Why Read the Classics (Or, Why the Classics Are Not Boring!)

 

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Tolstoy

In this blog post, I want to argue that the classics are not just immense tomes that accrue dust on the shelf of the library or a bookshelf, but are instead living, breathing documents that reflect back to us our humanity.  I’m starting with this lofty statement, because recently I have become obsessed with the 19th century Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, who was born in 1828 and died in 1910.  Tolstoy was an outsized personality, and he was not only a great novelist but also, following a moral crisis in his forties, a Christian anarchist and pacifist.

But although I find Tolstoy’s detours into anarchism, Christianity and pacifism interesting (his advocacy of non-violent resistance was a great influence on Gandhi), I have to say that it is his novels that really excite me.  Anna Karenina, for example, which I finished about a month ago, was this really amazing exploration of one woman in Russian society who bucked the norms (she was a married woman who fell in love with another man) and then had to face the tragic consequences.  There were scenes in that novel that felt so true to life – it was such a remarkable and uncanny reading experience.  (Isaac Babel, another famous Russian writer, once wrote that “If the world could write itself, it would write like Tolstoy.”)

One of the best things about the book was the way the characters changed and aged.  I think characters changing is one of the hardest things to pull off in a novel, because the novelist really needs to give a fine-grained and textured evocation of the interior lives of the characters in order for us to fully believe in the changes they undergo.  They also must know their characters so fully and deeply to really convey how they change.  In other words, he or she must be able to see into the minds and hearts of other fictional people – to be a very deep psychologist.  I thought Tolstoy was so good at doing just that, and for that reason his characters felt so utterly real, and I really cared about them.  In the fate of Anna, we could see our own foibles and passions reflected.

There is a scene near the end of the novel, where Anna is riding on a train.  I don’t want to give too much away, but it is a very tumultuous moment and time in her life, and Tolstoy gives us Anna’s inner monologue – the kind of scattered, fragmented thoughts that populate her mind as she looks out the train window and melds her inner world with the world she sees.  It is so well done – we feel like we are actually privy to another person’s thoughts, and the thoughts feel so real, so like our own thinking, that it is impossible not to empathize with Anna’s state of mind.  The novel reflects back to us our own humanity – it allows us to see our own selves more capaciously – and at the same allows us to empathize deeply with Anna.  It is truly a heart-wrenching moment.

And that’s the thing – Anna Karenina is a classic.  But this does not mean a big book that no one reads anymore, or shouldn’t read anymore!   Instead, it is this very profound, wonderful, fresh and moving story about families and individuals, set against a vast panorama of Russian society in the 19th century.  That’s one of the things I’ve learned from reading Anna Karenina, and now War and Peace, which I’ve read about half of – the classics are classics because they are fabulous!!!  They are timeless snapshots of fictive life, and they demand to be read.  They can be challenging and fun at the same time, but they are not just boring books that no one reads anymore.  Instead, they are deep explorations of what it means to be human, to be thinking and feeling beings, with crises, problems, and dreams.

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Kate’s Top Ten of 2017

Schoolwork has been taking up most of my time this year but as soon as finals are over I plan to catch up on some reading. Here are the one’s I plan on starting the year with:

life The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman

turtles all the way down Turtles All the Way Down  by John Green

index Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

beartowb Beartown by Fredrik Backman

one of us is lying One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

since we fell Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

camino island Camino Island by John Grisham

heartbreak hotel Heartbreak Hotel by Jonathan Kellerman

swimming lessons Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

breakdown The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

 

 

-Kate

Ann’s Top Ten 2017

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Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light. –Vera Nazarian

10. NUMMER ZEHN        THE DRYJane Harper

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9. NUMÉRO NEUF           I LET YOU GOClare Mackintosh

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8. NUMERO OCHO          THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANETBecky Chambers

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7. 數字七                              A CLOSED AND COMMON ORBITBecky Chambers

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6. NUMER SZEŚĆ             I FOUND YOU– Lisa Jewell

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5. NUMERO CINQUE      TWO IF BY SEAJacqueline Mitchard

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4. ÀIREAMH CEITHIR     THE LATE SHOWMichael Connelly

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3. NUMBER ਤੀਹ                HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDSBiance Marais

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2. NUMMER TO                THE CHILD FINDERRene Denfeld

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1. INOMBOLO YOKUQALA   THE KIND WORTH KILLING– Peter Swanson

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                                                                                                                                                      ~Ann >^.^<

 

