Book 359: Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Part 1)

Cervantes, Miguel - Don QuixoteAfter slogging my way through the first half of this infamous book (Amazon link) I decided to break my response into two parts. This wasn’t planned, obviously, but coming in at 982 pages it may as well be two books, so I figured why not. (I’m still only going to count it as one book though.) I’ve split this for two reasons: I doubt I’ll remember the first half by time I finish the second and I have so much to talk about related to Miguel Cervantes and Spain, Madrid in particular, it just makes sense.

I first read portions of Don Quixote in my high school Spanish class. It was one of the only works that we read in English and in Spanish. I don’t remember the overwhelming majority of it. The only part I do remember is what has become so much a part of the modern psyche, “tilting at windmills” (Wikipedia link) that I can’t even say for sure it’s from reading the book or just from hearing it so often. It’s sad, but that’s all I remember. What’s interesting is how much more of an analytical reader I’ve become and how I took so much more appreciation from the novel’s absurdity and Cervantes’ critiques on novels and literature in general.

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Book 358: The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

Kafka, Franz - The MetamorphosisThis isn’t the first Kafka I’ve read. I read Amerika way back in 2011 and my opinion is pretty much the same: the man is a bit weird but he writes well.

I can, with utter confidence, say I have no idea what in the hell I just read. I mean, I know exactly what the words said and can tell you the story pretty much verbatim, but as to the meaning behind it, I haven’t got a clue. (Don’t worry, I’m going to look it up in a minute and see if it in anyway makes sense to me.)

I honestly thought it was some sort about sickness and loss of health, but no one seems to agree on that. There was a lot of talk about dependence and the family needing to learn how to care for themselves and that his metamorphosis resulted in the family being more productive and less lazy. Honestly, I don’t really know.

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Book 352: Persuasion – Jane Austen

Austen, Jane - PersuasionI don’t know how I let myself go so long without re-reading Persuasion (Amazon link), I forgot how much I loved it. I think I last read it in 2008/2009 so almost six years ago! It makes me even happier we’re doing Jane Austen Book Club this year and we chose this as our third installment.

It is difficult to say whether I preferred the unrequited/long-lost love of this story or Austen’s caustic wit more. The story of course revolves around Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, who were in love and were almost engaged, but do to external factors (rude ass relatives and friends) it wasn’t to be. They meet again eight years later and the story picks up from there, so of course, SWOON. And in competition here were so many great one-liners and zingers (none of which I wrote down) about the aristocracy and the landed gentry that I couldn’t help but be torn between laughing and holding my breath! If I were forced to chose…nope, can’t do it.

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Book 350: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

Angelou, Maya - I Know Why The Caged Bird SingsI picked up my copy of this book just 11 days before Maya Angelou died last spring. I’d always had this book (Amazon link) on my list, but I’d never found a reason to pick it up and for some reason at the library book sale last year I finally added it to my pile. I knew I wanted to read it because it is one of those books that is mentioned by everyone and has such a place in American culture, but not as widely read as I probably assumed.

As I read the novel I was floored at the breadth of experience Angelou faced before she turned 17. At times the novel reminded me a lot of The Color Purple and Bastard Out of Carolina, but I have a feeling both Alice Walker and Dorothy Allison were inspired/influenced by this. That being said, of the three this is the most profound work. Perhaps because it is explicitly an autobiography (and Bastard is semi-autobiographical and Purple is a fictional novel).

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Book 339: Emma – Jane Austen

Austen, Jane - EmmaFor book two of our Jane Austen Book Club, my friends and I decided to conquer Emma (Amazon link). It has always been my least favorite of the six and reading Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education both confirmed that and helped me get around this problem. His talking about Emma and it’s belief in the importance of every day trivialities, as well as Margaret Drabble’s excellent introduction led me to think about the book differently.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still boring as anything in most points, but Austen wrote it this way. According tot Drabble, Austen wrote this novel in such excruciating detail in direct response to the detractors of her previously published novel Mansfield Park, which I love. Drabble says, “This is domestic realism almost with a vengeance.” (xix) AND it is! The hyper focus on every detail, the incredibly limited scope of setting, characters and even conversation topics is overwhelmingly mundane. It is an assault on the senses, and as a fellow JABC member said “i’m diagnosing myself with ’emma-induced narcolepsy.'” (Thanks Dalton!)

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