To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This novel, published in 1960 by Harper Lee, deserves every ounce of fame it has thus far received. Although the subjects that are addressed by the novel are shrouded by controversy, it addressed issues that needed to be addressed, such as racism and the crimes that can be committed under its name.

The novel is told from the perspective of six-year-old Caucasian Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. Her father, Atticus Finch, is the most reliable lawyer in her town, Maycomb. He takes on a case defending a black man who is wrongfully accused of raping a white woman, and this sends the entire population of their town into a frenzy. Scout and her brother, Jem, experience the metaphorical splitting of the town as everyone takes a side. They are attacked and harassed for the actions of their father.

The plot deepens and thickens, unfolding with an uncanny message: racism is a real issue, and it remains as such, even though To Kill A Mockingbird was first published in 1960. In fact, Scout and Jem are attacked at night and nearly killed in retaliation of their father’s case. The town is violently over-involved in Atticus Finch’s case, and most of its citizens actually attend the trial for sport and entertainment. People are quick to take sides and are adamant and passionate about whichever one they end up on.

To Kill A Mockingbird is also semi-autobiographical- Scout’s childhood is based loosely off of Harper Lee’s. However, Lee quickly became reclusive due to her book’s fame and all the attention it received. The novel was groundbreaking, but Harper Lee hardly did any interviews, book signings, or any public event of the sort. In fact, Harper Lee was barely involved in the making of the movie adaption of the novel, which became a box-office hit (it made over three times its budget!).

Overall, To Kill A Mockingbird is a magnificent literary tapestry, with intricately woven characters and artfully spun plots and subplots. It addresses issues that were relevant in its time and, some may argue, even more, relevant today. It is a novel that has affected people’s lives, in ways that are clear but also subconscious, and has educated many on the subject of racism amid the early 1930s.

-Arushi S.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Another classic I checked out from the library this summer. This book for sure is the most well-known piece of work of Stephen Crane. It talks about Henry Fleming, a soldier fighting in the Civil War in the Union side.

Unlike some of the other war novels, this book employed succinct and vivid language to portray the brutality, fear, cowardice, and bravery in wars. It explored the main character Henry’s flight from the war, the despicable excuse he found for himself, his gradual awakening of conscience, and finally his change into a courageous soldier who transformed into an unselfish and devotional citizen willing to die for his country.

Although it was relatively short, but every detail in a battle was explained. Such as the way how the soldiers fire using their rifles, how they travel on foot from one regiment to another, how they charge forward reluctantly and in horror when their lieutenant orders them to. It doesn’t really name any battles specifically, but it does a fantastic job of expatiating everything that could occur in a battle. My favorite character is surprisingly not Henry Fleming, the main character but his friend Wilson, who was a minor character without too much of a dimensional personality. But I was deeply touched when Wilson was willing to share his bed with Henry and feed him when he fled from the battle and came back later. There was a possibility that Wilson knew Henry was lying when he said he got shot in the head, and yet his altruism melted my heart. I believe that we all need a friend like this who understands our mistakes and forgives us silently whether we admit it or not.

-Coreen C. 

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane

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This is perhaps my favorite story written by the short-lived but legendary author so far. It even surpasses his most well-known novel The Red Badge of Courage. Maybe because despite my great interest in the Civil War, the main character in this story touches me the most: Maggie Johnson.

Unlike her common name, Maggie is not a common girl. Just by reading the description of her family, it was pretty easy enough to tell that she detested her family. Her mother, father, and brother Jimmy all had their own life going on. They blame the obstacles in life on her. Mary Johnson, her mother drinks and fights and curses after their father passed away. Jimmy seemed unwilling to acknowledge his family as he thought it as a burden and a disgrace to his life. And Maggie was no different. Since from a young age, her violent reactions including how she trembles and hides under the table show her extreme fear for the people she’s supposed to love the most-her parents. Everything changed when Pete came.

Because of her childhood trauma, Maggie craved more than ever to find a man who is well educated and rich, mainly to save her from her diabolical family. Pete was Jimmy’s friend, I could tell he was being like a casual friend to Maggie by taking her to see plays and eat at luxurious restaurants since he owned a saloon. However, Pete was not a person who holds a serious attitude toward love or relationship, he was simply a player. And this is when Maggie gets really hurt by his rudeness later on when they met Nell, Pete’s old sweetheart. From this point on, Maggie’s imagined glorious life starts to deteriorate.

Moreover, Mary Johnson couldn’t forgive Maggie’s not coming home every night since Pete came along. In my opinion, Mary is very absurd for her requirement for Maggie as a pious daughter when she doesn’t even qualify a single bit to be a mother. Her daughter is an adult, so it’s her right to stay wherever she wants if she doesn’t feel like going home today. Besides, the wrecked condition of the house and her manner toward Maggie, of course, disengages her desire to return home after a grueling day at the clothing factory she works at.

Lastly, this story mainly just reflects how the death of our protagonist at the end proves parental failure to be a severe issue a lot of the children face even in our present society.

-Coreen C. 

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

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This is the first novel of Saul Bellow and it talks about the declining lifestyle of Joseph, who believes that a spiritual satisfaction overweighs material perfection. For some reason, I think that this character has a great pride lurching in himself. He denies his slovenly condition of life by claiming that it’s austerity which is the factor that should be valued in our daily life.

What makes the entire situation worse is that Joseph’s brother, Amos is really rich. He always offers unlimited financial support for Joseph and his wife Iva, but Joseph never accepts it, again, due to his obstinate pride. Sometimes I think it won’t be a bad decision to just say “thank you” and accept the money for the simple reason that pride won’t feed you, clothe you, live with you forever. But money fulfills all three circumstances.

My favorite part of this book would actually have to be the fight scene between Joseph and his 15 year old overweening niece Etta. As a wealthy only child, she is undoubtedly spoiled by her parents. She gets whatever she wants. And as a small child, she is used to hearing how poverty has had her dad stricken, but now she is lucky because she doesn’t have to worry about it anymore. This naturally places her in a position to despise poor people, especially if they are her relative, meaning Joseph.

Etta’s disrespect for Joseph was magnified when she called him a “beggar” because Joseph was using her piano without her permission and refused to hand it over to her. In turn, Joseph was riled by this act and beat Etta up. Now, Joseph and Etta have a lot of similarities, not only do they look physically similar, but they both think that they are always right no matter what. One thinks that she is always right because of her rich parents who provide her with boundless support, one thinks that he is alright right because of his spiritual purification.

-Coreen C. 

Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin

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This is yet another deep analysis written by James Baldwin on the issue of racism. But instead of writing from the perspective or setting a black person as its main character, this time the story revolves around a white deputy sheriff.

I was very much touched indeed about the description of the lynching of that black man in a small town where Jesse, the white deputy sheriff lived when he was young. It very much astonished and enraged me to read that Jesse’s father and mother saw the lynching of a human as a fun event instead of the violation of humanity. What saddens me more is the fact that Jesse as a young boy has to witness this brutality despite of his initial reluctance. However later on I realized that deep white superiority as a notion was planted in him which prompted Jesse in his adulthood to abuse African American citizens as well without hesitation or concern. He couldn’t endure black people from challenging white people’s authority, they were the masters, blacks can only be subjects.

Going in a deeper level I view this novel as basically a protest for racism by lending the Jim Crow mentality as an example to demonstrate the fear rooted in white people that black people someday might threaten their positions in the society as the force of dominion. Therefore this burning, castrating, hanging of a black man to death merely was shown as an illustration and a warning to other minorities of what they will suffer if they defy the power of the white people.

-Coreen C. 

Going To Meet The Man by James Balwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Another Country by James Baldwin

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This novel explores all aspects of maturity, including homosexuality, marriage, death and friendship. Of course at first this book sounded somewhat uncomfortable to me and I really didn’t want to read it. But because over the course of the period I have became the biggest of the James Baldwin I eventually decided to read it at last.

Initially, Rufus Scott is definitely a character that me, or almost everyone can relate with. At one point during our lives, we wonder what really is the point of life or why should we exist on this earth? I get tired of constantly changing faces and hiding my real self as if happiness was only mask on my face, I only peel it off when I go into my room and throw it in the trashcan. Only with Rufus Scott, he goes to the extreme and directly suicides. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s got a family there to support him, or at least half of the family.

Moving on the marriage between Cass and Richard pretty much presents a typical style of American life. One person has an affair, and the marriage breaks. Both people are not excellent parents but they still love their kids in my opinion. This also reflects how parents in real life tend to neglect the real needs of their kids due to their own stress or jobs.

-Coreen C.

Another Country by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

 

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

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This book would probably be my favorite book written so far by James Baldwin. It is a novel that deals a lot with racism and injustice. Personally, in some point of our life we all feel like we’ve been treated unfairly for no reason and I can relate a lot to this perspective. Whether it’s because of my nationality, skin color, gender, and or even physical appearance in general. Fonny doesn’t deserve to be put into jail because he was falsely accused of rape, but in a society where white people always prevails at that time, a black man couldn’t voice his opinion out freely.

Now Tish on the other hand really touches me a lot, I was deeply moved by her strong sense of love and determination. She didn’t leave Fonny because he was put into jail and even when she was pregnant with his child, she didn’t choose to do abortion. Speaking of the truth, I can’t see any glorious future between a black criminal and a teen mom. But Tish doesn’t seem to agree with me, her family doesn’t have a lot of money and yet they were willing to hire all kinds of lawyers just to accomplish an almost impossible mission-battling against the entire world.

I definitely would recommend this book to people that are having depression or feel like they don’t belong to this harsh world. No worries, this novella will make you know that there are people like you, you are not alone.

-Coreen C. 

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library