There's about 2 months until I graduate high school. As I look back on these 4 years, there's one experience that has played an important part in making me who I am today: books. If you aren't a reader I assume you wouldn't be reading this, so I'm guessing books and writing have played a role in your life too, shaping your thoughts, opinions, criticisms of the world around you.
The list of high school books we're required to read is an interesting one. And that's what I want to go into right now: saying things about The Great Gatsby or Hamlet that I wouldn't be allowed to, or wouldn't want to say in class.
First, let's discuss Romeo and Juliet. Ah yes, the story of star-crossed lovers, the basis for every tragic romance we see in modern day, the delight of all those Leonardo Dicaprio fans (the 1996 version). But besides the theme of forbidden love, which in my opinion they kind of almost throw at you, it's just a tale of suicide because someone couldn't get what they wanted. The whole play takes place within 6 days, and besides Mercutio, none of the other characters showed any bit of depth. It was all: "Screw the Montagues!" and "Let's go to a ball because we're rich." So now you've got characters you don't really like, a play with only one main (kind of plain) theme, and barely any humor (sorry but sexual jokes aren't my favorite). What do you get? A 1/10. Also, we need to talk about the fact that Juliet is 13 and Romeo is 21, because it just doesn't sit well with me, at all. The girl was barely out of childhood!
Now, Catcher in the Rye. I get it, Holden Caulfield is the ultimate 21st century character, the epitome of teenage angst and depression. He's relatable, as people earnestly repeat to me as they try and convince me that he's not, quite simply, an insufferable prick. Look, teenage angst is one thing. But ditching your friend because he has a girlfriend? That's jealousy. Paying for a prostitute but not being able to go through with it? That's fear, and understandable given he's 16. Getting annoyed with a cab driver because he doesn't quite agree with your opinions on ducks? That's arrogance. The theme of Holden's interesting journey is preserving his innocence, which I get. But he really doesn't need to be so annoying about it. Not everything's as depressing as he makes it seem, and what's more, he criticizes everything and everyone around him, without realizing their flaws in himself as well. So yeah, hypocrite. My least favorite kind of people.
I was in 9th grade when I read this one, 14 years old. Let's just say, some of the scenes in this book left me thoroughly scarred (Chapter 3). In his novel and radical method of writing a dystopia, Aldous Huxley really just.. let himself go. I mean children, doing it? There had to have been a better way of portraying the themes of superficiality and ever-growing power of technology. Like, look at Fahrenheit 451. It does the former theme really well, using huge televisions and the idea of burning books to show how superficial the relationship between Montag and his wife was, how shallow their thoughts were constrained in the absence of depth and ideas. No disturbing images necessary.
And, I also felt that the theme has been overdone, and the ending was quite predictable: suicide. It's always the easy way out, the only seeming option in every such story. The reason why it's not a one is because I liked John, liked his values and the way he fought for them: intellectual conversation. He tried to use logic, reason, and persuasive words to convince Mond that happiness without truth is not real happiness. To no avail, of course. Although, if he had tried to organize a rebellion from the natives, he probably would have had a higher chance of not killing himself.
Ahh, the deeply disturbing story of the Congo. I get it, there are important lessons about history that are told through this book. But if you've read it, you'll know that it takes about an hour to understand 5 pages worth of the story. To me, it was like Hawthorne on steroids, and as compelling as the characters and motifs of exploitation and evil were, the plot was not enticing at all. So, 3/10.
Lennie, everyone's favorite gentle giant, minus the gentle. I'm not going to lie, it's been a minute since I've read this one. But from what I can remember, I cried at the end, for obvious reasons if you've read the book. It's about the contrast between one's dreams and the cold harsh reality. George and Lennie think of a paradise farm, where no one hurts anyone or steals from one another. Crooks, of course, dismisses this idea entirely, thinking it too lavish for this world. And it's also about how people basically suck, men at least. Don't get me wrong, it's not like women are perfect. But they named her "Curley's wife," for a reason, to make it about the males, and deprive her of her character. That's one of the main reasons I didn't like this one. And killing Lennie? Well, it was like if you shot your dog or something. God knows they brought that up enough. Also I didn't much like any of the characters, except George, Lennie, and Slim. It was short, and most certainly not sweet.
This was one of the better dystopian novels I've come across. It's a unique point of view: a book fireman who burns books for a living, in a world where books are banned, who realizes the loss of depth and realism in the world around him, meaning that's actually found inside of books. I really liked the way Bradbury wrote it too, and the sections titled things like "The Sieve and the Sand," offering cool double meanings. The story was great, the meanings were great. But it's dystopian, so it falls lower on the scale. I think you realize that my scale is a little bit biased against dystopian books, by now. It's like there's so much tragedy in the world today and historically that you can talk about, why bring down the future?
The civilized group of boys gone mad, the proper turned improper, the facets of normalcy wasted away into pure animal behavior. It's an interesting story, I will not lie to you. But it's a bit much. I think that somewhat realistic stories, with a hint of fantasy or imagination are what work for me, because you can actually imagine it. It sort of speaks to you. There was nothing in this horrific story that I remotely found exhilarating, but the themes of losing yourself to the crowd and standing your ground (Piggy) were good ones. Yes, I'm one of the few people who liked Piggy. Sorry for liking the normal one?
A for adultery... It was a good book, actually. I usually like any book with female empowerment and rising above her ashes as one of the main themes, so Hester and Pearl were pretty awesome. It was a bit difficult to read though, as Hawthorne tends to get particularly verbose and loquacious when he gets really into a description. And the Puritanical Church thing really isn't my vibe, it's more of a vibe-killer. Have you read the play The Crucible? Man, that was a nightmare. Thank god this wasn't as bad.
I think the best word for this book is sweet. It's a lovely tale, with really really important themes about not only the hypocrisy of slavery, but moral awareness. Comparing the plight of Huck at the hands of his Pap to the plight of slaves at the hands of white men, you see how twisted the system really is, how people then, and unfortunately now, live such hypocritical lives. And then the concept of being "sivilized": how can you tell a boy to take a bath regularly, as its the proper thing to do, and then have two families killing one another? The beauty of the story is it's told though the eyes of a child: without any bias, stigma, or stereotypes, and with a brutally blunt and inquisitive personality, Huck Finn reveals the sorrows of a seemingly splendid life. And don't you just love Jim?
Boy, is Leo Dicaprio involved in a lot of romantic tragedies or what? But let's focus on the book. The Great Gatsby is, first and foremost, a product of its time. The Roaring 20's, hyped up with lavish parties and staggering wealth was only experienced by the few, the privileged: Daisy and Tom. There was a whole other world during that time, one of poverty and third-class living: Myrtle and her husband. And then there was Gatsby: neither here nor there, unable to experience the lavish life of Old New York money without bearing the consequences. All told through the point of Nick Carraway, the unintended observer, who just wanted to write in quiet. Turns out, you've got to have things happen to you, around you, in order to write. Or, you know, put you in a mental hospital. The difference between Nick and Holden? Their attitudes. Because Nick never made it about himself, even though without him, the story would never have been told.
To be or not to be. It's what most people remember from Hamlet, but does anyone remember where it's from? Him contemplating suicide in his 3rd or 4th monologue. Coming in at 9/10, Hamlet is one of the best pieces of high school literature I've read, with few flaws. It's really not about death or suicide, as the murderous events would have you believe. Rather, it's about loyalty, revenge, and doing one's duty. It's the story of a man, who overcomes opposition and internal fear to confront what is a grave injustice: the murder of his father. It of course leads to more death, but hey, at least he did what he set out to do. And of course, it's got some interesting side stories along the way, with the oblivious suck-up Polonius and Tweedlee and Tweedledum (Rosencrants and Guildenstern) offering some much appreciated comedic relief.
Just thinking about these books gives me joy:). They're not extremely well-known, a classic in the high school literary curriculum if you will. But they are absolutely amazing. Just in case you haven't read them yet, I won't spoil it. But I'll tell you a little bit about why they're a complete 10/10.
The Sun Also Rises: It's actually the only book I've read by Ernest Hemingway, but it's certainly made me want to try more of his work. Set in Europe, it features a post WWI climate of the "lost generation." The main character, Jake, is fine in every way, except being physically impotent from the war. He's in love with Brett, a real player, but who loves him back. Then there's Robert Cohn, a boxer who's not a veteran, and who's personality resembles that of an overgrown child. Weaving from action to inner thought, from logic to emotion, this story perfectly encapsulates the angst and feeling of not belonging that pervaded the era. It's the perfect balance between realism and fiction.
Far from the Madding Crowd: If you haven't already read my article on books by Thomas Hardy, it will give you a much better description of this book. But the reason it's a complete 10/10 is because it has everything, and I mean everything that anyone (I) wants in a good fiction book. Even though it's set in the 1800's, it's got this whimsical rural England setting that's just...awesome. You have the good, old, dependable hero Gabriel Oak, the headstrong female main character Bathsheba Everdeen, the arrogant prick Sergeant Troy, the unfortunate crazy guy William Boldwood, and a bunch of nosy villagers. What could be better? In all seriousness though, this novel does have from misfortune, but ends happy, which I always love to see. It's got a playful atmosphere, important themes, and really incredible characters. Thank you Hardy, for this masterpiece.
That's all, folks! Let me know if you have different opinions!