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.