Being brutally honest about books

Showing posts with label classic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classic. Show all posts

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Top 10 Most Unique Classics I've Read

Top Ten Tuesday is an awesome meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is Top Ten Of The Most Unique Books I've Read. I decided to go with classics because there are some wonderful old books out there that get overlooked in the blogging community.

Click the covers to go to the Goodreads links.
War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
How many 1000+ page Russian novels that are set during the Napoleonic Wars and have such fantastic characters are there?
The Iliad - Homer
It's such an old book, it would be disappointing if it wasn't unique.
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame - Victor Hugo
It's so dark I can't believe they made a Disney movie out of this. Lots of architecture in this one.
The Lost World - Arthur Conan Doyle
Dinosaurs in the early 19th Century! Also the guy doesn't get the girl and it's for a pretty hilarious reason.
The War of the Worlds - HG Wells
One of the first stories about an alien invasion in London. (Why is it always London? Looking at you, Doctor Who writers. Are the rest of us not worth it?)
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
A short novel about horrible people in 1920s New York. Cool.
The Phantom of the Opera -

The Color Purple - Alice Walker
A very important novel that I appreciated more as I studied it than when I was reading it. If you're a woman you should probably read this book.
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez
Happy families in South America. So many generations pass. I also vaguely remember there not being any chapter breaks.
The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
Like Doctor Who but even weirder, which is certainly an achievement.

What are the best or most unique classics you've read? Do you enjoy old books? Do you prefer to read classic lit or newer books?

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A New Favourite: Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace
Jane Austen meets JRR Tolkien

I watched the 2016 BBC mini-series a few months ago, which made me want to read the book. In case you don't know, the book is a monster, and it took me exactly 2 months to read. I read the ebook, not the physical book pictured, for this reason.

War and Peace takes place in Russia during the wars with Napoleon (1805-1813, although the epilogue happens in 1820). It was first published in 1865, making it historical fiction. The book's mostly about four aristocratic families during this time. I loved it. I'll try to avoid very specific spoilers, but if you don't realise that characters are going to die, go back and read the first sentence of this paragraph.

The good

  • An epic story of people fighting for their world and what or who they love (hence the similarity to Tolkien)
  • A rich, engaging setting (just like Tolkien...)
  • Philosophically rich (also like Tolkien) which is interesting when explored through the characters
  • Interesting, complex, developed characters (I found them much more complex and developed than those in Austen or Tolkien - Tolstoy just seems to know people incredibly well)
  • Interesting, complex, developed female characters (although women in this setting know their place, the women of War and Peace include some fascinating characters. However, there was one sentence about a woman who "slew hundred of the French", so they weren't all sitting at home. Awesomely, this woman actually existed.) 
  • It made me laugh (one character doesn't pronounce his Rs, a bear gets tied to a policeman and thrown in the river, several characters are (unintentionally) very very gay to a young 21st Century reader...)
  • It made me sad (lesson learnt: don't get attached to emo Russian princes)
  • Heaps of drama (similar to Jane Austen - particularly the family and relationship dramas)
  • Heaps of angst (between Pierre, Andrei, and Marya, there is a lot of melancholy)
  • Foreshadowing. Two characters' deaths (which I knew about because of the mini-series) were foreshadowed in one chapter, and it broke my heart.
  • Tolstoy's similes, metaphors, and analogies are entertaining. Sometimes, they help you to better understand a situation. Sometimes, they're less simile and more description of what's actually happening.

    The bad

    • Russian characters all have a bazillion names (thanks, Russian naming customs) which is very confusing. When you add in the fact that this translation Anglicises certain names, well...
    • Polish characters' names aren't even pronounceable  
    • Rumoured incest (however, I don't think they actually have an affair, unlike in the mini-series) 
    • Certain characters disappear for no reason and there's no word on what happens to them (one family lost two of their grown-up children, but we don't know anything about their reaction. Another minor character I grew attached to, due to her being so mysterious, disappeared after the last chapter - there was no mention of her in the epilogue, even though she'd been in the background the whole book. What?)
    • Structure - similar to Tolkien, sometimes when there's a change of POV, the book goes back in time a bit, which is confusing.

    The ugly

    • It's ~1300 pages long! No book has the right to be that long.
    • The scenes about war strategy and philosophy, and about history, are incredibly boring and I didn't follow. It's okay when they relate to certain characters, but sometimes they're just essays that don't specifically relate to the book.
    • The epilogues. That's right, epilogues. Plural. The first epilogue was set about 7 years after the end of the book, and it didn't give me warm fuzzy feeling about the characters' fates, although some of them were described as being happy. The second epilogue was about 40 pages of Tolstoy philosophising about history, and may as well have been published separately. I've seen people say to skip the epilogues, and I agree: the last 100 pages can be skipped without losing anything.

