Two short reviews

In the past, I have written these in groups of four, but today I only have two books to review.  They each get 4 out of 5 stars, so perhaps there is still uniformity to this, after all? 

Atticus and Tom Robinson in court
To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

It would seem I should have more to say about this book, but what can I say?  You probably know the entire synopsis with or without having read it before.  I enjoyed it, more than I expected.  The writing was more vivid than the plot, painting a complex examination of prejudice and tension that even the (excellent) movie could not evoke.  Atticus and Scout were deep characters.  The ending felt somehow disappointing after the intricate buildup, hence four stars.  But the journey, rather than the end, certainly makes it a worthy classic, so if you have procrastinated as I did, procrastinate no longer.

Joseph Conrad, Fotografie von George Charles Beresford, 1904
Notes on Life and Letters
Joseph Conrad

I was reading this book for the longest time, I don’t remember when I started it.  Goodreads says February.  Well, it isn’t nearly as gripping as The Mirror of the Sea or A Personal Record, but it was worth it in the long run.  These “notes” were put together into one volume by Conrad himself.  Part I is a compilation of Conrad’s opinions on other literary figures, which apart from Turgenev and Stephen Crane went mostly over my head.  Part II was much more interesting – the main topics being WWI, Poland, Conrad’s first (and only?) flight, and his analysis of the sinking of the Titanic.  If you’re geeky enough to love Conrad memoirs (as I do), and/or you are interested in a primary source for these topics, I recommend at least giving this book a try.

Four (more) short reviews

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane
The Remains of the Day 
Kazuo Ishiguro
4 out of 5 stars
This award-winning novel is about an English butler, Mr. Stevens, who takes a road trip in the English countryside.  Though he attempts to keep a travelogue, he ends up reminiscing about his father, his friendship with housekeeper Miss Kenton, and his former employer’s role in the Inter-War/WWII era.

The book is pretty good, but I enjoyed the Anthony Hopkins film more.  His portrayal of Mr. Stevens is really moving, whereas book!Stevens is harder to like or understand.

 
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Washington Irving
5 out of 5 stars
I knew the story already (from the Disney animated film), but it was a delight to read the original!  Ichabod is a rather egotistical, materialistic guy in the book, so one hardly feels sorry for him.
 
A Passage to India
E. M. Forster
 2 out of 5 stars
This book was really well-written, with some interesting depictions of the British Raj, but that’s about it.  I didn’t like the characters much, including but not limited to Mrs. Moore.  (By comparison, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a lot deeper and more vague, yet somehow easier to understand.) I’m not exactly sure what was the point of A Passage to India, although as an illustration it is ok.
Kafka’s Selected Shorter Writings
from ManyBooks.net
 5 out of 5 stars

This is a nice read for Kafka fans or readers who just want to sample his work.  The stories are very short (in fact, I believe the Gatekeeper story is an excerpt from The Trial).  Recommended if you have a half-hour to spare!

4 short reviews

Beowulf
Unknown
3.5 out of 5 stars

I feel almost guilty for rating this classic of classics so poorly, but I think it’s a book you either love, loathe, or feel lukewarm about.

Pros:  The historic setting, historic dialogue, underwater/cave battle, and Christian perspective.  Added 1/2 star for Beowulf‘s influence on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Cons:  Beowulf (the character) is much too flawless a fighter. He hardly seems human.  A more interesting character is Wiglaf, the underling whose courage outweighs his inexperience.

The Queen of Spades
Alexander Pushkin
2 out of 5 stars

A very weird, Edgar Allan Poe-esque story about gambling and ghosts.  It’s also super fast-paced, which doesn’t help.  Interesting concept, however.

A Tangled Tale
Lewis Carroll
5 out of 5 stars

One of the best books I’ve read in the last year.  This is a collection of math/logic puzzles, with continuing characters and storylines.  The dialogue is wonderfully witty and hilarious at times (“Equilateral! And rectangular!”).

As far as the puzzles themselves go, this is serious stuff.  Mathematically, pretty much all you need is algebra.  The logic is the tough part.  I tried solving several of them, but was only able to solve one on my own: “Petty Cash”.  Even this involved Victorian British currency and some convoluted systems of equations.

Needless to say, you will be staying up very late at night trying to solve these.  They look horribly simple, even on your second or third attempt.

A Personal Record
Joseph Conrad
5 out of 5 stars

Another memoir by Joseph Conrad, this book gives fascinating insights on what his early life was like, how he became a seaman, and how–comparatively late in life–he became a writer.  Highly recommended for Conrad fans and people interested in the lives of great authors.