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My Personal Book List

 

Reading all the books on these lists I have come across several books that I both felt people did not need to read while I found others that I so thoroughly enjoyed that I feel everyone should read sometime in their lives. This is my list of books I feel should be read. It is subdivided by category so that when deciding what book you want to read they can it it out by the mood they are in.

No rules so far but I want to try and limit the works to the author's best.

 

Romances

 

 Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (October-November 2007)

    On the Norwegian and BBC lists - Contrary to the bizarre title this is a very good book. The title just signifies the time period that takes place and is not a the basis of the story. The book is a love story with a girl whose father tries to get her married above her station and two men who both fall for the girl. The one man is about the same level as the girl and he falls head over heals for her while the other man is a very prominent doctor who is the supreme bachelor in the community. The story starts off with the woman and the doctor as an old married couple then flashes back to the beginning of the story. It then slowly moves through the lives of these three people advancing a little on one character then falling back again with another character's story. Marquez does this phenomenally so that you do not even realize that the story changes from one character's narrative to another. The story is rather riveting and it kept me worried throughout the story about all the characters. There is no clear "good guy" or "bad guy" so I found myself cheering for both of them, worried that something major would go wrong. I would definitely recommend this for anyone in a romantic mood.

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (July 2004)

    On the Norwegian, Sybervision, and BBC lists - A book on my must read list and definitely my favorite of the Austen works. The story follows the lives of several people of different social standings all wooing each other. This results in people of completely different attitudes and mannerisms actually finding love with each other. Humorous at times and the easiest of Austen's works to read.

 

 

 

 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (December 2003)

    On the the Observer, Sybervision, and BBC lists - Another on my must read list. It follows the life of the title character as she starts in an orphanage and eventually goes on to live with Mr. Rochester. A fun romantic novel with an air of mystery.

 

 

 

 

 

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (July-August 2007)

    On the BBC and Observer lists - The story is about a mysterious woman escaped from an Asylum who crosses the path of the main character (Walter Hartright) and who happened to be intimately intertwined with his events afterwards. The narrative follows several different people who were associated with her story through until the end of it. This is a mystery so I will not give away any of the more interesting points and ruin the story for those who wish to read it but I can say it is a love story and that at the end everything turns out well. I recommended this book to anyone since it is very easy to read, flows naturally and is enthralling from the get go. The climax seems to come a bit early but even though the narrative slows down a bit it never stops. Very entertaining.

 

Middlemarch by George Eliot (January - March 2008)

    On the Sybervision, Norwegian, Zane, and the BBC lists - I rather enjoyed this book, it started off slow but as the book went on it picked up its pace rather well. Although the book was the longest I have yet read, about 900 pages, the plot was simple enough that it was easy to follow through the whole book. Middlemarch is a town in England where the book follows the lives of the families there, mainly two different families and their daughters. The book also shows a lot of conflicts including doctors versus faith, modern medicine versus traditional medicine, and similar subjects. There was an initial period that took me to get used to the language but afterwards I easily understood and followed the story. I can easily recommend this book as a great story with good lessons, if you are willing to take the time to read it.

 

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (May - July 2008)

    On the Sybervision and Observer lists - Although it is a rather long book (my copy was over 850 pages) I did greatly enjoy reading it. The author is more of a narrator then an impartial observer. He readily makes comments throughout the book that makes you feel like you are sitting by a fire listening to him relay the story. It was definitely a different approach then most I have read and I greatly enjoyed it. The story was exquisite. It is about a bastard, Tom, who was abandoned by his mother to be raised by a very benevolent man. Although I did not readily agree with some of the lessons at the end of the book (how birth makes more of a difference on who the boy is, not just his character) I still enjoyed it and the ending did bring a tear to my cheek. I thought that how the author kept making Tom's situation worse and worse that there was no way to bring him back in a believable manner, but it worked out and rather well at that. I definitely enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone with a few months to read it.

 

Camille by Alexandre Dumas (April 2012)

    On the Sybervision list - At first while reading this book I got the feeling I would have to dredge my way through it like I have through several on these lists. The writing was awkward in the beginning; either that or the translation was poor. Either way, I was not enjoying it. The story seemed rather random and it was kind of dull. But then something just clicked and not only did the reading get easier, the story was much better, and actually pulled me into it. I cared for the characters and was regretting what was bound to happen to them. The premise of the story is that the author comes across the estate sale of a very young (early 20’s) "kept" woman (Marguerite Gautier) (a "kept" woman is basically a high class prostitute) and purchases a book with an inscription inside it. The inscription is by a former love of the woman (Armond Duval) who had given the book to Marguerite as a gift. Days later Armond is at the author’s apartment trying to get the book back. What follows is a love story of what happened between the two people that is very touching, and possibly true. Although I figured out the "catch" towards the end, it did not in the least ruin the story for me and it was written in such a way I think anyone would have figured it out. But on the cover of one of the books it states that Henry James said this is "one of the greatest love stories of the world" and I would have to agree. It is riveting, intriguing, and heart rending, a definite recommend.

