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Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction Romance

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person — no mean feat for a black woman in the ’30s. Janie’s quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was so rich, really loved this, even after having read it three times now, first in high school, then chosen as a character study for a women’s studies course in college, and now for Life’s Library Book Club. I’d recommend it to anyone. A great pick for book clubs.

The Story
I loved the way the author created a certain kind of nuance to the story, paralleled with the life cycle of a plant, a pear tree in particularly, blossoms, embracing each part of its growth stage, the main character coming into her womanhood, her relationships, whether romantic or platonic. Coming into her identify in social status, following the racial divide, the freedoms she wanted, the tensions she faced, the contradiction of those closest to her, even her own friends and family, some unable to relate, some in denial, some with outright hate.

It’s an important book and I feel like my perspective in reading it at different times of my life has made me appreciate it so much more.

It evoked a certain nostalgia for me.

It’s interesting how a reread of a book can take you straight back to your thoughts at the time, memories you didn’t even realize you formed. When I came across the line, “Put dat in yo’ pipe and smoke it” I was immediately taken back to high school, kids giggling as they quoted such a line, challenging the teacher, the class clown being silly, pleading “Well it was in our reading!”

I remember the book having a certain impact at a young age, how my experiences of the world and myself were not well articulated but discovering how a book like this expressed feeling you could never put into your own words, references not even well formed yet context through shared experiences.

Coupled with the very fact that accessibility to a book like this with its known contents was in my possession as a teenager. I even remember the controversy over sexual explicitness, abuse issues, historical context, language, and even the lack of proper grammar being showcased in a book that was a required read. Class discussions (quite the way to develop a sense of self I must say), taking place about how topics of the sort were being revisited, the how and why it was part of our required reading, and what was the result. What did they want us to learn? I remember thinking how honored should I be that teachers would want to invest in our education, how amazing it was to be able to read about someone else’s experience, and how dreadful it must be to attend a school that thought of a book like this as poison.

For me, it also took me back to a time of vulnerable innocence, not quite grasping all that the book had to offer. In my university women’s study course, it was brought on as a character study. A course geared toward studying what it means to be a woman. What shapes a woman. How are women identified. What women can, have, and could contribute to society. Asking how can women progress in life and find personal satisfaction individually and collectively? What holds women back? How far we’ve come? What is the life goal for a woman? What are the things that bring us joy and genuine happiness? How is that passed on generationally?

With this most recent reread, I feel it’s more of a personal read, hits me in a different way, a more relational level, looking at Janie’s companionships, her personal and family relationships, free-spirited choices in life, looking at the ones that held her back and where she ultimately ended up.

The title makes for a great discussion.

In my heart also is a deeper appreciation for literacy as a whole.

The Narration
The POV kept a certain tone consistent, all while skipping around with enough perspective that gave me a sort of strong idea of where the character was coming from. I could see why she loved Tea Cake, though he had character flaws not likely to be desired by a certain majority of women, but her life experiences brought her to accept some, reject others how she saw fit, celebrating the notion that one could choose.

Setting
Florida, 1928. I’ve traveled to Florida, have survived hurricanes, of course never been to 1928, but the cultural aspects mentioned along with the writing made it easy to imagine it as so.

Vernacular
I loved the expressiveness mixed with the formal, philosophical quotes in more lyrical fashion. This was a big point of discussion with my first read in high school. Should required reading, books in general, really be “teaching” kids improper English? How does creative writing techniques and life perspective fit into a primary school curriculum? Does it condone such things? And how does a writer draw strength in showing this in books rather than readers being told? Can you ever get the same effect? I’d say not really, which is why I probably appreciated this book so much because the risk the author took telling it like it was.

Characters
A lot to unpack here. Nuances. The character arc is subtle and is shown through a few actions/inactions, but mostly mirrored in her relationships as they come along. Maturity, discretion, desire, hope, fulfillment.

My Favorite Lines
“Put dat in yo’ pipe and smoke it.”

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

“When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks make them hunt for one another.”

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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Classics Fantasy Fiction Humor

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

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As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was so weird and I loved it. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Ralph Cosham, who was great. At just about 2 hours long, I’d recommend this to anyone open to a strange, clever read because it’s exactly as described.

The story
Originally published in 1915, this book is an entertaining and insightful look into literally what the blurb describes. A traveling salesman who turns into a bug.

The writing
Tells of what was and what is now seamlessly, from mundane tasks to complex predicaments, not droning on as a comparative analysis, but integrating him from a bug’s perspective and him from human notion at the same time.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Childrens Classics Fantasy Featured Fiction

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter, #1) by J.K. Rowling

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Harry Potter’s life is miserable. His parents are dead and he’s stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he’s a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t believe it! I finally read Harry Potter! The first one anyway.

Goodness. I started it over 20 years ago. I was in high school at the time and I was so happy to see something of interest on the NYT Best Seller list at my library that wasn’t political, wasn’t about war, or police procedural.

I never finished it though. My parents made me return it for being too dark (yet Stephen King was ok, go figure) and I wasn’t really sure I felt drawn into it by the first couple pages anyway.

And I don’t think my opinion about the first tastes of my reading experience has changed much actually after picking it up again. It definitely reads more middle-grade to me, which was hard to warm up to. The sentence structure was not very fluid, in fact quite rigid. I stumbled over it much of the time especially at the beginning.

Content-wise though it was definitely super quick with sharp descriptions and inferences, which I adored, especially after the strengths of adventure plot and tension started to really drive the story and connections into the world and each character were being made. Feelings were rarely conveyed though but it was the witty observations that made up for this lack of sensing and feeling.

I’m not sure how invested I am in the series at this point, but I’m part of the “I read Harry Potter” world now, ask me anything. I don’t know which Hogwarts House I belong to though, the kids say I’m probably Hufflepuff, so we’ll go with that.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)
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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Classics Nonfiction

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

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The Book of Five Rings is one of the most insightful texts on the subtle arts of confrontation and victory to emerge from Asian culture. Written not only for martial artists but for anyone who wants to apply the timeless principles of this text to their life, the book analyzes the process of struggle and mastery over conflict that underlies every level of human interaction. 

The Book of Five Rings was composed in 1643 by the famed duelist and undefeated samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Thomas Cleary’s translation is immediately accessible, with an introduction that presents the spiritual background of the warrior tradition. Along with Musashi’s text, Cleary translates here another important Japanese classic on leadership and strategy, The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori, which highlights the ethical and spiritual insights of Taoism and Zen as they apply to the way of the warrior.

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was quite interesting. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Brian Morris, which was great. His voice was deep and resonating, and at 1.5 speed, it was less than 2 hours worth which was the perfect amount of time for me to practice my stylistic handwriting for cards that I was making.

It definitely delivered what it promised, that being teaching the principles of swordsmanship, martial arts of sorts. Something I know nothing about but the application to life in general was insightful.

Practice, anticipation, strategy, situational-awareness, embracing intuitive judgement, more practice.

It was pleasant to listen to as far as content goes, that being about martial arts culture I’m less familiar with. Some parts were a bit redundant and more technical than what I was interested in.

However the observations about human nature and response was incredibly self-revealing, especially for a book that is almost 400 years old. The principles about discipline stand true to today and I got a lot out of it.

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Adventure Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction Science Fiction

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Extraordinary Voyages #3) by Jules Verne

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The intrepid Professor Liedenbrock embarks upon the strangest expedition of the nineteenth century: a journey down an extinct Icelandic volcano to the Earth’s very core. In his quest to penetrate the planet’s primordial secrets, the geologist–together with his quaking nephew Axel and their devoted guide, Hans–discovers an astonishing subterranean menagerie of prehistoric proportions. Verne’s imaginative tale is at once the ultimate science fiction adventure and a reflection on the perfectibility of human understanding and the psychology of the questor.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Extraordinary Voyages, #3)Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was great. I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club. I enjoyed it as an audiobook, narrated by Simon Prebble.

I loved the original movie from 1959. In this book, as a new post movie read for me, I also loved how the story unfolded, though I must say it was difficult to put aside the ideas I already knew from the movie and not miss on all the nonstop action that drove the storyline home.

The story was a little slow to start though. I couldn’t wait to get to the actual journey part. The build up was important but slow from this aspect, but when it took off, the story became a little more alive to me.

