Book Review: The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

The Adventures of Augie March: One Book, One Chicago Fall 2011 ...

The Adventures of Augie March tells the story of Augie’s life from 1920s to 1940s. Augie worked as a newspaper boy, a handyman in the army, a sailor in the merchant ship, went to Mexico to seek opportunities. Even as a thief in the drifting years he threw himself into a new line of work and suffered all kinds of indecent treatment. As Augie grows into adulthood, he discovers that society is a tangled web of absurdities from ideals to reality. He felt that he was in a vaguely hostile world full of constraints surrounded by people who wanted to influence and change him, all trying to shape Augie into the person they wanted him to be. Along with his girlfriend Thea, Augie sets off on a journey to Mexico, but the failure of hawk training, physical damage, and his girlfriend’s betrayal make his dream come to nothing. The trip to Mexico not only left Augie severely injured physically, but also plunged his spirit into a pain that could not be healed. Emotionally, Augie becomes a loner, living in a world of opposition and disappointment. All this makes him seem like a marginal man who has been randomly thrown into the world, abandoned and helpless. The world was nothing to him now.

The Adventures of Augie March shows the mottled spirit and soul of modern Americans, vividly presenting the American social condition. In the absurd society, everything is quite different from Augie’s wish — an individual person is ignored, people’s desire is suppressed, and people’s life is devalued. But Augie refused to be controlled and refused to change. So again and again he had to confront the powerful reality of escape and face this meaningless world alone. Life is an endless process of discovery until it reaches death. As long as a person’s life does not come to an end, the accumulation of its essence will not be completed, the spiritual journey will not end, and the process of free choice will continue. Augie’s double journey, both physical and spiritual, as well as his pursuit of meaning of life all emphasize the free choice of human beings. This reflects the essence of existentialist philosophy: man is free in this world, and so is his choice of action. This freedom gives one the right to choose and act in the face of the absurd world. Therefore, people should realize the importance of free choice, dare to make free choice, and create their own meaning of existence through actions.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain - Penguin Books ...

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by American writer Mark Twain. It is a sequel to the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, first published in 1885. The hero of the story is Huckleberry Finn, who met the reader in the Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn was a bright, kind, and brave white boy. He fled to the Mississippi River in pursuit of a free life. On the run, he meets Jim, a slave. Jim is a hard-working, simple, warm, honest, and loyal slave. He fled from his master’s house in order to escape the fate of being sold again by the master. The two went through various adventures. The novel praised the boy Huckleberry’s wit and kindness, condemned the hypocrisy of religion and the ignorance of believers, and created the image of a dignified slave.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a masterpiece because Mark Twain took the literary traditions of the American frontier west and expanded them beyond the narrow confines of such humorous literature. There are many readers who, after reading this novel, admire the consistency, perfection, and appropriateness of the various dialects used by the author — it is hard to find a word in this book that is not closely tailored for Huckleberry or Jim.

As a classic work in American literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn written by Mark Twain has its unique linguistic art, namely the use of colloquial language. The language of the protagonist narrator often breaks grammatical conventions, matches with the narrator’s child-like thinking, and changes verb tenses at will. In addition, the language of other characters is mostly dialect, including slang. The colloquial language of Huckleberry Finn created a new style of literary language, creating a profound influence on American writers later.

-Coreen C.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall is one I have been reading for years and have yet to tire of. The series is about four sisters named Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. Shortly after Batty, the youngest, was born, their mother passed away, leaving their father to care for them. Mr. Penderwick is a botanist who throws out Latin phrases along with advice to his daughters. He can be quite lenient and unsure of his judgement, but he has his daughters’ respect and love. 

I love how each of the sisters is so unique and wonderful in their own way, and how Jeanne Birdsall writes from their perspectives is amazing. The sisters have such contrasting qualities, but these qualities compliment each other. Their father raises them with solid values, and though they make some mistakes, they are incredibly down-to-earth characters who find ways to solve any issues they have.

One aspect I find entertaining about their relationships with each other is the meetings they have, which are called “MOPS”, or Meeting of Penderwick Sisters. The sisters discuss problems they’ve noticed with their family or friends, and how they may be able to solve them. Despite their separate personalities and occasional arguments, the sisters are still so close and supportive of each other.

