1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort Of) Challenge: 111-120

“In my reviews, I feel it’s good to make it clear that I”m not proposing objective truth, but subjective reactions; a review should reflect the immediate experience.” — Roger Ebert

Or in my case, what I remember of my immediate experience. Reading is as much about reactions to the material as it is about absorbing and taking it in. It’s one of my favorite things about the way history and literature interact (and why I wrote about it so much for both literature and history classes in college). What we read can change the way we think about ourselves, others, and the world we inhabit. What we think affects how we act and how we act can change the way the world and the people we interact with are. Which then inspires people to write new things for the rest of us to read and the cycle begins again.

By reading books from different periods of history, from different regions of the world, books that have become part of the literary canon (or have been removed from the literary canon) — like many of the books on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list — we get a glimpse into how people thought and acted at different points in the past. Sometimes the impact a book has cannot be clearly seen until after the dust settles; then we see whether the world has changed or whether everything remains the same.

Anyway. Enough of my philosophizing. On to the recap. 

book cover - brideshead revisited Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (original review)

I think I began reading this because I’d seen pictures from the miniseries and wanted to read it before watching it. Having read it, all desire to see the miniseries faded (I’ll probably see it at some point, but it’s not at the top of the list by a long shot). I also remember thinking it might be more interesting if I hadn’t been raised Catholic (which I believe I mentioned in my original review).

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (original reviewbook cover - hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy

I don’t know how old I was when I heard my first Hitchhiker’s reference but I believe it had to do with Marvin, the Paranoid Android. It was a few years before I finally got around to reading the book, but by that time I was reading it as much to finally and fully understand the references as from genuine interest. What I’ve come to love about reading Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series is the humor and light-heartedness of it all. It’s funny, even when the situation is dire, there’s an absurdity to it all that keeps it from being as depressing as it could be – something that so much of today’s science fiction lacks (or at least, the ones I read which are mostly in the dystopia vein).

book cover - Never Let Me Go Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (original review)

I had to read at a few short stories by Ishiguro at various points in my college career and was always intrigued and wanted to read more but I hadn’t gotten around to reading any Ishiguro novels until I finally read Never Let Me Go. It was an interesting concept with complex ethical ramifications/examinations. I keep meaning to watch the film adaptation but haven’t reached that point in my Netflix queue yet.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (original reviewbook cover - tess of the durbervilles

This was my first introduction to Thomas Hardy, the beginning of what I’m thinking is going to end up being a love/hate relationship – I love the stories he has to tell but I hate his prose style. He can be remarkably self-aware and forward-thinking (feminist at times) and some of the lines he composes are on-point… but the rest of the time I find his writing dull, plodding, and tedious to fight through. I came so close to giving up on Tess of the D’Urbervilles and then the end brought me back around to enjoying it (almost too little, too late, but not quite).

book cover - the voyage out The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf (original review)

The Voyage Out was the first Virginia Woolf novel I read though I had read excerpts from her A Room of One’s Own and had read novels in which she’d featured (most notably, The Hours). I have very distinct memories of sitting at the break room table reading through the book with my lunch in front of me and feeling completely exasperated every time someone interrupted me to ask what I was reading (my co-workers meant well but since I read so many different things and there were so many of them it proved to be quite the disruption).

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (original reviewbook cover - memoirs of a geisha

I had heard so many good things about this book and the film had recently come out (I’m amazed at just how often a movie adaptation inspires me to read a book but then I never get around to seeing the movie). I enjoyed the novel and my aunt (who went through a phase when she got really into reading about geishas) even loaned me an actual memoir written by a geisha. It’s been sitting on my To Read shelf for a few years now; I should get to reading that soon (I know how much I hate it when I loan books and don’t get them back).

lord of the flies - book cover Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Yet another title for the “everyone else seems to have read this in high school” list. I thought for the longest time that my brother had a copy of this from when he read it but when I first went looking for it I found I was mistaken. Luckily it was a week or so before our library’s annual book sale and I was able to pick up a copy there for a quarter (I love that sale so much). It sat on my To Read bookcase for a few weeks (since I’d lined up other books to read in the interim) but eventually I caved and started reading this at the same time as something else, alternating chapters. I know that, while I didn’t have to read it in high school, when my brother did he rented the movie (as a supplement, not a substitute, I’m sure). I didn’t watch the movie with him, but I did happen to walk through at exactly the wrong time, so I unfortunately went in knowing what happened to Piggy (I probably already knew from other people talking about it/alluding to it, but I know that visual stuck with me much more than anything else). I do remember feeling that the plot’s set-up was flimsy as hell but necessary for the wonderful microcosm that it created; it was forgiven but I haven’t forgotten.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (original reviewbook cover -  north and south

When I first read through the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list and saw North and South, I didn’t pay attention to the author and thought I’d already read it, having already read John Jakes’ North and South. It was going through the list for the purposes of this blog that I realized I hadn’t read the right North and South, having never heard of Elizabeth Gaskell earlier. The first of Gaskell’s books that I read was actually her last, Wives and Daughters, which I didn’t realize until the last few pages was left incomplete when she died but only by a chapter, maybe two. It was a few months later that I finally read Gaskell’s North and South (and this is one where I did watch the miniseries adaptation – though I didn’t know about it until after I’d read the book – and it is wonderful).

book cover - three musketeers The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (original review)

I can’t be sure where or when I was first introduced to the story of The Three Musketeers. It’s one of those tales that’s permeated so much of popular culture it’s difficult to pinpoint. I don’t know whether it was through the Mickey Mouse cartoon or Wishbone or my Great Illustrated Classics collection. I do know that by third or fourth grade when my brother was doing 4H and hatching chickens we decided to name the chicks after the characters from the book (later, three of the four turned out to be hens so Athos, Porthos, and Aramis all wound up with non-literary names while D’Artagnan became a nasty rooster and got shipped off to a larger farm). I was surprised when I finished reading the novel to discover that The Man in the Iron Mask is not the only sequel and is not even the next in the series. Twenty Years Later is next on my Dumas list but I haven’t gotten around to it (maybe after I finish catching up on BBC’s The Musketeers, which doesn’t follow the plot of the novel but is pretty entertaining and is remarkably modern when it comes to female and POC representation in a period show).

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré tinker tailor soldier spy - book cover

My friend and I went to the movies and saw the film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (the Gary Oldman* film, though knowing now how much I enjoy the story and characters, I do look forward to seeing the Alec Guinness adaptations at some point) before I knew it was a book. I think I bought a copy the next day and that was my introduction to John le Carré and Smiley. There are two more John le Carré novels on the list but I’m trying to decide the order in which I want to read the rest of them (cause I’m going to end up reading them all). I love the psychological, ethical, and moral ambiguities and nuances of these characters and this particular time in history (which was, of course, contemporary to their publication; it’s just the history nerd in me that can’t help getting excited about the Cold War politics behind everything).

*Part of me will always be disappointed Gary Oldman didn’t win the Oscar for that role.

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