Tag Archives: summer reading

Summer Reading List Part 2, or More Books I’m Embarrassed to Not Have Read Yet.

26 Mar

Thanks for all of the feedback you guys gave on my last summer reading list post! It’s been wonderful to hear your recommendations and suggestions, so keep’em coming! I thought of a few more I’d like to share with you all, even more books I’m just so embarrassed that I haven’t gotten to yet. I hope to have a productive summer full of reading.

Do feel free to comment below on all of them/laugh at my limited literary knowledge!

1) Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

You’re probably thinking, doesn’t everyone have to read that in high school? How has she not read that? I’m with you there. I suspect I never got around to it because this was the book all the snobby guys were into, and I really need to be over that now. The fact is, Vonnegut is so important, especially for  fiction today. Vonnegut is an important short story and satire writer, and it’s high time I read this classic.

2) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Hear me out. These books are flying off the shelves like hotcakes (I’m pretty sure the phenomenon around this YA series is pretty much the definition of hotcakes), and you all know I love a good book with a strong heroine in it. Seriously though, this seems like the sort of series I would have loved to have had as a teenager. Dystopian future, strong heroine with a bow and arrow, strategy games, the works. It’s the first new YA series I’ve been excited about since I was about fifteen, which I think says a lot. So I’m going to read the series, and I’m really looking forward to it.

3) Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Better Know a Book veterans will note that I do love the modernists. I love modernism, I love the 1920s, and I love the writers who made it happen, as well as the crazy group of people they all hung around with. One of the modernists I’ve read the least of, however, is Fitzgerald. I read The Great Gatsby, of course, but nothing else. This seemed like an interesting next step, and it was inspired by his difficult, turbulent-at-best relationship with his eccentric wife, Zelda (eccentric is a euphemism there, for the record). Hence, I hope to curl up with this tome on a beach somewhere real, real soon.

4) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another book I’m embarrassed to never have read. Atwood is a writer that I greatly admire, and am constantly wishing I was reading more of. I saw her speak at my college’s commencement a few years ago, and that just cemented my adoration for her. The Handmaid’s Tale seems like a book I’d greatly admire, and would actually be great to juxtapose alongside The Hunger Games–both dystopian novels heavily featuring female leads. I’m excited to finally pull this one off the shelf this summer, for sure.


The Beginnings of My Summer Reading List (A Hopeful Look Forwards)

11 Mar

March is a very muddy month. It’s a weird, in-between sort of month that marks the halfway point of the semester, and boy oh boy does this next half look long. And the weather has even been mild!

There are, of course, ways to combat malaise, such as beginning to make my summer reading list! It’s a year long adventure that usually ends up with me getting my hopes way up and somehow misguidedly thinking I’ll read 10 large tomes in 4 summer months that always fly by far quicker than March ever will.

I post this here in the hopes you all can chime in with your opinions on these books, and any suggestions you might have. Do share in the comments! (After all, I’ll be posting about what I’ve read–so you oughta have some input!)

1) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I know. I know. I have no idea how I’ve gotten through four years as a creative writing/gender studies major without reading Jane Eyre either. It wasn’t an intentional omission. I love the Brontes. I even own the book, it is leering at my from my bookshelf as I write. It’s just been perpetually “on my list” of things to read and quite frankly it’s time I read it. Anyhow. I’d love to read this, and revisit Wuthering Heights, which I read at the tender age of 13 and I’m pretty positive I completely misunderstood it. What I’m trying to say is it’s high time I revisit the Brontes and give them a proper read.

2) The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

While I love to make a good Hemingway joke, I have to admit I’ve read woefully little of his works. I’ve been interested in reading this particular book because I spent a month in Spain two years ago–it’s a beautiful country, and my love of modernist expatriates makes this book stand out for me amongst all his other works (which do have a lot of expatriates in them, but you get it). I hardly know enough about Spain to say I could totally relate to Hemingway, but I’d love to read his take on things. I promise it’s not because there’ve been a number of books and movies recently dealing with Hemingway, (he’s in vogue right now apparently)–he, like the Brontes, has been on my list for a long time!

3) Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Long time Better Know a Book readers will hopefully remember that I do love Marilynne Robinson, but I have never read Gilead, which is a real shame. It’s another book that sits up on my shelf glaring down at me asking, “Why did you even buy me in the first place if you didn’t have time to read me? Ugh.” Fair enough. I’ve heard this book slower, but just as beautiful as Housekeeping, and I hope to find the time to curl up on the beach for a whole day with it sometime.

