Classics

All posts tagged Classics

Banned Books #15 – Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck

Published September 28, 2015 by bibliobeth

bannedbooks

890

What’s it all about?:

The compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in an unforgiving world.

Drifters in search of work, George and his simple minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream–a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy becomes a victim of his own strength.

Tackling universal themes and giving a voice to America’s lonely and dispossessed, Of Mice and Men has proved to be one of Steinbeck’s most popular works, achieving success as a novel, a Broadway play and three acclaimed films.

bannedbooks

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to our ninth book of 2015 and the fifteenth book in our series of Banned/Challenged Books. We’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. This is what we’ll be reading for the rest of 2015 – the post will go out on the last Monday of each month so if you’d like to read along with us, you are more than welcome.

OCTOBER

Forever by Judy Blume

Chosen by : Beth

NOVEMBER

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Chosen by : Chrissi

DECEMBER

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Chosen by: Beth

But back to this month….

Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck

Chosen by: Chrissi

First published: 1937

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2004 (source)

Reasons: offensive language, racism, violence.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: This is very difficult. The book was published a while ago (1937) which means attitudes were quite different to nowadays. In terms of offensive language, I don’t think there is anything particularly offensive to warrant the book being challenged but agree that there is racism and violence. I don’t think these particular reasons should lead to a book being banned however as long as it is geared towards an age-appropriate audience. Of course any type of racism or violence is abhorrent and uncalled for but in a book such as this it can be explained by the attitudes during that time (while still being wrong!) if that makes sense.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, I think it’s really difficult to judge. I can see why it can be a contentious subject as it includes racism, but I think it’s a book to be studied and discussed. Luckily, in the UK it is quite widely read in English Literature with 15-16 year olds. There is so much to be discussed in this book, and that can be achieved with a open dialogue between teachers and students. I hope that more secondary/high school teachers are taking this book on, because it’s incredibly educative.

How about now?

BETH: Especially not now! I did hate that Crooks, the only black man in the group was discriminated against and laughed about but with the right teacher and, as I mentioned, an age-appropriate audience, it could be a very interesting lesson in history about how the world is changing while still remembering there is some work to do. I don’t think children (or anyone) should be shielded or protected from tough issues represented in literature. We need to learn from our mistakes and try to prevent the younger generation from making similar ones.

CHRISSI: It should not be banned right now. As I said before, I know it’s studied in a lot of secondary schools in the UK and I hope it’s being studied more worldwide. It’s educative, important, and as Beth says is a lesson on how we’ve moved on from such racism, but we still have a way to go.

What did you think of this book?

BETH: I loved this book so much! Strangely for me, I’d never read it before and when Chrissi chose it as one of our banned books for the year I was very excited to finally see what all the fuss was about. I really tried hard to steer clear of any spoilers before I started it and was pleasantly surprised and shocked when I finished reading! This is easily one of my favourite classics now and is such a short read it is quite possible to read in a day.

CHRISSI: As I read this book, I remembered hearing it at school. It was definitely a different reading experience this time round. I took a lot more away from it. I didn’t have the most inspiring English teacher and she just read it out to us, not really engaging with the material.

Would you recommend it?

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s personal star rating:

imagesCAF9JG4S

Join us again on the last Monday of October where we will be discussing my choice of Banned Book – Forever by Judy Blume.

bannedbooks

 

 

The Turn Of The Screw – Henry James

Published December 6, 2014 by bibliobeth

752717

What’s it all about?:

The story starts conventionally enough with friends sharing ghost stories ’round the fire on Christmas Eve. One of the guests tells about a governess at a country house plagued by supernatural visitors. But in the hands of Henry James, the master of nuance, this little tale of terror is an exquisite gem of sexual and psychological ambiguity. Only the young governess can see the ghosts; only she suspects that the previous governess and her lover are controlling the two orphaned children (a girl and a boy) for some evil purpose. The household staff don’t know what she’s talking about, the children are evasive when questioned, and the master of the house (the children’s uncle) is absent. Why does the young girl claim not to see a perfectly visible woman standing on the far side of the lake? Are the children being deceptive, or is the governess being paranoid? By leaving the questions unanswered, The Turn of Screw generates spine-tingling anxiety in its mesmerized readers.

What did I think?:

The Turn Of The Screw was originally published in 1898 and can be described as “a gothic ghost story novella.” The author, Henry James, an American-born author was at the forefront of writing “different” novels in this period where he explored interior monologue, unreliable narrators and consciousness. He is probably best known for this novella and for his novel The Portrait Of A Lady, which I am yet to read. This tale opens on a group of friends who are sharing ghost stories one evening and The Turn Of The Screw is one of the stories which is offered up by a gentleman who promises to chill and delight the group. The story is narrated from the point of view of our main character, a young woman who is taking up the post of a governess to look after two children in a secluded country home. She is interviewed by the uncle who takes responsibility (but not TOO much responsibility, he enjoys his life in London too much for that!) for his nephew and niece, Miles and Flora after the death of their parents.

The governess is quite taken with her employer and is excited, albeit a little anxious to take up her new role. On meeting the children however, it seems she has nothing to worry about. Miles and Flora are angelic, adorable and affectionate children who immediately put the governess at ease as she begins to relax into her position. But of course, all is not as it seems, and strange things begin happening within the property. Miles returns home earlier than expected, expelled from his school with a letter from his headmaster stating that fact. Unfortunately, he will not talk about the reason behind his expulsion and the governess who finds herself utterly charmed by the boy, lets the matter lie. Then she begins to see two strange presences who keep appearing and disappearing in different places in the property. The children claim not to see them when questioned, however the governess begins to find it hard to believe them and incidents occur that leave her wondering if they are quite so angelic as they seem. Who are the spirits and what are their purposes? Is there real “evil” in the house or even in the children? Or is everything a complete figment of the governess’ imagination? The author has us wondering right until the end of the story – which is also completely ambiguous, leaving the reader to make up their own mind.

I was very excited going into this story, having heard it hailed as one of the best (and scariest) ghost stories of all time. Apologies to anyone who loves this book, but I was bitterly disappointed. Sure, there were a couple of eerie moments and I think Henry James drew the reader in with some fascinating characterisation of the children, but I’ve read scarier and better (The Woman In Black by Susan Hill, for example). I found the opening of the story, where friends are telling each other thrilling tales very dull and the entire way through it felt like I was just waiting for it to get better. The rating I have given it is based on the strength of the writing and beauty of the vocabulary alone, I’m afraid The Turn In The Screw just wasn’t for me. This may be because I had already over-hyped it in my own mind, or perhaps I didn’t appreciate the subtle nuances of the tale enough. If you agree or disagree with me, let me know! It’s definitely a good book for discussion if nothing else.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit 2014 – NOVEMBER READ – White Fang by Jack London

Published November 30, 2014 by bibliobeth

White Fang

What’s it all about?:

In the desolate, frozen wilds of northwest Canada, White Fang, a part dog, part wolf cub soon finds himself the sole survivor of a litter of five. In his lonely world, he soon learned to follow the harsh law of the North- kill or be killed.
But nothing in his young life prepared him for the cruelty of the bully Beauty Smith, who buys White Fang from his Indian master and turns him into a vicious killer- a pit dog forced to fight for money.
Will White Fang ever know the kindness of a gentle master or will he die a fierce deadly killer?
A classic adventure novel detailing the savagery of life in the northern wilds. Its central character is a ferocious and magnificent creature, through whose experiences we feel the harsh rhythms and patterns of wilderness life among animals and men.

What did I think?:

I was really pleased that Chrissi and I chose White Fang as one of our Kid-Lit reads for this year, I remember loving the book as a young teenager and also enjoying the film that was made. I had a bit of a fear of wolves when I was younger and it’s safe to say that this definitely went some way to easing those frightened feelings. As the novel begins, we are transported to the desolate wild landscape of North West Canada where two friends, Bill and Henry and their sled of dogs are being chased and hunted by a pack of wolves. The author writes the scenes so vividly that you can almost sense the freezing temperatures and the savagery of the land that the two men are travelling through. They attempt to keep the cold (and wolves) at bay by means of a fire when they camp at night, but each morning they wake to find they are another dog down – taken by the pack of wolves that just seem to be getting hungrier. One wolf in particular, a she-wolf, is particularly obtrusive and shows little fear of the humans, leading the men to suspect that she has had dealings with people before. This is in fact, White Fang’s mother.

Only a small portion of White Fang’s early life is spent in the wild, although he learns enough to know what to hunt and who to avoid, for example a prickly porcupine! A group of Indian settlers end up taking the two wolves in, and it is obvious that his mother has spent time with these people before. Sadly, they are separated but White Fang quickly begins to understand the rules of this little world he inhabits. His human masters are “gods,” and have the power to recriminate him with blows if he steps out of line. He must also find his space in the pecking order of dogs which involves a lot of brawls with puppies that torment him with the knowledge that he is not like them. It’s survival of the fittest and asserting your place within the pack and White Fang soon learns that it’s fight or be fought.

Unfortunately, things can only get worse for White Fang. A man called Beauty Smith buys White Fang from his Indian master Grey Beaver, sensing potential and smelling the opportunity to make some money as he observes the wolf’s aggression, stamina and thirst for a fight. Beauty is a despicable human being who uses dogs in blood sports, pitting them against each other while men make bets on which dog will win in a fight. Indeed, he’s stepped on a goldmine with White Fang, who proceeds to win every fight he is entered in, becoming increasingly bloodthirsty, vicious and vengeful. And if he doesn’t perform to Beauty’s standards? Well, he’s clubbed to within an inch of his life, of course, so the wolf begins to associate the white “gods” with punishment and pain.

Something changes in White Fang’s next fight however – he is pitted against a bulldog whom for once, he can’t seem to bring down. A man called Weedon Scott is observing the fight and is disgusted to see how the wolf is treated. Intervening, he forcibly removes White Fang from the fight and his terrible owner and attempts to nurse the wolf back to health, the last fight having left him struggling for life. While the wolf recovers, Scott valiantly tries to win his trust, teaching him that not all white men will cause him pain. This has always been one of my favourite parts of the book, as a confused White Fang receives some much needed love and tenderness into his life and reciprocates love and loyalty in return.

Re-reading this book as an adult, I was delighted to discover that I loved it just as much as I did years ago. My heart still goes out to White Fang as he undergoes so much cruelty then is saved from near death by the hero of the story, Weedon Scott. The transformation in White Fang when he is cared for properly by Scott is amazing and when the wolf steps in to defend his master and all his “possessions,” it still almost brings me to tears. The beautiful writing by Jack London immediately transports you to White Fang’s world and I was sorry when the story ended. This is a timeless classic that I really hope a new generation takes to their heart the way I have taken it to mine.

For Chrissi’s take on White Fang, please see her review HERE

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Solaris – Stanislaw Lem

Published December 2, 2013 by bibliobeth

95558

What’s it all about?:

A classic work of science fiction by renowned Polish novelist and satirist Stanislaw Lem.

When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the living physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others examining the planet, Kelvin learns, are plagued with their own repressed and newly corporeal memories. The Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates these incarnate memories, though its purpose in doing so is unknown, forcing the scientists to shift the focus of their quest and wonder if they can truly understand the universe without first understanding what lies within their hearts.

What did I think?:

This fascinating novel is one I have been meaning to read for a while, and have finally managed to get round to. It was a choice for one of my book clubs, and there is certainly enough material to make an interesting discussion! The story itself takes place on another planet (the aptly named Solaris) which Kris Kelvin a psychologist has come to study in co-operation with two other scientists. This is due to the absence and yet presence of life in the form of a great ocean that covers the entirety of the planet. But is there intelligent life on this planet? Well, if intelligent life means that a planet can reproduce beings from the scientists past, namely Kelvin’s long dead wife Harey, as touchable creatures that can interact, then yes, that is probably quite intelligent! Heartbreakingly, Kelvin’s wife committed suicide when she was quite young, and returns to Kelvin the age she was when she died, while Kelvin himself is quite a bit older in the present time, and it is not surprising that he finds her return very difficult to deal with and accept. I found the beginning parts of this novel incredibly creepy and atmospheric, and it appeared to hold a lot of promise regarding where the story was headed.

However, the rest of the story does not focus on the difficulties between Harey and Kelvin as much as I would have liked, and was particularly heavy on the scientific aspects of the alien species. And I say this as a scientist! While I found some of the science intriguing to read, it seemed slightly too much when I was hoping for a more emotional connection with the characters. The author was clearly passionate about what he was writing nevertheless, and I’m definitely glad I read this novel even if some parts were a bit hard to handle. In particular, the way the ocean seemed to be communicating with the scientists was interesting, and slightly disturbing when you look at the story as a whole. Apparently the story has been made into a film more than once, the most recent one starring George Clooney, although I haven’t seen either. There has been criticism that the most recent adaptation focused too heavily on the romance between the two main characters, but I am still slightly intrigued to see how it comes across. If anyone recommends it please let me know!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit – OCTOBER READ – Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Published November 7, 2013 by bibliobeth

18254

What’s it all about?:

The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse only to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers when it was first published. Dickens’s tale of childhood innocence beset by evil depicts the dark criminal underworld of a London peopled by vivid and memorable characters — the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of Gothic Romance, the Newgate Novel and popular melodrama, in Oliver Twist Dickens created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society, and pervaded by an unforgettable sense of threat and mystery.

What did I think?:

This novel by Charles Dickens is an undeniable classic, and has been immortalised in a lot of people’s minds by the excellent film that was directed in 1968 starring Ron Moody, Harry Secombe, and Oliver Reed. Dickens opens our eyes to a very different London, reeking of poverty and pickpockets to tell the story of a young orphan named Oliver, who runs away from his apprenticeship to a coffin-maker. After meeting the notorious Artful Dodger on the road, he is taken under the wing of Fagin, a “gentleman” who runs a gang of thieves – mainly young boys. Poor Oliver does not do too well on his first outing as a potential pickpocket, he is mistakenly arrested, but then taken into the house of the kind Mr Brownlow, once it is realised that he is not a thief. But life never runs smoothly for Oliver as while carrying out an errand for Mr Brownlow, he is re-captured by Fagin’s gang and forced to complete a burglary assignment with the menacing and terrifying Bill Sikes. He has one friend in this criminal web thankfully, the wonderful Nancy, who has a soft spot for Oliver and assists him as much as she can which leads to incredible dangers for her. At the end of the novel, a lot of mysteries regarding Oliver and his parentage are tied up, leading to hope and happiness for the young orphan in the future.

I do love the story of Oliver Twist and it was a “must pick” for our Kid-Lit challenge this year. The way in which Dickens announces the poverty and hardship of the poor, and the cruel treatment of orphans is almost revolutionary, and his analysis of the social classes in comparison is second to none. Morally speaking, Oliver is the perfect child and resists the many opportunities thrown his way to turn to the dark side, and become just another pickpocket on the streets. The characters written in this novel are also absolute classics – the gang leader Fagin with his jewel-hoarding and fondness for a silk handkerchief, the loveable and tragic Nancy and the evil Bill Sikes are just a few in a list that remain fondly etched on my memories. What did surprise me whilst reading was the anti-semitism displayed by Dickens, as he rarely refers to Fagin by his name, but just as The Jew! And obviously, there is the old stereotype of hoarding treasures like a miser that he attributes to the character, which our current times would claim to be discriminatory and racist. That aside, this is a beautiful classic that I think everyone should read, and that I think will continue to delight readers for years to come.

Please see Chrissi’s fabulous review HERE

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Heart is A Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

Published October 29, 2013 by bibliobeth

37380

What’s it all about?:

With the publication of her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers, all of twenty-three, became a literary sensation. With its profound sense of moral isolation and its compassionate glimpses into its characters’ inner lives, the novel is considered McCullers’ finest work, and an enduring masterpiece.

At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes the confidant for various types of misfits in a Georgia mill town during the 1930s. Each one yearns for escape from small-town life. When Singer’s mute companion goes insane, Singer moves into the Kelly house, where Mick Kelly, the book’s heroine (loosely based on McCullers), finds solace in her music. Brilliantly attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated–and, through Mick Kelly, to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.

