Sunday, September 27, 2015

9 Classical Novels You MUST Read Before You Die

As an avid lover of books, it's important for me to read everything I can--from the contemporary young adult novels of John Green and Veronica Roth, to classics like Fitzgerald and Hemingway.  But if you have even the slightest interest in anything to do with literature or composition, you're going to have to be able to read and comprehend major classical works.  In my four years of high school, I've read some greats: To Kill A Mockingbird, The Bluest Eye, and 1984--just to name a few.  But as a future English lit major and hopeful English professor/writer, I know I'm going to read more in the coming years.  So here's a list of 9 of my favorite classical novels so far, and why everyone needs to read them to understand pop culture references and just become better, more educated human beings.

1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
     This novel holds some really great allegorical references, and it's disturbing to see how badly everything can go when the common rules of civilization go away.  This story gives a bleak vision of human nature.

2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
     Not only does this story contain amazing historical references, but the story itself is deeply moving and emotional.

3. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
     This novel covers so many themes (like death and sacrifice).  It also differs from other novels about war because it focuses on mainly one character.

4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
     This is the dystopian novel.  One of the most often challenged novels of all time, it's important to understand why.

5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
     This book is honestly nuts--it's all over the place, but the journalistic style is super interesting.  Plus, it's non-fiction.

6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
     Another frequently challenged novel, this story is funny, sad, and incredibly moving.  Also, Nurse Ratched is terrifying.

7. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
     Themes on themes on themes.  Losing your attractiveness sucks, but not as much as losing your soul.  Everyone hated this book when it was released, but now it's a classic that absolutely cannot be overlooked.

8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
     This novel hits the whole revenge theme hard.  It's set in post-Bonaparte France and beautifully captivates the writing style of adventure novels (intrigue, romance, power struggles--Dumas has it all).  Also, the ending is probably the most beautiful conclusion you'll ever read.

9. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
     This novel is witty and genius.  A brilliantly suggestive and resonant insight into human duality.  Stevenson says that his inspiration came to him in a dream, which is honestly pretty disturbing if you ask me.

As an aspiring writer, I can only hope that one of my stories would make it on a bookshelf--let alone on a required reading list.  So, what do you think?  Have you read the books on this list, or are you writing them down to check out the next time you go to the library?  What are your favorite classic works?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Getting Lost with Adi Alsaid

This summer, my ultimate goal was to read, read, read.  But then I got busy--I went to Italy, I worked at my local theater, and I basically spent three months trying to make every single second of my summer worth it.  So, naturally, I didn't get a chance to read very much.  I did, though, get to read Adi Alsaid's breakthrough novel, Let's Get Lost.

Let's Get Lost is faintly similar to John Green's Paper Towns (and the film version of this novel dropped this summer, which was pretty fitting).  In Alsaid's novel, the story shifts viewpoints through four different characters, all intertwined through one single character--Leila.

Now, my main focus when I picked up this book was that it was going to be my summer read.  This was my beach book, my airplane book, and my "I really don't feel like watching all 10 seasons of Friends again, so I'll just read this book" book.  I didn't want something that was going to force me to think too much--and that's exactly what I got.  Let's Get Lost is fast-paced and, at times, way too predictable.  But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy this book--no, I actually really loved this book.

So, yeah, I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who's looking for a quick read (the book is over 300 pages, but I read it in a couple of days).  If you want something that has a little bit of romance, a little bit of adventure, and a little bit of mystery, you need to pick this up.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Beauty (and the Beastliness) of e-books

In this ever-advancing world of technology, it's easy for us readers to forget the magic that a book gives us.  I mean, it's much easier to read a summary or reviews of a book, or even just watch the movie to see what it was about, amirite?  And even if we do hunker down and read the book, do we go out and buy the physical copy?  Actually, most of us might.  Studies show that printed books are still the fan favorite, but e-book sales are rapidly increasing.  We've seen digital copies of music nearly destroy physical CD sales-- who's to say that books won't be next?

