. I think perhaps I made it through books one and two, but was either too oblivious or was not assigned to finish reading book three. 

Holy hell.

If you, like I, never finished this book, or if you haven't read it in a while, I cannot recommend enough for you to pick it up and die a little inside. This is not an uplifting read, but it is of the utmost importance if you want to live in a future not governed by some tyrannical fascists whose eyes are literally everywhere. 

In true Orwell fashion, you will see your world reflected in a world that, in theory, should never exist, but in reality lurks beneath the shadowy rocks. 

Best Quote: "If you want a vision of the future, imagine  boot stamping on a human face - forever."

Rating: 10/10


Let's be honest: Maze Runner is more literary candy, but if The Fault in Our Stars is the black licorice jelly bean, Maze Runner is a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.

It begins very creepily and the edginess continues, intermittent with a bit of a sappy pseudo-love story that you know is going to blossom but hasn't had quite enough water or sunlight.

Like any good dystopian fiction, there are driving elements of totalitarianism, fascism, and general unease of feeling. In general, I enjoyed this book, but quite despised the movie. For more an that, click here. Caution: spoiler alerts.

Rating: 7/10

Best Quote: " 'Shouldn't someone give a pep talk or something?' Minho asked.
'Go ahead,' Newt replied. 
Minho nodded and faced the crowed. 'Be careful,' he said                                                                        dryly. 'Don't die.'"


Although this book started off slowly and, in all honesty, took me the better part of the month to read, after about the half way point, I was loathe to put it down. I brought it with me to Greece and eagerly poured through it when our sightseeing was done. That is the hallmark of a good book - still being exciting after spending a day baking at the Acropolis. 

The tale is both one of inspiring and heart-breaking friendship as well as remarkable courage shown by one little girl and her daemon, Pantalimon, whose souls are so intertwined that the very thought of ever being separated - as was the current threat - leads them into the wild expanse of "The North" on marvelous adventures and leaves them intact, though this book does not so much have a happy ending as much as an equivocal one. 

Rating: 9/10 (because the beginning is slow)

Best Quote: "'If a coin domes down heads, that means the possibility of its coming down tails has collapsed. Until that moment the two possibilities were equal. But on another world, it does come down tails. And when that happens, the two worlds split apart.'"

"Profoundly moving," as the cover states, is, in my opinion, quite hyperbolic. Fun and easy to read? Yes. Occasionally thought-provoking? To an extent. Characters that you care about? Meh. Maybe sometimes. Adventures you actually believe high schoolers would have? Most certainly not. Myriad cliches and teen angst? Ca-ching!

A glorification of all the possible train wrecks in high school, this book begins with an eerie circumstance: the disappearance of Margo Roth Spiegelman, highly admired high school social elite. The premise of this book is, as you might have guessed, to find MRS and homely(ish) band geek/boy-next-door Quentin is apparently the only one who cares enough to truly commit to finding her, as he feels certain that this time is not like all the other times she has run off randomly and come home with horribly interesting tales. Several times as I was reading this, I was reminded of a line from Dan Bern's song, New American Language: "Sometimes I think the thing to do is to get a place way out in Missouri, put down as many months' rent as you can part with: tell everybody else you went to France."

But I digress. MRS' disappearance is cloaked in mystery and clues that she left behind - intentionally or not - from Walt Whitman to Bob Dylan and, while the rest of his friends are overly concerned with prom and end of the year parties, Quentin is trying to unravel the threads.

As is customary with John Green, his prose is strewn with entirely too much attempt at symbolism and metaphor with obvious success and sincere lack of subtly.

Rating: 5/10

Best Quote: "Those of us who frequent the band room have long suspected that Becca maintains her lovely figure by eating nothing but the souls of kittens and the dreams of impoverished children."


Ah, Orwell, you never disappoint. Down and Out in Paris and London was my first - and certainly not last - occasional with Orwell's nonfiction.

Similar to Barbra Ehrenreich, author of Nickle and Dimed, Orwell describes the life of the poverty stricken in both Paris and London. He himself had fallen on hard times after leaving his post as a policeman in then-Burma to abide the lifestyle of a Bohemian writer in Paris. However, after having nearly all of his earnings stolen, Orwell took up work as a dishwasher and restaurant employee in Paris, workers whose 16+ hours days are detailed as only Orwell can.

To my understandings, his tramping about in London was of his own volition, but he undertook great care to comprehend the difficult life of a vagabond. His reports of the lodging shelters are formidable, at best, but the gentleness with which he pens is entirely forgiving of those who either choose or fell upon this existence.

Rating: 9/10

Best Quote: It is a feeling of relief, almost pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs - and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety."


Yossarian lives!

