Wednesday, September 11, 2013

August Reading


My plans to read at least five books a month in the summer crashed and burned there at the end---between being away from home half the month and starting up school again, I just didn't have nearly as much time as I thought I would to read.

That said, I am pretty proud of the fact that I knocked two books off of my 100 Classics to Read Before I Die list (especially considering that they were both books I'd tried to read before and quit a few chapters in).

Key to the 5-Star Rating System:
***** = changed my life
**** = loved it
*** = liked it
** = it was okay
* = hated it

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

Funny story with this book---I had a class in college that was all about Forster and Cather (who I read together yet again this last month), and our final assignment in the class was to read A Passage to India. I got about 40 pages in, but with everything else going on in my life at the time, I just figured I'd do a five-minute scan through Sparknotes and call it good. Before class started, I was frantically flipping to random pages in the book to try to acquaint myself with as much of the story as I could, and good thing I did because guess who was the first person who was called on to start off the class discussion?

Luckily for me, the teacher happened to ask a question that was about the page I had literally just read before class, so I was able to fabricate some crazy elaborate symbolism on the spot. Much to my shock, the teacher was so impressed by my "deep understanding" of the text that we spent the rest of the two-hour class discussing what I had brought up.

I still kind of feel guilty (and proud) about it to this day.

To make up for it, though, I finally did give this novel another fair shot. It was actually this book that inspired my post on how to better understand the classics because I was having a difficult time following the plot and purpose of the story. Once I created a character list though and identified which characters fell on which side of the conflict, everything went much more smoothly.

A Passage to India basically explores the topic of whether or not two distinct cultures can really ever live together in harmony (especially when one is in subjugation to the other). The first part of the story really drags, as Forster takes FOREVER to set the scene and paint the characters. Once an Indian doctor is accused of making inappropriate advances on a British visitor, however, the book picked up considerably, and I didn't have to force myself as much to "just get through it."

Although this book is considered one of the finest of the 20th century, it is not a novel for the weak-willed reader. There are many parts of the story that could hardly be considered engaging, although when the trial begins, things start to pick up significantly. In the end, I could appreciate why the book was called a classic (and I also appreciated the strong message it gave on thie importance of tolerance and understanding), but I will say this:

I'm sure glad I'll only be reading this one once.

My Rating: 3 stars (although I didn't actually "like" much of the book, I gave it this rating because I AM very glad I read it---it had some valuable insight that I won't be forgetting anytime soon)
Cleanliness: Although this book has some implied messages about sex, it's so understated and hidden that it could hardly be called offensive. That's the nice thing about many classics, really---although most deal with immorality, they do it in a way that's uplifting (by showing a higher road) rather than degrading. This is overall a very clean read.

My Antonia by Willa Cather

I think I must have tried to read this book three or four times before finally succeeding at finishing it. And it wasn't even because it was difficult or too boring or anything---I just wasn't in the mood for the story. Apparently what I needed to do was read it while traveling through the country it described (Nebraska) for it to finally grab me.

In my opinion, My Antonia is a classic because it perfectly paints the romance of childhood. Even things like death or tragedy seem to have an adventurous feel to them in the book, as most of the book is written with the narrator as a young boy. My Antonia tells the story of  Jim, who moved to Nebraska to live with his grandparents when his own parents died. There he met the lovely Antonia, a girl a few years his senior who came from Bohemia. Although Antonia speaks no English, they become fast friends, and they spend the happiest of childhoods together exploring the vastness of the wild countryside. Later, the book follows the pair as they grow into teenagers and finally into adults.

Although the plot of this story isn't always the most exciting or compelling, the language is stunning--Cather is one of my favorite authors when it comes to setting description because she paints the Midwest and West as the most idyllic settings in the world. Growing up amid the sagebrush and mountains myself, her books often resonate with my own memories of childhood. Another thing to love is the fact that Cather's books (many of which appear on most classics lists) are much easier to understand than most novels written at the same time.

So, if you're looking for a novel to get your feet wet into the classics genre, this would be a good pick.

My Rating: 3.5 stars
Cleanliness: Like Passage, there is some implied immorality (including an attempted rape), but it is understated and always meant to serve the purpose of inspiring characters to take the higher road. As the details are not graphic or explicit in the slightest, I would consider this a very clean read.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Not to be confused with Mockingjay (the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy which I thought was terrible), Mockingbird tells the story of Caitlin, an 11-year-old girl with Asperger's whose older brother was killed in a shooting at his middle school. The book follows Caitlin as she struggles to understand her brother's death and the sudden rise in attention being shown her.

I picked up this novel because I felt like I'd been slacking on my young adult reading, and I wasn't disappointed---this was a sweet story that gave a thoughtful perspective on what a child living with  Asperger's might go through when faced with a tragic situation. I felt like in reading this book, it made me much more conscious of the important role I have as a teacher---many of my kids struggle with disorders and disabilities, and I need to treat them as sensitively as many of the teachers in this novel treated Caitlin.

Although this book wasn't nearly as "meaty" as the other two reads, it was an uplifting reminder of the power of healing, friends, and moving on. I would especially recommend this book to any student in the 5th-8th grades who is struggling with tragedy or social issues.

My Rating: 3.5 stars
Cleanliness: This book is about as clean as they come.

With the advent of the new school year, I've allowed myself to just pick up and read whatever I want instead of looking at the next book on my "to-read" lists. With my schedule being as packed as it is, I figure it's more important now that I just stay with my resolution of reading two chapters of a book on most days rather than worrying about that AND which types of books I'm choosing.

Currently in the middle of:
Cooked by Michael Pollan
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

What are you currently reading? Finished anything good lately?

2 comments:

  1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It made me want to live in Guernsey, which is a little island in the English Chanel. The characters are so very lovely!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I read little women about a year ago and was surprised by how much I liked it. I'm currently hoping I'll eventually reach the end of 1984.

    ReplyDelete

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