Reed or heed part 2

Clare Greeman – Book Talk Babe

Another installment of ‘read or heed’ has come; for you bereaved English majors or just those who read for fun (do those people even exist?) here is a whistle-stop guide of which classics you should read and which you should steer clear of:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Despite this book’s massive popularity, I had no idea what the plot of it was until I read it for myself. Which perhaps could sum up my whole feelings about it: despite it’s enduring legacy, it could stick in the mind more than it does.
The novel follows Jane Eyre through her childhood in an unloving household, a lonely time in youth at a boarding school, and through an arduous time at Thornfield Hall. Because despite her love for Edward Rochester, the man who hired her to look after his ward, it will be a long, emotionally and spiritually exhausting fall into his arms.
I’m not trying to make any waves, only wondering if people saw things in this book that I didn’t: for all of the beautiful gothic descriptions, likability of our protagonist, and emotional moments that managed to strike a chord, I merely read it, liked it, and moved on with my life.
This book is not without merit (obviously), but if you’re looking for a Brontë novel to blow your socks off, make it a different one (and not Wuthering Heights either): Heed.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Hailed as the first true crime novel, it takes a whopper of a book to launch an entire genre as well as the craze that spawned from it. In Cold Blood was that whopper and it continues to pack a punch even with the torrent of true crime content coming out these days.
The novel follows the real life story of the murders of the Clutter family and the slightly-authored tale of their murders. Capote did six years of work on this book and if he had only spent that time on lush descriptions of the town or the genuinely bone-chilling murder scenes, I would’ve thought it was warranted. Rather he devoted hours of on-the-ground research to the Clutter’s town, their neighbors, as well as in-depth interviews with their murderers in order to create a far-reaching tale that touches not only the heart but complicates the morals of the readers. The Richard Hickock and Perry Smith he renders are not just the men that murdered the Clutters in cold blood (sorry) but rather complicated men who made a bad situation worse.

This book is an all-out read. Capote is an amazing writer, and the places where he fails is by blurring the lines between fact and fiction. In my opinion this only heightens the story: at the end of the day you can only guess at what is true and what is falsified.

Through this, Capote tries and succeeds to get you to examine what you find moral and immoral and how the lines can easily become blurred when both sides of the story are told.

Tess of D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
The novel tells the story of a girl named Tess who goes to live with her richer extended family and is violated by her cousin. The rest of the story follows how this affects the rest of her relationships with men, God, and herself. In the 1870’s, this would constitute a life of destitution for Tess, but in Hardy’s commendation of social pressures at the time, Tess learns to live and love again.
Hardy’s social commentary as well as prose are renowned, but in this case I’d say all things are wiped out compared to the meandering tale. If you’re looking for commentary that was divisive, groundbreaking, and what stood for a early feminist tale in the 1890’s you’ll find it. However, nowadays a thousand novels of the same dearth are at our fingertips, leaving this novel to be a slightly maddening chore. Heed.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
If you’ve heard this book talked about in passing, just know that everything you’ve heard about it is wrong. I grew up learning to think that it was a taboo psycho sexual erotica along the lines of your Flowers in the Attic. On that front I was happily rebuffed and was instead met with a beautifully written novel with even more content under the surface than was presented on the page.
Part road trip adventure, part murder plot, and part domestic horror, the novel is told through the eyes of our unreliable, narcissistic, and pedophilic narrator who has a propensity for “nymphettes”. His non-compliant non-temptress twelve-year-old technical stepdaughter is the titular Lolita but just like everything else he tells us about her, is an untruth, as her actual name is Dolores Haze. He drags her out of her mothers house, through motels all around the American Southwest, and finally to her death and his own incineration (though not for the crime you’re thinking).
And while there is a lot of genius in this book: from Nabokov’s writing, attention to detail, aesthetics, humor, and evocation of the U.S., Humbert’s mask is probably the highest wrought genius. This is because for all that Humbert tells us, we can’t trust a single word. Though you think you might be smarter than an ages-old narrator, Humbert has tricked our cultural consciousness as well as movie directors and critics into marketing the book as a love story or erotica. Read it, but don’t fall for it, for half of the art of this book plays out behind what Humbert says.