Throwback Thursday: Classic Reads

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Since childhood, I have been an avid reader. I distinctly remember being so absorbed in my Full House paperback books at the bus stop that I would continue reading them while boarding the school bus and stumbling to my seat. Although I became more socially aware over the years, my love for reading has not wavered.

As an aside, I carried a trombone onto the school bus in fifth through tenth grade, which makes the "reading while walking" second-grade version of me surprisingly (and unfortunately) not the least cool former version of me.

I follow quite a few contemporary authors on facebook or twitter (Jen Lancaster, Emily Giffin, Jennifer Wiener) so I find myself reading new books rather quickly. I recently read Kristin Newmann's memoir What I Was Doing While you were Breeding and it made me want to pack my suitcase and travel the world for months on end. I've been recommending it to every girl I know, especially those in their twenties and thirties. 

I love new books, and gravitate towards witty memoirs that read like a series of blog posts. Even so, a part of me also will always miss my Nineteenth Century English Novel course I took in college. So, with that in mind, I decided recently to return to my English-major roots and read some classic literature. Although the two books I chose were neither nineteenth century nor English, they were, in fact, novels. Check out my reviews below and let me know if you have ideas for any must-read classics!

Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children's Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut

After finishing this classic, my first thought was, "Why hadn't I read this sooner?" First off, it's a super quick read. If you have light plans for a weekend, or a plane trip coming up, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this page turner.

Inspired by his own survival of the horrific Dresden bombing, Vonnegut sets the fictitious soldier Billy Pilgrim in the midst of World War II. The story is an interesting mix of historical and creative. There are gruesome, sobering details of the war and of the bombing, but also whimsical depictions of time travel and extraterrestrial life. 

One of my favorite parts is Vonnegut's introduction written in his own voice, where he narrates how he came to write of this haunting experience. He was afraid of writing a war story that would glamorize war, and details how this novel got its alternate title (The Children's Crusade.) This intro beautifully sets the stage for the fiction to come. As an aspiring writer, I wish more authors gave similar glimpses into their thoughts.

Favorite quote from the book: "Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why."

P.s. If you thought to yourself, "What's the Dresden bombing?" don't be embarrassed. The first time I learned about it was coincidentally while reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. (What are they teaching kids in school these days?!) So, scooping up a copy can up your history knowledge as well. 

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Set in pre-revolutionary China, Pearl S. Buck beautifully tells the story of a humble farmer, Wang Lung, beginning on the day of his marriage to quiet wife O-Lan. Through the ups and downs of many years, from newborn babies to devastating famines to lavish wedding feasts to funerals, you follow this family on their unforgettable journey.

I challenge you to read this work without empathizing for the Chinese women - whereas sons and grandsons are celebrated and rejoiced (yes, I spelled that with a "y" the first time I typed it), daughters and granddaughters are referred to as "slaves" and often sold into slavery when the times get tough.

Even though it follows a Chinese farmer and his family in a time before electricity, it's incredibly relatable. I love the theme of Wang Lung never fully being at peace, and always having some source of discontent. Isn't that life?

This is not as quick of a read as Slaughterhouse (but also not as long as, say, Grapes of Wrath), and I'd argue it's definitely worth your time. Don't just take my word for it - Pearl S. Buck won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for this work of art.


And if all else fails, pick up some J.K. Rowling. It is Harry Potter's birthday after all! :)

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