Sunday, February 24, 2013

67. Rob Roy

Rob Roy
Sir Walter Scott
Around 500 pages

This has to be a really quick review as I have lots to do.  The only reason I fit this in today was because I completely forget what day this book is due back at the library so thought I should finish this asap.

This, contrary to what the title might lead you to believe, is the story of Frank Osbaldistone.  I guess that nightmare of a last name is not as intriguing.  The novel starts with Frank having a disagreement with his father and consequently being sent to his uncle's.  There, he falls in love with Diana Vernon but must leave when the dastardly Rashleigh steals important documents.  Oh and somewhere in there Rob Roy makes an appearance.

I love adventure stories and this really is a great one.  Diana is very unlike the usual heroine in these stories; she is extremely intelligent and frank.  Of course, she is also basically a slave to her father but let's focus on the good.

Additionally, this novel was quite funny, particularly when Osbaldistone gets hammered and makes an ass out of himself.

And, of course, like all Scott novels, this book is historically relevant as it depicts the Jacobite Rising.  All in all, a great novel, with Rob Roy being the least interesting part of it.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

One of Robert Louis Stevenson's favorite novels.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

66. Emma

Jane Austen
Around 500 pages

And my streak officially ends with this novel, the next one being Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott, which I haven't read (really, who has?).  Expect that post is the next couple weeks.  For now, we have my favorite Jane Austen novel Emma.

Jane Austen said that Emma would be a character that no one would like.  I like her precisely because she isn't perfect or likable (unlike a certain Fanny Price).

Emma is a young, beautiful, rich, and witty woman who lives with her father.  She likes to take on projects, which for her means meddling into (and kind of ruining) other people's lives.  One of her projects is a young woman of inferior birth named Harriet Smith, who she condescendingly tries to improve.  The only man who isn't completely charmed by Emma is George Knightley. And he's dreamy!

I am a woman who constantly puts her foot in her mouth.  One time, I accidentally insulted someone's cousin who had died in Iraq.  Don't even ask me how that happened, I am still not sure.  My point is, I find Emma relatable, especially in a particularly cringeworthy scene when she insults Miss Bates in front of a large party.  Emma is constantly embarrassing herself and those around her.  While that doesn't make Emma particularly likable, it certainly makes her relatable.

Another great novel, you are probably getting sick of me saying that, but if you are going to read one Jane Austen, this is the one to read.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Maria Edgeworth was critical of the novel.  So jealous.

Adaptations include Clueless and Emma (1996).

First Austen heroine to have no financial concerns.

65. Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park
Jane Austen
Around 500 pages

Well, this is certainly a new experience.  I am used to writing one post every month; suddenly, I am writing four posts in one night.  This is partially due to my obsessiveness since I have to get caught up in one sitting. It is also quite fun and I hope you enjoy all this extra reading material.

So by now you should know that I am a huge Jane Austen fan, I don't think I could express that any clearer without getting annoying (or maybe it is too late for that).  So, yes, prepare for more gushing.

This is the story of Fanny Price, a poor girl who is taken in by her rich relatives.  Her relatives, especially Mrs. Norris, constantly remind her of the fact that she is inferior to them.  Romance blossoms and mean people get their comeuppance.

All right, so I do have a few qualms with this novel, but keep in mind, I still love it.  First of all, Fanny Price is probably the most boring Austen heroine. She is so virtuous and feminine that she really is no fun.  I also found Edmund, her cousin, equally dull. So I suppose they are a good match.

Okay, bad part over!  This is a great novel; still humorous and still poking fun at people. People critique Jane Austen for having no historical context, she actually includes a bit about the Bertram fortune coming from slave labor in Antigua.  This is pretty serious for an Austen novel. but suggests that even the idyllic country life she often portrays is dark in its own way.

A great read, but don't expect the fire you get from the characters of Elizabeth Bennet or Marianne Dashwood.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

The most controversial of Austen's novels, partly because of Fanny's character and partly because of her mention of slavery.

Filch's cat in the Harry Potter series, Mrs. Norris, is a nod to Mansfield Park.

64. Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Around 300 pages

Prepare for a rave, ladies and gentlemen.  I have nothing but good things to say about this novel; I have read it multiple times and have seen the 2005 film adaptation an embarrassing amount of times.  Most people have already read this by now because it is such a classic novel.  More than that, it is just plain fun.  I know some people think of reading classics as tests of endurance (maybe rightfully so; I just read Crime and Punishment and felt like I had run a marathon) but this novel is a funny, even a bit goofy sometimes, and easy.

Do I have to give a plot summary?  The story follows the Bennet family which consists of:

  • Mrs. Bennet who is absolutely obsessed with marrying off her daughters and embarrasses them considerably in the process
  • Mr. Bennet who is  a complete doormat to his wife but still uses dry humor to irritate her
  • Jane Bennet, the eldest, kindest, and prettiest daughter
  • Elizabeth Bennet, our heroine who is extremely intelligent but very judgmental
  • Mary Bennet, the plain sister who considers herself very wise from all the books she reads but is actually quite silly (god, that sounds like me)
  • Kitty Bennet, an insipid girl who copies everything Lydia does
  • Lydia Bennet, a selfish idiot who is eager to marry
Well, that about covers our main characters.  The plot mostly centers on the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.  At first they don't get along…but then they FALL IN LOVE?????  All right, it has been done a thousand times since then, but it is never done better.

Okay, enough about the plot since you probably know it already and skimmed through that brief character description that I painstakingly wrote out for you.  Like I said, this novel is really funny; I don't think there has ever been a more hilarious character than Mr. Collins.  Not to mention the fact, men, that Mr. Darcy is the standard of which most men are compared to; in fact, in tenth grade, my friend Mara and I used to categorize the boys in our grade by Bingleys, Darcys, and Collinses (most guys fell into the Collins category).  Irrelevant Amanda fact for you.