4) White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith is a name I hear all the time, but have never read. I hope to change that this summer. White Teeth is a book that all of my professors rave about, and I’m excited to try it for myself. It follows two wartime buddies struggles in English society, one being an Englishman and the other a Bangladeshi Indian. I know I try to profile classic works on my blog, but hey, I like to throw in more contemporary works like Gilead as well for some variety.

5) Ulysses by James Joyce

I know, I know, don't judge a book by it's cover...but this is a really great cover.

I’ve had ambivalent feelings about James Joyce since high school. I loved Dubliners, I loathed Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But I’ve been told Ulysses could redeem Joyce fully. It wouldn’t be a book I attempt lightly–it’s long and difficult and chock full of allusions, metaphors, connections, and the like, but it’s a dream I do hope to fulfill sooner rather than later. It seems like the sort of book you need to read at least once, even if you don’t fully understand it. I’d like to rise to the challenge.

It’s a start, but a good start, I think. My dear readers, do give suggestions/recommendations/your own reading lists in the comments!

A Brief Little Hiatus

11 Aug

My dear readers! If you can’t already tell my two summer jobs have eaten up whatever little time I had for this blog (or anything else for that matter. Like eating and sleeping). But fear not–come September I’ll be back, serving up books for you like it’s my job (because it is!).  So there will be few to no posts before the start of September. I’m not thrilled about it, but that’s just how time works.

I am, however, happy to report that should there be submissions by readers during that time, I’d love to post them! It can be a wonderful excuse to get more voices on this blog (see the H.G. Wells post below, it’s phenomenal!). Take a look at the Want to Contribute page for more!

And keep reading! We’ll reconvene in September.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

29 Jul

If any book could be considered a doozy, it’s this one. One Hundred Years of Solitude (originally Cien Anos de Soledad) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the most unique books of the latter half of the 21st century, but it is not a book to skim. Here Marquez combines fantasy, reality, human history, and tragedy to trace the course of humanity, both past and present. For the ambitious beach reader, here’s a challenge for you, one that’s worth it in the end.

(Also, my apologies for the lack of proper Spanish accents. I’m having difficulty with them today, but I know where they belong, and it’s driving me crazy too, I swear).

Published: 1967 in Spanish (1970 in English)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Quick Read?: No, but going slow can be a pleasure with this book.

Difficulty: Quite difficult. Not impossible, but Marquez purposefully makes it confusing and difficult at times.

Synopsis: The books opens on the  mysterious town of Macondo, after the Buendia family (the protagonists of the novel) move there from Colombia. The book moves through seven generations of the Buendia family in Macondo, surviving wars, ill weather, ill health, and other misfortunes, many of which they cause for themselves. The family repeats both names and misfortunes as time moves along, and fantastical elements blend with reality to the point where it is hard to know what really happened and what is the stuff of the characters’ imaginations. Th men in the family try to understand their plight, and the plight of all of humanity, by deciphering a code, with no success. The entire story is told much like a myth or oral history, frequently factual but frequently exaggerated as well. Yet when Macondo is nearly wiped out by a storm, all of the family’s cyclical, repeated misfortunes come to light, and a God-like entity shows them their follies.

What makes this book awesome? One Hundred Years of Solitude is known as one of the definitive books in the magical realism genre, where reality and magic blend in a way that isn’t fantastical, but merely accepted as a part of life. This inspired many other famous Hispanic writers, including Borges and others, to write magical realist texts as well. The beauty of magical realism is the way it can lend power and weight to one’s own imagination, faith, and beliefs and how they effect the world around you.

The novel is also an ambitious reflection of human history, especially Central and South American history–for example, when the Buendias find “fire” and the wheel in the beginning of the book, much like the first man did. The talk of conquistadors, imperialism, and disappearances later on mirror the political issues in South America today, and lend them a kind of inevitability that puts emphasis on our flaws as humans–namely, when we repeat history.

Marquez: Too smart to join "Animal House" since the day he was born.

Some neat-o facts:

  • The New York Times Book Review professed that “One Hundred Years of Solitude is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race. Mr. García Márquez has done nothing less than to create in the reader a sense of all that is profound, meaningful, and meaningless in life.” (William Kennedy). I guess they liked it? But really. What a compliment. How do you move on from a compliment like that?
  • He won the Nobel Prize for Fiction in 1982. He also writes screenplays and continues to write as a journalist, his original profession. I’m assuming writing in those mediums is far less cyclical, but who knows?
  • Marquez claims his penchant for writing magical realist texts was by hearing his grandmother tell him stories passed down through generations.
If you like this, try: Love in the Time of Cholera or No One Writes the Colonel by Marquez; poetry by Borges or poetry by Pablo Neruda.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

14 Jul

I must apologize, readers, for the small delays to this blog–I’m working two jobs this summer, and sometimes my wonderful ideas for blog posts get lost somewhere between eating, seeing friends, and passing out completely from exhaustion. My summer has been and will remain beyond fun, but alas, sometimes Better Know a Book gets paused. My apologies.

But fear not, for there are plenty of posts to come. Today, I’m tackling another book from my favorite writer, the Woolfinator–Orlando. For anyone who thinks Woolf is an uber-serious, stuffy, boring writer, they have clearly never come near this gem. It’s a fun, whimsical ride through British history, defying gender norms and ideas of love even today. It’s a love letter to love, but also, an actual love letter, and one that almost always gets wrongfully shafted on summer reading lists.

Published: 1928

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Quick Read?: Let yourself get into the flow of it–once you do, it is definitely very quick.

Difficulty: Not very. It does help to know some British history, but even then.

Synopsis: Written in faux biographical form, Orlando opens during Elizabethan era of English history, where our hero, Orlando, is a young lord in Queen Elizabeth I’s court. He is a handsome young man, with lovers in, ahem, very high places, but when the Russian princess Sasha comes to visit, Orlando is beyond smitten. After an intense and short affair, Sasha must leave suddenly, leaving Orlando devastated, resorting to poetry to heroic valor for his country to soothe himself. Yet somehow, magically, Orlando lives not for decades, but centuries, and finds himself an ambassador to Turkey from England. It is there that, during days of slumber after a battle, that he turns into a woman (through a beautifully written passage). As he/she parades through British history, Orlando meets with historical figures, including many writers and poets, to try and understand poetry and love, both of which he abandoned once Sasha left. He/She does this up until the 19th century, living amongst history and the present day. A charming, whimsical work, it flows just like Orlando’s beloved poetry, filled to the brim with the euphoric feel only being in love can really give.

What makes this book awesome? It’s entirely possible you ended up reading all that just to think Holy crap, this book sounds weird as hell, I don’t get it. But that’s truly it–Orlando is just a magical human being who transcends both time and gender, and is able to make larger assertions and ideas about both through his experiences. Woolf writes about his/her life in a way that is seamless and entirely believable. It seems natural that Orlando discussed poetry with Alexander Pope just as it seemed natural that he went ice skating with Queen Elizabeth I’s court. So if you’re worried this will just be too weird, just trust your imagination. It’s only weird if you allow it to be–if you don’t allow it to be, it’s a beautiful love story.

And yes, it’s humorous! Woolf pokes fun at a lot of historical eras, figures, and writers. Even if you only know a tiny bit about these ideas, you can still pick up on the humor, and really is giggle-worthy. The narrator is just as taken aback by Orlando as we are, and it is this exasperation on their part that causes us to laugh as well. This book is proof, if any of them are, that Woolf actually had a wonderful sense of humor.

The way she writes gender is fascinating as well. She makes Orlando extremely androgynous, with very feminine and masculine traits all at once. It is gender-bending even by today’s standards, and shows the effect of time on our ideas of gender, our relationships, and on society’s beliefs as a whole. Many believe this to be one of the first pieces of lesbian literature, though few realized this at the time it was published, thanks to its magical traits.

The Woolfinator, messing with homophobes since the day she was born. Also, messing around with women when her husband wasn't around.

Some great facts to know:

  • When folks say Orlando is a love letter, they mean it. It’s not just to English history or a love letter to love either–Woolf had an affair with noted painter and eccentric Vita Sackville-West. Their affair prompted the novel, as noted in Woolf’s own diary. (Their letters to one another are a hoot, for the record). No one recognized the lesbian elements to the story until much later on, thanks to the warping of time and reality throughout.
  • Because no one recognized these elements, it was one of Woolf’s best-selling works while she was alive.
  • There has been a movie adaptation of it, as well as several stage adaptations, given that it is one of the least cerebral of her works, and the most straightforward (seriously, isn’t that ridiculous? a book about time travel and gender bending is your most straight forward book? You crazy, Virginia).
If you like, try: any other works by Woolf, The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

The lady who inspired this Orlando, Vita Sackville-West. Who knows how old she REALLY was when this was taken...

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

11 Jul

I don’t know about you, but where I am, it is hot and sweaty and sticky and gross. Not that I’d complain–I love summer and I love a reason to be lazy. All I want to do is sit someplace cool, curl up in a ball, and do absolutely nothing. Apropos of this, today I am profiling Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov, the story of the craziest, most tragic couch potato of them all. Perfect for mid-July, or any time of year, really.

Published: 1859

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

Difficulty: Not difficult.

Quick Read?: It’s a thick book, but it moves quickly.