 

28. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (August - October 2016)

    On the Sybervision and Observer lists - Vanity Fair had sat on my shelf for many years because I was not in the mood for more of the 18th century "romance novels". The kind of novels that were exemplified by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen's works. They are all right to read once, but too much of that stuff wears me down. I feel there is no real "meat" in those books, just all fluff. Vanity Fair, though, is not one of those 18th century romances. In fact, it is the quintessential opposite in which Thackeray purposely makes fun of those novels in his presentation. Thackeray's main characters are often vain ("vanity" is in the title), selfish, petulant, and immoral. Everything you wouldn't expect from an 18th romance novel. This actually made it a pleasant reading experience. I even laughed out loud at several instances throughout the book. The book is set up as written by someone who is acquainted with the main characters and is narrating their story as a storyteller would. This goes so far as to even have the narrator frequently making reference to the fact that you are reading a book that he is retelling. In terms of story, the main character, Becky Sharp, is not a hero. She is not even likable through much of the story. The only time that she may actually be likable is when you aren't sure if she is being sincere, which I am not convinced ever happens. Although she is the main character, the plot of the story works its way through two main families (the Crawleys and the Osbornes) as well, taking it's leave of Becky when other story lines would take precedent. The plot and time moves steadily on throughout the story with characters coming and going as needed. My main problem with the book, though is that even though the writing is very well done, the story itself is rather dull at times. At over 700 pages long, it takes a long time to work through the narrative. The story could have been trimmed up pretty easily making the pace move a bit faster. I would often get bored of reading the book and need to put it down for a few days because there was nothing drawing me to read more. However, as I moved on towards the end I felt the urge to keep reading build up. Overall, I would say that the story was enjoyable, and funny at times, if not a little bit long winded, but a recommend nonetheless. 

 

Comedy

 

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (January - June 2014)

     On the Sybervision List - My previous Mark Twain book (The Prince and the Pauper) was alright, but it left me wanting for the well known wit of Mark Twain. I got that wit in this book. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court was everything that I had hoped The Prince and the Pauper would be and more. My only regret is that it took me so long to read because I had more important things going on. The story is written in the first person narrative of a man who is transported back in time to the 6th century from the 19th century. No time is spent discussing how he was transported back in time, which I assumed would eventually be resolved but it never was. Upon being transported back in time, he is almost immediately put to death. How he gets around this is pretending to be a sorcerer, even more powerful than Merlin (who in this book is completely incompetent). The Yankee proceeds to "improve" life back in the 6th century, trying to bring it up to "modern" 19th century standards. Twain makes almost everyone in the 6th century appear dimwitted, or even outright moronic, including King Arthur himself. This is not a trait I have seen attributed to these people of legend before and Twain was actually quite convincing in his representation of these characters. The biggest surprise was the ending, which I won't spoil, but I had assumed I knew exactly how the book was going to wind up, but as it turns out, I think I was wrong. It was rather vague though. Just like the time travel aspect at the beginning, the ending was never fully explained. One of the things that took me by surprise, though, was the strong anti-Catholic church feeling that the story kept bringing back. He even went so far as to try and convert all of England to a Protestant nation back in the 6th century. Overall, a very thoughtful, funny, and insightful book that will happily go on my must read list.

 

Tartuffe by Moliere (December 2007)

    On the Sybervision List - Although I am not a big proponent of plays I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Enough so to put it on my list. The play only took me about 2 hours to finish and it was very easy to follow along. The plot is about this rich family where the father takes in this beggar (Tartuffe) and he dotes on him as a beloved son to the exclusion of his whole family. He does this to the point of pledging him to marry his daughter whom he already pledged to another man. The play is very witty and invokes a pretty good moral lesson. And best of all, everything works out in the end. 

 

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (March-April 2008)

     On the Sybervision List - My wife found a website that sends a portion of a story each day in your email (DailyLit). I thought that I might try it on some of my shorter stories where purchasing the book did not seem like it was going to happen soon. Well after 62 installments I finished Cyrano de Bergerac and I not only highly enjoyed the story I also enjoyed the daily portions. The story is about an ugly, due to his large nose, but extremely eloquent and proud man named Cyrano who is in love with a beautiful woman, Roxane. Unfortunately Roxane is in love with another man, Christian, and asks Cyrano to help Christian talk to her. Eventually she falls in love not with the handsome Christian but with his "soul" that he expressed in his words and letters, the words and letters that Cyrano wrote. The story is humorous, heartfelt, and well written. I definitely recommend this to anyone in the mood for a romantic comedy, even though it is a play.

 

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (July 2008)

    On the Sybervision List - The one thing I love about reading plays it that they are fast. You get the introduction, the conflict, and the resolution all within about 2 hours. This play was one of the shorter ones and it was rather funny. It is about a made up person named Earnest and two men who pretend to be him. Both who get engaged to different women. As you can imagine, hilarity ensues (I had to say that). It is a very fast paced narrative and the situations are not altogether unbelievable. I rather enjoyed it and will place it on my recommended reading list.

