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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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The Top 100 Book Review: A Death in the Family – James Agee (1957)

Beautiful Writing, Tepid Story

“We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.”

Rating: smooth-starsmooth-star

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I almost hate myself for doing this: a book that is so beautifully written with descriptions of life that burst from the page getting only two stars. There were times I put the book down and really took a moment to live the words. That’s how good this writing is. Take a moment to take in this excerpt below:

“Before long the city thinned out into the darkened evidences of the kind of flea-bitten semi-rurality which always peculiarly depressed him: mean little homes, and other inexplicably new and substantial, set too close together for any satisfying rural privacy or use, too far, too shapelessly apart to have adherences as any kind of community; mean little pieces of ill-cultivated land behind them, and alongside the road, between them, trash and slash and broken sheds and rained-out billboards: he passed a late, late streetcar, no passengers abroad, far out near the end of its run.”

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Top 100 Book Review: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers (1940)

“It was funny, too,how lonesome a person could be in a crowded house.” Mick.
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Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

It’s always the books about the human spirit that endure. There is no need to worry about setting or plot as the things people dealt with then are the same things we deal with now. It’s like when James Baldwin said “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”

Carson McCuller wrote “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” at the age of 23. It was an immediate hit and was the first of many of her works to focus on loneliness and isolation. She herself was not in good health and would die at the age of 50 after living a life of strokes and health complications. It’s hard not to think that these personal, life experiences weren’t the catalyst for many of her novels.

This book checks off many of my personal-taste preferences: vignette chapters from each character’s perspective, the setting of a small town  in the rural south and a focus on characters and not necessarily plot. While this might not move the needle for other readers, there is plenty to love about the temporary world McCuller builds in small-town Georgia.

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Top 100 Book Review: Go Tell It on the Mountain – James Baldwin (1953)

Electric Writing and Powerful Characters

“There are people in the world for whom “coming along” is a perpetual process, people who are destined never to arrive.”

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Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

Somehow as a senior in high school, they decided that it was a good idea to have school only every other day. I was taking community college classes at night, so they put all my other classes a on an “A” day, which left me with way too much free time. Outside of Madden ’06, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II, and creating  a 20×20 mural for the prom theme of a Midsummer Night’s dream, I did a lot of reading.

I’m not even sure how I found Go Tell It on the Mountain back then, but I remember it being a good read full of fiery language had a bizarre ending.

That opinion still stands.

James Baldwin was born in 1924 and grew up in Harlem with a preacher step-father. He ended up moving and living in Paris as he wanted to get away from american racism as well as homophobic culture. Go Tell It on the Mountain can be viewed as a semi-autobiography as the protagonist, John, grows up in Harlem himself in a religious household as Baldwin weaves themes of gender and sexuality into the story.

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