Summer Reading

About six weeks ago, I went into Barnes and Noble in search of a new book to read. I am always open to new and exciting books and writers. The way I do this is I walk around Barnes and Noble or some other comparable book store and I look at every single book I find interesting, then I read the description and I either buy it or I don’t. More often than not, I don’t buy it. I’m not a picky reader the same way I’m a picky eater - I will really read anything, but if I’m buying it, I have several different specifications as to what it is. First. it can’t be less than four hundred pages, because what’s the point of spending money on something that I’m going to finish in a day or two? Actually, that’s my only specification besides that it can’t be by Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Piccolt, or one of those other authors that are known for writing the same book with different characters over and over again. I can stand one of those once in a while, but I am not going to waste my time reading books that have no substance. 

So when I was in Barnes and Noble about six weeks ago looking for a new and exciting book to read, I see a display entitled “Summer Reads.” I thought that sounded interesting, because my summer picks are books that are more complex than the books I would read during the school year (not that this is a problem for me anymore, seeing as I’m not in school). The books I like to read during the summer are complex and thought provoking and meant to keep my mind sharp during the summer months. I was extremely disappointed to see that many people, including those who work in a book store and created this summer reads display, thought otherwise. The books on this display were short, mindless reads meant for the types of people who don’t like reading, but want to keep themselves occupied while sitting on the beach. As a person who is extremely pro reading, I should in theory be happy that these books are getting people to read. I’m not though. There are plenty of books out there that fill the same purpose. yet are more interesting and better written and less terrible. 

Am I wrong to think like this? 

I haven’t forgotten about you, I promise

I’ve been crazy busy with work, and really only reading on the subway, but I’m nearing the end of A Feast for Crows, and I have some thoughts on it, but I will save it until I’m finished.

Commuter Reads

I have a lot of time to read, especially with my five hour commute every day.   I read on the bus to the city, I read on the subway to work. I read in the elevator. If I could read on the walk to and from my office, I would. I didn’t have a lot of time to read for pleasure while in college, and now that I’m done, I am enjoying reading books that I want to read, as opposed to required readings for class. 

So far, I’ve read two books and  have just started another.

The first book I read was this vampire novel entitled Fevre Dream, from fantasy author George RR Martin (I’ll come back to him later).

This novel put a whole new spin on vampires, and it’s one that I’ve never heard before. There have been a lot different types of vampires, especially in recent years. I think that most people are wary when reading about vampires, especially when Twilight was such a let down in the action and gore arenas. But this is not a recent novel. Martin penned this book in the early 80s, when vampires were still a fearsome novelty in American pop culture. Fevre Dream portrays vampires, not as the undead creates portrayed in many vampire novels, but as living breathing creatures who are really just man’s cousin. According to Joshua York, the main vampire character in this novel, the blood and organs of the “vampire” race are anatomically different from humans. So rather than being humans who have reanimated and require blood for sustenance, Martin’s vampires are another species altogether. This is what fascinated me the most about Fevre Dream. Martin sheds a new light on a creature who we as a collective culture thought of in a particular way. It is a classic Martin move to take something that we thought we knew and do something completely unexpected. It’s definitely worth reading if you can get your hands on it (it’s surprisingly hard to find in most normal Barnes and Noble type book stores). 

 

The second book I read was Inferno by Dan Brown.

 

I am of the opinion that popular literature is not something that I necessarily want to read (a rule I will break in the next book I talk about as well), but I just can’t seem to keep my hands off Dan Brown books. I became a fan of his the summer before my freshman year of high school way back in 2005. I can’t remember why I picked up The Da Vinci Code, but I couldn’t put it down and finished it within two days at most. I moved on from there to Angels and Demons and then to his other two novels that do not feature Robert Langdon as their protagonist. So a couple years ago when the long awaited sequel to The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, came out, I immediately went and bought it. I was disappointed to say the least. The plot was only so-so and the history and mystery were not nearly as riveting in the United States as they were in the European countries that Brown had written about in his previous Langdon books. Once I figured out who the bad guy was and why he was doing what he was doing, I stopped reading, because it didn’t mean enough for me to take the time and complete it. And I am not one to put down a book unfinished. So picking up Inferno last week was a crapshoot. It was either going to be at the level of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code,or as bad as The Lost Symbol. 

I have to say it was neither as bad as The Lost Symbol or as good as the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. It was extremely fast paced read, and I enjoyed it because there was not much thinking that I needed to do unnecessarily. My main problem with it is that it was super transparent, but maybe it’s just because Brown writes using the same formula for all his novels. I knew from the first few chapters that Langdon’s companion would be involved with the crazy guy who created the virus. What I loved about the book was that even though I was right in theory about Sienna Brooks’ involvement with the crazy guy who created the virus, there were some unexpected things. For instance, the virus created was not meant to kill off one third of the population, but made one third of the population infertile. And of course Brown was back in Europe and not trying to traipse around the United States, which just doesn’t have the history or the art that the Europeans have. Overall an entertaining read, while not necessarily challenging my mind in profound ways.

The book I just started on Monday is the fourth book in A Song of Ice and Fire (or more popularly, Game of Thrones) by George RR Martin. 

I’ve read about a hundred pages so far, and it’s very different from the first three books. The first three books is more of a contained story than this one is. The narrators were all the same, and while there were many unexpected moments, you knew what you were getting when reading the Tyrion Lannister or Catelyn Stark chapters. Now they’re missing and brought back from the dead, respectively, and A Feast for Crows features a whole new host of narrators and a whole new host of situations. There are a few returning narrators, but overall, they’re all new, and it’s been difficult to try and piece together where exactly they fit into the picture of Westeros that had been painted in the three previous books. You have characters who are connected to those who were only on the fringes of the first three books, and then of course you have Cersei Lannister. Cersei is actually a very interesting character, and not a complete bitch like you think for the first three books. It’s pretty interesting to see the world from her point of view; it makes her a much more three dimensional character, and not one that readers are simply inclined to hate. Jaime was a narrator in A Storm of Swords, and is again in A Feast for Crows. I have to say that he’s another character who I didn’t like before he was a narrator, which is pretty much the same as me saying that I didn’t like him before he lost his hand. 

Like I said, I’m only about a hundred pages into it, so there is only so much I can comment on right now. I’m sure I will have a lot more to say when I’ve gotten more into it. 

Mumford and Sons’ Tribute to Steinbeck

I imagine I’m behind the times, but I’ve only recently started listening to Mumford & Sons. I like their musical style, me being a huge fan of Irish rock musicians such as Flogging Molly. I like the way they infuse their folk music with a poppy/alternative sound. Besides the fact that their songs are catchy, I noticed something much more profound. Being a huge fan of John Steinbeck (he’s my favorite author actually), I noticed immediately that their song “Timshel” was a direct reference to my favorite Steinbeck novel East of Eden. Timshel was an immensely important theme in that novel, preaching the freedom of choice that each character within the novel possesses, along with the possible repercussion for such choices. This song speaks not only to these choices, but also is a commentary on the plot of novel itself.

 

Cold is the water
It freezes your already cold mind
Already cold, cold mind
And death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand

 

These first two verses are a direct reference to main character Adam Trask’s stroke at the end of the novel, after finding out that his beloved son Aron was killed in combat during WWI. Aron’s twin brother Cal, who inadvertently prompted Aron’s enlistment, is riddled with guilt at his brother’s death. Cal had always been the least loved brother. When he tried to buy his father’s love and was ultimately rejected, he led his beautiful and naïve brother to see their long lost mother who is a madam at a brothel, whom the verse below speaks to.

 And you are the mother

The mother of your baby child

The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars

But you are not alone in this

And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand

And I will tell the night
Whisper, “Lose your sight”
But I can’t move the mountains for you

 

More fascinating than Timshel is the second to last track on their album “Sigh No More” entitled “Dust Bowl Dance.” This song is a not so obvious homage to the Steinbeck novel The Grapes of Wrath. This novel is arguably Steinbeck’s most famous work (although I was never such a fan of it, preferring East of Eden). I never studied The Grapes of Wrath with the same vigor that I studied East of Eden, so I won’t be able to give a thorough description of how the lyrics pertain to the novel.

 

A quick summary of the plot is that Tom Joad returns to his family farm after being paroled from prison, to find it abandoned due to the Dust Bowl. He and his family choose to go to California where they hear that there is work, but are not pleased to find that many others are following the same path.

 

 

The young man stands on the edge of his porch
The days were short and the father was gone
There was no one in the town and no one in the field
This dusty barren land had given all it could yield

I’ve been kicked off my land at the age of sixteen
And I have no idea where else my heart could have been
I placed all my trust at the foot of this hill
And now I am sure my heart can never be still

So collect your courage and collect your horse
And pray you never feel this same kind of remorse

Seal my heart and break my pride
I’ve nowhere to stand and now nowhere to hide
Align my heart, my body, my mind
To face what I’ve done and do my time

Well you are my accuser, now look in my face
Your oppression reeks of your greed and disgrace
So one man has and another has not
How can you love what it is you have got

When you took it all from the weak hands of the poor?
Liars and thieves you know not what is in store
There will come a time I will look in your eye
You will pray to the God that you’ve always denied

Then I’ll go out back and I’ll get my gun
I’ll say, “You haven’t met me, I am the only son”

[x2]
Seal my heart and break my pride
I’ve nowhere to stand and now nowhere to hide
Align my heart, my body, my mind
To face what I’ve done and do my time

Well, yes sir, yes sir, yes, it was me
I know what I’ve done, ‘cause I know what I’ve seen
I went out back and I got my gun
I said, “You haven’t met me, I am the only son”

 

 

 

What’s interesting to me about Mumford & Sons’ choice to use John Steinbeck novels as source material for their music is that they are a British band and Steinbeck is known for his realistic portrayal of the American experience.

 

What it comes down to, I think, is intertextuality. I am an avid intertextualist, which means that I strongly believe that everything ever created was influenced by something that came before. I said that I was originally drawn to Mumford and Sons because they sounded a little like Flogging Molly mixed with rock and pop. Flogging Molly gets their influence from traditional Irish music, and I’m sure that Irish music was influenced by something else years and years ago. And just as Mumford and Sons were influenced by Steinbeck, so Steinbeck was influenced by American writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

 

Intertextuality is what governs our artistic existence in my opinion. But more on this later.

New Beginnings

I realized that I’ve put this blog on hold for too long, and now that I’m no longer a student, I can focus more of my time on reading for pleasure and writing meaningful blog posts about them, along with any other literary ideas that come into my pretty little head. 

Expect something new and exciting soon

A new semester, a whole new host of books to read.

I’m taking three literature classes this semester: Shakespeare Elizabethan Plays, Principles of Literary Study, and Modern Jewish Literature.

In Shakespeare we’re reading four plays — Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet. I’ve read all of these plays before in one way or the other. I saw Twelfth Night twice this summer alone. So it’s going to be a very interesting experience seeing what I can get out of these plays that I already know pretty well.

In Lit Study we’re reading a whole host of books that I have never read before including Emma by Jane Austen, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and The Great Gatsby. I’m looking forward to reading these books because they are classics that I have never had to read before.

In Modern Jewish Lit, we’re reading this book called Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, who is one of my favorite authors. His book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is one my all time favorite books. Although I read another book by him called Mysteries of Pittsburgh and I didn’t really like it as much. I have been meaning to read this book for ages and I’m happy that I get to read it for class.

On a completely different note, in my Classical Jewish Philosophy class, my professor talked about East of Eden, which is another one of my all time favorites. We were discussing free will and whether or not humans possess free will. I said yes, while other students said no. I am generally alone on this subject anyway, because it’s considered to be so controversial.

Anyway, just quickly checking in. I am currently reading Roxana by Daniel Defoe, one of the earliest novelists ever. I will give a more detailed account of my reading experience after I finish it.

Later gators!

Whenever I go onto my John Steinbeck tracked tag

It’s always filled with East of Eden quotes. I love that people love East of Eden. It’s absolutely my favorite Steinbeck ever, although I love all of Steinbeck.

He’s my favorite author.

I’ve put the Silmarillion on hold for a couple of days.

Because a friend of mine lent me the first book of the Game of Thrones series. I’m only about a hundred pages into it, but it’s enthralling. I have heard such good things about it, but I was never so sure if it would be something for me. I like fantasy, yes, but it’s never been my favorite genre. 

What I like about it is that although there is a fantasy element to the story, it’s something that could have happened anywhere. That’s something that makes it more universal than just a fantasy novel. The characters are all relate-able and the story is engaging. 

I have just gotten past the part when King Robert’s wife is having sex with her brother and poor little Bran gets pushed off the wall and nearly dies. And Benjen and Tyrion and Jon Snow are on their way to the Wall. It’s riveting stuff. I’m looking forward to continuing it. Apparently there is a lot of sex in the books, which is fine by me. Last night, I found the first four pages of the romance novel I attempted to write senior year of high school. I think I may take up that hobby again so I can effectively put myself through Rabbinical school. 

I decided to re-read The Silmarillion.

I haven’t read it since I was twelve or thirteen and I figured that this would be as good a time as any to read it again. It’s written so well and I love it.

But I’m at work now, so more on this later.

I finally finished Brisingr.

I want now to start on a new book, one that at least holds some merit. I, unfortunately, don’t have very many options up here at school. I have:

  • Wuthering Heights - Which I’ve already read, and although I really enjoy it, I don’t know if I’m in the mood to read it again.
  • Lamb by Christopher Moore - Excellent, funny book all about Jesus’s adolescence. 
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Hugo is always worth reading. Although his works take me literally forever because they are so dense.
  • Dune - I haven’t read it, and I’ve always heard good things, but I just came out of a fantasy novel, and I’m not sure I really want to delve into another so quickly. 
  • Hearts in Atlantis - I just read it two months ago, and I really only have it because it’s my favorite book.
  • East of Eden - I also recently read this one, and I again only really have it with me because it’s one of my favorites. 
  • The Mill on the Floss - Excellent book that I picked up at a flea market. I read it in the fall for one of my classes and I couldn’t say no to an excellent book for only 99 cents. 
  • Then I have eight or so Shakespeare plays, but I’m going to be reading those this coming semester in my Shakespeare class. So I really don’t want to touch them just yet. 
The literary musings of an former college student and young professional

view archive