Project 4

Reflecting on My First 20 Books

As a former engineer, data and numbers speak to me. Being 20% of the way through my reading project, it seemed as good a time of ever to reflect on the journey thus far.

I had gotten this idea from Jenni at SprainedBrain who chronicles her book statistics often. She does a great job at it – you can see the statistics she looks at here! I didn’t base my statistics off of hers, so check out which data points she takes too! Thanks, Jenni!

Word Counts

Of my 12,327,956 word journey, I have read 2,041,953 words. A mere 16.5%. It’s mind blowing to think that I’ve read the two longest books on the list – Atlas Shrugged and Les Miserables – and I’ve still got so far to go!

Of those books, I wanted to look at a distribution of the word counts of each. Looking at this data surprised me, I definitely have a preference.

In my defense, the two books over 150,000 words were both over 500,000 words… but I digress. I have a problem. Maybe it’s because I know that shorter books are less of an investment and I can get them done faster. Either way, I’m hoping to read some longer books in these next 20.

Readjusting Ratings

Over the past 6 months, I’ve noticed that my opinions on certain books has changed. Having a little more perspective on my reading preferences, I feel like my ratings, particularly for the earlier books, were not so great. I thought I’d take a moment to adjust my ratings.

Book Old RatingNew RatingChange
Lolita6.55-1.5
Treasure Island98-1
The Prince54-1
The Call of the Wild8.58-0.5
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde87.5-0.5
Atlas Shrugged99.50.5
The Arabian Nights5.55.50
Murder on the Orient Express990
A Clockwork Orange3.53.50
The Time Machine5.55.50
The Art of War76.5-0.5
Animal Farm990
All’s Well That Ends Well54-1
Alice in Wonderland660
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory76.5-0.5
Fahrenheit 451660
Les Miserables990
Journey to the Center of the Earth550
Beowulf660
Of Mice and Men550

The reason I find this so particularly helpful is because I really want to be able to put a larger spread to differentiate between books. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy a book with a rating under 5, it just means that I believe it’s not a groundbreaking book.

Taking this data and cute little Excel chart, I was able to split hairs to really figure out which books I feel are necessary to recommend to others.

My Favorites

Looking back, I have clear favorites. Allow me to share.

Atlas Shrugged: Okay, I’ll be outright here. You probably won’t agree with all of the thoughts and ideas Ayn Rand shares in this book. But it is going to challenge you to ask yourself why you disagree. On top of that, the story itself is really wonderful. I think this is a book everyone must read.

Les Misérables: Please, whatever you do. Read this book someday. It’s such a profound story with characters that will leave you so attached. If you’ve seen the musical or any other adaptation, you’re missing the essence of the story – the motivations, the desires, and the thoughts of these characters that are so real they follow you for days. (Besides, my favorite scene in the book is not included in the adaptations because it involves so much backstory).

My Least Favorites

My least favorites are far less clear. I wouldn’t say I really disliked any of these books. I mean, I finished them, right? But if I had to pick, these are the two that just didn’t do it for me:

A Clockwork Orange: I still feel the same way I did about this book when I finished it: I personally didn’t like it, but I can understand why someone would. The teenage angst on a forgettable character is a little off-putting to me. Plus, the book uses it’s own slang which makes it difficult to follow.

All’s Well That Ends Well: I think I was a little too nice with my original review. This story is forgettable to me. In fact, I had to read the plot that I wrote just to remember it. I completely understand why this is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-performed plays.

With that, the first chapter of my journey comes to a close. But there’s so, so much more ahead. Looking forward to my next reads – and sharing them all!

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Book Reviews, Project 4

Of Mice and Men – Book No. 20

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

84. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)

Dates: 7/16/20 – 7/17/20 (1 day)

Plot: The story of two migrant ranch workers with no one but each other.

Experience Before Reading: I had to read it in high school 8 years ago. (Woah, sudden realization that I’m old…)

Takeaway: I’m actually very lost on this one. The first time I read it as a teenager, I felt very sorry for Lennie. Today, I don’t know how I feel. My perspective of disabilities has changed. As a child, I felt sorry mentally disabled people were unable to see the world in the way most people do. Today, I realize that disability doesn’t equal inferiority.

That being said, Steinbeck complicates the matter by writing Lennie in some unflattering, yet sympathetic ways. The nuances made me uncomfortable, which maybe is the point Steinbeck was trying to make. I struggled to figure out what I really felt.