 

 

Sci-Fi and Fantasy

 

The Colour Of Magic by Terry Pratchett (February 2011)

     On the BBC list - I started reading this book because I was looking for something easy to read and I noticed that all of the Terry Pratchett books were pretty cheap for the paperbacks so I picked up all 4 on the list. I was going to start with Mort until I realized that these were books all within a series of books called the Discworld series, and The Colour of Magic was book 1. It turns out that this is a fanstasy series that takes place in a realm where the planet is a flat disk on the back of four elephants whom stand on a turtle. Other than that, something you may need to know is that magic is a major component of the story. But all in all, I really really enjoyed it. His humor is a bit off and not always what you would expect, which is what makes it enjoyable. The type of humor reminds me of Futurama in which at one point the main character asks if anyone else tastes purple. That is the sort of thing you could expect from this book. It basically follows the exploits of a failed wizard and a tourist from a distant continent. I would actually really recommend this book and likely this series, which contains about 40 books (but I haven't read any further into the series as of yet). Although now I will have to read them in order, even though the books on this list jump around a little bit. But for those who don't want to read all the books the author has stated that that is not always necessary since the individual stories should stand on their own. But I would probably recommend this book as the first one you read since it gives a pretty good introduction to the realm in which it takes place.

 

The Lord Of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (January - February 2005)

    On the Observer and BBC lists - For a book that took ten years to write, you can tell. The story is so in depth and the languages that were created so complete that you can almost feel like this is an actual world. Word of advice, read The Hobbit first then expand into this book because The Hobbit flows into this book. Also watching the movies after reading these books gives you so much insight that upon first viewing I missed. The characterization in some of the best I have ever read. Unfortunately the movies did not portray my favorite character in the book which was Tom Bombodil and anyone who has read this would probably agree with me. Again the book is fantastic, you just need to read it to appreciate it. Definitely on my must read list.

 

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams (March 2005)

   On the BBC list - I thought this book was absolutely hilarious, although it might be because I like obscure British humor. The plot follows one man who gets transported off Earth just as it is about to be destroyed, then following him as he is shuffled around the galaxy. The following books also continue the plotline and are enjoyable to read as well although the last couple are a little bizarre and kind of destroy all the previous plotline. On my list of books to read, and if you have time, read the entire series.

 

 

 

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by CS Lewis (May 2005)

    On the BBC list - A very easy to read book and highly enjoyable. I read The Chronicles of Narnia in the order they were meant to be read, so this book was not the first one I read. I enjoyed it that way because it gave more of a background. Although it is a kid's book this is a good book, and will be enjoyed by kids of all ages. The chapters of the Narnia series written later became a lot more preachy then the first few, but it is not bad enough to drive people away. That would have to be my only pet peeve about the stories. The storyline follows a bunch of kids who find themselves in another world by going through a magical wardrobe and find themselves drawn into an all out war of good versus evil. Definitely on the must read list.

 

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (June - July 2006)

    On the Observer and BBC lists - This is a trilogy if books where the first book (under the UK title) is on the Observer list. The story is a cross between The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, less in depth than Rings and less preachy than Narnia. The cross between the two stories that takes the best of both. Very quick and easy to read. The plot is about parallel universes and how a couple kids are destined to save us all. It is well written and a very fast read (about 1000 pages in about 2 weeks). In the end all the plot lines get wrapped up neatly, although I disagree with how it ended although there was no other way it could have gone. The story is very enthralling not letting me put it down the further I went into the story.

 

Dune by Frank Herbert (December 2006)

     On the BBC list - This is advertised as the first book of the bestselling science fiction series of all time, and I feel that is a deserved title. Although written back in the 60's this novel has themes that still ring true today. The story takes place during the distant future (at least 12,000 years) and the only concrete evidence that it even takes place in our universe is a quick mention of Earth in the appendix. It is about a 15 year old boy who turns out to be the prophet that a culture of desert dwellers has been anticipating. He then must not only to learn to live in the harsh environment but to use his gifts properly. I recommend this book because not only is it the precursor to all modern day sci-fi stories but it is riveting and extremely well written. The only problem is now I have to read the rest of the series.

 

Mystery

 

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (May, 2010)

    On the Sybervision list - I know that the movie was based off of the book but it had been so long ago since I saw it that I don't remember any of the plot points so it didn't end up ruining any of the book for me. The movie and a lot of similar rip-off movies have the same motif. They contain this old detective feel; a black and white movie with the main detective doing a voice-over for much of the movie. Well, that was how this book read. It was exactly like Humphrey Bogart was reading the book aloud to me in my head. I actually enjoyed it though. It was different from most of the other books I have read and it was a consistent page turner, you must know what was going to happen next. The story was not too complicated, your basic murder mystery. A who done it and why sort of ordeal. Overall, it was a quick and easy read and I feel that everyone should read this if they are in the mood for an old time detective story.

 

Historical Fiction

 

For Whom the Bell Tolls by  Ernest Hemingway (2001?)

    On the Sybervision list - My favorite of the Hemingway books and one of the few with a plot I easily remember years later. The story follows an American soldier in the Spanish Civil War. There are 4 main characters each with opposing viewpoints on war and morality, some for it, some against, but all in it. Its a story that focuses on the morality of war and if this (or any) war is worth fighting. Another on my list of must reread and definitely on my list of best books.

 

 

 

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (April - May 2006)

    On the Sybervision list - This book was absolutely enthralling. Having seen the play numerous times when I was younger I thought I would remember the story line but I did not. The story is two fold, one following the French Revolution following the fall of Napoleon at Waterloo, the second follows an ex-convict while he tries to redeem his life. I won't give away any details but the storyline does get a bit confusing at times but always keeps you guessing. Definitely on my must read list.