I had a hard time with the first third of this book, which, judging by my other entries, might have more to do with some hidden aversion to new novels than to any novels' actual beginning. First and foremost, I wasn't sure what the hell was going on. I could surmise that malingering bombardier Yossarian and the other men of his regiment were stationed at Pianosa, Italy in WWII and that Yossarian was frequently displeased because the number of missions he needed to fly kept going up and up and up. The switch of vantage points and caricature-esque nature of Heller's cast made me wonder why in the world this had ever been esteemed as a daring anti-war novel.  

At some point, however, something completely shifted. What a magnificent literary feast! The characters - who are stereotypes and hyperboles of all the people you might meet in war - are brilliantly one-sided and have amusing names like "Milo Minderbinder" and "Major Major" as well as hilariously frustrating conversations, each illustrating the vast stupidity of the other, making you feel for Yossarian. 

Yossarian, trying desperately to prove he's insane to get out of flying any more missions, is thwarted by his own Catch 22: that the very fact he wants to live proves his sanity. 

Rating: 10/10

Best Quote: "'You have deep-seated survival anxieties. And you don't like bigots, bullies, snobs, or hypocrites. Subconsciously there are many people you hate.'

'Consciously, sir, consciously.' Yossarian corrected in an effort to help. 'I hate them consciously.'"


I read this book in 3 days. 3 morning sittings, actually, prior to work. Unlike John Green, which reads fast but isn't necessarily of too much consequence, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas reads fast but is of considerable consequence.

Mostly from the point of view of 9-year old German boy, Bruno, this book chronicles Auschwitz from the perspective of someone who is not encamped and who doesn't fully understand what's going on.

Occasionally, we are granted the perspective of Schmuel, Bruno's age to the day, who is imprisoned at Auschwitz. Rather than detailing his existence to Bruno, though, he allows Bruno to use him as a sounding board for problems which must seem terribly trivial given Schmuel's situation.

Although written for teenagers, this book is an incredible read as an adult. I both highly recommend it and am anxious to read Boyne's Stay Where You Are and then Leave, his novel about WWI.

Rating: 10/10

Quote: "'Well, you've been brought here against your will, just like I have. If you ask me, we're all in the same boat. And it's leaking.'"



My own presumption had led me to believe that this book was a war allegory in which a group of rabbits overtook a ship that subsequently became entangled in battle and possibly sank. Imagine my disappointment when there were no boats.

Although this is most certainly a war allegory, it is all a land war mostly of territory. Led by a pair of friends, one clairvoyant, the other a natural-born leader, a stalwart group of rabbits leaves their home to seek greener pastures, as they say.

The book divides its time between plot and rabbits storytelling rabbit lore. Beginning with the rabbit origin story, the fables chronicle the cleverest rabbit of all, El-ahrairah, from whom our heroes, in their peril, draw their inspiration.

In all honesty, I found the book pretty slow and skimmed through most of the story telling parts. It was rather a relief to complete it.

Rating: 5/10

Best Quote: "We go by the will of the Black Rabbit. When he calls you, you have to go."


I'm conflicted as to how I feel about this book. Do I want to read it again, reading further into the rich descriptions, or just toss it aside and shrug my shoulders?

Filled with meticulously written imagery, but lacking in action, this book follows several plots - fifteen, I counted - which can be somewhat confusing to follow, which all eventually merge into one. Beyond that, it seems easier to tell what is isn't than what it is. 

It isn't a romance. Although there is a love story in it, romance is not the driving force of the story.

It isn't actually about a circus as we understand circuses. Rather, the "circus" is a mysterious and elegant fair-type extravaganza that contrives and abrogates on a whim.

It isn't a mystery. You, the reader, as well as a handful of characters are fully aware what is going on. The joy is in watching it unfold.

I'm tempted to acknowledge this as some sort of heady masterpiece, but I'm wondering if I'm doing that annoying this of reaping praise simply because I don't fully understand. Maybe the fact that I don't fully understand is a sign of its inferiority. Maybe not. As I said, I'm conflicted.

I think you'd better for this out for yourself.

Rating: Yes.

Best Quote: "People will see what they wish to see. And, in most cases, what they are told to see."



I read this book because I had several students last year who claimed it was the best book they'd ever read. And I made them read Animal Farm, Code Name Verity, and Lord of the Flies, some stiff competition.

On a positive note, it read very fast. On a negative note, the whole story was predictable and bore an unfortunate resemblance to West Side Story, minus the dance-offs. While there are some touching moments of friendship and brotherhood as well as some decent action, this falls under the category of "every book you've ever read" and is lacking in any sort of uniqueness.

Rating: 4/5

Best Quote: "I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me."


Why, oh why did I ever claim to dislike this book? This was another 3-day endeavor, me loathe to put it down. Some of the most elegant prose I've ever had the privilege of reading, Jay Gatsby this book swims with marvelous contradictions.

A bittersweet love letter to the decadence and decline of 1920s America, this book, though certainly a time piece, transcends the decade. The moral high ground in this text belongs to the narrator, Nick Carroway, and is a path virtually untravelled by the rest of the characters, particularly, Jay Gatsby, the enigmatic millionaire who lives next door to Mr. Carroway. Fitzgerald spends the duration of his short novel peeling away Gatsby's layers and revealing what Fitzgerald must believe is the utter degradation of America.

