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Book Review: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

This is the kind of book you have to read as neutrally as possible.  It is told like the memoir (I really want to know if it's a thinly disguised memoir; I've done some digging and Schlink's life bears some similarities to that of his protagonist) of a fictional German man, Michael Berg, who grows up during World War II and who, at the age of 15, has an affair with a thirty-year-old woman named Hanna. Hanna is manipulative, tender, distant, playful, and guarded.  One day she disappears, and years later, when Michael is a law student, he discovers that she is on trial for hideous crimes.
     There is so much guilt in The Reader - Michael's guilt over his small betrayals of Hanna, the guilt of Germans who tolerated the Holocaust, Holocaust survivors' guilt for having survived when others did not, etc.  Most central and mysterious of all is Hanna's guilt - does she repent?  Should she repent? Can she ever be absolved?  And was her relationship with Michael …

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Sex and solitude.  This book primarily occupies itself with these topics.  Not that I mind, of course - both are interesting, and Marquez does it so well.
Solitude chronicles several generations of a family, the Buendias, living through political unrest, wars, and technological advancements in an unnamed South American country.  Each family member's life and character is precisely and tenderly captured.  This careful character-building impressed me because there are so many family members.  But attention is paid to practically every aunt, relation-by-marriage, adopted daughter, illegitimate son, concubine, and parent.  I loved all of them.  Additionally, I love the book's magical realism style.  It gives the story new and enchanting depth - for example, yellow butterflies cling to one character, and another is pursued by the cloc-cloc-cloc sound of her parents' bones.
     Returning to the topics I mentioned earlier, the story seems to deal particularly with the ways…

Exploring Setting

Hey guys!
     So my English teacher assigned the book Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko for homework over spring break.  The book is set in the American Southwest, which by chance is where my family spent this break.  Specifically, we are in Arizona.  Reading Ceremony while exploring its setting was an enlightening experience - I've never had my reading material fit my location so well, except for the occasional NYC-based novel. Visiting Native American ruins and museums was especially helpful because the book's protagonist is  a young Pueblo World War II veteran.
     From now on, I think I'll make an effort to match my travel novels to my travel destinations.  Here are a few ideas:
     -The Dubliners by James Joyce in Dublin, Ireland
     -Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov on an American road trip
     -The Odyssey by Homer in Greece
     -Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell in Southeast Asia
     -Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden in Kyoto, Japan
     -Ender's Game by O…

Book Review: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

I owe the New York Public Library $4 thanks to this book.  I returned it a couple weeks late.  But whatever, it was worth it!
     This book read like a horror story, but it's actually a well-researched non-fiction investigation of "the problem that has no name" - basically, sexism in the 1960s'.  Mystique has the distinction of being one of the catalysts of the American second-wave feminist movement.  It explores how women were conditioned - through advertising, women's magazines, phony college courses, pseudo-Freudian psychology, peer pressure, etc. - to expect marriage and child-rearing alone to fulfill them.  Even wealthy, college-educated women were encouraged to find a man ASAP and embrace domestic life at the expense of personal identity.  But Friedan noticed that women who did so became depressed and destructive, so in this book she argues that women need intellectual pursuits outside the home in order to be happy and healthy.
     Everyone should r…

Lolita Resources

Merely reading and reviewing Lolita was not enough for me...I had to go and write a 10-page senior project about the book, as well!  Writing this paper has obliged me to research and read Nabokov-centric literary criticism, interviews, annotations, and more. So if any of you are looking to learn more about Lolita, here is a list of resources I've used in the process of writing my paper. Enjoy! (Or don't...not everyone likes MLA citations.)

Books
Nabokov, Vladimir. The Annotated Lolita. Ed. Alfred Appel, Jr. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.
Criticism
Hall, Chris. “The Significance of Names In The Fiction of Martine Amis, Vladimir Nabokov, John Kennedy Toole, Joseph Heller, Samuel Beckett, John Updike, Will Self, Umberto Eco: Waiting for Go.Dot.” Spike Magazine. Spike Magazine, 1 Aug. 1996. Web. 29 Mar. 2016. Lemay, Eric. “Dolorous Laughter.” Zemlarchive. Zemlarchive, n.d.
Interviews
Brand, Madeleine.  “‘Lolita’ Turns 50, Part 2.” NPR. NPR, 15 Sept. 2005.
Toffler, Alvin. “Playboy Interv…

