Sunday, November 15, 2009

#44 The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck


First there was the land and the land was good. Wang Lung is a poor farmer in China before the revolution, whose love of his land rules his life.   Wang sweats through sunshine, rain and harvest time, reaping the crops from his good and fertile land. Then Wang Lung chooses O-Lan, a slave woman from the majestic house of Hwang, to be his wife.   She is no beauty, with her big feet and big hands, but she works and bears sons, and brings prosperity to Wang Lung's house.  But as Wang Lung’s wealth grows, so do his troubles.  In the end, the land remains, planted with seeds of deceit and greed.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

#43 A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare


To a wood, in the dark of night,

Fair Hermia and Lysander steal away.

In the midst of their secret flight,

Fairies make mischief, confusion and play.

Helena, spurned by Demetrius, tells him of the lovers’ plan.

Demetrius, spurned by Hermia, chase to the lovers gives.

Helena, love-sick and forlorn, follows this rough, unfeeling man

In whose heart no love for Helena lives.

Under moonlight, Oberon and Titania, the fairy king and queen

Quarrel over a little boy who to the queen belongs.

Oberon with his henchfairy, Puck, schemes

To make Titania, to a Donkey, sing love’s sweet songs.

Oh what fools these Mortals be!

Yes, Fairy Puck, I quite agree.

Friday, October 2, 2009

#42 The Lord of the Flies by William Golding


It is a good island, but what about the boys marooned there? Fair-haired Ralph tries to maintain order and to keep a fire going as a signal for ships and airplanes. Meanwhile, red-haired and blood-thirsty Jack does not want to be rescued at all. Why get rescued? There are no rules on this island and one can hunt and kill whatever or whomever one pleases. When Jack allows the fire to go out when there is a ship on the horizon, all systems break down. Ralph has been named Chief, but who is really in charge here? It is the spirit of evil and savagery, the Lord of the Flies.

Monday, September 7, 2009

#41 The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston


Some women become doctors, some become lawyers and others become warriors.  Maxine Hong Kingston is a warrior. She uses this phantasmagorical memoir to battle the many “ghosts” of her childhood.  Some of these are the ghosts of her mother’s talk-story about life in China.   Others are the unfamiliar and frightening faces of her American neighborhood: mail-carrier ghosts, meter-reader ghosts,  teacher ghosts, white ghosts and black ghosts.  Maxine, a Chinese-American, must make her way among these specters while trying to find her place among the Chinese who believe that it is “better to raise geese than girls.”   But in becoming an American, she finds that she has become a ghost herself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

#40 A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket


 Their parents perish in a mysterious fire and three children’s lives go up in smoke. Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudalaire are orphans.  They must live with Count Olaf, a  man with a creepy tattoo on his ankle and two menacingly shiny, shiny eyes. Olaf immediately becomes the “bane of their existence”, a phrase which here means, “he schemes to lay his filthy hands on the fortune the children have inherited” and his treachery haunts the Baudalaires ad infinitum. Fortunately, Violet’s clever inventions, Klaus’s skillful research and Sunny’s four unusually sharp teeth help to keep them out of Olaf’s clutches.  Unfortunately, their gifts are constantly required in a series of unfortunate events. 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

#39 Native Son by Richard Wright


Fear is a curious emotion.  It can make you do terrible things.  For instance, fear can make you murder the daughter of your generous employer. At least, that is what fear makes Bigger Thomas do.  Bigger is a young, black man who lives on the south side of Chicago in a one-room apartment with his mother, younger brother and sister.  He is caged by the close quarters, poverty and by the color of his skin.  Bigger must choose:  take a job as a chauffeur for a rich white family, steal or starve.  Bigger takes the job, because he’s damned if he doesn’t; but this unfortunate man is condemned when he does.

            

Friday, July 31, 2009

#38 A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

At first Nora was afraid, she was petrified,

kept thinking she could never live without Torvald by her side

and then he found out about the money she borrowed to save his life

and he said she was a liar and the cause of all his strife!

He called her low, and a disgrace,

said he no longer loved her, but outside he'd show a happy face,

and when the lender then decided that blackmail he would not pursue,

then Torvald turned to little Nora and said, “My Darling,  I love you!”

 But she said, "No!" 

"Now I will go!"  She turned around then and walked out and slammed the door...

 

Monday, July 27, 2009

#37 Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson


Avast, me hearties!

 Capt Flint, th' most feared buccanneer on th' high sea be dead, an' Billy Bones, his first mate knows 'ere Flint buried his booty. Bones be a buccanneer who loves his rum an' when he drinks hisself t' Davy Jones' locker, 12-year-old Jim Hawkins comes upon Flint’s map.  Jim an' his shipmates Doctor Livsey an' Mr. Trelawny, set sail fer riches an' adventure. But shi'er me timbers, thar’s treachery afoot. Long John Silver, th' one legged buccanneer wi' a heart as black as a bilge rat’s belly, be plottin' a mutiny. Jim an' his shipmates must look sharp an’ fight t' stay alive on Booty Isle, arrr!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

#36 Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger


 What does it mean to be a “catcher in the rye”? For 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, it means catching kids who are running through a rye field before they fall over a cliff at the end of the field. But Holden himself needs to be caught.  He swears a lot and smokes too much, while falling more deeply into isolation and depression after his brother’s death.    Unable to stand the “phonies” in his prep school, he flunks out and leaves in the middle of the night.   After two cold and lonely days in New York City, Holden allows himself to be caught by an unlikely person whose childish innocence gives him hope. 

 

Monday, July 20, 2009

#35 Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden


Black lacquered hair. White face.Red lips fixed in a knowing smile.  We have all seen pictures of the beautiful geisha. But what lies behind the make-up?  This book gives an intimate portrait of one geisha’s heartbreaking journey.

 Chiyo Sakamoto’s father sells her into an okiyo, a geisha house, where her unusual grey eyes attract the jealousy of the top geisha, Hatsumomo.  The two women fight it out with bitter gossip in the tea-houses of Kyoto, until Chiyo becomes Sayuri, the city’s most celebrated geisha. But her success does not buy her the freedom to follow her heart.  In the world of the geisha, love is the luxury that costs too much. 

Thursday, July 16, 2009

#34 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling




Being eleven isn’t easy. Your body betrays you and your world seems to be changing faster than you can make sense of it all.  This is especially true if you receive a letter informing you that you are actually a wizard, which is what happens to eleven year old Harry Potter.  Harry is an orphan living with his detestable aunt and uncle, who constantly remind him that he is unwanted in their home.  He gets the letter and his whole world changes, as if by magic. It’s exciting to discover the magic world with Harry. An enchanted castle, flying broomsticks, unicorns and centaurs would certainly make being eleven loads more fun. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

#33 A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams


Blanche Dubois is the houseguest from hell.  She arrives at her sister Stella’s cramped New Orleans apartment and showers contempt on the humble surroundings. She ties up the bathroom for hours, drinks all the liquor in the house and covers lightbulbs with paper lanterns to escape the harsh glare that reveals her fading beauty.   No wonder Blanche and her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski don’t get along. Stanley is part man, part beast, and his very existence offends Blanche’s delicate sensibilities.  But Blanche is not as pure as she seems. As the summer wears on, the sordid details of her past come to light, and the paper lantern is savagely ripped off.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

#32 The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Mary Lennox is a skinny, sickly, spoiled, selfish and sour-faced little girl with a nasty temper. She knows not how to love anyone else, but you will love her. When her parents die, she is shipped off from India to an uncle who lives in a huge, old house high on a moor in England. Once there, Mary learns of a neglected garden on the property and sets off to find it and make it come alive. Then Mary begins to come alive herself. You will love Mary because she will make you fall in love with all outdoors: the sunshine, wind, rain and every blooming, growing thing upon the earth.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

#31 A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf


A woman could never have written Shakespeare’s plays, says Virginia Woolf, because women in Shakespeare's time had no money nor a room of their own in which to write. To demonstrate this point, Woolf creates Judith, Shakespeare’s imaginary sister. Judith has as much of a gift for words as her brother and as adventurous a heart, but is denied access to classical works that would ignite her imagination, and is not allowed to have exciting experiences that she could put into her plays. Instead, she is forced into marriage and a life of domestic servitude. 

Thankfully, times have changed, even if perhaps the world  is still awaiting another Shakespeare, male or female. 

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Let's Pause for Music: Michael and Me




Remember the Time


We're the party people, night and day. Livin' crazy, that's the only way...

It’s 1979.  The house is filled with music and people.  It is dark, but there is a red and green light on and everyone is dancing, dancing, dancing. They’re bumping hips, snapping fingers, spinning around, and looking good.  Anne Marie, a teenage girl who lives at the end of the block, is doing the Robot, making her forearm swing at the elbow like it was attached with a hinge.   I try it too and everyone laughs at the four year old with all the barrettes in her hair, holding her hands at right angles and moving jerkily around the room.   I know I’m no dancer, but the music makes me feel like jumping, spinning, shaking my too-many-barretted-head from side to side.   The madness in the music has gotten to me and I am off the wall.  Later, I look at the cover of the album,  at the boy with big hair and a bright smile.   I can’t read, but I know his name is Michael Jackson. 

 

People always told me, be careful what you do, don’t go around breaking young girls’ hearts.  

It’s 1984.  Long legs, long arms, long jheri curl.  Peach-colored glasses that are crooked on my face. Nine year old me, trying to Moonwalk on the kitchen floor, wearing my red pleather zipper jacket, like the one Michael wore in “Beat It.”  I keep trying, but I look more like someone running backwards on sandpaper.  Night after night, too, I pour over the cover of Thriller-- Michael in a glowing white suit lying sexily on some black, polished surface.   Watching him perform Billie Jean at the Grammy Awards, I cry when he moonwalks across the stage. All I have is an 11 inch black and white T.V. with a wire hanger in it for an antenna, but I cry because the show will soon be over.  Oh Michael, don’t go!  Dance for me one more time.  Don’t break this young girl’s heart.

 


Annie , are you o.k.? So Annie are you o.k. are you o.k, Annie?

It’s 1987.  I am in junior high and a nerd of magnificent proportions.  Even longer legs and a  short waist.  Huge glasses with coke bottle lenses.  Hair permed straight and pulled back into a sickly pony-tail(The jheri curl went out of style when Michael’s hair caught on fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial—too much jheri curl juice.) I have changed and so has Michael. The cover of the new album, Bad, is a disappointing shock to me. Where is the handsome, brown skinned boy that I had spent hours day-dreaming about?  Who is this pale guy with long straight hair? Was that a cleft in his chin? Still, the music on Bad is still Bad—in the good way. And the video for Smooth Criminal, with that ridonkulous anti-gravity lean? Not that I could do that move myself— for fear of falling down and breaking my precious glasses— but how did he do it? My friends and I have many ideas: camera trick, wires, mirrors-- or had Michael actually found some way to defy gravity?   His moves are awesome, but why did he bleach his skin?   With a night and day difference in how he looks, I can’t help asking, “Michael, are you o.k.? Are you O.K. Michael?”

 


Do you remember the time, when we fell in love, do you remember the time when we first met…

It’s 1992. I am a college student, 17 years old. Michael and I are going in different directions.   I am wearing kente cloth and cowrie shells. My hair is in dreadlocks.  Meanwhile, Michael’s nose seems to be disappearing and his skin is getting paler and paler.  Still, no one else can sing and dance like he can.  Being college students who are too-cool-for-school does not stop my best friend and me from trying to do the dance in the “Remember the Time” video. Snap, move to the left, Snap, move to the right, then down on the knees, left-right-left-right.  I always mess it up and am still no dancer, but so what?    It is great to be dancing with Michael again.

It’s 2009.  My best friend calls me up after his death, in tears. I don’t understand.  Sure, it’s sad, but she doesn’t even know the guy, and he seemed to have gone off the deep end long ago. But then she reminds me of how much we had loved Michael, his music and his moves.  How we had spent so much of our childhoods listening to and singing his songs over and over again. His songs were like private jokes between him and us, him and me.  How "Mama-say-mama-saw-ma-mock-ooo-saw" sounded like "I'mma sit on the side of a mountain top." Oh, Michael, you so crazy!

And now, I remember the time when Michael Jackson was so much of my world, remember the time when I fell in love with the beautiful brown-skinned boy who made an awkward little girl forget that she couldn’t dance. And I cry for the loss of a friend whose music was the beat of my childish heart.

Friday, June 26, 2009

#30 Charlotte's Web by E.B. White




Homer Zuckerman had a farm: e-i-e-i-o.  

And on that farm he had a spider: e-i-e-i-o.


Most of us have either read the book or have seen the movie.  We know the story of how Charlotte, a witty and charismatic spider, saves Wilbur, a sweet and earnest pig, from being killed by weaving messages like “Some Pig” and “Terrific” into her web.  Zuckerman thinks Wilbur is no ordinary pig. Says Mrs. Zuckerman: “I think you’re a little off.  Seems to me we have no ordinary spider!” One can learn much from Charlotte and her web which, like the lives in this book, is intricate, fleeting and full of sticky situations. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

#29 A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

The French Revolution wasn’t televised, but was broadcast via The Novel. This classic puts a face on one of the bloodiest moments in history.  It is the face of Charles Darnay, a nobleman who rejects the aristocracy and immigrates to London.  He goes back to Paris during the uprising to help a friend who has been arrested.  This proves fatal, when he’s identified as an Evrémonde, a family known for cruelty towards the peasantry.  It is also the face of Syndey Carton, who bears a striking resemblance to Darnay.  Carton, a troubled cynic, does “a far, far better thing” than he has ever done and finds peace amidst chaos and death.  

 



Tuesday, June 23, 2009

#28 Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

 An enormous nest made of human hair? A mutant turd that refuses to go down without a fight? Is this stuff for real? Fortunately, yes.  Or else how could David Sedaris use his great talent for turning the embarrassing and icky moments in  life into hilarious stories for us to enjoy?   Sometimes he is poking fun at the “weirdos” of the world, and sometimes he is poking fun at himself. Having a friend from out of town come visit means being stuck with a woman he'd like to beat to death. He goes to France and the only word he can say  in French is “bottleneck.”   You just can’t make this stuff up.

Friday, June 19, 2009

#27 The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


Ah! To be young, gifted…and depressed. A college student working as a writer in New York, Esther Greenwood attends fashion shows, parties and rubs elbows with the literary elite. But she can’t enjoy any of it.  Esther has shut down- or has broken down- and comments on those around her as if she were a ghost observing the living.  After a nightmarish suicide attempt she seeks help, which comes in the form of badly administered electro-shock therapy.  Ironic, as at the beginning of the novel she says, “The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick.” But it’s the idea of life after college that makes her sick in the first place. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

#26 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison


There are times when being invisible would be a blessing: an unsightly pimple, or a foot-in-your-mouth remark,  but that is not the case for the young black man in Ellison’s classic novel. He tells the story of how throughout his life people have chosen not to see him, though he is a solid, physical being. It was a slow, painful process, becoming invisible, but he embraces it now, as real life has nothing to offer him and he sees it as a joke. He lives rent free in the basement  of an apartment building where he has rigged 1,369 light bulbs powered by stolen electricity.  He is off the grid; invisible. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

#25 Going Solo by Roald Dahl


Whoosh!  It’s not a bird, it’s a plane, and in it is...Roald Dahl! When most people hear the name Roald Dahl, they think of the prolific author who wrote some of the best books in children’s literature.  But did you know that Dahl used be a fighter pilot for the Royal Air Force during WWII?  It’s true.  How does someone go from shooting down German planes over the Aegean Sea to writing books about a madman who lives in a chocolate factory?  This book is a thrilling and nail-biting account of how Dahl cheated death through feats of daring and lived to bring joyful feats of imagination to the world.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

#24 American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis


On the outside, Patrick Bateman seems to have it all.  He’s vice president of an upscale firm, he lives in an swanky apartment and he wears only the finest clothes.  On the inside, Patrick embodies all that is sick within the human soul.  He spends his days  in a world where materialism reigns and individuality is not an option. His nights are spent  torturing and killing people in horrific acts of violence. But are the murders just figments of Patrick’s imagination or is he indeed a psychopath?  It’s hard to know.   One thing is certain: this is not someone you want to encounter in a dark alley, Armani suit or no. 

 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

#23 The God of Small Things by Arudhati Roy


In Ayemenem, a small town in India, the rainy season brings more than mud and wild greenery.  It brings Rahel  back to her childhood home. She has come to see Estha, her twin brother.  He has been “re-returned” to Ayemenem after being sent away 25 years ago and has stopped speaking.

The story goes back in time and tells of the tragic events that took Estha’s voice and separated him from Rahel and their mother, the beautiful Ammu, who dared to fall in love with an untouchable. An artful commentary on India’s caste system, in which lies and prejudice spread like wild creepers in June to smother an already fragile family. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

#22 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


It is 1935.  The Depression is in full swing.  Hitler is up to no good, and in Maycomb, Alabama, Scout and Jem Finch are learning the meaning of bigotry.  Their father, Atticus Finch, is defending Tom Robinson, an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman.  Atticus’s courageous actions bring out all the ugliness and hatred in the community.  Jem and Scout spend their last summers of innocence standing up for their father and trying to make Boo Radley, a vilified recluse who has not been seen in 15 years, come out.  They succeed and learn that while boogiemen do exist, they are not always who you think they are.  

Friday, May 22, 2009

#21 The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje


A steamy love affair, a hot north African desert, a fiery plane crash and a thimble of saffron make this book a spicy read. 

Set  during and after World War II, this book tells of a love  affair between  Lazlo de Almasy, a Hungarian explorer, and Katherine Clifton, the wife of a British official.  Passion is ignited over desert campfires and passages of Herodotus, and when Katherine ends the affair, Lazlo becomes sick with jealousy and desire.  He asks a friend about the name of the little hollow below a woman’s neck and is told-- "Pull yourself together."   Easier said than done in this story of love, sand, and war.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

#20 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


You get the sense of sleepwalking through a long and detailed dream while reading this book.  It is the fantastical story of four generations of the Buendia family living in Macondo, a village of vague locale, isolated from the rest of the world. Time seems to have no beginning or end as people are born, grow up, live and die.   Juan Arcadio Buendia, the patriarch of the family, tries to end Macondo’s isolation by finding a path to the rest of the world and bringing the townspeople into the modern age. But as Macondo becomes more modernized and sophisticated, each member of the family is left in despair, frustration, and solitude.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

#19 All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren


Look here, pal, lemme tell ya’ about a man named Willie Stark, the Boss.  The Boss got a bee in his bonnet about becoming governor and told anybody who would listen that he was going to cut the corruption out of this state like a cancer.  “Gimme that meat ax!” was Willie’s battle cry, and the people loved him. Willie realized that he couldn’t get anything done without getting his hands dirty, and Willie’s hands got filthy as all hell. As Willie likes to say, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud.”   Him included.

Friday, May 15, 2009

#18 The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein


Let us go now to Middle Earth, down the great river Anduin, through the golden wood of Lothlorien, past the white towers of Minas Tirith, to the black wastes of Mordor and into the fiery mountain of Orodruin.  With us is Frodo Baggins, a hobbit, who has the perilous task of destroying the Ring of Power, a treacherous weapon crafted by the evil Lord Sauron.  On our travels we will meet long-lost kings, wise wizards, eagle-eyed elves, ax-wielding dwarfs, monstrous orcs and stout-hearted hobbits.   Take heed, for one who has been corrupted by the ring follows us, the creature Gollum.  A journey that seems never-ending, yet all too short.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

#17 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov


Humbert Humbert is a hoity-toity professor with a secret: he has an appetite for young girls. He meets Lolita at her mother’s house and immediately becomes obsessed with the “nymphette". Humbert goes as far as to marry Lolita’s man-hungry mother, just to have a chance at having her daughter. Things work out better than he expected when the mother suddenly dies. Is Lolita as pure as the driven snow? No. But she is only 12. With her mother gone, she becomes Humbert’s concubine and prisoner.

Said Nabokov: “I am probably responsible for the odd fact that people don't seem to name their daughters Lolita any more.” You damn right, Vlady.

#16 The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith


Is it better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody? Tom Ripley thinks so. He scores a trip to Italy funded by the wealthy Mr. Greenleaf who wants Tom to persuade his son Dickey to come back to the states.  In Italy, we see Tom’s talents come to the fore as he cunningly worms his way into Dickey’s good graces. Dickey soon becomes bored with their friendship, and not wanting to go back to being a nobody, the seemingly mild mannered Tom takes some gruesome measures.  “I would kill to be in his shoes” is not just an expression for the talented Mr. Ripley. It becomes his way of life.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

#15 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain


“I’m Tom Sawyer. Who the hell are you?”  Long before Bart Simpson came on the scene, Tom Sawyer was raising heck in late 19th century literature. He tricks the neighborhood boys into whitewashing a fence for him, woos the new girl in town, and makes a mockery out of a Sunday School competition. Things take a turn for the serious when Tom accidentally witnesses Injun Joe, the local thug, commit murder. This doesn’t keep him from pretending to be a pirate, running away from home and letting the whole town think he has drowned so he can go to his own funeral and surprise everyone.  Boys will be boys, I guess.

 

 

Monday, May 11, 2009

#14 A Passage to India by E.M. Forster


How do you say, “Can’t we all just get along?” in Hindi?
Tenuous race relations between the British and the Indians erupt when the colonizers and the colonized mix. Miss Quested, a British woman, complains of not seeing the “real India”, so Aziz , a well-to-do Indian doctor, offers to take her and her future mother-in-law on an outing to the Marabar caves. The trip ends in disaster when Miss Quested becomes disoriented in a cave and claims Aziz tried to rape her. Then all bets are off. It’s Brit against Black as both sides unabashedly reveal their true feelings.
हम सभी को प्यार कर सकते हैं? Apparently not.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

#13 Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

 Great book about a group of “friends” living in 1980s Scotland who are addicted to heroine, alcohol, speed, violence and just about anything else self-destructive. Some parts are downright repulsive.  If you’ve seen the movie then you probably writhed in disgust watching Ewan McGregor force his entire body down a putridly filthy toilet to get a heroin suppository after having just done a wicked #2 in said toilet. McGregor played Mark Renton, the main character of the book. He and the others spend their time using, mocking and betraying one another, while scheming towards their next hit.  The Scots dialect is fun to read and gives the book a frightening authenticity.  



Thursday, May 7, 2009

#12 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck



 

Ever watch the “Abominable Snow Rabbit” episode of the old Looney Tunes cartoons? Daffy Duck encounters the Abominable Snowman, who grabs Daffy and says, “I will name him George and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him.”   Who knew we were being exposed to classic literature?  In this book, two migrant workers, the smart and compassionate George and  the mentally disabled gentle giant, Lennie, dream of owning a farm and living “off da-fat-a-da-lan”. They take what they hope will be their last job as farm hands, but Lenny’s love of petting soft things leads to trouble. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Sunday, May 3, 2009

#11 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith


In this saga about the Nolan family in early 1900s Brooklyn, we see Williamsburg through young Francie’s eyes, though her mother Katie is the powerhouse of the story. One Christmas, Francie, her brother, Neely, and Johnny, her father, are bringing a tree up the stairs of their building. Katie is standing at the top of the stairs, thinking about how they think this is a good time, but the building stinks, the people in it are no good and everyone is poor.  Education is the only way out, Katie decides. Francie already knows this and uses her hard earned education to claw her way out of poverty, into a better life.

 

#10 Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare


Yo, check it. The Capulets and the Montagues got mad beef, right? They be scrapin’ all over town.  Romeo Montague is a  playa fo’ real but he’s bumming  because he can’t get into some honey’s pants.  His forgets that chick when he spots Juliet Capulet at a house jam. He chats her up, and later rolls by her crib to see wassup.  He promises to wife her and does, but they keep it on the down low. Then Juliet’s O.G. daddy tries to make her get wit’ some other dude, but she’s not havin’ it.  What goes down is o.d. Shakespeare's language isn’t so difficult once you get used to it.  

Saturday, May 2, 2009

#9 The Shining by Stephen King


HELP WANTED: Winter caretaker for the Overlook hotel. Free room and board. Must like quiet and isolation, as hotel gets completely snowed in. Must not be afraid of ghosts, as hotel might be haunted. No clairvoyants or alcoholics please. Management not responsible for hotel possessing applicant and making him/her kill family (which happened to previous caretaker). Families welcome.

After losing his job as a teacher for assaulting a student, Jack, a recovering alcoholic, tries to turn his life around by taking this job. His wife, Wendy, and son, Danny, who is clairvoyant, go with him and unwittingly walk into a nightmare. King’s terrifying description of Jack’s descent into madness is genius.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

#8 The Autobiography of Malcolm X


When I first read this book, it changed my life. While I couldn't subscribe to the notion that the white man is the devil, the man did make some valid points. Whites have dominated others by force and left many non-whites in dependence and disarray. However, with an African-American president in the White House, is this book relevant today? Who knows. What is relevant is X's path to becoming Malcolm X (and then El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz). Growing up poor, being a hustler in Harlem, going to jail where he copied the entire dictionary, becoming the voice of the Nation of Islam and completing the pilgrimage to Mecca. X- traordinary.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

#7 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy


Woman 1: Girl, did you hear about Anna?

Woman 2: Uh, uh what happened?

Woman 1:  She left her husband for that swaggering officer, Vronsky.

Woman 2: No!

Woman 1: Yes, and get this…the husband won’t give her a divorce, so she and Vronsky are just shacking up.

Woman 2: Shameful!  What about her son?

Woman 1:  I heard her husband won’t allow her to see him.  She’s not even allowed near the house!

Woman 2: What?  Well, that’s not right! Anna loves that little boy. He’s her whole world.

Woman 1:  Well, she gave him up for that Vronsky.  God help her when things cool down between the sheets!

(Scandalous.)

 

 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

#6 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison


I read this book so long ago, that I don’t remember much of the story.  What I do remember, though, is that the drunken father rapes his own daughter.  Her name is Pecola and every night she prays for blue eyes. Blue eyes would make her so beautiful that her parents would love her too much to beat each other senseless in front of her.   In her mind, nothing bad could ever happen to a blue-eyed child.   She has a better chance of waking up with blue eyes than she has of her life ever changing.  This story will bring tears to your eyes, no matter what color they are.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

#5 Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman


  Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, is an amazing account of the Holocaust written in the form of a comic book.  In these books, the Jews are drawn as mice and the Germans, cats. Maus I, tells about Art’s complex relationship with his father, Vladek, and the story of his parents' courtship in 1930’s Poland.  IMaus II, we get a detailed and horrifying account of life in Aushwitz through Vladek’s eyes.  His McGyver-like resourcefulness and luck help him survive. Years later, Vladek becomes obsessed with thrift and when he returns an almost empty box of cereal to the supermarket for fear of wasting it, one can understand why.  The Holocaust. Oy Vey. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

#4 The Crucible by Arthur Miller


Witches’ Brew:

 1 cheating husband

1 jealous lover

1 wronged wife

Add a greedy preacher and a handful of naughty children. Stir until all hell breaketh lose.

 

Based on the Salem witch trials of 1692, The Crucible tells the story of how dozens of people in the small puritan town of Salem, Massachusetts fell victim to naught but the fanciful accusations of children. One girl,  Abigail Williams (a 17th century Amy Fisher) has an affair with John Proctor, a well-respected farmer. Elizabeth Proctor, his wife, learns of the affair and confronts John.  He ends the affair, but Abby will not be scorned. Hell hath no fury like a teenager in love.