Rating: 10/10

Best Quote: "'They're a rotten crowd,' I shouted across the lawn. 'You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.'"


 I asked for this book last Christmas and happily received it. However, the lilliputian print, mammoth size, head-scratching vocabulary like "glottochronology," and the heady, scientific knowledge imparted made the reading frustratingly slow, so I put it on the shelf. Truthfully, I never picked it up again. Rather, I got myself a free Audible download and chose this, as the subject was of great interest to me, and listened attentively while I worked on a puzzle or did Pilates. 

The thesis of this work essentially is that everything we've been taught regarding Native Americans is wrong. Which is not to say that we've been malignantly misinformed, though sometimes it feels that way, but rather that, because of cultural assumptions, poor interpretations, and political gain, the Native American narrative has been molded to fit western convenience.

Actually, according to Mann, we've stripped Native Americans of a history. We've contended that they - and he means "they" meaning all Native populations - lived symbiotically with nature, had small tribes, and lived virtually unchanged until Europeans showed up on the continent. In other words, they are a people without history.

Although Mann is not an archaeologist, he attended many expeditions and was responsible for recording the findings. What many archaeologists have found suggest that Native Americans not only lived fully functional lives, but rather expansive lives, manipulating nature and existing quite possibly in higher numbers than in most of Europe at the time. He expostulates nearly 600 pages of evidence, careful to show contradicting sources as well, that calls into question that profiles of Native Americans rampant in American history textbooks.

Certainly not an easy read, this text is enlightening and thought provoking. I would suggest the audiobook over the text, unless you've got the big print version, simply for ease of reading.

Rating: 9/10

Best Quote: "On Columbus' later voyages, his crew happily accepted godhood - until the Taino began empirically testing their divinity by forcing their heads underwater for long periods to see if the Spanish were, as gods should be, immortal."


Imagine a world in which the Allies lost WWII and all of the Earth is split between Japanese and Nazi control, save for the ever neutral Switzerland. Now imagine meticulously craft characters many of whom have so well acclimated to this world that they forgot the old. Now imagine that nothing exciting happens until 75% of the way through. Couple that with the choppy, grammatically incorrect thoughts and conversations - written, I presume, to reflect the "Japanization" of the Pacific States of America - and you've got yourself a rather frustrating read. 

The premise is thought-provoking, terrifying, and all together unsettling, but if you, as I was, are looking for action, gruesomeness, and 1984-esque horror, you're knocking at the wrong door with this book. However, if you're in the mood for a philosophical perusal of characters gravely assimilated to a horrific situation (which doesn't really seem all that horrific in this book), perhaps you might give this one a try. 



Wuthering Heights is a romance novel for people who hate romance novels. Wrought with symbolism and metaphor, but very smartly done so as not to be annoying or overly overt,

So entranced was I in this novel, that I finished the book over the long, New Year's weekend and still had time to begin Emma.

Bronte's language is magnificent - proper, according to the time - yet coated in a mysterious air, similar to the wild moors of Wuthering Heights.

Rating: 9/10

Best Quote: "'If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn't love as much in eighty years as I could in a day.'"

Man, I really wanted to love this. I so wanted to be asborbed in the prose that enlightens the tediums of women's lives in the 19th century, but all I was was bored. I guess it's a good thing I didn't exist at this point in time.

Emma herself is quite clever and somewhat revolutionary as she isn't actively seeking a husband, although her primary intention is to find a suitable partner for her protogee, Harriet. Unfortunately, Emma is an egregiously crap matchmaker. 

While Austen's choice of writing a non-lovable main character was bold, this novel really wasn't for me. If I could sum it up, it'd go a little something like this:

Emma: Harriet, we simply must find you a husband.

Harriet: I couldn't agree more. How about that guy over there?

Emma: Impossible. Too low birth. Let's try that guy over there. 

Harriet: Impeccable, Emma! How smart and clever you are to have noticed that guy over there. I certainly could never have done it myself.

A few weeks later...

Emma: JK, Harriet, dear. He's already engaged.

And then repeat. But also add in an unfortunate number of conversations about a piano forte.

As I said, this book does some commendable things and certainly ruminates upon the existence of 19th century upper-echelon women, so much so that it almost feels satirical. Austen is fond of lengthy prose and what are, in this reader's opinion, heart-wrencingly dull conversations between rich people. It's easy to get down on Emma as, let's face it, despite her good intentions she's actually pretty selfish and shockingly bad at the thing she claims to be best at.

Rating: 5/10 for bravery in showcasing an unlikable narrator and for redeemable qualities that simply weren't suited to my taste.

Best Quote: Emma's opinion of Frank Churchill was a little shaken the following day, by hearing that he was gone off to London, merely to have his hair cut.


