Monday, 23 April 2018

Reading Challenge Week 16 - A book with over 500 pages

Sometimes it's good to sink your teeth into a nice long read. Of course, what you think is a long book, and what the person next to you thinks is a long book might be completely different, but I think we can all agree that you can't comfortably read 500 pages in a couple of hours.

Unless you're a freak. Or you have super powers. Or both.

Anyway, as you can probably guess, the challenge for this week was to read a book with over 500 pages. Handily, this challenge fell in lecture recess, so if you were looking for something to do instead of finish your assignments, it was perfect timing.

Brenda Carter read Middlemarch by George Eliot. 

Over the years I have found that watching a TV serialized version of a long novel has inspired me to tackle the 500+ pages required. This practice can be fraught with disappointment when the series and novel don’t live up to each other but in the case of Middlemarch by George Eliot, I wasn’t disappointed.

Set during the Industrial Revolution in provincial England, Middlemarch explores the opportunities, tensions and challenges produced by the conflict of new ideas and cultural conservatism. These ideas are explored through ideas concerning parliamentary reform, medical knowledge, religion, economics and gender roles. Eliot has created a wonderful collection of well-developed characters, several of whose stories intertwine (it is a provincial town after all), to convey her themes. There is a nice balance of realism, tragedy and inspiration in the characters and plot. While you probably won’t read it in a week, Middlemarch is a satisfying read and I highly recommend it.

Nathan Miller read The Thin Red Line by James Jones.

I read this novel whilst living in Japan teaching English. In my workplace were lots of Americans and (obviously) Japanese people, which made it interesting. This novel being such a heavy topic of individual soldier’s experience in what is considered one of the most brutal theatres of combat in World War 2 was tough going. The horror and grimness is driven home when you realize this is based on the author's actual combat experience in the same place, so the horror is more realistic.

The book (found at 810 JON 1C THI) is basically 531 pages of some of the most grim, depressing yet riveting reading I have ever done. The book was later made into the movie of the same name, and like the book it isn’t really a war story but an exploration of peoples inner experience of something as shocking as warfare and the meaning of existence.

Would I recommend this book? For me, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up and continued reading it, if there was other reading material- there was a significant lack of English books in Japan. That I read it while homesick during a Hokkaido winter (they sometimes get below 20 degrees Celsius, and you generally feel bummed out) is a sign that it can be read. What did I get out of it? Old clich├ęs of war is horrible and highlights the best, worst and, most apathetic and foolish aspects of humans - and no one can guess how each person will react. It’s like a non-ironic and non-sarcastic Catch-22, and will suit only some tastes.

Sharon Bryan read The Once and Future King, by T. H. White.

This is one of those books which is actually several smaller books smooshed together, but as White actually went back and revised the original books to fit together comfortably in one volume, I think I can safely call it "a" book (which can be found at 820 WHITE 1C ONC).

Athurian tragics will know that the first book in the tetralogy, The Sword in the Stone was the inspiration for the Disney movie of the same name. They'll also be able to tell you that a lot of what we think of, when we think of Arthurian myths and legends, came from either The Once and Future King or the works of Alfred Tennyson (both were based on Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, but put in a lot of extra bits that we are highly familiar with today).

Across the four books, we join Arthur at different points in his life: his discovery of his destiny when he was a boy, his seduction by his half-sister as a youth, his best friend stealing his wife, and then his son/nephew plunging the whole kingdom into civil war and eventually leading to Arthur's ambiguous death (assuming he did die...). Yeah, in spite of the Disney connection, it's not a kid's book.

The books were written across a couple of decades in the 1930s and 1940s, (then revised into a single work in the early 1950s), and they contain their fair share of commentary about totalitarianism, communism and fascism. The work, as a whole, is still a rollicking read, though.

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