I don’t think I ever remembered it taking place in Iceland, so I really appreciated all the insight into Icelandic scenery and culture.

The thought put into the science fiction aspects were my favorite part. Thoughts about lighting to view the center of the earth, taking note of how one could possibly do this in the presence of gasses. Discussion about the actual physical space, liquid or solidarity. The discussions that took place among the characters to evaluate this. I just loved all the ideas that were studied and explored.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Nonfiction

Canoeing in the Wilderness by Henry David Thoreau

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Essayist, poet, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817–62) ranks among America’s foremost nature writers. The Concord, Massachusetts, native spent most of his life observing the natural world of New England. His thoughts on leading a simple, independent life remain a foundation of modern environmentalism, as captured in Walden, his best-known work.Canoeing in the Wilderness, the 1857 diary of a two-week sojourn in Maine, chronicles the author’s travels with a friend and a Native American guide.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Maine woodlands were still in pristine condition, inhabited by a handful of Native Americans, pioneer farmers, the occasional lumberjack, and a rich and diverse wildlife population. Thoreau’s poetic yet realistic observations of the landscape are accompanied by his accounts of day-to-day events. From camping by the waterside and waking to birdsong to enduring mosquitoes and cloudbursts, he writes with grace and clarity that bring the American wilderness to vivid life.

Canoeing in the WildernessCanoeing in the Wilderness by Henry David Thoreau

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Dover Publications for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Loved it.

I’d recommend this to anyone. I found it to be an incredibly relaxing read especially during these moments in time, the perfect novella, palette cleanser, reflective, a great way to gain perspective and become grounded and mindful of the lovely things in life.

I loved how soothing the writing rhythm was, both poetic and philosophical, yet easily attainable and enjoyable without being overly complicated. It read with ease as if I was sitting around a campfire listening to the master tell stories of great adventure and oral tradition.

Stories centered on depicting appreciation for and observations of the natural world including adventure trails to canoe running, surrounding forest environment, woodland animals, and relationships with the Indians.

Thoreau’s stylistically simple, yet deeply personal and thought-provoking journal entries never fail to refresh my mind.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction

Voltaire Candide, or Optimism by Voltaire

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Candide is the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in “the best of all possible worlds.” On the surface a witty, bantering tale, this eighteenth-century classic is actually a savage, satiric thrust at the philosophical optimism that proclaims that all disaster and human suffering is part of a benevolent cosmic plan. Fast, funny, often outrageous, the French philosopher’s immortal narrative takes Candide around the world to discover that — contrary to the teachings of his distinguished tutor Dr. Pangloss — all is not always for the best. Alive with wit, brilliance, and graceful storytelling, Candide has become Voltaire’s most celebrated work.

CandideCandide by Voltaire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hilarious and often silly, philosophical and exaggerated, a relic true to the interpersonal behavioral quirks of then and now.

Some bits were a bit of a bore to me, a little overly detailed for my taste, but I was glad to have read it anyway!

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

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This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army of World War I. These young men become enthusiastic soldiers, but their world of duty, culture, and progress breaks into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.

Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the hatred that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another – if only he can come out of the war alive.

All Quiet on the Western FrontAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An intense, insightful picture of war and all its repercussions brought forth from a soldier’s unfiltered and unapologetic point of view. I’d highly recommend this classic read for everyone. This was a reread for me and it was just as impactful the second time around.

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Audiobooks Book Reviews Classics Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

Hawaii by James A. Michener

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Pulitzer Prize–winning author James A. Michener brings Hawaii’s epic history vividly to life in a classic saga that has captivated readers since its initial publication in 1959. As the volcanic Hawaiian Islands sprout from the ocean floor, the land remains untouched for centuries—until, little more than a thousand years ago, Polynesian seafarers make the perilous journey across the Pacific, flourishing in this tropical paradise according to their ancient traditions. Then, in the early nineteenth century, American missionaries arrive, bringing with them a new creed and a new way of life. Based on exhaustive research and told in Michener’s immersive prose, Hawaii is the story of disparate peoples struggling to keep their identity, live in harmony, and, ultimately, join together.

HawaiiHawaii by James A. Michener

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such an excellent book! I listened to it via audiobook, narrated by Larry McKeever and Fred Sanders which I’d highly recommend.

It’s a comprehensive historical account about the formation of Hawaii, as in the very creation of the islands from volcanic activity to the development of language, societal norms, statehood, and culture. It had a well-rounded insight into the social interaction and adaptation of the times.

It really appealed to my curiosity, what actually is native to the islands? From foliage, poi, and pineapples, the uklele, hula skirts and hula dancing, is anything attributed to be native to Hawaii that wasn’t brought over by boat from thousands of miles away? How did all of these things originate and become Hawaii as we know it today? What exactly can Hawaii call their own?

The writing in particular was lovely, it read like an adventure and answered the most intriguing questions. It was incredibly blunt, there was absolutely no holding back on this one whether in celebrations or conflict, perception or reality.

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Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction Science Fiction

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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The story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?

Flowers for AlgernonFlowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a good story. I’d recommend it to anyone. I followed along via audiobook, narrated by Jeff Woodman, which I’d highly recommend as well.

The author, Daniel Keyes, was a master at writing to the progression of the story and character development in this book. Beginning with inner and external dialogue that spoke to the nuances of language development from concrete to abstract thinking and to the vocabulary itself. From developmental delays and emotional immaturity to the acquisition and subsequent regression, the thought patterns and use of words were very well thought out.

The premise itself covered consciousness, introspection, personhood, character, innate being, ethical dilemmas, meaning, belonging, intimacy, relational concepts, and love. It explores what it means to be a person, who and what you are and I loved how the author communicated it all.

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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Classics Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

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In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies.

Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.

The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate.

The House of the SpiritsThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This one just wasn’t for me. It was too fanciful, wordy, and just plain weird for my taste. I read this for Life’s Library Book Club. It was not likely one I would pick up on my own though, but I did give it a good try and I know other people will love it.

I converted my reading experience to audiobook about half way through to see if it would help bring me into the more positively popular perspective about this book, but I just couldn’t get into it. I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it though as other people would probably relate to it more than me and might find themselves better immersed in the story.

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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Nonfiction

The Republic by Plato

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Presented in the form of a dialogue between Socrates and three different interlocutors, this classic text is an enquiry into the notion of a perfect community and the ideal individual within it. During the conversation, other questions are raised: what is goodness?; what is reality?; and what is knowledge? The Republic also addresses the purpose of education and the role of both women and men as guardians of the people. With remarkable lucidity and deft use of allegory, Plato arrives at a depiction of a state bound by harmony and ruled by philosopher kings.

The RepublicThe Republic by Plato

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this one! I read it for PewDiePie’s Book Review/Literature Club.

Though I was already quite familiar with the published pieces, having taken philosophy classes in undergrad, I still found the content intriguing. I started out reading it in digital format, but ended up listening to the rest of it via audiobook. My version didn’t list the narrator, but it was perfect for this particular book which consists of a lot of dialogue. The audio version allowed it to be an enjoyable conversation to listen to. I think those familiar and less familiar with the notions and key figures of philosophy will be able to understand the flow and concepts and the audiobook version makes it just that much more easy to follow and understand.

I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who are in high school or college as I think students would find it particularly insightful and helpful in developing their worldview, exploring habits of thinking, bringing relevant human behavior and perspective into discussions and debates, and for an overall general must read about historical key figures who contributed so much to the world of philosophy even as we know it today.

I really liked the dialogue style format. Basically this book reads like a real time conversation between philosophers, most notably Plato and Socrates among a few others.

As far as content is concerned, the philosophers discussed interesting perspectives of the most basic and abstract needs of humanity. They commented on topics such as aging, wealth, deeds, death, tales, and fears. They talked about contrasting viewpoints on the just and unjust, intention vs action, as well as wisdom and virtue. Each conversation took each viewpoint to the extreme for exploration purposes, almost lost in minutia but ultimately became helpful for establishing boundaries as well as creating and assigning meaning.

It can be a heavy read at times and definitely one you will want to take your time with.

Here is a photo of the complete collection of Plato’s works that I took while visiting the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. back in February. The Library of Congress is a marvelous place!

The Republic by Plato, collection located at the Library of Congress © 2018 ericarobbin.com | All rights reserved.

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