The books listed below are those I read for last week’s Read-a-Thon. I planned not to write a review for each, because I don’t really have time to play catch-up on 8 book reviews, particularly with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starting in two days. I did want to get some thoughts and a “rating” down for all of them, though.
1. Teleny, or The Reverse of the Medal by Anonymous (Oscar Wilde) 5 out of 5
2. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck 5 out of 5
—While I did not enjoy this one quite as much as The Pearl, it is still incredible. The Red Pony is actually a tightly woven collection of four short stories about the same young boy and his family. Steinbeck is one of America’s greatest storytellers, and I’m reminded anew of just how brilliant he is every time I pick up and read something by him. The way he recreates rural and poverty-stricken American life goes beyond genuine accuracy – it is perfection. The emotions he evokes, the nationalism (not patriotism) he inspires, and the history he harkens back to — I am never disappointed. The story of Jody, his parents, and their farm hand is the story of every American boy and his wide-eyed American dreams.
3. The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain 4 out of 5
—Absolutely hilarious. I almost don’t know what else to say about this book. It is simple but imaginative. Hilarious but poignant. The book is a reimagining of the Creation, through the diaries of Adam and Eve. The reader first sees the world’s creation and the discovery of all life and things, including Eve, through Adam’s eyes. The diary entries are typically “male” – not much concern for anything but hunting and gratification (“What is this annoying thing that talks, talks, talks, and gets wet in the eyes when I ignore it?”). Then, the reader sees the same events and things through Eve’s eyes, which is wholly “feminine” – the pretty lights in the sky that one could reach if they only just climbed a bit higher in their tree, the moon that someone steals each morning and brings back each night, the animal friends and the new babies to love and nurture (which Adam believes must be another species – perhaps bear? Perhaps kangaroo?). Not my favorite Twain, as it is a bit simple, but it is still classic Twain – witty, cynical, holier-than-thou.
4. The Cat Inside by William S. Burroughs 3 out of 5
—For those not familiar with William S. Burroughs – he was the “godfather” to the American Beat generation. He did a lot of drugs, had sex with a lot of boys, and shot his wife when trying to aim at an apple on her head. He was a strange, twisted, brilliant man who had a bizarre love for cats. He worshipped them in a way near to the adoration given cats by the ancient Egyptians. Burroughs believed cats were the ultimate species and he allowed them to run rampant on his ranch, feeding them, playing with them, forcing friends to care for them when he had to be away. This book is a sort of collection of diary entries about his life with cats. It certainly tells of Burroughs and there are many “Burroughs-esque” elements to it but, overall, it’s probably one which could be skipped. Unless, maybe, you’re a bizarre cat lover.
5. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins 3.5 out of 5
—The final book in The Hunger Games trilogy, and definitely my least favorite. I enjoyed certain aspects of the book – such as the inside-look at District 13 and how it is managed, not to mention the way it must readjust to the influx of new residents, as people from the other Districts flee their homes. I also appreciated that this book took place in the “real world,” outside the games – and was not just all about the champions (although, largely, it was). I was disappointed in the ending, though – it felt haphazardly constructed and unfulfilling. Too much time was spent inside District 13, doing not much at all (even the group’s attempts at rescuing the captured champions in the Capitol is left to the imagination) – too much politics, too much angst, and too quickly resolved sub-plots. The finale was predictable (though a bit welcome) and the fate of one of Katniss’s love-interests (and that relationship) was sadly, sadly deconstructed, as if Collins just got sick of having Katniss so indecisive so made up her mind for her. It was an okay book, but not a great conclusion to an otherwise interesting series.
6, 7, & 8 The Oresteia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides) by Aeschylus 4 out of 5
—I definitely enjoyed this trilogy more than I expected to, especially since I was reading it in the late, late hours of the read-a-thon (somewhere around hour 18). It is hard to rate these as separate plays, since the trio really only works together in total – but they are separate plays and were written and performed separately at times, until the collection was completed. All-in-all, I found Agamemnon to be the strongest of the set, but each of the three were interesting. The Eumenides, in particular, with its examination of morality and judgment, a new judicial system and the struggle between old and new gods (old and new belief systems, moral structures, punishment processes, etc) was fascinating to read, particularly as precursor to modern-day judicial systems (the presence of the first ‘jury of peers’ is here). Aeschylus and The Oresteia are definitely worth the read.
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I love what you said about Steinbeck. I agree, every time I read something by him it feels like I’m coming home. This is what good writing is. I’ve read enough Steinbeck to know not to expect a happy ending – and I like that about him, but I was really hoping for one in “The Red Pony” 🙂 oh well. Have you ever read “travels with Charley?” it’s my second favorite after “Grapes of Wrath.”
It was definitely a bit sad to be reading during a Read-a-Thon but oh well! I got through it. The ending in “The Leader of the People” just crushed me – I wrote a paper in graduate school on Nathanael West’s Day of the Locusts and how it laments over the loss of the “great West” mentality, because things bottle-knecked in California and there was no West left to explore, no where else to go. Unbelievable that Steinbeck predicted this decades sooner – and so, so sad. He understands the American pioneer mentality like no other.
I think Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden are my favorites – but I’ve never disliked anything by him (Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, and now the Red Pony). Great, great, great.
After travels with charley, you should definitely try: the Winter of Our Discontent. I think you’d like it!
Oh, I think I own Winter of Our Discontent, actually! I’ve got a few Steinbeck books on my shelf… hopefully I’ll find the time to read more soon. Since this month I’m focusing on NaNoWriMo – I’m not planning to read very often. I find it difficult to read other books while I’m writing my own. Wonder if that’s common …
Amazing you read all of this during the readathon! It was very successful for you, for sure! I didn’t like Mockingjay too much myself. In fact, I barely managed to finish it.
I can’t believe I had 4 other books in my pile… although, if my partner hadn’t forced me to go to bed, I probably would have gotten through most if not all of the 12 in my pile. Oh well. And, yes, Mockingjay was disappointing… I wasn’t a huge fan of the series, but I did enjoy it – especially the second book.
Totally agree about Mockingjay – it was a slow end to such a fast-paced series.
And how is it that I’ve never heard of The Diaries of Adam and Eve? Writing that one down right now. Good luck with NaNoWriMo!
Oh, the Steinbeck! I adore him so much. Of course, my adoration for Steinbeck no secret and I agree with your words regarding this book. The Grapes of Wrath is my favorite, but I have a short list of ‘other favorites’ that would be perfect possible readathon choices for you in the future:
The Pastures of Heaven
The Moon is Down
Of course, you’ve probably read one or more or all three of these. But if you haven’t, I highly recommend them. They have their fans (me!) and their haters, but they have tons of imagery and nostalgia and worth, and they are incredible. And they’re way shorter than The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. 🙂
Also, Mockingjay –> YES. What’s up with that? It’s almost like the author tired of the series and wanted it to be over. For a book series with such cultural clout and significance, that was a bit of a blunder. (In NaNoWriMo – when you’re writing your masterpiece – don’t do that to us, okay? Thanks.)
The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain sound like a must and fun read.
I am Egyptian and a cat lover sure my favorites are The Mua Egyptian Cats are beauty but worshiping them is a ancient history; so I am sure William S. Burroughs was mad & strange author but still I might read his work.
P.S. I love reading your blog every day; you have an amazing way of bringing the essence of a book to others.
Adam, I completely concur with your assessment of The Oresteia. Frankly, I think it one of the more important works of literature that we should all read and reread periodically. It is a true literary treasure that continues to resonate through the ages. I have several different translations, and would have to say that my two favorites are that of (1) Alan Shapiro and Peter Burian, and (2) Robert Fagles. I have heard really wonderful things about the translation by Peter Meineck (1998) too.
Robert Fagles is by far my favorite classical translator – I didn’t realize he has an edition of The Oresteia. I’ll have to look for a copy!