Book review: Sula by Toni Morrison

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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

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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.

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You may recall that I gave myself the somewhat formidable task of reading two of Shakespeare’s plays back to back in November of last year. I thought it would be all fun and games, but it was actually really difficult. While I loved Ten Things I Hate About You, I wasn’t a huge fan of The Taming of the Shrew , which provided the inspiration. Similarly, while I loved the movie Were the World Mine, I found A Midsummer Night’s Dream kind of lacking.

I think what it comes down to is that Shakespeare’s comedies need to be acted out. They lose something when you’re just reading them.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

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So, here’s the thing. Back in the day, like when I was a silly fifteen-year-old girl, I was kind of obsessed with Shakespeare. We read Romeo & Juliet in my high school English class, and I thought it was just so amazing, so I asked my mom to buy me The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. And she did. (Thanks, mom.) Sure, I read a couple more of his plays, but then the book sat on a dusty shelf for years. Then it moved across the country with me, where it sat in a dusty box for years. I finally pulled it out again when my reading challenge stated I needed to read “something published over 100 years ago” and “a play.” Two of Shakespeare’s plays. How difficult could that be? I was so obsessed in high school!

It took weeks.

Weeks to read two plays.

I am so embarrassed, but I could not bring myself to care about either of the plays I read.

The worse of the two, I think, was The Taming of the Shrew. Now, everybody knows this story. It’s what 10 Things I Hate About You is based off of! Everybody loves cute, sweet Bianca, but she can’t get married until her evil older sister, Katharina, finds a husband. The thing is, Kate doesn’t seem to want a husband. But she’s married off anyway, to a man who basically starves her into submission, and then paraded around as a prime example of a good wife.

In addition to that, there were just way too many characters for me to keep track of – Lucentio and Petruchio and Gremio and Grumio and WHY do all these characters have similar-sounding names?

I didn’t want to assign any star ratings to Shakespeare, but for completeness I needed to.

Maybe there’s a joke somewhere in here that I missed, but I didn’t find this one entertaining at all.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

For my 2015 reading challenge, I crossed off #23: a book written more than 100 years ago.