“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.” – Rene Descartes
So I finally took the time to figure out how to borrow e-books from my local library. And in the process, I have now created yet another To Read list. If only the time I had to read would multiply the way that the outlets for reading have, I’d be all set. Well, maybe not, but I’d have more time to read.
On to the next installment of my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die opinions.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
I am a Jane Austen fan but this is one of my least favorite books. Ever. I cannot stand Fanny Price. She is so dull and passive it drives me crazy. She gets Edmund by default, not because she did anything to actively pursue him (or specifically deserve him). She’s simply the leftover acceptable woman in a novel where everyone must pair off nicely. But it isn’t just Fanny. None of the characters in this book are particularly compelling or clever. They’re not even endearing in their faults or eccentricities.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
For now, this book is at the top of my all-time least favorite books list. A big part of that is due to the fact that I spent much of third and fourth grade with plans to be a marine biologist and an obsession with whales and dolphins. The fact that Ishmael admits at one point that, despite the growing evidence and belief in the scientific community that whales are not fish, he will continue to refer to them as such drove me crazy. If you know better, then why do it? I will admit that Moby Dick is a valuable book to read for the themes and symbolism, but it could have used a lot of editing. In my high school class of 30, only three of us wound up reading the whole thing. It became a personal battle to finish it (not unlike Ahab’s determination to best the white whale). Even after finishing, it seemed to follow me. At church that Sunday, one of the readings was from the book of Jonah. I ended up going to college near an old whaling community where the library does a marathon reading of Moby Dick every year. I wish I’d stuck with the Great Illustrated Classics version, which keeps all the important parts and cuts the (unnecessary) boring stuff.
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell
This was a book that had been sitting on my shelf for a while until I finally managed to work it into a paper I was writing for class, which meant I had to read it. I essentially made it my own homework. It fed into my interest with speculative fiction so of course I enjoyed it. The way Orwell extrapolated based off of the immediate aftermath of WWII is amazing. The novel also demonstrates beautifully so many of the ideas put forth by Chris Hedges in War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, particularly the re-writing and destruction of history. Also, the edition I have is the 1984 special edition of the novel (score one for used book sales).
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Even though I tend to have issues with ditzy heroines, there’s something about Catherine Morland that I find completely endearing and loveable. Plus, she does ultimately learn from her mistakes even if she does have a difficult time accepting that people aren’t as forthright about themselves as they may first appear. The tone Austen uses in this parody of the Gothic romance is also wonderfully fun and snarky. There are two particular observations made by the Austen narrator persona that I love about this novel: 1) that Mr. Tilney’s love for Catherine is inspired by her admiration of him (I enjoy the practical aspect that Austen injected being more practically minded myself); 2) the novel’s final line is one of my favorites and though it was lifted verbatim for the PBS film adaptation a few years ago, the changes they made to the story ended up completely changing its intended meaning (which I find both frustrating and amusing).
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
This was my introduction to Steinbeck and I enjoyed it. I like most Steinbeck. But I remember when I mentioned that my high school English class was going to be reading it and my parents both offering their condolences. But they were talking about The Red Pony, or as they referred to it, The Bony Pony, which I still need to read.