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Dracula by Bram Stoker

DraculaI’ll open with alarm at the realization that I have not posted since March 14, 2017.  Egads, I’ll never attain my goal at this rate and once again, question the feasibility of such a task.  I will carry on with the hopes that the impending  drop in temperature will settle me down without the allure of the much cherished out-of-doors activities.

It took a concerted effort to remove the images of the Abbot and Costello version before sitting down to this long anticipated read.  At the extreme other end of the spectrum, I have to admit this is the first book that actually gave me nightmares.  There were certainly no guffaws spewing from this reader’s mouth.

Presented in a series of journals and articles, Dracula is both horror and thriller and transports us from Transylvania to England and back to Transylvania with heart pounding anticipation of what’s around the corner, and it isn’t at all pretty.

In the 1890’s, a recently qualified solicitor is sent to Transylvania by his new employer to conduct real estate transactions.  He is at first charmed by his client, but quickly realizes the Count will surely dispose of him once his usefulness is exhausted.  Barely escaping Castle Dracula, the young solicitor returns to England and engages friends and colleagues in hunting down the evil vampire and his unholy scheme.

Jonathan Harker, the initially naive solicitor, involves friends and his fiance in his plan to thwart the Count’s evil doings and to exact revenge against him for holding him prisoner in his castle.  Extremely focused and brave, this is someone I’d want on my side.

Harker’s fiance, Mina Murray, is at first utilized for her transcribing abilities, but quickly becomes a pivotal player in plans to destroy Dracula.  Clever and fearless, she is also devoted to all those around her.

Count Dracula plans his eternal life on earth through the blood of the living.  He is conniving and able to avoid detection with his unearthly ability to transform himself when escape is necessary.  I’d certainly avoid eye contact with the likes of this fiend.

Mina’s best friend, Lucy Westenra, is young and  beautiful and falls victim to the Count which outrages the band of vampire hunters and adds the fuel that will bring down the nefarious evildoer.

A meeting with Mr. Stoker would be marvelous.  Skilled not only in writing, but sketching, athletics and mathematics, there would be no lulls in our conversation.  While not familiar with his other works, I hope to enjoy more of him, possibly with Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories, a posthumous short story collection from 1914.

My rating for Dracula is a 9 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or comments by using the Leave A Comment link below.

Next up, Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield…DavidCopperfield

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American Pastoral by Philip Roth

american-pastoral

An athletic superstar, beloved by all, is living the American dream until his reality becomes a nightmare he cannot awake from.

Seymour the Swede, Levov grows up in Newark, New Jersey,  an all-star athlete, admired by all, with the exception of his brother.  He possesses the likability we all dream of with an ease that only makes him all the more winsome.  Even as a Jewish Marine in the 1950’s, he faces little intolerance as his good-naturedness carries him through.  He marries Miss New Jersey, takes over his family’s glove factory and settles into the American pastoral.  The dream shatters when his 15-year-old daughter turns to anarchy in what she believes is the most appropriate response to the war in Vietnam.

The book’s narrator, Nathan Zuckerman is the instrument for the unfolding of Roth’s novel who has always admired the Swede.  He meets with him briefly for dinner and when attending his 45th High School reunion learns he has died and what led to his undoing.

The Swede’s wife, and former Miss New Jersey, Dawn Dwyer does not, literally, wear her crown with pride.   Moving to a rural town seems to allow her to avoid answering the questions related to her stint as beauty queen, yet her resentment of some snobbish neighbors make her questions her acceptance there.

Meredith “Merry” Levov seems troubled from her start.  A Colicky baby becomes a prepubescent stutterer who becomes the FBI’s most wanted.  We never get to know Merry and that is what unnerves this reader.

I would love to meet Mr. Roth and enjoy a glass of Sangria with some Paella in one of Newark’s many fine Portuguese restaurants.  After regaling me with all tales Down Neck, I’d reach across the table and beg him to answer all things unanswered from American Pastoral.  Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know it was intentional, but why not indulge me.  I would end our tete a tete  with a toast to this marvel for his recent lambasting of the man I will never acknowledge as POTUS.

Quotes:

And since we don’t just forget things because they don’t matter but also forget things because they matter too much–because each of us remembers and forgets in a pattern whose labyrinthine windings are an identification mark no less distinctive than a fingerprint–it’s no wonder that the shards of reality one person will cherish as a biography can seem to someone else who, say , happened to have some ten thousand dinners at the very same kitchen table, to be a willful excursion into mythomania.  

That can happen when people die–the argument with them drops away and people so flawed while they were drawing breath that at times they were all but unbearable now assert themselves in the most appealing way, and what was least to your liking the day before yesterday becomes in the limousine behind the hearse a cause not only for sympathetic amusement but for admiration.  

Here is someone not set up for life’s working out poorly, let alone for the impossible.  But who is set up for the impossible that is going to happen?  Who is set up for tragedy and the incomprehensibility of suffering?  Nobody.  The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy–that is every mans’ tragedy.

Now, when she did not realize people were watching her, tears would rise in her eyes, eyes bearing that look both long accustomed to living with pain and startled to have been in so much pain so long.  

My rating for American Pastoral is an 8 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or comments by using the Leave A Comment link below.

Next up, Bram Stoker’s Dracula…Dracula

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A House in the Uplands by Erskine Caldwell

a-house-in-the-uplandsMr. Caldwell certainly did not disappoint with A House in the Uplands and manages to reveal humanity in even a rather brutish and self-indulgent man.

The Dunbar family has been on the decline and their Georgia plantation has dwindled from 5,000 to a mere 200 acres.  Trying to maintain their once highly held social status has taken its toll and the Dunbar’s eldest male, Grady, chooses to ignore reality in a haze of alcohol, gambling and women.

Lucyanne, newly married to Grady is slowly opening her eyes to the reality of her wedded misery.  Her love for her husband has prevented her from heeding the many warning signs of what will come, but she eventually tries to escape her circumstance.  A rather wishy-washy and indecisive woman, she is not the most sympathetic of characters.

Mama Elsie, Grady’s overbearing mother is every bride’s worst nightmare.  She believes her son can do no wrong and that he was “tricked” into marriage by a less than suitable woman.  Her own marriage entrapment is revealed when she lets down her guard for a brief moment only to release her wrath, once again, upon her daughter-in-law.

The last of the Dunbar family men, Grady has fallen far and fallen hard and finds himself at an impasse.  A desperate attempt to remedy the situation has dire consequences, but at last reveals the man beneath the veil.

What a delight it would be to spend any time with Mr. Caldwell, although his temperament might require making that time a tad limited.  I’d hope to quickly discover his writing habits and perhaps bow out gracefully, pack up all his books and hit the road on an all Caldwell road trip to Georgia.

Quotes:

They did feel it, yet neither spoke of it; for often between ourselves and those nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve which it is very hard to overcome.  

Simple, sincere people seldom speak much of their piety; it shows itself in acts, rather than in words, and has more influence than homilies or protestations.

Seldom, except in books, do the dying utter memorable words, see visions, or depart with beautified countenances; and those who have sped many parting souls know, that to most the end comes as naturally and simply as sleep.  

My rating for A House in the Uplands is a 10 out of 10.

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Next up, Philip Roth’s American Pastoralamerican-pastoral

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The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

the-house-of-the-seven-gablesHawthorne manages to weave a tale flawlessly with nary a snarl to be found.  While it took me a bit to read through its pages, it was well worth it.

Several generation of the Pyncheon family’s dirty laundry is aired and it is far from sparkly clean.  An ill gained land ownership becomes the family’s curse and The House of the Seven Gables eventually reveals its history as it deteriorates from its original splendor.

The falsely accused Matthew Maule curses Colonel Pyncheon from the gallows where he has been found guilty of wizardry.  The land then taken from his family will serve as the foundation for the seven gabled house and will curse the Pyncheon’s family for generations.

Hepzibah Pyncheon lives in the crumbling home, alone and destitute and is forced to open a little shop in order to provide basic necessities for herself.  Her scowl does little for business, but her niece’s arrival manages to keep customers returning.

The mysterious boarder in the Pyncheon home, Mr. Holgrave is a daguerreotypist who is able to capture the true essence of his subjects, both the good and the evil.

Sunshine is brought into the Pyncheon home with the arrival of Phoebe Pyncheon.  Her presence sets in motion the unraveling and eventual rebuilding of the Pyncheon clan.

Clifford Pyncheon, brother to Hepzibah is a man broken and child like.  We slowly learn that the evil Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon stood silent when Clifford was falsely accused of killing his uncle.

Quotes:

In this republican country, amid the fluctuating waves of our social life, somebody is always at the drowning-point.  The tragedy is enacted with as continual a repetition as that of a popular drama on a holiday; and, nevertheless, is felt as deeply, perhaps, as when an hereditary noble sinks below his order.  

Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon sat in the oaken elbow-chair, with her hands over her face, giving way to that heavy down-sinking of the heart which most persons have experienced, when the image of hope itself seems ponderously moulded of lead, on the eve of an enterprise at once doubtful and momentous.  

I find nothing so singular in life, as that everything appears to lose it s substance, the instant one actually grapples with it.  

For, what other dungeon is so dark as one’s own heart!  What jailer so inexorable as ones’ self!  

It is a truth (and it would be a very sad one, but for the higher hopes which is suggests) that no great mistake, whether acted or endured, in our mortal sphere, is ever really set right.  

My rating for The House of the Seven Gables is a 9 out of 10.

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Next up, Erskine Caldwell’s A House in the Uplandsa-house-in-the-uplands

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

little-womenThe book’s volume had me a bit concerned as my journey has been rather sluggish.  I still wonder if my goal of reading 1,001 books is unrealistic, yet I carry on, albeit with the pace of a snail.

I cherished every word of Little Women and am so glad it didn’t find its way to the bottom of my book pile.  It was refreshing to read an old-fashioned view of the world with so much going on in today’s uncertain future.  Some might find the book sexist, however, putting it into the context of its time, its best to not take offense.

Set in New England during the Civil War, we meet, and get to know very well, the March women.  A strong mother whose husband is away at war, is at the foundation of this  family.  She sees each of her four daughters as individuals and helps them grow into people they can both be proud of.

Josephine March, better known as Jo found her way into my heart.  While her short fuse and impatience get her into hot water, her loyalty to family saves her from much scorn.

Sweet Beth is selfless and the only joy she allows herself is playing piano.  Even in her darkest hour, she continues thinking of others.  Tears flowed for this gracious little soul.

The rich boy next door, Theodore Laurence, is affectionately called Laurie by the March women.  He becomes a fixture in the March home and becomes Jo’s best friend and confidant.  His generous and playful nature endear him to all.

I believe I’d get on famously with Miss Alcott.  Presumably, Jo March is her fictional self so there would be no issue getting along here.  Perhaps she’d share with me her very early work only she would deem inferior.

Quotes:

They did feel it, yet neither spoke of it; for often between ourselves and those nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve which it is very hard to overcome.  

Simple, sincere people seldom speak much of their piety; it shows itself in acts, rather than in words, and has more influence than homilies or protestations.

Seldom, except in books, do the dying utter memorable words, see visions, or depart with beautified countenances; and those who have sped many parting souls know, that to most the end comes as naturally and simply as sleep.  

My rating for Little Women is a 9 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or comments by using the Leave A Comment link below.

Next up, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gablesthe-house-of-the-seven-gables

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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist

At the rate I’m reading, I may very well be dead before I’m able to complete the gargantuan task of ingesting all of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.  Perhaps I overwhelmed myself and should just relax and focus on the immense pleasure I experience while perusing rather than trying to complete something that will surely take some length of time.  I have an endless supply of excuses for my absence, but I will spare you and get back to it post-haste.

I need not introduce our dear little Oliver as everyone, the world around, is an intimate of the poor orphan of Mr. Dickens creation.  I thought I knew him as well, but I did not foresee how my heart would break and my chest heave when I truly came to know the child on paper.

For those unfamiliar with Oliver Twist, it is the splendid tale of a boy born in a workhouse in the 1830’s whose mother dies shortly after his birth.  His treatment there is deplorable and he eventually runs away only to be taken in by a group of pickpockets overseen by a manipulative and unscrupulous man.  Just when things appear to be looking up for Oliver, something, or someone, always seem to get in the way of his deliverance.

The novel’s protagonist, Oliver Twist, begins his life with the loss of his mother and doesn’t know a day of compassion henceforth.  Somehow Oliver remains an innocent hungry for any sign of mercy that seems to continually evade him.

Mr. Bumble, an hypocritical beadle at the workhouse, is an unfortunate model for those he purports to care for.  His unattainable ambitions drive him even further down the path of indifference to his fellow-man.

Fagin is the ringleader of the young pickpockets he recruits among the many orphans in London.  He trains the young ragamuffins in a squalid building and then sends them forth to return the goods to benefit him.  If caught, however, the tiny thieves must take the fall alone, thus insulating Fagin from being implicated in any way.

The cruel and heartless Bill Sikes makes Fagin appear almost human.  He is an angry and brutal man who unleashes his rage on those nearest him and does so without pause, whether it be his lover or his dog.

This is an author I would have to reign in my adoration for before sitting down for a little tete a tete.  His obvious experience of a destitute life and ability to see the injustices and inequities around him make him an author extraordinaire and at the top of my list.

Quotes:

We need be careful how we deal with those about us, when every death carries to some small circle of survivors, thoughts of so much omitted, and so little done–of so man things forgotten, and so many more which might have been repaired!  There is no remorse so deep as that which is unavailing; if we would be spared its tortures, let us remember this, in time.

My rating for Oliver Twist is a 10 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or comments by using the Leave A Comment link below.

Next up, Louisa May Alcott’s  Little Womenlittle-women

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The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye

Although not considered autobiographical, The Bluest Eye recounts a painful coming of age in 1940’s Lorain, Ohio where Morrison herself grew up.  Morrison provides backgrounds for each character allowing the reader to understand their sometimes deplorable, sometimes heroic, actions.

The book’s narrator, Claudia MacTeer, is an independent nine-year-old.  She is sensitive to the behavior of others, and is especially aware of the different ways blacks and whites are treated.

Pecola Breedlove longs for blue eyes believing they will ensure she will be loved and respected by family, friends and strangers alike.  Raped and impregnated by her father, doubted by her mother and bullied at school, her self-respect has all but disappeared so she begins to remove herself from reality in order to survive the travesties that continue to dog her.

Pauline “Polly” Breedlove is Pecola’s mother.  She has a deformed foot that has made her feel inferior and she loses herself in movies.  Working as a housekeeper for a white family, she treats their daughter better than her own feeding into Pecola’s feeling of worthlessness.

It’s been fun imaging my encounters with authors living and dead, but this is an instance where I have actually met the author.  I attended a lecture in 2013 where Ms. Morrison spoke of her then recently published Home among a myriad of topics; her work in publishing and teaching, writing, politics and the ongoing divide between blacks and whites in America.  I came away with an autographed book and a wish for more time with this renowned author.

My rating for The Bluest Eye is a 9 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or comments by using the Leave A Comment link below.

Next up, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist…Oliver Twist

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