Classic Book Reviews: Uncle Tom’s Cabin + The Beautiful and Damned

I continue my adventures in reading the classics with Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Beautiful and Damned. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
.

I’m continuing my journey of reading the classics that have somehow escaped me (you can read previous posts here and here). Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Beautiful and Damned were next on my list, simply because I happened to have audio book versions of each. (I admit to listening to each of them on 2x speed and using my 30 minute commute to force myself to listen to them when they got dry and boring.) Still, it’s easy to see how each of these books became classics, and I’m glad I read them.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

First published in 1852, this book follows the story of several slaves and the white people who surround them. When Mr. Shelby, the slave owner, finds himself in debt, he has to sell two of his favorite slaves–kind, patient Tom and the young child of Eliza. Eliza decides to run away with her child, while Tom agrees to be sold downriver. We follow both characters, along with the masters and fellow slaves they encounter on their travels.

I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. It is powerful and surprisingly modern for the time it was written. It’s easy to see why Abraham Lincoln reportedly cited it as the cause of the Civil War. Of course, there is a fair amount of racism still present (it was written in the 1850s, after all), and there is a strong case of White Savior Complex and a large group of simple, pure-hearted slaves, but I was amazed at what a case Stowe built for ending slavery. She focused on how deeply these mothers felt the loss of their children, husbands the loss of their wives, and often directs her narrative voice at the audience, urging them to think about how they would feel in similar circumstances. Stowe clearly had a deep Christian faith, as did many of her readers at the time, and she gathers evidence for how unchristian it is to own slaves. She even attacks those who justify slavery by describing how kind they are to their own slaves and how lost these people would be without guidance–Stowe rightly points out that everyone desires freedom above practically all else and how harmful it is to be even a kindly master.

If you can get past the historical racism inherent to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the length which at times feels dry, you should read this book. I’m glad I did, even though I doubt I’ll pick it up again.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Beautiful and Damned

Embellished with the author’s lyrical prose, here is the story of Harvard-educated, aspiring aesthete Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife, Gloria. As they await the inheritance of his grandfather’s fortune, their reckless marriage sways under the influence of alcohol and avarice. A devastating look at the nouveau riche and New York nightlife, as well as the ruinous effects of wild ambition, The Beautiful and the Damned achieved stature as one of Fitzgerald’s most accomplished novels.

Fitzgerald is great at presenting a depressing, dark view of human nature, and that’s exactly what he does in The Beautiful and Damned. Anthony and Gloria selfishly mistreat each other and fall into straits as they can’t control their spending/drinking/vanity. It’s painful to see them do so much harm to themselves and each other, although it is of course very well written. If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, you’ll know what to expect from this book.

Rating: Meh

Classics Link Up: Slaughterhouse-Five and A Room with a View

The latest classic books I've checked off my list: A Room with a View and Slaughterhouse-Five. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
.

You might remember the classic book challenge that I’m doing myself (and you are welcome to participate too! Just post your links in the comments below with your latest classic book reads). These two books are the latest on my list (I actually finished A Room with a View just before I created my list, which is why it doesn’t appear there).

A Room with a View

One of E. M. Forster’s most celebrated novels, A Room With a View is the story of a young English middle-class girl, Lucy Honeychurch. While vacationing in Italy, Lucy meets and is wooed by two gentlemen, George Emerson and Cecil Vyse. After turning down Cecil Vyse’s marriage proposals twice Lucy finally accepts. Upon hearing of the engagement George protests and confesses his true love for Lucy. Lucy is torn between the choice of marrying Cecil, who is a more socially acceptable mate, and George who she knows will bring her true happiness. A Room With a View is a tale of classic human struggles such as the choice between social acceptance or true love. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is sweet, reminiscent of Jane Austen. After a life-changing trip to Italy, Lucy has to decide which man to marry–Cecil, a protective and traditional man, or George, who refuses to live by society’s rules. I must say, I was confused about feminist overtones–I’ll admit, this is one of those classic books that I’m not sure I’m getting completely. Have any of you studied A Room with a View? I’d love your perspective on it!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

This is one of those classic books that I’m pretty sure everyone except me has already read. It’s actually an easy read, and the structure is interesting–Billy Pilgrim, the main character, thinks he has become “unstuck in time,” and his reminiscences shoot from one phase of his life to another, all centering on his experiences in Dresden during WWII.

Despite the ease of reading and the occasional humorous (or at least absurd) scene, the book tackles huge topics about the effects of war. It’s very reminiscent of Catch-22 (although it didn’t make me nearly as angry as that book did; Slaughterhouse-Five was more resigned and hopeless). It’s an unsettling look at the bombing of Dresden and its effects on the humanity of soldiers.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Have you read either of these books? What classics have you read lately? Don’t forget to leave your links in the comments!

A Classic Book Challenge + Link Up!

Join the classic book challenge and link up with your list of classic books that you want to read! | NewberyandBeyond.com
.

After reading The Year of Reading Dangerously, I was inspired to create my own list of classics that I’ve overlooked over the years. These are books that I want to read, books that I feel I should have read already, or books that I have read but I feel like I didn’t “get” the first time.

I know I’m not the only one who has a nagging list of overlooked classics waiting to be read, so I decided to create a link up for us all to share our experiences and reviews as we work through that list. In this month’s link up, you can share your list of classics (and feel free to tell us why you picked those books or why you haven’t yet read them). Here’s my list of classics that I’ll be working my way through:

  1. Middlemarch; George Eliot
  2. A Confederacy of Dunces; John Kennedy Toole
  3. Lord of the Flies; William Golding
  4. Vanity Fair; William Makepeace Thackeray
  5. Beloved; Toni Morrison
  6. Orlando; Virginia Woolf
  7. Mrs. Dalloway; Virginia Woolf
  8. To the Lighthouse; Virginia Woolf
  9. 1984; George Orwell
  10. The Grapes of Wrath; John Steinbeck
  11. The Bell Jar; Sylvia Plath
  12. Julius Caesar; William Shakespeare
  13. Slaughterhouse-Five; Kurt Vonnegut
  14. Their Eyes were Watching God; Zora Neale Hurston
  15. Walden; Henry David Thoreau
  16. The Sound and the Fury; William Faulkner
  17. The Canterbury Tales; Geoffrey Chaucer
  18. Faust; Goethe
  19. Invisible Man; Ralph Ellison
  20. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; Maya Angelou
  21. A Raisin in the Sun; Lorraine Hansberry
  22. War of the Worlds; H.G. Wells
  23. On the Road; Jack Kerouac
  24. Paradise Lost; Milton
  25. Inferno; Dante
  26. Tess of the D’urbervilles; Thomas Hardy
  27. Brideshead Revisited; Evelyn Waugh
  28. Crime and Punishment; Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  29. Les Miserables; Victor Hugo
  30. Fahrenheit 451; Ray Bradbury
  31. Dracula; Bram Stoker
  32. Watership Down; Richard Adams
  33. Candide; Voltaire
  34. My Antonia; Willa Cather
  35. Much Ado about Nothing; William Shakespeare
  36. Thank You, Jeeves; P.G. Wodehouse
  37. The Maltese Falcon; Dashiell Hammett
  38. Slouching Towards Bethlehem; Joan Didion
  39. The Outsiders; SE Hinton
  40. The Collected Poems; Langston Hughes

I’m so excited to see your lists! Be sure to check out the other posts in the linky as well. Each month, I’ll open a new linky for everyone to share their progress in working through their list.

 

Classics Roundup

Reviews of my most recent forays into the classics, including Orwell, Gaskell, and Woolf. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
.

In my continual quest to catch up on all the classics I “should have” read in high school or college, I’ve collected tons of books that I’ve decided I don’t really want to read. As I sorted through my Kindle books this month, I found dozens of classics that I knew I would probably never read, and a few that I decided to give a chance. These three are a few of the books that made the cut.

A Room of One’s Own

First published on 24 October 1929, the essay was based on a series of lectures Virginia Woolf delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers of and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled “Women and Fiction,” and hence the essay, are considered non-fiction. The essay is generally seen as a feminist text, and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Reading this book offers an interesting view of what feminism was like 100 years ago. There were some things that Virginia Woolf said that I agreed with and found fascinating, but there were also others that made me cringe. Still, I’m really glad I read it. This short book is my first by Virginia Woolf, and I look forward to reading some of her fiction in the future.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Animal Farm

Tired of their servitude to man, a group of farm animals revolt and establish their own society, only to be betrayed into worse servitude by their leaders, the pigs, whose slogan becomes: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This 1945 satire addresses the socialist/communist philosophy of Stalin in the Soviet Union. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

There’s nothing I can say about this book that a million high school students haven’t said before. I was one of the few who wasn’t required to read it in high school, but reading it as an adult still wasn’t very enjoyable. It’s heavy handed and missing subtleties. Maybe I’m expecting too much from a satire, or maybe I’m just expecting the wrong things, but I admit I was glad that this book is mercifully short.

Rating: Meh

Wives and Daughters

Set in English society before the 1832 Reform Bill, Wives and Daughters centres on the story of youthful Molly Gibson, brought up from childhood by her father. When he remarries, a new step-sister enters Molly’s quiet life – loveable, but worldly and troubling, Cynthia. The narrative traces the development of the two girls into womanhood within the gossiping and watchful society of Hollingford.

Wives and Daughters is far more than a nostalgic evocation of village life; it offers an ironic critique of mid-Victorian society. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I actually listened to this one on audiobook, and it’s a long one, clocking in at 24 hours of listening time. So I was super disappointed when I neared the end and the inevitable sweet conclusion to the romance and discovered that the author had died before finishing the book! Noooooooooooo! That disappointment aside, this is a very good book. It’s in the vein of Jane Austen, but rather than focusing on a particular woman and her love interest, this book spends a lot of time focusing on a girl and her family (with, of course, some romance thrown in as well). It’s well written and engaging. I just wish I could have gotten the fulfillment of a tidy ending!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Which classics have you enjoyed? Which should I skip?

Catch-22

In which I finally read and review Catch-22. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
.

Catch-22 is one of those books that I “should have” read a long time ago but never did. And looking back, I’m glad I didn’t read this in high school. I doubt I would have gotten as much from the book as a teenager in comparison to what I got reading it now.

The basic premise of the book is this: Yossarian is in the U.S. military during World War II. The colonel in charge keeps raising the number of missions the men have to fly before they can return home. When Yossarian complains, he learns of Catch-22, which is that if you ask to no longer fly missions, you are sane and must fly them, but if you want to keep flying missions, you are insane. Yossarian spends the entire book dealing with situations like this one, in which the only sane thing to do is act crazy.

Catch-22 talks a lot about the absurdities of war. It’s no wonder that it became hugely popular during the Vietnam war. Heller is relentless in setting up hilarious yet disturbing scenes in which all the normal, logical rules of society no longer seem to make sense. The book is full of circular reasoning, paradoxes, and self-contradictory situations. One of the essays in the back of my 50th anniversary edition described the book as “humor that slowly turns to horror,” and I couldn’t think of a better description. At first, I was amused by the impossible situations and the fact that Yossarian seemed to be the only sane person in a group of lunatics, but by the end I was angry. “I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy,” one of the characters says, and the reader sees this as well. Those in charge seem to be running the war as a way to gain more power and prestige for themselves, rather than to free those who were crushed under Hitler’s regime or protect the men fighting, supposedly, for their country. (In fact, although this book is set during WWII, this fact is hardly ever mentioned.)

Although I really enjoyed this book, I do see some flaws in it (and I was glad to note from the essays in the back that other, more scholarly people do too). Women are treated merely as pawns, catalysts to move the story along, and they are often treated sexually (there is a high number of prostitutes in this book). Also, I found the book a bit too long. Many of the events run in the same vein, and I think the book would have been just as good, and probably better, if some of them had been cut.

I’m sure I’m missing something in this book (as I often do when I read something that’s considered a classic), but I’ve got the gist of it. War, the government, the military, and even our own life is often nonsensical and illogical. Sometimes the smartest thing to do seems insane to everyone around you. It’s kind of a disturbing thought, but well worth reading.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Mini Reviews: Maya Angelou and Catcher in the Rye

In which I finally catch up with a couple of classic books. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
.

These two classic books have been on my list for a long time, and I finally got around to reading them! But I didn’t have very strong feelings toward either of them.

Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry

I picked this up from my library because I’ve been wanting to read more of Maya Angelou, despite the fact that I’m totally not into poetry. (Honestly, I just don’t get it…)

Some of the lines that struck me most were these:

You’re Africa to me / At brightest dawn.
–To a Husband

Here then is my Christian lack: / If I’m struck then I’ll strike back.
–Lord, in My Heart

The poetry was beautiful, sometimes wrenching, and almost always clear. I do appreciate poetry that has a point (that is, a point that I can easily grasp–yes, I’m a total idiot about poetry). Still, it’s not really my thing. I’m hopeful that I’ll enjoy I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings better.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Catcher in the Rye

Okay, so I’ve been hearing about this book practically all my life, and I know for a lot of high schoolers it’s required reading. I’ve also heard from a lot of people who hated it. But I read straight through it and just felt kind of… bored. I guess the point is that Holden is experiencing the alienation that a lot of teenagers feel as they grow up? But honestly, he was bored, so I was bored. Possibly I didn’t give this book enough of a chance, but since I’m not in school anymore, no one can force me to go back and analyze the literary themes. So there!

Rating: Meh

P.S. If you want to see some other books in which I felt like I was missing something, check out my reviews of The Color Purple and Cold Comfort Farm. If you have a book that everyone else loved or said was a classic that you didn’t “get,” I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

The Color Purple: Or, Books I’m Not Smart Enough to Read

On why I was so confused by The Color Purple. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
.

Guys, I was so confused by this book. Not because I didn’t understand the words, or even the plot. I got the basic picture of the characters and setting, and I enjoyed them. But I feel like I’m missing something.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no English major. I have very little knowledge of literary devices or symbolism, and I only sometimes catch allusions to other works (this may have something to do with the classics that I refuse to read). And while I normally don’t mind speeding through books that I enjoy and not worrying about the literary snobs, sometimes I come across a book like The Color Purple which I know has more meaning than I’m getting from it.

The plot itself is well known, and although I found this book in the YA section of my library, The Color Purple is one of the most commonly banned books. And from the first page, it’s easy to see why. There are matter-of-fact descriptions of rape and violence towards women, and specifically women of color. The book is written as correspondence between Celie and her sister Nettie. Celie is raped and impregnated by her father (twice) at age fourteen, and then she is married off to a man who is not much better than her father. Meanwhile, Nettie becomes a missionary to Africa when a white family takes her in. Celie’s life continues horribly until Shug Avery arrives and introduces joy into Celie’s life.

This modern-day classic covers some incredibly important topics, from racism to violence against women to homosexuality to differing views on God. I just wish I could have gotten all the good stuff that I know must be in there…

Have you ever felt like you were missing something in a book everyone else raved about? Can any of you explain this book to me??

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mini Review: Cold Comfort Farm

This classic book was more forgettable than funny. I feel like I'm missing something. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
.

In Gibbons’s classic tale, first published in 1932, a resourceful young heroine finds herself in the gloomy, overwrought world of a Hardy or Bronte novel and proceeds to organize everyone out of their romantic tragedies into the pleasures of normal life. Flora Poste, orphaned at 19, chooses to live with relatives at Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex, where cows are named Feckless, Aimless, Pointless, and Graceless, and the proprietors, the dour Starkadder family, are tyrannized by Flora’s mysterious aunt, who controls the household from a locked room. Flora’s confident and clever management of an alarming cast of eccentrics is only half the pleasure of this novel. The other half is Gibbons’s wicked sendup of romantic cliches, from the mad woman in the attic to the druidical peasants with their West Country accents and mystical herbs. Anne Massey’s skillful rendering of a variety of accents will make this story more accessible to American audiences. Recommended for both literary and popular collections.

This Library Journal review, via Amazon.com, makes me think I missed something in this book.  Sometimes when I read classic books, I feel like I’m not really smart enough to get it, and this was one of those cases.  I found the book mildly enjoyable, but it certainly wasn’t “wickedly funny” like I had heard it would be.  I found Flora kind of irritating in the way she set out to model her relatives after herself.  Sure, she helped many of them a lot, but she also told one young, impressionable girl to stop writing poetry and being so smart and instead to wear proper clothes and act shy and stupid around men.  What??

I did enjoy this book, but I think I need a contextual refresher before I tackle it again.  Or maybe I’ll just watch the movie.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Yes, I Finally Read It: The Hobbit

In which I finally read The Hobbit and compare it to Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book very much, because I wasn’t a big fan of LOTR (sorry, guys!).  But, to my surprise, I LOVED it.

This book is just charming.  It’s engaging, funny, and cheerful–and mostly devoid of the endless scenery descriptions and battle scenes that I hated in LOTR.  Gandalf is grumpy, the elves are silly; everyone is less serious and more enjoyable to read.  The book talks directly to its readers, something I truly enjoy when done well.  It makes mention of trips to the post office, and even suggests that goblins might have had a hand in making WMDs!

Bilbo is a truly unlikely hero.  He is constantly wishing for home–“not for the last time,” as our narrator tells us whenever Bilbo thinks of a hot cup of tea or a seed cake or smoking a pipe in his comfortable hobbit hole.

Basically, this book lives up to the hype, even for me, a total non-fantasy-lover.  It’s amusing, fun, and engaging.  Read it, read it, read it.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

This book is part of a book pairing in the Reading to Distraction reading challenge that I’m taking part in this year.  In this challenge, based on a BuzzFeed article, you read one favorite childhood book, and then read a similar, grown-up version.  The pairing for The Hobbit was Michael Chabon‘s Gentlemen of the Road, which I also thoroughly enjoyed.

According to the BuzzFeed article, here’s the connection:

So it doesn’t have any hobbits or wizards, but what Gentlemen of the Road lacks in fantasy it more than makes up for in action, adventure, and enthralling characters. Zelikman and Amram, physican and ex-soldier respectively, make their way through the Caucasus Mountains in the year 950, fighting and stealing and somehow getting in the middle of a full-scale revolution.

Gentlemen of the Road was, to me, not as memorable as The Hobbit.  It has Chabon’s unique writing style, but isn’t as memorable as the last book of his that I read (it’s much shorter, too).  The characters, though, are funny and likable, despite their cheating outlaw ways:

They’re an odd pair, to be sure: pale, rail-thin, black-clad Zelikman, a moody, itinerant physician fond of jaunty headgear, and ex-soldier Amram, a gray-haired giant of a man as quick with a razor-tongued witticism as he is with a sharpened battle-ax. Brothers under the skin, comrades in arms, they make their rootless way through the Caucasus Mountains, circa A.D. 950, living as they please and surviving however they can–as blades and thieves for hire and as practiced bamboozlers, cheerfully separating the gullible from their money.

None of which has necessarily prepared them to be dragooned into service as escorts and defenders to a prince of the Khazar Empire. Usurped by his brutal uncle, the callow and decidedly ill-tempered young royal burns to reclaim his rightful throne. But doing so will demand wicked cunning, outrageous daring, and foolhardy bravado . . . not to mention an army. (Summary via Amazon.com)

As you can probably tell from the Amazon summary, it’s a bit more over the top than Tolkien’s book, which is fairly subdued and gentle.  Sometimes that makes for some great moments, but sometimes it’s just… over the top.

On the whole, these two books make a pretty good pair.  Gentlemen of the Road doesn’t fare quite as well when compared with The Hobbit, but that’s mostly my personal preference.  Each book is a fun road trip/journey story, just with totally different flavors.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Scroll To Top
%d bloggers like this: