Book Bucket List

This is a list of books that I would like to have read by the time I go to university, and will keep updating. That is two years from now, and although that seems like a long time, with Anna Karenina on the list, it may take me more than a week to read some of them! Plus, this is alongside my final year of school, so not a very busy year for me (!) So, in no particular order, here they are (along with my favourite cover for each) :

wuthering_heights     1. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë – READ

birdsong     2. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

anna karenina     3. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

lolita-keenan2     4. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

 penguin-threads-emma-book-cover     5. Emma – Jane Austen   READ

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‘The Odyssey’ by Homer, translation by E.V Rieu

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BLURB: ‘The book, adapted from a poem, mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach his homeland Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. In his absence, it is assumed he has died, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors, the Mnesteres, who compete for Penelope’s hand in marriage.’

READ IF YOU LIKE: Greek mythology and fantasy, classical civilisation, epic journeys of homecoming, war, love, and books that are eternally classic. 

PAGE COUNT: Approx.320

STAR RATING: (★★★★☆) – only dropped a star because the language and form is quite a challenge

I thought it was a bit ambitious purchasing this book, and that it would be too much of a challenge to read, or I would just never get round to it. If you haven’t, PLEASE READ THIS BOOK. There’s a reason that its basically the cornerstone of Western literature. If you are going to read it though, you should buy the Penguin Classics version (pictured), edited by E.V Rieu, and then his son. It has helpful footnotes to help with some of the tougher language, and is translated with ‘the ordinary reader’ in mind. 

If you don’t know the basic plot, it is about Odysseus’ long journey home after the battle at Troy. When he left his home town of Ithaca, he also left his baby son Telemachus (who is a man when the story is told) and his wife Penelope. Most people think he is dead, as they had not heard from him for 20 years. His palace is being inhabited by about one hundred ‘Suitors’, men of Ithaca and the surrounding areas of Greece, who want to marry Penelope and take his estate. The majority of the book, however is taken up by Odysseus’ struggles to reach his homeland, which is being prevented by the gods, namely Poseidon, with the help of some others e.g Athene and Zeus.

Admittedly, it took me a while to read, because although there are helpful pointers all the way through, there’s no getting past the fact that the language dates back to about 700 B.C. There were many times when I found myself having read three pages without even taking any of it in and finding myself completely lost, and I’m sure that happened to most people who read it. 

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‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker

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BLURB: ‘Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self’ (Goodreads.com)

READ IF YOU LIKE: Stories from the deep south, hard-hitting racial and social issues, civil rights in America, ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee

PAGE COUNT: Approx.295

STAR RATING: (★★★★☆) – Endearing, scary, sad and poignant

Its pretty obvious why this book is considered high up on the classics and must-reads right from the beginning. It’s written in an epistolary style i.e it is all written in the form of letters. Celie is only half educated, which also means all the letters are written in this way, large grammatical errors and childish language which make the reader feel like they know Celie more because of the way the book is formatted.

It takes place in the area of Georgia in the deep south of America between the two wars, and is narrated by Celie, a young black woman. From a young age, she has to endure discrimination, rape, pregnancy and abuse, all of which are sometimes quite graphically described. She is forced into a loveless marriage, separated from her beloved sister and forced to look after children who are not her own. These hard-hitting issues are addressed throughout the book, and the book itself has often been deemed controversial because of this.

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‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury

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BLURB: ‘Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.’ (Goodreads.com)

READ IF YOU LIKE: ‘1984’ by George Orwell, ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley, dystopian novels, fire, technology, haunting prophetic tales. 

PAGE COUNT: Approx.227

STAR RATING: (★★★★★) – Sets the bar for most dystopian novels of its time. 

This book is the kind of book where you never really know whats going on at any given time, but just keep reading in the hope that you are following it. You must must must pay attention to every word you read, or nothing will make sense. The language is very vague at points, and leaves A LOT up to the imagination, so much so that it felt kind of like I was reading someones recollection of a dream they had.

Guy Montag works as a fireman, and the notion of being a fireman is very different from what it is now. The idea is to burn and destroy things, illegal things, which are books. They have scary sounding black uniforms and carry around pipes filled with kerosene, as they receive information about possible law-breakers and go and burn their houses down. Guy then discovers his need to read books, although this is obviously extremely risky. He then has to embark on a series of plans, despite his difficult and failing marriage to an extremely annoying woman, in order to save himself and his last remaining books.

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‘The Dinner’ By Herman Koch

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BLURB: ‘A summer’s evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food, the conversation remains a gentle hum. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said’ (Goodreads.com)

READ IF YOU LIKE: ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn, suspense novels with a mystery twist, books about families, Holland.

PAGE COUNT: Approx.320

STAR RATING: (★★★★☆) – This book won’t change your life, but definitely deserved a good review

I was recommended to read this book by my friend, and although I don’t usually take people up on book recommendations, I decided to read this, purely because it’s summer and my brain seems to read 20x faster when I’m sitting by the pool in the sun!

I was also drawn to this book because it was set completely around the time span of about 4-5 hours, although that’s never made completely clear. Any indication of the passing of time we are given is through the use of cleverly named sections, for example Aperitif, Starter, Main Course, Dessert and Digestif. Hense the name of the book ‘The Dinner’.

Set in Amsterdam, it is narrated by Paul Lohman, a middle-aged retired teacher, who goes to dinner one evening with his wife Claire and his brother, up-and coming politician Serge Lohman, and his wife Babette. The reader is immediately irritated by pompous Serge and his wife Babette, who always seems to be crying about something or other. The already amusing nature of Serge and his wife is added to by the ridiculous restaurant they have chosen, and Koch perfectly sums up the air of the high class diners and exactly what’s on their menus. It is an extremely cleverly written book, with the language providing twists and turns, while also being clear and extremely readable.

The main attraction of the storyline though for me was that alongside the absurdity of this restaurant, the dramatic Babette and the caricaturization of Serge, lies another storyline regarding the two 15-year old sons of Serge and Paul, something darker that they have done together. Whilst we uncover what the two have done, Paul, who seemed at first to be relatively harmless, also is shown to have a dark, violent side. I personally loved it and it added a sharper edge to the book.

The discussion of this horrific event, while seeming to be the motive behind the fancy evening, is avoided further and further along the meal. The theme of family values, and the idea of what a ‘happy family’ really is, is a running theme through the book. The event seems to bring Claire, Paul and Michel together, while it breaks Serge and Babette apart. Paul and Claire’s family of three is a lot more likeable, they obviously love and understand eachother, something which is heartwarming. They also seem genuinely real, unlike the family of Serge and Babette, with their adopted African child, which seemed to be more and more fake as the book progresses. The different natures of the two families ensures that petty arguments are abundant and while amusing at first, get worse and worse as Paul and Claire bid to save their ‘happy family’. This theme of family values ultimately trumps the theme of ‘kids doing bad things’ at the end. This meant, that while the book doesn’t end with a bang, like I expected (having being subjected to many of these cliffhangers in previous pages) it will surely make you smile.

‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt

 

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BLURB: ‘Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning…’ (Goodreads.com)

MADE ME FEEL: Interested, intrigued, and then quite bored and then shocked.

READ IF YOU LIKE: Murder novels, books about university, lots of rich kids who drink a lot.

PAGE COUNT: Approx.629 (Penguin version)

STAR RATING: (★★★☆☆) – I had such high expectations of this book, but it didn’t live up to them. 

I read this book extremely quickly, partly because I think books as long as this become duller and duller the longer you spend on them. That was not what happened. Although Donna Tartt writes beautifully, the book was pretty dull from the first pages.

The basic storyline is Richard Papen, from California, who doesn’t have much money, (comparably) moves to Vermont to a university called Hampden. He decides that he wants to take a Classics degree and meets an eccentric group of 5 other students along with their Classics teacher, Julian, who at one point is described as a ‘deity’. He was not.
These people in my opinion put Richard through hell, even though it appears he enjoys their pretentious, pompous, selfish, rude, rich-kid ways and goes to lengths to fit in with them, and doesn’t realise how much they have changed him.

As well as the theme of college and university life, all the alcohol (they drink A LOT of alcohol, almost in every scene, made me feel ill just reading about it), there is also the theme of murder. This is not particularly a spoiler, because it is a central part of the novel, and Tartt, even before either murder has happened, just slips it in there as if we already knew, without further acknowledgement. These two murders, one of which is a bit more serious than the other, are treated in such an off-hand nature by the group, and their circumstances for killing are just so ridiculous and unjustifiable that I thought they were all a bit psycho, really. There is no suspense surrounding them, so its like a murder novel, but if you take away the good bits.

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