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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Upcoming Reviews

Hello! Just for a change I thought some of you may like to know what reviews are coming over the next month, as there may be some you are interested in looking out for! Anyway here is what is what is on the reading list in September:

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift
We – Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Quiet American – Graham Greene
Crome Yellow – Aldous Huxley
The Enormous Room – E. E. Cummings

I’m looking forward to reading them all so I hope there is a review on there you are looking forward to! And if you have read any of them please let me know what you thought.

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Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Title: Treasure Island

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Publication Date: 1883

Review Score: 7/10

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is the archetypal sea voyaging, treasure hunting tale that has been a favourite amongst children and adults for over 100 years. In this classic adventure, a young boy by the name of Jim Hawkins discovers a treasure map and sets out on a voyage with a bunch of sea hardy buccaneers, to find Captain Flint’s gold.

However, Jim soon discovers treachery is afoot as a group of the travelling crew, lead by one Long John Silver, plan to kill the captain and steal the treasure. The two camps of men both make it on to the island but with only one treasure map and one boat to get them back home a tale of war, bargaining and deceit begins.

What can you say about Treasure Island except it is THE adventure novel! Like most people, even before reading it I was well aware of Long John Silver, the Black Spot and the stereotypical treasure map with the big red cross marking where the doubloons and bounty are hidden!

Treasure Island brings all of these cliché elements together, but because it is the original sea shanty novel it does not seem foolish or over done, it is just fun and entertaining. Even though it is a children’s novel I still found it exciting and engaging, the language and style is suitable for all ages and Stevenson is able to keep you guessing from one chapter to the next.

The ideas have been repeated and ridiculed over and over in other books, TV shows and films, but don’t let that put you off, this is a fun adventure book that holds a very important, inspirational place in literary history.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Publication Date: 1979

Review Score: 8/10

It’s Thursday lunch time and Arthur Dent’s house has just been demolished, the world is about to follow and his best friend has just told him he is an alien. Before he knows it Arthur is hurtling through space, with no home to go back to and no way to get a decent cup of tea. However, things could be worse; at least they have The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a towel, the most useful item in the universe.

Along their journey the pair encounters the two headed, 3 armed president of the galaxy, a manically depressed robot and a host of other completely zany and bewildering characters and situations.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the most original, funny and downright whacky books I have ever read. The implausible ideas that Adams comes up with can only really be compared to the mad ramblings in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but in space and with aliens.

It is quite a short book and very quick to read, barely taking a breath from one chapter to the next, and although it doesn’t always make a great deal of sense, the story is fantastic, the characters are all instantly likable and it really does have you laughing out loud.

This is not a traditional Sci-Fi novel but it is one of the best I have read, injecting a whimsical playfulness into the story that is so often avoided in Sci-Fi. In fact I think what is most enjoyable about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the fact that it takes Sci-Fi and just has some fun with it, rather than being completely logical, precise and serious.

It’s easy to read, a lot of fun and, in my opinion, well deserving of its place on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before you Die.

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The Devil’s Pool – George Sand

Title: The Devil’s Pool

Author: George Sand

Publication Date: 1846

Review Score: 7/10

Published in 1846, The Devil’s Pool is set in rural France and tells the story of a peasant farmer named Germain, who has lost his wife and has been left with 3 small children who need a mother. Although Germain is still heartbroken from the loss of his wife, his farther in law convinces him of the need to find a new mother for his children.

Germain sets out to meet a woman in a neighbouring village who is also a widow and has no children of her own. The match would appear perfect but Germain soon realises that although he should want this woman his heart belongs to another.

The Devil’s Pool is a little known novel but is rather charming. Having been written over 150 years ago the style and pace is not what you would get from a more modern novel but the story of unrequited love transcends time and is as relevant today as it was when first written.

The characters are instantly likeable and the poetic way in which George Sand describes the scenes really makes them come to life. What’s more, the insights into the way of life in rural France during this time is highly interesting and almost act as a preservation of an age and traditions that were soon after forgotten.

It is not an exciting or exhilarating novel but it is very enjoyable, easy to read and deserving of its place in literary history.

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Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Title: Brave New World

Author: Aldous Huxley

Publication Date: 1932

Review Score: 5/10

The year is 2540 and the world is not as we know it, the controllers have come up with the perfect society, through a combination of reproductive technology and neo-Pavlovian sleep learning. There are no families, no parents, no individuality, people are bread in laboratories and through sleep recordings taught to live harmoniously within society.

Bernard Marx has had all of the conditioning and knows how he should live, but still finds himself craving solitude and loneliness and not wanting to participate in this perfect society. With these questions swimming round his mind he decides to travel to one of the few remaining savage reserves, where the old ways of life are still practiced, but will this trip solve any of his problems?

For those of you who follow this blog more regularly, you probably know that the Sci-Fi novels tend to be among my most favourite, and so when starting out with Brave New World I was very excited! Now, the first part of the novel definitely lived up to my expectations, as the futuristic world that Aldous Huxley has created is a stark realisation of what could be possible in the future, with the perfect society seeming creepy and void of all real human emotion.

However, as soon as the main characters come into the frame and go to the savage reservation I found myself enjoying the book less and less. Firstly, it seems illogical that in a society so far advanced and aimed at getting rid of the family idea would for no apparent reason keep one small reservation where it is still practiced.

Further still, in a world where everyone is conditioned to be embarrassed and ashamed of the old family ideas it seems even more illogical that they would let people go to these reservations and interact with these savages, potentially undoing years of neo-Pavlovian conditioning.

Obviously, all of this is needed as it forms the main crux of the story, but I find it difficult to enjoy a book when something as big as this is just blown over with no real explanation or reasoning, especially in a world or perfect order and control.

The futuristic world that Aldous Huxley has created is incredibly interesting and a work of genius, but the series of events he places within it are, for me, not worthy of it. It is definitely deserving of its place in the history of Sci-Fi literature but as a story I didn’t think it lived up to its billing.

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Robinson Crusoe – Daniel DeFoe

Title: Robinson Crusoe

Author: Daniel DeFoe

Publication Date: 1719

Review Score: 8/10

Robinson Crusoe is a young English man with a thirst for adventure and so against his parent’s wishes sets sail on a voyage around the world. However, it seems that the winds of fait are not on his side as his first trip ends in shipwreck, his second ends in capture by pirates and his final voyage leaves him stranded on a desert island.

What follows is years of hardship and turmoil as Crusoe has to provide food for himself, build shelter and avoid capture by the islands native cannibalistic tribe. Not knowing what island he is on and no sign of any other passing ships God only knows if he will ever be saved.

Published in 1719 Robinson Crusoe is the oldest book on the 1001 list that I have read so far, and because of this I expected it to be quite hard going, but with the continuous adventure and fast pace of the story it is actually fairly easy.

However, what I found most enjoyable about Robinson Crusoe was not the adventure and excitement but more the sheer industrious nature of Crusoe in this horrendous predicament. Over the course of many years on this island Crusoe is able to not just build a shelter and harvest fruits but is also able to capture animals and farm them, grow barley and rice and even make pottery.

I think what makes this so entertaining is that Crusoe survives for years on his own and build a life for himself in this hardship whereas I would probably die as soon as my iPhone did.

It is one of the original adventure tales and a book that has inspired hundreds more and is well worth of its place on the list of 1001 books to read before you die.

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