Fall Reading List (Ph.D.)

Hi, Folks!

This is just a quick post, listing my reading lists for this Fall.  I’m starting my Ph.D. program and these are the texts that my classes will be reading/discussing.  If anyone sees something interesting here (what’s NOT interesting on this list, I must ask?), maybe you could read along with me?

I’ll try to post thoughts and reviews on these as I go along – since it will help me gather thoughts for essays and research papers.  There are quite a few books that will be re-reads for me, but I look forward to revisiting them all (I list these at the bottom of this post).

I must say – I am actually really, really excited about my classes for the Fall, now.  These text selections are outstanding!

All descriptions are taken from Amazon.com, unless otherwise specified.

Cover image for EGIL'S SAGA

Title: Egil’s Saga by Anonymous

Written: 1240A.D. (Approximately)

Description:

Egil’s Saga tells the story of the long and brutal life of tenth-century warrior-poet and farmer Egil Skallagrimsson: a psychologically ambiguous character who was at once the composer of intricately beautiful poetry and a physical grotesque capable of staggering brutality. This Icelandic saga recounts Egil’s progression from youthful savagery to mature wisdom as he struggles to defend his honor in a running feud with the Norwegian king Erik Bloodaxe and fight for the English king Athelstan in his battles against Scotland. Exploring issues as diverse as the question of loyalty, the power of poetry, and the relationship between two brothers who love the same woman, Egil’s Saga is a fascinating depiction of a deeply human character.”

Cover image for EMIGRANTS

Title: The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald

Published: 1996

Description:

“A meditation on memory and loss. Sebald re-creates the lives of four exiles–five if you include his oblique self-portrait–through their own accounts, others’ recollections, and pictures and found objects. But he brings these men before our eyes only to make them fade away, “longing for extinction.” Two were eventual suicides, another died in an asylum, the fourth still lived under a “poisonous canopy” more than 40 years after his parents’ death in Nazi Germany.

Sebald’s own longing is for communion. En route to Ithaca (the real upstate New York location but also the symbolic one), he comes to feel “like a travelling companion of my neighbor in the next lane.” After the car speeds away–“the children pulling clownish faces out of the rear window–I felt deserted and desolate for a time.” Sebald’s narrative is purposely moth-holed (butterfly-ridden, actually–there’s a recurring Nabokov-with-a-net type), an escape from the prison-house of realism. According to the author, his Uncle Ambros’s increasingly improbable tales were the result of “an illness which causes lost memories to be replaced by fantastic inventions.” Luckily for us, Sebald seems to have inherited the same syndrome.” –Kerry Fried

Cover image for GOOD SOLDIER (9537275)

Title: The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

Published: 1915

Description:

“First published in 1915, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier begins, famously and ominously, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” The book then proceeds to confute this pronouncement at every turn, exposing a world less sad than pathetic, and more shot through with hypocrisy and deceit than its incredulous narrator, John Dowell, cares to imagine. Somewhat forgotten as a classic, The Good Soldier has been called everything from the consummate novelist’s novel to one of the greatest English works of the century. And although its narrative hook–the philandering of an otherwise noble man–no longer shocks, its unerring cadences and doleful inevitabilities proclaim an enduring appeal.”

Cover image for NARRATIVE DISCOURSE REVISITED

Title: Narrative Discourse Revisited by Gerard Genette

Published: 1989

Description:

“As the title suggests Genette revisits his narrative theory expounded in his earlier work “Narrative Discourse”. This book focuses on criticism directed at Genette’s earlier work. Genette does not elaborate on his narrative theory. Readers will need to be familiar with terms such as paralepsis, prolepsis, analepsis, syllepsis and achronies. For university students studying narrative ideology. Genette’s earlier work is recommended before endeavouring to read what is essentially an extended ‘afterword’.”

