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Metamorphoses

Written by Neal on September 19th, 2008

Title: Metamorphoses
Author: Ovid
Year: circa 8 A.D.

Of bodies chang’d to various forms, I sing:
Ye Gods, from whom these miracles did spring…

The message that Ovid is trying explain in his Metamorphoses can be summarized in two words: omnia mutantur, ‘everything changes.’ It is one of Ovid most famous works, and is a true classic that has stood the test of time.

Many of the tales told in the book are very well known. There in the story of Daedalus and Icarus, Narcissus and Phaethon to name a few. Ovid takes these myths and uses them to tell his tale. Having a basic understanding of Greek and Roman myth will definitely help a lot in understanding Ovid’s points.

This book is not a light read! I found some of the tales hard to understand, since I did not have a basic idea of how they were supposed to go. For these sections, I often had to read the verse multiple times. The version might have contributed to the problem since it is written in rhyme. If you want to see if you will enjoy reading and epic, read Dante’s Inferno first. If you can’t handle that one you won’t even finish Metamorphoses.

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The Mayor of Casterbridge

Written by Neal on September 18th, 2008

Title: The Mayor of Casterbridge
Author: Thomas Hardy
Year: 1886

‘For my part, I don’t see why men who have got wives and don’t want’em shouldn’t get rid of’em as these gipsy fellows do their old horses.’

What a unique beginning! The first chapter of the book takes place around 18 years before the rest of the book. It tells a very important story that affects the rest of the novel, in fact without this event there would be no novel.

Essentially this is a book of a man falling in and out of love. It also tells how easy it is to fall into and out of a fortune and favour in society. The novel can also be looked at as a cautionary tale about temperance and alcohol consumption.

I found it very hard to sympathize with the main character. All of his misfortune is largely self-inflicted, with quite a bit of bad luck. Hardy spends most of the novel attacking Henchard’s character, and then expects the reader to feel sorry for him in the last few chapters of the book. Other than my complete ambivalence to the fate of the main character, I found this book an easy read that is neither too long nor too short.

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Ulysses

Written by Neal on September 17th, 2008

Title: Ulysses
Author: James Joyce
Year: 1922

Davy Byrne smileyawnednodded all in one: – liiiiichaaaaaach!

That’s right, no stars! Boy did this book take me a long time to read. To be fair, I was really busy at work and my leisure reading time dropped significantly. I can safely say however, that this novel almost stopped me from reading.

I would describe the plot, but there really isn’t one. The description and the detail of the novel are amazing. Joyce is able to create visual imagery that is outstanding. I did find the novel difficult to read. Sometimes the story was some complex and the passages so heavy that I had to read them twice. I often found myself drifting to sleep after a few pages of reading, which almost never happens.

As you can probably tell from the tone above, I did not really enjoy this novel. I think that it is a novel written for critics, not readers. If you like to critique books, or you are an English Major, you will enjoy this book. If not, you probably won’t.

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The Lost World

Written by Neal on September 16th, 2008

Title: The Lost World
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Year: 1912

I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.

This a quaint little book. It is short (it took me a day to read), but it is pleasurable none the less.

The narrator is a journalist, E.D. Malone, who takes part in a fantastical journey to the depth of South America. He partakes in this expedition to impress a girl, but in it he grows as a man. His little troop comes upon a plateau that has been left in time, so much so that dinosaurs still roam around freely.

While the book is too short to develop the characters to any depth, the author is intelligent enough to only introduce four main characters. It is a delightful romp through a fantastical world that is described wonderfully. I recommend this read to anyone with a little time not wanting to tax themselves with a heavy plot.

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The Great Gatsby

Written by Neal on September 15th, 2008

Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Year: 1926

It’s the funniest thing Old Sport…

This book is very short (140 pages). It is narrated by a third party observer, Carraway, who observes the events that happen between Gatsby, Tom and Daisy. Gatsby is a self-made millionaire who is deeply enamoured with Daisy.

This book is set in the 1920’s and shows the extravagance of that age. The parties that Gatsby throws reflect the fast pace industry and wealth of America at the time. There is also a cynical overtone to the book which culminates at Gatsby’s fate.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and I recommend that you read it.

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Gulliver’s Travels

Written by Neal on September 14th, 2008

Title: Gulliver’s Travels
Author: Jonathan Swift
Year: 1726

When bending mine eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human creature noy six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands, and a quiver at his back

This tale is also very well known to most people. An abridged version can usually be found being told to children throughout the world.

Most people know about Lilliput and Brobdingnag, but these are only half the novel. Gulliver also spends time in Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and the country of the Houyhnhnms.

I really enjoyed the parts of the book where Swift is clearly attacking society and its values. There is a particularity good chapter where he blasts lawyers and there profession. This novel is a light read, even the full version, but it is enjoyable and fun none the less.

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A Farewell to Arms

Written by Neal on September 13th, 2008

Title: A Farewell to Arms
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Year: 1929

‘What do you think of the war really?’, I asked.
‘I think that it is stupid’

What is with Hemingway and his depressing endings?

The basic plot of the story is an American, Lieutenant Frederick Henry, fighting for the Italians against the Austrians in World War 1. It is a story of tragic fatalism where the entire novel foreshadows the events of its ultimate conclusion. The novel brings us through Fred’s pivotal events of his wartime experience. He becomes injured early on, finds love, recovers and eventually abandons the war altogether.

Overall I find Hemingway to be an enjoyable read. I find his prose clean and succinct. This book is probable his best.

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For Whom the Bell Tolls

Written by Neal on September 12th, 2008

Title: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Year: 1941

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a
Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse,
as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor
of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans
death diminishes me, because I am in-
volved in Mankinde; And therefore
never send to know for
bell tolls; It
tolls for thee.

I really like this book. For the most part, it tells of the brutality of oppression and war. It also attacks the morality and actions of both sides of the war. I have a particular sympathy for the book, since I visited the Spanish Civil War exhibit at the Imperial War Museum. Hemingway was a journalist for the Americans, and spent some time in Spain during the war.

It tells of a soldier, Robert Jordan, who is fighting for the republic in the Spanish Civil War. It takes place over two days, and is filled with suspense, action, love, and politics.

Sometimes, Hemingway romanticizes the war and Jordan’s place in it. But most of the time the war and its perils are brutal and clear. I defiantly recommend anyone to read the book. Word of caution: it might be a little heavy for younger readers.

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Don Quixoté

Written by Neal on September 11th, 2008

Title: Don Quixoté
Author: Miguel de cSaavdra
Year: 1605

If in case the gentlemen should want to know who the valiant hero is who put them to flight, your worship may tell them, that he is the famous Don Quixoté de la Mancha, otherwise surnamed the knight of the rueful countenance.’

What is there to say about this novel? From the painful first chapters, to the excellent ending it is a most unique read. The author continually makes mistakes in his tale, and sometimes is completely diverted from telling the real story.

This is the tale of a haphazard knight-errant and his loyal squire. The main issue with the knight is that he is completely mad when it comes to chivalry. In all other regards, he is perfectly sane and even wise. There is quite a bit of comedy surrounding his adventures, or more accurately his misadventures.

This novel is pretty long. It drags in some sections, and some of the areas that are supposed to be humorous are just pathetic. There are quite a few blaring mistakes in the novel that adds to the overall tone of the tale. It is also easy to see the progression of the author throughout the book, as he moves from an inexperienced to a professional tale-weaver. Overall, a good read but I did not find it as good as I was expecting.

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The Divine Comedy

Written by Neal on September 10th, 2008

Title: The Divine Comedy
Author: Danté
Year: circa 1300 A.D.

Then Beatrice regarded me with eyes
So full of sparkling love and so divine,
That all my strength was overwhelmed and fled,
And I with downcast eyes was almost lost.

This book is not light reading. It is a long poem, where the poet, Danté, is guided through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise in order to save his soul. Since it is written in prose, it does not rhyme, but even when it is translated into modern English, the reading is sometimes heavy, requiring a few pass-throughs to absorb.

There are a lot of mythical and religious overtones to this poem. The imagery is very vivid, and Danté is an exceptional storyteller. There is no doubt about this being a classic!

I recommend this book if you enjoy such works as The Iliad or The Aeneid. It is also important to get a good version, so that you can understand everything that Danté is trying to convey. In the version that I read, there are a lot of endnotes explaining some of the more obscure references and imagery.

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