Top novel summaries, 30-21

Here are summaries for 30-21 of my top novels. See the introduction and list in its entirety here.

30. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
The story of Holden Caulfield, a teenager who runs away from prep school and has to confront all the awkwardness that comes along with being a sort of melancholy, angry, loner. This is one of the few holdovers from high school that I have not reread. Unlike the other books on the list that I read in high school, I am unsure if I will return to this story because I think that it is most appropriately a story for that particular time of life.

29. The City and the Mountains, Jose M. Eca de Queiroz
Reviewed here, this is the story of Jacinto, the scion of a wealthy family from Portugal and epitome of a modern man (c. 1900) living with all the amenities of civilization in Paris. Society is strangling him, though, and he returns for the idyllic country life of his estates and begins to encourage the uplifting of the peasantry when he gets there.

28. The Stranger, Albert Camus
Life is pretty good for Mersault. His mother just died and he doesn’t seem to grieve, but he has a job, works hard, is seeing a woman who he may marry, and he gets to swim often. But he also testifies on behalf of his neighbor who has beaten his arab girlfriend. When Mersault kills the brother of that girlfriend in a chance encounter on the beach, he is arrested and put on trial. Camus was a moralist, and the book denies the importance on most expressions of emotion and god. What makes life good for Mersault is the pleasure of working hard, making a good living, and getting to do what he wants in his spare time. The universe he claims, is indifferent to humans.

27. The Clergyman’s Daughter, George Orwell
Dorothy Hare is the eponymous clergyman’s daughter. She is diligent and depressed, until one day she suffers a bout of amnesia and wakes up in London. From there, she takes a tour of the underworld of southern England, including scraping a living in London, teaching, and hop picking in the fields, before getting a chance to return home.

26. Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis
A young Greek intellectual is encouraged to learn about life and people with the aid of a Zorba, a loud, eccentric Greek born in Romania who he employs as a foreman.

25. Scoop, Evelyn Waugh
There is a war going on in Africa and the newspaper the Daily Beast is going to cover it because John Courtney Boot, an author of some note, has called in a favor with important people in an effort to escape a woman. Except, the newspaper only knows that they are supposed to get “Boot,” and accidentally conscript William Boot, a nature contributor to the newspaper, to go cover the war. Boot is no more prepared to cover the war than the newspaper was prepared to send him initially and his ineptitude drives both the comedy and his success in this satirical take on journalism.

24. Star Maker, Olaf Stapledon
When the unnamed human narrator gets in an argument with his significant other he goes on a walk and gets transported into higher levels of awareness. He becomes increasingly aware of more varieties of civilized life forms and higher levels of consciousness in the universe. See a full review here.

23. Burmese Days, George Orwell
In Orwell’s words, this is a novel about the dark side of the British Raj. In this rural outpost, there is a clear segregation between the native population and the white colonial officials, though the pressure to incorporate a native official into the European club is increasing, the main question is who will be inducted.

22. Good Omens, Neil Gaimon, Terry Pratchett
The anti-Christ has been born and the end of times are upon us. But Aziraphale, an angel, and Crowley, a demon have come to like living on Earth and are determined to stop the end. My single favorite passage in the story involves a meeting between Crowley and two superior demons where they recount the corruption they caused that day. Each of the superior demons has caused a supreme act of corruption (such corrupting a priest), while Crowley caused a small inconvenience for thousands of people in London; the other two just don’t get how his (Crowley’s) action created more evil in the world than theirs did.

21. Siddhartha, Herman Hesse
Another book I liked in high school (I got to pick it from a long list), this is another Hesse story about enlightenment. Siddhartha is an Indian Brahmin during the time of the Buddha who leaves home and passes through a series of stages of life en route to enlightenment.

December 2013 Reading Recap

My progress through Herman Hesse’s novel Narcissus and Goldmund has slowed, so I thought to write this post up a bit early. Sometime in January I also plan to revisit my top novels post I did once before.

  • Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis – Reviewed here, Lucky Jim is a comedy of errors. On some level, James Dixon is alienated from teaching at the university because he is surrounded by insane people, but on another he is a college instructor who is wholly unsuited for the position. I had a particularly strong negative reaction to this novel, which is reflected in the review, but the more I reflect on it the funnier the story is and it is likely to appear on my updated list of top novels–even if I still have misgivings about the moral presented about people in academia and what contingent faculty should do with themselves.
  • The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, Junichiro Tanizaki – reviewed here, Tanizaki “explains” on the basis of several fictional sources the rumored, but unknown, sexual desires that drove the eponymous Lord of Musashi to become a successful warlord. I enjoyed the book, although I did note that it seemed to be a solid addition to a secret history genre, rather than a great novel in its own right.
  • Scoop, Evelyn Waugh, a novel satirizing news media, public consumption of news, journalism, and foreign correspondents. John Boot, an author, pulls some strings to get a job as a correspondent in Ishmaelia, an African country on the brink of civil war, so that he can escape a persistent women. But the newspaper hires the wrong Boot, William, a homebody whose writing consists of stories about country fauna. William does take the job and goes to Ishmaelia, where he is a fish out of water. Waugh has some wicked insights about what news is and the absurdities of journalism.
  • The Stranger, Albert Camus – Mersault works hard, he is seeing a woman from work who he might marry, and he gets to go swimming. His mother has just died, but other than that his life could be described as good. Mersault might not say so, though. Life is. His pattern of life changes drastically when he shoots an unknown Arab man on the beach.
  • The Garden of Eden, Ernest Hemingway – One of Hemingway’s incomplete posthumous novels that was heavily pruned from the manuscript form (something like 2/3 of manuscript was cut to create the story in its published form). David Bourne and his wife Catherine are on their honeymoon along the Mediterranean coast of France. The couple is in love and, in typical Hemingway fashion, most of their time is spent eat, drinking, and swimming, sleeping, and having sex. The erotic games really begin when Catherine begins to alter her appearance to more resemble her husband and take control of their relationship and then when she brings a new woman into her marriage. There is an emptiness to this story that is more pronounced than usual, probably because the story was incomplete and because it was so thoroughly trimmed. There are still some things to recommend The Garden of Eden–Catherine is a fuller, more powerful female character than most Hemingway created, he creates a powerful sense of place for a beautiful setting, and the story that remains has some rich irony given the background of manuscript.

As noted above, I will finish Narcissus and Goldmund in the next few days, and after that I don’t know what I will read. As of this writing, tomorrow is a new year and the possibilities are endless.