The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show is one of Larry McMurtry's most powerful, memorable novels and the basis for the enormously popular movie of the same name. Set in a small, dusty, Texas town, "The Last Picture Show introduced the characters of Jacy, Duane, and Sonny: teenagers stumbling toward adulthood, discovering the beguiling mysteries of sex and the even more baffling mysteries of love." It is, pretty much, a coming-of-age novel. While I enjoyed reading it, it wasn't my favorite of the novels I read this summer. At times, it got tedious to read. The story was a familiar one; two high school seniors preparing to face the world. Although facing the world in the 1950s is totally different than 2012, similar themes resonate. Maybe I didn't like The Last Picture Show as much as I thought I would because even though it was difficult at times to relate to Sonny (the main character) usually if I can't identify with the character personally, the story keeps me going. But the story wasn't that interesting that I had a burning desire to keep reading. Therefore, I would only recommend this book to you if you have a strong penchant for western, coming of age, 1950s novels (which is quite specific, but I honestly think that's the only audience that would appreciate this novel). Rating: ★★★


For Whom The Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway was a writer who took many of his personal experiences and used them as inspiration for his novels. In 1918, he was a volunteer ambulance driver for the Red Cross, serving in Italy. He was soon injured and hospitalized, subsequently becoming involved with a nurse. This provided the basis for his famous novel, A Farewell To Arms, published 1929. After World War I, Hemingway lived in Paris, where he socialized and worked with other disillusioned American artists and writers (known as the Lost Generation). Hemingway became interested in Spain, writing The Sun Also Rises about Americans in postwar France and Spain. This brings us to For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the Civil War that was happening there. And so comes the story of Robert Jordan, an American working with Spanish guerrilla fighters. The story begins as Jordan is assigned the task of blowing up a Fascist-controlled bridge. I will not go into the plot any further for fear of spoiling it, but it does keep the reader very invested in the story. The phrase for whom the bell tolls is from 17th century British poet John Donne. The epigraph to Hemingway's novel reads
No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.
In Donne's essay, he writes about a man hearing a funeral bell and asking who has died. In this excerpt, it shows Donne answering the question by saying each death affects of all. Every funeral bell "tolls for thee." Therefore, the fact that Hemingway chose this as the title of his novel is poignant in multiple ways; it highlights the importance of community (why Jordan is fighting in a foreign war that doesn't impact him), it shows how the brutality and killing during the war impacts those who witness it (or partake in it), and it reflects Hemingway's political stance (Robert Jordan states he is anti-Fascist, not pro-Communist). Overall, this is a fantastic novel that you should read if you have the chance. Rating: ★★★★★


Digital Fortress

Digital Fortress, the techno-thriller novel written by Dan Brown, is not the type of book I normally read. However, Dan Brown is the author of The DaVinci Code, a novel I read a few years ago and absolutely adored. Therefore, I figured I would try his other famous story. And I was not disappointed. Digital Fortress grabs you tight and doesn't let go. The story revolves around the National Security Agency's code-breaking supercomputer (keep in mind this was published in 1998 so the technology is a bit out of date now). When the this supposedly invincible code-breaking machine encounters a code it cannot break ("Digital Fortress"), the agency calls its head cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, the protagonist of the story. As the description reads, "What she uncovers sends shock waves through the corridors of power. The NSA is being held hostage--not by guns or bombs -- but by a code so complex that if released would cripple U.S. intelligence." Susan's subsequent attempt to decipher what is happening keeps the readers wanting more. The story is exciting and keeps you reading until the very end. It also raises many questions about the questions of government surveillance and the privacy of e-mail and other technological communications. Rating: ★★★★


The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath is the harrowing tale of the Joads, an Oklahoma farm family during the Great Depression. In 1940, John Steinback won the Pulitzer Prize for his work of fiction, and he rightly deserved this honorable prize. Steinback, after deciding to write about migrant farm workers who were pushed out of their homes in the Dust Bowl, lived with an Oklahoma farm family and journeyed with them to California. Interwoven with the story of the Joads are short, expository chapters describing migrants. These descriptive chapters that are interspersed with chapters about the Joads and often foreshadow tragedy; often discussing a certain hardship facing the migrants at large that the Joads then encounter. As I was reading the novel, I came to look forward to these brief intermissions that were rich in description and insight into the migrant life. The introduction to one such chapter (chapter 12) is the perfect example of the masterful writing of Steinback:
[Highway] 66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.
A theme that emerged throughout the novel is the mistreatment of migrant workers; the poor conditions in which they are forced to live and work in. While this is the story of America during the 1930s, it can very realistically be applied to America today. Most migrant workers nowadays are illegal immigrants, yet farm owners should not deny them basic rights. Tom Joad, the protagonist the novel, epitomizes the struggle that migrant workers undergo on a daily basis: focusing on one's own immediate needs or risking one's safety by fighting for the common good. In conclusion, The Grapes of Wrath rightfully deserves its #10 spot on Modern Library's Choices (a list that I hope to complete one day). Rating:★★★★★


The Submission

A riveting story, Amy Walden's debut novel tells the story of the (fictional) attempt to chose a memorial for the victims of the September 11th attacks. As it was advertised, "Ten years after 9/11, a dazzling, kaleidoscopic novel reimagines its aftermath." The story begins with the jury debating between the two final designs in the anonymous competition for the memorial. Claire, a juror and a widowed New Yorker, the representative representative of the families, is pushing "The Garden" design, which ultimately wins. When the jury goes to find out the architect, they learn he is Muslim. And suddenly, they are all thrown into a quandary. The choice of the title is a really clever and interesting one; Islam can be defined as "submission to the will of god" and of course, the plot of the story revolves around submissions to a competition. The dual meaning of submission in the context of this novel struck me as very poignant. The story is interwoven with multiple narrators, but it never feels too complex or confusing. The different voices and perspectives were welcome in advancing the flow of the story. The aftermath of 9/11 for American Muslims was multi-layered, and I found it really interesting when the story addressed the problems American Muslims encountered (and still do). I was hooked on the novel immediately and it was a rather quick read for me. The actual 9/11 memorial architect is Michael Arad, an Israeli-American architect. The composition of the jury that eventually picked Arad's design ("Reflecting Absence") was similar to that of the book. Another historical parallel this novel calls to mind is Maya Lin and the Vietnam Memorial controversy. Maya Lin is a Chinese American who faced accusations after her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was chosen in a blind competition. Amy Waldman was a reporter for the New York Times for eight years, and she covered 9/11 as a journalist. In her novel, Waldman goes into the conflict between one's principles and one's emotions and the tangled relationship between religion and politics. Does religion have a place in politics? Many Americans would say so, but America was founded on "separation of church and state." The Submission is not only a 9/11 novel but a novel about the character of American politics, and I highly suggest you read it (thanks to my mom for telling me to read the novel after her book club did) Rating:★★★★★



 A young adult novel, Hero is the story of Thom Creed, a teenager who is dealing with growing up, discovering his sexual orientation, and the emergence of superpowers. Although it sounds like your typical coming-of-age novel, Hero is unique in the way it goes about this oft-told story. As Maurice Sendak (best known for Where the Wild Things Are) reviews, "Perry Moore brings an enticing new genre to the world of young adult novels." Thom's father is a disgraced former superhero who is also homophobic. So when Thom is asked to join the League (the organization of superheroes that disowned his father), Thom can't say no.
To survive, Thom will have to face challenges he never imagined. To find happiness, he'll have to come to term with his father's past and discover the kind of hero he really wants to be.(inside cover) 
At first, I was unsure if I really wanted to read Hero because I wasn't sure if I would enjoy the story. However, I started reading and was sucked in immediately. I know I write this a lot, but I honestly could not put it down. I was lost in the world of Thom, where superheroes can fly by and no one blinks an eye. Moore, who is gay, said "My passion is infinite for more gay heroes in all genres and in all media" (x). I think he did a superb job of creating a realistic gay character, not overly stereotypical as many TV shows and movies do nowadays. Thom is not your average hero, by any means. His story enraptured me, and I recommend all young adults to read this (adults, it may be a bit out of your demographic). Rating: ★★★★

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn takes its readers on a wondrous journey through the deep South, through the eyes of Huck Finn. Commonly considered a Great American Novel, it was one of the first novels in major American literature to be written in the vernacular. Intended to be a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Sawyer took this on a more serious note, with the themes of slavery, racism, and society in the South taking a more prominent role than the themes highlighted in Tom Sawyer. Huck Finn is the protagonist of the novel, a formally uneducated thirteen year old who is easily influenced by others in his life. After a turn of events that lead to his father regaining custody of him, Huck Finn fakes his own death and escapes into the wilderness. And so begins his adventures. The novel is a perfect balance; lighthearted enough that you enjoy reading it, but serious enough in the sense that you can see Twain's commentary on American southern society in the antebellum period. I thought I was going to have to drag myself through the book, originally reading it just to say I did, but it turns out that I really enjoyed it. If you haven't read this American classic yet, I suggest you add it to your reading list and start the novel as soon as possible! Rating: ★★★★★


The Magician King

The awaited sequel to the New York Times bestseller The Magicians (see my post on the first novel), The Magician King  allows the readers to return to Fillory, the magic realm that Quentin and his friends discover in the first novel. Quentin Coldwater should be happy. "He escaped a miserable Brooklyn childhood, matriculated at a secret college for magic, and graduated to discover that Fillory - a fictional utopia - was actually real. But even as a Fillorian king, Quentin finds little peace." He is restless, and the premise of the novel is his desire for a quest. Paired with this "quest" is Julia's backstory; how she learned her magic and how it impacts the journey Quentin and Julia are on. In my opinion, I liked the first novel better - we were learning about magic and discovering Fillory with Quentin. The second novel is less so about the magic itself. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading it and could hardly put it down. There are plot turns and twists that the reader doesn't expect, and it was enjoyable, yet I feel like it could have been better in some aspects. For example, the plot doesn't come together until the very very end, leaving the reader a bit confused until the last few chapters. I believe there's going to be a third novel in the trilogy, which I cannot wait to read. This was my second book on my Summer Reading 2012, and it was a perfect summer read. But I only suggest reading it after reading the first novel. Rating: ★★★★