“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
How strange this book is. So strange, in fact, that I had to contemplate it for several days after finishing it just to gather my thoughts into some cohesive form. Told from the first-person perspective of a sixteen year-old boy that just got kicked out of his latest private school; the plot is almost non-existent and follows the random whims of this odd teenager. Somehow, Salinger manages to condense the quintessential experience of teenage angst into a highly bizarre story line. The premise is not very relateble, for how many teens today get to wander alone in New York for several days with a nice amount of spending money? But the main character, Holden, has a way of carefully constructed carelessness he uses to hide his pain that touched the softest part of my heart.
“Middlemarch” by George Eliot
Sigh. Why are classics so hard to love? This dreadfully long novel, on just about every “top books of all time” list there is, has made me doubt my qualification as a reader. If I cannot find patience to get through one of the supposed best books ever written, how will I ever get to enjoy more intellectually deep works? Even by speeding through chapters at a time, I could tell that Eliot was an excellent writer. But her prose had no spark, no excitement, no hint of brilliance. All it seemed to do was bore me. For the life of me, I can’t understand why she had to include so many unnecessary and boring characters into her already too complicated plot. Perhaps it’s my ignorance, but this is a book that I am rather disappointed by.
“The Fat Years” by Chan Koonchung
The never ending political undertones of this novel reminds me of Orwell’s “1984”, but sadly its characters and plot fails to match up to that excellent piece of literature in any way. Nonetheless, after some reflection, I have decided that its warnings regarding Communist China are quite valid and interesting in their own manner. The main character, a well-off personage in Beijing, is repeatedly confronted with the realization that his perfect life isn’t all that perfect, mostly through his less submissive friends. Eventually, they kidnap a high level politician and to out why everyone seems so content. Although this sounds like a fairly exciting plot, it isn’t. Through many parts of the book I had to skip over long rants about China’s political history. Some of the issues are current, some set in a highly believable future. Koonchung takes our drifting fears of China’s leaders and puts them into so concrete a form that it’s impossible to stay in blissful denial.
“Barney’s Version” by Mordecai Richler
What a difficult book. Full of long rants, requiring extreme patience, and utterly wringing out the reader’s emotions. But how easy it was to fall in love with it. Not the breezy, romantic kind of love saved for dark handsome strangers met in Paris. Instead, the unwavering, bitter love given unconditionally to a deteriorating parent or grandparent. “Barney’s Version” is desperately tragic, the story of a man who lost his one true love. Vulgar at times, but always real, this book broke my heart and didn’t bother to pick up the pieces. The reader is left feeling unfinished, hanging, and full of regret, just like Barney’s last days.
- 164 Plays
“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde
One of the first plays I’ve ever read, this book reignited my admiration for Oscar Wilde as a writer. It has all the carefully planned plot twists and dazzling quotes of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, but does so in a much more simple and almost minimalistic manner. The story is one of two men who adopt the pseudonym Ernest and propose to girls who agree because of their names. Once their fiancees realize the deception, they refuse to marry the poor men, but a nice surprise at the end saves the day. Wilde put much more complexity into his play than can be summed up in a few sentences, and I do not wish to spoil everything for those who have not read it.
“Animal Farm” by George Orwell
What a perfect political piece. Orwell, in my opinion, the master of such social criticisms, has created a groundbreaking novel by manipulating his plot into one elaborate metaphor for communism and its downfalls. A word of warning, this book is not meant to be read as a real story. The characters do not really exist on their own, but are only there for what they represent. Everything is boiled down to pure minimalism, with just enough plot to carry out the main ideas, which makes this an extremely unique book. I particularly loved how clean the presentation of the themes were. Basically, to sum up what happens at surface level, a group of domestic animals take over their human owner’s farm, which they then operate themselves, with the pigs as their corrupted leaders. It’s a classic example of how the grand ideals of communism do not work out in real life.
“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz
Exhilaratingly fast, fiercely political, and precariously balanced on that thin ledge between reality and impossibility, the story of Oscar’s life dazzles. Diaz has created a tremendous novel, one that fills the corners of my existence with an unavoidable heaviness. Oscar’s world is one that I’ve never known, having kept my head down through my entire blessed life, but we are always drawn to what we do not understand. The idea of fuku, a generation spanning curse which this book revolves around, was at first a disturbing but safely superstitious one. By the time I reached the end however, I wasn’t sure just how safe any of us really are.