Book review: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 1961
Source: Purchased (twice)

The short story, Franny, takes place in an unnamed college town and tells the tale of an undergraduate who is becoming disenchanted with the selfishness and inauthenticity she perceives all around her.

The novella, Zooey, is named for Zooey Glass, the second-youngest member of the Glass family. As his younger sister, Franny, suffers a spiritual and existential breakdown in her parents’ Manhattan living room — leaving Bessie, her mother, deeply concerned — Zooey comes to her aid, offering what he thinks is brotherly love, understanding, and words of sage advice.

When I was in high school, this guy I was kind of/sort of friends with gave me a list of 25 books everyone needs to read before they turn 25. I checked a lot of them out from the library and bought a bunch of the others. Franny and Zooey was one of those that I bought, but I’ve moved a lot since I graduated from high school and it got lost somewhere. Over the summer, I bought myself another copy so that I could finally take it off my TBR.

I can tell you one thing — I would have hated this book (which is really two separate yet connected stories) if I’d read it in high school. Luckily, my reading tastes as an adult are a bit different. I enjoyed Franny, but Zooey did leave a bit to be desired. I think my biggest problem with Zooey is that I was so annoyed with him that I couldn’t bring myself to read more than a few pages at a time. I finished Franny in about 45 minutes. Zooey took me four days.

After loving my reread of The Catcher in the Rye so much, I kind of expected to love Franny and Zooey more. It was still a good story, just not quite as good as I’d hoped.

#killingthetbr: eleven(ish) years on shelf

Have you read Franny and (or) Zooey? Do you like to read classics?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: 1959
Source: Purchased

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

A courtesan, a pilgrim, a princess, and a bullfighter. Hill House has surely never seen our like.

I bought this book shortly after I finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle. As usual, it took me a little while to actually get around to reading it, but my goodness, was it worth it. I don’t really do well with spooky things, as we’ve previously established, and I don’t tend to make great decisions about when to read spooky things, as we’ve also previously established. I read this book while alone in my friend’s house and I jumped at every tiny noise.

So, I put a sticky note in this book every time I freaked out. The comments I put on each sticky note range from “WHAT” to “OMG WHY” to “WHAT THE FUCK” to “oh GOD.” I also put a sticky note in this book every time I laughed or smiled, and there are almost as many of those stickies are there are spooky ones. I didn’t expect to have nearly this much fun with a horror novel, but I did.

I’m going to stop the review here to avoid accidentally spoiling anything. Four stars because I didn’t have trouble putting it down (it took me four days to read 182 pages), but I really love Shirley Jackson’s writing.

#mm18: don’t turn out the light

Have you read The Haunting of Hill House? What’s your favorite spooky book?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: 1962
Source: Borrowed
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

I was in the library picking up my copy of Godsgrave when I saw a whole entire pile of We Have Always Lived in the Castles by the door. It was a little odd, but I wasn’t going to say anything. I ended up checking out a copy along with Godsgrave and then reading it (mostly) on a plane. And what can I say, I usually end up really liking books that I read on planes.

This was my first book by Shirley Jackson, and as soon as I finished, I dragged my best friend to a bookstore with me where I almost bought The Haunting of Hill House before I realized that I literally did not have any room left in my suitcase. It’s okay, though, because I bought it once I got back to New Jersey.

I’m not really sure what I can say about this book other than it’s creepy and I liked it. I don’t really ever read books like this, but I think I might start now?

#mm18: vacation reads

Have you read We Have Always Lived in the Castle? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: TBDAmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: July 16, 1951
Source: Purchased

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of teenage angst and rebellion was first published in 1951. The novel was included on Time‘s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. It was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the court for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and in the 1950’s and 60’s it was the novel that every teenage boy wants to read.

Sometimes I think it’s easier to write a negative review than it is to write a positive one. Don’t even get me started on a book I hated. I can talk for hours about everything that’s wrong with a book, but when it comes to a book I loved, I almost always draw a blank. I mean, how am I supposed to put into words everything that I loved about this book? I’ve reviewed close to 600 books over the years, but today, I seem to have forgotten how.

Maybe I should start by saying that I last read this book back in (probably) 2006 when I was a teenager with bad taste. I say “a teenager with bad taste” because, let’s be honest, I thought Twilight was the best thing I’d ever read and I was unimpressed with this book. Thankfully, Daniel asked me if I wanted to do a buddy re-read of The Catcher in the Rye and I said yes. It ended up being a great decision all around. I’d like to issue a formal apology to J.D. Salinger for all of the years I spent thinking I didn’t really like this book. I was wrong.

Why do I love Holden so much? I don’t remember thinking anything about him the first time, but he’s pretty much my favorite literary character ever right now. I love his sarcasm, I love his exaggerations, and I love how honest he is. I love how much he loves his sister. I love how he talks about Jane. I love how he sits down with a couple nuns in a train station and discusses Romeo and Juliet. All I want is to give him a hug and tell him that everything is going to be okay.

Some quotes: 

  • “I’m pretty sure he yelled ‘Good luck!’ at me. I hope not. I hope to hell not. I’d never yell ‘Good luck!’ at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it.”
  • “He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you.”
  • “What I think is, you’re supposed to leave somebody alone if he’s at least being interesting and he’s getting all excited about something. I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It’s nice.”
  • “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
  • “People are mostly hot to have a discussion when you’re not.”
  • “Don’t tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

I don’t think there’s actually anything about this book that I didn’t like.

Have you read The Catcher in the Rye? Do you love it or hate it?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book review: Sula by Toni Morrison

Goodreads   Amazon

Being good to somebody is just like being mean to somebody. Risky. You don’t get nothing for it.