Having finished my third John Green novel, I've finally figured him out and I think I don't have to read him anymore. To my account, John Green is actually the embodiment - or living vicariously through - his male protagonists: skinny, band geek, and social outcast pining after a enigmatic girl who speaks in annoyingly vague phrases and randomly takes off and surrounded by a small group of friends whose conversation can only be described as witzkrieg.

Looking for Alaska is probably the best John Green book I've read, but I'm not sure how high a compliment that is. Again an easy read - I read the final half of it yesterday in about 3 hours - this book follows Miles "Pudge" who goes off to Culver Creek Boarding School in Alabama where he meets his first ever close friends and Alaska Young, the mysterious and beautiful girl who, for most of the story I believed suffered from schizophrenia.

For the first half of the story, Pudge and his friends engage in ever-so-clever high school pranks and spend the second half of the book trying to unravel the mystery that is Alaska Young.

Best Quote: "They love their hair because they're not smart enough to love something more interesting."

Rating: 5/10 


So, once in a while, I read what other people think of the books I read, too, not for validation or because I can't form my own opinion, but because I'm curious about other people's perceptions. Amazon reviewers mostly love this book calling it "marvelous" and "brilliant" while asking for "more please!" 

I thought it was pretty terrible and was thankful that it only took about an hour to finish, as opposed to some other novels which have wasted my time for considerably longer.

I love Peter Pan. I adore the original story and I enjoy stories that have spun off from the original. I was very excited to hear the interpretations of the Pan's origin. Mostly, I was bored. K.R. Thompson's writing is rote and unimaginative, the complete opposite of Peter Pan. Honestly, what irked me the most was that it's barely an origin story. Peter the "guardian" becomes Peter Pan in a matter of, oh, five pages, and the rest of the time is spent stealing other boys to go to Neverland with him. 

What this does do - although could definitely have done better - is to show that Peter Pan isn't the boy hero we make him out to be; it gives him a third dimension, however scantily built.

Best Quote: "'Am I?' he asked. 'Am I real?'"

Rating: 3/10


At its broken heart, this war story is a testament to love. On a surface level, it is a testament to the love the narrator, Frederick, exhibits for his girlfriend/wife/doesn't need a title, Catherine, a British nurse working near the Western Front. Deeper, it's a testament to the love that can exist in the midst of unyielding catastrophe, violence, and destitution. 

Our narrator is an American working as an ambulance driver in Italy during WWI. The quintessential unreliable narrator - admitting to the lies he tells and regularly drunk - A Farewell to Arms is his confession and his way to both keep the memory of his fallen comrades alive, but also to unhinge himself from the overwhelming pain that burdens his soul. 

While I will contest that much of Catherine's dialogue made my stomach turn a little - she regularly tells Frederick that he is her religion, all she has, and that she will die without him - and that Catherine - one of two female characters - is more or less only there to further the plot for the male protagonist, I don't think that this particular Hemingway novel is as rife with sexism as many critics believe. Once again, this is a case where we have to dig a little deeper to see the bravery, progressiveness, and independence that Catherine shows throughout the novel. Hey, why not read it and decide for yourself?

Rating: 10/10

Best Quote: "'I am afraid of the rain because sometimes I see me dead in it. [...] and sometimes I see you dead in it."

It's no wonder The Iron Heel isn't as well known as Call of the Wild and White Fang. Like many superior things, it has remained out of the mainstream. 

Set somewhere near the year 4000, The Iron Heel is a the manifesto of revolutionist Avis Everhard, chronicling her transition from the bourgeois to socialist revolutionary, inspired by her husband, Ernest Everhard, at the turn of the 20th century. Her manuscript is now in the hands of a university student, perhaps, who adds footnotes for the modern (4000 A.D.) reader, who might not understand about factory mills and wage wars. 

Part political screed, part pre-1984 Orwellian horror, this book does an impressive job of filling your soul with hope and then stomping on it with, well, an iron boot. Loaded with ideology, The Iron Heel, though published in 1908, is just as relevant then as it is now.

London references contemporary issues such as the slaughterhouses that Sinclair Lewis tears to bits in The Jungle, the disappearing middle class, trust companies that bogart the profits of smaller businesses and corner the free market, corrupt political, religious, and business officials that, beyond anything, are too short-sighted to understand the dramatic effects of their actions. He also uses historical support to aid his cause, which may or may not be in favor of Socialism (I can't quite ascertain whether or not London is mostly in support of Socialism or if he's painting socialists as short sighted as the Capitalists whom they fought). 

Reading this is akin to reading Orwell - that same punch you in the gut, makes your heart hurt, feel like your soul is slowly dying feeling - that is far from the warm-fuzzies but makes up for it in the social importance. You kind of have to read this book. You know, for the sake of the Republic. 

Rating: 10/10

Best Quote: "And through it all moved the Iron Heel, impassive and deliberate, shaking up the whole fabric of the social structure..."


