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.
9 thoughts on “Before the Blog: Reviews from the Past”
This sounds like a fantastic feature. I wish I wrote reviews when I began reading like crazy years ago (2007). It’s great to see how you have improved, even if it is a little embarrassing to read past reviews. 😛
I loved Fahrenheit 451. It’s one of my favorite classics, if not my famous. Your review for that book sounds really well written to me.
I’ve never read anything by Ernest Hemingway, but I finally got “The Sun Still Rises” today by chance. Ah…I just reached the end of your review. Well then, haha, they can’t all be winners.
I haven’t heard of the last book. It sounds good though. A little…empty. It could have benefitted from some examples, information about characters, etc. 🙂
I like this feature. Keep it up.
It is a little awkward to post old reviews, but I cheated a little by picking the ones I thought were more decent than the other ones. 😀
Don’t let my review of A Farewell to Arms scare you! I mean, clearly I hated the book, (and that was after two almost back-to-back readings, so I can’t say my opinion changed), but perhaps it would be different now that it’s five years later. Although I can’t say I’ve had the courage to try any more Hemingway since.
Very good point! I guess the last review is rather general. I liked the book, but it isn’t entirely clear what I liked about it.
I don’t blame you. Gotta make yourself look good after all. 🙂
I shall give him a try then. Maybe I’ll feel differently about him. Ah, two back to back readings sounds terrible for a book you don’t like.
Yeah, it was a bit general, I couldn’t think of the word. 🙂 It was good though, you sounded like you really liked it.
” Fitzgerald’s Daisy is both a goddess and genius in comparison.” Ouch. 😉 Hemingway is tough. I know people who absolutely love him. I am not one of them.
I am reading My Name is Asher Lev for the first time. 🙂
I’m almost tempted to reread A Farewell to Arms just to see if I would hate it as much now, but that seems counterproductive when there are lots of books I think I would like left to read!
I do know some people who love Hemingway, but no one has explained to me why yet.
I’ve heard jargon like “language” or “narrative style” but I don’t know what, in the language or narrative style, speaks to them. To each their own, I suppose. I tend to think classics are classics because they have and continue to speak to people, even if I am not one of the people they speak to.
I’m fairly low-brow in my tastes, though. I love Shakespeare. 😉
This is such a fun idea. I’ve often written about books I’m reading/read before blogging but only ever in my journals. I don’t type those though, so it’s all handwritten in different journals through the years. To do something like this, I’d have to flip back through hundreds and hundreds of random musings about from my past (which may prove fun/awkward all on it’s own…) to find entries about novels. I love how you have these old reviews and did this juxtaposition.
It’s really awkward reading your old writing, though! Especially if it’s like 15 year old writing! (And I don’t know where these old reviews even are right now, though I know they’re printed out and existing somewhere, so I won’t be doing another post like this for a while!)
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Oh it absolutely can be! I fell down the well of reading my old writing just the other night. I was getting ready for bed and it was around 1:00 am. I randomly picked up an old journal and started flipping through it…the next thing I knew it was after 3:00! I’d opened to the particularly melodramatic end of a particularly melodramatic and unhealthy relationship from years ago. It was like a novel I couldn’t put down XD. I kept saying, “No Michael! You don’t know what you’re doing! These feelings aren’t what you think! How could you say that?!? You’re going to get hurt BE CAREFUL!!!” I cringed more than once at some of the things I wrote and I cringed a lot more at the feelings I was *so* sure of. Hahaha, oh Past Michael, you were a trip.