I saw this challenge on Bookmark Your Thoughts last week loved it, so I’ve decided to participate for myself, too!
- Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf
- Order on ascending date added.
- Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
- Read the synopses of the books.
- Decide: keep it or should it go?
- Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week
Week two, here we go! AND I’m doing 10 this week!
Book 1: Brave New World
The Blurb: Brave New World is a dystopian novel written in 1931 by English author Aldous Huxley, and published in 1932. Largely set in a futuristic World State of genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to make a utopian society that goes challenged only by a single outsider.
The Verdict: Oof… dismiss. I know this is standard dystopian repertoire, but it’s so largely discussed that one can sort of get the gist, and there are SO many other things I want to read that I have to be honest and just admit: I probably will not pick this up.
Book 2: Middlemarch
The Blurb: Taking place in the years leading up to the First Reform Bill of 1832, Middlemarch explores nearly every subject of concern to modern life: art, religion, science, politics, self, society, human relationships. Among her characters are some of the most remarkable portraits in English literature: Dorothea Brooke, the heroine, idealistic but naive; Rosamond Vincy, beautiful and egoistic: Edward Casaubon, the dry-as-dust scholar: Tertius Lydgate, the brilliant but morally-flawed physician: the passionate artist Will Ladislaw: and Fred Vincey and Mary Garth, childhood sweethearts whose charming courtship is one of the many humorous elements in the novel’s rich comic vein.
The Verdict: Keep! This still really interests me, and I think the only reason I haven’t read it yet is because I’ve been intimidated by the length, but I definitely still intend to!
Book 3: A Passage to India
The Blurb: When Adela Quested and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced ‘Anglo-Indian’ community. Determined to escape the parochial English enclave and explore the ‘real India’, they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects. A masterful portrait of a society in the grip of imperialism, A Passage to India compellingly depicts the fate of individuals caught between the great political and cultural conflicts of the modern world.In his introduction, Pankaj Mishra outlines Forster’s complex engagement with Indian society and culture. This edition reproduces the Abinger text and notes, and also includes four of Forster’s essays on India, a chronology and further reading.
The Verdict: Dismiss. I think I added this back in 2013 because I felt like the only reading worth doing was that of classic, high literary construction. Glad I’ve changed that outlook!
Book 4: Invisible Man
The Blurb: First published in 1952 and immediately hailed as a masterpiece, Invisible Man is one of those rare novels that have changed the shape of American literature. For not only does Ralph Ellison’s nightmare journey across the racial divide tell unparalleled truths about the nature of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators, it gives us an entirely new model of what a novel can be. As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, from a horrifying “battle royal” where black men are reduced to fighting animals, to a Communist rally where they are elevated to the status of trophies, Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh and even hilarious relief. Suspenseful and sardonic, narrated in a voice that takes in the symphonic range of the American language, black and white, Invisible Man is one of the most audacious and dazzling novels of our century.
The Verdict: Keep. I think I added this for the same reason as A Passage to India, but this one still interests me quite a bit!
Book 5: On the Road
The Blurb: When Jack Kerouac’s On the Road first appeared in 1957, readers instantly felt the beat of a new literary rhythm. A fictionalised account of his own journeys across America with his friend Neal Cassady, Kerouac’s beatnik odyssey captured the soul of a generation and changed the landscape of American fiction for ever. Influenced by Jack London and Thomas Wolfe, Kerouac always wanted to be a writer, but his true voice only emerged when he wrote about his own experiences in On the Road. Leaving a broken marriage behind him, Sal Paradise (Kerouac) joins Dean Moriarty (Cassady), a tearaway and former reform school boy, on a series of journeys that takes them from New York to San Francisco, then south to Mexico. Hitching rides and boarding buses, they enter a world of hobos and drifters, fruit-pickers and migrant families, small towns and wide horizons. Adrift from conventional society, they experience America in the raw: a place where living is hard, but ‘life is holy and every moment is precious’. With its smoky, jazz-filled atmosphere and its restless, yearning spirit of adventure, On the Road left its mark on the culture of the late 20th century, influencing countless books, films and songs. Kerouac’s prose is remarkable both for its colloquial swing and for the pure lyricism inspired by the American landscape – ‘the backroads, the black-tar roads that curve among the mournful rivers like Susquehanna, Monongahela, old Potomac and Monocacy’. This Folio Society edition is illustrated with evocative photographs of Kerouac and the landscapes of 1950s America. Now acknowledged as a modern classic, On the Road remains a thrilling and poignant story of the road less travelled.
The Verdict: Keep. Just because.
Book 6: The Sound and the Fury
The Blurb: The Sound and the Fury is the tragedy of the Compson family, featuring some of the most memorable characters in literature: beautiful, rebellious Caddy; the manchild Benjy; haunted, neurotic Quentin; Jason, the brutal cynic; and Dilsey, their black servant. Their lives fragmented and harrowed by history and legacy, the character’s voices and actions mesh to create what is arguably Faulkner’s masterpiece and one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.
The Verdict: Dismiss. I actually picked this up a while ago and ended up DNF-ing it, so I’ll just give it the ol’ heave-ho.
Book 7: Ulysses
The Blurb: Loosely based on the Odyssey, this landmark of modern literature follows ordinary Dubliners in 1904. Capturing a single day in the life of Dubliner Leopold Bloom, his friends Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus, his wife Molly, and a scintillating cast of supporting characters, Joyce pushes Celtic lyricism and vulgarity to splendid extremes. Captivating experimental techniques range from interior monologues to exuberant wordplay and earthy humor. A major achievement in 20th century literature.
The Verdict: Dismiss. I read somewhere once that this is the most started book of all time but among the least finished, and something tells me I’d end up in that category…
Book 8: Phantastes
The Blurb: C.S. Lewis said that upon reading this astonishing 19th-century fairy tale he “had crossed a great frontier,” and numerous others both before and since have felt similarly. In MacDonald’s fairy tales, both those for children and (like this one) those for adults, the “fairy land” clearly represents the spiritual world, or our own world revealed in all of its depth and meaning. At times almost forthrightly allegorical, at other times richly dreamlike (and indeed having a close connection to the symbolic world of dreams), this story of a young man who finds himself on a long journey through a land of fantasy is more truly the story of the spiritual quest that is at the core of his life’s work, a quest that must end with the ultimate surrender of the self. The glory of MacDonald’s work is that this surrender is both hard won (or lost!) and yet rippling with joy when at last experienced. As the narrator says of a heavenly woman in this tale, “She knew something too good to be told.” One senses the same of the author himself.
The Verdict: Keep. A friend of Clive’s is a friend of mine.
Book 9: The Road
The Blurb: A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other. The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.
The Verdict: Dismiss. Post-apocalypse has never really been my jam, so I’m sending this on its way.
Book 10: The Driftless Area
The Blurb: The new novel from the award-winning author of The End of Vandalism is a wry and sophisticated heist drama. Set in the rugged region of the Midwest that gives the novel its title, The Driftless Area is the story of Pierre Hunter, a young bartender with unfailing optimism, a fondness for coin tricks, and an uncanny capacity for finding trouble. When he falls in love, with the mysterious and isolated Stella Rosmarin, Pierre becomes the central player in a revenge drama he must unravel and bring to its shocking conclusion. Along the way he will liberate 77 thousand dollars from a murderous thief, summon the resources that have eluded him all his life, and come to question the very meaning of chance and mortality. For nothing is as it seems in The Driftless Area. Identities shift, violent secrets lie in wait, the future can cause the past, and love becomes a mission that can take you beyond this world.
The Verdict: Keep. In fact, I think this sounds more interesting now than it probably did to me in 2013!
The week’s tally: 5 stay, 5 go
Removed so far: 6
Thanks for reading, and look out for #3 next week!