Month: October 2012

2012 Book #25: Hard Times

hardtimes.jpgI read Hard Times for the first time when I was 15 because an English teacher I really respected recommend that I read it over the summer after my freshman year of high school. (She’s also responsible for my love of Don DeLillo and Margaret Atwood: she recommended White Noise and The Handmaid’s Tale, too.) I’d almost totally forgotten what Hard Times is about. All I remembered was that a school with a mean teacher was involved. I think I wanted to reread it precisely because I didn’t remember. And I love Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorite novels. (I tried reading Great Expectations, though, and didn’t even make it halfway.) In fact, that’s the first book I read after I graduated college the first time with an English degree. I decided that even though I had a piece of paper that said I had, I hadn’t read anything. So I picked up the nearest “respectable” book which happened to be A Tale of Two Cities. I don’t think I expected to like it at all – and I certainly didn’t expect to absolutely love it.

Anyway, back to Hard Times. It’s generally about utilitarianism and the old debate about nature versus nurture. Thomas Gradgrind, father of Louisa and Tom, believes that all that matters is fact. He piles his children’s heads full of facts at the expense of emotion and imagination. We follow Louisa and Tom from childhood to adulthood and see the consequences of their father’s decisions. Meanwhile, Stephen Blackpool is a working-class mill worker who is falsely accused of robbing a bank. We see what happens to him as Dickens explores class structure. The End.

That summary makes it seem like I liked Hard Times much less than I did. Maybe it’s because it’s been a few weeks since I read it, and things get fuzzy quickly. It wasn’t at all what I remembered. The school part was relatively short – I guess it was just the part that was most relevant to me at the time. I had totally forgotten about Stephen Blackpool and the bank.

So. Pick up a copy of Hard Times and read it. Not just because it’s Dickens and you should. Because it’s a really great novel and totally worth a read. And, for Dickens, it’s relatively short, which, I guess, isn’t saying much.

2012 Book #24: Light in August

LightInAugust.jpgLight in August is, hands down, the best book I’ve read so far this year. It’s really an amazing novel. Faulkner is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read several of his best-known novels like The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! Like the other books I’ve read, Light in August is set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, but it doesn’t deal with the declining families there. I didn’t recognize any family names common to Faulkner novels (in fact, I didn’t know it was set in Yoknapatawpha County until I looked it up on Wikipedia).

A few things are going on in this novel: First, Lena Grove is very pregnant and travels from Alabama to Jefferson looking for the runaway father of her child, Lucas Burch. Second, a man named Christmas, who is unsure of his race, arrives in Jefferson. He meets a man who calls himself Joe Brown, and they live together in a cabin outside the house of Joanna Burden, a well-respected woman from an abolitionist family. Christmas starts a sexual relationship with Burden culminating in a house fire and a charge of murder. Third, we hear the story of Reverend Gail Hightower an outsider in the community who gets involved with the other plot lines. And that’s as much of a summary as I’m offering.

I’m not sure why Light in August wasn’t on my radar earlier. It’s pretty well-known, but it’s also long for a Faulkner novel at somewhere near 500 pages. Which explains why I wasn’t assigned it in college. It’s also more focused on race than I remember his other novels being. In any case, Light in August is so worth your time. I was hooked from the very beginning and in awe of Faulkner’s writing powers. It’s now my favorite of his novels.

Check it out!

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