Two months ago I started my third year at university and because the work load has proved to be much more substantial this year, I decided to go back to monthly book reviews rather than individual ones. Luckily, third year at a Scottish university means that I had the opportunity to choose all my classes this year and as a result, I have some wonderful reads this year…
THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain
This was the first book on one of my major reading lists this year, and I couldn’t have been more happy. HUCK FINN was a book that had been on my list for such a long time and to have an excuse to read it was simply perfect!
To be fully honest, I didn’t think I would enjoy HUCKLEBERRY FINN that much when I started it. Be it that it was from Finn’s perspective, I was very hesitant due to the reaction I had to THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger – which, be it that Salinger’s work is heralded in American literature, I just didn’t enjoy. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Twain’s classic! Even though Finn is young in age, I found his observations to be witty and surprisingly intelligent, even in the midst of his ignorance towards the treatment of slaves at the time. If nothing else, this book is a great example of friendship that ignores the realities of racism and contradicts a strong social class system.
WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson
My Rating: 4/5
When I received my reading list from one of my courses, I was happy to see that many of the books I had previously never heard of. Sherwood Anderson’s short story collection, WINESBURG, OHIO, was one of the most intriguing as it is a short story collection that reads like a novel – with intertwining characters that all inhabit the small town of Winesburg. George Willard – a budding reporter that seems to witness all of the towns hidden secrets – makes his way through Winesburg while dreaming of a bigger career in a place with more opportunity; only, he carries with him the hopes and dreams of those he grew up with, and thus cannot leave behind.
WINESBURG, OHIO was a wonderful surprise for me. While I was intrigued by the plot, I never expected to love this collection as much as I did. Anderson subverts all his stories with internal human conflicts of identity, religion, sex, and love, thus making each and every character immensely human. In each person Anderson so masterfully creates, I think we, as readers, find bits of ourselves as well.
THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah
My Rating: 5/5
Oh my, this book. “Love” doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt for Kristin Hannah’s THE NIGHTINGALE.
THE NIGHTINGALE gained a lot of popularity when it came out in 2015 and it seems it never faded. The reason I picked this novel up was because of a friend who posted her love for it on Instagram, and I had to find out for myself what it was all about. In a brief overview, THE NIGHTINGALE is based on the lives of Edith Cavell and Andrée de Jongh – although highly fictionalized through sister Vianne and Isabelle. Vianne is a young mother and wife who, when the war begins, try to cause as little a stir as possible to keep both her family and her friends safe. However, when a German soldier is posted at her home, she finds herself pulled between patriotic duty to her country and intense loneliness at the leave of her husband.
Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle, is a character full of fire, ultimately finding herself at the head of a rebellion. As she devotes her time to an anti-Nazi organization, she suddenly puts herself in a dangerous position, literally giving her own life over for the freedom of others.
There really in no way for me to fully summarize what THE NIGHTINGALE did for me – both as a novel and as an experience. More that just a few times I found myself drowning in tears, so unbelievably sympathetic and connected to these women that their pain became my own. Hannah’s research into World War Two made the unimaginable torture throughout the novel so heavy that there were times where I felt I had to physically look away. Tough as it is to read at times, THE NIGHTINGALE is, in my opinion, close to a masterpiece – becoming both a outward, but also incredibly inward, physical, reading experience.
THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING by Carson McCullers
My Rating: 3/5
Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say about THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING. This was another university reading list pick for me, so it was erred more on the homework side of the spectrum than the enjoyment side.
Carson McCullers uses THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING to write about twelve-year-old Frankie – bored, restless, and frankly, a bit angry. When she hears about her older brother’s upcoming wedding, she plans to run away with him and his bride when they leave for their honeymoon. Inserting herself in the wedding, she becomes very active in her fantastical ideals and larger-than-life dreams of becoming apart of something.
Academically, I enjoyed the conversation about the book far more than the novel itself. As a character, Frankie come off as annoying and a bit unhinged – although this didn’t seem to bother anyone within the novel. Her unrealistic insertion within an event that is, ultimately, not about her was a realistic quality of a young girl. However, I found her language and actions completely unaligned with both her age and her characteristics.
This all being said, McCullers very intelligently undermines the story with questions of identity and what it means to be a “member” of something. Symbolism runs rampant throughout the novel, proving it to be an ideal book to study when looking at what it means to be young.
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J. D. Salinger
My Rating: 3/5
The first re-read of the year! I was very hesitant when I saw the THE CATCHER IN THE RYE was on my reading list this year, as the first time I read it (about a year ago), I really didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps suffering from a bit of wrong-place-wrong-time syndrome, I was convinced that I had come to this book far too late.
However, having the opportunity to read J. D. Salinger’s canon novel under the academic lens has offered me a whole new light. Although I maintain that I read this book too late in my life to fully appreciate it, being able to look at the aspects of Holden and his “journey” in the context of time, space, and moral drive has made THE CATCHER IN THE RYE on of my most appreciated books of this university year so far.
THE MIRACLE LIFE OF EDGAR MINT by Brady Udall
My Rating: 3/5
To say the least, this book was a bit of a let down for me. Categorized as another “unheard of” book on my university reading list, THE MIRACLE LIFE OF EDGAR MINT is about a young boy whose story starts out (so it’s not a spoiler) with a Jeep running over his head. Following this, the book unfolds into a line of unfortunate life events for Edgar, which ultimately finish with a lack-luster ending.
Not only was it the ending that I found disappointing, but it was the sheer graphic detail of any of the traumatic events in Edgar’s life that made this book extremely hard to read. In the second part of the book, Edgar suffers from such bad bullying – and that’s putting it lightly – that I physically felt ill. If it wasn’t for the fact that this was required reading, I probably never would have finished it.
TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis
My Rating: 3.5/5
I feel a little dumb for what I’m about to say, but I had no idea that TRUE GRIT was a classic! As I write this, I have literally just finished reading it and, although I liked it, I was a bit let down by it. I think much of this has to do with the fact that in my head I had built it up a lot, but I found the lack of action and slow pace a bit too little for this reader.
I’m so surprised by the amount I got read this month! Let me know if you have read any of these books.