Top 100 Novel Review: I, Claudius – Robert Graves (1934)

Duller Than A Text Book

Graves’ novel is worse than a milk-toast, disinterested-historian narrative.

910WRbaNUvL

My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

This book was supposed to be made for me.

One Summer, I read 30 books with many of them being about Greek and Roman history. I never made it past Augustus, so how excited was I to learn that there was a novel about the Roman Emperors from the perspective of Claudius. Not only that, it was historical fiction and should have all those cool thing you can do within the genre: dialogue, themes, story arcs!

Graves pulls off an impossible: I’ve read dull, straight historical accounts that had more pop than this book.

Continue reading “Top 100 Novel Review: I, Claudius – Robert Graves (1934)”

Top 100 Novel Review: The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene (1948)

Take Control Scobie!

But is our protagonist even capable of doing that? He always misreads the situation, using pity to guide actions. 

220px-HeartOfTheMatter.JPG

My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

I felt bad at the end of this book. Scobie is a man who mostly wants to be left alone, but others keep pulling him in multiple directions. He isn’t a bad person per say, but his laissez-faire attitude matched with his inability to read the direness of situations leads to a combustable situation; he slowly gets pulled down an unscrupulous path, over relying on pity to guide decisions.

Continue reading “Top 100 Novel Review: The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene (1948)”

Top 100 Novel Review: Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (1951)

We Really Are Phony.

I feel for Holden Caulfield: smart enough to identify the problem, but not able to reconcile it within himself. 

Blogging_Catcher_LargeWide

My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

This book made me deeply sad.

I had read the book when I was 16 for a required essay on banned books, and I remember as a youth identifying the message of the novel as that you couldn’t survive as an outcast. At some point, you had to rally around something, no matter how phony.

On this reading, almost double my life later, I felt Holden was my old self while the phony Adults me now: I have learned to accept how much of our lives are rigid formalities and empty, sweet nothings.

Continue reading “Top 100 Novel Review: Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (1951)”

Top 100 Novel Review: An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser (1925)

Calling BS Early.

Dreiser deconstructs the American Dream. 

An_American_Tragedy_Theodore_Dreiser_dust_jacket

My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

It’s amazing that his book was written so early.

While still a product of its time, Drieser’s novel is fantastically relevant today. At its core, it’s a commentary on class and the American Dream. The story follows a young Clyde Griffiths from a lowly, street-preaching family through several iterations of social status changes. What follows is an unsettling but cathartic reading; Clyde bears the sin of our own failures allowing us to live free of the American expectation.

Continue reading “Top 100 Novel Review: An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser (1925)”

Top 100 Novel Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey (1962)

An Infinite Amount to Think About.

Not only is their a dynamite narrative, the themes and competing ideas could fill a lifetime of consideration. 

652535301 

My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

I’ve had a run of books that forgo traditional story elements, like having a plot, meaningful narration, or development of characters (here’s looking at you “The Sun Also Rises” and “Falconer”). While they get heralded as artistic masterpieces, I find both books lacking teeth since they are not only unenjoyable to read, but they can’t coalesce to say anything due to being stripped of narrative devices.

In comes my savior: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” 

Not only does this book have an immensely intriguing story, showing the power struggle between a Head Nurse and an Asylum patient who are both egomaniacs, it has as many themes as you can consider. Like an infinite ball of string, you are free to pull and unwind from any angle as long as your heart desires.

Continue reading “Top 100 Novel Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey (1962)”

Top 100 Book Review: The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (1926)

Resignation, Cynicism and Meh.

Heralded for being interesting due to its lack of traditional story-telling and relying on the craft of writing — I just don’t see it. 

the-sun-also-rises-9781501121968_lg.jpg
My Rating: smooth-star

This was one of those books that had me running to the internet to reconcile my experience. What did I miss?

The answer that I found was nothing: my interpretation of the book was on solid ground as it was supposed to lack conflict, background, and intrigue. Hemingway was ushering in this new style of writing, a representation of the “Lost Generation” complete with the cynicism that their dreams would never be realized. His grand accomplishment was to eschew traditional story elements while still fulfilling the reader’s desire to continue to read.

I can’t help but think this is another example of avant-garde projection, propping up a frail and barebones narrative, ecstatically claiming how unique it is.

Continue reading “Top 100 Book Review: The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (1926)”

Top 100 Book Review: Ubik – Philip K. Dick (1969)

Unbalancing Thriller That Makes You Question

Science fiction at its best: taking advantage of temporal-spatial qualities to take advantage of our intuitions. 

155297

My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

I really think science fiction, the genre as a whole, is under appreciated. There is some really good writing out there, and just because the settings might be geeky, futuristic, or entail allusions to higher level math, it gets disregarded. The format allows authors to explore things that just wouldn’t otherwise be possible; when you don’t have to worry about what is plausible, you are free to explore the human condition unabated without typical restraints.

Where this can go awry is that things can get too zany when authors get drunk off the power of not having to tell a tightly-knit story. This can be a delicate thing to balance, using the unconstrained conventions of the genre but still having to tell a coherent narrative that can be appreciated.

Fortunately, Ubik does both of these well and gets the most out of both sides.

Continue reading “Top 100 Book Review: Ubik – Philip K. Dick (1969)”