Book Review: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

You probably know the story more or less, so I'll summarize it quickly.  Three British children, Wendy, John, and Michael, fly away one night with Peter Pan, a boy who never grows up, to have adventures on a magical island called Neverland.
     What fascinates me most about this book is what it conveys about the time period in which it was written.  It is in many ways a satire of middle-class British families in the early 20th century - the Darling family has a dog for a nurse, for example.
     However, the book also betrays the flaws of the era unconsciously.  Peter Pan is pretty prejudiced. For example, the native people of Neverland - whom the narrator calls "redskins," ugh - are portrayed as simple-minded and inferior, and Wendy, one of the only female characters, delights in being Peter Pan's housewife.  All of the female characters seem to be in love with Peter Pan, come to think of it.
     That aside, the writing style is very clever and entertaining…

Book Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

     Wuthering Heights is a gothic novel about two English estates and the tortured people who inhabit them.  The families are related, but that doesn't stop the cousins of Wuthering Heights from falling in love with the cousins of Thrushcross Grange only to marry other, wealthier cousins, and vice versa.
     In case you couldn't tell, I didn't love this one.  I thought many of the characters were flat or unsympathetic, especially the housekeeper Ellen Dean, who was important to the story but seemed to care for nothing except the well-being of her employers. I was also annoyed by the abundance of exposition.  The story's narrator is a Wuthering Heights tenant named Lockwood; however, he spends most of the book listening to Ellen Dean explain the estates' history.  So much backstory!  So many quotations marks!  It irked me.
     Additionally, some characteristics of the time, such as cousins falling in love and mysterious illnesses, bothered me.  But that's le…

Book Review: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

I'm going to name my next cat Toni.  I don't think I'll ever have time for children, but I'll always have time for cats, so I'll bless a cat with her holy name.
     The protagonist of Song of Solomon is Macon "Milkman" Dead, the son of the wealthiest Black man in his town.  His father, Macon Dead Sr., believes that money is freedom and nothing else matters, least of all family.  He hates his wife, disdains his daughters, and values his son only in that he hopes Milkman will carry on the family real estate business.  The family of Macon Sr.'s estranged sister, Pilate, is the polar opposite - there is no domineering patriarch, no money, and no interest appearing "decent." Pilate, her daughter Reba, and Reba's daughter Hagar run a winehouse.  Both Milkman and Hagar grow uncomfortable with their families and find an escape in each other.  But when Milkman finally puts a stop to their weird incestuous hookups, the families are brought …

Book Review: Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

I stepped outside my comfort zone this month and read...another Nabokov novel!
     This book messes with you.  The overall feeling is one of creepiness.  It begins with a death sentence and ends with a beheading, and in between, the protagonist, Cincinnatus C., wrestles with the suspicion that his world isn't real.  There is lots of evidence to back up his suspicion - the crime for which he has been sentenced, "gnostical turpitude," defies any definition, and his fellow characters are ridiculous.  For example, his jailers are offended when Cincinnatus doesn't express gratitude for their hospitality.  There are a lot of funny moments throughout the story, but even the humor is unsettling.
     Much of this creepiness comes from the fact that Nabokov makes his influence as the writer known within the story.  He does something similar in Lolita, but here the involution is much more obvious.
     The concept of Invitation is intriguing and the writing style is de…

Book Review: Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

     Nights at the Circus is a brain-splitting ideal-smashing feminist fairy tale.  It follows the adventures of Sophie Fevvers, a woman with wings who becomes a famous trapeze artist at the close of the nineteenth century, and of the reporter who must transform his worldview in order to love her.
     Fevvers is the best thing about the story.  She's described as a "giantess" - six feet tall, buff, and curvy, with huge wings - and her personality is as big as she is.  She eats, drinks, talks, and farts a lot. She has a thick Cockney accent and a strong body odor.  She is also a world-famous sex symbol.  I love the way Fevvers challenges my understanding of what a beautiful woman is, and why a woman's beauty or femininity is considered her most valuable trait.
     There are a million delicious characters in this story - an activist ex-prostitute, a Princess who trains tigers, and a chubby capitalist who wears a stars-and-stripes suit and consults a pig for advice, …

A Lolita Scavenger Hunt

Now that I've finished applying to colleges, I'm back to blogging!  Sorry for the hiatus.

     I read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, the tragic story of a pedophile's obsession with a little girl, this fall and it blew my mind.  I read it twice before purchasing an annotated version, which revealed to me how intricate the book really is.  I picked up on the protagonist's manipulation of language in order to warp the truth on my own, but not until I read the annotations did I notice Nabokov's use of involution or literary allusions.  This may sound a bit pretentious, but it was so satisfying to understand all the tricks at work in the writing.  So I've compiled a cheat sheet/list of some motifs, devices, and patterns to look for when reading Lolita.

1. Colors: Especially patterns of colors surrounding certain characters or emotions.
2. Quilty: It's an important name and it appears in different forms throughout the book, even before the character to which …