Saturday, January 18, 2014

107. The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Around 320 pages

Sorry it took me so long to get this post up.  My internet has decided to go a little wonky on me.  If someone is doing an experiment on me, you win: I need the internet.  Now, give it back please.  Please?

Apparently, reading three of Nathaniel Haw-bore's novels is absolutely necessary for the understanding of this guy.  This time, we have The House of the Seven Gables, which upon first glance, seems like it would be really interesting (oh how I have been fooled; see Moby-Dick).  Basically, a New England family lives in a mansion that has been haunted since the Salem witch trials.  We also have the token "good girl" who is so pure and beautiful that everybody loves her the instant they see her.  You can never have too many of those, right?

I usually don't do quotes but this one has to be brought to the attention of potential victims readers of Hawthorne.  Ahem "He now observed that a certain remarkable drowsiness (wholly unlike that with which the reader possibly feels himself affected) had been flung over the senses of his auditress."  So from this quote we can gather that both Hawthorne and his character are incredibly boring and extremely self aware of their dullness.  All right, here is a suggestion.  STOP BEING SO BORING!

There were times where I thought the novel would redeem itself.  Holgrave and Phoebe's romance was intriguing, considering Phoebe's initial disdain for him.  But ultimately, Hawthorne could have been talking about a Buffy The Vampire Slayer reunion and I would still be yawning.  One more to go.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

The House of the Seven Gables is a real place in Massachusetts and is open for tours.

Hawthorne's ancestors were actually involved in the Salem witch trials.

UP NEXT: The Blithedale Romance by none other than Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I might actually be taking a break to read Life of Pi, another list book.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

106. Moby-Dick

Herman Melville
Around 1500 pages

Another terrible book but hey, at least it is only 1500 pages right?  Fortunately, I had already conquered this particular literary obstacle in high school.

The story sounds interesting enough but if you are expecting anything like Jaws, you are sorely mistaken.  Actually, the most interesting thing about this novel is the beginning when Ishmael agrees to share a bed with a strange man.  I mean, I know it is a different time but what? Anyway, after sleeping together Ishmael and Queequeg are great friends and board the Pequod, captained by Captain Ahab.  Ahab, as everybody knows, is obsessed with catching Moby-Dick.

This novel is shockingly dull.  I mean, when you read an entire chapter that is devoted to the color white, you realize that Melville simply wants to talk and unfortunately, you are stuck listening.  Unfortunately, this is one of those books that everyone feels like they have to read.  God help us all.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Received scathing reviews upon first release.

UP NEXT: House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Ugh.

105. The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Around 400 pages

I can honestly say I have no idea why this novel is so praised and foisted on high school students.  There are certain books that I find boring (you can find plenty of those on this blog) but I understand why they might be of interest to other people.  However, I simply think that Hawthorne is a bad writer. You cannot just put pages and pages of description about a fucking rosebush and expect your reader to stay interested.

Everybody knows this story, even those people who were too cool to do assigned readings in high school.  Hester Prynne is forced by her town to wear a scarlet A on her chest to symbolize that she is an adulteress.  Hester refuses to reveal the father of her bastard child thereby maintaining her dignity through terrible circumstances blah blah blah.

I suppose high schools think that students will be able to relate to the isolation that Hester felt in her town.  And everybody knows that extreme boredom is the cure for loneliness!

There is absolutely no subtlety in this novel: the symbols in this novel that teachers are so obsessed with practically scream their real meaning at you. Or perhaps I am remembering the screaming of my teacher trying to keep everyone awake during discussions.'s kind of a blur.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

The Demi Moore adaptation of this book was actually used as an example of how horribly novels can translate into film in my sister's Fiction to Film class.

Fans of the novel include Henry James and D.H. Lawrence.  Oh what do they know?

Trailer for Easy A, a hilarious movie that is inspired by this novel.  There's a connection I swear!
UP NEXT: Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  Don't pray for me; I already read it!

104. David Copperfield

David Copperfield
Charles Dickens
Around 800 pages

"Like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child.  And his name is David Copperfield."  All right, I know it is a bit of a cheap writing trick to start with a quote but I thought it was astounding that Dickens and I finally agreed on something.  David Copperfield is not only my favorite Dickens novel, but one of the best novels I have ever read.  This has been a great shock to me since I always thought Dickens was one of the dullest, most overrated authors in existence.  I have been telling everyone I know that I have been reformed but (another surprise!) nobody really cares.

Wow, how to give a summary of a story that recounts an entire lifetime?  We start with the night David is born.  I usually don't like stories narrated by children.  There is usually lots of crying, abuse, and everyone is a caricature.  However, the first half of the book, which tells the story of David's childhood is actually quite entertaining and at times hilarious.  But more on that later.

David's widowed mother marries the evil Mr. Murdstone, who is a burning hatred for David.  David eventually goes to school and meets one of the most interesting characters Dickens has ever created, James Steerforth.  Steerforth is universally admired teenager who even the teachers try to impress.  Anyway, as David grows up he falls in and out of love, experiences both joy and tragedy, and watches his childhood perceptions of the people in his life alter and shift drastically.

There are a few traces of the Dickens I despise in this novel.  For one thing, the main villain, Uriah Heep, is made of the his typical villain mold: ugly, twisted, poor, and unredeemable. This characterization is not only a one way ticket to Dullsville, but also stretches the limits of plausibility.

However, the rest of the characters in this novel have more layers and dimensions than in any of his other stories.  Take Rosa Dartle, Steerforth's cousin, who is portrayed as a cruel, sarcastic, and angry spinster.  But can we blame her?  Rosa has harbored a crush on Steerforth his entire life and stood patiently by while she watched his mother spoil him until he became vain and selfish.  And all that Rosa gets in return is a hammer thrown at her face.  I would be bitter too.  Anyway, my point is that most of the villains in this novel are not the typical hideous and child abusing schemers that Dickens loves to create.

I will finish this review with a big thank you to the creators of The Book who forced me to continue trying with Dickens and enabled me to find a hilarious and fascinating novel.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Idea for a drinking game: take a shot every time someone bursts into tears.  Wait, scratch that; you would end up in the hospital.

Considered to be the most autobiographical of Dickens' novels.

Okay, I looked at a couple of trailers for adaptations of this book and they all contain major spoilers so I would recommend not checking them out.

UP NEXT: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne aka The Terror of The High School Senior.