While e-books definitely have their advantages, physical copies (to me, at least) should remain the preferred version of books for as long as books continue to be released.  Here's why:

Pros of e-books:

  1. e-books are easier to carry around.  An e-reader is, at most, probably a couple of pounds.  And you can carry an entire library around on that thing!  You can also pick whatever book you want to read--you're not going to have to bring 3 or 4 different books to the beach with you because you can't decide which one to read first.
  2. e-books are easier to access.  Living in my small town, I only get the opportunity to go to a bookstore on the weekends--and most weekends, I don't have time for a 45-minute drive (both ways) just to buy a book.  With e-books, you can buy any book you want from the comfort of your own bed.
  3. e-books are easier to highlight text in.  With a physical copy of a book, you have to remember to bring your highlighter everywhere with you (and the ink sometimes bleeds through the pages.)  On an e-reader, you can select exactly where you want your highlight to go without it looking sloppy.
Cons of e-books:
  1. e-books are hard to read.  Personally, I can't read long bits of text on a backlit screen.  My eyes just can't comprehend the words and I end up with a killer headache.  And if you're out in the sun, backlit screens don't light well.  Also, your battery is bound to die quickly because backlit screens cause a short battery life.  I hate getting to the climax of the novel and my e-reader dying--trust me, there's nothing worse.
  2. e-books are nearly impossible to write notes in.  I love taking notes in my books, especially if I'm reading the book for a class.  With a physical book, I can just whip out a pen and jot notes in all the margins--on an e-book, you usually have to add a comment or a note and type it out.  Then when you go to review the book for a test or a paper, you have to scroll through the book and find little bookmarkers that show where you took notes.  It's inconvenient.
  3. e-books don't look as pretty.  You have to admit, a bookshelf with hundreds of differently shaped and colored books is just about as beautiful as anything on this earth can be.  e-readers are boring--they're just a gray block with a screen. 
No matter which way you go (whether it be an e-book or a physical copy), purchasing a book is better than nothing.  Don't be lazy and just watch the movie.  Invest yourself in a book.  It'll pay off in the long run.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Game of Cat & Maus

As a high school senior, I've spent my fair share of time reading and watching various depictions of Holocaust survival tales.  By this point in my life, I'm absolutely sick of hearing about the Holocaust. Yes, it was a terrible atrocity and needs to be addressed so that the world never repeats itself--but there's only so much death and carnage a reader can take.

That was my mindset when I walked into my first day as a DePauw University alpha student.  At my high school, juniors and seniors are given an amazing opportunity to have a taste of what college is really like and enroll in entry-level college courses.  This year, I was enrolled in an ENG 171A class.  The broadly categorized course of "Intercultural Perspectives" left me with about 15 weeks to read 11 novels with topics ranging from Buddhist cuisine to African-American hair.

So, naturally, I huffed a little when my professor said the first novel we would read was a graphic novel about the Holocaust.  Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, who was a Holocaust survivor.  I was sure I knew what would happen in this book--lots of death, lots of despair, and lots of tears.  What I didn't know, though, was how incredibly and beautifully moving this novel was and how deeply it would impact my view on Holocaust literature.

Maus, as the front cover gives away, is told allegorically through mice (Jews) and cats (Nazis).  This allegory isn't so hard to figure out--Spiegelman has turned the Holocaust into a game of cat and mouse.  And that's what it was, right?  However, when the book was first released, this sparked a lot of controversy.  How could Spiegelman relate such terrible people as fluffy cats?  How could he make Jews seem like lesser people by making them rodents--the scum of the earth?  But I think that was his plan entirely.  Spiegelman wanted to truly capture the essence of the time period, and at that moment in time, that's how Jews and Nazis were viewed.  The Jews really were the scum of the earth: they were dirty, they were revolting, and no one wanted to be around them.  The Nazis, on the other hand, were menacing, sneaky, and chased after their common enemy.  Later in the novels, Spiegelman introduces us to the Poles (who are depicted as pigs).  This allegory actually works pretty well, too: when you call someone a pig, what are you calling them?  Greedy, just like the Poles in Maus are.

The most interesting (and probably most controversial) thing about Maus, though, is the fact that the story is told through comics.  When most people think of comic books or graphic novels, we think of superheroes and imaginary, fantastical situations.  And I think that's what I love most about Maus--the fact that Art Spiegelman took something as horrific as the Holocaust and made it into a comic book.  The story is still heart-wrenching; at some times, it's even more realistic because we are given an incredible insight into Vladek's world that (as second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors) we've never truly been able to picture.  Spiegelman's character even says in Maus: Part II that he feels "so inadequate trying to reconstruct a reality that was worse than [his] darkest dreams."  

If you ever get the opportunity to dive into Maus, please do.  Since it's a graphic novel, it takes maybe two or three hours to finish--and that's if you're really studying it.  I never thought I would enjoy another Holocaust novel after The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but honestly, Maus is one of my favorite novels--period.