Paul is 18. Paul is 19. Paul is 20. Paul's age is insignificant because the years that carry him from adolescence to adulthood are spent on and off the front line of the German Army, watching his comrades - his friends, the only individuals on earth who understand his experience - return to the clay.

Semi-autobiographical, All Quiet on the Western Front is a mixture of terror, grief, beauty, and humor that reminds you that, above all, it is humanity that is sacrificed to violence, and humanity is the only thing that can overcome the violence.

Another fast read, you don't need to be a history buff, a war enthusiastic, or a peacenik to appreciate the honesty in Remarque's prose. You just need to be human.

Rating: 10/10

Best Quote: "We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces." 


Kafka takes no prisoners. You're chugging along through the book, you're thinking, "Well done, Kafka, you've done it again." Kafka is twisting you up with the relentlessness of protagonist Joseph K.'s treatment, the maligning of his character, the ineptitude of the court, and the sheer fact that he never knows why the hell he is on trial, and then the ending happens.

You're punched in the gut and you're pissed off for myriad reasons, but mostly because you never learn what K. was accused of and then the book is over. In a harsh, brutal way.

This book is a nightmare that K. lives for for the duration of his 30th year. On the surface, The Trial is a legal drama that illustrates the ineptitude of bureaucracy. But it's also Kafka so, obviously, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Best Quote: "'It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept is as necessary.'"

Rating: 9/10


"Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time." I don't even know where to begin reviewing this book because I can't quite grasp how best to explain it. Everything I've been formulating in my head sounds paltry and insufficient. Here's what I've got:
- It's about war.
- It's about destruction.
- It's about time and how humans perceive it.
- It's about sanity and insanity.
- It's about trauma.

This book has no perceivable structure. It, along with its protagonist, unlikely war veteran, Billy Pilgrim, just from time and space to time and space without much warning or fanfare.

Billy's daughter is convinced that he's going insane because Billy claims to time travel, which, at least for the purposes of this book, he actually does. He travels in an out of Dresden before and after its destruction, to and from Trafalmadore - a planet that has kidnapped Billy Pilgrim and put him in a zoo - to Sugarbrush Mountain in VT where Billy was one of two plane crash survivors as well as to other places of importance to the strange, non-hero protagonist. In the midst of time travelling, Billy and some other characters lead lives, which they are bound to repeat in certain moments and which exist alongside other lives.

In short, the entire book is an exercise in bizarre, genius repetition. And then birds will ask you then, "Poo-tee-weet?"

Rating: 10/10

Best Quote: "Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt."

I think, perhaps, I should give up on reading plays and instead just go to see them or, you know, search on YouTube for a filmed version or something. Trying to read them aloud makes the whole thing too much of a farce for me and, especially with a play as dark and mysterious sounding as "Ghosts," I figured I shouldn't be treating it lightly.

Turns out I was right. There is absolutely nothing light about this play. Nothing at all. There are five characters in this play and an ever-present ghost who more or less dominates the lives of all of these characters, although the ghost isn't so much a physical manifestation as much as a mental anguish. 

Cut to infidelity, incest, arson, syphilis, and a Sophie's choice of an ending and you've got yourself a gloomy fjord of a Norwegian play. It is, however, an incredibly interesting ending - if you're the type who likes to read plays - and I'm still wondering how I would lean it if I were ever to direct it. 

Rating: 8/10 (mostly because I don't like reading plays, which isn't Ibsen's fault)

Best Quote: There must be ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sands of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light."


Adam Hochschild is probably my favorite historian. This is the third work of his that I read and it did not disappoint, although ti lacked the narrative flair that I've become accustomed to in his writing. There are no shortages of books written about WWI - from chronological histories praising the bravery of troops on both sides to histories about the almost criminally incompetent war strategies of the Allies, whose plan was, essentially, to send as many troops to the front as possible for a deadly game of chicken. Hochschild's chronology is British-centric in that it chronicles a few of the war's most prominent figures both abroad and at home, but its message is certainly not of the type you'd receive from General Hague or Rudyard Kipling. Rather, Hochschild examines the perspectives of many war protesters, conscientious objectors, Socialists, and suffragettes alongside the traditionally hailed "war heroes." Examining the intricate relationships these sometimes conflicting sects had, Hochschild succeeds in making this history very human.

However, for some reason I can't quite explain, this particular book did not offer the same page turning anticipation I had experienced when reading both King Leopold's Congo and The Unquiet Ghost. This is not to say that this book isn't interesting, purposeful, and worthwhile; it certainly is. If you're very much interested in WWI and are looking for a non-traditional perspective, this is an excellent choice. If you're just interested in histories in general, though, I would recommend one of those other two titles.

Rating: 8/10

Best Quote:  “Unlike, say, witch-burning, slavery, and apartheid, which were once taken for granted and are now officially outlawed, war is still with us.”


I hate absolutely everything about this book except Fitzgerald's writing. This is the polar opposite of anything by Nathaniel Hawthorne for me - wherein I'm constantly screaming, "You have the best plots! Why do you have to kill them with your tedious writing!" But I digress.

Fitzgerald is an elegant, thoughtful, and imaginative author, but this text is filled with a detestable cast of characters who truly may not know their asses from their elbows. Similar to Gatsby in the author's condemnation of American frivolity, The Beautiful and the Damned follows lazy, presumptive heir to a fortune Anthony Patch and his beautiful, petty, and equally lazy wife, Gloria on their road to parties, overspending, infidelity, WWI, failing at business, and alcoholism.

While I normally love stories with doomed heroes, this was a true struggle to finish. Perhaps if I cared - even very slightly - about the characters, their ill-fated adventures would have felt more alive, more resonant. But, as it was, I couldn't help but thinking that, most of the time, they really had it coming.

Rating: 4/10

Best Quote: "I learned a little of beauty - enough to know that it had nothing to do with the truth." 

Historical fiction to a degree, autobiography to a degree, Children to a Degree is the first of a four part series, although it was written last. The author himself was a German child during the Nazi reign and his protagonist, Karl, is most certainly a reflection of himself.

While this book is easy to read, there's a lot to digest and I'm very curious about the three other books. That said, this book isn't incredibly special. The characters are memorable to a degree and the tension is certainly palpable, but this isn't a kick-you-in-the-face/knock-you-on-your-ass book. By and large, despite the subject matter, it is a pleasant read and worth your time.

Rating: 7/10

Best Quote: " 'Herr Hitler is the very person he wants to eradicate. He might have started out with good intentions, but he is mentally unbalanced and now almost insane.'”

Firstly, let me say that I plan on both developing a curriculum for and eventually teaching this book; and then let me say that I don't get narrative poetry.

I read a book like this last school year with my 7th graders called Under the Mesquite. The pros of this book - like The Firefly Letters - were that it was easy to read and understand, held moments of depth, featured a strong female narrator, and gave sound to a voice normally unheard. However, my qualm lies in the fact that narrative poetry functions just as well as paragraphs. The Firefly Letters, while certainly inviting opportunity for some deeper reading, doesn't give the feel of poetry. I'm not able to interpret meaning, there isn't a clear rhythm to it, and it reads like paragraphs that have been chopped up and put into separate lines. So, what's the point? 

That said, I did enjoy this work for the sheer fact that it combats both racism and sexism.

Rating: 7/10

Best Quote: "My heart drums with gratitude./My heart sings/with hope."


Oh, Oprah, you've done it again. Seriously, if I only ever picked books to read from Oprah's book list, I'd never read a crappy book again. So, I know you all have probably already read this book and seen the movie; I jump onto trends late. And I still haven't seen the movie. But I loved this book. I really looked forward to picking it up and getting the perspective of each protagonist. 

Stockett definitely took a risk embodying both black and white characters when she herself could only fully understand the white perspective, but I think she did it very tactfully and did justice to a cause that is still problematic, though now it's different colors.

Definitely filled with strong women, this novel transcends color lines and fills women with hope for equity. A huge recommendation for this book.

Rating: 10/10

Best Quote: "All I'm saying is, kindness don't have no boundaries."


So, let me start by saying I loved this book, but I'm not totally sure I understood all of it, and it definitely is going to warrant a second reading. 

The whole text and its manipulation of time is a bit ouroborosian. Let me break it down, mostly for me but a little bit for you too. A family founds it own town, very utopian and what not, where everything is hunky dory and nobody dies. Until it is introduced to the outside world. Then, the story begins its epic downfall, which lasts the majority of the novel.

The characters are embodiments of their names and Marquez describes them with nearly complete objectivity. I'm working out some themes in my head, but I haven't yet reached anything decisive. If you have insight or ideas about this book, I'd love to hear them.

Rating: 10/10...again, this might be the pretentious "I'm rating it high because I don't fully comprehend it" rating.

Best Quote: "'The world must be really fucked up,' he said, 'when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.'" 

This book is about 20,000 times better than Fifty Shades of Gray, but it still wasn't overly fantastic. The downfall of this otherwise unique story was the writing, which tended towards trite, obvious, and often redundant. 

The premise of this book is something quite unique: a Vietnamese perspective of South Vietnam after the Americans left. Our protagonist, Y'Tin, is an avid elephant trainer who must grapple with some harsh realities as they begin to unfold in front of him. 

There are occasional uses of the Rhade language in this story as well as myriad facts about Vietnam that would most likely be new to the average western reader.

All in all, this book was okay. It read fast and had moments of things that could have been profound were the writing a little bit better.

Rating: 5/10

Best Quote: "The jungle changes a man."


I had read this book before, but not for a while, and Jake and I decided to read it together. I had forgotten how delightfully intelligent Carroll's writing is. It's whimsical, at times frustrating, and always so precise.