 

 

 

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (December 2007 - January 2008)

    On the Observer list - I rather enjoyed this story but I am not sure if it should go on my must read list. It is rather vulgar through most of the story but it tells a very good tale. The story seems to be partly about a black man living in a intolerant society. I read comments elsewhere that this is a work about living as a black person during the early 20th century but I do not think so. That plays a part of it but it seems to be just background for the real story. The deeper story is about a man learning about his roots (his people) and learning that family is more important than anything else. The flow of the story carries it along at a great pace and you never know what might happen next, but it all works. Ok, I will put this on my list but with a warning that this has very harsh language but it is not used randomly and fits into the story very well.

 

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (June-July 2016)

    On the Sybervision list - After having read several books on the list that were either partially or entirely a drag to read, it was a tremendous surprise to find out how much I really liked this book. The Three Musketeers is actually very easy to read and I swear, it feels as if it could have been written today. However, this is not one of those books that has a higher intellectual purpose. This is an action/adventure flick in book form. It goes from one action "scene" to the next all the way to the end. The story follows a man named D'Artanian, who, at the being of the story, was not a musketeer. Shortly he befriends three men who go by the names Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, which are the entitled Three Musketeers. The funny thing about this story though is that it really isn't about the three musketeers at all. They are supporting characters at best, and in the case of Porthos, he is even called out in the story as almost superfluous. Even with this, it doesn't detract from the story at all, and there are several instances where different character's fates were not what I was expecting at all (and if this was written today would have been completely different in my opinion). There were a couple of things that didn't work for me. The main one was the long winded section where Milady is describing her past and how she got to where she was at that point in the book. The problem is, all of that story was a lie, and the reader knew it was a lie while she was giving the story. So, it felt like a complete waste of the reader's time, which is already being taken up for a while with this >600 page book. But besides that, I ripped through this book faster than I have read a book in a long time. This is a must read that I'm adding onto my must-read list.

 

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (January 2016)

     On the Sybervision list - I am conflicted about how I feel about The Last of the Mohicans. In one respect, this book is beautifully written with prose that just oozes with descriptions giving the reader a wonderfully rich experience that isn't overly cumbersome to dive through. On the other hand, this book is horribly racist towards Native Americans, displaying them as "brutal savages" who don't know any better. It is possible to view this book as a product of its time. If this were written today, it wouldn't make it passed the editor's office before being rejected outright. However, at the time it was written, this is how people thought (I assume). It's not even all of the Native American's which are depicted as moral-less savages, but they are all given pretty short shrift. I enjoyed the book though, once I was able to get beyond that. The story is basically divided into two parts. The first part is about a group of "white people" trying to make it to Fort William McHenry on Lake George in New York with the help of the last two Mohicans. I know this area very well, since some of my family is from there and I've been to this fort. So this part of the story was fun for me. I could picture the scenes in my head. However, the story was also rather confusing at times, especially keeping all the people straight. Cooper calls the main characters and tribes by different names frequently and alternates with just the first names or just the last names to the point that it took me about 100 pages before I was certain who was who and how many people were actually in the story. The second part of the story they travel up north and I won't go into any more for the risk of spoiling it for someone who may be interested in reading it. I found the ending though very satisfactory and the author didn't pull any punches. Overall, even with the poor representation of the Native Americans, I think this was a very well written, good story. It plays more as a historical reenactment than a work of fiction, and I think that is what helped me get through the racist elements. So I feel that I can recommend this book.

 

Drama

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (October - November 2015)

    On the Sybervision, Observer, and BBC lists - Typically, when I am reading one of the books on this list, I am usually thinking of what I am going to say as a review, at least during the last quarter of the book. However, for To Kill a Mockingbird, I had to wait a couple of days until after I finished the book. I had burned through it so quickly, and I'm still having a hard time putting together by thoughts. The book follows the life of a young girl, Scout Finch, living during the depression in a small town in Alabama. As is true with most children, she is inquisitive and playful and the book follows her through her games and exploration of the world around her. She has a mysterious neighbor, who the children are bent on tormenting, even though they have never seen him. An interesting story point that does come to fruition by the end of the story. The main point of the book however is regarded as background material throughout the first portion of the book. This story element, like many in the book, slowly reveals itself through the natural course of storytelling. Scout's father, Atticus, is a lawyer and is charged with defending an African American man accused of raping another man's daughter. How the story manifests itself through the eyes of Scout is truly remarkable. Several times throughout the book I felt myself well up at the sheer impact of the story. I'm not sure if it is because I am father of a young girl and I can place myself in Atticus's shoes at times, or not. But this is truly an emotional novel about race relations during the Great Depression, and how far we had to go at the time. The writing couldn't have been easier to follow, and the descriptions were truly outstanding. Harper Lee's descriptions would often flow through the story, not being placed at any particular point, but would appear as natural eddies in the narrative.This resulted in me flying through the novel, reading half of it in one day.  This novel has easily ascended to become one of my favorite books of all time, well within my Top 5 favorites.

