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The Classics Companion

I have a (small) obsession with books and tv shows. Proud geek.

Northern Lights (His Dark Materials)

Northern Lights  - Philip Pullman Although I bought the whole series, I really didn't find it gripping at all. I don't know whether it was the writing style, or the fact I felt like I couldn't related to the characters, I never found it interesting.

Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson Although I am yet to finish this, it really is a good way to get into Science. I never really enjoyed science while I studied it at school, but the idea of real-world science always fascinated me, it was just the school environment of science that I disliked.

Bill Bryson really brings the history of science and the developments alive, and I definitely will finish it one day.

The English Patient

The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje I can't even begin to describe the beauty of this book. Every single character you fall in love with, even if you do so secretly, as some characters have very odd backgrounds.

But the whole moral and subject of this book is fascinating, and fabulous, and totally worth reading...

The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember)

The City of Ember - Jeanne DuPrau I really love this story... If anyone has seen the film and is thinking of reading the book, the book is FAR better.

Although the film has it's merits (the plot is very much the same as the book), the film is severely limited in it's connection with the characters.

Instead, the book provides the reader with a very deep connection with the characters, and the mystery surrounding the fortunes of the town really grips you.

I must continue with the series one day. If you're into dystopia novels - read this.

The Scarlet Letter (Penguin Classics)

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nina Baym, Thomas E. Connolly I was first introduced to this by my English teacher, who was (and still is) desperately trying to get me to love American Literature. Before someone has a go at me, I don't hate American Literature. I actually read a lot of it. It's more the typical, heavily American books that frustrate me, where America is so blatantly there that it is almost cliché. Gatsby I'm looking at you. Hence, my slow dislike for idealised American Literature. If it's written by an American author, but it isn't overly obvious that it is set in America, I'm happy. Hence, my absolute adoration for The Scarlett Letter.

I first heard about it from watching Easy A, a rom-com film with Emma Stone in it. It's hilarious, but the whole plot evolves around the wearing of an 'A', as seen in the Scarlett Letter, and the harsh reality of society when it comes to accusations. Essentially, this is the plot for The Scarlett Letter.

The Scarlett Letter focuses on the story of a woman, Hester Prynne, who is labelled as an adulterer for sleeping with a man while married, hence becoming pregnant. Set during the Puritan years of 1642 to 1649, we see Hester Prynne develop into a deep, and emotional character. She is forced to wear a red 'A' on her chest (it, at first stands for Adulterer), hence forcing public humiliation on her as her punishment after being found guilty. We follow her guilt, her acceptance, her love for her daughter, and the daughters growth from ignorance to understanding concerning her mothers status. Pearl, the daughter, is a brilliant character: moody, mischievous but undoubtedly the character that gives us the most interesting insights into the adult characters. She's at the age where she asks pointed questions, not knowing their impact, hence revealing emotions and key plot areas that are gained so innocently.

The forefront of the novel deals with the impact of guilt and sin on someone's life. We witness Hester live with her punishment of continual public humiliation, and you see her struggle to make a respectable life for her and her daughter. This humiliation allows her to get a very strong, and different insight into humanity. Most novels are written from the point of view of a person in the middle of events. The Scarlett Letter shows the power of separation and stigma, and how it can shed new light on society and it's actions/views. Although we feel for Hester Prynne, I felt more sorrow for the elderly Puritan minister, Dimmesdale, who struggles with the sin he has committed. His health rapidly deteriorates as he tries to come to terms with his sin, and we see his desperate attempts to reason with himself: does he tell society in one of his sermons and therefore be free of guilt, or does he live with it, even though it's destroying his health yet keep his positive public image.

If you want to know his sin, you can click on the show/hide button below:


Less so, we see the way society evolves in it's views of things, or more particularly people. Originally, the 'A' on Hester's breast is widely known to mean 'adulterer', but this comes into discrepancy as the novel develops. Through trying to make a better life for her daughter, regardless of her position, the symbolic 'A' becomes increasingly ambiguous. Some people view it as 'angel', due to the good things she's done, some view it as 'Able'. More so, it shows how society's views are meaningless - they are only a social construct.

For me, what made The Scarlett Letter stand out was it's language. It's one of those books where you just sit, read a few pages, and marvel at the beauty of the English language. Hawthorne has a way of writing that is an art form, it is not just a communication device. It is a piece of art. You can tell every word is perfectly placed, whole-heartedly thought about and placed in the exact position it should be. Not only does it have an amazing, heartfelt plot, the language is phenomenal. It's like a whirlwind of beauty, mixed in with a beautiful plot that makes it a truly amazing novel.

Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1)

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card I'd never really explored the genre of Science Fiction before I'd read Enders Game. I'd watched numerous shows (Doctor Who, Firefly), but that was the extent of my science-fiction life. I guess I went straight from YA books to classics, so I didn't have that area in between where I explored what I liked. I don't regret it, I just compromised. I've started exploring classic science fiction. It's ticks both boxes. And what I wanted to do first was find a big science-fiction series that everyone loves. And that's where I came across Enders Game, and the 'Enderverse' that makes up the wide selection of books and novellas that Orson Scott Card has written.

A quick synopsis: In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training. At the Battle school he takes part in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders.

I must admit, the blurb sounds cheesy and a typical space opera focusing on the use of children, but it's more than that. You might be thinking 'It just sounds like a space-y Hunger Games'. It's in fact far deeper than The Hunger Games. It is technically a YA novel, but Orson Scott Card writes with such a flare that it doesn't come across. It sucks you in, the games, the characters, Ender's loneliness, the clever plot twists and turns of the book. It's more developed than The Hunger Games. The whole idea of a Battle Room makes you want to have a go in it, and the military-esque set up makes it a very enjoyable read. You want to try the manoeuvres, climb up the leader-board and be part of a team. You get immersed in the plot, and it works wonderfully.

I think what really brings Enders Game alive is the thought processes of Ender, and his development and slow understanding of military battle and the wars that meant he was picked. You see a society desperate not to be eradicated by another race, but more-so, you see a boy who wants to understand. He's a third, he's an outcast from society, and you see him push himself to be the best, attempting the mysterious Game over and over again to try and figure it out. You also see his hauntings, of his slightly psychopathic brother and his loving sister. It's the typical thoughts of a child who feels like an outsider, but set in the midst of a science fiction realm that makes it a very enjoyable read.

The characters are fun and realistic, even though it's set in a Battle School orbiting Earth, you get the typical bully, and the girl defying the expectations of her gender, and the little weedy kid who wants to be like the top scorer. Bean is an excellent character, and Card actually has a whole spin-off set of books focusing on him, and I can't wait to read them!

I'm not going to spoil it, but the plot twist at the end, and Ender's slow realisation of what is happening is amazing. I guess I was a bit silly because I didn't notice it before, but it's a twist that you almost don't see happening. It leads on to the other books very well, and even though everything has the potential to be nice and tidy, ending happily, Orson Scott Card goes on for another few chapters, developing the characters enough to have another book. Speaker of the Dead is a vastly different book compared to Enders Game: far more philosophical and definitely not a YA read. But it deepens the question of humanity and rights of other species beautifully, and I enjoyed it just as much as Enders Game.

This book lead me to explore my science fiction, including The War of the Worlds, Day of the Triffids and The Time Machine. If you're new to science-fiction and the idea of space opera, its a wonderful start to a new journey. I dare you, pick it up. Give it a go!

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1)

A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin Just the political history Martin has made totally makes this a worthwhile read. The depth to the society he's created is amazing.

They are just a bit long. So it's an effort to get through!

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green Prepare to cry from about 100 pages until the end...

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald After hearing many good things about Gatsby, I was very excited about studying it in English. While I approached the book with an open mind, I was wary of how good it could be in the length it was, or how much the setting would suit my liking.

While I can't fault Fitgerald's writing, it was a very well written book. I couldn't write nearly anything as good, and in that sense, I enjoyed the book. However, I found it was lacking in several key points, which overall, made me come to dislike the book, especially to study.

Perhaps the main problem, for me, was the lack of any plot twist. It all seemed rather predictable for my liking. It was evident from the first chapter that Gatsby's fate was not great, and although I like foreshadowing, it put a downer on things from the offset, one that I carried with me through the rest of the novel. The love story with Daisy and Gatsby was predicable, they met, they 'fell in love' again, and Daisy had to choose.

Another problem for me was the narrative. Although Nick seems like the ideal choice for narrator, which his blatant connections with each character, I disliked him from the offset. It was clearly intentional for Fitzgerald to make him an unreliable narrator, which I believe was meant to place doubt into the readers mind of what happened. I'm not against unreliable narrators by any means, but I found Nick's character far too differing in his teling of the story. Half the time, Nick tells the story with strong bias that is evident, the other half, he's writing with a severe detachment that becomes almost monotonous. Along with me finding it hard to like his character in the first place, his unreliable narration provides the book to be difficult reading, with the narration frustrating me. In turn, I disliked the novel.

There are many other small things that I dislike about the book (mainly my lack of sympathy/empathy for any the characters), yet I want to refrain myself from making this review a slander about the book. I can fully understand why people would love this book, and I can understand why it is so highly regarded as one of the best pieces of American Literature. I suppose, in the end, it just didn't sit well with me, and perhaps with me alone.

I therefore, while disliking the book, would never say 'Don't read Gatsby' to anyone. Why? It's a key piece of American Literature that highlights the age of prohibition in the 1920s, and the Jazz Age, which can't be ignored. If you only read it for the cultural descriptions, read it.

A Handful of Dust

A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh This is such a good book. If you want a really amazing analysis of English upper class, this is the book for you.

The ending completely catches you though. Really really odd ending.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies - William Golding Phenomenal book. I picked it up one afternoon and didn't put it down until I'd finished it.

The Handmaid's Tale (Contemporary Classics)

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood The Handmaid's Tale was first recommended to me by my English Literature teacher a few years ago. I was wanting to expand my reading, and I honestly hadn't got a clue where to start. And she pointed me towards this. It's a feminist dystopia, it presents the stark, tyrannical society, one based on religious extremism and political control. And one that objectifies women as reproductive systems, and frankly nothing more. This is Gilead. It's harsh, and it showed me truly how amazing literature can be.

We meed Offred, a 'handmaid', who are brought into the households of upper class families to essentially give birth to their children when the Wives can't conceive. They're their ovaries. They aren't allowed to read, all individualism and self expression is banned. The book works through Offred's experiences, and the slow development of her rebellious, doubting force about the regime that has changed her life. She remembers her husband and daughter, before Gilead developed out of the United States of America.

It's a hard read. Multiple people have told me it terrified them. But not through blatant gothic/dangerous nature. Instead, Margaret Atwood uses subtle hints, presents the society that's not too far from our own. When she wrote it, she said Gilead was based off 'things that had happened and things that are happening'. It was written in 1985, and Atwood described it as the possible 'backlash from Second-Wave Feminism'. It was what could happen if radical feminism went too far, if society rebelled against their fight for women's rights that was emerging in the 1980s. It was possible, it could have happened. And that makes it so, so powerful.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes: All 4 Novels and 56 Short Stories

The Complete Sherlock Holmes -  Arthur Conan Doyle I read every short story and novel in 2 weeks, on holiday. Completely worth the read. You get sucked right in to every case.

Amazing, although it's a trek to get through all of them. I'd recommend it though.