Review: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Death of a Salesman by Arthur MillerAuthor: Arthur Miller

Number of Pages: 139

Publisher: Viking Books

Release Date: 1949

“The story revolves around the last days of Willy Loman, a failing salesman, who cannot understand how he failed to win success and happiness. Through a series of tragic soul-searching revelations of the life he has lived with his wife, his sons, and his business associates, we discover how his quest for the “American Dream” kept him blind to the people who truly loved him. A thrilling work of deep and revealing beauty that remains one of the most profound classic dramas of the American theatre.”

– Goodreads.com

I haven’t read many modern plays (modern in the sense that it isn’t ancient or written by Shakespeare) so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Arthur Miller’s Death of Salesman. The synopsis I was given didn’t really appeal to me, because what is so exciting about an old man failing as a salesman? I quickly realized that my initial impression of this play was completely wrong, however- it’s about so much more than poor Willy!

I didn’t think it was incredibly well written, beautiful, or anything like that, but the themes that the play focuses on are extremely thought-provoking and relevant even though it was written over sixty years ago. One can read or watch this play from so many different perspectives and angles, making it a great work to read with a class. For example, one theme is the impact of birth order on personalities and family dynamics. Biff, the oldest child, eventually assumes the responsibility for helping Willy because his younger brother, Happy, idolizes his father and is turning out to be just like him. This also connects with the idea that appearances aren’t everything, because Willy greatly values appearances but he is not a successful or productive worker. Willy’s sons have inherited these beliefs and bad work ethic as well, leading to more conflict and tension in the family. After seeing how his laziness has affected the family, Biff makes a conscious effort to improve his life. These themes were important in the 1950’s and continue to be valuable discussion topics in our society today.

This play is about so much more than I originally thought, and it really makes you think about what you want to do with your life to be happy. Is it worth chasing after your dreams, or is it more beneficial to settle for a reliable job with fewer risks and better pay? At a first glance one might tend to agree with the latter, but this play honestly made me think twice about that initial impression. At a time in my life when I’m trying to decide where to go and what to do after high school, this book was quite influential and thought-provoking.

Overall, Death of a Salesman is a tragic, heart-wrenching play about the ordinary lives of American families everywhere. It may seem like it is simply about an old man nearing the end of his life, but it also encompasses family dynamics, the “American Dream”, and what it really means to be successful. I believe that we can all empathize and connect with at least one character in this play, which  really makes you question if you’re happy with the life you’re currently living. It’s deep stuff, but definitely worth thinking about!

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

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes!

Have you ever read this play? What did you think of it? Would you rather be practical and get a well-paying job or follow your dreams despite all the risks? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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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

Review: ANTIGONE

antigone coverAuthor: Sophocles

Number of Pages: 80

Date of Publication: 441

“The curse placed on Oedipus lingers and haunts a younger generation in this new and brilliant translation of Sophocles’ classic drama. The daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, Antigone is an unconventional heroine who pits her beliefs against the King of Thebes in a bloody test of wills that leaves few unharmed. Emotions fly as she challenges the king for the right to bury her own brother. Determined but doomed, Antigone shows her inner strength throughout the play.”

– Goodreads.com

I read this with my AP English class after reading Oedipus Rex. Technically it is the third play in a series of sorts written by Sophocles and following the same family, but my class skipped reading the middle play due to the time constraint of our class. As long as you have an idea of the story and circumstances, however, I don’t really think it matters the order in which you read them.

I did like this play more than Oedipus Rex because I think it has a stronger connection to modern-day society. At its core, this story is about standing up for what you believe in as well as about where your loyalty and duty should lie- with the law or your personal beliefs? It’s a clash of conflicting ideas and it’s so very interesting to read about from a modern perspective. This conflict occurs all the time in our daily lives on a small-scale, and it is definitely happening on a much grander scale in nations around the world today. People are rising up and fighting for what they believe in, just like Antigone goes against the law to avenge the disrespect Creon has shown her deceased brother by not giving him a proper burial.

Antigone is very much a feminist character, which I absolutely loved reading about. It makes you wonder: What made Sophocles want to challenge the cultural norms of his society by writing about such a strong, independent female? Did he know someone in real life that acted a similar way, or was it simply a creation of his own imagination and he thought that more women should act that way? The fact that this play is so incredibly relevant today even though it was written thousands of years ago astounds me. It just goes to show that technology may progress and society may change and advance, but humans are still humans and most likely always will be. We face similar ideological struggles to the ones they had to endure in the time of Sophocles, and this play is concrete evidence of that.

Overall, Antigone is a dramatic, engaging, fascinating play that evokes empowerment and wonder in the reader. It’s as relevant today as any newly released novel, which is all the more reason to read it.

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

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes!

Have you ever read this play? If so, what were your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

 

Review: OEDIPUS REX

oedipus coverAuthor: Sophocles

Number of Pages: 80

Release Date: around 430 BCE

“Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex has never been surpassed for the raw and terrible power with which its hero struggles to answer the eternal question, “Who am I?” The play, a story of a king who acting entirely in ignorance kills his father and marries his mother, unfolds with shattering power; we are helplessly carried along with Oedipus towards the final, horrific truth.”

– Goodreads.com

I read this play with my AP English class, and I have to say that I enjoyed it much more than I originally thought I would. I needed to be taught A LOT of history about Greek Theater and information about this story in general, which became a bit tedious after a while. Throughout the story my teacher had to frequently stop and add in details about who the characters were, what the curse entailed, and why it was brought upon the city of Thebes. I’m sure it’s simply due to the old age of this play and the vastly different time period we live in today, but I felt as though there should have been more information given within the play itself.

However, I thought that the drama in this play was fantastic, despite the fact that it was quite strange. (I mean, the guy marries his own mother. And has children with her. So she is simultaneously a mother and grandmother to her own children….) It’s engaging and surprisingly easy to relate to, because outrageous and controversial events like this seem to occur all the time today. And who doesn’t like a great twist?

My favorite aspect of Oedipus Rex is the way it focuses on the theme of fate v. free will. Are our lives in some way destined to unfold in a certain direction, or are they strictly the results of the decisions we choose to make? This question is applied to several characters in this play, and it’s interesting to see how they all feel about who has control of their lives. The culture of Ancient Greece promoted the idea that the gods controlled fate and destiny, yet this play speaks largely to the concept of free will. Little did Sophocles know that thousands of years later we would still not have a definitive answer to this question!

Overall, Oedipus Rex is an entertaining and thought-provoking play that is sure to make you simultaneously gasp out loud in shock and contemplate the idea of fate v. free will in our lives.

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

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes.

Have you ever read this play before? If so, what are your thoughts on it? How do you feel about the question of fate v. free will? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Book Review: BELOVED

beloved coverAuthor: Toni Morrison

Number of Pages: 324

Publisher: Vintage

Release Date: 1987

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.”

– Goodreads.com

Slavery in American history has always been a subject that has fascinated me. How could we have done something so dreadfully horrific for so long? How did these slave-holding Americans live with themselves knowing that they were essentially treating other human beings like animals? When I was given the choice to choose an independent novel in my AP English course, I knew that I wanted to further explore this subject. Luckily, Beloved was the perfect novel for this scenario. Not only did I delve deeper into the terrible past of slavery, but I also was exposed to some spooky, incredibly well-written supernatural elements.

I wouldn’t say this novel is confusing per say, but it definitely is mysterious. This works to its advantage because I was on the edge of my seat the entire time waiting to see what would happen next. The writing is a blend of many different personalities, which makes the story even more engaging. Sometimes it’s lyrical and florid, other times it’s sporadic and wild like Sethe herself. But make no mistake, every single word is absolutely beautiful. The emotions, desires, sorrows, and dreams of the characters are so raw and human that I could connect with many of them even though my position in life is vastly different from theirs. The themes of this novel transcend time periods and cultures, something that takes an extremely skilled writer and storyteller to successfully accomplish.

The whole atmosphere of this novel was spooky, haunting, and utterly suspenseful. It’s a unique mix of historical fiction and ghost stories, and it is executed excellently. The characters experience major growth and development throughout the book, so much so that my opinions of many of them changed drastically from beginning to end. The character I felt the most for was Denver, Sethe’s daughter. She is caught in the whirlwind that is the house at 124 without any say in the matter and to no fault of her own. I think that out of all the characters in the book she definitely draws the shortest straw and gets dealt the worst hand out of the deck. It was difficult at times to feel sympathy for Sethe because she became so selfish, but I had not trouble at all feeling sorry for Denver and wishing the best for her.

One startlingly moving aspect of this novel was when Morrison discussed slavery. Seeing how being a slave impacted the characters and what it eventually drove them to do simply broke my heart, to say the least. The abyss between whites and African Americans was enormous during this time in American history, and the disdain of the other side from each group was clearly apparent in the opinions of the characters. I applaud Morrison for handling such an important and challenging topic with such brilliance and thoughtfulness.

Overall, I loved Beloved. I could go on for pages and pages about how I much I love this book, but I’ll just leave it at that. It’s a complicated and very detailed story filled with flashbacks to the past, dreams of the future, and heartbreaking descriptions of the present. Toni Morrison is an amazingly talented writer, and I cannot wait to read more of her work. I am so happy I picked this to read in my AP English class!

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

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes!!!

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

Yours,

HOLLY

Book Review: THE POWER OF MYTH

power of myth coverAuthor: Joseph Campbell (being interviewed by Bill Moyers)

Number of Pages:320

Publisher: Anchor Doubleday

Release Date: 1988

“Campbell’s most impressive gift was his ability to take a contemporary situation, such as the murder & funeral of President John F. Kennedy, & help us understand its impact in the context of ancient mythology. Herein lies the power of The Power of Myth, showing how humans are apt to create & live out the themes of mythology. Based on a six-part PBS tv series hosted by Bill Moyers, this classic is especially compelling because of its engaging question-&-answer format, creating an easy, conversational approach to complicated & esoteric topics.”

– Goodreads.com

This book was assigned reading for my AP English class, and at first I was very hesitant to read it. A three hundred page interview about old myths I’m not familiar with? It sounded quite dreadful to me, frankly. I should know by now to keep an open mind going into books like this, but what can I say? As per usual, this book exceeded my initial expectations by a mile. It had flaws, to be sure, but for the most part it was very enjoyable.

I had such a positive reaction to this book while I was reading mostly because the content was absolutely fascinating. It’s evident from the very beginning that Joseph Campbell is beyond brilliant- his knowledge of various texts, myths, religions, etc. is unbelievable. Yet he speaks in a way that is easy for the average reader to understand, which is something I really appreciate. Explanations aren’t any good if every other word has to be looked up in a dictionary! I also greatly appreciated Campbell’s honesty. He was not afraid to speak his mind, even if that meant disagreeing with Bill Moyers (the man interviewing him) at times. Some of his ideas were a little out there, but he shared them in vivid detail all the same. There was no air of hesitancy or of holding back in this interview, and I cannot tell you how refreshing that felt. In a society where so many topics aren’t discussed openly it was enthralling to read someone’s personal religious thoughts.

If reading about religion makes you take a step back, hear this: I am not an overly religious person, and at no time in the book did I feel as though Campbell was preaching his views or attempting to convert me to his train of thought. He certainly made some valid persuasive arguments, but the point of them was to discuss and explain rather than to convince the reader to think otherwise. That’s how I felt, at least. His tone was professional, intellectual, conversational, diplomatic- not hostile or pretentious. He keeps a balance between religion and mythology, and therefore this book can be read from either or both perspectives. I honestly don’t think it matters whether you’re atheist, deeply religious, or have no real opinion on spiritual matters- anyone can enjoy this book simply from an educational stance.

Overall, this book was a really great read. Some parts dragged and were a bit repetitive and dull, but for the most part I thought it was interesting and incredibly thought-provoking. The interview format made it very easy to read, and the pages often flew by surprisingly quickly. This book is very effective in making the reader understand the importance of myths in modern-day society, and will no doubt help me immensely as I analyze texts later on.

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

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Perhaps. I think it depends on the person. If you do not think religion or myth is the least bit interesting, then obviously this might not be the book for you. But who knows? It might surprise you!

Have you ever read this book? What’s your opinion on reading about religion? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Book Review: A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY

a prayer for owen meany coverAuthor: John Irving

Number of Pages: 640

Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers

Release Date: 1989

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy’s mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn’t believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is extraordinary.”

– Goodreads.com

I was assigned to read this book as part of my summer work for the AP English class I’m taking this year in school. When I initially received my chunky copy, I was expecting to have to force myself to read a good majority of it for lack of interest. Quite the opposite happened, actually- I quickly realized that I couldn’t put this book down!

To put it simply, this book is unlike anything else I have ever read before. It is incredibly unique, detailed, and multi-layered, yet the writing is so well though-out that I was never confused. Perplexed? Yes. Curious? Absolutely! But there was never a point that I didn’t understand part of the plot or what the author was trying to say. This is an amazing feat for the author considering the complicated format that this novel is written in. The story is always told from John Wheelwright’s point of view (the main character), however it alternates between his perspective as a child growing up in Gravesend, New Hampshire and his view as an adult living in Toronto, Canada. It may seem confusing, but when you read the novel you immediately realize how brilliantly the story is told.

Then there is the story itself. On a fundamental level, everything about this book is outstanding: the captivating setting, the multidimensional characters, a plot that continually twists and turns in all directions. But what I really love about this book is its excellency reaches beyond the basics of a story and goes on to challenge the reader’s way of thinking. I thought just as much about religion, politics, and growing up while reading this book as I did about the actual story. This novel can be read from so many angles and viewpoints, analyzing one topic the first time and a completely different subject the next. At the end of this book my mind felt quite exhausted from all of the contemplating it had been doing, but it was a good kind of tired- the best kind, in fact. It was the kind of exhausted that only comes from productive, challenging work. As a reader, this book forces you to be fully invested in the story, and you come out on the other end with so much more than you had at the beginning.

Overall, I absolutely loved A Prayer for Owen Meany. I could go on and on about the specifics of why I feel this way, but I think it’s best for you to experience it for yourself. This novel is captivating, thought-provoking, and unyielding- even when you’re convinced you know exactly how it will end, you’re still wrong. After having read it, it’s easy to see why my teacher assigned this to us- and I’m so glad she did!

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

Would I recommend it to a friend?: ABSOLUTELY.

Have you ever read this book? What were your thoughts on it? What other books written by John Irving would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

 

 

WWW Wednesdays: June 25th

WWW WednesdaysWWW Wednesdays is a meme hosted by Should Be Reading that asks three questions:

What are you currently reading???

Right now I’m reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, which I was assigned to read as summer work for my upcoming AP English class. So far I’m really enjoying it!

What did you recently finish reading???

Nina LaCour’s novel The Disenchantments was the perfect book to read during my last week of school! There’s nothing like a good road trip story to fill you with hope for the summer ahead. Review will be up soon!

What do you think you’ll read next???

Probably something from my summer TBR list that is contemporary YA fiction. I feel like after reading A Prayer for Owen Meany– although it is excellent so far- I’ll need something lighter to refresh me.

What are your answers to these questions? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY