I’ve mentioned before that Krysta and I both spent years reviewing books for ourselves before we ever started blogging, and, for better or worse, we still have a lot of those reviews. Knowing this, I thought to myself Wouldn’t it be fun if we did a little flashback feature and posted some of those past reviews? Krysta said it would just be embarrassing (and actually she’s probably right), so that’s why I’ve decided to share some reviews from 2009. They’re not quite as old as some of the others, and so of somewhat better quality. (Notice too that my personal reviews and summaries were often much shorter than the ones I write for the blog!)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A modern classic, this is the story of a world where books are banned but not forgotten, and men—like Montag, a fire man and burner of books—must choose between comfort and knowledge.
Bradbury tells an engrossing, provoking story populated by real, dynamic, and diverse characters that will be appreciated by any bibliophile. One can practically feel the ashes flowing about Montag’s person and small the kerosene he can never wash away, as Duncan’s blood forever stained Macbeth. The fear, the questions, the uncertainty, and the hope are all real, all richly layered. Bradbury redeems American literature with pure style, great thoughts, and a futuristic vision horrible but not unbearable.
I haven’t reread Fahrenheit 415 any time after 2009, but I think my opinion would be very similar if I did.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
An American ambulance driver serving in the Italian army during World War I falls in love with an English nurse.
The title of A Farewell to Arms is, without a doubt, the most intriguing part of the entire novel—and it was borrowed from a poem by George Peele. The book may officially qualify as one of the most boring pieces of literature ever penned by man—surpassing both Ethan Frome and Brave New World to mount the top of worse summer reading assigned. The former has New England style to redeem it and the latter some thoughts on antiutopia that were worth some investigation. Hemingway has little.
The characters in general are flat and, if not disagreeable, hardly likeable either. One is most attached to Frederic Henry, as he is the narrator and the tale told from his perspective. Yet, despite the natural sympathy, one must constantly wonder what he sees in Catherine Barkley—besides escape from war. She is submissive and dull and does nothing but repeat herself and ask foolish questions—and repeat the foolish questions. Fitzgerald’s Daisy is both a goddess and genius in comparison.
The middle of the book is not half-bad, with some interesting perspectives on war and some varied characterizations, ranging from military enthusiasts to those who think that war a waste and joke. The depiction of the battle police and their self-righteous judgments is gruesomely captivating. The beginning, however, is a prolonged torture, and the end effaces whatever point one saw in the preceding three hundred pages. And destructive as it is, it somehow is missing. Henry is absurdly stoic, moving on as if little had happened—thus, the effacement.
A Farewell to Arms achieves most in its inspiration [for me] to avoid religiously Hemingway’s work in future.
The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
The sequel to My Name is Asher Lev, the book begins about twenty years after Lev’s exile to Paris. The death of his uncle recalls him to Brooklyn and his past, where a new understanding of old stories will bring both loss and gain, and potentially help rekindle his dormant creative genius.
Potok pens another compelling novel, taut with the conflict of two different worlds bound by one man who understands and loves them both. Insights on truth, art, family, and love come rolling off the pages. Abundant, they reveal Potok’s great and gentle knowledge of humanity. The Gift of Asher Lev is nothing less than the natural successor to My Name Is Asher Lev and a book that cannot be missed by anyone who believes literature is both beauty and truth.
Chaim Potok remains one of my favorite authors, and I still admire his masterful ability to understand and portray human nature. I also love the Keats allusion I threw into this review.