Cover image for NARRATIVE DISCOURSE:ESSAY IN METHOD

Title: Narrative Discoursse: An Essay in Method by Gerard Genette

Published: 1979

Description:

“This book should be required reading for anyone who wants to look seriously at narrative theory. Genette’s analysis of the construction of time in narrative discourse is the still the model for theorists writing since then. Such categories as order, frequency, and duration in the narrative presentation of story-time show how narrative decisions on the part of authors can have dramatically different rhetorical effects. Genette views these narrative strategies as a form of rhetorical figuration and gives them terms drawn from classical rhetoric (e.g., “prolepsis” for a flashing forward, “analepsis” for a flashback). Genette’s work is one of the clearest of all the French theorists of the 1970s and 1980s who became popular among literary critics and theorists in the US. His work is easily the most empirical of his academic geration of French theorists and perhaps the most likely to be useful in generations to come.” – Adirondack Views

Narratology: An Introduction (De Gruyter Textbook)

Title: Narratology: An Introduction by Wolf Schmid

Published: 2010

Description:

“This book is a standard work for modern narrative theory. It provides a terminological and theoretical system of reference for future research. The author explains and discusses in detail problems of communication structure and entities of a narrative work, point of view, the relationship between narrator’s text and character’s text, narrativity and eventfulness, and narrative transformations of happenings. This book outlines a theory of narration and analyses central narratological categories such as fiction, mimesis, author, reader, narrator etc. A detailed bibliography and glossary of narratological terms make this book a compendium of narrative theory which is of relevance for scholars and students of all literary disciplines.”

Cover image for PRIDE+PREJUDICE (9535566)

Title: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Published: 1813

Description:

Pride and Prejudice is a novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England. Elizabeth is the second of five daughters of a country gentleman living near the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, near London.

Though the story is set at the turn of the 19th century, it retains a fascination for modern readers, continuing near the top of lists of ‘most loved books’ such as The Big Read.[1] It has become one of the most popular novels in English literature and receives considerable attention from literary scholars. Modern interest in the book has resulted in a number of dramatic adaptations and an abundance of novels and stories imitating Austen’s memorable characters or themes. To date, the book has sold some 20 million copies worldwide.[2]” – Wikipedia

Cover image for SENSE OF AN ENDING

Title: The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction by Frank Kermode

Published: 2000

Description:

“Frank Kermode is one of our most distinguished critics of English literature. Here, he contributes a new epilogue to his collection of classic lectures on the relationship of fiction to age-old concepts of apocalyptic chaos and crisis. Prompted by the approach of the millennium, he revisits the book which brings his highly concentrated insights to bear on some of the most unyielding philosophical and aesthetic enigmas. Examining the works of writers from Plato to William Burrows, Kermode shows how they have persistently imposed their “fictions” upon the face of eternity and how these have reflected the apocalyptic spirit. Kermode then discusses literature at a time when new fictive explanations, as used by Spenser and Shakespeare, were being devised to fit a world of uncertain beginning and end. He goes on to deal perceptively with modern literature with “traditionalists” such as Yeats, Eliot, and Joyce, as well as contemporary “schismatics,” the French “new novelists,” and such seminal figures as Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett. Whether weighing the difference between modern and earlier modes of apocalyptic thought, considering the degeneration of fiction into myth, or commenting on the vogue of the Absurd, Kermode is distinctly lucid, persuasive, witty, and prodigal of ideas.”

Cover image for TRANSPARENT MINDS

Title: Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction by Dorrit Cohn

Published: 1984

Description:

“This book investigates the entire spectrum of techniques for portraying the mental lives of fictional characters in both the stream-of-consciousness novel and other fiction. Each chapter deals with one main technique, illustrated from a wide range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction by writers including Stendhal, Dostoevsky, James, Mann, Kafka, Joyce, Proust, Woolf, and Sarraute.”

Cover image for DINNER AT HOMESICK RESTAURANT

Title: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

Published: 1982

Description:

“Pearl Tull is nearing the end of her life but not of her memory. It was a Sunday night in 1944 when her husband left the little row house on Baltimore’s Calvert Street, abandoning Pearl to raise their three children alone: Jenny, high-spirited and determined, nurturing to strangers but distant to those she loves; the older son, Cody, a wild and incorrigible youth possessed by the lure of power and money; and sweet, clumsy Ezra, Pearl’s favorite, who never stops yearning for the perfect family that could never be his own.

