Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas everyone!
I'm headed to Iowa with the Huz
and the pup to spend time with family.
I will be back posting on January 2, 2015  
Have a wonderful break!  
Photo by moi. 

2014 End of the Year Book Survey

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I can't believe it's almost 2015! Of course that means it's the perfect time to take a bookish survey. I love these because they make me think about all the books I've read over the past 12 months. It makes me really consider which ones I loved and why. I love remembering favorites from the beginning of the year that I may have forgotten. Any books I re-read this year are not eligible for this list. I also don’t limit myself to one book per answer if there’s two or three that really fit perfectly.   

Number of books read in 2014: 151 

1. Best Book You Read In 2014? (by genre)  
Classics The Painted Veil, An American Tragedy, and Doctor Thorne 
Historical Fiction Doc 
Mystery — Big Little Lies, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Strong Poison 
Literary Fiction — The Lotus Eaters, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Dinner, and The Interestings 
Nonfiction — At Home, By the Book, and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage 
Fantasy — Tooth and Claw 
Science Fiction — William Shakespeare's Star Wars 
YA Emily of New Moon and The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Graphic Novel — Blankets and Wonderstruck 

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?  
Life After  Life by Kate Atkinson, I loved her novel Case Histories and there was a lot of hype around this one, but it just didn’t work for me. 

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2014? 
The Husband's Secret, I thought it was going to be chick lit fluff but it was fantastic!  

4. Book you read in 2014 that you recommended to people most in 2014? 
Big Little Lies and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage 

5. Best series you discovered in 2014? 
Fables by Bill Willingham, a brilliant graphic novel series! 

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?  
Liane Moriarty 

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you? 
Lean In, it falls in the self-help category in my mind, which is a genre I don’t read, but I got a lot out of it.  

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2014? 
The Husband’s Secret 

9. Book You Read In 2014 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read? 
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, as soon as I finished my library copy I knew it was one I would need to own. There were so many essays I know I’ll reference in the future. 

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014? (Left)

11. Most memorable character in 2014? 
Don Quixote 

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2014? 
Doc and The Lotus Eaters were both gorgeous! 

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2014? 
American Tragedy, such a haunting story about the double-edged sword of the American Dream. 

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read? It, King's epic coming-of-age story is just as scary as everyone told me it would be.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2014? 

“Don’t you think this is why education in the arts is so powerful? Rhythm and harmony find their way to the inner part of the soul and establish themselves there, bringing grace to the well-educated.” - Plato’s Republic 

“These people who can see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you're making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.” – Gilead 

“Home," he said softly. "If there is a more beautiful word in any language, I do not know it.” – Doc 

“Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half. It’s everything in between we live for." – This is the Story of a Happy Marriage 

“The possibility of time going on, her memories growing dim, the photographs of the battles turning from life into history, terrified her.” – The Lotus Eaters 

“America has been erased like a blackboard, only to be rebuilt and then erased again." – Shoeless Joe 

16.Shortest and Longest Book You Read In 2014? 
The Last Chronicle of Barset: 1,003 pages (or really the whole Chronicles of Barsetshire: 3,875 pages!)
Six Characters in Search of an Author (a play): 64 pages 

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?   
Big Little Lies, that ending!!! 

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2014 (be it romantic, friendship, etc). 
Frank and Mary’s romance from Doctor Thorne in the romance category and Edgar and his dog Almondine had one of the sweetest friendships I’ve ever read in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2014 From An Author You’ve Read Previously?
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley, the sixth book in the Flavia de Luce series. 

20. Best Book You Read In 2014 That You Read Based SOLELY on a Recommendation From Somebody Else: 
Dune, my Dad has been recommending it for years and I finally read it. It wasn't my favorite new book, but I felt like I got to know his interests better through reading it.

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2014? 
Classics and Literary Fiction 

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014? 
It was a re-read but Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey 

23. Best debut book you read? 
The Invisible Bridge, the author had published short story collections but this was her first novel. 

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2014? 
Tooth and Claw, Victorian era dragons, I loved it! 

25. Book That Was the Most Fun To Read in 2014? 
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and The Empire Striketh Back 

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2014?
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, geez that one had me reeling. Also the final scene in 11/22/63 had me a bit teared up.

27. Book You Read in 2014 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out? 
A Week in Winter, it’s nothing earth shattering, but it was the very last book published by Maeve Binchy (posthumously) and it was lovely. 

28. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year? 
I finished the TBR Pile Challenge, the Back to the Classics Challenge also put a big dent in my Classics Club list! 

