Sunday, September 15, 2013

89. A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens
Around 125 pages

And here we are, back with Dickens again for one of the most iconic stories of all time.   This was actually required reading in eighth grade and there was even a field trip to see the play, which I didn't attend since I had just had surgery. I was never a huge fan of the story (probably because it is so cliche at this point) but I have seen a few adaptations, including Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (hey don't judge me; I watch plenty of good movies too).

So Ebenezer Scrooge is a huge asshole, but somehow does not realize it until three different ghosts show him his past, present, and his future.  In typical sappy Christmas story style, he learns the true meaning of love and goodness.

So in case you didn't pick up on the sarcasm there, I really hate Christmas stories.  The Christmas episodes of television shows are always the worst of the series.  The sentimentality makes me ill so I guess I am due for a visit by some creepy ghosts tonight.  Add that to the fact that I hate Dickens' writing style (do I sound like a broken record yet) and you can come to the conclusion that I am not a fan of the novella.

However, I agree with The Book 100% that you should read this before you die.  A true classic.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

The phrase "Merry Christmas" was popularized by this book.

Fans of the story include Robert Louis Stevenson and William Makepiece Thackeray.

Trailer for one of many adaptations:

UP NEXT: Lost Illusions by Honore de Balzac.  I am going to take a break for a little while to read Sue Grafton's new book but I should be back shortly.

88. Dead Souls

Dead Souls
Nikolai Gogol
Around 400 pages

Honestly, this book had me so frustrated that I feel I cannot even give a good review about the first half, which I actually enjoyed.  Toward the end of novel, since Gogol was completely losing his marbles (more on that later) parts of the manuscript are completely missing.  I could forgive missing chapters, but when multiple sentences are cut off, it grates on my nerves.  How annoying would it be if

So like I said, Gogol went a little cray cray toward the end of his life.  He burned parts of the manuscript of Dead Souls and then claimed the devil made him do it.  He then refused food until he finally died a very painful death.  Hence the somewhat incomplete story.

This is the story of Chichikov, a man who decides that he wants to be better respected and have a higher rank so he decides to buy the "dead souls" off richer people.  Because Russia didn't exactly have a frequent consensus, Russians were forced to pay taxes on serfs, even after they passed away.  Chichikov buys these names off rich people so that it seems like his estate is bigger than it is.  Most of the book focuses on his interactions with the somewhat eccentric sellers.  Apparently, Gogol was aiming for an Odyssey/Divine Comedy vibe.

I have been trying hard to decide whether or not I liked this book.  On the one hand, I was never that bored (except for the end which felt like I was talking on the phone to someone who had really bad cell phone reception).  On the other hand, I just could not connect to this book.  For instance, Chichikov is said to blow his nose in such a loud and "impressive" manner that his servants are instantly impressed with him.  Um, wtf?  Additionally, he is a fake person who is brutal to his servants so I didn't exactly enjoy following him around on all his adventures.

This book was supposed to criticize the faults in the Russian character.  I suppose that was achieved, mostly because everyone in this novel was kind of an ass.

Overall, I suppose it was worth a read but it is certainly not a favorite.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Ends mid sentence just like Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey which was also reviewed on this blog.

Gogol described this book as "an epic poem in prose".  That makes zero sense.

Referenced in Gilmore Girls.

UP NEXT: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

87. The Charterhouse of Parma

The Charterhouse of Parma
Around 510 pages

This is the fifth review I have written in the span of three hours and I am definitely due for a lunch break.  However, I will crank this one out first and then reward myself with something with lots of cheese.

This is the story of Fabrice, a young nobleman who is the object of his aunt's affections.  I know, EWWWWW, right? I couldn't tell if it was considered acceptable back then since liaisons between cousins were encouraged.  However, they mention in the book that it would be incest even by 1839's standards.  Fabrice is also loved by Clelia, who is possibly even weirder than his aunt.  Fabrice is held prisoner several times throughout the novel and it is pretty much up to his lady loves to get him out of his various messes.

I loved Stendhal's The Red and The Black so I knew I was in for a treat.  Although I did not enjoy this one quite as much, I am definitely glad I read it.

Not only do we get some great characters, we also get an interesting perspective about the Napoleonic Wars.  Having just read War and Peace, I am especially intrigued by the battles.  In high school we maybe spent a week on Napoleon, mostly because he had nothing to do with America and so, according to the public school system, it doesn't matter. But the chaotic way that the battles are portrayed in this novel was enlightening to say the least.

I will say that some parts seemed to go on a bit longer than they needed to and the ending was less than satisfying.  Still, an entertaining novel and Stendhal continues to impress.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Influenced Balzac and Tolstoy.

The novel was written in 52 days.

UP NEXT: Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol.