Hey Hemingway, What’s With the Bulls? | THE SUN ALSO RISES

SO LONG, SUMMER!-2

While rereading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises for a literature class last semester, I kept coming back to a puzzling question: What is so important about bulls? Bullfighting seems to be the focal point of the characters’ time in Pamplona, Spain, which makes sense considering the culture and setting of the time. The unusual part is the great importance and emphasis they all place on this dangerous sport, as though it is so much more than entertainment or a way to make a living. For these characters, bullfighting seems to be a lifestyle, a persona, an image.

The significance of bulls and bullfighting came up in our class discussion of The Sun Also Rises, and fortunately some light was shed on this fascinating topic. Contrary to my prior belief, these bulls aren’t solely representative of male dominance; rather, the characters compare themselves to bulls in order to assess their own masculinity and sexual identities. 

That’s a lot of meaning behind a simple bull!

For the sake of keeping this discussion focused, I’m going to concentrate on Jake Barnes, the main protagonist. While fighting in World War I, Jake was wounded in an unfortunate way: to be frank, he was castrated. We know this from closely reading the scene when Jake looks at himself in the mirror of a hotel room. He alludes to his injury almost nonchalantly, slipping in some telling remarks amidst thoughts of French furniture. Jake says:

“Undressing, I looked at myself in the mirror of the big armoire beside the bed. That was a typically French way to furnish a room. Practical, too, I suppose. Of all of the ways to be wounded. I suppose it was funny.” (p. 38)

The fact that Jake is looking at his naked body in the mirror certainly hints at the nature of his injury. The mixture of comments about both furniture and his wound suggests that he is attempting to fill the apparent absence of a phallus with something else– in this case, descriptions of furniture. (A bit strange, but I won’t judge.) Jake is insecure about his masculinity because he no longer possesses a physical representation of it.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest HemingwaySo where do the bulls come into play? Why, I’m glad you asked.

The bulls used for bullfighting are physically aggressive, harming others by penetrating them with their horns Yes, you read that implication correctly: the horns of a bull are representative of a phallus. Likewise, a bull’s less masculine counterpart is a steer (literally a bull who has been castrated). Steers are not associated with the intense passion, excitement, and danger of bullfighting, thus suggesting that castrated men cannot participate in masculine or sexual acts.

This is the part that clearly bothers Jake, the question he struggles to answer: Has the war made him a bull or a steer? 

Physically, Jake is a steer– but what about his personal identity? Such an internal conflict is one of the driving forces of the narrative as Jake endeavors to understand his own masculinity.

It’s the link between bulls and Jake’s specific injury that I did not recognize until discussing it in class. Connections, interpretations, and revelations like this one are one of the many reasons why I love studying literature. Even though I didn’t enjoy The Sun Also Rises as much as I had initially hoped to, I can’t deny that this novel makes for some fascinating close reading.

What are your thoughts on this discussion or about The Sun Also Rises in general? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books I’ve Read for Class

Foodie Facts About Me-10

Happy Tuesday!! Since this new semester is now well underway and this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is open-ended, I thought I would share with you all my Top Ten Favorite Books I’ve Read for Class (that’s a genre, right? Well, it is now!). Assigned reading often has a bit of an undeserved bad reputation. Sure, you’re not going to love everything that you’re assigned to read for school, but isn’t that the point? Being forced to explore different genres, authors, and texts can open your eyes to new perspectives and topics you never knew you would enjoy learning about. Some of my all time favorite books were originally assigned reading for classes!

In the spirit of the back-to-school season, here are my top picks in the order that I read them:

New York City-11

New York City-12

New York City-13

New York City-14

New York City-15

New York City-16

New York City-17

New York City-18

New York City-19

New York City-20

Honorable Mentions: Lord of the Flies by William Golding {high school freshman}, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer {high school freshman}, and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins {college freshman}

What are some of the best books that you’ve had to read for school? What do you think of the books on my list? How do you feel about assigned reading in general? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway | Reread

book drive

Recently I read The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway for the second time; predictably, my love-hate relationship with this classic American writer continues.

When I First Read

I first read this classic American novel in April 2015, almost exactly one year before I reread it again in April 2016. I had read Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms for English class during my junior year of high school and didn’t really enjoy it, so this was my way of giving Hemingway another chance. As you can tell by my first review, his writing still didn’t click with me.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest HemingwayWhat I Remember

Spain. Bull-fighting. A lot of drinking. Parties. Choppy, terse writing. The Lost Generation. My memories of this novel were a blur of these various elements, accompanied by my negative impressions of it. I tried to go into this reread with an open mind and push those past judgments away, but it was difficult to do completely.

Why I Wanted to Reread

The Sun Also Rises was assigned reading for my Cultural Diversity in American Literature class this past semester. At first I was disappointed (I would have to suffer through it again?!) but over time I actually looked forward to giving it a second chance.Because I read it on my own the first time around, I suspected that there was a lot I had missed. I hoped that class discussions and my professor’s enthusiasm would rub off on me and transform me into a devoted Hemingway fan– or, at the very least, help me appreciate his writing a bit more.

There is no reason why because it is dark you should look at things differently from when it is light.How I Felt After Rereading

I’m just not destined to love this book.

Overall, I certainly enjoyed it more than I did when I first read it; however, there’s just something about this novel that I simply can’t click with.

One positive outcome of rereading The Sun Also Rises is that I’ve gained a greater appreciation for Hemingway’s writing. My professor described his choppy, short, minimalist writing style as an iceberg: there’s so much more beneath the surface than will ever show on the page. In other words, what he doesn’t say is more important that what he does. His explanation shifted the way I read Hemingway’s work, allowing me to look past the narrative itself to the core of what he was trying to get across. One of the more obvious examples of this is Jake’s injury, for Hemingway never directly identifies his wound by name. If you don’t pick up on what his war injury actually is, then chances are that you’re missing a lot of the tension between Jake and Brett. In this way, the story is also more complex than I initially thought.

There is no reason why because it is dark you should look at things differently from when it is light.-2Most of the characters in this novel are quite unpleasant, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interesting to read about. Brett fascinated me the most, for she straddled both the masculine and feminine spheres of society. She calls people “chaps” as though she is one of the men, yet she is also produced as “sexually promiscuous,” a trait that is stereotypically feminine. It’s almost as though she is an androgynous character, neither male nor female but seemingly both at the same time. This portrayal of a woman is another example of how Hemingway conveys a lot by actually saying very little.

Despite my newfound appreciation for the fascinating and complex nuances of The Sun Also Rises, I just never became invested in the story. For me, this is one of those books I enjoy thinking about rather than actually reading, if that makes sense. I admire the challenge it poses to me as a reader, but I would never pick this novel up for purely pleasurable, entertaining purposes.

Would I Reread Again? 

Hmmm… Probably not, unless I have to read it for another class or have a friend who is willing to read it with me. I might try picking up some of Hemingway’s other work, but I think The Sun Also Rises and I may have seen the last of each other.

My Previous Rating: :0) :0) 2 out of 5 smileys

My Current Rating: :0) :0) :0) 3 out of 5 smileys (Some improvement!)

While I’m still not completely sold on Hemingway’s writing, I must admit that I did enjoy this novel more the second time around.

What are your thoughts on The Sun Also Rises? Do you enjoy rereading books? Would you recommend any of Hemingway’s other works? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald // Reread

book drive

Recently I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for the second time; as expected, a multitude of thoughts ensued.

When I First Read

I first read this classic American novel as assigned reading for my American Literature class when I was a junior in high school. As you can tell by my glowing review, I absolutely loved it!

the great gatsby coverWhat I Remember

My English teacher junior year focused mostly on a few obvious themes in a the novel; as a result, I remember interpreting symbols such as colors and the green light as representing the “American Dream.” In fact, the majority of what we discussed as a class revolved around this patriotic fantasy. I also remember being enchanted by Fitzgerald’s beautiful writing and copying down countless quotes for future reference. My overall impression of The Great Gatsby was that it’s a stunning novel brimming with symbolism and layered meanings, providing plenty of thought-provoking fuel despite its short length.

Why I Wanted to Reread

I was actually assigned to read The Great Gatsby in my Cultural Diversity in American Literature class this past semester. Although this was technically a “forced” reread, I’ve been looking forward to visiting the novel again basically since I first finished reading it. An obvious reason for wanting to reread this book is that I simply wanted to experience the fantastic story for a second time. However, I also wanted to see how my opinions and perceptions of this novel would change in light of my development of a more critical reading lens. Would I pick up on different symbols or themes? How would I feel about the rather unlikable characters? Theses and many other questions were my primary motivation for wanting to reread this novel, and I probably would have reread it soon even if I hadn’t been assigned to read it for class.

Hardships often prepareordinary people for anextraordinary destiny.How I Felt After Rereading

Honestly, I love this novel even more now that I’ve read it twice.

Rereading it with my class was such a positive experience because we had in-depth discussions about many themes, symbols, and elements that I had never paid much attention to before. For instance, we talked about the huge significance of houses and imitation for Gatsby and the Buchanans. As a teenager, Gatsby is enthralled by Daisy’s grandiose house arguably more than he is with Daisy herself. Daisy’s house is a sign of her exorbitant lifestyle, the socioeconomic status which Gatsby resolutely endeavors to obtain. His mansion on East Egg becomes an imitation of that lifestyle, a fictitious embodiment of the Old World prestige Gatsby attempts to exude. It seems as though nearly every aspect of this story can be interpreted in myriad ways, demonstrating yet again why it is such a masterpiece of work.

“It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.”Again, Fitzgerald’s elegant, florid, and superb writing style never fails to captivate me. He describes mere ordinary objects and elements of daily life in ways that make them burst forth from the monotonous background to center stage. The personification of Gatsby’s smile, the emphasis on Daisy’s “golden” voice, and the manner by which the city seems to take on a life of its own are just a few examples, but the story is brimming with countless others. Fitzgerald’s writing is packed with so much depth and meaning that at times it feels as though he has managed to fit a much longer story in the narrow breadth of this slim novel.

Even though this was my second time rereading The Great Gatsby, I’m still unable to fully comprehend the ambiguous, enigmatic Nick Carraway. I’m not sure if it’s possible to understand every facet of this character; certainly, I doubt if I’ll ever be able to do so to the extent that I would like. What are the details of his past? What is actual scope of his friendship with Gatsby? And what about that brief but jarring scene involving Nick and Mr. McKee? These and so many more questions surround my limited understanding of Nick, though the answers remain little more than conjecture on my part.

I have so many thoughts about The Great Gatsby that I cannot possibly sum them all up here. I’m sure I’ll end up writing more about this brilliant novel in the future, but for now I’ll leave it there.

Would I Reread Again? 

Honestly, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop rereading this book. Even though years may pass in between each visit, I simply cannot foresee myself choosing not to delve into the world of the Eggs again and again and again.

My Previous Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys

My Current Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys (Not surprising in the slightest)

Needless to say, I LOVE this novel. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. Please, READ IT. ❤

What are your thoughts on The Great Gatsby? Do you enjoy rereading books? Would you recommend any of Fitzgerald’s other works? (I haven’t read any, if you can believe it.) Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

MY ÁNTONIA by Willa Cather

My AntoniaWhatever else was gone, Ántonia had not lost the fire of life.” 

My Ántonia by Willa Cather blindsided me with its brilliance. I had never heard of it or the mastermind behind it until it became assigned reading for my Cultural Diversity in American Literature class. Even reading a brief description of this novel before diving in didn’t peak my interest in the story; however, it only took reading the short introduction for me to become completely captivated and invested in the world of Jim and Ántonia. There are countless reasons why my heart was enthralled by this story, but this review will only expand upon a few of them.

First, the introduction is fascinating in itself. The work begins with a few brief pages narrated by an unnamed female who sets up the origin of the narrative to follow. She claims to have a close friendship with Jim, the narrator of the main story; however, she never directly identifies herself. As I continued reading the rest of the novel I constantly searched for a link between the female narrator and a character in Jim’s life, but was surprised and disappointed to find none. Did I miss something? Or perhaps the female narrator is meant to be Cather herself? Moreover, how do the multiple layers of narration reflect themselves in the story? For although it appears that the story is narrated by Jim, a male, it can be argued that it is actually narrated by a female (the narrator in the introduction) through the voice of a male (Jim). Or is it the other way around? This is precisely why I love the introduction: it has enough implications and raises a sufficient number of questions to warrant an entire additional discussion, all over a handful of pages!