There’s an overwhelming aura of hopelessness with all of these characters which makes it tough to read. Although they do all have dreams and ambitions. I’m not sure if that makes it a happier or sadder story.

Regardless, I’m left torn with every piece of this novella. I’d love to hear other thoughts – have you read this book? Let’s chat about it. I’m open to other interpretations and ideas.

Would I Recommend It?: Maybe. It seems like it’s a story most people know.

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Book Reviews, Project 4

Beowulf – Book No. 19

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

2. Beowulf from the Cotton MS Vitellius A. xv (c. 975-1010 AD)

Dates: 5/18/20 – 7/16/20 (59 days)

Plot: An epic poem telling the tale of Beowulf who slays the monster Grendel (and also a dragon).

Experience Before Reading: None.

Takeaway: I kept thinking about how this story is over 1000 years old and yet, so modern? The hero’s journey is a beloved story that has been around much longer than we have. To think that this is one of the first (that we know of) is pretty wild to wrap your head around.

Personally, I prefer the historic context and the impact of this work to the actual poem. The poem itself is hard to understand. You can get a sense of what is happening, but get lost in the details. You might have noticed the actual poem took me 59 days to read – practically a hero’s journey worth just to get through. It’s short too, so I don’t really have an excuse.

Without Beowulf, it’s unlikely works like The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones would have been made. The impact of this work is something to be admired. The fact that the story is one we all inherently know shows how it’s radiated into our cultural zeitgeist.

Also, I mentioned yesterday that I was a fan of Scandinavia in general. Bonus points from me.

Would I Recommend It?: To those who like epics.

Abbey’s Review

Dates: 3/9/20 (2 hours)

Experience Before Reading: I read this book when I was a Junior in high school and was actually quite fond of it. I am a massive Tolkien fan, and The Hobbit is largely based off of Beowulf. 

Takeaway: The main takeaway from this story is that it’s better to go through life and to die young with courage, than to die cowardly at an old age. Beowulf is the quintessential warrior that we read about in nearly every adventure book. It shows that even at the time Beowulf was written (somewhere between the 8th and 11th century) honor, loyalty, and courage were admirable traits. 

Would I Recommend It?: If you enjoy The Iliad and The Odyssey, you will like this work.  Beowulf is an epic poem orated in ancient Anglo-Saxon

Look at this video of it being spoken it’s totally crazy! So it has the same feel as those works.

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Book Reviews, Project 4

Journey to the Center of the Earth – Book No. 18

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

80. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)

Dates: 7/14/20 – 7/15/20 (1 day)

Plot: After deciphering a message left in an ancient book, a professor, his nephew, and a guide head to Iceland where there’s a hole to the center of the Earth.

Experience Before Reading: This seems to be a story most people are somewhat familiar with – myself included. There’s exciting things inside the Earth, but I couldn’t tell you exactly what was there until I actually read it myself.

Takeaway: As an adventure lover, I was really looking forward to this book. Yet it left me incredibly indifferent. I’m neither upset to have read the book nor am I grateful I took the time to read it.

I have read other Jules Verne stories in the past (and will be re-reading them in the future). But this one just didn’t do it for me.

I know I always go on about how characters are written, so I won’t spend too much time unpacking this – but these characters aren’t very relatable or attachable. The quirky scientist, the skeptic boy, and the stoic Icelandic hunter. I don’t know how inventive that was when the book was published, but to a modern-day ear, it’s been overdone. For that reason, I’m not going to be too critical here.

SPOILERS AHEAD: Almost a third of the book is about the preparations for the journey, which includes a trip to Copenhagen and then a long journey in Iceland. The funny thing about it is those are two of my favorite places in the entire world. Reading about them in this setting felt a little funny. I was eagerly awaiting the actual journey that I just didn’t care about the train ride to Zealand or the voyage on the ship through the North Sea.

Although, I will concede that these drawn out parts did make the world seem realistic and plausible. There was careful attention to Victorian-era science that I appreciated. The tools they use to monitor their surroundings and the “calculations” they do seem realistic. Obviously as they get deeper and deeper underground, the science falls more and more apart, but I can set aside my convictions for a bit. But how they exit their subterranean journey…

Anyway, I appreciate the imagination and creativity it took to craft this story. The concept of ancient eras still flourishing today is surely worthy of a book. But even so, it was lacking somewhere and I just can’t quite put my finger on it. Has anyone read this book? I want to know other’s opinions on it… am I missing something? I want to love it, I really do.

Would I Recommend It?: Probably not.

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Book Reviews, Project 4

Les Misérables – Book No. 17

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

72. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862)

Dates: 6/1/20 – 7/14/20 (43 days)

Plot: A French historical novel that follows the lives of several, seemingly unconnected characters throughout the years following the French Revolution.

Experience Before Reading: I saw the 2012 movie, but didn’t remember too much. Other than Do You Hear the People Sing?.

Takeaway: This is a classic. Forget what I’ve said about most of my other reviews, this is a book that everyone needs to read.

I don’t know what it is either. Maybe it’s because the book is so long (it’s the longest on our list!) that you become so attached to the characters. Maybe it’s because the brilliant intertwining of each character’s journey with another. Maybe it’s the way Hugo spirals and rambles about seemingly nothing to capture the zeitgeist of the French Revolution. But seriously, this book should be read by everyone.

My only criticism – because really, you’ll never love everything – is that Hugo’s tangents can result in chapters of nothing related to the plotline. Histories of the French sewers, practically a full reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, an aside on slang and linguistics. It’s everything. There’s a rumor Victor Hugo was paid by word – which I couldn’t back up with evidence – but my oh my, does it go on forever. According to Wikipedia alone, nearly a quarter of the novel is spent on digressions. When you consider how long the entire book is, it’s like you’re reading several 30,000 word books within Les Mis.

Which brings me to one of my most important points: listen to it as an audiobook. This was my first ever audiobook. While the audiobook is 60 hours, I promise it’s worth your time. I was hesitant about audiobooks, since I can be a distracted listener, but the experience was heightened from listening to it, I think. Plus, it saves your sanity from some of those digressions.

As much as I’d love to go on and on about the characters, I don’t want to ruin it. What I will say, is I found these characters well-written. Maybe not as much so as Atlas Shrugged, but still so vivid. Especially Jean Valjean. I feel like I understand him as a character and can very clearly delineate his values.

Lastly, I want to talk about the way these characters co-exist together. The way some of these characters foil is remarkable. The way their paths cross and blur the lines of enemy and friend is beautiful. It’s almost Shakespearean at times. Don’t believe me? Read the end of book two and tell me it’s not like a comedy. (Note: There are five “books” within the novel).

I’m looking forward to checking out the musicals this weekend. While personally I’m not a musical fan, I have seen the 2012 movie and did enjoy that – some of those songs are really, really catchy.

Would I Recommend It?: Yes.

Abbey’s Review

Dates: 5/18/20 – 5/31/20 (14 days)

Experience Before Reading: I am very familiar with this work. I have seen the musical multiple times (it’s incredible), I have seen the movies multiple times (skip the 1990s one), I have watched the miniseries once, and last year while working in the office doing mind-numbing paperwork I listened to the entirety of the novel in a week. Since I am currently working from home in a quiet apartment, I decided to make the most of my work hours and listen to Les Mis again!

Takeaway: This is truly such a wonderful work of literature that focuses on the importance of sharing love and spreading goodness to the people around you. This novel and subsequent adaptations have inspired revolutions and songs from the musical can often be heard at protests around the globe. A life changing work of literature.

Would I Recommend It?: I feel like I have rated this lower than it deserves, but I think since I am so familiar with the story, it doesn’t hit me as strongly as it once did. However, I still feel that this is a must-read work – it is so ingrained in our culture. The message of the novel is simple and lovely. But remember to prepare yourself for some long winded descriptions that are mildly infuriating. I find it helps to remember that Victor Hugo was paid per word for his book, so can you really blame the man for that chapter about the sewer system?

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Book Reviews, Project 4, Uncategorized

Fahrenheit 451 – Book No. 16

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

27. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

Dates: 7/6/20 – 7/12/20 (6 days)

Plot: In a dystopian future where firemen start fires instead of putting them out, one of the firemen becomes cognizant of the horrors of what they’re actually doing: burning books.

Experience Before Reading: I was assigned this book in 10th grade and I detested it. A little strange seeing as I definitely agreed with the themes – but we should never claim to understand high schoolers. It was probably cool to hate it at the time. Either way, I didn’t finish it back then.

Takeaway: This book hits differently years later. I enjoyed it this time around. Ray Bradbury expresses his thoughts so well on abstract issues, I thought it would be most impactful to take some of the themes I noticed and give you some quotes that really resonated with me:

Mass Media and Condensation of Information:

Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes! Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!

p.55

Ignorance is Bliss:

We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it.

p.58

Impacting and Absorbing the Human Experience:

The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

p.157

‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds.’

p.157

He’s so eloquent, it really makes you think. Several of these passages made me stop just to really make sure I felt each and every word. I’m not sure to what extent I believe his messages, surely I find some element of truth – but I want to digest(-digest-digest!) these words before I make a definitive call on what I believe.

However, I do have to criticize this book a little bit because I thought that the world-building and character development was really lacking. This is a crazy dystopian world that could have been unpacked and it wasn’t. It’s just assumed to be normal. The characters aren’t anything to get attached to either. The main character just one day wakes up and sees everything around him. There’s no build-up at all. This was all such a missed opportunity.

This book has had a strange history. A novel that harps on the dangers of censorship, saw censorship itself. Schools have blacklisted the book from English classes. The publisher even made a censored version. In some ways the ironic boycotts may have even fueled popularity for the book. It really does hammer home Bradbury’s point, does it?

Also, just as an aside, I want to really commend Bradbury for predicting so much of the future. In this book, which was written in the 1950s, there’s flat-screen TVs, wireless headphones, and hand-held tablets. Whether he meant to predict or not, I was very surprised at how the technology did mirror present day.

All in all, there’s so much to like here, but it wasn’t wrapped up in a pretty little package. It seemed like an essay of someone’s convictions with a plot line loosely added to make it a “book.” That being said, it is a good essay.

Would I Recommend It?: Yes. In fact, I already did. Maybe I’ll update this post after my boyfriend reads it.

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Project 4

Announcing Reading Week! (Again)

Okay, let’s face it. I’ve sucked at reading in the past month. Actually, I haven’t finished a single book this month. It’s mostly due to starting a new job, I haven’t entirely found my rhythm. Some nights I come home and immediately crash.

So in the most DJ Khaled way, I’d like to announce a reading week next week. Anotha one! From July 13 to July 17, there will be a new book review every single day!

Don’t worry, I’m not completely unprepared. It’s not like I haven’t read at all this month, I’ve got a few books that are partially complete. I’ll finish them all and deliver the good (or bad) news to you!

It’ll definitely be a challenge, since the first reading week was filled with the shortest books on the list, whereas this one has some longer reads. In fact, why not just announce it now? I’m almost finished with the longest book on the list: Les Miserables.

As for Abbey, I’ve picked a few books that she’s already read, but work has been busy for her too. She hasn’t promised anything, but there will definitely be a few of her reviews present too next week.

I would announce the books, but frankly, I’m not entirely sure which ones will make it and which ones won’t, so I’ll let it be a surprise for all of us! I suppose I’m open to recommendations, which classics should I read for next week?

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Book Reviews

The Time Machine – Book No. 10

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

64. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)

Dates: 5/9/20 (4 hours)

Basic Plot: A Victorian scientist discovers a way to travel through time and heads to the year 802,701. He tells his story to his friends.

Experience Before Reading: I knew that this was the book that brought time travel to pop culture. I can’t remember if I had to read it for school. I don’t think so since the story wasn’t overwhelmingly familiar.

Takeaway: This book is a mash-up of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and an episode of The Twilight Zone. Told by a Victorian narrator, the story includes theories on the human condition which were very enjoyable to me. And like The Twilight Zone, the conceptions of the future were a bit absurd.

I’m a little biased because I don’t particularly care for futuristic novels. I typically don’t respond well to any notions of the future because they often age poorly. If there’s even a single element of a futuristic world that’s implausible I instantly get pulled out of the story. Especially when the introduction to the book is so realistic, to dive into a not-so-realistic future isn’t really my cup of tea.

That being said, I can see why people would like this book. It’s fun and has a whole bunch of radical ideas. In terms of pacing though, it seems like some elements of the story were an afterthought and others were so meticulously thought through. I do wonder if pacing were different how I may have responded to the book.

The concept of time travel is a fun one and a lot of our ideas of time travel originate from this book. The machine itself kind of gave me TARDIS vibes – though I never really watched Doctor Who so I’d be curious to hear other people’s opinion who know more than I do!

Would I Recommend It?: All in all, it was fun. If you’re a sci-fi fan or like a bit of adventure, give it a shot. It’s short enough that it’s bearable even for the non-fans.

Abbey’s Review

Dates: 5/9/20 (2 hours)

Plot: Our narrator writes down the story of a time traveler’s escapades into the future. There he encounters the evolutions of humans.

Experience Before Reading: I had literally never heard of this book before.

Takeaway: I loved the writing in this, and the story was incredible. I felt the set up in the beginning was believable enough, and the epilogues lasting picture of the two flowers leftover from the time travelers experiences are very poignant and show that while cultures can have huge barriers, generosity and kindness are a language of themself.

Would I Recommend It?: This was a great book and a very quick read. I think if you are looking for a book that will make you think, you’d probably like this one.

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Project 4

Announcing Reading Week!

Following on the coattails of yesterday’s good news – I’m now a dot com! – I come with even more announcements!

Next week, 5/11 – 5/15, there will be a new book review every day!

Since I finish school tomorrow, I’ll have plenty of time to sit down and crank some books out.

Reading Week will include book reviews from both myself and Abbey. Her reviews haven’t yet been shared because she hasn’t read any of the same books as I have. I intend to update the posts retroactively to include her opinions. It should be noted that her opinions are often fairly different than mine. I’ve been excited to share them with you all and get a conversation going.

We’ve both agreed to read the same books – many of them on the shorter end of our list. For those of you looking to play along at home, this will include The Time Machine, The Art of War, Animal Farm, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. If we finish those, we’ve got more backups to keep Reading Week going.

We look forward to sharing our thoughts and diving deeper into Project 4!

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Book Reviews, Project 4

A Clockwork Orange – Book No. 9

18. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

Dates: 4/20/20 – 4/23/20 (3 days)

Basic Plot: In a futuristic society where young gang members are active at night, the narrator, Alex, finds himself indulging in “ultraviolence” which leads to potential reform.

Experience Before Reading: I was technically assigned this book alongside One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school. I didn’t really read either and just read enough Sparknotes to get by. I think my knowledge on the plot was blended with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, because there were moments I thought were in the other book and moments I expected to turn out differently. Regardless, the one thing I remembered was a feeling of staunch hate for the book.

Takeaway: I didn’t like it. However, I’m not going to completely bash this book because I can see why others would enjoy it. There are certainly good elements to this story. Anthony Burgess is a talented storywriter and I do feel there is a clear theme that could strike people. (Slight spoiler warning) The message that it is our ability to choose that makes us human is very interesting and I do feel it was unpacked in a way that was different from other philosophy books.

A Clockwork Orange is set in a futuristic society where gangs run rampant at night. Many of these gang members use heavy slang known as nadsat talk. I think this is where the book leaves a bad taste in my mouth (or in nadsat: leaves a baddiwad taste in my rot). The slang is so thick it’s often difficult to tell exactly what’s happening. While I recognize that it’s used to hide the graphic scenes and portray his youth – since not all characters use the slang – it was too much for me. For instance, take this scene where he describes a beautiful woman he sees:

O my brothers, to viddy. That is to say, she had real horrorshow groodies all of which you could like viddy, she having on platties which came down down down off her pletchoes. And her nogas were like Bog in His Heaven, and she walked like to make you groan in your keeshkas, and yet her litso was a sweet smiling young like innocent litso.

p.142

While context clues can give you a sense that he likes what he sees, even after reading the entire book, I’m not sure exactly what he’s saying. Personally, this slang created a massive barrier to relating to the narrator, Alex. I couldn’t find much to his personality besides the fact that he likes “ultra-violence” and classical music. Because his personality was centered around, well, bad, I found him forgettable as a character. Maybe there was more, however, I couldn’t decipher it from the nadsat madness.

The slang itself is massively creative and I do want to applaud that. Much of it is Russian-based but other elements are rhyming slang or other linguistic techniques. Basically, each word really does have a reason that it exists which I very much like. I appreciate the effort that went in to creating a cohesive universe.

Lastly, I do want to call attention to the book’s title. I don’t want to spoil the meaning for someone that intends to read the book, but the title is full of symbolism. It was very creative and well-crafted, so again, props where props are due.

Would I Recommend It?: Unfortunately, I think this is a skippable classic. While you may find it entertaining, I think the message of the book is not strong enough in relation to the amount of work you have to put in to decode it.

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