 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (August 2015)

    On the Sybervision and BBC lists - Often when I start out reading a book I set goals for myself, such as 10 pages a day, or a chapter a day. The purpose for this is to keep me on pace and finish in a reasonable amount of time. I had done that with The Grapes of Wrath as well, setting my pace at 20 pages per day. One of the first things I noticed about the book, though was how easy it was to read. Twenty pages would fly by and I would keep on going, partially due to the ease of reading the story but also because I had become enraptured with the characters and the story. My page goal almost became a moot point, with the story drawing me along. The story is about a family from Oklahoma during the 1930's dust bowl, who believe they will find better fortune in California after being run off their land due to unpayable debts. And that is it. The family moves around during the Great Depression trying to find work and dealing with the situations that are happening all around them. This story became a cultural and political wake up call to the US government about how bad conditions had become in the country. I don't believe Steinbeck set out to write a social commentary, mostly because the worst things that happened to many of the migrants happened to only to the auxiliary characters, or were isolated to portions of the text not following the main plot. In many instances the main characters thrived in situations where a normal person would have been dealt a bad blow. They managed to get into camps that just happened to have an opening, or find ideal jobs when others are getting half the pay they get. I feel Steinbeck played it safe with his primary characters in instances that today an author wouldn't. It was the ending that really got to me though. Reading through this whole novel, I started to wonder where it was going. I felt that the characters could go on in this fashion for a long time, but clearly the novel is drawing to a close. It is when I hit the final two pages that I realized where Steinbeck was going. The ending provides the quintessential essence that the new generation must support the old, because they have become unable to do it themselves. The layout of the story was interesting, with every other chapter focusing on the main characters and the other chapters giving a parallel story not focused on the main characters, but written as a commentary on the social problems at the time. Overall, I felt the writing was fantastic, which produced a smooth read through of a fantastically well written story. A high recommend. 

 

Don Quixote by Cervantes (January - June 2015)

    On the Sybervision, Norwegian, and the Observer lists - Whenever I hear anyone reference Don Quixote, it is frequently in regards to his fighting windmills, or riding around on an old horse with a fat squire on a donkey. Well, that is pretty much the first 20-50 pages of a 1,000 page long story. Preconceptions of the story do not really encompass the true breadth and depth of it. The story is about a man who feels he has been tasked with restoring knight errantry back to Spain and dupes a simple minded farmer to accompany him (Sancho Panza). When I first started to read the story, I felt like this was the story for me. It was serialized television long before television even existed. There were even phrases like "when we last left our heroes...". It seemed perfect for me. The translation I was reading was awesome as well (the Everyman edition). He translated it into basically a very readable sort of Old English with all of the poetry and songs maintaining their rhymes. I assume the context and feel of the story was maintained even though the wording needed to be changed. And my version extended the feel of the novel to the translation itself. The novel is written as if it is a Spanish translation of an older text (Arabic I believe), where my English translator even had notes added on top of his translation by an editor. It definitely gives it a story handed down through time aura about it. 


The problems I have with the story started pretty early though. I felt the story started to drag on really early in the first part. Adventures seemed to take forever, there were many side stories that added little (if anything) to the overall narrative, and I just felt the pace of the story slowing down dramatically. I felt I needed to trudge through most of the middle part of the novel until hitting the second part. When I really started to enjoy the story was during the last third of the novel, when the story became self referential. The first half of the novel was apparently published earlier and characters within the second half of the story had often either read it or had heard of it. There is even parts where a real life sequel to the first book was published by a different author and the characters in the book go out of their way to prove that book to be a false sequel. It's actually pretty meta. As for the ending, it felt very very rush. The ending could have been placed at any point in the book and still have fit, there was no real build up to it during the narrative. It would have been better if certain story points (mainly Dulcinea del Toboso) were even addressed during the ending instead of just dropped as if she never even mattered. Overall, I would say the story was actually quite a bit of fun when it started to pick up during the later half but an abridged version of the story may be the way to go for many people (although I personally refuse to go abridged). 

 

Tess of the D'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy (October 2014)

    On the Sybervision and the BBC lists - I am very conflicted with this book. First off, it is very well written and easy to read. This is a definite plus in my book. But rereading the summaries of the other Hardy books I had read so far (Far from the Madding Crowd and Return of the Native) I seemed to have similar feelings about them. All of the stories are well written but it is the story itself that I have problems with. First off, this is the best of the three Hardy books so far. But the problem is that Hardy likes to beat down the women in the book until the main character is almost not a character at all but just a plot device to drive the story forward. The story starts off with a peasant family by the name of Durbeyfield finding out they are actually descendants of the "great" house of D'Urberville. This gets them really nothing, however it propels the family forward into trying to get something from it and this is where the trouble starts. Tess is sent to another D'Urberville family thinking they are related, but in actuality they just took the name for prestige and she ends up getting pregnant out of wedlock. Her life is essentially ruined because of this but throughout the book there is a very interesting dynamic as many of the main characters are forced to face the harsh realities of Christian dogma and stigmas of the times. I found the way that the characters reacted to be rather truthful and interesting. Another problem I had with the pacing of the story would be that the plot of the story would be traveling along and then take a right turn when something would suddenly happen. It was often jarring throughout the story where the big events often felt rather forced. But part of these jarring instances was that the author would repeatedly bring back characters and ideas hinted at earlier in the book to play more pivotal parts later on. I did rather like that approach though. Overall, I would say that the story isn't "great" but it is a pretty good read and made me think a lot, which is not always a bad thing.

 

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (January - March 2013)

    On the Sybervision, Observer, and the BBC lists - This was one of the longer books I have read in a while and I did greatly enjoy it. I found myself wondering what was coming around every turn of the story. Although, after reading the "review" that was found at the end of my version I did notice some rather odd things about the story. Mainly, the first part of the book felt very very different from the rest of the book. The first part was rather dark and things kept getting worse and worse for David. Once that portion was past though, the book seemed to level out and although there were some bad times, there was nothing quite like that first part. Another thing that has me confused is on the title itself. The story is named after the primary character, David, who for one doesn't go by "David" for the majority of the story. Also, the story focuses more on the supporting characters than on David himself. I felt I was watching the lives of the secondary characters pass through rather than seeing the story change by any actions of David himself. The story itself was very well written and I was surprised that characters that seemed to be one-note characters would constantly reappear later in the story. And although many of them got tiresome, they eventually did redeem themselves by the end. The story itself is easy to follow and well written and I must say this was the best Dicken's story I have read. And although some of the character arc conclusions left a little to be desired at the end I felt that overall the story was well done. In the end, I would have to recommend people to pick it up.

 

The Call of the Wild by Jack London (September 2005)

    On the Sybervision and Observer lists - This book was fantastic. I highly recommend it to anyone especially dog lovers. It is gripping and it is intense, so much so it makes you want to read more and to top it all off, its short. Only about 80 pages. I read it in about 2 days and did not try that hard. It is about a dog, Buck, who was kidnapped from California and taken to Alaska to be a sled dog. The book is entirely through the dogs perspective but it does not have any of the cheesy "dog voices". Not once do you hear what they are saying but you get how he is feeling, especially among his interactions with other dogs and humans. Again I highly recommend, you won't be disappointed.

 

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (2004)

    On the Sybervision, Norwegian, and BBC lists - My favorite of the Dickens' novels and on my must read list. It follows the life of Pip, as he is saved by a convict and eventually grows up and finds love. At times the plot moves a little slowly and through a variety of ups and downs in the character's life. All in all the balance is well written and easy to follow.

 

 

 

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (July 2009)

    On the Sybervision and the Observer lists - A rather enjoyable book about a man who (unintentionally) sells his soul so that he may remain the Adonis that he is. Dorian Gray starts out pretty naive until he is told by a painter that he is the most beautiful person he has ever seen. After the portrait that he paints is complete, Dorian sees it and realizes that the painter is correct. At the same time he meets another man, Lord Henry, who says that it is a pity that he will lose his beauty at such a young age, prompting Dorian to sell his soul to maintain his current appearance.. Since that time Lord Henry had steadily corrupted Dorian, acting as a Satan character, leading him down a dark path. Fantastic book. The ending is perfect and unexpected. I recommend it to anyone interested in reading a fairly short enjoyable read. Wilde does go off on some tangents at times and some of Lord Henry's speeches are difficult to follow but enjoyable none-the-less.

 

Tragedy

 

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (April 2010)

     On the SybervisionNorwegian, Zane, and Observer lists - The first thing I noticed while reading this book was how well is flowed. One idea flowed into another, most of it without a break or pause. Seemingly unconnected thoughts were put together seamlessly in a string of narrative that I could only hope to replicate. I loved reading this book, especially after Canterbury Tales, since the language was so much easier to follow and I'm not trying to decipher what the author is saying, I'm just enjoying the words. I did have some problems with the book though. The first being the very weak female characters, especially the main character. She seemed mostly to be reacting to events in her life and not being proactive in any of her choices. Nothing she did was really in response to what she wanted and more in response to what someone else wanted. And her child was the most useless of characters, almost inconsequential for 99% of the story. So, even though it did have some weak points, it was a marvelously written story and I would definitely recommend this as a must read.

 

The Stranger by Albert Camus (October 2007)

    On the Norwegian List - This is a very short book and easy to read. I read it in just a couple of hours, but that does not mean it cannot be a meaningful book. The story is set in first person narrative about a man who is so self absorbed that he feels little or no emotion through everything that happens to him and does not realize most of the life that is passing him by. The book starts off with his mother's death, that he never shows remorse for, and that is one of the reasons for his downfall at the end. The main character is led to murder another man and his character is the deciding factor in his innocence. He eventually realizes what he has been like but by then it is too late. The book is written in the "American" style that I particularly enjoy. Short, crisp sentences that are easy to read and easy to understand. I am going to put this on my must read list because not only is it enjoyable, it also provides a pretty good life lesson.

 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (May 2006)

   One of the 2 on all 4 of the 100 lists - A very weird book, not at all what I thought it would be. I considered this to be what is termed "chic lit" (as seen on Jeopardy). I couldn't have been more off. This is one of the most depressing books I have read yet. It is more of how Satan himself can corrupt people in retched beings but in the end sometimes they pull through. Most of the story takes place as a flashback of one of the former housekeepers. It is a little confusing and un-enjoyable at first because of the erudite language she used, but after a few chapters I got used to it. After the flashback it shows an orphaned child, Heathcliff, brought back to the house who is shunned by all, who eventually takes over everything. Since most of this is known at the start of the story, it is interesting to see how everything comes about and to see how two separate families who differ in everything (intelligence, strength, and health intermingle). On my must read and it should be on yours.

 

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky (1999)

    On the Norwegian, Sybervision, and BBC lists - Another book on my must read list. The story follows a man who feels he can commit the "perfect murder" then his resulting turmoil after the fact. The story was excellently written showing exactly how the main character felt through his entire ordeal. My only problem with the story is the epilogue because it was added afterwards. The only reason it was even in the story was because the publishers felt the story was not complete and they needed closure. It is obvious that the chapter was an afterthought and I feel it should not have been written but that is a little late now.

 

 

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (April 2012)

    On the Sybervision list - Before I started this book, I was expecting something in "Old English" similar to Beowulf and Shakespeare, neither of which I really enjoy all that much. This was much different though. It is written in the Old English style but in such a way that it it understandable for the most part. I admit I did have a little difficulty with the beginning though. This was the fastest read I have had on my list to date and I can't imagine anything taking less time. I read this in about 20 minutes and while I was reading it I found that I needed to say the words aloud to better understand them. This started as mumbling the words and eventually with my proudly stating all of the lines with gusto. Simply, the story was about a mariner who kills an albatross while sailing around, dooming all of his shipmates. I found the story very well written with a good moral; don't bite the hand that feeds you. A definite recommend.

 

Political Commentary

 

Animal Farm by George Orwell (1996ish, February 2007)

   On the BBC list - Pretty much my original comments stand on this novel. I find it fantastic and insightful, especially knowing what I know now about communist Russia and society as a whole. The book is very fast paced (I read it in about 2 hours) and its fun to read. It is like read a children's book which has undergone a harsh and realistic viewpoint. In essence the story is about a group of farm animals that find their Master has gone over the line one to many times and they take over the farm. They run the farm well as equals at first but then dissension starts to appear when the two "leaders" start to fight and one ousts the other out of the farm. Orwell's portrayal of communistic society is chilling and he makes it understandable both to the point of how this can happen and why people let it happen. The concept of the book can be illustrated in these famous lines near the end: All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others. Definitely on the must read list.

 

1984 by George Orwell (February-March 2007)

    On the Norwegian, Observer, and BBC lists - I can understand why this is one 3 out of the 4 lists. It is a very powerful novel dealing with a totalitarian society and how one might survive in that society. The problem I had with this book was the utter hopelessness of it. Through every page, every paragraph of the book you had a hope that this may end all right and that everything will be right in the world again. But after all is said and done, you knew that it wouldn't. A very depressing book but a definite must read, if only to show and warn people just might be possible. Because you never know.

 

Children's

 

Watership Down by Richard Adams (April - September, 2014)

     On the BBC book list - I had read Watership Down over a six month period to my daughter, reading about 4-8 pages a few nights a week. It is a long book to read like that but overall the story was straightforward enough that I was able to do this. There were not a lot of twists and turns that would require extensive knowledge of previous parts of the book to make sense of the ending. In general, the story follows a group of rabbits that leave their home due to the psychic feelings of one of the rabbits. They eventually make their way to a new home but realize that they don't have any female rabbits and need to recruit some of them as well. Although, this is a simple story it is by no means bad. I really loved the way it is written. The descriptions given throughout the story are fantastic and you really get to feel for these rabbits with their struggles. The story is gripping and you really do not know who is going to live and who is going to die. How might they get out of a certain situation? And even though many things that happened would be out of the ordinary in a rabbit's world, the author set it up so well that it made sense in the story. I enjoyed how the author treated the different species as well. Mostly, if an animal was a different species the language would appear broken to the rabbits since that was not their native tongue. It really isolated them from the rest of the animal kingdom but also set up some opportunities for these rabbits that other rabbit groups would not have thought of. Overall, this story is often referred to as a children's book, probably because it is written at a junior high level and also, it is about rabbits. I would not pigeon hole it, though. This is probably one of the best books I have read in the last few years, and if I was not reading it with my daughter, I probably would have finished it within a few days. A definite recommend.

 

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (January - February 2013)

     On the BBC book list - I was hesitant initially about The Princess Diaries because the last few children's books I have read on this list have really fallen flat for me (I'm looking at you Jacqueline Wilson). But I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The entire time reading it I kept picturing Anne Hathaway, since she was the one who portrayed the princess in the movie, but I have never actually seen the movie myself. The premise of the book is that this high school freshman girl refuses to talk out her feelings, so she is told by her mother to keep a diary, which is what the reader is actually reading. Along the way she learns that she is actually a princess of this small country no one has ever heard of (because it is made up). Although it could have turned out bad, the story actually works. I found myself feeling for the characters and actually enjoying it. You want to root for the underdog (the best friends brother) the entire time and you really believe that this is a story that could actually have taken place. This is one of the few books I have read with my daughter where I wanted to go find out what happens later (of which I could pick up the sequel books if I so chose). Overall, I liked the writing style and it is a rather fun book to read, I recommend it.

 

 

The Story Of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson (June 2012)

     On the BBC book list - Following the trend of reading the children's books on the list with Annabelle we have the first of the Jacqueline Wilson books on the list (of which there are 4). This book is about a girl who lives in an orphanage waiting for a family to foster her. It is told in the first person as a journal that Tracy (the main character) is writing. Actually, I found this book to be very very good in the context of a children's book. It shows that children in orphanages are not all broken and that it hardens children to the reality in which they live. They are often rude, aggressive, and troubled not because they are bad children but because the situations make them that way and even with those problems they are still good kids. This book is an alternative take on what you would expect from the given situation and not one you would expect. Her mother abandoned her after the mother's boyfriend beat Tracy, hence the reason she is in the orphanage. She was fostered by 2 homes, beaten by one and the other had their own baby, so she had to leave. Based on this premise you would expect something different than what is presented in the story, but you don't. You get a heartfelt story about a girl who misses her mom and understands that sometimes life sucks. But you take what you can out of it. A definite recommend for the children's books.

 

 

Holes by Louis Sachar (December 2010)

     On the BBC book list - I had a preconceived notion about this book because I saw the movie a few years ago and rather enjoyed it. This made me feel like the book was likely to be rather enjoyable as well, and I was right. The movie followed the book rather closely, but it still had been long enough since I saw it that not everything was as obvious to me while I was reading through it. The story is well paced, often bouncing back and forth between the history of the book to the current time, always making it clear what time you were in. My favorite thing about the book is there wasn't one wasted part of the story. Anything mentioned in the historical context actually came back up in the present context, even when you wouldn't have thought of it. So, I would list this as one of my must reads because not only is it a fun story, I feel it was very well written and actually displays a very good moral lesson.   

 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (September - October 2010)

     On the BBC book list - For a children's book this was not what I was expecting. I was expecting more of the same from what I have read in my daughter's other books including some of the ones on this list but this book was actually very good. The lessons that the story espouses we remarkably poignant. Demonstrating that children are not a product of their birth but more a product of their upbringing. And that children who seem completely lost to the point that nobody could care for them, somebody still might and bring that child back from the brink to live a normal, happy, and fulfilling childhood. I would have to recommend this to any parent and child as a lesson in how to view life. Although the parts about the "Magic" did seem a bit too preachy for my taste, it did not get that bad and/or cheesy.

 

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (August 2010)

    On the BBC and the Observer book lists - In one word, bizarre. This is the first time I have read the book, but I have seen both the Disney version and the Tim Burton version and both of them made more sense than this book. As my friend put it, that must have been some good opium he was on when he wrote this. The story jumps around randomly and it goes from one situation seemingly into an entirely different situation with no rhyme or reason to why. But when you think about it, it makes sense. This is a story about a dream. But it is also a story as described by a child. So you have a dream where things have a habit of just happening in the words of a child who often will jump around and make up things that don't really make any sense, all woven into this magical land where nothing makes sense and things just happen. Although I was greatly dumbstruck at first, the story began to grow on me. Nothing really happened in the story by the end but aren't most dreams are like that. At one point, you just wake up. The book is very well written. It just flowed as I read it, with each sentence and each section flowing into the next. Although you knew the situations didn't fit together the narrative was never jarring between different point. The sentences weren't choppy and it made for a rather enjoyable read to see what would happen next. So I will place this on my to read list, mostly due to the fun that reading the book could instill on a child or an adult who wonders what it is like to think like a child.

 

Matilda by Roald Dahl (July 2010)

    On the BBC list - I rather enjoyed this book a lot (Annabelle and I did). I found this to the best of the Dahl books that were on my list. The story was nice and linear as opposed to several of his other books which seemed to be more disjointed jumping around. The characters were also some of his best and actually made you care about what happened to some of them. A sign of a good book (where you actually care about the people). I loved how, at the end, the story line tied up very neatly and how aspects of people's personalities came back in a rather surprising (at least to me) way. The story is about an extremely intelligent 4-5 year old girl named Matilda. Although she happens to live in a house where her parents don't think anything is possible out of a girl and her school's headmistress hates children. So life kind of sucks. But she has a teacher who goes to bat for her and in return Matilda not only helps the teacher out of a bad situation but helps herself as well. The morals of the story are great and at many points in the book I actually got rather upset at several of the characters. Another great thing about this book and most of Dahl's works are the use of larger words. Words you wouldn't typically find in children's books. He uses them in such a way that they fit into the context of the story and the person is able to understand the meaning of the words, just by the context. No additional sentence explaining the definition of the word. Another Dahl book on my list, and actually I think it should be ranked higher than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

 

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (June 2010)

    On the BBC list - So far my favorite of Dahl's works. Unlike his other works which seemed rather jumpy and more like many mini stories with a common theme, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a cohesive story with great characterization and a fun read. It was also interesting to compare the two movie versions on the book with the book since both of them had their parts where they followed the story very closely then they both diverged from the story rather a lot, but usually in different places. A definite must read on my list.

 

 

 

Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne (July 2006)

     On the BBC list - This is on the list mostly because of the movies I'm sure, but it is really good none-the-less. The way the book is set up, is each chapter contains a different adventure with Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Woods. The unique language that AA Milne uses would be considered poor in most cases but he does it in such a comedic way that it works. The best stories in the book were the first few which were shorter than the rest. The longer the stories got the more the language didn't seem to work but overall I would recommend this book.

 

Non-Fiction

 

Walden by Henry David Thoreau (November - December 2006)

     On the Sybervision list - When I started this book I was expecting a rather long, dry, dull book, but I was pleasantly surprised. This is listed as a philosophy book but it reminds me much more of an amateur scientist, exploring the world and describing what he sees. The language it poetic and enjoyable to read. He often will comment on aspects of society that still are prevalent, including helping the needy and living for money. The premise of the book is he wanted to live outside of society with no reliance on it and he succeeded, for the most part. I feel that for an educational experience this book should definitely be on everyone's list.