On The Road, Jack Kerouac

It’s rare that I read a book and am unable to finish it. On the Road

I tried to get through On the Road by Jack Kerouac, I really did. I had been recommended this book by a good friend and was told that once I picked it up, I would never be able to put it down. The problem was for me that once I picked it up, all I wanted to do was put it down! It must be that we have different genres and interests when it comes to reading because, although this book is a classic, I was unable to appreciate or enjoy it.

The premise is this: Sal Paradise, a young 20-something year-old man picks up and leaves his life to go to San Francisco for the first time. There he meets Dean Moriarty who is a young (-ish), selfish, drug addicted, wreck of a man who Sal admires above everything else. Throughout the novel Sal is taken on a wild ride of drugs, sex, and cross-country travel, meeting interesting (and stressful, frustrating and stupid [my opinion]) characters along the way. The care-free attitude of each character is something that I think would resonate with a lot of young people in the late 50’s when this book was published. Coming out of war and depression, I can imagine that freedom was sought after by many, and I think that this book encapsulates a lot of the attitudes of American youth during the 1950’s. The fun jazz music, the excitement, the freedom to travel across the nation, loving whoever whenever… That being said, I know that within the novel there was some sort of metaphor that I just didn’t understand. Now I can’t even remember if it was drugs Moriarty was addicted to or if his behaviour was just so spastic that drugs were all I could think of!

Kerouac wrote this novel based on some of his own experiences. If any part of this book is accurate then I must say that Kerouac really did lead an interesting life! And like I said earlier, I can imagine the excitement that the novel would have to many. Just not to me. Not only was the story difficult to relate to but the writing was also all over the place. The story felt recycled at times because it seemed to just repeat itself over and over with no climax or interesting section to draw me in.

I stopped reading the novel about 65% of the way in. It was impossible for me to continue and since I was on holiday, I didn’t want the book to drag me down and stop me from reading all the other novels I was looking forward to!

In 2012 the novel was adapted into a film featuring actors Garett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, and Kirsten Dunst. I haven’t watched it yet but hope that if I do watch it, I will find it more engaging than the book. If anyone has read the book or seen the movie, I’d love to hear what you think. Did I miss something when reading the book? What is the metaphor that I didn’t understand? Share with me, I’d love to hear.

Quitting On the Road was a relief. I wanted to enjoy the book! I thought that reading about men in the 1940’s traveling across the USA in a car while listening to jazz music would be a big giant win! But oh was I wrong. Next time I read a novel like this (specifically one labelled ‘beat’ or ‘counterculture’) I need to do some more research so I avoid wasting time and effort on a novel that I just don’t get.

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A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett

I’ve already talked about one FHB novel, so to keep this one from getting boring, I’m going to make the synopsis part bite-sized…Ready? The Little Princess is the riches-to-rags story of Sara Crewe, a spoiled girl who becomes orphaned shortly after arriving to an all-girls boarding school. After the death of her beloved father, she is thrust into poverty, essentially becoming a slave/whipping-girl in order to pay off his looming financial debt. The whole thing is very unfair and sad, but Sara remains strong, primarily by imagining herself a princess and acting accordingly.

If you are like I was and have only seen the movie, prepare yourself, because I’m about to burst your bubble. The 1995 Alfonso Cuarón film (easily one of the best children’s movies out there!) is vastly different from its original story. (A short self-defense: I know there are several movie adaptations. They are probably also good. But this one is the best, no question. Why? Because it’s the one I grew up on, meaning it’s the only one worth mentioning.) Following are several differences from book to movie (please mind the spoilers if you intend to read the book!).

Liesel Matthews (her family owns  the Hyatt hotel chain!) played a splendid Sara in Alfonso Cuarón’s 1995 adaptation.

Thing That’s Different #1: There’s no locket. Remember when Sara’s friends have to break into Miss Minchin’s office to find it, and then get it back to its rightful owner? That doesn’t happen in the book. In fact, there’s not much mention of Sara’s mother at all.

Thing That’s Different #2: There’s no war! The book predates WWI, and Sara’s father doesn’t spend any time in the trenches. Instead he goes back to India to invest in some diamond mines.

Thing That’s Different #3: Sara doesn’t tell bedtime stories to hoards of classmates. The only people who visit her room are Ermengarde and Lottie, and they don’t really cross hairs in the book. Also, there is no scene where they all read aloud to Miss Minchin’s harp-playing. In fact, there’s no harp.

Thing That’s Different #4: Becky. In the books, Becky is a Cockney scullery maid of fourteen years old, twice as old as Sara. To cast a younger black girl as Becky in the movie was an interesting choice which, in my opinion, added a layer to the movie. Essentially marginalizing her further, the racial aspect demands that more attention be paid to the injustice dealt to poor children in that era (late 1880’s).

Thing That’s Different #5: Amelia. Miss Minchin’s silly sister never runs away with the milkman. Actually, she’s sort of a B-word, too. Bummer.

Thing That’s Different #6: Less emphasis on India. It’s mentioned and briefly described, but there are no flashbacks to Sara’s life there, and certainly no side-story about a princess locked up in a tower by a multi-headed green monster.

Thing That’s Different #7 [Spoiler alert!]: Sara’s father doesn’t go missing, and he doesn’t mysteriously reappear in the house next door, with an addled memory. There is no running-out-in-the-rain scene at the end, when he suddenly remembers his only daughter. He was simply dead all along. Somewhat typical of the tell-it-like-it-is writing style of the day, even in kid-lit, FHB offered no pat answers or twist endings. The book presents a straight, uncomplicated story line with a bittersweet ending that might be a little depressing by today’s standards. The movie definitely improved on this aspect with one of the most touching cinematic moments EVER, still never ceasing to make me burst into a stream of tears, even though I’ve seen it upwards of twenty times (watch it here!). Still, the original ending is rather cheerful despite Sara’s having to stay an orphan.

For some interesting additional facts about this classic tale, see its Wikipedia page.

Austenfest Week Two: Pride and Prejudice

Spoilers: Though I will never give away an ending, many key aspects of this book are relayed here.  Please don’t continue if you would rather discover them for yourself!

Mrs. Bennet and her daughters in Universal's 2005 adaptation

Probably Austen’s most beloved story, P&P follows protagonist Lizzy Bennet for roughly a year of her life. With a kind father, three silly younger sisters and an absurd though loving mother, Lizzy and her older sister Jane attempt to acquaint themselves with the Bingleys, a rich family that has just moved into a neighboring estate, without too much embarrassment. Jane and Charles Bingley are quickly drawn together, while Mr. Darcy, Bingley’s friend, spurns Lizzy with his haughty ways. Officers arrive in the nearby town of Meryton, and the two youngest sisters, Lydia and Kitty, along with their mother are beside themselves with glee.  We are introduced to the handsome and charming Major Wickham who grew up with Mr. Darcy, and quickly tells Lizzy of the unforgivable things Darcy has done to him. Lizzy finds herself enjoying his company, though this is eclipsed with the arrival of Mr. Collins, their cousin and heir to the estate. Mr. Collins, a  clergyman to the indomitable and rich Lady Catherine de Bourg, proves to be a ridiculous and  fatuous character, who quickly sets his sights on the mortified Lizzy as his future bride. After a hilarious and unsuccessful proposal to Lizzy, Mr. Collins weds her good friend Charlotte, to the surprise of many.

 Meanwhile, the Bingleys leave and seem to sever contact with a heartbroken Jane. Lizzy soon visits Mr. and Mrs. Collins in Kent, and who should show up there but Mr. Darcy, as Lady Catherine’s nephew!  Lizzy holds in her ire, as she knows the truth of Darcy, and is surprised when after a few weeks he proposes to her despite his prejudices! 

Penguin UK, 2006

And this is only halfway, people! The plot thickens; fifteen-year-old Lydia runs off with an immoral man, the Bingleys  come back, and Lizzy undergoes a change of heart and a scary encounter with Lady Catherine. When everything seems to go awry we discover the true nature of many people, and end with a conclusion both happy and sad.
 
Well I must have you hooked by now. With this Austen novel, we see how little power a respectable woman with a seriously flawed family and little money has in the regency era.  Greatly dependent on a good marriage, Lizzy, despite having strong morals and determination, has few options to secure a happy and  fulfilling life. Austen highlights this well with enduring hilarity and sorrow, and gives you a story that will likely become a favourite. Austen’s novels all seem to revolve around women and love or marriage, but what really sets P&P apart are the wonderful characters she has created. The drama and humour that is entrenched in this book will likely glue you to it’s pages, and as the characters come alive we get a wonderful glimpse into the life of a young woman at the turn of the nineteenth century.
 
Note: I would also like to point out that fans of Pride and Prejudice have ample well-written fan-fiction and film adaptations at their disposal.  There are hundreds of sequels published which range in topic from zombies to over-the-top romance, and almost every other story line you can think of! A future post I am working on will hopefully sort out a few of the good ones.
 

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Grand Central Publishing, 2010

Having missed many of the classics in junior high for books I can’t even recall the titles of, I’ve endeavored lately to make up for past mistakes.  Lots of these novels were disparaged among my friends growing up, but I think they deserve a fair chance. I might be a little late on this bandwagon, but is it too late to hop on and love this book?

Not sure what to expect, and with great trepidation I opened Mockingbird, entered the world of Scout Finch, and left at about five in the morning. The six-year-old reminded me of my tomboy youth, and I enjoyed this southern twang version greatly. Though not autobiographical, the story shows many similarities to author Harper Lee’s early life and of those around her, including Truman Capote characterized as Dill. With older brother Jem and summertime pal, Dill, Scout tramps over the neighborhood introducing us to curious characters and a vivid southern life. Reigned in by a kind father, lawyer Atticus Finch, and housekeeper Calpurnia, we watch them grow up in two interesting years for Maycomb, the town which becomes the centre of the trial for Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman.  As Robinson is being defended by Atticus, Scout and Jem have a tough time being surrounded by the animosity held towards Robinson and their father, and we watch them slowly gain awareness of the adult issues which surround them. Continue reading

Robin Hood, Henry Gilbert

Sad, but true, novels sometimes hide in libraries, camouflaged in rows of books and overlooked for a flashier cover. Such was the case of Robin Hood until I came upon it by accident while searching for some Joyce in my own library. I eagerly read it, and regret not having picked it up sooner.  For those who think they’ll enjoy dashing legends of the past written in the early nineteen-hundreds, read on!

Gasp! It’s Robin Hood!

A quick history trip online will show you that the story of Robin Hood is anything but certain. Beginning around the thirteenth century, the legend varies from an outlaw around Nottinghamshire to an aristocrat who spurns his privileges to give to the poor. From ballads to novels, domesticated sources can be found throughout British history, including Henry Gilbert’s well-researched, unabridged rendition from 1912. In a short forward, Gilbert, whose other novels also fall in an English folklore genre, explains his fascination with Robin Hood, and his intent to bring out the best of the legends he grew up on.

Gilbert’s Robin, we soon find out, is a freeman of some wealth whose land is surrounded by cruel lords and greedy monks. Eventually forced out of his lands, he and the surrounding villeins (serfs) escape to the vast Sherwood Forest, preferring life under Robin Hood to their brutal former existences. As outlaws, Robin and his merry men quickly gain a favorable reputation among commoners by, believe it or not, stealing from the rich to give to the poor! As the tale unfolds Robin’s foes are brought down one by one until his final epic battles with the evil Guy of Gisborne and Sir Isenbart de Belame. Along this journey are many entertaining stories of Robin’s escapades; from meeting Little John and protecting his beloved Marian, to his encounters with Alan-a-Dale, Friar Tuck, the Little People and King Richard. Continue reading

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

A still from the 1990 film adaptation (dir. Harry Hook)

Now is probably a good time to admit that I think being stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere is one of the coolest things ever.  From Blue Lagoon to The Swiss Family Robinson, island life is amazing!  Of course I have never been stranded on an island before, and after reading Lord of the Flies, I think it’s coming off of my to-do list.

Written in 1954 by William Golding, laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Lord of the Fliesbegins with a group of British boys who have just survived a plane crash while being evacuated during an unnamed war. We first meet Ralph and Piggy who discover a conch shell which Ralph uses to gather all the survivors of the crash together on the beach.  From the group of boys that assembles we are introduced to Jack, who leads a small group of choirboys, while Ralph seems to take charge of the rag-tag group of other survivors, including many ‘littluns.’ When the first order of business becomes voting a new chief, Ralph is elected and starts his stint by stating the two main goals of the boys; to create a smoke signal in order to be rescued, and to have fun. This very quickly unravels and following the rules loses priority. In ensuing assemblies the ‘littluns’ bring up a beast they have seen lurking around the island.  While the ‘bigguns’ quickly dismiss this fear, it soon captivates the boys leading them to hunt the island for it. Continue reading