This book epitomizes profound children's literature. It doesn't apologize for challenging topics nor seek to shield the child (Alice, or the reader) from the confusion and danger that exists in the world. Instead, it imagines these situations in an entirely fantastical world in a story almost devoid of plot, but which certainly anticipates the 20th century obsession with the psyche.

While the language itself can be challenging to dissect, I would consider it a smart, fun challenge that is well worth your time. In a world where we're spoon fed our laughter via laugh tracks and obvious, slapstick humor, it's a refreshing change to sit back and use your brain for a while. 

Rating: 10/10

Best Quote: "'I don't think...' 'Then you shouldn't talk,' said the Hatter."


This book is a long-standing favorite and, those of us who were there, know that we used quotes from it during our wedding ceremony. Every time I read this book, I get a little more out of it, like its depth is infinite, a well with unlimited water. 

Set up as a children's story, this book certainly embraces magical elements inherent in children's books but there are many lessons for adults to glean as well. The Little Prince will warm your heart and make you laugh and cry as, with the mystical little boy, you learn how very consequential your rose is.

Rating: 10/10

Best Quote: "'People have forgotten this truth,' the fox said. 'But you mustn't forget it. You become responsible forever for what you've tamed. You're responsible for your rose.'" 

So, let me start by saying that I enjoyed this SOOOOO much more than I enjoyed Emma. Perhaps it was that I was already familiar with the basic story line (it being adapted to many mainstream movies and adopted into many subsequent stories) or perhaps it was because I didn't hate everybody. But it did have some very Emma-esque qualities. Reading this novel is kind of like having a conversation with Ellen Page in Juno: It's constantly saying snarky things in a totally deadpan way. Austen is clearly communicating her dislike of the fashion in which the world of Pride and Prejudice is set and lets us know - regularly - how ridiculous her characters' behaviors and thoughts are. While I believe Emma sought a similar purpose, Pride and Prejudice, in my opinion, does it in a more entertaining and ultimately readable way. And, even though I knew that Austen thought her characters were ridiculous and I agreed with her, I really only hated Lydia and Wickham, who is a dick, let's just face it.

As is typical with Austen, Pride and Prejudice explores themes of feminism, marriage, and love, and also, as the title suggests, both pride and prejudice, by which all of the characters are afflicted.

If early 19th century writing isn't your thing, I would suggest you click on over to Librivox and have someone read it to you. Truthfully, this book isn't going to have a lasting affect on my life, nor will I be chomping at the bit to recommend it to people. Still, it's pretty alright and if you have some time, it's a worthy filler.

Rating: 8/10

Best Quote: "'I have not the pleasure of understanding you.'" 

I have literally so much to say that I don't even know where to begin. First off, I have to credit StoryWonk, who did this absolutely amazing podcast on the first Harry Potter book and from whom I've gathered a lot of what I have to say.

Firstly, I must acknowledge that I was very, VERY late to the Harry Potter party. I was a little bit "old" for HP when it first came out, then I heard some rather unsavory things about JK Rowling and boycotted the series all together. I ended up reading the books for the first time when I was 24 and will be reading them all again to dig through the absolutely amazing world that JK Rowling has created.

Although the first book - especially when compared to the later ones - is certainly more childish, it sets a really excellent foundation and, I believe, can stand on its own. The parallels between Dumbledore, McGonaggal, and Hagrid and Harry, Hermoine, and Ron are a joy to spot, as are the skillful transitions Rowling uses to bring her characters from place to place. To be certain: this is more than just a child's book.

One thing that has vexed me is this: Whose story is this? Book 1 begins and ends with the Dursleys and, as we know, beginnings and endings are important. Although the story follows Harry (and obviously his name is in the title), who really owns this story? Who is telling it and for what purpose? Anyway, this is a definite must-read, in my opinion. A fair warning: if you go through it fast, you'll enjoy it, but you won't have the absolute dorky pleasure of thinking of it as a modern classic.

Rating: 9/10

Best Quote: "'Go on, have a pasty,' said Harry, who had never had anything to share before or, indeed, anyone to share it with."



In truth, I've been able to rap the first 18 lines of this old school epic for over a decade. But, since
both times I read this in high school the focus was the highlights rather than the comprehensive view, I missed a lot, and, since Jake and I are headed to Canterbury near the end of our pilgrimage, we thought it only fitting to read The Canterbury Tales.

I'd forgotten the abundance of farting and sex jokes, which I'll take as proof that humor hasn't improved much since the 1390s. In addition to the blatant bawdiness, this book is imbued with all sorts of "dangerous" qualities. On the surface, it's a group of religious pilgrims making their way to the shrine of St. Thomas Aquinas at Canterbury, which seems wholesome enough. They challenge each other to a story-off (let's equate that to a rap battle) and proceed to tell stories about infidelity, robbing church-goers of money and tithes, farting directly in people's faces, and all sorts of sex. Sort of loses its wholesome qualities, no?

