Monday, June 27, 2011

#92 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Orphaned and condemned to a life of poverty and misery before drawing his first breath, Oliver Twist makes his way into our hearts. Brutally beaten by those assigned to care for him, Oliver miraculously survives to see his ninth birthday, when he flees to London. There he falls in with a gang of thieves, and soon the innocent Oliver learns the art of pickpocketing. Throughout the book, Dickens protests against the horrific conditions of the poor and critiques England’s system of “helping” poor people with workhouses and prisons. But it isn’t called Oliver Twist for nothing. There are more cases of mistaken identity, underhanded evil-doing and secret love than a soap-opera.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

#91 The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

Pre-teen rebellion reaches new heights in this whimsical novel. One evening when Cosimo, a young Italian baron, finds snails as dinner’s main course, he says “no” to the escargot and takes to the trees, resolving to never come down. His family thinks at first that his escape will end when he gets cold or hungry or lonely, but the determined Cosimo soon adapts to life above ground. He learns to hunt, bathe and even answer nature’s call from the trees. He grows into a man respected by all and his arboreal world is almost heaven. Suddenly, Cosimo falls. Not from a tree, but in love, and is brought swiftly, harshly back to earth.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

#90 The Best of Simple by Langston Hughes

1950s Harlem. Two men walk into a bar.

1st Man: How are things?

2nd Man: Terrible. Wife won’t pay for divorce, my main-girl actin’ cold, side-girl drinks up my money, landlady wants rent, my bunions hurt, and me bein’ a Negro, white people won’t let me get ahead.

1st Man: What are you going to do?

2nd Man: Get you to buy me a glass of beer. At least there will be a head on that.

Jesse B. Semple, the affable Simple character of Hughes’ stories, would be that second man. Uneducated, but not simple-minded, Simple muses on everything from the A-bomb to the A-Train— simply, humorously, talkin’ the blues.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

#89 The Stranger by Albert Camus

“The sun was in my eyes,” is an excuse one gives for not catching a ball in the outfield. In this novel, however, it amounts to Monsieur Meursault’s defense for committing murder. It was hot and bright the day Meursault, a Frenchman living in Algeria, shot a young Arab five times on the beach. Perhaps Meursault was suffering from heatstroke. The strange thing is not only this flimsy defense; it is Meursault himself. His mother’s death, a proposal of marriage, the fact that he has killed a man, it’s all the same to him, for he feels no emotion. Meursault’s indifference ultimately saves him, though not from the hand of justice.