What did I think?:

Carson McCullers is an American writer that wrote fiction usually described as Southern Gothic, that explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts from the South. I was aware of this, her most famous novel, but have not read any of her other fiction. It revolves around a number of different characters, mainly John Singer, who is deaf-mute, and after losing his mute friend Antonapoulos to an asylum, becomes the conduit through which a select group of people express their emotions, loves and fears. There is Mick, a young girl who discovers a great love of music through listening to her neighbours radios, and becomes quite stalker-ish where Singer is concerned, following him at a distance and watching to see what he does, purely to feel the sense of peace that she does when she is around him. Singer rents a room in her parents house which is a makeshift B&B and often quite a busy and frantic atmosphere, so Singer represents a sort of escapism where she can get away from everything and just enjoy the quietness of his presence.

Other characters attracted to Singer include Biff, a restaurant owner who opens all hours and has a soft spot for any disabled, poor or needy customers that walk through his doors, Dr Copeland, an African-American who is devoted to his work and patients, feels very strongly against racial injustice and feels he has failed in some way regarding his children, and Jake, an alcoholic fairground worker who also relies heavily on Singer for a sounding board to vent his furies about the world. All characters represent some form of loneliness in their lives and look to Singer almost religiously for help. There is also a strong theme of racial prejudice, which was prevalent in the South at the time the book is set (1930’s) and I found it very interesting and heart-breaking to read about. This is a beautifully written book and I can see why it is highly regarded as a classic, the reader is drawn into the world of the American South, and can almost see, smell, taste and touch everything that is displayed. I can’t quite believe this is a debut novel and the author wrote it when she was only twenty-three, it reeks of a more mature and certainly very accomplished author.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Time Machine – H.G. Wells

Published July 21, 2013 by bibliobeth

2493

What’s it all about?:

“I’ve had a most amazing time….”
So begins the Time Traveller’s astonishing firsthand account of his journey 800,000 years beyond his own era—and the story that launched H.G. Wells’s successful career and earned him the reputation as the father of science fiction. With a speculative leap that still fires the imagination, Wells sends his brave explorer to face a future burdened with our greatest hopes…and our darkest fears. A pull of the Time Machine’s lever propels him to the age of a slowly dying Earth.  There he discovers two bizarre races—the ethereal Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks—who not only symbolize the duality of human nature, but offer a terrifying portrait of the men of tomorrow as well.  Published in 1895, this masterpiece of invention captivated readers on the threshold of a new century. Thanks to Wells’s expert storytelling and provocative insight, The Time Machine will continue to enthrall readers for generations to come.

What did I think?:

This has been on my TBR list for a long time, and I’m so glad I’ve finally got round to it. The story begins with a group of men at a dinner party hosted by the Time Traveller debating theories about time and space, although interesting it did make my head whirr a little (and I’m a scientist). Queerly, the men are never referred to by name, but represent a variety of middle to upper class men (perhaps for and against science) in the 1890’s. There is Medical Man and the Psychologist, the Provincial Mayor, the Editor, the Journalist, the Silent Man, the Very Young Man and our unnamed narrator. The Time Traveller comes into the party dishevelled and exhausted, and he tells his guests that he has seen 800,000 years into the future.

He travels to a strange new world, although still recognizable as London by The Thames running through it. In the future, he meets a race of people called the Eloi, frail but happy creatures who seem to do nothing but eat fruit (the staple diet) make love and play games all day. The Time Traveller struggles to communicate with this new race a little, (they don’t seem to be that clever) although he makes a little friend called Weena and discovers that they are terrified of the dark. The next day disaster strikes!  His beloved time machine disappears and he meets a new race of creatures that live underground, the creepy Morlocks. They are the understandable reason that the Eloi are afraid of the darkness, and their relationship also has a more sinister purpose…

I finished this story feeling completely satisfied and more than a little creeped out. H G Wells has a wonderful talent for mixing science with science fiction and giving the reader a story full of imagery, suspense and excitement. His vision of otherworldly creatures, and the evolution, or devolution of the race of man is more than a little terrifying but I enjoyed every minute of it. The ending is left quite open, which I also appreciated, as I think it would allow the readers imagination to wander even further and make our own conclusions. Now, excuse me while I light a match in case there’s a Morlock sniffing around….

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0