Greg’s Top 10 for 2017

First off is a book I previously reviewed, Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three. As the title describes this is a three books of short stories in one not so compact volume. This had to make my list for the sheer variety it offered fans of horror. Much like Barker’s films there is a balance of psychological and visceral horror. Recommended for the horror fan who needs an introduction to Barker’s writing.
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I know I am cheating a bit with these picks but these two volumes are distinct enough in their tone and their personal achievement to deserve their own spot on this list. A retelling/reworking of the Hercules myth, David Rubin’s graphic novel The Hero breaks new ground in the telling of this millennial old story. An odd combination of ancient and contemporary motifs (there are ancient Greek news casts) Hero keeps the reader on their toes. Book One focuses on the labors and the development of Hercules as hero. Book Two takes a darker tone and starts asking what happens when the campaign is won and yet life, and its tragedies, continue on. A humanizing take on a hero who’s story is told again and again.
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Possibly a very bold claim, but for me, this collection was the work that got me interested in poetry again. I am a working visual artist who has had a desire to investigate poetry but just didn’t seem to be my medium or speak my own creative language. Smith’s work shares many of the research veins that I am interested in and gave me a gateway to the work and the art form of poetry. A Finalist for the National Book Award, these poems are both challenging and enjoyable.
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What can I say, I am sucker for short story collections that explore magical realism. Russell gives us everything from lemon sucking vampires to a silk factory who raw material comes from silkworm/human hybrids. More so than any of the other short story collections on this list Vampires offers the readers stories are truly a mixed bag of setting and tone. I haven’t had a chance to read Russell’s novel Swamplandia! but from how much I enjoyed this work its on my reading list.
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If you are familiar with Sedaris’ work you know that you are in for more of the same awkward, funny, cringe-worthy, and relatable stories. Told in his signature style, Sedaris focuses on the minor (and so minor) faux pas, social foibles, and daily disasters that everyone else will forget about but will mar you for life. Like all his work, I recommend reading before large family gatherings, for perspective.
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If I had to give Gaiman’s work a subtitle it would have to be “Translated for Clarity and Entertainment.” Master storyteller, Gaiman makes traditional Norse and Northern European mythology digestible for a wider audience. If you ever attempted to read traditional translations of Norse sagas you know that they can be a bit dense and at times confusing. This is a great introduction to the Norse religion and for fans of Neil Gaiman’s wider body of work.
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Maybe too dry (pun intended) for some, I found The Drunken Botanist an informative and intriguing romp into the history of alcohol and the cultures that made them. I enjoyed this book as an audio book while on a long drive to a conference and think it may be its best in that scenario. Filled with moments of “huh didn’t know that” and the science to back it up, Stewart’s work is great material for parties or possible future games of trivia.
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A subversive and unconventional take on the idea of a romantic comedy. We follow Oaf Jadwiga (former professional wrestler, owner of a cat sanctuary and maker of stuffed animals) as he tried to catch the eye of black metal front-man Eiffel. Now what would be romantic comedy without a few mishaps? Oaf has to deal rival bands, exes (his and Eiffel’s), and cats with emotional problems. With moments of tenderness, gross out humor, and an in your face attitude this book was always surprising.
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If you enjoyed the Alan Moore’s Watchmen’s take on the world of cape crusaders there is a good chance you will enjoy Black Hammer : Secret Origins. Lemire’s take on a super hero team takes a decidedly dark psychological tone. Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Colonel Weird, Madame Dragonfly, and Barbalien are the a superhero team who have been trapped in a reality that they cannot escape. Rather than Superman’s Phantom Zone, their prison takes the form of a small rural town. This first volume gives us a look into the hero’s previous lives, the baggage they hold, and how they cope in a world where they have little to do but reflect.

Top Ten of 2017 (plus a few) if You Were Asking Me -by Stacey

It’s my favorite time of year! All the sparkly lights and sweet treats and sappy movies? Love ‘em all! …Plus?! It’s time for everyone’s Top Ten books, movies, television, songs and Everything Else! Oh, what’s that? You want to know *my* Top Ten reads of 2018? Well, thanks for asking! Here they are -in alphabetical order- a mix of old, new, true stories, and fiction for all ages:

 

 

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
I’ve learned –and enjoyed!- something from every book Ms. Brown has written and this book continues that tradition! If you’ve never read any of her previous books, I might suggest starting with Daring Greatly.

 

 

 

 

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Odd, creepy, and thought-provoking! (Do you really need more?) Read it before you see it?

 

 

 

 

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
I read this for Notable Books Council but have re-read it in preparation for Our Community Reads –coming in 2018! This book stands the test of time –and repeated reading!

 

 

As You Wish by Cary Elwes
I listened to Cary Elwes read his own memories of making The Princess Bride (one of the most perfect movies ever made!!). Charming! (But maybe more for die-hard fans of the movie than for the general reader…)

 

 

 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
This must have been a tough book to write but the effort was well worth it. I won’t waste your time with what I liked –read it and you’ll know on your own why it’s so good.

 

 

 

The Gilded Cage by Vic James
A world that feels familiar but isn’t anytime/anywhere I’d like to live. I’d describe this as fantasy with strong social commentary message?

 

 

Renegades by Marissa Meyer
Not all superheroes are super people but as the two main characters begin to really consider the world they’re growing up in –part of what they’re learning is the world is less black & white (more shades of gray) than they thought.

