Category Archives: American Greats

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Title: Of Mice and Men

Author: John Steinbeck

Publication Date: 1937

Review Score: 8/10

One of the most well known novels around the world, Of Mice and Men is a tale of friendship between 2 drifting workers during the 1930s American depression.

George and his large, simple minded friend Lennie are working the farms trying to get enough money together to one day have their own small patch of land and a slice of the American dream. However there is just one problem, Lennie can’t help getting himself in trouble and when the pair find work on a Californian ranch their dream and friendship is pushed to the limit.

Given that it is on the curriculum of practically every school in England, most people have read Of Mice and Men at a young age, when 100 pages took literally forever to read! Unfortunately, or luckily depending how you see it, I didn’t have to read Of Mice and Men at school and so I was able to approach it with fresh eyes and an open mind.

What I found was a truly remarkable book which packs one hell of a punch in just 120 pages. The characters and friendship created by Steinbeck are remarkable and you feel yourself wanting them to get that piece of land as much as they do.

The final act of their friendship, and the book, is enough to bring the reader to tears and it is the way in which Steinbeck is able to make it so emotional in such a short time that makes it such a great novel and well worthy of its place on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before you Die.

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The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

When looking over the list of 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die the 1 question that always arises is “why these novels?”. There are many on the list that I think everyone would agree are classics, such as War and Peace, but there are also many books that haven’t made the list that people may make a strong case for, such as Dune by Frank Herbert.

There are also many books that did make the 1,001 list, but for the life of me I can’t understand why! The Catcher in the Rye is one of these novels.

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me on this, but I just don’t see why the story of 16 year old Holden Caulfield spending 2 days larking about New York in a somewhat limp rebel fashion is so popular!

I guess you could say that this novel is the perfect example of teenage cynicism, with Holden being kicked out of school and giving everyone lip, and many people believe that The Catcher in the Rye is the perfect representation of the time, but for me, to be a true great classic a novel needs to be more than this.

It is fine to say that this novel is the perfect time piece but there are many great novels that represent their time and are also a great tale, such as Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment.

For me, The Catcher in the Rye has been hyped up more than it deserves, maybe because it was the infamous book Mark Chapman was holding when he killed John Lennon, and although it is much better than a lot of modern novels, I am not sure it fully deserves its place on this list.

However, I am sure there are hundreds of people who will completely disagree and will think I am utterly stupid! So feel free to criticise me below!

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The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

Regarded as one of the great American novels, The Great Gatsby is a commentary on the glitz and glamour of the 1920s and the underlying sleaze and shallowness of the Jazz Age. It is also a love story and a tale of one man’s rags to riches.

Through the narration of Nick Carraway, we are taken into the rich, colourful excess of the Long Island party scene of the 1920s, where we encounter Nick’s cousin Daisy, her macho millionaire husband and the one and only Jay Gatsby, a man shrouded in hushed rumour and dark mystery.

What annoys me most about this book is that I actually enjoyed it. I was sure this was going to be another Catcher in the Rye where nothing really happens and it is simply an insight into one period of time in America. And, in fact, for large parts of the book this is exactly what it is, a commentary on house parties, hotel room excess and the flippant cares of the wealthy.

However, although ignorant, frustrating and downright annoying, the characters in The Great Gatsby and incredibly absorbing, and although the actual story of a great man’s attempt to recapture a lost love takes an age to get going and then ends incredibly abruptly, it is still brilliant and highly charged with raw emotion.

As a pure story the plot is simple and bland, but it is the characters placed within these happenings that makes this book what it is. If nothing else, The Great Gatsby gives us The Great Gatsby and it is worth reading simply for him.

This is definitely a novel that splits people’s opinions, and as you can tell it split mine several times!

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