Monthly Archives: October 2012

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

*WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

This was not the longest book I’ve ever read (close, though). However, it certainly felt like the longest book I’ve ever read. The problem is not the length – the problem is that until the last 150 pages, there is no continuous plot to keep you invested in the story. Everybody knows that this is the story of a crazy guy who decides to be a knight one day, and how he and his squire go on crazy adventures together and hilarity and tilting at windmills ensues. What people might not know, however, is that there’s no overarching quest, no ultimate goal. This book is over a thousand pages of, “Don Quixote did this. And then he did this. And then he went here and this happened. And then this person told a story. And then they did this.” On and on and on, it’s just dumb adventure after dumb adventure, and they’re literally interchangeable – the timeline of the story doesn’t matter at all.

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

“Miss Brodie’s special girls were taken home to tea and bidden not to tell the others, they understood her private life and her feud with the headmistresss. They learned what troubles in her career Miss Brodie encountered on their behalf. ‘It is for the sake of you girls – my influence, now, in the years of my prime.’ This was the beginning of the Brodie set.”

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Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

“Among the most famous women to have lived, Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt for twenty-two years. She lost a kingdom once, regained it, nearly lost it again, amassed an empire, lost it all. A goddess as a child, a queen at eighteen, a celebrity soon thereafter, she was an object of speculation and veneration, gossip and legend, even in her own time. At the height of her power she controlled virtually the entire eastern Mediterranean coast, the last great kingdom of any Egyptian ruler. For a fleeting moment she held the fate of the Western world in her hands…She has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since. Many people have spoken for her, including the greatest playwrights and poets; we have been putting words into her mouth for two thousand years. In one of the busiest afterlives in history, she has gone on to become an asteroid, a video game, a cliche, a cigarette, a slot machine, a strip club, a synonym for Elizabeth Taylor. Shakespeare attested to Cleopatra’s infinite variety. He had no idea.”

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The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Let’s start out with some context: I know very little about the Vietnam War, having been born in the 80’s, and most of my information on the conflict comes from painstakingly-researched movies such as Good Morning Vietnam and Tropic Thunder and, to a lesser extent, whatever my high school teachers tried to make me remember from history class (thanks to my long-standing obsession with all things Tudor, I have a bad habit of just not giving a damn when it comes to American history). I do not particularly enjoy Apocalypse Now, or Vietnam movies in general. If we’re being totally honest, the Vietnam War/Conflict/Clusterfuck has never really held my attention for very long.

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The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

“On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of a Central Square apartment, combining Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl. She adds salt, lemon juice, thin slices of green chil pepper, wishing there were mustard oil to pour into the mix. Ashima has been consuming this concoction throughout her pregnancy, a humble approximation of the snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India, spilling from newspaper cones. Even now that there is barely space inside her, it is the one thing she craves. Tasting it from a cupped palm, she frowns; as usual, there’s something missing.”

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To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

As is often the case with Virginia Woolf’s books, whenever I attempt to write a review I find myself at a complete loss for words. This is mostly because after reading her work I become aware of just how stunningly not eloquent, not talented, and friggin’ pedestrian I am. No one else can write like Woolf, and no one should try, so I’m certainly not going to.

The second reason is that reviewing a book often means summarizing the plot, which in Woolf’s case is useless. Were I to describe the plot of To the Lighthouse, I would probably end up with something like this (imagine lots of “um”s and confused pauses every few words): There’s a large family who lives on an island, and one of the kids always wants to visit the lighthouse, but the parents keep putting it off. Also there are boarders living in the house, and we get to be inside the different characters’ heads while they go about their business. Then some of them die.

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Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Apu, the Indian owner of the Kwik-E-Mart, takes the American citizenship test. Apu, who throughout the episode has demonstrated a much stronger grasp of American history than any of the American-born characters, is at the oral exam stage of the test. His examiner, a bored white guy, is asking the questions, and the following exchange occurs:

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