 

 

 

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
For all of my enjoyment of a sappy holiday movie –this book would kind of have the opposite effect. The story isn’t easy to read, but I think it’s one of an overlooked gem.

 

 

 

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty
The final book in The Colors of Madeline series, this book was well worth the wait! The author kept a few good surprises and the ending was just right (for me)!

 

 

 

The Gene: an intimate history by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Taking a huge, almost incomprehensible topic, and making it engaging with personal connections? I give this an A++++!

 

 

 

Blood at the Root by Patrick Philips
Completely disturbing and completely true, this sordid history of a white-only county in Georgia continues to haunt me.

 

 

 

Grocery by Michael Ruhlman
A mini-history of grocery stores with more than a few entertaining shout-outs to Heinen’s, and the brothers currently running this expanding chain.

 

 

As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
If you were granted one wish on your 18th birthday, what would you do? In this tiny town in the middle of the Nevada desert, they’re wishes have been granted –but the results aren’t always positive for the wisher…

 

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Thoughtful and timely – oh, please read this one!

 

 

 

 

Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge
Individual snapshots of how gun violence affects not just the individuals involved but the entire community.

 

Now that I’m done, I notice two big things… I read the same title (on different books) twice and there are a lot of serious-type books on my list. If you’re looking for some of the more upbeat titles I read, you can check out a collection development article I wrote for Library Journal this year called Twice-Told Tales. The books are all classic stories with a twist, for example: telling the story from a different character’s point of view or taking a recognizable storyline from the past and putting in a modern setting.

Happy Reading all Season Long!
-Stacey

Books to movies!

One of the types of books I love to read are books that end up getting adapted to movies. I enjoy seeing the differences between my interpretation of a characters physical description and the actors that are casted for roles. What is also an intriguing but can be frustrating is what is left out of movies, changed, or added to make the movie more profitable. Below are a few of the books that I’ve read that have been adapted into movies. I hope you enjoy it and get an idea for your next book to read and movie to watch.

5-people The Five People You Meet in Heaven is written by my favorite author Mitch Albom. This was the first book by Mitch Albom that I was introduced to it. At the time, when I first read the book, I was in grade school. The book was released in 2003, the movie premiered as a TV movie the following year.

mebeforeyouMe Before You by Jojo Moyes is a sweet, warm-hearted story of finding love in unexpected places. Louisa Clark lives a basic life, has a job, close to her family, in a steady relationship. Once she receives notice that the coffee shop she works at is closing, Louisa is in desperate need of a new job, any job. She interviews to be the companion/ care-giver for wheelchair-bound Will Traynor. Louisa tries her best to improve Will’s happiness given the circumstances. Through they’re time together they both find happiness and love but they can’t live happily ever after. A decision Will made even before he met Louisa prevents this. A movie was adapted from the book with Emilia Clarke as Louisa and Sam Claflin as Will, released last February.

how-to-be-singleHow to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo was the perfect book to read at the timing of a recent breakup. This book was not at all what I was expecting, given the title but as a book I complete enjoyed it. The story follows the main character as she travels to various countries to learn what it means to be single in those cultures in contrast to what it means to be a single woman in the USA. The book originally published in 2008 was not adapted to a film until February of last year. I saw the movie right after reading the book and was completely disappointed. This is a perfect example of how different a book and movie adaptation can be.

 

immortallifeThe Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks  by Rebecca Skloot follows two stories. The first is the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman as she undergoes cancer treatment in the 1950s. The second story follows the author as she journeys to Boston to find the full story of Henrietta Lacks. Intrigued by the only information she found in a medical text book, that a woman named Henrietta Lacks had cancer cells that continue to grow even after her death. Rebecca meets with Henrietta’s daughter Deborah Lacks who helps her on her quest to write the book to tell the full story of Henrietta, not just about the HeLa cells. I started reading this book a couple years ago but when I saw in the newspaper that it would be adapted to an HBO TV movie, I had to finish it. The movie is scheduled to air on April 22 with Rose Byrne playing the role of Rebecca Skloot and Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks.

 

theshackIn William Paul Young’s The Shack, Mack returns to the Shack. This old abandoned building was the last location that Mack’s youngest daughter was thought to have been when she was abducted from a nearby camping grounds in Oregon during a family vacation. Mack was intrigued by a note he received in the mail to return to the shack, addressed by God. In this visit, Mack meets all three forms of God, gets understanding of life’s mysteries and finds peace. If you have ever wanted to have a deep meaningful conversation with God, this is the book for you as it was for me. I read this book last year for the department’s monthly book discussion but did not find out it would be adapted to film until last week. I am extremely excited for the release this weekend staring Sam Worthington as Mack and Octavia Spencer as Papa.

I hope you enjoy reading and watching!

-Gina