classix

when the storms of life strike the 

rains the heavy winds we bundle up

and hunker down. i was spinning classics 

for days calling out with the chorus

like forty years ago was only

yesterday

#katyamills

review

Review: Oliver Twist

Oliver TwistOliver Twist by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dickens creates such an terrifying circumstance for the little tyke at the very start, one cannot help but wish to uplift young Oliver Twist (and his little friends). I wanted to take him home and give him some hot chocolate and a pat on the head, hell, I would keep him for sure! He has kindness and compassion in his heart which will not be easily corroded. Almost everyone is out to manipulate the kid, even the ones – like the young girl Nance – I hoped would be helpful to him. He is abducted to dark and narrow streets of London, where the dirt and mud and impoverishment reflect the broken spirits living there. He is taught how to be a thief. The Artful Dodger and Charley Bates are lively little crooks, underlings of Fagin, and Sikes (with his mean dog in tow) is a frightful and towering king of this underworld.

This book establishes a nice rhythm and is narrated very well (strong and consistent voice). Many of Dickens’ books were first published as serials in the London papers. I had to find out how Oliver would make out in the end, if he was to survive at all. Plenty of others like him died of starvation, fever, neglect, and broken hearts. Others turned to crime and saw the gallows. These were mean streets of old London, and Dickens does not spare us the details. In fact, he holds a candle to it all. He brings you into the darkest corners, then gets your adrenaline up as Oliver’s situation becomes inadvertently hopeful, before being lost again to the murky, insensate underworld. It takes one who initially betrayed him and others who gave up looking for him, to unite and try to save him from a terrible fate on the streets. In the process, the mystery of his birth is unraveled. Aside from his rich/poor politics and narrow portrayal of Jews, I love the way Dickens tells a story. This story.

book review – Edgar Allen Poe

Review: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of NantucketThe Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Poe published this book a good decade or more before Melville published MD, the famous whale of a story (of a whale). This tale was an abbreviated version -snapshot- of life at sea on a whaling vessel from Nantucket, in the 19th century. I mention Melville only because in this Penguin version of the text, the (rather dull) appendices point out several persuasive arguments that Melville both read and borrowed from Poe’s Narrative. I wouldn’t be surprised (but I didn’t need an appendix to convince me).

Poe, like Melville, tackles the life on the sea with incredible precision and an less fanciful vocabulary. The story follows a young stowaway with his dog Tiger and several colorful characters, in a harrowing and jagged course toward the South Pole. Poe has a wonderful way of describing the intense and frightful place on the edge of sanity, where Pym and the others frequently find themselves. Physical and mental breakdowns, which somehow the spirit survives (or not). Poe demonstrates his mastery of language, taking words back to their Latin roots like ‘condescension’ (coming down / with) and ‘inhume’ (the opposite of exhume: being buried alive). Writers can learn a lot by his writing style. I did.

Poe’s story drew me in — slowly. The setup was a recounting of Pym’s journal which had been mysteriously placed in the author’s hands. Pym was an endearing character, entrusted with many redeeming qualities. Friendship and loyalty. I liked him right away. He dreams of adventure, and his friend Augustus figures a way to stash him in the berth of his father’s ship — and away to sea we go!

The race to the South Pole was a magical and exciting time in the 19th century, what with Captain Cook and others journaling about their efforts and naming islands and sharing them with the world. Nobody knew what they might find! Ships would have to turn back when they reached latitudes full of ice and impassable, or ran out of time (seasons changing) or fuel. Worldwide folks began to realize that at certain latitudes closer to the pole, the ice actually let up and the weather placated. Ultimately pioneers would discover a continent full of burgeoning life.

This book is an adventure worth reading. I began to feel the adrenaline rush of the pioneers; Poe puts the pulse on discovery. The characters were likable, I wanted them to survive. I felt intimately involved in their circumstances, it was all very realistic. I also love how the story ends. There is a moodiness. An impression. The story made a remarkable impression on me.

View all my reviews

book review Zola

Review: Thérèse Raquin

Thérèse RaquinThérèse Raquin by Émile Zola
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was walking through my friend’s house when I found this book randomly on a shelf. A 99 cent penguin classic. My friend’s mom had died and she was preparing the house for an estate sale. Her parents smoked Marlboro Lights for fifty plus years in that house, and everything – including Thérèse Raquin – was yellow and smelled of tobacco. The flesh and body of the narrative turned out to be the same, yellow, describing the decay over time of a couple of cowards who sought to fool the world, and ended in fooling only themselves.

I chose the book the same way I choose any book; turn randomly to a page and start reading. I was excited because I had not read much of Zola. This was his first major novel, published in 1867 when he was 27 years old. Zola was quite wealthy and famous by his writing and politics, both of which had an impact in 19th century Paris, and may have been murdered (over the latter) when a chimney sweep later confided that he plugged up Zola’s chimney deliberately, causing him to die by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1902. Zola now shares a crypt with Victor Hugo in the Panthéon.

The first half of the book was interesting. A good story. I was pretty excited to discover what would happen next. All the characters were set up in rubber band like tension against one another, and I was just waiting to see which one would snap! And for sure they did snap. The aftermath (the second half of the book) was a big let down. There’s a whole lot more telling than showing, and Zola goes into long-winded psychological analysis of the characters as they quickly become unhinged. Apparently he called this a study of ‘temperaments’. But there is little development of plot and the scene is planted rather firmly inside a dingy house above a haberdashery. The story dries up in there, and I felt pulled alongside the author in his psycho-babble for far too long.

This story could have been a winner if you cut out about two thirds of the second half. I imagine something got lost in translation. I should try and polish up my French and try reading the original text. The book was met with widespread disapproval if not condemnation by the general public in 1867. I can see why. There’s not much in the way of redemption, it is nihilistic. Even François, the house cat, is not spared. I thought to myself: come on, now! Zola! Give us somebody to love!

View all my reviews