Another layer of its "danger" is the fact that Chaucer is saying some pretty scandalous things about the church. He has several characters (namely the Pardoner and the Reeve) who work for the church, but make their living robbing the church's congregations. The icing on the cake is the fact that Chaucer wrote this in English (albeit Olde English) and not Latin. Think of that as the modern equivalent of flipping someone the bird.

What makes this extra cool - as if it needed the Fonz's leather jacket - is the fact that most literary historians suppose the Tales to be based on real people Chaucer knew. Chaucer himself makes several appearances in this tale as well. I think his progress and insight in the Tales is among the most interesting aspects. 

In short, I do not recommend reading this in Old English unless you already have a working knowledge of the language and/or of Chaucer. Doing so is a giant pain in the butt and it is unlikely that you'll get much out of the read except a headache. There are many modern adaptations that have maintained the integrity of the original work but put it into a language modern readers can understand. It's in the public domain, so just Google it. It's really a fun read, if you're in the mood for some rhyming toilet humor. I'm front-listing Peter Ackroyd's retelling of the Tales, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for too long, when I get home.

Rating: 9/10

Best Quote: "I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity." (from The Knight's Tale)


Let me just get this out there: I love George Eliot. Love love love. I was, in fact, the only student in Bill Devino's literature seminar class at Whitingham High School to appreciate Silas Marner. Mill on the Floss (MotF) is a beautiful family story wrapped in a melodrama wrapped in a biblical flood.

According to many bibliophiles, MotF is indirectly bibliographic; meaning that, while Eliot bases her main characters on herself and people she knew, the characters do not follow Eliot's life. This is a rather epic work that spans the duration of Maggie's life from childhood black-sheep to young adult mysterious sex-pot, to her *SPOILER ALERT * untimely death. This book is essentially a soap opera, minus the long-lost twins, but including the comas. We've got family estrangement, loss of employment, bitterly sought-after revenge, a coma, humiliation, poverty, a love triangle, crazy family members, and, my personal favorite plot twist, the deeply explored theme of feminine power in a patriarchal world. 

Eliot's writing has a fluency all her own. I find it somewhere between Austen and Charlotte Bronte, without the tediousness of the former or the embellishment of the latter. It can take a little getting used to, but, for me, her writing is so worth it. While I don't find MotF to be as satisfying a read as Silas Marner, and I wouldn't suggest it be your first rendezvous with Ms. Eliot, I hope that eventually this book will come off your book shelf. 

Rating: 7/10

Best Quote: "What a different result one gets by changing the metaphor!"


BookBub told me this book was free and it looked readable and moderately entertaining and that is exactly my assessment of Dirty Parts of the Bible. It had some funny moments and the story itself was interesting enough. Definitely a good beach read or a lazy day read. It goes fast, it's easily digestible, and their are some parts that will make you laugh out loud. 

The basic premise: Tobias was born to a heavily Baptist farther who had to move to cold, remote Remus, Michigan to find potential converts. After being blinded by bird poop, going on an alcoholic bender, and crashing his car resulting in the loss of his priesthood, Thobias' father sends him on a quest for money buried in a well in Glen Rose, Texas. 

Thobias, a young adult mostly interested in breasts, meets an interesting cast of characters on his quest, including a hobo, a prostitute, and a cursed girl. After many a curve ball, things eventually work out okay on all ends. Oh, and Thobias eventually has sex. Which is good because he spends the whole book talking about how much he wants to.

Rating: 6/10

Best Quote: "'Society always tries to enslave , imprison, and execute its greatest men, those who dare to stand apart and rise above.' He scratched his chin. 'That's why I'm keeping a low profile - so the bastards don't get me.'" 


I spent a lot of this book wishing that Lily Bart would just shit or get off the pot. Let me back up: Lily Bart is an exceptionally beautiful, but not exceptionally well-off unmarried woman of 28 living in a time and place where society expects her to to be married, beautiful, and rich. What she was taught and what she seems to inherently believe is that she needs to marry rich no matter how repulsive the husband. And she dangles many on a string.

However, something always keeps her from letting him bite. She oversleeps and cannot attend an early morning church service, she insults them - things that seem self-sabotaging to her surface-level cause, but are actually her self-preservation.

I picked this book up because I like Edith Wharton and, after Mill on the Floss, I was in the mood to read some more feminist literature. It took me a while to find the feminism in it, but it is there and it is in your face. Think of The House of Mirth as your worst high school nightmare, but then top it with some ambiguity. Are we supposed to read this and condemn the mean girls and the hierarchy that allows the status quo to be maintained? Or is fitting in better than the trials and tribulations of going against the grain?

HoM is Wharton's debut novel and I highly recommend it, although you might initially detest Lily Bart as much as I do. Particularly considering its age, it's a very readable work.

Rating: 9/10

Best Quote: "She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelets seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate."