Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What I Learned From the 100 Best Novels - Why Diversity Matters

This week is all about my journey to finish the monstrous 100 Best Novels challenge. I am taking time to reflect on various aspects of my journey and thoughts I had along the way. Yesterday, I talked about what makes a book a classic in the first place. Tomorrow, I'll be sharing my favorites (and least favorites) from the list. 

Today, though, I wanted to talk about my biggest takeaway from this challenge. Over the past four years, I've told a lot of people about my efforts to read these books. If they inquire further about my experience, this is what I share. These are the thoughts I have not been able to shake for years. This is the sentiment which has weighed on me since very early on. 

In fact, I even talked about it in my post announcing that I was taking on the challenge. Throughout the whole journey, I have been so aware of this issue. I watched it manifest itself in countless ways as I read through the list. So, I want to spend some time talking about it today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What I Learned From the 100 Best Novels - What Makes A Classic

In February 2013, I embarked on a challenge.  I determined to read through Modern Library's list of the 100 Best Novels. The list was compiled in 1998, so, by now, it is leaving out a good number of years of English writing. Of course, it's not like they picked anything too close to 1998 anyway. It's one of several such lists which were written at the end of the millennium. I chose the Modern Library list in part because it included Ulysses by James Joyce. It's often touted as the best novel ever written, so I wanted to include it. Go read my review of it to see what I thought about that.

Back when I started the challenge, I expected to finish in two years or so. I certainly did not expect it to take four years. Had I done the practical math at the time, I should have known it would take this long or even longer. I've really pushed myself the last year and a half or so to complete this before my 30th birthday (which is Thursday!).

Four and a half years later, I have completed the challenge. It feels amazing to have done something so big. Throughout the experience, I have developed a lot of thoughts and opinions about literature, the challenge, and the purpose of reading. This week, I want to share those thoughts with you. 

I started writing one big long post, but I quickly realized I have more thoughts than anyone wants to read in one sitting. So, I'm breaking by reflections on this challenge into three days. Tomorrow, I'll be I'm discussing diversity in literature. Thursday, I'm picking favorites - and least favorites! - from the list. And, as a bonus, on Friday I'll be looking ahead and considering what challenge to take on next. Make sure you come back every day this week to read the whole series of posts.

Before we dig into specifics, though, I want to look at this challenge through a larger lens. 

What Makes A Classic

I set off on this challenge because I recognized some big gaps in my "classical" literary education. I wanted to rectify that. These days, after having read 100 "classics," I have some thoughts about what even gives a book that classification. Who gets to decide what a classic even is? After reading this list, I have some complaints I'd like to file with the Modern Library board. Granted, they were not specifically defining these books as "classics," but putting something under the heading of 100 Best Novels certainly grants it a similar gravitas.

Monday, August 14, 2017

100 Best Novels Roundup, Vol. 6

This is it! I've completed the 100 Best Novels challenge! Every day this week, I'll be back with more thoughts on the challenge as a whole. Today, however, I have the final individual book reviews:
Point Counter Point

Title: Point Counter Point
Author: Aldous Huxley
Publication Date: 1928
Pages: 432
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 7/5/17

What I Thought: I didn't dislike this book, but it wasn't what I was expecting at all. After reading Huxley's most famous novel, Brave New World, I was expecting something similar in genre. This is totally different, though certainly not bad. Overall, it was definitely enjoyable. I think, though, I would have gotten much more out of this had I lived in the era in which it was published. Huxley famously based many of the characters in the novel on real people in his social circle. Since those personalities are no longer well known to the general public, or even someone like myself who makes a habit of reading historical classics, I felt I lost a lot of the intended experience. The book is still good if you don't know who the characters are meant to be, but I continually got the feeling it would have been better if I had known more of the backstory. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Maybe

Friday, August 11, 2017

Captive - Aimée Carter

Title: Captive
Author: Aimée Carter
Publication Date: 11/25/2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Dystopian / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: I read the first book in the series, Pawn.
Date Completed: 7/10/17

Summary: Kitty's position posing as the Prime Minister's niece remains precarious. As she attempts to get increasingly involved in the rebellion against him, she finds herself trapped.

What I Thought: For some reason, I cannot figure out where I stand on this series. I think it boils down to this: I love the plot, I hate the characters.

The setup and plot of these books are really interesting. I think the premise is great, if a little boilerplate for the dystopian genre these days. Still, I think Carter has some great ideas and she keeps me guessing, which is always a feat.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tribe - Sebastian Junger

Title: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
Author: Sebastian Junger
Publication Date: 5/24/2016
Pages: 192
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I read it for the Pantsuit Politics book club.
Date Completed: 7/9/17

Summary: How is "civilized" society affecting us on an individualized level? Junger looks specifically at veterans and how we are (or are not) set up to welcome them back home. 

What I Thought: This is probably not something I would have picked up on my own. I hate to admit it, but veterans' issues are typically not my area of interest. Don't get me wrong, I greatly respect our troops and am so thankful for the sacrifices they and their families are making. After dating a National Guardsmen in high school and going to his boot camp, I had a glimpse of how tough that life is and knew immediately it wasn't for me. Those people are amazing. However, there are only so many issues in which one can be passionately interested. Veterans issues have been lower on my radar than others. Partially because I think if we solve some of the bigger issues, those solutions will bleed over into the military world. Maybe that's naive, but it's where I've been at. All that to say, I support the troops immensely but have never spent a lot of time reading about or learning about their experiences. I fully admit my own shortcomings there.

So, when my absolute favorite podcast, Pantsuit Politics, announced this as their next book club read, I picked it up with a small amount of trepidation. Small mostly because I'm in for anything Sarah and Beth suggest. Seriously, if you are not listening to them, you should be. The amazing Monica turned me on to them and I have, in turn, hooked at least two or three more listeners. 

The book. You're probably wondering about the book. That's why you come here, after all...

Monday, August 7, 2017

Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy
Title: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Author: Bryan Stevenson
Publication Date: 10/21/2014
Pages: 336
Genre: Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Kevin's worked gave it to all the employees to read.
Date Completed: 7/5/17

Summary: Stevenson has spent his career advocating for death row inmates in the Deep South. In this book, he reflects on specific cases from throughout his career and the systemic discrimination in our justice system.

What I Thought: This book is so powerful. Let me state up front that I recommend you read it. Racial divisions in our country seem to be an eternal problem and, as a white person, my privilege can make it easy to look away. We must not do that. Stevenson opens the door to the stories and lives of death row inmates in Alabama and other southern states. They are stories of broken hearts and broken lives. And, if you are like me, they will make you want to join Stevenson in the fight for a more just justice system.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick

Scrappy Little Nobody
Title: Scrappy Little Nobody
Author: Anna Kendrick
Publication Date: 11/15/2016
Pages: 275
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I am a fan of Anna Kendrick
Date Completed: 7/5/17

Summary: Anna Kendrick looks back on her life thus far. She covers her childhood days on the stage, her early work in independent films, and some of her more familiar work, including that time she got nominated for an Academy Award.

What I Thought: I was really looking forward to this book. I like Anna Kendrick a lot. Kevin and I both love Pitch Perfect and I've really enjoyed Kendrick's work in a number of other things. If you watch interviews with her or follow her on social media, she seems quirky and accessible in a way that is often rare in Hollywood. 

She certainly also comes across as quirky and accessible in the book, at least in part. Somehow, the same vibe you get from Kendrick's Hollywood persona did not translate all the way to the page. Her humor is perfect for Twitter and social media, but in a longer format, she comes off as stiff and disconnected. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Nix - Nathan Hill

The Nix
Title: The Nix
Author: Nathan Hill
Publication Date: 8/30/2016
Pages: 628
How I Found It: My book club is reading it. 
Date Completed: 7/4/17

Summary: A son whose mother left in his childhood. A mother whose life wasn't at all what it appeared to be. Decades later, a strange event involving a candidate for president throws them together again. 

What I Thought: I don't know that I ever would have picked this one up. My book club selected it as our long summer read and so here we are. 

Though I would not have chosen it myself, I did enjoy the book. It winds several stories together, ultimately being about family and the parent-child relationship. Hill has a nice writing style and he did a good job weaving together the stories. The interludes focused on secondary characters felt important and enjoyable, even though they added little to the main storyline. I like when even less prominent characters are given the time and space to be developed. Hill really did a good job fleshing out their motivations.

In a lot of ways, this book is all about motivations. What makes people do the things they do? Why do people stay? leave? act? ignore? What are the triggers that push us and, consequentially, shape our stories?