Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May Classics: Task Completed

I did it! I went the whole month of May only reading classic works of literature! Except for when I brought the Axe Cop book home from the library, but comics don't count, right?

As Craig pointed out, my initial list of classics was waaaay too ambitious for one month of reading, so I'm planning to hold more Classics Months in the future. Not this month, though. For one thing, I already told all my cheesy YA lit holds to come back to the library for me. For another thing, one of my co-workers pointed out that it's better to read classics in the wintertime. That's clearly just true.

Here's what I accomplished:

1. Ivanhoe

Here's my Goodreads review. In a nutshell, Ivanhoe is not really good, but I can see how it set up a lot of the knights/chivalry/Richard the Lionhearted/Robin Hood cliches we all love so much. So it has that going for it.

After I read Ivanhoe, I checked out the 1952 movie version and boy howdy! If I thought the book had some dumb parts, it has nothing on the film. Neal and I had a grand old MST3K time with that one. Short version: plastic swords and helmets, everyone except Elizabeth Taylor is ugly and can't act (and Elizabeth Taylor's acting was no great shakes either), and the comic relief characters dies a painful death that no one ever remarks upon. Oh, and it got nominated for Best Picture that year, so I hope you're ashamed of yourself, cinema industry of 1952.

2. Slaughterhouse-Five

I would link you to my Goodreads review for this one, but I was only in the mood to write "It would have been better without the aliens." Which is true.

It's an odd little book; one that's better before the story gets started. It starts with what I assume is an only barely fictionalized account of Vonnegut trying to, but having a hard time getting around to, writing a book about his experience in Dresden during WWII. Once it gets to its protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, it's not nearly as interesting. Here's my problem with the book: Billy Pilgrim is a worthless, pathetic nothing even before he goes to war. His experience in Dresden doesn't break him. He's pretty much exactly the same until he goes crazy, long after the war, because he's in a plane crash and sustains a serious head injury. I don't care about Billy Pilgrim when he's being useless in Germany; I don't care about Billy Pilgrim when he's experiencing middle-aged ennui; I don't care about Billy Pilgrim when he thinks he's been abducted by aliens and living in their zoo. I would care about what happened in Dresden, but that only gets a cameo.

3. Great Expectations

My Goodreads review for this one is pretty long. This was the biggest surprise of Classics Month: I liked Great Expectations! It was sort of difficult going for the first two-thirds (although it was much funnier than I expected), but then the last third was really great and made the first parts worth it. I really enjoyed it.

4. The Catcher in the Rye

Like I mention in the Goodreads review, this is the only one of the books I read in May that I don't understand why it's a classic. Holden Caulfield is much, much more worthless than Billy Pilgrim. A co-worker/Goodreads friend told me she was sad to see I hated the book. I asked her if the point was to hate Holden, and she said it was, so I will admit that at least it's successful. I will give it this, too: it's a very believable internal portrait of an anti-social, spoiled, stuck-up teenage boy. But that doesn't make it any less irritating to have to spend so much time in his head. Especially when there's no plot to move things along.

This is a serious question for you: why do we, as a society, care about this book?

5. Heart of Darkness

I'm not going to lie to you:

I picked Heart of Darkness because I didn't finish Catcher in the Rye until the 29th. No regrets!

Again: Goodreads review link. Basically, I can tell this is good (unlike with some extremely popular J. D. Salinger books I could name), but I don't think I could fully get it without more outside study. It hints instead of explaining. I wish I had read it in some level of school so I could have wrung more of the meaning out of it.

That was the great thing about the Axe Cop book. All the commentary!
Click here to read more . . .