Part 2 – My unputdownable books (finally)

November 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

O TEMPO E O VENTO – O CONTINENTE (TIME AND THE WIND – THE CONTINENT), by Erico Verissimo

To more international readers (if anyone ever reads this blog), this will be a great wtf. A bit of Brazilian literature for you. Actually, a bit is not enough, because it’s a bloody epic (think East of Eden 3 times). I’ve chosen to talk only about the first part, because I never really finished the whole series.

It’s a story about a family from South of Brazil, a state (which wasn’t back when the story is told) called Rio Grande do Sul. You see, people from the south are very very proud (I am) and they are considered by the rest of the country as fighters, stubborn, strong-headed people. We are and this book shows it as well.

It’s an epic that goes through several generations and wars, in a small town where they are settled.

The title is brilliant by itself. Time and wind to some extent are women and men, which with its differences are one of the book most debated themes. Women are time, because women wait. When man go to war, they stay and they wait. Men are forces of nature back then, they came and left, leaving pregnant wives, lovers and everything else to go fight for their cause. Men are cyclical, fickle; women are steady.

In any case, the female characters are a joy by itself. Strong and powerful, they lead and carry the problems closest to us, while the men fight in the war. The narrative is stunning and the use of flashbacks and a quite complicated at some points of the timeline turns it unquestionably into an amazing book.


PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, by Jane Austen

It’s easy and at the same time extremely difficult to write about Pride and Prejudice. I find it that most of the love I have for the book comes down to Mr Darcy and the perfect love story. My romantic ideal of chivalry and the fact I love the historical period in which is set.

Jane Austen books were one of the many literary reasons why I wanted to move to England (along with Sherlock Holmes, Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie). Lots of travels I did and things I went to see because of their relation to Jane Austen or Pride and Prejudice somehow.

More than anything, Elizabeth Bennet was one of the first heroines of “grown-up” books that was actually a smart-ass. Her wit and sarcasm won me over, specially her being the outcast in the family because of so much reading and so much different opinions from everyone else. That’s how I always was to my family.

It’s almost a soft erotic novel for romantic girls and many of them (as I once did) still dream of meeting Mr Darcy (who let’s be honest, is a bit of a prick). However, in the end, this book isn’t only a great love story, it’s a tale of redemption, maturity, selfishness and arrogance. It’s a story of learning how to be humble under certain circumstances, but fighting for what you want when you believe it’s right.

 

JANE EYRE, by Charlotte Bronte

I read Jane Eyre in 2 days, in every single moment I had free. I remember one day waking up before my boyfriend (at the time) and it was very early. I grabbed the book and started reading and reading until 2h later he woke up. He went to his computer and started playing World of Warcraft (which used to piss me off a lot). I didn’t care. I was so entangled in the book that I just wanted to know how was going to end. That’s unputdownable for you.

I had read Emily’s Wuthering Heights and hated it. I’ve read somewhere that readers are divided into 2 categories: those that like one or the other of the major works of the Bronte sisters. While Heights is about hate and evil characters, Jane Eyre is about love, about growing up and fighting what people want you to be.

I believe Jane is an amazing character that in many ways reminds me of Elizabeth Bennet. She’s fierce and in a time when women were not allowed to say what they think, she had no problems on exposing her opinions. Which, specially in the environment she grew up – where different from Elizabeth, it was not one of love – put her in very difficult positions.

The book mixes a bit of unknown and there are elements (like in Wuthering Heights) of a certain mysticism and paranormal. There are very dark and twisted bits in the book, which proves wrong many people that believe Jane Eyre is another romance written like Jane Austen books. It’s not, the end is actually the final proof of it.

Edward Rochester is an arrogant man full of prejudices (much like Mr Darcy). However, he has a very good reason to be so silent and quiet. He’s not a peaceful man and is indeed has a strong personality, which makes him a distinguishable and memorable character. He is a man imprisoned by his past and hasn’t much choice but living with it.

It’s also a book that when divides religion and kindness very well. While most people say that religion is there to create a boundary between good and evil and what’s right and wrong, Jane Eyre as a book and as a character shows it that it takes only a good heart to make the discernment.

Finally, Jane Eyre is a story about becoming independent and showing the world that you are only one and not a stereotype to be played with. Jane was one of the first strong, powerful and independent women I had chance to meet in literature, if you will.

 

ATONEMENT, by Ian McEwan

Sadly, I read the book only after seeing the film adaptation (which also features on my top 10 favourite films ever). Happily, the film is amazing already, but reading the book after added layers and layers that no film would be able to translate. Joe Wright is an amazing director and probably one of my favourites of this generation, but you can’t really blame him.

As the title says, Atonement is a story about mistakes and correcting them. Set during the II World War, in rural England mostly, it tells the tale of a girl who makes a terrible mistake that will affect forever the lives of other people. Briony Tallis is an amazing and believable character who much reminds me of, well, me in some ways. She’s a creative child, with vivid imagination and engaged into writing and setting her plays. In a different world with different circumstances she would have been a very likeable character. She isn’t.

Because of Briony’s naivety and to some extent, prejudice, two lives were ruined and several other badly affected. Briony has a terrible problem with separating reality and fantasy and it’s hard to see when she does it on purpose or not.

It’s a great metalinguistic work. I don’t want to ruin the end for those unfamiliar with it, but it does reiterate a relation and the power of literature and creativity when authors deal with the real world. The great structure of telling the story from 3 different point of views (Cecilia, Briony and Robbie) works incredibly and it’s a great narrative resource.

Besides the major theme being redemption and second chances (which is something recurrent in this list as you might have noticed), Atonement has the best sex scene I have ever read. (the film version is amazingly beautiful as well but there are thoughts that can’t be translated into it).

 

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee

I had seen this book in many many many lists of best books ever written, etc. I hadn’t come across to read until the beginning of this year. It jumped straight to the top of my list of favourite books.

Harper Lee makes me a bit sad for having never written anything else, but she did a fine work with To Kill a Mockingbird that maybe she would just ruin her career with some other novel (I don’t really believe that).

At first, the book made me feel like I was 11 again, and made me feel like watching Stand By Me and this other film that I don’t remember the name but it was one that I used to watch it all the time 10 years ago about a bunch of kids playing baseball and their weird neighbour with the crazy dog.

It evokes the deepest feelings of nostalgia and sadness. Not only sadness, though. I don’t know you, but I had a pretty happy childhood. I had several cousins that I played with all the time. I had a school that I loved. My parents were happy and loving. So, really, I was happy as a child as really I’ll probably never be and even if my childhood had been a bit worse, the world through a child’s eyes is always a bit more beautiful (as you can see in Angela’s Ashes). Naivety, you could say, but I like to believe is actually just pure kindness and belief that in the end, you have to have fun and be true to yourself.

Kids are not stupid. They’re sometimes wiser than grown ups. However, I’m still to find a child as wise as Atticus Finch, who is probably my favourite character of all times. Atticus is not always in the novel but in the end, he’s the protagonist. He’s the guy everyone reads it for.

Atticus is a lawyer and a true example of how parents should be. He’s wise, kind, honest. Most of all, he believes in what he does and he trusts that all people are equal, even if they have a different skin colour.

In the end, this book is about fearing the unknown. Not only with the case itself judging a black man over the rape of a white girl, but also Boo and his lock down inside the house. Just deal with whatever you’re scared of and maybe you will realise it was just your shadow.

 

LORD OF THE FLIES, by William Golding

What a disturbing book. It stayed with me for days and sometimes I was scared of reading it and learning what was going to happen. In opposition to To Kill a Mockingbird, this is pure child evilness. Would kids really act like that when alone in an island with nothing to survive with but their own knowledge?

It scares me that maybe they would. I see bullying and I see how cruel some children are. I do believe, that this would happen if they were all grown ups and I unquestionably think they would end up all killing themselves and that strength and cruelty would overcome intelligence and kindness in the end.

Would we act like that? All of us human beings? Would I do that, if I were in their position? Would my sister (who is 11 years old) act and kill to survive? I believe good is part of who you are. I believe we all have inside of us and I believe this book shows how some people have evil in them as well. But, not all is black and white. So, while I think several people would like to think it is, I think that evil people have goodness in them as well as good people have evil inside of them.

You might not have killed anyone, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t do something bad to another person just out of pure survival. We are selfish beings and we act out of sole fear of dying most of the time. The characters here might not be truly memorable, but it doesn’t matter because in the end, they are who we are. Their names, who they were before, that doesn’t really make a difference. It’s about their actions and their choices. Most people would do the same, wouldn’t they?

 

HONORARY MENTIONS:

– The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

it doesn’t really require an introduction, enough to say that the films even though being pretty  close, don’t capture the whole world that Tolkien created in his mind. I wish I had such a creativity and memory like he did. Friendship at its best.

– Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates.

I’ve read this after seeing the amazing movie directed by Sam Mendes. It’s a great, stunning, absolutely depressing book. I do not recommend it to people who just broke up with someone, but do recommend to incurable romantics because it will shatter a lot of what you think about marriage. It’s much like Mad Men in book.

– Persuasion, by Jane Austen.

The last book written by her and most definitely her best one. It’s down here and not up with my favourites simply because…I can’t really explain it. Probably because my character is much more like Elizabeth Bennet’s than Anne Elliot’s, who yes, redeems herself towards the end. It’s a book about second chances and a tale of time and doing things to please your family against growing up and realizing it’s your life and not theirs. It’s a true book and it has a lot of pondering and questioning more than any other of Austen’s novels.

– The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.

I hated this book. I really did. Every time I heard someone praising it, I would roll my eyes and say it was overrated. I came around to reading it a second time, about 5 years after the first time. I changed my mind completely. I believe it’s a book that needs to be read at one point of life and if not, it won’t have the same effect. I read it for the first time when I was 15, the age when you’re supposed to be lost and questioning authority and acting much like Holden Caufield is in the book. Except, I wasn’t. The book didn’t affect me at all. However, after moving to another country, graduating in a film school with a degree good for nothing, I re-read it and finally understood what everyone was raving about. It’s a sensitive and honest portrayal of a generation (mine) lost in their own boredom.

– Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Ok, so, it’s kind of a lie, because Watchmen is not a book, it’s a graphic novel. However, you will hardly find a book with so much depth, beauty, sadness, betrayal and existentialism as Alan Moore wrote and Dave Gibbons drew. A masterpiece of fine writing, questioning and history. It takes us to a world where Reagan was re-elected and the US won the Vietnam war, thanks mostly to super-heroes, now banned from existence. How can someone not want to read this? STILL NOT INTERESTED? I pity you. The characters are brilliant, from the personal favourite Rorscharch with his cruel and insane if idealistic view to Dr Manhattan calculated coldness and blunt honesty. It has an incredible plot twist and the consequences of it will make you not stop thinking about it for months. I promise.


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