Synopsis: Oblomov is a youthful Russian aristocrat who enjoys the finer things in life–namely, leaving his bed as little as possible. A man of “thought,” he wants to be disturbed as little as possible, whether it be by his devious servant or by his worldly, energy-filled friends that come to visit him. Little inspires Oblomov, and it is unclear if he is truly philosophizing, daydreaming, or just sleeping. The reader learns he was always a pampered, sheltered little boy, and never instilled with all of the energy that playing, travelling, working, and existing could give him. He supposedly runs a country estate and serfdom, but does little to manage it, threatening to send him into financial ruin. After much urging by his doctors and friends, Oblomov does indeed go out into the world and meets the lovely Olga, with whom he falls in love. But when Oblomov cannot pull together the will to marry her, it becomes apparent that destiny may in fact have passed him by.

What makes this book awesome? This book, though sad at times, is actually hilarious as well. The comedy of a man who refuses to do anything is both alarming to our soul, but also comical–the book is thick, and much of it is his insistence on how little he wishes to actually exist, merely because he feels he has that choice. Like any Russian novel, it is a fast-paced read, and is really intellectually stimulating.

Also, Oblomov was used by the Russian Revolution as an example of the corruption and decadence of the Russian aristocracy. For any Russian history buffs, the book is actually cited in socialist speeches during the early 1900’s by socialist leaders. The name “Oblomov” has been integrated into Russian culture very strongly–making this book a really great way to examine Russia and its view of work ethic over time.

Someone got lazy when it came to shaving too, eh Goncharov? Oh wait, he's just Russian, never mind.

Some neat-o facts:

  • OK, so they are sort of already up there with why this book is so great, but I felt like I ought to put them for both. At least, because I think this book is truly fascinating.
  • Take a look at this facial hair. Show’em how it’s done, Goncharov.
If you like this, try:
The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

10 Jul

It seems like any time this book gets brought up in conversation, it’s that book everyone “has always meant to read.” OK, so maybe this entire blog sort of works that way, but still. Catch-22 is a hilarious gem that can be read over and over again, and is great if you’re looking for a laugh this summer.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Published: 1961

Difficulty: The style of writing is easy to read, though the jumping around to different narrators can, at times, be difficult to deal with.

Quick Read?: Given the fragmented nature of the book, and it’s length, it is not quick, but at times it will feel quick.

Synopsis: Catch-22 opens to the protagonist Yossarian in a military hospital in 1944. World War II is raging on but Yossarian is in the hospital for an ailment they don’t understand and can’t heal though he feels perfectly fine. But this is OK by him–he wants nothing to do with the war, with fighting, with missions, with authority, with anything. He’s not a rebel or bad person at all, just lazy, and irritating to those around him. The book follows his silly antics, ridiculous pranks, and brilliant twists of logic throughout wartime, especially towards his loatheful superior officers, switching between narrators and time periods from chapter to chapter (including characters named Major Major, constantly changing soldier requirements that are impossible to meet, and whores who are more manly than the soldiers themselves). As Yossarian refuses to go on any missions or do any work, no one can stop him but no one can motivate him either. Each character is more absurd and dysfunctional than the next, to the point that even the delinquent Yossarian seems fully functional. The entire book is extremely satirical of the American militant mindset, World War II, and American obedience. It is laugh out loud funny, and truly unforgettable.

What makes this book awesome?: Heller really does write a book that will have you giggling to yourself aloud, even if you find that sort of thing humiliating. I always hated when teachers would say a classic book had timeless humor, because that usually meant it was cheesy, which is not at all the case with Catch-22. It is genuinely funny, and because of that, its moments of seriousness are incredibly moving. It’s a classic book that doesn’t feel like a burden to read, because in all the seriousness of war, we are reminded of the lightheartedness of being human.

Also, considering the war(s?) we are still involved in today, the satire of the military and American government is something refreshing to read today. It may not be the same sort of satire you might see on Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, but it is very smart humor that hits a nerve with you.

Look at Joseph Heller. Clearly a troublemaker with a cause, am I right?

Some neat-o facts: 

  • Yossarian is a bombardier, as was Heller. However, unlike Yossarian, Heller claims to never have had bad experiences with his superior officers. Yeah, OK Heller, sure.
  • Note that there are definite subtle and not-so-subtle stabs at McCarthyism and the other ill side-effects that World War II brought on the U.S. during the 1950’s, when Heller himself wrote the novel.
  • The title, as is explained in the book (not a spoiler), is a reference to having to fulfill or achieve something that can never actually be fulfilled or achieved, which is very much a stab at war itself.
If you like this, try: “M*A*S*H,” All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien