Books

MEN WITHOUT WOMEN by Haruki Murakami | Review

Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all.

Marked by the same wry humor that has defined his entire body of work, in this collection Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic.

{Goodreads.com} 

When did I read this book?: In one sitting on New Year’s Eve! So nice to end the reading year on such a high note.

Where did I read this book?: In a cozy bed–the most comfy reading location there is!

Why did I read this book?: A few of my friends and I always choose a book to read during breaks between semesters and this was our choice for our winter weeks off.

The main strengths of this short story collection can be summed up in three parts: the subject matter, Murakami’s writing style, and how he writes about the subject matter.

+ Subject matter. The title of the story collection implies a very intriguing topic in itself: What about men without women? Is this an advantage? A disadvantage? What struck me as ingenious about these stories is that none of the men are truly without women, for there are a plethora of women characters; rather, these men must go without the woman they truly desire to be with. Some are widowers, some were recently divorced, some cheat on their wives, and some discover that their wives have been cheating on them. These stories do not exude the feeling of celebration; instead, they read as a lament.

+ Writing. Since this collection was my introduction to Murakami, I had no idea what to expect from his writing style–particularly since I would be reading a translation from the original Japanese. I must admit that I’m a sucker for any writing style that for some reason clicks with me–it can completely alter my thoughts on a text–and this collection is no exception. From the first page I was captivated by the simple elegance of Murakami’s writing: not too flowery, not too choppy, not too languid, not too hurried. Personally, I feel as though writing style becomes even more important in short story collections. Apart from overarching themes or topics, the writing style is often the common thread that ties a collection together into a cohesive unit. Here Murakami strikes the perfect balance between changing his style slightly to fit the tone of each story while still maintaining the simplicity and elegance characteristic of his narrative voice.

How he writes about the subject matter. I was a bit hesitant to read this particular collection due to the nature of the subject matter. It’s fairly easy for discussions of failed or past relationships to get pretty ugly (as a semester of reading novels by Philip Roth has shown me), and reading those kinds of texts is never a good time. Reading about adultery always really bothers me, especially when it’s written about in a nonchalant way, as though the person having an affair has every right to do so. However, Murakami writes about this difficult subject matter with tact and emotion, always making the reader feel the weight and gravity of the situation. As a woman reading these stories I did not feel offended; in a strange, unexpected way, I almost felt understood.

The only major weakness of this collection that stuck out to me was the confusing nature of the story “Samsa in Love.” It seems as though another life form has entered the body of a young man for the first time, but it is unclear as to how or why this occurs. I’m sure this lack of clarity is the entire point of the story; however, it’s quite jarring to read after several stories that are fairly straightforward and clear. A bit more solidity from this story would have made it a more powerful, poignant read.

I honestly enjoyed Men Without Women a lot more than I expected to. This was my first book by Murakami, but it certainly won’t be my last!

What are your thoughts on Men Without Women? have any recommendations for what Murakami book I should read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Books

THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP by Marie Kondo | Review

“Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international best seller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home – and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.”   {Goodreads}

Sometimes it seems as though this book is everywhere. From bookstores to blogs, it felt like everyone had read this small, strange book but me. Until now.

Listening to this audio book was a… surprising experience. Once I adjusted to the soothing yet strangely robotic narrator, I found myself having mixed reactions to much of what Kondo proposed. What I imagined would be a practical book about tidying up actually advocates an emotional journey to find what brings you joy and to foster a stronger, more reciprocal connection with your home. While this is a fine turn for the book to take, I just wasn’t expecting such a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

 

Amidst this book’s strangeness (I’ll get to that later), there were several parts of that made me want to grab a pen and write down a quote to look at when I feel lost. Kondo is an excellent writer, able to construct the motivational, lyrical messages out of fairly simple concepts.

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

While some of her advice struck me as quite ridiculous, quotes like the one shown above helped me stay rooted to her narrative. Without gems like these, I probably would not have enjoyed the book very much. However, this momentary eloquence is precisely the issue: one minute she would be saying something motivational in a realistic, practical, and applicable sense, and the next she would be arguing that socks go on vacation and deserve to live the life of luxury:

“I pointed to the balled-up socks. “Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?” That’s right. The socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet. The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest. But if they are folded over, balled up, or tied, they are always in a state of tension, their fabric stretched and their elastic pulled. They roll about and bump into each other every time the drawer is opened and closed. Any socks and stockings unfortunate enough to get pushed to the back of the drawer are often forgotten for so long that their elastic stretches beyond recovery.”

I’m sorry: WHAT?! My socks cannot adequately rest because they bump into each other in my sock drawer? Is being balled up giving them wrinkles? Is that little buzzing I here sometimes actually my socks screaming out in agony from my dresser? I distinctly remember listening to this section and pausing my audio book so I could soak up the ridiculousness of this passage. I was genuinely bothered by the fact that Kondo could actually think that socks have feelings. Surely this is just a metaphor? Someone please tell me that she doesn’t expect me to cater to the whims of my socks?

But the bizarre statements didn’t stop there. She often urges the reader to foster a deeper relationship with their belongings, talking to them physically and emotionally through touch.

“Open the drawer and run your hands over the contents. Let them know you care and look forward to wearing them when they are next in season. This kind of “communication” helps your clothes stay vibrant and keeps your relationship with them alive longer.”

I can see it now: my roommate wakes up one morning to find me running my hands over all of my clothing, whispering sweet nothings to them as I take years to decide what to wear. How do I choose something when I know that all of my other outfits will be desperately disappointed that I didn’t pick them? The danger of these sections is that they diminish the credibility of Kondo’s other advice that may be valuable and rational. It’s difficult to take someone seriously when they’re suggesting such ridiculous ideas.

To be fair, there is some great advice in this book. Despite my sarcasm, I do appreciate Marie Kondo’s overall message: our surroundings are influential aspects of our lives that can work with us or against us. Changing our environment for the better means that many things about our personal lives (motivation, organization, mood, etc.) may also improve. However, Kondo could certainly have shared this important message in a way that didn’t make me question whether or not I should be chatting with my underwear drawer. 

Would I read this book again? Probably not, although parts may be useful to turn back to in the future. Would I recommend this book? Yes, but with the caveat to take everything with a grain of salt. As much as I love a clean room, I’d rather not have to worry about being an expert conversationalist with my wardrobe.

What are your thoughts on this book? Have you put any of its advice into practice? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

GRIMM TALES: FOR YOUNG AND OLD by Philip Pullman | Review

To be honest, my only real interaction with fairy tales prior to reading Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales: For Young and Old was from watching Disney movies and reading a plethora of retellings over the years. For some reason I never actually made a point to read the Grimms’ tales themselves, or even anything remotely similar. It wasn’t until I happened upon this book in a store in the Edinburgh airport that I decided it was maybe finally time to read them–and in what better form than a book by Philip Pullman, writer of The Golden Compass? 

What I really appreciate about this collection of stories is that they are told with that classic fairy tale charm that Pullman does so well. They’re not retold in a modern setting or given a creative twist; rather, they’re simply retold based on a conglomeration of Pullman’s research on the origins of each tale. While I immensely enjoyed reading the stories, my favorite aspect of this collection was actually the section after each story where Pullman explains a bit of its history. He also shares his thought process behind any editorial decisions he may have made. Did he favor one storyteller’s version of the ending over another’s? Was there a character that he gave a greater or lesser role to? What does he see as being the main function of the story? I loved gaining these little insights into how Pullman retold these stories. His authorial voice acts as the common thread tying this amalgamation of stories together.

I read this book in various airports and flights, which ended up being the perfect setting. I would highly recommend Grimm Tales as a great book to take traveling because a) the stories are captivating and entertaining, b) they’re concise, which is ideal for reading in short bursts in distracting places, and c) the stories don’t relate to each other, so you can easily put this book down and pick it up again later without having to worry about remembering where you left off. There’s also something really comforting about reading these familiar stories, which is a bonus if you’re like me and get nervous or stressed while traveling.

It was also really interesting to read fairy tales I thought I was familiar with from Disney movies or other retellings. How different the actual versions are from what we’re shown as kids! I loved the dark, rather sinister, clever twists incorporated in the earlier versions. Among my favorites were Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Rumpelstiltskin. I wish someone would make movies based on the original versions of the stories rather than the romanticized ones we’re shown when we’re young. They would be so interesting to watch!

Overall, I’m so glad that I randomly stumbled upon this book in the Edinburgh airport. Not only was it the perfect book to take traveling, but it also reminded me how much I enjoy reading short story collections and Philip Pullman’s writing in general. If you’re looking for a book to take with you on your summer adventures, then look no further than Grimm Tales! 

What are your thoughts on Grimm Tales? Do you have a favorite fairy tale? What do you like to read when you’re traveling? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith | Review

“Zadie Smith’s dazzling first novel plays out its bounding, vibrant course in a Jamaican hair salon in North London, an Indian restaurant in Leicester Square, an Irish poolroom turned immigrant café, a liberal public school, a sleek science institute. A winning debut in every respect, White Teeth marks the arrival of a wondrously talented writer who takes on the big themes —faith, race, gender, history, and culture— and triumphs.” {Goodreads}

Zadie Smith is one of those authors that I’ve been meaning to read for ages but just never got around to doing so…. until White Teeth popped up on this term’s required reading list. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. How often is it that a personal and academic TBR line up?! (I mean, mine tend to line up pretty frequently, but this was a special scenario.) I purposely decided to put this novel towards the end of my reading list as motivation to get through the rest as quickly as possible. (Do I motivate myself to read certain books by rewarding myself with the chance to read other books? Indeed.)

I was honestly shocked when I read Smith’s short bio in the back of the book and learned that White Teeth was her debut novel. I once read a review that described this novel as “Dickensian” in scope and grandeur, and to be honest that is probably the most accurate description I could offer. There is a sprawling cast of characters from a diverse array of countries, backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, religions, and generations. Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on all of the characters, Smith introduces entirely new families and groups of people into the mix. These characters are not introduced simply as a way to further the plot; rather, they bring out different sides of pre-existing characters as well as more depth in the story itself.

White Teeth explores countless fascinating topics that are relevant in our society today as well as in their earlier context of the novel. Fate or free will, the end of the world, experiments on animals, the role of women in society, dualities, how we view the past in the present, the concept of multiple truths– the list goes on and on and on. It’s incredible how much Smith was able to pack into these 448 pages and still have it be a coherent, cohesive novel in which all the pieces come together at the very end. It helps that Smith’s writing and storytelling abilities are remarkable, as shown in her ability to reveal that seemingly simple and obvious ideas are actually fascinatingly multifaceted:

“If religion is the opiate of the people, tradition is an even more sinister analgesic, simply because it rarely appears sinister. If religion is a tight band, a throbbing vein, and a needle, tradition is a far homelier concoction: poppy seeds ground into tea; a sweet cocoa drink laced with cocaine; the kind of thing your grandmother might have made.”

Unfortunately, the ending was the weakest point of the novel in my eyes. I was expecting an epic convergence of all of the characters culminating in some sort of jaw-dropping reveal; instead, there was a confusing jumble of events that I still don’t really understand fully. Part of me wonders if that is precisely the point: life is messy and doesn’t really make sense or live up to one’s expectations all of the time. But does that really make a lackluster conclusion to an otherwise fantastic novel worth it? Not really.

Overall, White Teeth has made me an avid Zadie Smith fan who is incredibly eager to read more of her work. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel (despite its rather disappointing ending) and I look forward to reading much more of her writing in the future. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who hasn’t read Zadie Smith before!

What are your thoughts on White Teeth? Which Zadie Smith novel should I read next? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books, Feminist Fridays

Feminist Fridays: GIRL UP by Laura Bates

Last week’s Feminist Friday featured five nonfiction feminist reads that I’d like to read in 2018. Fortunately, I’ve already been able to check one off the list: Girl Up by Laura Bates. I hadn’t intended for this to be the first nonfiction read of the new year, but I saw a copy of it in a bookstore a few weeks ago and couldn’t help being drawn in by the colorful, fun, creative design. Time to share my thoughts!

+ Covers countless topics. Social media. Body image. Self-esteem. Protesting. Harassment and abuse. Sex. Education. Careers. Confidence. Gender stereotypes. Sexism. History of feminism movement and inspirational women. Feminism today. The list goes on and on and on, yet somehow Girl Up never feels as though it is rushing through one topic to get to another; rather, every subject is given plenty of time in the spotlight. Bates also does an excellent job of connecting all of these concepts by referring to them in multiple chapters and in different contexts.

+ Educational, but not preachy. One of my biggest pet peeves is when books turn from fun and informational to preachy and almost condescending in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, Girl Up has a balanced blend of direct facts, Bates’ personal anecdotes, and experiences from other women that she includes as supportive evidence for her arguments. Reading this book feels like having a conversation with a friend who genuinely cares about your well-being– what more can you ask from a book?

+ Bates’ hilarious personality shines through. All I thought after finishing this book was: Where can I get my hands on more of Laura Bates’ writing? Her voice here comes across as authentic, genuine, honest, and incredibly passionate about everything she discusses in this book. I may have even started laughing out loud to myself as I read this in bed…

+ SO FUN. From colorful graphics and snarky comebacks to ideas of what to send someone when they text you an unwanted photo, Girl Up is definitely a book that will make you smile.

The only drawback of this book for me is its intended audience. Although it may advertise itself as a book geared towards teens and college students alike, much of the information and context of the book suggests a younger audience (maybe 15-16 years old?). Despite this disparity, I believe that readers of all ages can still take away something valuable and empowering from this book. 

I would absolutely recommend Laura Bates’ Girl Up to anyone and everyone, especially those who identify as women or who would like to know more about feminism in general. It’s important to have as many people as possible in our conversations about gender inequality, so the more the merrier!

What are your thoughts on Girl Up? Have any recommendations for other feminist reads? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

 

 

Books, Poetry

THE SUN AND HER FLOWERS by Rupi Kaur | Review

Recently I read this Guardian article by Priya Khaira-Hanks that speaks about the controversy surrounding Rupi Kaur as an “instapoet” who has supposedly lowered the bar when it comes to the quality of publishable poetry. Kaur’s poetic style is often parodied with the intended implication being that anyone could write such simple, mundane lines. Despite this criticism, Khaira-Hanks asserts that Kaur presents an important and underrepresented voice in our modern world of poetry, saying at the end of the article:

As a young woman of colour in a world where white, male delectations are treated as the definitive barometer of taste, Kaur speaks a truth that the literary establishment is unlikely to understand. Even the most sincere critique of her work can slide from healthy debate into vicious attack at the turn of a page. But to read Kaur’s success as an omen of the death of poetry would be to unfairly dismiss writing that contains bravery, beauty and wisdom. Frankly, the literary world is saturated with white male voices of dubious quality. Kaur’s poetry should be given the same freedom to be flawed.

After reading Kaur’s second published poetry collection titled The Sun and Her Flowers, I’m inclined to agree with the Guardian article. Kaur’s poems are not perfect, yet I believe that is precisely the point: they are not perfect and neither are those who read them. I admire Kaur’s poetry not because it demonstrates a mastery of poetic form or follows conventional poetic traditional; rather, I keep returning to her words because they’re true. Genuine. Raw. Honest. Real.

Kaur once gave a TEDtalk called “I’m Taking My Body Back” in which she discussed how she began writing poetry as a means of survival in the tumultuous aftermath of abuse. Listening to her speak about her trauma adds another layer of depth and emotion to her work. Suddenly those short, seemingly simple snippets of verse (“what is stronger / than the human heart / which shatters over and over / and still lives”) take on greater meaning and significance in the context of someone’s actual experiences. I know that I find solace and comfort in her words because they are so undeniably human in their capacity to feel. Those moments of clarity when you finally feel as though someone else understands what you’re going through are abundant in Kaur’s work– perhaps this is why readers continue to support this (to use her flower analogy) blossoming young poet.

At times The Sun and Her Flowers so closely resembles her first collection Milk and Honey that I probably would only be able to recognize a handful of poems by sight from each. I would have liked to see a little bit more experimentation with form (more than the long paragraph poems); however, I did appreciate the vivid flower analogy that ties the entire collection together quite nicely. This collection felt repetitive to me, especially following Milk and Honey. Personally, I hope that she branches out a bit more if she publishes a third collection in the future.

Overall, Kaur’s The Sun and Her Flowers is an emotional, beautiful, thought-provoking collection of poetry. Although Milk and Honey remains my favorite of her collections, I nevertheless look forward to reading whatever poetry she continues to share with us readers in the future. I would highly recommend this collection even if you haven’t read anything by Kaur before!

What are your thoughts on The Sun and Her Flowers or any of Rupi Kaur’s other poetry? Have any recommendations for other poets I should check out? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell | Review

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is the second novel I had to read for the Victorian Literature tutorial I’m taking at Oxford during my first term. It’s fitting that this follows Dickens’ Hard Times on our summer reading list because Dickens was actually the editor of the magazine that Gaskell’s novel was initially serially published from September 1854 to January 1855. Interestingly enough, Dickens is also credited with creating the title for this novel (in opposition to Gaskell, who wanted to title her work “Margaret Hale” after the protagonist). Set in the fictional manufacturing town of Milton, this novel follows Margaret as she transitions from living in rural southern England to urban northern England.

+ The social problem. I’d be amiss if I didn’t start by highlighting how well Gaskell addresses what is often known as the “social problem” in England during the nineteenth century. The novel’s focus on the plight of factory workers during this time period is fascinating, especially in regard to the strike and its effect on the Higgins family. Little Mary Higgins humanizes the “Hands” that factory owners often disregarded as incompetent and lazy.

+ Community vs. class. One of my favorite aspects of this novel is the overall message it delivers: personal relationships can be more important than one’s social class. The immense amount of character development in this novel is particularly apparent when you look at how many characters learn the lesson of community over class. This lesson is one of the many ways in which North and South is as relevant today as it was back in Gaskell’s lifetime.

+ Margaret Hale. Margaret reminds me of one of my favorite characters in literature: Jane from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Both characters are strong, independent young women who experience many changes in their lives. They are resilient and clever, intelligent and courageous, yet never lose their immense capacities for compassion and empathy. I think it’s telling that Gaskell initially wanted to name this novel after Margaret herself because it suggests that she viewed the protagonist as the real heart of the story.

One of my only complaints is that this novel ends very abruptly compared to its prior steady pace. Not only does the ending feel sudden, but it also leaves many questions unanswered. What happens to the Higgins family, Fred, and Mrs. Thornton? What was the point of the marriage proposal at the very beginning of the novel?  How does Mr. Henry Lennox feel about the concluding events of the novel? Does Margaret receive a lot of backlash for her decision or is there a positive response? It almost feels as though this novel was missing an epilogue to tie all of these loose ends together.

Nevertheless, North and South was an engaging and enjoyable introduction to Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! I think anyone who has read and enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre should definitely consider picking up North and South.

What are your thoughts on this novel? Have you read anything else by Elizabeth Gaskell? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

EMMA by Jane Austen | Review

Last year I saw the movie Clueless, a comedy based on Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma, for the first time. My immediate reaction was: I need to read this book.

Set in Austen’s Victorian England, this novel follows Emma as she attempts to set her new friend Harriet up with a suitable man to marry. Caught up in the strict social conventions of the time, Emma goes through all the hoops necessary in order to make the perfect match… or so she believes. As each potential match flickers out before her eyes, she comes to realize that perhaps she’s been looking the wrong place all along.

It’s clear that Emma has the potential to possess all of the qualities that Austenites admire Jane’s books for having: humor, wit, charm, and a swoon-worthy romance. Unfortunately, I feel as though this novel misses the mark on these characteristics. Had the story been written with a slightly more agreeable protagonist, romantic interest, or ending, it would have made for a much more pleasurable read.

I guess my main problem with this novel is that I just couldn’t get past Emma’s annoying, oblivious, uppity personality. I’m sure this is the point of her character—we’re probably not supposed to like her—but where’s the enjoyment in that? Annoying protagonists are one of my biggest pet peeves, especially when there isn’t much going on besides their inner thoughts. Emma does undergo some character development towards the end of the story and begins to acknowledge that perhaps social classes aren’t as important in marriages as she once believed; however, this slight change was not enough to justify putting the reader through hundreds of pages to get to that point. I know this is a personal preference and is therefore really subjective, but my inability to relate with Emma ended up being a huge reason why this novel didn’t really click with me.

Harriet, on the other hand, was a character I connected with quickly and easily; it’s a shame that she doesn’t play a greater role overall. I’ve also been the girl who looks to others for relationship advice, the girl who feels heartbroken and a bit manipulated by others as they play their own twisted games. I think we can all relate with Harriet in some sense or at the very least feel sympathy for her as she is lead astray by Emma time and time and time again. Poor Harriet!

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about Emma. While I understand the point Austen is trying to make (social classes shouldn’t matter in marriages, the social conventions of the time period were ridiculous, etc.), I couldn’t get past Emma’s irritating, know-it-all personality. There were certainly moments when I laughed and admired Austen’s wit and charm, but it’s safe to say that this definitely isn’t my favorite Austen novel.

What are your thoughts on Emma? Which Jane Austen novel is your favorite? Which one should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

THE ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING by Bill Bryson | Review

One of my goals this summer is to learn as much as possible about British culture as well as specific locations I should make a point to visit while I’m studying abroad in England. My wonderful boss must know how to read minds because on my first day of work she gave me a copy of Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling. In this sequel to his 1995 book Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson travels across England and recounts his adventures and observations in each delightfully British location. As a citizen of both the United States and England, Bryson offers an interesting perspective on the similarities and differences between these two nations.

I admire Bryson’s important overall message that we should strive to preserve and appreciate the little things that make Britain so great (according to Bryson, these details include independent shops, beautiful countryside, updated and educational museums, lively seaside communities, etc.). However, the message could have been delivered in a much more positive way. Instead of complaining about all of the disappointing things he came across, he could have celebrated and highlighted the wonderful aspects of the locations he visited. The majority of the book is written with a negative tone (though thankfully this is not true for the chapter on Oxford!) and after a while I wanted to sit Bryson down and ask: “Don’t you have anything positive to say?” I find it hard to believe that someone could be so cynical about being able to travel to all of those interesting places. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting Bryson’s sense of humor here– or maybe I just don’t find him funny.

Not only did I not love Bryson’s sense of humor, but I found a lot of his observations to be rather redundant. It only takes a few chapters to notice a definite pattern in their structure: each chapter begins with a short anecdote followed by a transition into talking about the location at hand. He then talks about the lack of independent shops there, the expensive prices of food and admission to tourist attractions, and how he always had “one pint of beer too many” before heading off to bed at night, only to repeat the entire process in the next location. Eventually I began to wonder what the point of writing a nearly 400-page long book was if he was simply going to restate the same ideas in different words ad nauseam until the reader started to agree with what he was saying. I feel as though this book probably could have been condensed to half its current size.

Overall, I enjoyed this book for practical purposes but not necessarily for its entertainment value. Not only did I learn a lot about British culture from an American’s perspective, but I also now have a very general understanding of the geography of England. It has helped me create an exciting list of museums, towns, shops, and beautiful countryside that I would love to visit while studying abroad. Unfortunately, Bryson’s sense of humor and writing style did not click with me at all. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I read The Road to Little Dribbling because the background information it provides will undoubtedly be helpful as I learn more about England in the future.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes, if they were planning to visit England or were very interested in learning more about the nation in general.

What are your thoughts on this book? Are there any books you would recommend for someone studying abroad in England soon? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books, Drama

JULIUS CAESAR by William Shakespeare | Review

If you’ve stuck around this blog for a while then you may be familiar with the love-hate relationship I share with William Shakespeare. The Bard and I have never really clicked, mostly because a) I’m easily frustrated by his use of tricky English puns and b) I’m easily annoyed by the melodramatic nature of many of his works. (Although I suppose that the melodrama is sort of the point, to a certain extent, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Despite our rocky past, I’ve felt myself sort of coming around to Shakespeare lately.

Case in point: I actually enjoyed Julius Caesar.

*gasp* What?! Did I just admit to actually liking a Shakespeare play?

Yes. And here’s why:

+ The plot is cut and dry. Unlike some of Shakespeare’s other plays (I’m looking at you Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet), I was able to grasp the main gist of Julius Caesar pretty quickly and easily. There’s plenty of political intrigue and the events unfold quickly, clearly, and– dare I say– logically?! Usually I find Shakespeare’s plots to be lacking any semblance of logic or reason, but this play was almost realistic in this way. (It’s certainly not hard to imagine in today’s tumultuous, frenzied political climate.)The ending does possess the usual drama that his conclusions tend to exude, though I guess that’s to be expected from a tragedy.

+ Questions about honor, loyalty, and duty. I loved the major themes in this play because I think they’re so relevant to the current state of our world (as shown by this New York Times article about a recent controversial production of Julius Caesar). Should we be loyal to our government or personal relationships with others first and foremost? At what point does duty overrule loyalty or vice versa? Should honor or duty preside over common sense or morality? These are the kinds of questions that fascinate me and that really made this play stand out in particular to me.

+ Historical basis. One can probably guess from the title that this play centers around Julius Caesar, who was an actual Roman emperor. The fact that this play is based on actual historical events (with extra melodrama thrown in for good measure) makes me wonder what people thought about this at the time. Did they appreciate this play for its commentary on history or value it for its ability to entertain and captivate an audience?

+ I finally understand where the title of John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars comes from. At one point I knew that this was the Shakespeare play Green was referencing, but I had since forgotten that tidbit of info until I stumbled across the famous line:

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

I love exploring intertextuality and I’m actually sort of tempted to reread The Fault in Our Stars at some point to see if there are any underlying connections between the novel and the play.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Julius Caesar. Of course, I must admit that this measure of enjoyment is relative– that is, I enjoyed it considerably more than other Shakespeare plays I’ve read in the past but considerably less than other texts that are not Shakespeare plays. (I just have this unintentional apathy towards the Bard, okay?)

You win this round, Shakespeare.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: If someone asks me for a Shakespeare recommendation I would probably tell them to read this play; however, if someone asks me for a drama recommendation in general than I would definitely go with something like Thornton Wilder’s Our Town or Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

What are your thoughts on Julius Caesar? What Shakespeare play should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY