Catching Up on Literature

Well, I am abandoning hope of giving you an in-depth, detailed review of that pile of books I recently read. They aren’t fresh in my memory and beyond giving just a summary, I’d need to put a lot of review time into it.  So I will use this post to give you a synopsis of all of the books I recently read, but haven’t reviewed yet. Hopefully the synopsis let’s you get a feel and decide if you’re interested in reading any of them. I am almost finished with two more books, so I will go back to full reviews of those.

  • Inferno (c. 1320) by Dante Alighieri (Robert Pinsky translation)

Besides any religious significance you might put into this allegorical poem (as it was intended), it is also a quick read full of imagery and excitement. In the year 1300, Dante is wandering lost in a dark wood, when the Roman poet Virgil rescues him and returns him to safety via a long detour through the nine levels of hell. They pass the entrance, where a sign reads (in part), “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

They first pass the uncommitted people – those who neither did good nor bad in life – those who chose neither side. Then they pass through the nine levels of hell, each with a particular selection of souls destined to its area – each serving a particular type of eternal torture. Those who repented for their sins while alive were sent to Purgatory, but those who justified their sins without repentence are in hell. As Virgil and Dante go deeper into hell they pass those who committed self-indulgent sins, then those who committed violent sins, then those who were malicious, and finally at the center of hell, they see the tri-mouthed Satan being held in bondage (partially frozen in ice), and perpetually chewing on Judas and on Julius Caesar’s assassins: Brutus and Cassius.   Then the tour is over and they make their way back out – knowing they have left hell because they can again see the stars.

  • Inferno (2013) by Dan Brown

This is another thriller involving the famed symbologist Robert Langdon, and is in the style of The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons and The Lost Symbol. If you have read any of those, just know that this will give you a similar excitement. I’ll keep the summary very short and sweet: Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital not knowing how he got there. He is quickly brought into an investigation of a cryptic message which is reminiscent of the sights and sounds found in Dante’s Inferno, and which promises an impending disaster of world-altering proportions. No one knows what the disaster is, specifically, and this message was made by a man who just recently committed suicide. Langdon and his crew have a short time to decipher what the message means, and also to figure out where the disaster will be and how to stop it.

  • Mrs Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf

I had to try reading one of these books, but I just somehow do not like older British literature. Charles Dickens is my least favorite author. For how renouned he is, I absolutely hate every single one of the several Dickens works I have read. I haven’t read any Jane Austen yet (though I have Northanger Abbey) but I came across this Virginia Woolf novel and thought I’d begin with it.

The story takes place in a single day but the setting goes back and forth with far too many characters for me to keep track of. Briefly, Clarissa Dalloway is planning a party that evening and spends the day going through preparations. She is quickly reminded of her youth and most of the novel is a reminiscence of her past. At the party that evening, many of those people from her past are in attendance, but one has just recently committed suicide. Clarissa admires that act as taking the initiative to preserve one’s happiness in life.

  • Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams

The reason I am familiar with this book is that it is required reading for the 7th and 8th grade students at the middle school where I used to teach. This is a story where a community of rabbits escape the destruction of their homeland (the warren) and seek to find a new home, finding adventures and danger along the way. The rabbits are antropomorphised, meaning that the story refers to them having human characteristics including their own culture, names, language and mythology.

  • The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (2001) by Bill Bryson

This is “travel writing,” a non-fictional account of traveling around America. Bill Bryson is better known for A Walk in the Woods, which is about the Appalachian Trail. In this story, he has returned to his home in Iowa from living in England for several years. He decides to drive around much of the US – particularly the southeast – retracing memories from his childhood. I haven’t read anything else by Bryson, but he obviously tries to put a lot of sarcasm and humorous thoughts into his writing. That’s what makes travel writing interesting to read and more than a simple travel log, right? Well, I thought he overly made fun of people and places because they don’t live up to how great England and Iowa are. I guess I didn’t really care for this story and don’t know that I will read anything else of Bryson’s.

  • The Art of War (c. 500 B.C.) by Sun Tzu

This isn’t so much a book as an instruction manual. Really, it’s a strategy guide that kind of reminds me of The Prince by Machiavelli. The difference is that Machiavelli tells how to stay in power while Sun Tzu tells how to be victorious in battle. I suppose it is applicable to other forms of “battle,” like business and law, as well. Sun Tzu told that war was a necessary evil, and should be fought as quickly and efficiently as possible. The topics of focus are: Planning, Waging War, Plan of Attack, Positioning, Forces, Weaknesses and Strengths, Maneuvering, Adaptability, Movement of Troops, Terrain, Types of Battle Situations, Attacking with Fire, and Espionage and Intelligence.

  • Zodiac: An Eco-Thriller (1988) by Neal Stephenson

This isn’t a style I would usually choose on my own, and I wasn’t aware of this author, but I received it as a birthday gift. It is an eco-thriller, like the title states. The whole story takes place around Boston and involves a man, named Sangamon Taylor, who works for an environmental activism group and tries to subvert corporations’ plans to pollute the environment. In Zodiac, named for the type of boat he uses to traverse through Boston Harbor while collecting data, Taylor discovers an unidentified accumulation of pollution being sent into the Boston Harbor drainpipes by some corporation on the mainland. His task is to figure out who is doing it, and stop them. This story involves genetic engineering and some of the scenes take place on Boston’s Spectacle Island, which Wikipedia tells me was almost entirely composed of garbage at the time this book was written.

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2 thoughts on “Catching Up on Literature

  1. I can’t wait to read the new Dan Brown book. I love his style of writing- I can get into it pretty quickly and stay entertained the whole time: that’s my primary reason for reading anyway- an escape.
    That’s too bad you didn’t like Bill Bryson’s writing. I read his App.Trail book and thought he was really funny, but I think my sense of humor is pretty sarcastic and sometimes verging on caustic, so that may be why I enjoyed him more.
    The Zodiac book sounds very different than anything you have ever reviewed. You didn’t really say if you liked it or not: did you?

    • Yeah, I don’t think I’d read Bryson again…or I might read the first chapter and see if I get a different opinion.

      I liked the Zodiac book – but I don’t know if it’s because of the style, or topic, or something else.

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