Tag Archives: assigned reading

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano

Generally regarded as one of the best slave narratives ever written, the book is Equiano describing his life, beginning with how he was kidnapped in Africa at age 11 and sold into slavery. The interesting thing about this book is that Equiano doesn’t just survive the Middle Passage, but actually crosses the Atlantic multiple times, traveling from South America to England to the American Colonies to the Caribbean to the Middle East, all while trying to win his freedom. It’s a passionate anti-slavery message, with Equiano unflinchingly recounting the horrors of the slave trade to make his readers cringe (I defy you to read his account of the Middle Passage, or how he mentions seeing 9 year old African girls raped by white men, without wanting to throw up) and making reasoned arguments against it. Whether or not the account is fully non-fiction (and I’ll get to that), the fact remains that this is a very affecting story.

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Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

I read this in college for a class on colonial literature, and we read it after Robinson Crusoe. I think this was a perfect decision on my professor’s part, because in addition to making bold statements about colonialism and slavery, satirizing the hell out of European government and rulers and scientists and just about everything else, Swift is using Gulliver’s Travels to write the longest, best parody of Robinson Crusoe ever. He took Defoe’s long-winded, preachy, boring survival story with racist and imperialist overtones, and turned it into a fun adventure story that never misses an opportunity to mock the exploration-story genre or break out some inappropriate jokes (don’t worry, I’ll get to those.)

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Gaudi Afternoon (Cassandra Reilly #1) by Barbara Wilson

Before this book,  I enjoyed or at least appreciated all the books I was assigned to read for my detective novel class in college. And then Cassandra Reilly and her associated foolery stomped into my life.

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A Rage in Harlam by Chester Himes

I had to read this for my detective novel class, but this isn’t actually a detective novel at all. It’s a thriller, because it’s concerned with figuring out what’s going to happen, rather than figuring out what has happened (which is the definition of a detective story – the more you know!). The plot reminded me of one of those action movies where an Unassuming Ordinary Guy gets sucked into this crazy underworld of violence and craziness and he has to try to stay afloat and not get arrested or killed. (the first movie example to come to my mind was, sadly, Wanted.)

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Too Many Cooks (Nero Wolfe #5) by Rex Stout

Even after my detective novel binge in 2010, I hadn’t heard of Rex Stout or his famous detective Nero Wolfe until my senior year of college, when I took a class on mystery novels. Turns out, they’re Kind of a Big Deal. As my professor put it: “Nero Wolfe’s fans are the detective fiction equivalent of Trekkies.” There are Nero Wolfe websites. Nero Wolfe fan clubs. Nero Wolfe cookbooks. He’s basically to America what Miss Marple and Poirot were to England, and just learning about the phenomenon was fascinating.

As for the book itself, it didn’t disappoint. It takes place in the ’30s in West Virginia, where the fifteen best chefs in the world (Les Quinze Maitres) have gathered for their annual meeting. One of these chefs is Laszio, who is despised by no less than three of the other guests present. Luckily, when Laszio is found dead with knife in his back, it just so happens that Nero Wolfe is also at the gathering, and somewhat reluctantly decides to find the killer. Along for the ride is Wolfe’s Watson, a snarky detective/bodyguard/secretary named Archie Goodwin. Archie is our narrator, and he is delightful. Wolfe is fantastic as well, but I should admit my own bias and say that any enormously fat man who overuses the exclamation “Confound you!” will always be on my good side.

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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

“THE FIRST TEN LIES THEY TELL YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL
1. We are here to help you.
2. You will have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings.
3. The dress code will be enforced.
4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.
5. Our football team will win the championship this year.
6. We expect more of you here.
7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.
8. Your schedule was created with your needs in mind.
9. Your locker combination is private.
10. These will be the years you will look back on fondly.”

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La Princesse de Cleves by Madame de Lafayette

I read this book in French, and as a result of this missed a lot of the smaller details of this book because despite taking French for seven years I still can’t really read it. But I got the main idea, and what I understood I really liked. The book’s actually pretty exciting – there’s lots of court intrigue, tournaments, plot digressions involving the misplacement of a Very Important Letter (on that note, isn’t it amazing how many older books like this have plot points that revolve around Very Important Letters being misplaced?), and court gossip. So much court gossip. Most of it isn’t even plot-related, but I still found it entertaining.

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