Now Pearl and her three grown children have gathered together again–with anger, hope, and a beautiful, harsh, and dazzling story to tell.”

Cover image for FROM PURITANISM TO POSTMODERNISM

Title: From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature by Richard Buland & Malcolm Bradbury

Published: 1991

Description:

“From Modernist/Postmodernist perspective, leading critics Richard Ruland (American) and Malcolm Bradbury (British) address questions of literary and cultural nationalism. They demonstrate that since the seventeenth century, American writing has reflected the political and historical climate of its time and helped define America’s cultural and social parameters. Above all, they argue that American literature has always been essentially “modern,” illustrating this with a broad range of texts: from Poe and Melville to Fitzgerald and Pound, to Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Thomas Pynchon.

From Puritanism to Postmodernism pays homage to the luxuriance of American writing by tracing the creation of a national literature that retained its deep roots in European culture while striving to achieve cultural independence.”

Cover image for GRAPES OF WRATH

Title: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Published: 1939

Description:

The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. For it he won the annual National Book Award[1] andPulitzer Prize[2] for novels and it was cited prominently when he won the Nobel Prize in 1962.[3]

Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in financial and agricultural industries. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they sought jobs, land, dignity, and a future.” -Wikipedia

Cover image for GREAT GATSBY

Title: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Published: 1925

Description:

The Great Gatsby is a novel by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book was first published in 1925, and it has been republished in 1945 and 1953. There are two settings for the novel: on Long Island’s North Shore, and in New York City. The book is set in 1922 from the spring to the autumn.

The Great Gatsby takes place during a prosperous time in American History. In 1922, America has fully recovered from the First World War, and is enjoying prosperity during the Roaring Twenties, when the economy soared and emotions ran high. Yet, at the same time, Prohibition, the ban on the sale and manufacture of alcohol as mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment, was gaining traction.

The ban on alcohol made millionaires out of bootleggers, who smuggled in the now-illegal substance. That scenario is the backdrop for the novel, which contributed to its popularity. After the novel was republished in 1945 and 1953, The Great Gatsby quickly found a wide readership. Today the book is widely regarded as a sort of Great American Novel, and a literary classic. The Modern Library named it the second best English-language novel of the 20th Century.[1]”

Cover image for GREEN GRASS,RUNNING WATER

Title: Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

Published: 1993

Description:

“King’s auspicious debut novel, Medicine River ( LJ 8/90), garnered critical acclaim and popular success (including being transformed into a TV movie). This encore, a genially wild tale with a serious heart, confirms the author’s prowess. It involves the creation of a creation story, the mission of four ancient Indians, and the comparatively realistic doings of 40-year-old-adolescent Lionel Red Dog, unfazable cleaning woman Babo, and various memorable Blackfoot and others in scenic Alberta. Clever verbal motifs not only connect the stories but add fun visual themes, including missing cars and a ubiquitous Western movie. In the end, everyone is thrown together by an earthquake at white human-made Parliament Lake, compliments of the four old Indians and the loopy trickster Coyote. Smart and entertaining, this novel deserves a big audience. Essential for public libraries.” – Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., Ohio

Cover image for LOST LADY

Title: A Lost Lady by Willa Cather

Published: 1923

Description:

“First published in 1923, A Lost Lady is one of Willa Cather’s classic novels about life on the Great Plains. It harks back to Nebraska’s early history and contrasts those days with an unsentimental portrait of the materialistic world that supplanted the frontier. In her subtle portrait of Marian Forrester, whose life unfolds in the midst of this disquieting transition, Cather created one of her most memorable and finely drawn characters.”

Cover image for ONE FLEW OVER CUCKOO'S NEST

Title: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Published: 1962

Description:

“Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is the seminal novel of the 1960s that has left an indelible mark on the literature of our time. Here is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy’s heroic attempt to do battle with the awesome powers that keep them all imprisoned.”

Cover image for PLAY IT AS IT LAYS

Title: Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion

Published: 1970

Description:

“A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, Play It as It Lays captures the mood of an entire generation, the ennui of contemporary society reflected in spare prose that blisters and haunts the reader. Set in a place beyond good and evil-literally in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the barren wastes of the Mojave Desert, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul-it remains more than three decades after its original publication a profoundly disturbing novel, riveting in its exploration of a woman and a society in crisis and stunning in the still-startling intensity of its prose.”

Cover image for PRAISESONG FOR THE WIDOW

Title: Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall

Published: 1983

Description:

Praisesong for the Widow is a novel by Paule Marshall which takes place in the mid seventies, chronicling the life of Avey Johnson, a sixty-four year old African American widow on a physical and emotional journey in the Caribbean island of Carriacou. Throughout the novel, there are many flashbacks to Avey’s earlier life experiences with her late husband, Jerome Johnson, as well as childhood events that reconnect her with her lost cultural roots.” -Wikipedia

Cover image for SEIZE THE DAY

Title: Seize the Day by Saul Bellow

Published: 1956

Description:

Seize the Day, first published in 1956, is considered (by, for example, prominent critic James Wood) one of the great works of 20th century literature.Seize the Day was Saul Bellow’s fourth novel (or perhaps novella, given its short length). It was written in the 1950s, a formative period in the creation of the middle class in the United States.

The story centers around a day in the life of Wilhelm Adler (aka Tommy Wilhelm), a failed actor in his forties. Wilhelm is unemployed, impecunious, separated from his wife (who refuses to agree to a divorce), and estranged from his children and his father. He is also stuck with the same immaturity and lack of insight which has brought him to failure. In Seize the Day Wilhelm experiences a day of reckoning as he is forced to examine his life and to finally accept the “burden of self”.” – Wikipedia

Cover image for SISTER CARRIE

Title: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreisser

Published: 1900

Description:

“Regarded by many critics as the greatest novel on urban life ever composed, Sister Carrie tells the story of Caroline Meeber, an 18-year-old from rural Wisconsin whose new life in Chicago takes her on an astonishing journey from the despairing depths of industrial labor to the staggering heists of fame and stardom. Representing the transition from the heavy moralizing of the Victorian era to the realism of modern literature, Sister Carrie remains a literary milestone that examines the human condition and all its flaws.”

Product Details

Title: That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Published: 2009

Description:

“For Griffin, all paths, all memories, converge at Cape Cod.  The Cape is where he took his childhood summer vacations, where he and his wife, Joy, honeymooned, where they decided he’d leave his LA screenwriting job to become a college professor, and where they celebrated the marriage of their daughter Laura’s best friend. But when their beloved Laura’s wedding takes place a year later, Griffin is caught between chauffeuring his mother’s and father’s ashes in two urns and contending with Joy and her large, unruly family. Both he and she have also brought dates along. How in the world could this have happened?

 
By turns hilarious, rueful, and uplifting, That Old Cape Magic is a profoundly involving novel about marriage, family, and all the other ties that bind.”

Cover image for TRACKS

Title: Tracks by Louise Erdrich

Published: 1988

Description:

“Set in North Dakota at a time in this century when Indian tribes were struggling to keep what little remained of their lands, Tracks is a tale of passion and deep unrest. Over the course of ten crucial years, as tribal land and trust between people erode ceaselessly, men and women are pushed to the brink of their endurance–yet their pride and humor prohibit surrender. The reader will experience shock and pleasure in encountering a group of characters that are compelling and rich in their vigor, clarity, and indomitable vitality.”

Cover image for TROPIC OF ORANGE

Title: Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita

Published: 1997

Description:

“This fiercely satirical, semifantastical novel … features an Asian-American television news executive, Emi, and a Latino newspaper reporter, Gabriel, who are so focused on chasing stories they almost don’t notice that the world is falling apart all around them. Karen Tei Yamashita’s staccato prose works well to evoke the frenetic breeziness and monumental self-absorption that are central to their lives.” -Janet Kaye, The New York Times Book Review

Cover image for WHITE NOISE

Title: White Noise by Don DeLillo

Published: 1985

Description:

“Winner of the National Book Award, White Noise tells the story of Jack Gladney, his fourth wife, Babette, and four ultra­modern offspring as they navigate the rocky passages of family life to the background babble of brand-name consumerism. When an industrial accident unleashes an “airborne toxic event,” a lethal black chemical cloud floats over their lives. The menacing cloud is a more urgent and visible version of the “white noise” engulfing the Gladneys-radio transmissions, sirens, microwaves, ultrasonic appliances, and TV murmurings-pulsing with life, yet suggesting something ominous.”

So, there we have it – my reading list for Fall.  I’ll be reading all of these titles between August and December, 2012.  It is A LOT of reading, but I’m looking forward to it (even though my personal reading will probably suffer).

Books I’ll be Revisiting:

Pride and Prejudice

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

The Grapes of Wrath

The Great Gatsby

A Lost Lady

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Sister Carrie

Tracks

Entirely New-to-Me Authors:

Sebald, Ford, Kermode, Cohn, Ruland, King, Didion, Marshall, Russo, Yamashita, and Delillo

DISCUSSION: STICK BY ANDREW SMITH (PART 2)

Welcome to the Discussion Post for Part 1 (Pages 60-103) of Stick by Andrew Smith.

 

1.  Early in Part 2, Stick compares his mother to two women, first to Emily (comparing their bathrooms) and then to Mrs. Lohman (Stick’s mom with a cigarette & knife in her hands, threatening him about spending time on the phone; and Mrs. Lohman telling him how they would love to have him over anytime.  Then comes Mrs. BuckLey and Stick’s comment: “Something was happening to me. Everything was changing.” Is it important for Stick to realize these distinctions, between his mother and other women?  Do you think women will ultimately play a larger role in his story?

2.  Oh, boy – did Bosten have a secret, or what!?  Did you see this coming?   How is it likely to impact the nature between Bosten and Stick, and the relationship between Bosten (and/or both the boys) and their parents?

3.  Saint Fillan’s Room.  It has to be mentioned – what do we think about this?  We talked last week about the parents being physically abusive, but this room adds a whole new level to it, doesn’t it?  Think about how the boys have to clean it – empty and scrub the pail – after they were beaten in that room and left there in solitude, sometimes for days at a time.  I have to ask again – what’s up Mom & Dad!?

4. At one point in this segment, Stick makes the point: “I wasn’t sure how punching someone would make me feel like having balls made a difference.”  Ironically, later on, he actually does get hit in the balls, hard, and finally stands up for himself by punching the guy in the nose.  Other than this being great irony, what does it say about stick – both his early statement and the fact that he finally stood up for himself?  Could it have anything to do with what Emily said about Stick making fun of himself?

5. Dad. We’re finally beginning to understand. So, it seems when he is drunk, his true nature and problem comes out – but only with Bosten.  Why do you think Dad confuses Stick for Bosten – and, if he hadn’t passed out, do you think Stick saying who he was would have mattered?  Now that Stick knows what’s been happening, and he and Bosten have talked about it, what next?

 

Don’t forget to check back next Saturday, when we will be discussing Part 2 (Pages 107-216).

July: Stick (Hosted by Roof Beam Reader)

  • 7/7: First (Part 1): Pages 2-59
  • 7/14: First (Part 2): Pages 60-103
  • 7/21: Next (Part 1): Pages 107-216
  • 7/28: Next (Part 2): Pages 216-292

Also, have you entered to win a copy of next month’s Andrew Smith book, Ghost Medicine

Head over to Not Now, I’m Reading for your chance!  The giveaway ends July 14th (today)!

Review: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0

YTD: 25


Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

Every year, in the Republic of East Asia, one 3rd-year Junior High class, made up of 15-year olds, is selected at random to participate in a Battle Royal – an epic fight to the death, where the final student to survive is crowned the winner.  The rationale for this yearly “program” is that the totalitarian government uses the events as a learning exercise for their military but, in reality, it is simply a way of generating fear and total devotion to the government.  The kids believe they are on a school trip, but as they are journeying via bus, a sleeping agent is released and everyone wakes up inside a classroom, where they discover they have been collared with an electronic device which not only monitors their whereabouts but will also explode if they try to escape or are caught in certain “forbidden zones” on the island where they have been relocated. The kids each get one bag of supplies, including one random weapon (ranging from simple instruments like a sharp stick or ice pick, to hand grenades and even a machine gun).  Suddenly, these classmates and friends are pitted against each other – some become killers out of fear, some because they were destined to be all along, and others only take lives while trying to save their own. 


Characterization:
3 – Characters well-developed.

There is a wide range of characters in this story, which is necessary with a cast of more than 40 people (42 students, initially, plus their schoolmaster, the game director, security guards, parents, etc.).  While there is a lack of depth in the more “evil” of characters (those like Kazuo and Mitsuko who are soulless and violent for the sake of being violent), there are certain characters who are truly interesting to watch, and who the reader might root for, such as Shinji, the sweet and brilliant computer nerd who has a plan to escape, and Shogo, the boy who seems a bit older than the rest and who has incredible secrets.  The two main characters, Noriko and Shuya, develop well over the course of the story – they grow somewhat as individuals and also as a couple (and, with Shogo, as a team).  The varied responses and ways of “playing the game” are reflected well in the diverse types of personalities present in this group of school kids, which makes a sometimes unbelievable plot feel more realistic and natural. 


Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

The story reads somewhat like an action movie-meets manga/graphic novel.  It is, at times, ridiculously over-the-top and cheesy.  Some of the dialogue, particularly the internal dialogue, is silly and very much “Japanese Pop” in nature.  The dialogue felt, at times, stiff, unnatural, and not at all in keeping with the age level of these kids or with the nature of the story which is quite dark, but which sometimes feels self-parodied (as if the writer sometimes felt self-conscious about his own seriousness, or lack thereof). Still, the book is appropriately fast-paced and the breaking up of chapters to focus on different characters is interesting in that it allows the reader an inside-look at everyone involved.  Keeping the book narrated in the third-person also means that the reader does not need to rely too heavily on a possibly flawed narrator.  The book’s structure might be its greatest achievement, as it is extremely difficult to care about characters in a book whose point-of-view, so to speak, changes on a constant basis.  There was some choppiness and grammar/spelling errors due, in part, to the translation – but which should have been caught and corrected during the editing process. 


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

First of all, it must be said that the similarities between this book and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (which came after Battle Royale) are prevalent enough that it would be irresponsible to ignore them.  From the premise itself, to the idea of trackers, from the importance of the bird call to the inclusion of “bags of supplies” for the contestants, from betting on winners to televising the results, from manipulating the game to discourage participants from being idle to awarding the winner a lifetime pension and national fame, the similarities go on and on.  The primary difference, though, is that the Battle Royale game is seen as a military training necessity for Greater East Asia, where as the Hunger Games are specifically meant to be a reminder to the districts of how the Capitol punishes disobedience and disloyalty.  Slim difference.  That being said, the primary idea (which has been retold many times by many authors in many different forms, by now) is brilliant and original.  Although the author does not mention it, it would be hard not to see some minor influence, at least, from The Lord of the Flies.  The study of human nature, group dynamics, and survival instincts by witnessing the actions of teenagers isolated on an inescapable island – of course the influence is there; however, the important distinction is that these children did not land on the island by mistake, they were kidnapped and are being manipulated by their government and their elders.  This says just as much about society and politics as the microcosm of Golding’s island did.  The influence of action films and rock music, too are clear – both in the themes of the story and in its structure; for example, the main character and two main supporting characters (one who aids the main character, the other who is hunting him) are directly inspired by the movie Terminator 2.  The questioning of blind obedience to authority, the themes of oppression, fear, trust, isolation, and the dangers of totalitarian governments and violent Nationalism are all explored and effective.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +
Interest: Pop Culture, Youth Violence, Survival of the Fittest, Fight to the Death, Action, Humanity, Politics, Society, Japanese fiction, Dystopia.


Quotes:

“And so his choice to reduce the numbers of “the enemy” as efficiently as possible wasn’t motivated by rational thoughts but instead by a deeper, primal fear of death.”

“Please live. Talk, think, act. And sometimes listen to music . . . look at paintings, allow yourself to be moved.  Laugh a lot, and at times, cry. And if you find a wonderful girl, then you go for her and love her.”

“It’s not a bad thing to be loved.”

“Their two bodies danced in the air beyond the cliff, their hands still clasped together, the black sea under them.”

Review: The Haunted House by Charles Dickens

The Haunted House by Charles Dickens

Final Verdict: 2.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 24

Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

The Haunted House by Charles Dickens is actually a compilation work, with contributions from Hesba Stretton, George Augustus Sala, Adelaide Anne Procter, Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth Gaskell.  Each writer, including Dickens (who wrote the opening and closing segments, as well as a middle segment) writes one “chapter” of the tale.  The premise is that a group of people have come to a well-known haunted house to stay for a period of time, experience whatever supernatural elements might be there to experience, then regroup at the end of their stay to share their stories.  Each author represents a specific person within the tale and, while the genre is supposed to be that of the ghost story, most of the individual pieces fall flat of that.  The conclusion, too, is saccharine and unnecessary – it reminds the reader that, though we came for ghost stories, what we leave with is a mirthful Christmas story.


Characterization:
2 – Characters slightly developed.

Because this is a compilation of separate short stories, one would not expect much character growth and development (short stories are, after all, more about the theme/event/plot than they are about the characters).  Still, because they were interconnected via the primary story (a group of folks coming together to the same house), there could have been at least a bit of time spent developing those guests, so as to better understand the stories they ultimately told.  Gaskell’s story, being the longest, did allow for some characterization and what was done, was done well.  The characters remain generally flat throughout, but they are recognizable characters – a mother who would act like a mother, a father who acts like a father, etc.  Still, when coming to this collection, it cannot be for its interesting characters because they just are not very interesting (and this could be even more acceptable if the stories themselves were thrilling ghost stories, because then there is something else to entertain and occupy the reader, but….). 


Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

Dickens, Gaskell, and Collins are clearly the masters here, but in my opinion Dickens was in fact out-shone by the other two in this one.  Dickens’s portions read too much like someone trying to write a thriller but not quite knowing how (it felt like someone mimicking Poe – getting the general mechanics right, but not quite being Poe).  Gaskell’s piece is the longest, and her narrative brilliance – use of dialect in particular- are clear.  Collins has the best paced and most appropriately toned prose which, from the author of The Woman in White, probably should have been expected.  Salas’s writing seemed pompous, arrogant, and long-winded; it was funny, at times, but a bit too self-serving.  The inclusion of Procter’s verse added a nice element to the overall scheme, and a nice break from the various competing proses.  The verse itself was haunting and reminded me quite a bit of the pace and scheme of Poe’s “The Raven.”  Stretton’s short piece was perhaps the most enjoyable, because it was so well-written and more intricately layered than the rest. 


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

Dickens himself was reportedly underwhelmed and disappointed by his peers’ contributing portions of this serial Christmas tale.  I believe his hope was that each of the authors would put into print a certain fear or terror particular to each of them, as Dickens’s story did.  The “haunting,” then, would be something personal and, while not necessarily supernatural, could still be understandably frightening.  Like Dickens, I was left disappointed by the end-result of this ambition. For Dickens, the fear was in revisiting his impoverished youth, the death of his father and the fear of never escaping the “ghost of [his] own childhood.”  Gaskell’s story revolved around betrayal by blood – the loss of a child and lover to the darker elements of humanity.  Again, understandably frightening in its way.  Sala’s story was a dream within a dream within a dream, but while the dream could have been unnerving, there seemed little that was truly frightening about it, supernatural or otherwise.  Wilkie Collins’s story is the one in this compilation which could actually be considered a “suspense” or “thriller” story.  Hesba Stretton’s story, too, while not necessarily scary, is romantic, somewhat suspenseful, and well-accomplished overall.  When considering the group of tales in this compilation, it is Stretton’s which leaves me wanting to read more of her work.  Ultimately, though it is called “The Haunted House,” this compilation of ghost stories is not really a ‘Halloween’-type read.  If one reads this collection as a study of these individual writers, their thoughts, and what they considered haunting, then it is quite interesting.  But as a ghost story, it is no extraordinary achievement, possibly because Dickens (and presumably the other writers) was a skeptic and found the popular interest in the supernatural rather silly.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +
Interest: Victorian Literature, London Literati, Creative/Fictional Autobiography, Short Story, Compilation Fiction.