Another reason behind my adoration for My Ántonia is that the narrative is ahead of its times, discussing immigration, gender, and family in a way that is incredibly relevant today. Like many aspects of this novel, these topics are mentioned with both subtlety and forthrightness. For instance, there are several points in which Cather directly associates Ántonia with manliness, such as Jim’s comment that she “ate so noisily now, like a man” (77). The fluidity of gender is widely explored in the narrative by a variety of characters, as are the ideas of immigration and family dynamics. Immigrants are frequently portrayed in a negative light by many characters, yet Jim is able to see through society’s veil and recognize the universal humanity in the foreigners he encounters. He is also exposed to a range of families, from his home in the country to the challenges that accompany his more complicated lifestyle in the city. The material for discussion and analysis is limitless!

The story of My Ántonia is endlessly intriguing, but not in a way that leads to the reader being confused. It’s rather difficult and strange to explain, but I finished this book feeling as though there were a plethora of little details that I had either missed or not fully understood. The story is both deceivingly simple and complex, which adds to the enigmatic charm of the novel. For example, although we are told more information about Jim’s endeavors later in life we never truly understand the specific relationship he has with Ántonia or what inner (or external) force holds him back. After finishing the novel I racked my brain for an answer, but then realized that Cather had never fully disclosed this information. It’s the stark contrast between a lack of answers to these larger questions and the provision of numerous tiny details that has kept this novel lingering in my mind.

Overall, Cather’s My Ántonia is a novel that has undoubtedly struck a resonating chord with me as a reader and an individual. There are an infinite number of reasons to fall in love with this narrative, from the beautiful writing and story arch to its characters that are fleshed out with humanlike depth. Despite its nineteenth century setting, this story is nevertheless relevant, important, and captivating in the eyes of today’s modern audience. We need this novel as much as it relies on us to continue reading it— hopefully we won’t let it down.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys.

Would I recommend it?: Yes, yes, yes! Especially to someone fond of Little House on the Prairie-esque stories. (And really to anyone and everyone. Pretty please with all the sugar in the world on top, read this novel!)

Have you read this book before? What did you think of it? What other works by Willa Cather would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

THE NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, AN AMERICAN SLAVE by Frederick Douglass

Narrative Frederick Douglass cover

“You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.”

Out of all the novels, short stories, and poems we read in my Introduction to Literature class, I chose to write my final paper on Frederick Douglass’ memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Why, you ask? Well, precisely because of Douglass’ skill with language, to which the quoted statement above certainly attests. Despite being raised as a slave with no proper education, Douglass manages to teach himself how to read and write. He views literacy as the key to his freedom, a belief that certainly rings true. It is through these skills that he is able to eventually attain freedom and eventually tell his life story in the form of books.

The reader does not have to wait long to see what a master Douglass is with language, for his proficiency is evident from the very first page. His expansive vocabulary and aptitude for using literary devices never cease to impress me. In particular, I am fascinated by his use of chiasmus in the Narrative, so much so that this was the focus of a large portion of my final paper. For those not familiar with this device, Dictionary.com defines chiasmus as “a reversal in the order of words in two otherwise parallel phrases.” Although the sentence quoted in the beginning of this review is arguably the most well-known and admired examples of chiasmus from Douglass’ pen, there are numerous other notable instances of chiasmus in the Narrative. One of my favorites is:

“He was just the man for such a place, and it was just the place for such a man.”

I love chiasmus adds depth to any statement, for it is both simply and complex all at once. In a way, the entire Narrative itself (and perhaps even Douglass’ life in general) can be viewed as a kind of chiasmus. Through hard work, determination, and courage Douglass transforms himself into a free man from decades of slavery. This reversal of identities mirrors the structure of chiasmus as it is used in writing, which may suggest why Douglass uses chiasmus so often in the Narrative. Taking a closer look at how books are written never fails to interest me, hence why I found Douglass’ writing so captivating.

Another strength of his Narrative is simply Douglass’ life story itself. What a source of inspiration, not only for people facing racial inequality but for anyone encountering adversity in general. Pure ambition, drive, and bravery allow Douglass to become the person that the peculiar institution desperately tried to prevent him from becoming. His journey to freedom is heart-breaking, unsettling, and frightening at times, but it is also eye-opening, moving, and inspiring. Here is a man who broke the chains in which slavery imprisoned him, a man who proved himself to be arguably even more intelligent and human than the average white American citizen at the time.

The only main weakness of the Narrative that stood out to me is the information that it omits. I understand that it is supposed to be an account of his story, but I would have liked to learn more about certain aspects of his life. For example, towards the very end of the memoir he suddenly reveals that along the way he had fallen in love and gotten married. When did that happen? How did they meet? It was an unexpected twist that seemed very out-of-place, and I think that more information leading up to it would give the reader a better picture of his life.

Overall, Douglass’ Narrative is my favorite piece of literature that I read with my Introduction to Literature class. It combines two of my passions: excellent writing and United States history. I would love to read more of Douglass’ work in the future, and perhaps even see the movie adaptation at some point. No matter what, though, I know that this Narrative will surely stick with me for years to come.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes!

Have you ever read this book before? What did you think of it? Did you like the movie version? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

 

THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner“Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”

Confused? If not, there’s about a 99 percent chance that you will be upon cracking open the spine of William Faulkner’s classic novel The Sound and the Fury. I read this with my Introduction to Literature class last semester and I have to admit that had I been reading this entirely on my own, without the guidance of my professor and insights from classmates, I would have been completely lost.

I’ve been putting off writing this review because I’ve struggled with how to approach discussing this book. My attitude towards this novel varied so much while I was reading it that it’s taken me quite some time to simply gather my thoughts and come up with a coherent opinion. Even now, months after having flipped the final page, writing about it is still difficult. There’s so much to say, that I could honestly write posts and posts about it (and maybe I will…). For now, however, I’ve decided to structure this review similarly to how  the novel itself is structured: with four parts.

Part 1: Benjy’s Narration

The first section is narrated through the mind of Benjy, a thirty-three year old man with a mental disability. His narration is incredibly jarring, confusing, and frustrating, mostly due to its lack of apparent logic and organization. I had no idea who the characters were, how they were all related to each other, or even if we were seeing Benjy’s present or past. But I’m going to tell you a not-so-secret secret: there is an order to all of Benjy’s rambling. (Hint hint: it has something to do with his sister.) Once you realize this (or, as with my experience, your English professor helps you realize this after you’ve already read the section) Benjy’s stream of consciousness narrative style begins to make a bit more sense. Still, while reading this section I was not a happy camper, and had Faulkner been sitting across the room I would have been sending frosty glares his way.

Part 2: Quentin’s Narration

First of all, you have no idea how relieved I was when I realized that the entire book was not narrated by Benjy. I just couldn’t take his rambling any longer! Quentin’s narration still isn’t very conventional or simple, but it is easier to understand than the first section. Secondly, you also have no idea how long it took me to realize that there are actually two Quentins in this story– one is female, the other is male.

It was during this second section that I became more interested in this story, primarily because of the interesting themes and questions that Quentin’s existential crisis allows us to explore. He’s clearly depressed, but the reasons behind his depression make for some fascinating discussions. Not only does it raise questions about family dynamics and sexuality, but it also relates to the state of the South (of the United States) when this story takes place. The South was experiencing a shift in its values, and Quentin struggles to accept this change. Through Quentin’s eyes I became more invested in this story, just in time to realize how his section would ultimately end. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

Part 3: Jason’s Narration

Oh, Jason. How I dislike you. Despite its clearer writing and more organized, logical order, this section was somehow even more frustrating to read than Benjy’s. At least with Benjy I felt sympathy and compassion– with Jason, I only felt a sense of revulsion. Jason treats everyone with cruelty, and it seems as though not a speck of warmth burns in his heart. Still, my interest in the story continued to grow as I understood more and more about the characters and what they were actually dealing with. I just couldn’t get over how horrible Jason was.

Part 4: The Omniscient Narration

This section is the only section with an omniscient narrator (otherwise known as a third-person perspective). It is not entirely without focus, though, due to the fact that it concentrates on Dilsey, the Compson family’s servant. This is by far my favorite section of the novel, mostly because a) I think Dilsey is the sanest of all the characters and b) it is the easiest to understand. In my edition this section is followed by an appendix which offers even more information and clarifies a lot of questions that I had about what actually happened to the characters. Without these two parts of the novel, I would undoubtedly still feel incredibly lost.

So, what message should be taken away from this rambling review? Ultimately, I believe that you’ll only get as much out of The Sound and the Fury as you choose to put into it. If you simply skim or quickly read the novel without doing any additional research or stopping to more closely analyze the text, then you’re bound to walk away from it being just as confused as you were on the very first page. However, if you actually spend time with this novel and make an effort to understand what it has to say, I think you’ll be pleased with the reward.

Overall, I’ve come to appreciate The Sound and the Fury much more since I’ve finished it than I ever did while actually reading it. I admire its cleverness, its intricacy, its impossible yet strangely logical disorder. I will most definitely be revisiting it in the future– whether he likes it or not, Faulkner has not seen the last of me.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) 3 out of 5 smileys.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes, with a fair warning regarding its knack for being incredibly confusing and frustrating.

What do you think of this novel? What other works by William Faulkner would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

I think that many readers– myself included– fall prey to the common misconception that there are two distinct categories of literature. The first of these categories could be considered “hard literature” (I don’t know if these names already exist– I’m completely making them up on the spot). These are the texts we are often forced to read for literature classes, including the classics that sit on our dusty shelves until we eventually feel guilty enough to pick them up and crack open their stiff spines. An obvious name father opposing category would be “soft literature,” which encompasses those books that we willingly read for pleasure.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsOne of the greatest distinctions between these two categories in our minds is our purpose for reading them. The former, we read to analyze, think critically about, and learn from; the latter, we read to be entertained. While I have never been a resolute believer in this concept, until recently it has had at least a slight influence on the way I read. I didn’t realize this, however, until I was assigned to read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in my Introduction to Literature class this past semester.

I read The Hunger Games a few years ago and loved it, but I hadn’t read it since then because the end of the trilogy had kind of put a sour taste in my mouth– but that’s a topic for another day. When I read books like this one I tend to view myself as a fan, but my professor was asking us to read this novel as both a fan and a critic. Intrigued, I was eager to experience the story from a different perspective than when I first read it.

What my class found through close reading and thought-provoking discussions was honestly extraordinary. I never imagined that there were such interesting, controversial undertones apart from the obvious themes involving insurgency, the proliferation of the media, and the ignorance of many people in modern-day society.

For example, we talked about how up until the Reaping when she is forced to wear a dress, Katniss does not necessarily have a clear, definitive gender. She hunts with Gale, wears masculine clothing and even takes on the role of the father figure in her house by providing for Prim and her mother. In contrast, Peeta embodies a much more feminine role compared to Katniss. As the son of a baker he is a very skilled cook and painter, both of which are generally considered to be feminine talents. These observations caused some people in my class to wonder whether or not Katniss was actually gender fluid. While I don’t particularly agree with that claim, it is nevertheless very interesting to think about.

Not only did I discover several deeper layers within this story that can be endlessly analyzed and contemplated, but my overall feelings towards the characters also changed in this second reading. When I first read The Hunger Games years ago I was a firm opponent of Peeta for some unknown reason. In my mind Gale was the more suitable partner for Katniss, and perhaps in some ways that is true. However, after having read the book again I have come to really appreciate and admire Peeta. He’s just an average, innocent guy trying his best to survive, and he has to deal with Katniss’ conflicting emotions regarding himself and the Games. People definitely don’t give him enough credit for his cleverness and ability to strategize. After all, he’s the one who furthers their “star-crossed lovers” image, which is essentially what allows them to survive. He also balances out Katniss emotionally, much more so than Gale. So I must admit that I’ve had a change of heart: I now believe that Peeta, not Gale, would ultimately be a better match for Katniss.

Overall, rereading The Hunger Games has reminded me of all the reasons why I loved it the first time around. It’s one of those books that you can’t help but get caught up in as soon as you start reading it. The concept of the story itself is absolutely brilliant, and I was glad to see that it was still able to excite me even though I knew how it would end. While it will never top some of my personal favorite books and series, it is still evident that Suzanne Collins has written a fantastic novel that will surely continue to captivate readers for years to come.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! To all of my friends! (And maybe even to a stranger or two… it’s SO good!)

What are your thoughts on this book? What do you think about the concept of “hard” and “soft” literature? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Book Review: ROBINSON CRUSOE

Robinson Crusoe coverAuthor: Daniel Defoe

Number of Pages: 320

Publisher: Modern Library

Release Date: 1719

“Robinson Crusoe, set ashore on an island after a terrible storm at sea, is forced to make do with only a knife, some tobacco, and a pipe. He learns how to build a canoe, make bread, and endure endless solitude. That is, until, twenty-four years later, when he confronts another human being.”

Goodreads.com

Let me start by saying that my initial expectations for this novel were not high. To be honest, I really didn’t think I would enjoy it at all when I first saw it listed on the syllabus of my Introduction to Literature class. All I knew about the story was that a man gets stuck on a deserted island and that the novel was him narrating his experiences there. Beyond that basic premise of the plot, I had no idea what it was about. His survival story alone didn’t appeal to me very much, mostly because I’ve read so many survival stories and seen so many movies about survival (and nothing can compare to Lost!). It might have been exciting back in the eighteenth century, but now– unless they’re done incredibly well– these types of stories tend to feel unoriginal and overused. All in all, I really was expecting to have to force myself to trudge through the boredom, monotony, and triviality I thought this novel would exude.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I realized that I actually enjoyed reading this book! It’s certainly not my favorite book of all time, but it provided such food for thought that I couldn’t help but look forward to discussing it in class and seeing what new layers of meaning our analysis could uncover. Crusoe’s story is one of survival, but it is not about survival solely in the physical sense. The story soon transforms into a discussion about religion and whether or not God is controlling our fates or if our futures are simply the consequences of our actions. This twist in focus was unexpected, yet it made the story much more interesting. I’m not very religious myself, but I think learning and thinking about religion is fascinating. It’s interesting to notice how people tend to embrace religion or spirituality in general when confronted with dire situations, such as Crusoe’s isolation on the island.

It’s a wonder that Defoe was able to write such a sizable, detailed novel in which, for the majority of the time, there is only a single character. Crusoe’s narration certainly adds intrigue to the story, mostly regarding the details that Crusoe chooses to emphasize or omit entirely. He’s clearly writing for an audience, but whether or not that audience is himself or other people is sometimes hard to conclude. An argument can be made that in narrating the story he is trying to remake himself in the eyes of others; however, it can also be suggested that he is attempting to convince himself of his new image and keep himself sane while on the island. Although this novel seems fairly simple at the outset, it’s actually quite complex and worth reading closely.

As a character, I didn’t find Robinson Crusoe to be all that agreeable. Sure, he has many flaws that make him easy to relate to as a human being, but being inside of his head for so long does grow wearisome after a while. His meticulous descriptions of caring for goats, constructing his shelter, and other tasks are frequent and rather dry, much to my chagrin. By far my favorite parts were Crusoe’s inner rambles and debates, particularly regarding  religion and the savages of which he was terribly afraid. Not only were these parts the most interesting to read, but they also showed the effect that being isolated on the island had on him. He doesn’t talk much about physical distress, apart from when he gets very sick, but it’s clear that he struggles mentally and emotionally with his place on the island.

In fact, I even wrote my midterm paper on Robinson Crusoe. In my paper I argued that Crusoe attempts to create a sense of civilization on the island and reconnect with his past as a civilized man in English society in order to separate himself from the wildness of the savages. If any of you have read this novel before I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this thesis– do you agree? Disagree? Have a different opinion? I’d love to know!

Overall, I must admit that Defoe surprised me with Robinson Crusoe. It’s a solid novel– not one of my favorites, but surely worth reading. The slow pace and exhaustive amount of detail in the novel are countered by the interesting narration and themes of religion and morality, thus balancing its weaknesses with its strengths. I’m glad it was required reading for my Introduction to Literature class because otherwise I might never have picked up this often underestimated classic novel.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) 3 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes, bearing in mind that it is a rather slow-paced and character-driven novel. It’s not for those who prefer constant action and adventure to contemplative thought, but I wouldn’t automatically discount it.