I feel like I am not explaining this book well.  This is probably because I grew up with it.  I have a thousand memories associated with this book, from watching the film version in my sister's apartment to rereading it to make myself forget the pain of my surgery when I was in bed for two months.  Everyone has books like this that have major sentimental value.  I know, though, objectively that this is a great book and you are missing out if you don't read it.  All right, I have babbled on long enough.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Originally entitled First Impressions.

Film adaptations include Bridget Jones' Diary, Pride and Prejudice (2005),  and Pride and Prejudice (1940).

Charlotte Bronte was a vocal critic of the novel.  Shut up, Charlotte, you are just jealous.

Can we not even bring up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies please?

63. The Absentee

The Absentee
Maria Edgeworth
Around 200 pages

For some reason I am having a really hard time writing this post.  I have literally just been staring at the screen for the last ten minutes, trying to think of a sentence to write.  While this may be due to lack of caffeine, I think it is because this book made absolutely no impression on me.  Still, your fearless blogger will try to come up with a few points, even though you are likely to never encounter this novel in your entire life.

This is the story of Lord Calambre, an Irish born gentleman.  His mother has tried for years to deny her Irish heritage and join the London social scene, but her desperation to fit in makes her the subject of ridicule in society.  His father is deeply in debt, mostly because of his mother.  Not surprisingly, Lord Calambre does not want to stick around and returns to Ireland.  He wants to marry his cousin Grace, but finds out that she is illegitimate so ditches her and goes after other women.  Will true love triumph over Lord Calambre being an ass?  Read it to find out!

Actually, don't read it.  It is semi interesting to see how the Irish were looked down upon by Londoners.  In fact, Ireland seemed to be little more than a real estate opportunity to most of the characters in this book.  Still, the romance is unemotional and contrived; I feel like Edgeworth just wanted a reason to write about the prejudice so came up with a tired love story to serve her purpose.  Not worth a read.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

It is free on Amazon?  I don't know there are really not a lot of facts out there on this novel.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

62. Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility
Jane Austen
Around 370 pages

I think this is the first time in the list that I have come across something chronologically that I have already read.  It is particularly exciting because this is one of my favorite books.

I am a huge Jane Austen fan. I have read all her books, seen the movie adaptations, went to the National Gallery in London simply to see her portrait, and I even watched Becoming Jane, despite Anne Hathaway's inability to do a British accent.  Just watch the beginning and be frightened.
Anyway, I know a lot of people simply don't like her.  If that is the case with you, there is not much I can say to persuade you to read her novels.  There are plenty of authors that I simply cannot like (Charles Dickens and Mark Twain come to mind).  I love her, not only because she is hilarious, but because of the way she depicts sister relationships.  My sister is my best friend, so whether it is Jane and Elizabeth or Marianne and Elinor, I love reading about their closeness.

This is the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, and their respective loves.  Elinor is very level headed and rarely shows what she is feeling while Marianne is reckless and impulsive.

I first read all the Jane Austen novels when I was in high school and I was immediately struck with how modern and relatable they were.  Now that I have worked my way to this spot in the list, I am even more impressed with her.  The romance novels of the 1700s were usually epistolary and portrayed some pure, infallible, and beautiful girl who everyone immediately fell in love with. This novel is just so different. The women are human, intelligent, and real.

I am reasonably sure that this novel can be enjoyed by men, though I have not collected enough data to be certain.  I urge male readers to comment so we can decide this.

Fantastic, witty, and just wonderful.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

I strongly recommend the film adaptation with Emma Thompson.  It is a great film with a great cast.

Austen was originally going to publish the novel in epistolary format but decided to change it.

61. Elective Affinities

Elective Affinities
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Around 250 pages

We seem to be on a streak of short, easy to find books which is making it easier for me to post with some frequency so expect a lot of posts coming up.  We are going to be seeing some familiar classics soon!

This is a weird one; when I describe it, it will sound like some Noel Coward comedy but I assure you, it is quite depressing.   Eduard and Charlotte are a bored married couple who fill their time doing meaningless tasks.  Eduard decides to invite his friend, the Captain, to stay with them, much to Charlotte's annoyance.  Eduard then persuades Charlotte to invite her niece, Ottilia, to stay as well.  Conveniently, Eduard falls in love with Ottilia and Charlotte falls in love with the Captain.  Chaos ensues.

I will begin with the positives.  For some reason I have always loved books or movies that portray the bored middle class (American Beauty, Office Space, Horrible Bosses, etc).  Suffering isn't always facing great trials but sometimes it is being faced with the same menial tasks on a daily basis.  This is kind of a weird quirk of mine so it may not be a huge selling point for you.  But I had to say it!  Anyway, the thesis of this work is that love is chemical and by putting it the confines of marriage is ridiculous.  It is an interesting thought, though at this point, not very original.  If I have to hear someone say "marriage is just a piece of paper", I might lose it.

I also found it interesting to compare Charlotte's and the Captain's love and Eduard's and Ottilia's love.  Charlotte and the Captain were serious and suffered a lot trying to control their passion.  Eduard and Ottilia really didn't care who they hurt and acted like they were in a Greek melodrama.  That kind of flame is the one that most people crave, but in the end Charlotte ends up the happiest.  Something to think about.

Wow, I have really yammered on in this post.  I will wrap it up by saying that while the novel had its high points, the characters were rather obnoxious.  Still, an interesting read.  Time to shut up now.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The title is derived from the chemical term that refers to the the tendency of substances to combine with certain substances in preference to others.

Francis Ford Coppola once proposed making a ten hour film version of this book in 3D.  Not surprisingly, that never worked out.