Review of “Hole in my Life” by Jack Gantos

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Hole in my Life is an interesting memoir about Jack Gantos’ early life and the events that led to him becoming a writer. Hole in my Life does a good job of explaining Gantos’ complicated/pressured situation, and why he chose to become involved in the situation that led to his arrest and stint in prison. As a person who is usually hard on adolescent crime, I think I needed to read this book. This book helped me realize that the reasons that (young) people commit crimes is usually complex and due to factors outside of their control. I think that if Gantos had had more opportunities, he would never have became involved with drugs. The book also discusses the horrors of prison; although prison horror stories are everywhere, I think it is still important to be aware of how bad/dangerous prison can be.

Gantos’ account was mostly a sincere, unapologetic retelling of the events that led up to his arrest, but I did question some aspects of the novel. What bothered me most about Gantos’ logic is that he seemed to justify many of his decisions by reminding the reader of his literary ambitions. He chose to become involved in criminal activity, but he seemed to justify this because other writers have also been involved in criminal activity? It’s silly logic. “Oh, Jack Kerouac and Burroughs and Ginsberg and all those guys experimented with drugs and look how great they were! Maybe if I experimented with drugs, I would be great too!” “I’m going to try to interview really violent men because Hemingway threw himself into the danger of battle.” I understand how those actions worked for those writers, but you shouldn’t intentionally throw yourself into these situations to emulate your favorite writers. It also seemed like Gantos rarely took full responsibility for his actions. I know that he was young during all of these events, but he had to have been aware of the consequences of his actions.

My favorite thing about the book was Gantos’ interest in/love of literature and writing. He was a well-read adolescent, and literature obviously impacted him on a very deep and important level. I think he would make reading and literature “cool” for younger readers. For that reason, I kind of hope that this book is incorporated more frequently in high school curriculums.

Overall, the book provides an interesting perspective of juvenile crime, and it is also a unique portrayal of one man’s relationship with literature and writing. I think this would be a great book to take into a high school classroom. Gantos’ life was transformed through literature and writing, and this is something that I want to pass on to my high school students.

Review of “On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwan

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On Chesil Beach is a short novel about Edward and Florence, two newlyweds who experience destructive/disastrous sexual dysfunction on their wedding night. The majority of the novel takes place over a two hour period, and McEwan writes about the events of their wedding night in agonizingly minute detail. The novel is tight and concise, but McEwan develops the couple’s story via some of the most lyrical sentences I have ever read.

On Chesil Beach was not a pleasant book. It was one of the most uncomfortable books I have ever read. McEwan forces the reader to experiences the same level of discomfort and anxiety that Florence and Edward feel. While the reading experience was not enjoyable, I really appreciated the way that McEwan can make the readers emotionally and physically identify with the characters. McEwan’s books may not be for everyone, but he has undeniable talent and skill.

Although the characters of Edward and Florence are fully developed in their own right, they are symbolic of all young people of the time period. British society during the late 1950s-early 1960s was a time of sexual repression. Both Edward and Florence knew almost nothing about sex, but were expected to be able to successfully consummate their marriage. Edward was expected to be “experienced,” while Florence was expected to be “pure” (and somehow still be able to satisfy her new husband?). The novel is as much a critique of the destructive social conventions of the time as it is a study of interpersonal relationships and character development.

On Chesil Beach is a brilliant novel, but it is also a novel I doubt I will ever want to experience again. This was my first encounter with McEwan (and I have heard that many of his novels are like this), and I plan to read more of his work soon.

Review of “Ceremony” by Leslie Marmon Silko

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Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony was a struggle. It’s hard to explain why. As I was reading the novel, I could appreciate that the text was beautifully written, but I could not emotionally connect to the characters or situations. Objectively, the novel is significant and well-written. I understand the importance of Silko’s work and the need to promote/read Native American literature. The story is also deeply interesting. Tayo, a WWII veteran, is suffering from PTSD. Tayo eventually heals, but only after many trials and difficult situations. His recovery is aided almost entirely by his interactions with nature.

In Ceremony, Silko is deeply concerned with environmental issues. Silko discusses the importance of the environment, and the destructive nature of humans. While this aspect of the novel was already familiar to me (I’m adequately acquainted with environmental issues), I was deeply touched by the manner in which her argument was presented. If you are interested in environmental issues, I would definitely check out this novel.

Overall, Ceremony is an important novel about PTSD, the environment, and Native American culture. I could not personally engage with this novel, but it is considered one of the most important works of Native American literature. Maybe I’ll just have to read it again, and see if a change of mood/scenery improves my reading experience.

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Review of “Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys

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This novel (novella?) is considered to be a prequel to Jane Eyre, and since I wasn’t particularly fond of Jane Eyre, I was also not looking forward to reading Wide Sargasso Sea. Luckily, Wide Sargasso Sea was much better than Jane Eyre.

I prefer Rhys’ writing style. I enjoyed the use of different perspectives and narrators. It seems much more modern. It was interesting to experience Rochester’s side of the story. While reading Jane Eyre, I was never fond of Rochester as a character. Reading Wide Sargasso Sea only further confirmed why I dislike him (although Wide Sargasso Sea isn’t necessarily “accurate”).

Most importantly, I was able to see the backstory of “the wildwoman in the attic.” Bertha, or Antoinette, is treated with no sympathy in Jane Eyre. I think that reading Wide Sargasso Sea was essential to understanding the character of Bertha, and also the character of Rochester. After reading the novel, I am much more sympathetic to Bertha’s situation than Rochester’s.

Although I am writing about the plot of this novel as though it is actually accurate to the cannon, Rhys did completely invent Bertha’s backstory. It uses the same characters from the novel, but is not based on any actual part of the novel. It is entirely her own creation. The reason I love the story is because it seems to accurately align with the story and the nature of the characters, and it takes readers away from England. I couldn’t stand to read another novel about the bleak English countryside. Wide Sargasso Sea takes place mostly in the Caribbean, and it is so refreshing.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Jane Eyre. I think it is important to read this after reading Jane Eyre, although it can probably be enjoyed as a stand alone novel. The story is beautiful, haunting, and heartbreaking. Wide Sargasso Sea is an entertaining novel, and is basically a form of literary, highbrow fanfiction. Check it out!

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Review of “Long Day’s Journey into Night” by Eugene O’Neill

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I did not like this play. I’m not sure how anyone can “like” this play. It is terribly, relentlessly, unapologetically sad. Reading this play made me really need a drink – just like most of the characters in the play. 

Although it is sad, this play is fascinating. O’Neill takes the four members of the Tyrone family, all rather unredeemable characters, and makes the audience feel acute empathy for them. I disliked all of the characters in the play, but I was deeply interested in their fate. I wanted good things for them. I wanted them all to be happy, to no longer be sad. The writing is simple but beautiful, and the characters feel much more developed than other characters I have encountered in my limited exposure to drama (mostly Shakespeare and Wilder). I have never read a work of fiction that so perfectly describes a dysfunctional family, or so fully understands complex family dynamics. Long Day’s Journey into Night was difficult and painful for me to read, but I was very glad to have experienced it. 

Review of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

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I’ll admit, when I was first assigned this play for class, I was not looking forward to reading it. I expected the play to be as dry as the Victorian writing that my class had just slogged through. But Wilde was completely different. The language Wilde used was still quite foreign for my modern sensibilities, but the language was brilliant. Wilde’s wordplay is exceptional. This is a play that must be read slowly, and over and over. I feel as though I could read this play ten times and still find myself laughing at new lines. It is full of hilarious moments, and it also makes some serious statements about Wilde’s culture at the time. Wilde’s writing seems to be full of a barely contained joy for life and love. I think he was the complete embodiment of his movement, aestheticism, and loved making art for art’s sake.

I can’t say anything about this play that hasn’t already been said. Just read it. It is worth investing an afternoon to read it.