Monday, January 21, 2013

Books I was forced to read, but ended up loving

I'm having so much fun making these book lists (seriously though, all of these covers together are like, BOOK PORN for me), and I just thought of a genius one!!!

All the books I have been forced to read for class, but ended up loving. There's quite a few of them. Let's see how it goes!

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad - At first, I hated this book. It's relatively short, but super weird. The tone is consistently dark. It talks about things that I consider to be "old literature" fears, like cannibalism. It's not very interesting at parts. But then when we started talking about it in class, I slowly and begrudgingly began to like it. There is amazing imagery, beautifully poetic writing, this epistolary style of narration, and haunting revelations about human nature. It's a short book, so it's also an easy classic to check off your list.

Sula by Toni Morrison - This book is supposed to represent the black experience in the 1920s, but I found it very easy to relate to. It centers around two female friends, and how close they've always been. As they grow older, wild child Sula leaves their hometown, and quiet, sensible Nel marries and settles down. Their relationship changes over time and eventually ends. Morrison beautifully describes the community as a whole and the unique relationship between the two girls. Sula is also an extremely interesting and dangerous character. And I definitely like this book better than Beloved. Beloved is kind of just traumatizing, and I couldn't finish it.

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro - Again, I really hated this book the first time I read it. It features a British butler who looks back on his life, reflecting in a way that reveals to the reader how repressed he is and how he only lives to serve. Later, he begins to question these decisions. It is a very slow, very unexciting read, but very subtle. There were lots of scenes that my seventeen-year-old brain didn't pick up on until my teacher pointed them out to me. I would probably like it a lot better if I read it now. I came to appreciate it more as I read other books by Ishiguro.

Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - I didn't expect to love this book because it centers around the soldiers in the Vietnam War. It's not the most appealing part of history for me, personally. I found O'Brien to be a brilliant writer and excellent story teller. This book not only gives different meanings to all of the experiences the soldiers have, but also constantly questions what "fiction" is. I also found surprising ways to relate to it. Just so you know, it's one of those books that makes you feel sad at times, but a good sad.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood - This is a longer, slower book, but still very good. It alternates two story lines, the first being about two sisters growing up and the second is the science fiction novel that one of the sisters has written. I did read this for a feminist class, so it does tell the story of women who are oppressed and rise up above it. Interesting themes of using fiction and how memories work.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin - Another relatively short read. I found as a woman, I could sympathize with Edna's frustrations. It was interesting that many of the boys in my AP English class hated this book, and could not understand Edna's actions. Also a lot of great symbolism, imagery, poeticness, etc.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - This is absolutely my favorite classical book. So brilliant! It's also epistolary, as it was a favorite technique of the time. This novel brings about all sorts of themes and questions of intelligence, creators, creations, responsibilities, etc. Very deep. Also way better than the movie, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Kenneth Branagh, where the characters are mostly just yelling at each other and running in a desperate way. The book is much more subtle than that.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn - Actually, I've already reviewed this book here: Books of 2012.

The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing - I had to read this book for my American Noir class, so it is an older crime novel. But it's an interesting twist on crime novels. Most of the book takes place from the point of view of the witness, George. George sees his boss murder a woman, and the murderer sees that someone was there and could pin the crime on him, but not who. George's boss asks George, as his employee, to help track down the witness, who is secretly George but the boss is unaware of it, for a "story" (they work for a newspaper). George faces the task of having to find himself for the sake of his job, while also trying to hide the dangerous fact that he is the person they're all looking for. Very funny and interesting. 

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood - Another feminist novel. This is a very short piece. It's the story of the Odyssey, but from the point of view of Penelope, Odysseus' wife. It brings up a lot of questions and ideas of how we treat classical literature and the "unsung" role of women. Definitely makes you look at The Odyssey differently.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - Also already reviewed, found here: Books of 2012.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith - Also here: Books of 2012.

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro - This is the first of Ishiguro's novels, but very recognizable. Ishiguro likes to follow the current lives of his British characters, as well as the story line of their memories. This particular book is awesome because it is super circular. Also very dramatic and exciting.   

1984 by George Orwell - This is one of the few books I have ever read that has SCARED THE CRAP OUT OF ME. Seriously. There's this one line that made me literally jump. That doesn't happen very often when you're reading, so I have to give props to that. Definitely enjoyed this book.

The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - Again, a classic that kind of speaks for itself. I found it very boring at first, but it definitely picks up. Not necessarily a book that you can relate to, but if you tried, you could definitely find themes that are relevant today ("slut-shaming," anyone?). Also, book does not end up being what you expect. And Hawthorne is a beautiful writer.

Well, that's a lot. Moral of the story is: if you haven't yet read these books because you were forced to by evil teachers, go out and read them now!

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