Amy Beth

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review: The Great Gatsby

One of the categories for the 2015 Reading Challenge was “a book you should have read in high school.” The one that immediately jumped to mind in this category was The Great Gatsby.

Greatgatsby

My junior American lit class had The Great Gatsby on the list of books to study, but for some reason the teacher never got around to it in the schedule. I’m not saying I was bitter. But I may have been (big nerd here). So I used this reading challenge as the perfect opportunity to rectify that gaping hole in my knowledge of great American classics and settled down with The Great Gatsby. And the verdict is: I understand why it’s a great American classic, I’m glad I read it, but I can’t say I loved it.

Now, This post isn’t a review. Everyone knows that The Great Gatsby is a good book. It is well written. It has well developed characters. It has important things to say. There’s a reason it’s a book that is studied in high schools and colleges across the country. Instead I’m going to give you more of what it made me think and feel.

The main reason I didn’t really enjoy it was that it’s just so sad. But not in the cathartic, heartache, makes you cry while reading it kind of way. More in the depressing, makes you think about how our world is so hopeless and lost and pointless kind of way. It’s a story of the American dream, and how pursuing it doesn’t really get you any closer to living the dream. You may get rich. You may get famous. You may have all the worldly possessions you could hope for. You may think that all these things will make people love you. But in the end you’ll never feel like it’s enough and you’ll die alone. See? Sad.

But that’s also why it’s a classic. Even though it was written about 1920’s America, the culture it’s addressing and the people it is about are living with us today in 2015. The messages saying that everyone should try to be rich and beautiful and popular are swirling around us everyday. But how many people that appear to be happy and successful are really just dead inside? Even though I don’t consider myself to be taken in by the trappings of money and power, this book did make me think about how I am affected by this culture as a whole. In what subtle ways is my view colored by what the world tells me is good? Are the things I am pursuing really worthwhile, or are they just things that I think will make me look better or more impressive to others? It’s a lot to think on, and something that has come up in a lot of my recent reading, not just in The Great Gatsby. But I think The Great Gatsby added a important layer to my personal reflections on this topic. And I’m kind of glad this is a book I read as an adult rather than just a teenager. So I guess I can forgive my junior English teacher for leaving this off the schedule now.

Gatsby movie

And with not much of a segue, I would also recommend watching the movie version of The Great Gatsby that came out a few years ago starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I had wanted to see it when it came out, but felt like I needed to read the book first, so once I finished we had a movie night at home and watched it. I thought it was very well done and true to the book. The director’s style is pretty over-the-top, but over-the-top works well with this story. I think a lot of his artistic choices really helped solidify the connections between Gatsby’s story and our world today.

So there you have it. Thoughts on The Great Gatsby, a book most of you have probably already read and don’t plan on reading again. But that’s ok. You can still just watch the movie and still have some food for thought now that you’re a grown up.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

For our March pick for the 2015 Reading Challenge, Chris and I decided to read a book from the category “a book published this year.” I chose A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.

Adarkershadeofmagic

I chose this book because generally speaking I love a good fantasy. Magic, adventure, usually a bit of mystery and suspense. Many of my favorite books of all time are fantasies. But I think it’s important to note that they are all children’s fantasies. I’m often a little wary of more grown up books in this genre because I feel like they tend to include a lot of violence, or sex, or both. I’m not usually interested in including too much of those subjects in my brain space. It’s precious space.

With that said, I recommend A Darker Shade of Magic with reservations. It’s a pretty fascinating story. Four Londons, all with varying shades of magic. One has been consumed and lost to the power of magic, one tries to control magic (and the rest of the city) through force, one enjoys a magic that is in harmony and at peace, and the other has lost all traces of magic. The doors between these worlds were closed long ago and now only a few people are born with enough magical ability to make the journey between worlds. The protagonist of the story, Kell, is one of those rare people. He serves as a courier between the royal families of each London, and the action of the story centers around what happens when a dangerous item from the lost London is allowed to slip through into the other worlds.