29. Bookish Events on your blog in 2014? 
I co-hosted a massive readalong of all six books in the Chronicles of Barsetshire by Anthony Trollope. I started the Shakespeare Project where I keep track of the Shakespeare books I read, plays I see, and movies I watch. I updated all of my Reading the States posts with new books. I also continue to be one of the moderators of the Classics Club blog and update their site weekly. 

30. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2014 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014?
Germinal by Zola (*hangs head in shame*) 

31. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2014 (non-debut)?  
I can’t wait to read Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and The Spindle and Erik Larson’s new one, Dead Wake. 

32. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2014? 
This year I FINALLY created an alphabetized review index, perhaps the most monstrous undertaking thus far for this blog. I really want to finish adding in all of those book reviews and I have a couple years worth to go still. 

Jane Austen Cover to Cover

Monday, December 22, 2014

Jane Austen 
Cover to Cover:
200 Years of Classic Book Covers 
by Margaret C. Sullivan 

I have a feeling that most people already know if they are going to like this book or not. You aren’t going to have very many people who hate Jane Austen debating on whether or not to pick up a copy. But for those of us who love her work, this collection is an absolute delight!   

I knew the book would have dozens of different covers of her work from over the years, but I wasn’t expecting the intricate background information it included. From Austen’s personal history to the path of publication of her novels, Sullivan provides some wonderful details. She walks us through all the different editions that were released, the peaks and valleys of Austen’s population over the past two centuries and more.

The photos of the covers themselves are obviously the main attraction. There have been so many different versions of the books and this tome doesn’t even include all of them. I loved seeing how different design trends affected the versions that were released in each decade. 

One of my favorite aspects is the author's snarky comments about some of the more melodramatic covers. I’ll admit that if I’d seen some of those cover before reading the books, I might have developed a distaste for Austen without ever trying her work!  Sullivan also includes pulled quotes from the novels and Jane Austen's letters, which was lovely. In one of her letters Austen refers to the books as her “children.”     

BOTTOM LINE: Just gorgeous, the book is beautifully done and is a must for any true Janeites' bookshelves.

*I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Back to the Classics Challenge Complete!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Done and done! The Back to the Classics Challenge is finally complete! A huge thanks to Karen of Books and Chocolate for hosting this year! The Painted Veil was probably my favorite of the whole bunch.
Here’s the complete list of the books I read and my reviews:

1) 19th Century Classic:
The Warden by Anthony Trollope (Finished
March 2014)
2) 20th Century Classic:
In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck (Finished Aug. 2014)
3) Classic in Translation:
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (Finished Nov. 2014)
4) Classic By Woman Author:
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (Finished Jan. 2014)
5) Classic by an Author Who's New To Me:
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser (Finished Non. 2014)
6) Wartime Novel: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (Finished Dec. 2014)

Optional Categories:
1) Classic American Novel:
The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (Finished March 2014)

2) Historical Novel: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Finished April 2014)
3) Classic Mystery Novel:
Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (Finished Jan. 2014)
4) Classic Book That's Been Adapted as a Movie:
The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham (Finished May 2014)
5) Extra Fun Category:
Write a Review of the Movie adapted from Optional Category #4 (The Painted Veil)

I completed all 11 categories and so I will have 3 entries in the final giveaway!

The Last of the Mohicans

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Last of the Mohicans 
by James Fenimore Cooper 

Kidnapping, adventures tramping through the woods, battles between Native American tribes, this book is full of adventure!   

This is the most well-known book from Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales series. It’s set during the French and Indian War in 1757. Cora and Alice Munro, daughters of Lieutenant Colonel Munro, are being escorted through the forest in New York when they are kidnapped by members of the Huron tribe. The leader of the band is the vile and unrepentant Magua. 

The Munro sisters’ protectors, including Major Duncan Heyward, Hawkeye, two Mohican Indians, Chingachgook and Uncas, and a singing teacher named David, attempt to rescue them. Their methods are clever, dressing as animals, even using David’s love of singing at one point! I also loved that there are quotes from Shakespeare throughout the text. He was so revered, even at a time when his plays weren’t readily available.   

The book was published in 1826, but even back then there are so many mentions about the atrocities that were done to the Native Americans.  There are fascinating parts that delve into the history of that time period, but much of the plot is spent with one group chasing another group through the woods. I’ll admit it became tedious after a while.   

BOTTOM LINE: Wonderful historical information, but it stretched on and became repetitive. 

p.s. Fans of the movie will probably be surprised by the number of major changes from book to screen. 

Here’s another great review of the book by Fanda.

Wordless Wednesday: Hobbits and Weta!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

These are from the Weta Workshop in Wellington, New Zealand.
They are the real Hobbit feet and costumes 
used in the Lord of the Rings movies.
 In honor of the release of the final Hobbit movie today!

More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

The Chemical Garden Trilogy

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

(Book 1 of the Chemical Garden Trilogy) 
by Lauren DeStefano 

Dystopian YA trilogy, there are so many of them!!! After a while they all blur together and honestly this one falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. After reading quite a few heavy books I was in the mood for something quick and fun and this one worked well. 

The first book in the series sucks you in from the first page. Rhine, a teenager with wild hair and different colored eyes, is kidnapped from Manhattan where she lived with her twin brother Rowan. She, along with two other girls, is taken to become a child bride to a rich man, Linden. Even though she’s only 16-years-old, this practice is completely normal in the twisted society the world has become. 

Decades earlier geneticists found a cure for cancer, but in doing so they destroyed the human race. The “cured” generation seems almost immortal, but their children only live to be 20 if they are female and 25 if they are male. The world has been like this for years and the ensuing chaos and overwhelming number of orphans is heartbreaking. 

The two other brides, the aloof Jenna and ditzy Cecily live with Rhine in a mansion that’s more prison than paradise. As Rhine plans her escape she tries to understand the world around her. Although it seems almost harmless on the surface, her father-in-law, Vaughn, runs a darker world behind the scenes in the mansion. An attendant named Gabriel provides a source of comfort in the midst of her loneliness.

by Lauren DeStefano 

Fever picks up right where Wither drops off. Gabriel and Rhine are on the run. They find themselves at a macabre carnival full of things to fear. It felt like a filler book to me. The new characters made more sense after reading the third book, but at the time many of them feel random and over-the-top. I also felt like Rhine and Gabriel’s relationship was always tenuous at best. Fever made me feel even less invested in it somehow. I felt like the whole book could have been a few extra chapters at the end of Wither and the beginning of Sever. 

by Lauren DeStefano

This final installment dug into the meat of the history of this dystopia. Up to this point DeStefano has only ever hinted at the research that was being done to find a cure. In Sever she is able to fully explore the history of Rhine’s parents, the virus and even Linden and his father’s relationship. I loved having the chance to learn about the background of the characters. We also got the chance to see main characters, like Linden, deepen and show more layers. Cecily was such an insipid, annoying girl in the first two books, but in Sever she becomes a strong woman who stands up for herself and her family. 

For the first time I final cared about Linden, who waffled through the first two books, skimming the surface but rarely leaving a lasting impact. Seeing both Vaughn and Linden’s motivations lent a much-needed sympathy to the characters. I loved Reed, Vaughn’s prickly brother. I felt like Sever did so much to flesh out the characters. I was frustrated at times with Rhine’s passive nature. It seemed like she kept waiting for someone else to take action. She was along for the ride instead of fighting for what she wanted. She would hold her tongue in situations where it seemed vital that she explain why she was doing what she was doing. 

BOTTOM LINE: The trilogy was just what I wanted, fast reads with enthralling plots. There are definitely pieces that feel like they come straight from another dystopian trilogy, like the constant primping of the girls by attendants (Hunger Games) or the brother who becomes a supporter of the villains’ plans (Divergent), but overall I was entertained. I didn’t like them enough to ever re-read them. The characters were often too wooden, the plot too predictable, but they are great for a reading break when you need one. 

“I didn’t dare touch her. Loss is a knowledge I’m sorry to have. Perhaps the only thing worse than experiencing it is watching it reply anew in someone else – all its awful stages picking up like a chorus that has to be sung.”

Don Quixote

Monday, December 15, 2014

Don Quixote 
by Miguel De Cervantes 

Don Quixote has always intimidated me. The novel is a literary giant, my own windmill to conquer. This year, over the course of a couple months, I finally read it. I was surprised by the gentle nature and sincerity of the famous knight. I’d always thought of him as a bit clownish, but in reality he is the most human of men, if that makes sense. He’s deeply flawed and so he’s deeply relatable. 

I didn’t realize when I started the book that it consists of two separate volumes published 10 years apart. The first volume includes most of the well-known elements of the story, including Don Quixote’s famous attack on the windmills. In the second volume everyone knows who Don Quixote is because they've read the first volume. It adds an interesting element to the book, because he is now trying to live up to his own legend. He's become a celebrity and his cause and condition have become well known throughout the land.  

Alonso Quixano is Don Quixote’s true name. He reads book after book dealing with stories of chivalry throughout the ages. He then becomes convinced that he is in fact a knight errant and he must go on a crusade to help the people who are suffering in Spain. 

“It is not the responsibility of knights errant to discover whether the afflicted, the enchained and the oppressed whom they encounter on the road are reduced to these circumstances and suffer this distress for their vices, or for their virtues: the knight's sole responsibility is to succour them as people in need, having eyes only for their sufferings, not for their misdeeds.” 

He saddles up his horse, Rocinante, and recruits a local farmer named Sancho Panza to embark on his travels with him. Sancho becomes his faithful squire. The two set off and along the way they “help” those who cross their path. The problem is that Don Quixote is delusional about who actually needs his help. The famous windmill scene comes about because he thinks he is fighting giants. He fights for the honor of a woman who barely knows him, Dulcinea del Toboso. The first volume contains a strange mix of stories. Everyone is able to see the Don’s madness except himself and his proverb-spouting squire. Though this is tragic in some ways, it’s also beautiful. There’s something about having complete faith in another person that gives you strength in your own life. 

The first volume is entertaining, but lacks the depth I was expecting. It wasn’t until I got into the second volume that I really fell in love with the book. There’s such a wonderful exploration of motivation, delusion, loyalty, and more. Who is Don Quixote hurting with his quest? Is it wrong to allow him to remain convinced of his knighthood? The second volume also pokes playful fun at the first volume, joking that the author exaggerated stories, etc. 

“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.” 

Don Quixote’s naïveté and earnestness about his field of knight errantry make him an easy target. People who want to play tricks on him or friendly jokes or even rob him are easily able to because they know exactly what his weaknesses are. He believes, without a doubt, in the code of knight errantry that he holds himself to. He's also wise about so many things while remaining blind to his own absurdity. 

At times he reminded me of Polonius from “Hamlet” spouting off wisdom to anyone who will listen. Sometimes it's good advice, sometimes not but he believes it wholeheartedly. There's a purity in living a life so full of earnestness that you believe in your dreams without faltering and you hold yourself to a higher standard. 

BOTTOM LINE: This isn’t a novel I’ll re-read every year or anything, but it was a richly rewarding experience for me. It made me want to believe in some of the magic in life and to not always question the motives of others. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza will be with me for years to come. 

"Then the very same thing, said the knight, happens in the comedy and commerce of this world, where one meets with some people playing the parts of emperors, others in the characters of popes, and finally, all the different personages that can be introduced in a comedy; but, when the play is done, that is, when life is at an end, death strips them of the robes that distinguished their stations, and they become all equal in the grave.” 

“Time ripens all things. No man is born wise.”

The Last Chronicle of Barset

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Last Chronicle of Barset 
by Anthony Trollope 

The final book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire is also the longest. It felt like the author had a hard time saying goodbye, so he just kept writing. I just can’t get over the fact that this book takes 1,000 pages to say what could have been said in 500 or so. The books main plot centers on Reverend Josiah Crawley who is accused of stealing a cheque. Honestly, this part of the plot barely held my interest, except in the role it played in another relationship. 

Major Grantly is in love with Grace Crawley, but because of the charges against her father, she refuses to marry him because she doesn’t want to dishonor his family. There is also the continuing love triangle between Lily Dale, Johnny Eames and Adolphus Crosbie, in the last book we saw Crosbie jilt Lily Dale. Then Lily turned down Johnny Eames out of some strange devotion to her undying love for Crosbie. 

I’m glad we returned to those characters because I was so dissatisfied with the ending of their story in the last book. I was thrilled when Lily decided she could never marry Crosbie, not matter what his situation was. At the same time her reasoning made no sense to me. She didn’t want to marry him because in sticking to her original decision he would love her more … what?!? Regardless, their story was still my favorite of this book. 

The book ends in the same way the series began, with Mr. Harding. As he grows older and then finally passes away at the end of the book, it is the end of an era in their small community. The beloved clergyman never knew just how much he meant to his parishioners. Mrs. Proudie on the other hand was a grating on the nerves of everyone she met. She dies at towards the end of the book too, finally freeing those around her from her overwhelming, forceful presence. 


BOTTOM LINE: Like most of the books in this series, it took me a long time to get into it. The story takes a while to warm up, but once it does you find yourself caring about the people of Barsetshire and their problems. You definitely have to put in the time and effort at the beginning, but it is worth it. I’m glad I finished the series, but it didn’t end with a bang for me. 

This was a much bigger undertaking than I first expectedit would be. There’s was definitely a feeling of relief and accomplishment that came with finishing this final book.   

Now that I’ve made it through all six books in the Chronicles of Barsetshire I definitely understand why they are a staple the western literature canon. They are some of the first novels to embrace the minutia of small community life. Trollope captures an instantly recognizable world and many of the books that followed, like Middlemarch, would not have happened without this series. 

I struggled at times with the amount of detail Trollope goes into. I cared the most when I was able to connect with a character, some of whom will stick with me for years. My favorite parts were the quiet stories of strength or love. When a woman stood up for her beliefs or a man found love in his later years. 

Doctor Thorne was my favorite of the six novels and Framley Parsonage was a close second. Thanks to those of you who tackled this with me, especially Amanda for cohosting! Even if you made it through one of two books I hope you got something out of it! 

Please share your wrap up post with all of us at any time (even a year from now!) and tweet your thoughts at #Trollope2014.

Here’s a complete list of my reviews:
The Last Chronicle of Barset

Here's Behold the Stars' link to her final post! 

Mini Reviews: Plays

Thursday, December 11, 2014

After the Fall
by Arthur Miller

Quentin, a lawyer, reflects on his two marriages and his current relationship through a running inner monologue throughout the play. It’s a painfully biographical piece, one that mirrors the playwright’s own life. It chronicles the main character's life as her falls in love with a young woman, his marriage ends, and he gets remarried to the young woman who has now become an international star and sex symbol. 

The second wife, Maggie, is incredibly troubled, insecure, and jealous. She has a drinking and drug problem and is an obvious parallel for Marilyn Monroe. Their relationship is doomed from the start. They are unhappy together because they can't trust each other. 

BOTTOM LINE: The play is so heartbreakingly raw and intimate. Miller was working through his own marriage in this play, and that truthfulness adds a layer of depth that fiction often can’t reach. Not an easy play to read, but very real look at the ways we can harm the people we love the most. 

“I saw clearly only when I saw with love. Or can one ever remember love? It's like trying to summon up the smell of roses in a cellar. You might see a rose, but never the perfume. And that's the truth of roses, 
isn't it? — The perfume?” 
Six Characters in Search of an Author
by Luigi Pirandello

This creepy little one act play is strange but also captivating. A theatre crew is about to start a rehearsal when six people show up asking for help. They need someone to listen to their story and they want to perform it at the theatre. The crew finally agrees and is quickly drawn into the world the create. 

The six people are claiming to be characters created by an author who never completed their story. They want nothing more than to know how their tale ends. The idea for the book alone is enough of a reason to read it.  

BOTTOM LINE: It's an eerie little book and a production I would love to see preformed some day. I'm sure seeing it would pack a bigger punch.  

"Like most people I can only act the part I've chosen for myself, or that's been chosen for me. But as you see, the role sometimes runs away from me, and I get a little melodramatic. All of us do."

Wordless Wednesday: Fiji

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Snorkeling in Fiji.
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

The Tea Rose

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Tea Rose
by Jennifer Donnelly

The Tea Rose is a big fat soap opera of a book. It's historical fiction, but it's also a romance. It's 1889 and Fiona Finnegan and Joe Bristow are on the cusp of adulthood. Both in their late teens, they are from poor families in the East End of London, but they're both dreaming big. The pair are in love and can't wait to open their own grocery store and start the rest of their lives together.

Of course things are never that simple. There's a rich man's wife, Millie, who has her eye on Joe. There's a push for Fiona's father's work to unionize and a dangerous group that opposes that change. On top of all of that Jack the Ripper is on the loose and everyone is running scared.

It's a big novel that crosses from England to America and back again and over years of time. It's easy to sink into and it was just what I needed when I picked it up. Yes, there are absolutely too many coincidences and unbelievable elements, but that's half the fun with a book like this. You just embrace the melodrama and go with it. 

Fiona was a great character, strong and resilient, determined to succeed against all odds. She, along with her best friend Nick, really made the story for me. There's one moment in the story that didn't sit right with me. Fiona does a complete 180 and it doesn't make any sense in the context of her character, but the ship quickly righted itself and I forgave the hiccup.

I love the historical elements woven into the story. It's incredibly readable but at the same time you are getting snapshots of real historical events, like the Jack the Ripper murders, immigration to New York City, and even a bit a glimpse of the painting scene in Paris in the late 1800s.

BOTTOM LINE: A bit of a guilty pleasure book, very enjoyable. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series, The Winter Rose, but I'll save it for when I need to lose myself in a thick novel.

An American Tragedy

Friday, December 5, 2014

An American Tragedy
by Theodore Dreiser

Based on the story of an actual murder committed by Chester Gillette, who was convicted of killing Grace Brown in 1906, Dreiser’s Clyde Griffiths is a complex picture of the American dream gone wrong. There is perhaps no greater American novel that paints the portrait of one young man striving towards the wealth and glamour of the social class above him except The Great Gatsby. 

Published in the 1920s, the main character Clyde did remind me a bit of Nick Caraway from The Great Gatsby. He's a complete outsider to the world of wealth, but unlike Nick he's completely enrapture by the opulence. He was raised by mild-mannered religious parents who eschewed any sort of fancy clothes or drinking. He is quickly seduced by a life of partying when he begins working as a bellhop in Kansas City.

Things spiral out of control for Clyde as he starts to value the high society life of his cousin above all else. He realizes that he'll do anything to get what they have no matter what the consequences are. That’s a gross simplification of a novel that is almost 1,000 pages long, but there’s so much more to the plot. 

“The beauty of that world in which they moved. The luxury and charm as opposed to this of which he was a part. Dillard! Rita! Tush! They were really dead to him. He aspired to this other or nothing.” 

The book is split into three almost equal parts. The first introduces Clyde to the world of luxury and excess and all of its temptations. The second involves his rise in the social world and his relationship with both Roberta and Sondra. The third deals with the murder trial and his conviction. For a short time I thought maybe the first section wasn’t necessary, but it sets the stage for the rest of his life. It shows us why he values money and status. It builds a foundation for doing wrong and believing you can get away with it. 

The way he sees women is shaped by his trip to the brothel and by his sister’s experience with becoming pregnant and being jilted. The car accident that ends in a little girl’s death teaches him that man slaughter might be ok as long as you can escape without consequences. The section with Roberta is where much of this unfolds, but the seeds were planted in the first section. As it unfolds you value the structure of the novel more and more.

As Clyde progresses down that path of selfishness it becomes harder and harder to sympathize with him. He takes no responsibility for his actions and seems completely surprised when he finds himself in one difficult situation after another. He never acknowledges the fact that his own actions and decisions lead to the situations. He falls in love with someone, seduces her, gets her pregnant and he then thinks that the universe trying to keep him from achieving greatness. He was strangely delusional at times and had an overwhelming sense of entitlement.  

“For to say the truth, Clyde had a soul that was not destined to grow up. He lacked decidedly that mental clarity and inner directing application that in so many permits them to sort out from the facts and avenues of life the particular thing or things that make for their direct advancement.” 

Honestly I wasn't sure that he ever loved Sondra. I think he loved what Sondra embodied; the lifestyle and wealth, but he never loved her. Instead of dealing with the situations he creates, all he wanted to do was escape. He wanted a perfect life with wealth and power and status, but he didn't want to have to work for any it. 


American Tragedy at its core is the story of the dangers of pursuing the American dream with no moral code. We put such an emphasis on success and wealth in our country, that the “ends justify the means” mentality is so prevalent. But is it really worth it if you lose your soul in the process? 
This story seems to be a common one in American literature. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Gatsby’s ambition, the awful outcome in “A Lesson Before Dying,” and of Richard Wright’s “Native Son” and his disastrous end. We seem to repeat this pattern of longing for something else and making horrible decisions attempting to reach our goal.  

BOTTOM LINE: Although the moral message can be a bit heavy handed at times, this epic novel was unforgettable. The attention to detail, the large scope, the rise and fall of Clyde’s social standing, all of these elements meddled together to create a tragic picture of ambition and selfishness.  

“There are moments when in connection with the sensitively imaginative or morbidly anachronistic . . . the mind [is] befuddled to the extent that for the time being, at least, unreason or disorder and mistaken or erroneous counsel would appear to hold against all else. In such instances the will and the courage confronted by some great difficulty which it can neither master nor endure, appears in some to recede in precipitate flight, leaving only panic and temporary unreason in its wake.”

“Titus Alden was one of that vast company of individuals who are born, pass through and die out of the world without ever quite getting any one thing straight. They appear, blunder, and end in a fog.” 

p.s. This book is also the basis for the famous movie A Place in the Sun.