    The conclusion

    • I've found a new favourite book! How exciting! 
    • I know I recently talked about not judging intelligence by the books you read, but I feel smarter after reading this. 
    • Strongly recommend to fans of historical fiction and classic literature.
    • Will I read it again in my lifetime? Not sure. Maybe when I'm 50 I'll think about it. 

      The summary

      Tolstoy's epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed.

      The prodigious cast of characters, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence. Yet Tolstoy's portrayal of marital relations and scenes of domesticity is as truthful and poignant as the grand themes that underlie them.

      Add it on Goodreads

      Tuesday, 22 December 2015

      A Reread of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

      Pride and Prejudice  

      Date finished: 28 November 2015

      I first read Pride and Prejudice five years ago (not as long ago as I thought, actually, when I checked Goodreads) and gave it a 3-star rating. 13-year-old me didn't understand the language, but 18-year-old me found it much easier and more enjoyable to read the second time around.

      I enjoyed the plot about as much as I did the first time, but as most of you will know, there isn't much to it. The story is very simple, though it is slightly more interesting than some of the other Austen novels (I say this as someone who had read all her works at 16). It's entertaining enough, but it lacks the complexity that I would expect from a classic.

      What I got more out of by reading this five years later was the humour. Jane Austen wrote comedy and said herself that she couldn't sit down to write a serious novel if she tried. I didn't understand the wit as a 13-year-old as I found the archaic/formal/euphemistic language very difficult, but I appreciated it a lot more as an 18-year-old and even laughed out loud once or twice. I'm not sure whether it's due to Austen's style or characterisation that makes it so, or a mixture of both, but some of the dialogue is hilarious. While some of the ideas may not be relevant for 21st Century readers, the humour is timeless.

      Something I found worth reconsidering while rereading was the characters. Elizabeth Bennet is supposed to be intelligent, while I think she is a very average woman who makes some quick remarks. That's not to say there's anything wrong with her or that I can't sympathise with her as a character, just that in this day and age she would be ordinary, not the special snowflake she appears to be in her society. Mrs Bennet and her three youngest daughters are unbearable, and Mr Bennet, who is meant to be sensible and intelligent as a contrast to his wife, is not much better. In today's society he would be a horrible sexist, and Mrs Bennet even comments on the unfairness and strangeness of his will that prohibits any of his female descendants from inheriting his property. However, while Mr Darcy's rudeness makes it hard to engage with him, his unconventionality and sense of family honour make him one of very few likeable characters in the novel.

      The setting of the novel is so well-known I won't go much into it. Suffice to say, it is interesting to analyse from a feminist perspective: the women of the Regency era have very little options and decisions to make on their own, and are expected to marry as soon and as well as possible. This seems very unfair. But when you think about their society, the men have similar restrictions placed upon them, along with other expectations such as serving King and Country. So I won't make a final statement on whether this is a sexist setting or not. Also, we can't force our ideas on a society from 200 years ago as they just didn't have concepts like sexism in the same way we do.

      Pride and Prejudice lacks the depth to be great literature but is instead chick lit. However, it's funny and light and has entertained readers for two centuries. Most importantly, it improves on the second reading.

      Thursday, 17 April 2014

      The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings #2) by J.R.R. Tolkien

      The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2) 
      Date finished: 16 April 2014

      Got insomnia? Read The Lord of the Rings! Guaranteed cure!

      Well, actually, The Two Towers was much better than Fellowship. I liked the second book a lot more than the first. To be honest, I should rate this 3 stars and the first book 2, as that would be more accurate as to how I felt about the two books. I really need to go back and downgrade my rating of the first book. Unlike FoTR, where it only gets interesting in the second part, TTT is only interesting in the first part. There is so much more action (though still not a lot) and the plot actually gets interesting. It's a shame that in the second part it gets boring enough. (Sorryyy, but I just don't care about Frodo, Sam, and Gollum.)

      Much like Fellowship, Two Towers is, mostly, a few hundred pages of scenery. There is action, but if you look close at the text, you'll find that the majority of it is descriptions of scenery - Rohan, Fangorn, Ithilien, Mordor, etc. It's all scenery. And even though it's all scenery, I can't picture it in my head. This is why I love the movies - you can see the scenery in the background, without it being something you have to chug your way through, cursing Tolkien all the way. Do people actually like reading about scenery? Do they? Do they really? Because I sure don't. Give me action, cool dialogue, kickarse characters!

      My sister told me that there were some funny parts in this book, and there was one: the Orcs in the last chapter were Spanish! They said Hola! Is that Tolkien's racism talking or what? Because I love Spanish and the Hispanic culture myself, I felt a bit offended. Why are the baddies Spanish? Why not French, or American? Jeez.

      I, and probably everyone else, even those who love these books, had a problem with the different perspectives this book is written in. I liked reading about Aragorn, Legolas, Merry, and Pippin in the first part, but then I found it really hard to get through the second part, with just Frodo, Sam, Gollum, and Faramir. What Tolkien should have done is, like in the movies, mix up the chapters so that each chapter is about different characters. That way, the time frame isn't confusing, and you don't find the cure to your insomnia.

      So I've been reading other people's reviews on Goodreads (the ones where they rated the book 2 stars), and I agree with most of their points. It's boring, slow, and the characters aren't likeable - or even realistic. And neither is the dialogue! I love good dialogue, in fact it's one thing that is essential in any story, and yet, the dialogue is these books is long and unrealistic. People don't talk like that now, and I don't think they talked like that even in Tolkien's time, or in medieval times. So why do the characters talk like that?

      The characters are still pretty boring in this book. In the movie, I love the Three Hungers and Merry and Pippin. In the book, they're okay, but nowhere near as interesting (or entertaining). I have come to the conclusion that Tolkien really should have had an editor who knew about characterisation. And structure. And when too much is too much. There's also the relationships. These characters have really weird relationships with each other, and even though I've been told again and again that Tolkien didn't intend for there to be any homosexuality, I just cannot interpret Frodo and Sam's relationship as anything but gay. (May I point out that the first time I saw the movies, I shouted out "Just kiss!" at one stage?)

      I know that most people don't like the songs in these books, but I found myself enjoying them. I think that they are very well-written (Tolkien should have stuck with songs and poems, I think) and offer a well-deserved break from the long passages of scenery. In fact, if the whole story were written as a song, I think it would be much easier to read.

      I'm sure there are other things that I wanted to say about The Two Towers, but as I can't remember them right now, I'll finish this off with a warning: Don't read The Lord of the Rings unless you like falling asleep in the middle of a chapter and accidentally creasing the pages.

      Tuesday, 11 March 2014

      The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1) by J.R.R. Tolkien

      Date finished: 2 March 2014

      As a huge fan of the movies, I wanted to enjoy this more than I actually did. The movies are incredible. But the book is not. For someone who is in this fandom and enjoyed The Hobbit, it's hard for me to say this, but: Tolkien just wasn't that great an author. (I'm not saying he wasn't good at writing poems, but he just wasn't very good at writing this novel.) When I first started the book, I loved it. I was in awe of Tolkien's amazing world-building and his writing style. Somewhere along the way, all of that changed.

      For a start, his style is so damn hard to read! For the readalong we only read a few chapters each week, but if I were reading it on my own, I couldn't manage much more than that. I read The Council of Elrond in three days, that's how long it took. I have read all of Jane Austen's works and I didn't struggle with them as much as I struggled with this. I don't know how people read the books over and over again - once was hard enough! I'm still going ahead and finishing the trilogy for the Tolkien Readalong, but I won't be reading it again.

      Secondly, there are so many unnecessary characters and plot arcs. Don't get me wrong, I love all the members of the fellowship, but then there are the characters we only see once who don't add anything to the plot. Then, there are the unnecessary minor plot points. So many of these just slowed down the plot and made the introductory part too long. A good writer doesn't waste a single word. Tolkien wastes whole characters, chapters, and minor events. I love Middle-earth, but if I had edited Lord of the Rings it would have been so much shorter and more concise. Every word, scene, and character would matter.

      Now, characters. There really aren't many relatable characters in Fellowship of the Ring at all. In fact, I can't think of any except a couple of the Hobbits. You get Galadriel and Aragorn talking about themselves in the third person, and no-one in real life does that. I don't care if they're not your average human - they still don't act like proper people. That's not very good, is it, Tolkien? Readers need to be able to relate to the characters and care about them, if they want to enjoy the book.

      Then, there's the fact that although the setting is wonderful and intriguing and magical and all that, the story itself is quite boring. It's only when the Hobbits and Strider/Aragorn (I prefer the name Strider for some reason) start making their way towards Rivendell that things get exciting. And that's 250 pages into the book. It's not exactly a thriller.

      As for a recommendation, I'm not sure who I would recommend this to. There are fantasy books out there that are a hundred times better than Fellowship of the Ring. I, for one, quite like Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, Tamora Pierce's Tortall books, Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn Chronicles and LegendSong Series,  and Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series. Read those instead. Don't waste your time reading The Lord of the Rings when the movies are far superior.
      I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

      Contact Form


      Email *

      Message *

      Powered by Blogger.