Rosalind is kind and compassionate, and is a wonderful older sister for her siblings. She is especially fond of her sister Batty, who is very attached to her. Her maturity and leadership results in her sisters looking up to her, even when she questions her own abilities.

Skye is adventurous and impatient with frivolity. Her relationship with Batty is entertaining to read about; Skye is uncertain with how to act with her younger sister while maintaining a tough exterior. 

Jane is a writer, with her mind constantly wandering, even during conversations (which tends to irritate Skye). On the Penderwicks’ trips throughout the series, Jane consistently manages to haul a stack of books with her. 

Batty is curious and shy, and she loves animals. Her sisters are protective of her, even if some of them pretend they aren’t. 

As the series progresses, the sisters grow older, and their changes in character are interesting to see. Though the plots of these books don’t revolve around a real villain or conflict, the stories are still so exciting, engaging, funny, and heartwarming. This really is a wonderful series, and the audiobooks read by Susan Denaker are amazing as well!

– Mia T.

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

maniacmagee_jerryspinelliJeffrey Lionel Magee lives a normal life until his parents are killed in a tragic trolley accident. He’s sent to live with his Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan and despite Dot’s sporty name, it’s not a fun household. Uncle Dan and Aunt Dot are strict Catholics who hate each other, meaning Maniac grows up in a loveless, largely silent house. When he’s 11 years old, he’s finally had enough, and takes off running. Yup, literally running. He runs for a couple hundred miles and a year, and ends up in Two Mills, Pennsylvania.

Maniac doesn’t know it yet, but Two Mills is a divided town. (Okay, well, maybe the name should have been a clue.) The East and West End are separated by Hector Street. Maniac’s first stop is the East End, where he meets Amanda Beale and her suitcase of books. Maniac goes back and forth between the East and West End, making a few friends and mostly enemies, and for some reason never really noticing that the West End is entirely white and the East End is entirely black.

When the Beales realizes that Maniac is homeless, they take him in as a member of their family. Life is great for a while, but eventually the East Enders start getting him down. See, not everyone loves the idea of a white kid living with a black family in a black neighborhood. So Maniac (after a quick detour solving Cobble’s Knot) takes off.

Long story short, he moves in with a buffalo family and then meets Earl Grayson, a washed-up former minor leaguer. Things are really hunky dory for a while: Maniac’s got a temporary dad, Grayson learns to read, they celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. And then Grayson…dies. And Maniac is alone. Again.

Maniac’s not doing so well this time, and ends up cold, starving, and alone in Valley Forge. Good thing Russell and Piper McNab find him on their way to Mexico. These two little hoodlums provide a reason for Maniac to stick around for a while, in a nasty, nasty house filled with some nasty, nasty people.

But the little McNabs need Maniac, and he steps up. Eventually, Maniac leaves them behind as well to move back in with Baby Buffalo and his mom (really). He’s living there when his friend/enemy Mars Bar Thompson and his adopted sister/BFF Amanda Beale find him and make him come home. That’s right, home. To his family. It looks like Maniac has finally found what he’s looking for.

-Katharine L.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.

 

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

adventuresoftomsawyer_marktwainThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, chronicles a few of the adventures of 12-year-old Tom Sawyer. Living on the Mississippi River, Tom lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid. Tom gets into many misadventures and he just as deftly gets out of them. At times, when Tom is punished, one can see how he gets out of trouble and chores by manipulating his friends (though not necessarily in devious ways).

Tom and his friend, Huckleberry Finn (the subject of another book by Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), get into all kinds of trouble, from seeing things they were not meant to see, to running away with friend Joe Harper to an island, to going treasure hunting and discovering a dangerous secret. Tom also indulges in more normal pastimes, like playing pretend and going on picnics (though he does get lost in a cave with Becky Thatcher, a girl he is trying to impress). Overall, I thought that this book was a good read, as it was relaxing in some places and funny in others. Plus, in addition to being a nice book about the adventures of a child in the past, it also had some moments where I was figuratively gripping the edge of my seat to see what happened next.

-Aliya A.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library