It’s the early 20th century in The Bottom, and Nel and Sula are the best friends that have ever lived. They’ve grown up together, sharing all the same experiences, until Sula decides to head off to college while Nel decides to stay in The Bottom and start a family.  The two women reunite later in life, only to suffer a great betrayal due to Sula’s lack of understanding even the most basic of human decency.

I know that – objectively speaking – this book is very well-written.  I know that Morrison has a way with words that many authors can only hope to imitate.  I know that her books are American classics.  (I also know that she used to live a mere 1.2 miles from where I currently live, and that made me want to like her writing even more.)  But this book didn’t make me feel anything aside from mild discomfort.

Sula feels like a book you’d read in a college lit class, followed by an in-depth analysis of the imagery and actions of the characters.  It doesn’t feel like the kind of book you read as you wait to eat a holiday dinner with your boyfriend’s parents.  Unfortunately, that’s the exact context in which I finished this book, and that might contribute to me feeling less than thrilled with it.

While the plot is certainly interesting, the characters (particularly Sula) were so awful that I just didn’t want to read anything more about the horrors in their lives.  A surprising amount of terrible things happen in the 175 pages of this book, some of which I’m sure will stick with me for years to come.

And, as a feminist, I really want to understand Sula.  I really want to know just what she got out of sleeping with nearly every married man in town.  I want to find some point to it other than her being a generally horrible person.  And I can’t.  Because even Sula doesn’t have a good reason for it.  It makes her feel bad, so she does it?

I’ve read a lot of review of this book, both positive and negative, trying to really understand what I was supposed to get out of it.  I’m still not really sure.  So I’ve given it three stars, mostly for the writing, since the plot seems to have gone over my head.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

Book review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Goodreads   Amazon   Project Gutenberg

Having recently finished Marissa Meyer’s Heartless, I thought it was only fitting that I read the book that inspired it: the original Alice in Wonderland. It was a plus that it fit one of my 2016 reading challenge prompts, “a book that’s at least 100 years older than you.”

Of course, I probably read Alice in Wonderland when I was little. I’m sure I did. I know I’ve seen at least two different film versions of it, and countless other books, television shows, and movies have referenced it. So it’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into. I knew it was a weird, trippy world filled with things that don’t really make sense.

I just didn’t remember it being this absurd.

Maybe it wasn’t the ideal time to read it. I mean, the end of the year is always a stressful time at work (juggling everybody who has to use up their vacation days before they expire) and in my personal life (trying to figure out who’s going where for the holidays is always a joy). Maybe it’s better to start this book in a good mood, when you’re (at least a little more) open to Alice’s crazy adventures. Because, as I read this book, all I could think was that Carroll was clearly on drugs when he came up with this stuff. And then I kept thinking about all of the media that’s been influenced by this story rather than what was going on in the story itself.

But still, it’s definitely a classic, and it’s incredible that it’s still influencing pop culture after more than 150 years.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

Book review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: January 1963
Source: Purchased

Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity.

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

I bought this book – I don’t even know – maybe eight or nine years ago? I’d found this list online of 37 books that you have to read before age 25. I was really into used bookstores at that point in my life (it’s really a shame that there aren’t any near where I live now), and I bought probably a good fifteen or so off this list. Most of them have, of course, disappeared throughout the many moves I’ve made over the last nine years, but The Bell Jar has always been on my shelf.

I’ll be honest now. I was a little afraid to read this book. I made it through a whopping five of those 37 books. I started and abandoned many more than I’d like to admit, so I was starting to lose faith in whoever decided that their 37 favorite books were “must-reads”. (It’s really a little presumptuous when you think about it.)

Also, I turned 25 already. Oops.

But I’m doing this thing where I’m trying to read all the books I own. It’s a really novel concept, I know. I figure that there must have been some reason that I decided to spend money on all these books, and most of the books I’ve made it through have been shockingly good.

A couple weeks ago, I was combing through my shelves looking for what I wanted to read next. (I decided on The Kite Runner also, and Armada, which I got for Christmas.) I got distracted by some galleys, which usually happens. I also got distracted by some YA, which also usually happens. But then I said to myself, “Sara, you need to pick up this book. Come on.”

And I was entranced.

My boyfriend said to me, “Sara, you’re reading Plath?” I said, “Shh, I’m reading.”

But yes, I know that this is very strange and very unexpected. I, who usually read romance novels and young adult fantasy, had chosen to read a 20th century classic about a young woman’s descent into depression. It’s almost as far out of my comfort zone as you can get.

But here’s the thing: I really enjoyed it.

I had a lot of expectations going into this book. I thought it would be:
• filled with self-pity
• pretentious
• dated
• difficult to read

Quite honestly, I expected it to be awful.

Much to my delight, it was none of these. For a book about depression, The Bell Jar is surprisingly witty. I have never experienced clinical depression, but I found it extremely relatable. Esther could be you or me or anybody off the streets. There’s nothing unusual about her. She goes about her daily life as she sinks more and more into depression. And sure, some things have changed. Electroshock therapy and insulin shock therapy are no longer the most common methods for treating depression. Dating customs are certainly different. But this book isn’t dated. If anything, I was struck by how controversial this book must have been when it was published. Fifty years ago, it must have caused quite a scene when a woman wrote so openly about her sexuality.

Above all, this book was easy to read. I found myself flying through the pages. If this hadn’t been one of my craziest work weeks in recent memory, I probably could have finished it in a night. (As it was, I don’t think I made it past 9:30pm any night this week.)

My 2016 reading challenge includes “a book of poetry,” and I have already decided that I’ll be choosing Plath’s Ariel.

If you’ve been a little skeptical of The Bell Jar, I would encourage you to pick it up. You might just end up loving it as much as I did.

For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #33: a classic from the 20th century.