Notable Quotes:

“The women (their noses in a chronic state of excoriation from smelling-salts), were always primed and loaded for a swoon, and ready to go off with hair-triggers.” – Dickens

“On some subjects it is better to have a silent understanding than an expressed opinion.” – Stretton

“No star is ever lost we once have seen, / We always may be what we might have been.” – Procter

“The hopes that, lost, in some far distance seem, / May be the truer life, and this the dream.” – Procter

“No other ghost has haunted the boy’s room, my friends, since I have occupied it, than the ghost of my own childhood, the ghost of my own innocence, the ghost of my own airy belief.” – Dickens

“What ardently we wish we long believe.” – Gaskell

“But the broken-hearted go home, to be comforted of God.” – Gaskell


–The Haunted House is Book #5 completed for the Victorian Celebration.

Discussion: Stick by Andrew Smith (Part 1)

Welcome to the Discussion Post for Part 1 (Pages 2-59) of Stick by Andrew Smith.

1.  Last month, we read In the Path of Falling Objects which had, as its protagonists, two brothers with quite an interesting relationship.  A third brother, absent from the main story, was also involved. Here again, with Stick, the main characters are brothers.  What do you think of their dynamic so far?  Do you have any expectations for them individually, or for their relationship?

2.  Stark “Stick” McClellan, our main character, is different in a few ways.  First of all, although he is only 13 years old, he is already six feet tall – which is taller than his older brother.  But, even more importantly, he has a physical deformity which impacts his every day life and relationships.  The deformity is mirrored in the prose.  Do you think this effective, so far?  Are there other examples you can think of, from other books, where a main characters’ “something other” is somehow reflected in the book’s prose or structure? 

3.  The brothers seem pretty different  – Bosten is pretty bold, he smokes pot, and seems like an easy-going guy, the kind people like to be around.  Stick, on the other hand, is (understandably) more of an introvert.  He hates even the smell of pot, and doesn’t seem like the biggest risk-taker in the world.  Despite their differences, the brothers seem very close.  Why do you think their relationship is so strong?  Do you get the impression that their bond will survive anything?

4.  Mom and Dad.  They seem to be a pretty good team, themselves. But for different reasons.  Right away, we get an “Us vs. Them” feeling, between the boys and the parents.  When the boys come home late and walk into an onslaught of violence, Stick narrates: “Maybe once per week things exactly like this happened in our house.”  Where do you think the anger comes from?  Are there any hints about some deeper issues, or do you think, as Stick says, this is just the way things are done in their household?

5.  And Emily.  Friend?  More than a friend?  Her words seem to be saying one thing (Friend) but her actions seem to be hinting at a desire for more.  We haven’t seen much, yet, but does this seem like it could be a good thing for Stick?  Would a relationship with Emily be a healthy one?  Or does this seem doomed to fail, from the start?

Can’t wait to see what you all think of this one, so far!  I’ll reply with my own answers in a few days, after others have a chance to say what they think. 

Don’t forget to check back next Saturday, when we will be discussing Part 2 (Pages 60-103).

Also, have you entered to win a copy of next month’s Andrew Smith book,Ghost Medicine?  Head over to Not Now, I’m Reading for your chance!  The giveaway ends July 14th!

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