Sunday, August 9, 2009

Summer Reading

While in Europe, I did more than see sights and drink. I also went to school. But when I wasn't doing those things, I was reading. And reading. And reading. It was so awesome to be able to read for fun and not for an assignment. I read for school too (most of the time), but I mostly read for pleasure. My favorite book of the summer is not listed below - it was so awesome that it will get its own posting in the next few days.

Villette, by Charlotte Bronte

This was an excellent Charlotte Bronte novel. It had all the elements that make Charlotte Bronte novels excellent: a boarding school, orphans, a lonely heroine and a less than attractive hero, heartache, isolation, devastation, recovery, pleasure in small things and ultimately joy and contentment. There is never elation or high emotions, but there is a way to find contentment in life in spite of all kinds of obstacles thrown in the way of the heroine.

This is often spoken of as the most autobiographical of all her novels. It takes place mostly in Belgium rather than England, which is where Charlotte Bronte spent a good many years as a teacher. It involves a boarding school and a professor with whom the heroine falls in love, and these are things that happened to Charlotte.

It is a moving novel, but sometimes slow and dry. It’s a good thing I speak some French, because there was a great deal of it written in the novel. Someone else might have a difficult time understanding some passages. But if you liked Jane Eyre at all (and if you didn’t, you shouldn’t be reading this blog), you should give this novel a chance too.

The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink

This is one case where the movie and the book are nearly identical. The movie did a good job of evoking the same emotions from me as the book did. The movie didn’t leave out any major plot points, and the book didn’t help to explain anything in the movie. They are both good.

I’ll spare you the trouble of hearing the story, because you’ve probably seen the movie anyway (Kate Winslet gets naked – now you want to see it don’t you?). Suffice it to say that the novel is good – especially for a plane ride, but if you only watch the movie, then you’re not really missing anything. Read it if you have nothing better to read at the moment.

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

I have not seen this movie, so I can’t do a comparison. However, I can tell you that the novel is fantastic. It tells the story of an eccentric and charming family, the Marchmains, through the recollection of Charles Ryder, a friend and classmate of Sebastian Marchmain. At the opening of the novel, Charles is in the Army and is stationed at Brideshead which has been taken over as officer’s quarters during WWII.

Each family member has his own eccentricities and foibles. Each family member in turn woos and charms Charles. Charles is invited back several times to visit, and each time his fascination with the family and the property grows. In the end all of them end up scattered about and living very separate and different lives. They were only friends for a few years, but they have all affected (and infected) each others’ lives. This is the way of life and it’s a beautiful thing no matter how tragic the end. Please read this novel. Your life will be better for it.

Confessions of a Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella

I have a philosophy about movies that are made from books. Generally speaking (with a few exceptions), whichever version a person watches/reads first is the version she will like more. For example, I loved the novel High Fidelity, but I like the movie more, because I saw the movie first, and the whole time I was reading the novel, I kept picturing John Cusack and Chicago rather than the English bloke with a record store.But, I have a difficult time with some of the Harry Potter movies because things aren’t exactly how I imagined them while reading the books.

In the case of this novel, the movie definitely wins – and most probably it’s because I saw the movie first. Isla Fisher is hilarious and Hugh Dancy is adorable. This is who I pictured when reading the book, which by the way has a completely different story line, takes place in London (I’ve been there now, btw) rather than New York, and is way less funny. The book is sappier.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that maybe you should avoid this book (and judging from this book, skip the entire series) entirely. Just go see the movie. Or rent it. Or Netflix it.

Elizabeth and Mary, by Jane Dunn

This is a great read if you’re an Anglo-file like me and want to learn as much as possible about British History. It discusses the ins and outs of one small aspect of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I – her relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots.

I had no idea that Mary was so scandalous and until I read this book, I didn’t understand why Elizabeth kept her imprisoned at all, let alone for 19 years. I thought that if she was so bad she should have been executed, and if she didn’t deserve execution, maybe she shouldn’t have been held captive indefinitely. This book does an excellent job of explaining all the political and personal reasons Elizabeth was so hesitant to execute her cousin and fellow monarch.

A Time to Kill, by John Grisham

I ran out of books to read in Europe, so I started borrowing from others. I rather enjoyed this novel, though I wouldn't have chosen it on my own. I read it one weekend when everyone else was traveling. It’s well-written for fast reading and asks an interesting social question – is it acceptable to hunt and shoot down men who have raped your 10-year-old daughter and left her for dead? Does it make a difference if white men raped her and the shooter is black? What would you do if you were on that jury?

The Prince, by Machiavelli

My expectations of this book were all out of whack. After reading it, I learned that it was originally a pamphlet written by a Florentine public servant in the early 1500s, and that it was written as advice to his ruling monarch on how to be the most powerful and influential monarch possible.

I had expected it to be more like a story of a man who ruthlessly works his way towards the most powerful and prestigious position possible. But it was still interesting. There is some really good advice here – especially for those of us preparing for a career in the legal field.

The Broken Window, by Jeffery Deaver

This is another novel I borrowed this summer, and it was also a good plane book. It’s a thriller that tells the story of a serial killer who works at a data mining company and uses all the information there to learn about people: who would be a good candidate for murder and rape? Who would be good candidate to frame for the murder and rape? From his work, he can learn what products the people buy, what their schedules are, who their friends and family are and how long it would take for someone to find the victim.

He then calls the police himself reporting screams and an address and sometimes a partial license plate number. While the police are responding to the scene, he goes and plants evidence at the home of the person he’s framing. It’s been working for years and years, until one day he makes a mistake and frames the estranged cousin of the famous criminologist, Lincoln Rymes. It’s all downhill from there.

It’s a good story, a scary concept (I’m going to think twice about putting my real information on those club cards from now on) and it’s a fast read. Enjoy it.


  1. wow you read a lot of books. i guess i would have too. i don't really know what i'm commenting about anymore haha. i loved the movie the reader. i should read the book. nick thinks i'm 'sulking' right now. it's annoying.

  2. i haven't seen lost in austen, but elin's bringing it with her when she comes!!! so i'm excited.

  3. I think I have to disagree with you on Confessions of a Shopaholic. I will admit first that I haven't seen the movie, but I did love the book. I thought it was rather funny, in that completely British sense, and I really related to the main character. I haven't read any of the other books in the series, somehow I don't like reading what happens after people fall in love as much as the falling in love bit.