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The Big Read

Like a lot of people I’m always looking for something good to read. I often ask friends and associates for recommendations but that hasn’t been very successful. Possibly because I have a policy of killing anyone who suggests a book that I end up hating. Lately I’ve been downloading a lot of books off of the Amazon Top 100 ebooks  and Top 100 Free eBooks lists but that has been very hit or miss.  I’ve read some that I like but quite often I get a quarter to half way through a book and quit in disgust. But one thing I noticed on the free list is there are usually a lot of classics available. A part of my brain kept nagging me that people must still be reading them for a reason and that if I want something good to read there they are right in front of me. But to be honest I found the idea of reading a lot of them intimidating. And then one day while surfing the web I came across a list of the United Kingdom’s 200 “best-loved” novels. It was call The Big Read. Continue reading

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
(#10 on The Big Read)

First published on 16 October 1847.

Jane-EyreWhen I first decided to do this project, Jane Eyre was one of the books I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading. I don’t know anything at all about it, but I’ve always thought of it as a cross between ‘chick lit’ and ‘literary’. Basically two of the worst things you could call a book. There is something just kind of intimidating about the name Bronte. Like it would roll much to easily off of the tongue of an English professor. But then I read Pride and Prejudice and my attitude changed. Suddenly chick lit didn’t seem so bad, at least not classic chick lit. And then I read Emma and I’m basically back where I started. I have no idea what to expect from this book. I’ve never seen any TV or movie adaption either and to be honest I don’t know that they exist. As high as this book ranks in the Big Read I assume they must.

Holy buckets what a gloomy beginning. Charlotte Bronte can certainly set a scene. I like Jane very much. I just got to the Lomand Institute and their first burned breakfast. If this turns into an Oliver Twist situation I am going to be very unhappy. You hear that Charlotte? Very unhappy.

Ugg. So now we have a 10 year old girl having an existential crisis and questioning the nature of the universe. The book is starting to drag.

Damn it. I knew Helen was too much the Galahad to be around very long. She got what she wanted though. At least conditions at the institute improved. And now with Miss Temple gone Jane seems to be about to wake up. With any luck this turns into the Count of Monty Cristo and she gets revenge on everyone who has ever wronged her. Jane just needs to learn fencing and marksmanship and maybe some hand to hand combat. I doubt that’s what’s coming but a guy can hope.

Why do these books sometimes avoid name locations, putting stuff like —shire instead?

All this French caught me by surprise. I suppose most of the people reading this when it was published had no trouble with it. Even more surprising is how much my high school French is helping.

This novel runs very hot and cold. Right now Jane is suffering in silence as she watches Mr. Rochester and Miss Ingram court each other and I am bored out of my mind. Alright, we get it, can we please move on?

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
(#36 on The Big Read. My combined score: 24)

First published as a novel on 23 May 1883. It was originally serialized in a children’s magazine named Young Folks between 1881 and 1882.

Treasure_IslandYou might think in my 50+ years I would have at some point read Treasure Island or seen one of the many adaptions. Well you would be wrong. Somehow I’ve managed to avoid it entirely (unless you count the casino in Las Vegas, which I don’t). It’s even more odd because I am a big fan of all the Hornblower and Bolitho books. All I know for certain about the story is that it’s about pirates, treasure, a boy and Long John Silver. It may or may not also feature a great deal of fried fish and hush puppies.

Well the book starts out kind of slow with Jim Hawkins at his father’s inn. I was fairly certain that the old pirate who turned up wasn’t going to be Long John. It wasn’t of course, it was Billy Bones and with his death the story has really picked up and hasn’t slowed down at all. Silver finally showed up and of all things is the cook. Maybe there will be fried fish after all. I think not knowing the story is enhancing this a lot. I know Long John isn’t going to stay a cook for long so I’m eagerly looking forward to what happens next. Continue reading

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
(#59 on The Big Read. My combined score: 20)

artemis-fowlThis is the first book in a young-adult series featuring the character Artemis Fowl II, a teenage genius criminal. The novel was first published in  2001.

I’m curious about how the survey was done and how so many children’s books made the list. I assume voting was open to kids too but did they actively promote the campaign at schools? They can’t all be on here from fond childhood memories. Especially a book like Artemis Fowl. For one, its not old enough for many adults to have memories of it, but also, while there is nothing wrong with the book, there is also nothing very special about it. I understand how it would appeal to young teens, boys particularly. You have a young teen super genius with money, gadgets and almost complete autonomy going on adventures with his loyal bodyguard in a fantasy realm that combines the modern world with fairies and trolls. It’s like the author was checking off boxes on his teenage wishlist. The problem is, it’s so light weight. Every character is a cliche, nobody learns anything, and with the narrator addressing the reader the story is constantly held at arm’s length. When compared to books like The Hobbit, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,  or even Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone this book falls short. It might seem unfair to compare this book to those kinds of classics except here it is on the same list with them.

Continue reading

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma by Jane Austen
(#40 on The Big Read. My combined score: 10)

I think this was Austen’s fourth published novel, maybe fifth. I’m not sure how to count Susan. A quick reading of her bio is kind of confusing. She apparently started and abandoned a lot of books and frequently changed the titles.  Anyway, Emma was first published in 1815 and was the last one of her books published while she lived.

emmaHaving just finished Pride and Prejudice I went into this book fully expecting to enjoy Austen’s writing style and her characters.  Unlike that book I am very slightly familiar with Emma having seen the movie Clueless.

Deep into chapter four. It must be the republican in me, but Emma is kind of pissing me off  with how badly she is putting down Robert Martin. I understand her point of view but everything about the supposed superiority of the upper classes gets under my skin. I still don’t know what this book is going to be about. I’m guessing Emma will be playing matchmaker for everyone around her and accidentally fall in love herself. I will even go so far as to predict that the love interest will be the son of Mr. Weston. The guy everyone is waiting to come visit his dad. It’s still early though, lots of time for new characters to turn up.

Continue reading

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
(#2 on The Big Read. My combined score: 23)

Written between October 1796 and August 1797, revised between 1811 and 1812 and finally first published in 1813. It’s amazing to me that Austen was only 21 when she started this book.

Austen saw little of the profit from this book as she sold all rights for £110.

pride-and-prejudiceI didn’t want to start with a book (or in this case 3 books) that I had already read so I went to number two on the list. I’ll admit that Jane Austen is not someone I would normally read. I’ve always thought of her as “chick lit” but looking at the list there are a lot of similar authors, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, and Leo Tolstoy to name a few, so if I was going to do this I would just have to suck it up. I downloaded the book from Amazon’s Top 100 free eBooks and read it on my Kindle.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started but I was immediately sucked into the story. I love the way Jane Austin writes. The only person I could compare her to that I’ve read is maybe Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest. It was very easy to forget I was reading. Second, I have to admit that I was quickly confused by all the characters. Other than the title I wasn’t familiar with the story at all and was completely lost trying to follow who was who. I was about 20% of the way through the book before I felt I had a firm grasp on all the side characters. But that didn’t take much away from my enjoyment of the book. Everyone eventually came into focus and since we mostly stick with Lizzie anyway it didn’t really matter. Continue reading