March 2020 Book Reviews

The Greats

“Seamus Heaney Selected Poems 1966-1987” by Seamus Heaney

If you are a poetry lover as much as I am, you will love Seamus Heaney. He is a master poet, with writing that appears so simplistic yet packed with a powerful. His style is soothing and narrative, while possessing a strong knowledge of writing poems economically in structure. My favorite poem from this collection is titled, “Mid-Term Break.” This poem begins with a boy in college heading home for his semester break. All seems peaceful and normal until he arrives at home. I do not want to spoil anything, but I will say that Heaney is able to change the direction of a poem entirely with one audacious line.

“I can’t think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is they change people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world.” 

Seamus Heaney

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

If you haven’t read this memorable book in high school, then here you go: a classic tale of a life where books are illegal and firemen burn books that are found. The firemen burn the books to keep society sheltered, complacent, and censored. (Ironically, this book was banned in some schools.) Ray Bradbury writes this original dystopian novel to warn us that we are heading down a path with little to no genuine human connection or authentic thoughts.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. 

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Good

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

While this was a good read, there was a lot of misogyny. I understand the era of the Beat generation was vastly different socially, but I often debate within myself if that is excusable for such behavior. This story launched the hippie generation into what it was in the 1960’s by creating a culture of peaceful wanderers in search of truth and nirvana. Kerouac writes about the dichotomy of his life with on part of him drawn to the city experience in the jazz clubs, parties, and poetry readings. The other part of him seeks a rural path of hitchhiking in nature and the outdoors. While he is conflicted on his two desires, the main focal point that propels this novel is the main character’s search for Buddhism, which was introduced to him in the 1950’s by the poet and character in the novel, Gary Snyder.

“Are we fallen angels who didn’t want to believe that nothing is nothing and so were born to lose our loved ones and dear friends one by one and finally our own life, to see it proved?”

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote

What a great title for Capote’s collection of short fiction and non-fiction works. This collection is a blend of real life people and true stories that are condensed down into network of prose. Some stories this collection entails are of Truman himself gossiping and smoking with Marilyn Monroe, a Creole aristocrat in a Martinique salon, and a serial killer that sends its victims a note foreshadowing their doom. Capote’s works are objectively investigative and descriptively emotive.

“Strange where our passions carry us, floggingly pursue us, forcing upon us unwanted dreams, unwelcome destinies.”

Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Most of the books this month have incredible titles. John Green titles his novel with the phrase “Turtles All the Way Down” to mean a “problem of infinite regress.” In this book, a billionaire dad vanishes and a huge reward is put up for him. Aza and Daisy are the two main characters, and friend’s with Davis the billionaire’s son, so they set on a quest to track him down. The novel is filled with teen love, angst, and anxiety. The novel is told in first person point of view to observe Aza’s stream of consciousness and showcase her intense anxiety spirals, her “turtles all the way down” moments.

“Your now is not your forever.” 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

The Mediocre

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

I know, I know. There are some hardcore Pynchon fans that will freak when I put this on the ‘mediocre’ list. But, I could not even finish it! I wanted to finish it. My ego wants me to be so intelligent to say that I understood it perfectly, but I could not. The basic plot is set mostly in Europe at the end of World War II and focuses on the design, production, and dispatch of V-2 rockets by the German military. The text is lengthy, complex, and filled with a large cast of characters. Pynchon writes about characters as if he has introduced them before, but he has not. The main character is aroused by missiles, which proves that humanity is mysteriously attracted to war. I love the title, as do most people, and I like the themes, but my honest opinion is that the plot is far to cerebral for me.

“There is no real direction here, neither lines of power nor cooperation. Decisions are never really made – at best they manage to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, hallucinations and all around assholery. ”

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Stay tuned for April’s 2020 Book Review, and more music, film, and art reviews!

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