It can be hard to find time to read for pleasure during the school year. That's why this column probably won't be weekly or bi-weekly. It might not even be monthly. So, I took advantage of the summer to read as many books as I could. This week, you get not one book review, but eight. Take my hand as we journey through the stacks of Wilson Library.
Aldous Huxley, “Brave New World”
This is one of those classics that a lot of people have to read in high school, but I never did. Basically, Brave New World is about a perfect society in which everyone likes their job, no one needs to get married or have kids and everyone takes drugs and flies around in private helicopters. Then, of course, some crybabies have to complain because they don't have things like poetry and free will, so they have to be deported to faraway islands so everyone can continue to take drugs and fly helicopters. It's a happy ending.
Mikhail Bulgakov, “The Master and Margarita”
The devil and his entourage (including a fanged dwarf, a nude redheaded woman and a giant bipedal cat) show up in 1930's Moscow and throw a party. Don't worry, there are no boring, predictable morals about dealing with the devil. This is a hilarious book about the trappings of bureaucracy and what can happen when people trust official procedure over their own better judgment. It's also a book about people getting decapitated by streetcars and naked women riding flying pigs. In short, it's got something for everyone.
Ian Fleming, “Live and Let Die”
A James Bond book is always an exciting read, but I had some issues with “Live and Let Die.” First of all, there is a lot of racism in this book, and it's very offensive at times. Secondly, Bond spends a little too much time eating and not enough time kicking butt. When his lover gets kidnapped, Bond eats some dinner. When his buddy gets beaten within an inch of his life, Bond makes a sandwich. I know a guy's gotta eat, but sometimes a guy's also gotta go take care of business. I don't recommend this particular book for the first-time James Bond reader.
Oscar Wilde, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”
What would you do if you had a portrait of yourself that embodied the corruption of your sinful soul while you remained eternally handsome and youthful? I'd like to think I'd do pretty much the same stuff I do now. Dorian Gray, on the other hand, decided to become a cruel, debauched, womanizing villain. I suppose it would be a really boring book if he didn't. This is the old story of a good guy going bad, but Wilde tells it wonderfully. Even if you know the tale, it's still an exciting read.
Alan Moore, “Watchmen”
I really wanted to read this before the movie came out because I've heard so much about it. This is a comic book, but it's not a continuing series. The entire story begins and ends in one book. Watchmen is more than a superhero story, and it's much more than a superhero farce. It's about people who choose to put on costumes and fight crime and what those people are really like behind their masks. The heroes are not amazing or incredible or spectacular, but their motivations for doing what they do are compelling. If you've ever considered trying to work “Batman Begins” into a psychology paper, then this book is for you.
Jack Kerouac, “Dharma Bums”
In a nutshell, “Dharma Bums” is a story about guys hiking, drinking, studying Buddhism and then drinking some more. It can get a little boring at times. But on the other hand, there are some interesting parts. Kerouac combines words into evocative phrases such as, “Buddha mountain smashing” and, “pretty girls make graves.” The ending brings the whole story home and leaves you feeling humbled at the magnificence of nature. Even if you're not the outdoorsy type, you may find yourself wanting to go backpacking after reading this book.
Kurt Vonnegut, “Bluebeard”
“Bluebeard” is the autobiography of the fictional one-eyed Armenian-American artist named Rabo Karabekian. As Rabo tries to tell you about his life from the beginning, he intermittently stops to tell you what is going on in the present. Vonnegut tells the story in such a way that you already know what happens to the characters, but you keep reading so you can find out how the characters got from point A to a seemingly impossible point B. “Bluebeard” is sad and hilarious at the same time. I laughed out loud more than once while reading it.
Cormac McCarthy, “Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West”
This book is even more violent and terrifying than the title suggests. Set in the 1860s, the story is about a protagonist known to the reader only as “the kid” who joins up with a gang of men who kill and scalp Native Americans for money. The fact that “Blood Meridian” is based on actual events makes it even more horrifying. Although there is plenty of violence, it isn't the glorified, stylized violence we're used to from the standard “Wild West” adventure. I'm not being facetious when I say that this book makes every Western film I've ever seen look like The Three Stooges. I recommend this book to anyone who can stomach the bloody parts. The ending will blow your mind.