Like I said, it’s a fascinating story and I found it hard to put down. I stayed up too late several evenings in a row while reading this. However, it is pretty violent at times. Lots of blood and slashing of throats and bodies being possessed by evil magic and what not. My only other criticism of the book is that I feel like there were several instances where the author made mention of a detail that felt like it was going to be important to the rest of the story, but ended up going nowhere. It was a little frustrating because I could see where the story could go with the detail, and it would have been pretty interesting, but instead it was just dropped. I suppose those loose ends could be leaving the door open for a sequel, but it’s my understanding that it was not published with that in mind. As it was, it just felt a little sloppy.

Overall though it was an enjoyable book, and I’ve officially read as many books as I read in all of last year, so that’s a victory! We’ll be taking a break from the challenge in April so Chris can catch up on his March pick. (The recent biography of Steve Jobs, which turned out to be rather huge.) I have a few books in mind that I might read as extras though, so I’ll be sure to give a report if I do!


2015 Reading Challenge Reviews

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Allthelightwecannotsee

I have to say, I started the 2015 Reading Challenge with a good one. Chris and I chose “a book that is currently on the best-seller list” as the first category of the challenge to complete. I went with All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I had no great expectations for it. It was just one of the few books on the list that didn’t seem to center on a murder or crime, so that’s what I picked.

The story is set in Europe during WWII and is told from the perspectives of two different characters – children really – who come of age during the height of WWII. The first is a blind French girl who flees Paris during the Nazi invasion with her father who may or may not be in possession of a cursed diamond. The second is a German orphan boy who escapes his fate of working in the coal mines when his gift at working with radios and mechanics awards him a spot at a prestigious school for the Hitler Youth.

The 500 some pages in the book go by quickly. It’s an easy read, but definitely not fluff. The chapters are short and go back and forth between the girl and the boy, the beginning of the war and the end. It was fascinating to watch the story unfold and reveal how these two separate lives would intersect.

At one point near the end of the book I told Chris that either there was going to be some kind of miracle, or everyone was going to die. It turned out to have some of both. There was a bit of the miraculous. There was a bit of the sad. Some people lived and some people died. Everyone came out of the war with some scars. But many also learned how very strong they could be.

If you’re looking for a book to read, I would definitely recommend this one.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 Reading Challenge

There was a time in my life when I could call myself a bookworm with no reservations. I’m pretty sure I spent more time reading than just about any other activity – eating, sleeping, having conversations…

But that time has passed and the number of books I’ve read in the past 5 years or so has been in the abysmal range of less than 10. This is something I would like to change in my life.

2015 Reading Challenge

Enter the 2015 reading challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy. The challenge is to read 12 books in 12 different categories in 12 months. That means a book a month. IT SHOULD BE TOTALLY DOABLE. It’s really not a lot of books for one year. But if I complete the challenge I will have read about six times as many books as last year.

Since I’ve been out of the reading loop for so long, one of the problems I have when I actually want to sit down and read is picking a book to start with. There are so many options! And since I know in the back of my mind that this could very well be the only book I read all year I put a lot of pressure on myself to pick one worth my time. But of course you don’t know if a book is good or not until you’ve read it. So I become paralyzed in the book store and walk out empty handed. I’m hoping the categories in this reading challenge will help get me over that hurdle. They are broad enough to give plenty of choice, but they offer some nice boundaries to keep things from getting overwhelming. I have a feeling these categories will encourage me to branch out a try some books that I wouldn’t otherwise, so I’m excited about that too!

What’s even more fun is my husband is planning to do the challenge too! We won’t be reading the same books, but we plan to read within the same category each month. And I suppose we’ll compare notes and encourage each other to read and other such helpful things.

This month we’re starting with the category “a book that’s currently on the bestseller list.” I plan on reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Allthelightwecannotsee

The hubs is going to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Unlikelypilgramage

I’ll report back at the end of the month and let you know what I thought!

P.S. Even though I haven’t read much recently, there are still a lot of books that hold a dear place in my heart. Here are my 10 favorite books of all time.