Tag Archives: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die

Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse 5Title: Slaughterhouse 5

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Publication Date: 1969

Review Score: 8/10

War prisoner, farther, optometrist… time traveller, these are the different roles of Billy Pilgrim’s life. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, towards the latter stages of World War II, Billy, a less than heroic Chaplain’s Assistant, ends up with his fellow prisoners in a disused slaughterhouse in Dresden, where they hide out and survive the horrific Dresden Bombing that took the lives of over 25,000 people.

Some years later, Billy, now a successful optometrist, is abducted by the Tralfamadorians, a superior race which takes him to their planet and put him on show in the zoo, forced to live and mate with the famous model and actress Montana Wildhack.

The Tralfamadorians teach Billy about how time is not a continuous motion forward, but each moment continues to exist forever and can be enjoyed at any time. The book follows this line of thinking jumping through Billy’s time line, looking at the war, his abduction and all the major events in his life.

Bitter yet funny, ludicrous yet chillingly real, Slaughterhouse 5 is a moving anti-war novel, a stark examination of the human psyche and even a completely original piece of fantasy fiction. The writing is sharp and powerful, the characters are incredibly real and the ideas that surround this real event are incredibly original.

Do not expect a tangent, coherent piece of literature with a clear beginning, middle and end because you definitely won’t get it here. There is no definitive conclusion, no heroic crescendo, just an excellent piece of writing that definitely deserves to be on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

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Filed under 1001 Books, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, War

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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Filed under 1001 Books, American Greats, Drama

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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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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Around the World in 80 Days – Jules Verne

Title: Around the World in 80 Days

Author: Jules Verne

Publication Date: 1873

Review Score: 9/10

Phileas Fogg is a man of habit, going through the same routine every day, reading the paper, lunching at the Reform Club and playing whist, he is a rich man, but no one knows where his fortune came from, in fact no one knows very much about him at all!

It would appear that nothing could shake Mr Fogg from his life of simple ritual, but one day he gets involved in a heated discussion regarding how long it would take to go around the world. The papers claim that it would only take 80 days and Mr Fogg agrees, but no one else in the club does, leading to a rather audacious bet!

All at once the routine is shattered and Phileas Fogg is on his way around the globe, using any means necessary to get back to London in 80 days, including travelling by train, ship, sledge and even elephant (but not hot air balloon! This does not actually happen in the main novel despite what Steve Coogan may do in the film!).

Even if everything went to plan 80 days would be a tight deadline, but Mr Fogg also has to deal with unexpected delays, the sometimes idiotic behaviour of his servant and a police detective by the name of Mr Fix who is determined to stop his journey.

First of all I will start by saying that Around the World in 80 Days is a truly brilliant book! From start to finish I struggled to put it down at all, it was just addictive! Mr Fogg is a truly unique character who is completely mysterious from first page to last and gives nothing away, yet despite his cool countenance and level head the book is dripping with excitement and emotion!

I found myself rooting for Mr Fogg from the moment he set foot on the first train and whilst he gives every delay and inconvenience little notice, as if they were all part of the plan, I found myself getting frustrated on his behalf, just praying that he would make it in time.

It’s original, lively, easy to read and just plain fun! If you liked the film you will love the book, if you have never watched the film, good! Read the book instead, it’s brilliant!

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The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allen Poe

Title: The Fall of the House of Usher

Author: Edgar Allen Poe

Publication Date: 1839

Review Score: 7/10

We join this story as an unnamed narrator arrives at The House of Usher, to visit his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher, who has written for help, complaining of illness. It soon transpires that Roderick Usher is suffering from deep psychological issues, which although had not been defined at the time of writing this novel, can be seen as what we now call anxiety, hypochondria and delirium.

We soon learn that it is not just Roderick that is suffering from these illnesses but also his twin sister Madeline, who has a habit of falling into death like trances. The narrator spends his time trying to comfort Roderick, reading with him, playing music and musing, but it is not long before tragedy hits as Madeline passes away.

The pair place the girl to rest in the family tomb, hoping to put an end to her torment. But soon they are shaken by strange noises and a horrific feeling that perhaps she was laid to rest to soon!

I suppose the first thing that needs to be addressed with The Fall of the House of Usher is that it is not actually a novel by its own right but rather a short story. This is the first short story I have come across on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list but they justify the selection as it would seem mad not to reference such an influential writer as Edgar Allen Poe on the list!

Whether or not a short story should feature is not for me to decide, (I didn’t write the list!) and so all I can comment on really is what I thought of the story. This was the first piece by Poe I have read and I was highly impressed! Although the story is very short, Poe is able to build up the tension beautifully leading to a highly dramatic and enthralling crescendo.

Given that it was written over 180 years ago, it doesn’t pack the same punch as I’m sure it did then, given all the horror films and more graphic novels we are now privy too. However, the story is still rather chilling and unsettling and is clearly a huge inspiration for many modern day horror novels.

It may not be the most exciting or exhilarating book you ever read but it will definitely leave an impression. Put it this way, it took 20 minutes to read but will be remembered for a life time!

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