Saturday, April 16, 2011

#80 Othello by William Shakespeare

Iago. The name means supplanter, but after reading this play, demon seems more fitting. Everyone believes this inhuman dog is the soul of honesty. This belief is Othello’s downfall. Damn'd Iago has but to hint that Desdemona, Othello’s devoted young bride, is an adulteress, and her husband, a man known for his steadiness of character, is completely undone. At first, Othello is merely slightly troubled by the thought. But as Iago pours his poisonous potion of lies into Othello’s ear, the Moor becomes a brooding, violent, wretched thing, collapsing into seizures brought on by Iago’s “medicine”, which proves its potency in the number of corpses left behind at the play’s end.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

#79 Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

There’s no “spoon full of sugar” in the Mary Poppins of Travers’ classic novel. Cross, snappish and vain, the magical nanny is a far cry from the sweet, smiling Julie Andrews of the movie. So why do Jane and Michael Banks adore her? Is it because she takes them around the world in a matter of minutes using an enchanted compass? Or because she celebrates her birthday with a midnight trip to the zoo, where the animals talk and walk about freely, looking at humans in cages? In a word, yes. When Mary “pops-in” to number 17 Cherry Tree Lane, every day of Jane and Michael Banks’ lives becomes an adventure.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

#78 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles writes, “Hide nothing, for time, which sees all and hears all, exposes all”. In Middlesex, it is a hidden mutation in the genes of the Stephanides family that sees all, hears all, and exposes the family’s secret past. Cal Stephanides, raised in 1960s Detroit, reaches back in time to a Greek village in 1920s Turkey, the time when his grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty Stephanides, lived together after their parents were killed. Yes, their parents. Desdemona and Lefty were brother and sister. This secret shame bestows upon their grandchild life as both female and male. Like Tiresias of Oedipus Rex, Cal is first one thing, and then another.

Friday, April 8, 2011

#77 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Life in Umuofia was difficult. Sometimes too little rain fell and yam crops could not grow. Children were born and suddenly died. Disputes were common between a man and his wives. Yet, the people of Umuofia celebrated life. Their customs and sense of fellowship gave them strength. Even in his youth, Okonkwo, a fierce Ibo warrior and village leader, had been strong. He worked hard and ruled his wives and his children with a heavy hand. He was a man of action, for, to Okonkwo, a real man could be nothing less. Then, missionaries arrive in this fictional village, setting Okonkwo’s fiery spirit ablaze. A most desperate, tragic act extinguishes it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

#76 Bone by Fae Myenne Ng

Everyone in Chinatown knows the Leong family’s secrets: Mah’s failed first marriage, her affair with her boss and youngest daughter Ona’s suicide. But guilt remains the family’s true secret, the bone whose marrow they all continue to suck after their lives have been picked over by neighborhood gossipmongers. Leila, eldest of the three daughters, tells her family’s story in hope that the guilt does not turn sweet, like the seed of a dried plum, a thing savored. Leila acts as archeologist, piecing together the fragmented events that make up the sorrow her family has endured over many years. Once whole, however, she must again bury it in order to find peace.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

#75 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The wind kicks up, howling steadily, fiercely across a dry, gray landscape. Dust, billowing in great, merciless waves rises from the ground, blocking out air, light and hope. Such was life on the prairie lands in 1930’s America. Steinbeck shows us the hardships thousands of families faced during this dark time through the story of the Joads, Oklahoman sharecroppers.
Tom Joad, the hero of this novel, has just been released from prison. Though imprisonment did not harden him, Tom struggles to check his rage as the family falls apart, and it seems as if all compassion in the world has been blown away by the wind and smothered by the dust.

Friday, April 1, 2011

#74 Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

The atrocities committed against millions of black men, women and children during the slave trade are unspeakable. Yet Harriet Jacobs (Linda Brent in the book) speaks boldly about her life as a slave girl in this heartrending narrative. A slave girl soon learns that her duties include more than working in the kitchen or toiling in the fields. Her master may demand the use of her body for his own pleasure. To escape her depraved master’s attentions, Linda takes refuge in a crawl space in her grandmother’s house and lives thus, unable to sit or stand, for seven years. This imprisonment is the first step on her long journey toward freedom.