Have you ever read this book before? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Book Review: GREAT EXPECTATIONS

great expectations coverAuthor: Charles Dickens

Number of Pages: 554

Publisher: Penguin Books

Release Date: 1861

“Great Expectations, Dickens’ funny, frightening and tender portrayal of the orphan Pip’s journey of self-discovery, is one of his best-loved works. Showing how a young man’s life is transformed by a mysterious series of events – an encounter with an escaped prisoner; a visit to a black-hearted old woman and a beautiful girl; a fortune from a secret donor – Dickens’ late novel is a masterpiece of psychological and moral truth, and Pip among his greatest creations.”

– Goodreads.com

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens completely took me by surprise and exceeded all of my initial expectations. It is the best book I have ever been assigned to read in school (I read it with my AP English class) and my favorite book of 2015 so far. There are so many fantastic aspects of this novel- fitting them all into one review is going be a struggle!

Let’s start with one of the most obvious great things about this novel: Pip, the main character. I was captivated by Pip’s narration from the very first sentence. His youthful spirit and personality shine through the writing, and I couldn’t help but want to support him and cheer him on throughout the entire story. He certainly as flaws (his extreme naivety and impressionability, for example) but they only sere to increase his charm because he is so easy to relate to. The mistakes he makes can be translated to our own lives quite easily, despite the fact that his circumstances are quite unique. Also, I really liked the fact that even though Pip is telling the story when he is much older, his narration nevertheless reflects his age at the time. For example, during the beginning of the book his childish fear of the convict and ignorance of current events (the Hulks) are captured perfectly by the impressive vocabulary of adult Pip. Not only does Pip’s narration create more depth to his own personality and development as a character, but it also makes the story even more entertaining.

Pip isn’t the only remarkable character, however- Dickens has created an entire cast of incredible personalities to captivate and enthrall us. Take Miss Havisham, for example. She’s so heartbroken that she’s driven herself insane, locked in the moment of her wedding day before it all took a turn for the worse. Or Estella, the girl Miss Havisham has been training to break the hearts of men like she herself was never able to do. And then there’s Mr. Joe Gargery, the husband of Pip’s abusive sister, whose heart is so kind that even in Pip’s darkest times, he reminds him that they will always be “ever the best of friends”. There is more than meets the eye to nearly every character in this novel, and by the end I was astounded by how seamlessly their lives connect and intertwine. 

The plot itself was captivating and never dull, even though the book is quite long. Between Pip’s entertaining narration and countless twists and surprises I was never bored. This is very much a character-driven novel, but the plot was still interesting and well planned out. I love the fact that there are two endings- the one that Dickens originally wanted to include, and the one that ended up being included in the story that is published today. The publisher back then (or person he was writing for, I don’t know if it was necessarily a publisher) didn’t like how the original ending was not very happy, so Dickens wrote one that had more of a “happily ever after” feel to it. The copy of this book that I got from my high school’s library had both endings in the back, and I have to say that I like the original one better. It fits the bittersweet tone of the book way better than the other ending does, and I can’t help but think that if Dickens initially wanted it to end that way then that’s the way it should end.

I was really surprised by how much I loved the writing in this book. I enjoyed Dickens’ writing style in A Tale of Two Cities, but I absolutely LOVED it in Great Expectations!! It was witty and charming and there were times when I actually laughed out loud while reading it. (Sorry people in the school library during eighth period- Dickens is just too funny!) The word choice was impressive but not overwhelmingly difficult to understand, and there are just so many quotes that I couldn’t help but highlight in my book. Dickens’ writing is definitely one of my favorite aspects of this book!

Overall, I LOVED LOVED LOVED Great Expectations- when I finished reading it I felt like I wanted to give it a hug and read it all over again. It’s such a timeless story, mostly because it is so easy to relate to the feelings and experiences Pip has as he grows up. I am so happy that I was assigned to read this for class- if this doesn’t prove that my teacher has great taste in books, I don’t know what does!

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys (or A MILLION smileys!!!)

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! Anyone and everyone should read this book!

Have you read this book before? What did you think of it? What other books by Charles Dickens would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY