The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

For all the self-proclaimed literary snobs—you know, those who continually reference books and apply its meanings to the chapters of one’s life—Gabrielle Zevin introduces A.J. Fikry, a middle-aged and depressed bookseller on the coast of Massachusetts. Encompassing this universal feeling, of a storied life, Zevin characterizes all of us through him. Her novel, memoir, a minder—I’m not even sure what to call it—is nothing short of a masterpiece and warmly prompts us to recall why we read and how we love one another.

Fikry doesn’t have a lot of customers and even fewer friends. Mourning the loss of his wife, Fikry prizes his first edition copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tamerlane,” until it goes missing within the first few chapters. Left in its place is a small bundle. Spurring an unexpected change in his life, Fikry stubbornly comes to learn that the capacity of his love is not limited to paperbacks and late wife.

For the most part, Zevin’s writing is optimistic but realistically honest. As an array of characters is introduced, her writing accommodates. For Fikry, his old-fashioned life is personified by careful and calculated narration. However, as new friends find their way into his life, the style of writing expands. It seemingly mimics the path which Fikry takes in order to step outside his bookshop and into the life of others.

A bit like Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin represents the old-fashioned reader within all of us. There is something timeless and special about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, as it provides an unexpected and touching story for almost any audience. Something Fikry may appreciate, and aligned with Zevin’s writing, I find the Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road” to be a fitting song. Through tones of inevitable and haunting lonesome, the lyrics remind us that the next step is to find a door and walk through it. Until we invite someone else to walk along with us, we will continue to walk along this road of life alone.

Literary snob or casual reader, almost anybody can connect with Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It is both a New York Times Bestseller and now one of the most memorable books I have read. I highly recommend.

-Maya S.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye | Summary, Analysis, Reception, & Facts ...

The Catcher in the Rye is the only novel by American writer Jerome David Salinger, first published in 1951. Salinger limits the story to the three days when 16-year-old high school student Holden Caulfield leaves school to wander in New York City and explores the inner world of a teenager using streaming-of-consciousness writing. Anger and anxiety are the two main themes of the book. The experiences and thoughts of the protagonists resonate strongly among teenagers and are warmly welcomed by readers, especially middle school students.

The United States in the 1950s had just won World War II and became a supreme political, economic, and military power. In such a period, “New York” is a representative of the American materialist society. It symbolises the most “fake” of all, that people’s spiritual life is a wasteland and that no one cares about other people’s feelings. The artistic charm of this novel lies in the author’s focus on the in-depth analysis of the characters’ psychology. He depicts the ambivalence of the protagonist Holden and his complex psychopathy in a delicate and analytical manner. In this book, Salinger adopts a first-person limiting perspective, and the story is told only within the scope of Holden’s psychological activities or feelings, while Holden is a 17-year-old undergoing psychoanalytic treatment and has no normal judgment of the world around him.

Salinger takes such a figure as the narrator of the novel, which greatly negates the traditional aesthetic concept of metaphysics. The traditional aesthetic concept holds that beauty is the inherent attribute of literary and artistic works and the manifestation of the cohesion of people’s aesthetic experience. The creation of artistic works as a form of beauty includes not only the reproduction of artistic images to reality, but also the aesthetic intention and evaluation of artists to reality.

The purpose of artistic production is to edify the soul with sublimated aesthetic experience and give people pure aesthetic enjoyment. Artistic works should create beautiful atmosphere, beautiful image, beautiful ideal, so that it has moving charm, eternal value and a harmonious, unified overall form. However, Salinger’s Holden is far from such an aesthetic object. He is a teenager suffering from mild schizophrenia, whose values have not yet been fully formed and whose rational world is in chaos.

-Coreen C.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow

Ravelstein (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century): Bellow, Saul ...

The first two parts of Ravelstein, a biographical novel, are mainly about the last and most important stage of Ravelstein’s life. He was terminally ill, but he fought against the disease until his death. The latter part is mainly about the narrator, Chick himself is on the verge of death due to food poisoning, but he has deep thoughts about life and death at this time. Ravelstein was born in a small city and had a very unhappy childhood. His father had been poor all his life and was a tyrant in the family. Ravelstein, who grew up in the shadow of his father, came into contact with society at an early age and went out on his own. After struggling hard for many years, he finally got rid of the poor people’s life being a famous university professor. He taught students from all walks of life, many of them in important positions, including students who played an important role in the Gulf War. He maintained close contact and frequent intercourse with them. Taking advice from his good friend Chick, he turned his teaching research into a best-selling book attacking the theory of relativity, the American education system, and its declining international status and influence, and became a guest of the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain. From then on, he became a successful member of the upper class of the affluent society in the United States and lived a luxurious and decadent life. While he was enjoying a life of fame and fortune, he found himself terminally ill. Towards the end of his life, he asked Chick to write an autobiography for him.

Ravelstein is a charming and paradoxical Jewish intellectual. he embraced life with the indulgence and intoxication of Dionysus and the dream and aspiration of the god of the sun. He questioned the contemporary American social value and education system but highly praised the classical culture of ancient Greece and Rome and loved classical music. He fell in love with Armani suits, Cuban cigars, pure gold Montblanc gold pens, and so on. He was an advanced intellectual in American society, but his manner was vulgar. When attending various celebrity social occasions, he would often splash coffee or other drinks on expensive clothes and drink them directly from a coke bottle, which even made T.S. Eliot stunned. He is a conservative who does not worship the free market, but uses his talent to produce valuable goods and become rich overnight. He advocates aesthetic, free love, but has gay friends; he grew up trying to escape his Jewish father, the tyrannical king of his family, but in his life he played his father’s role to his students and friends. The unique historical background, social situation and ethnic characteristics of the Jewish people make Jewish writers in the American culture face embarrassment in their creation. Jews in America (especially the upper-class intelligentsia), reluctant to abandon their traditional religion and unable to resist the American way of life floundered in this confusion, searching for their identity with both desire and disappointment.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

Henderson the Rain King - Wikipedia

Henderson, the hero, comes from a famous family. His ancestors are all famous in the political world. Henderson, 55, inherited an estate of $3 million, an astronomical figure at the time, and could have led a worldly life of material comfort, but the prim-life self-proclaimed drifter was never satisfied. In real life, he causes a lot of trouble. He acts rudely because he has a lot of resentment in his heart. His first wife was a good match for him, but he married only to please his father. He loved to raise pigs, but he made a mess of the industry and clashed with his neighbors. He had tried to distract or extinguish his inner voice with physical labor, but to no avail. Rudeness begets rudeness, and anger begets greater anger. Unable to see the meaning of life, he escaped from his original life and embarked on a journey on the African continent. After experiencing the adventures of the Arnevi tribe, Henderson realized the meaning of life, understood the value of human beings, and returned to America with new hopes for life.

Exhausted, Henderson left the United States and began to travel to the ideal land of Africa in order to return to the primitive state of carefree human beings. This trip to Africa is not so much a trip as a self-imposed exile. He had not bought a ticket for the return journey. He had brought almost nothing for use, and most importantly, it was an exile with no destination and no time limit which not only cleansed his mind, but also made him realize the essence of life and the return to his true self. His exile was the only way he could ward off anxiety and achieve his ultimate goal— a transcendent existence beyond time and space. In fact, Henderson the Rain King reflects an intellectual living in an affluent environment who voluntarily gives up urban life and goes to the wasteland to complete the process of spiritual self-redemption. Eugene Henderson the wealthy American experienced a transition from superiority to perplexity, wealth to poverty, boredom to spiritual sublimation in his dealings with the natives.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

The Glass Menagerie is a play by Tennessee Williams, an American playwright. It tells the story of an ordinary family in St. Louis during the Great Depression and how to escape the harsh reality and the painful memories that always haunt them. At the time of the story, the father of the family is long gone, but a photograph of him hangs in the center of the stage background. The mother Amanda was preoccupied with the memories of her girlhood visits. The son Tom loved writing and was a worker in a shoe factory. His sister Laura, who was born disabled, is crouched at home and likes to play with her glass animals. Mother asked Tom to find someone to marry for his sister, Tom took his colleague Jim home for dinner. Jim is warm and cheerful, and his visit awakens Laura’s pent-up enthusiasm and temporarily takes her out of the glass world. However, The sudden news that Jim is engaged forces Laura back into her closed world. Amanda blamed her son for this and eventually drove him away in anger.

Amanda, Tom and Laura in The Glass Menagerie are representatives of a struggling Southern culture. Amanda came from a southern plantation owner’s family and was deeply immersed in southern mythology and culture. In the blooming years of her youth, she had many choices, but she fell in love with her husband the poet because he had a charming smile. Abandoned by her husband shortly after their marriage, Amanda spent her struggling life reminiscing about her ladylike days. In the industrial cities of the time, Amanda could find no place of her own. As a victim of a lost era, all she could do was frantically cling to it. Although Amanda knew that the south of the past had gone forever, she could not get rid of her attachment to the southern culture. She instilled her southern lady values into her daughter over and over again, stubbornly clinging to her beliefs regardless of the progress of time and the development of society.

Amanda’s son Tom and daughter Laura have been living under the shadow of her mother’s declining southern plantation culture, entangled in the contradiction between reality and ideal, until their characters become distorted. Tom’s menial labor was the main source of family income, and in southern culture, such work that was supposed to be done by slaves was not respectable. Nicknamed Shakespeare, Tom has inherited his father’s poetic temperament, a restless heart constantly called from afar, and the only way to cope with a boring shoe factory job, a stressful living environment, and his mother’s nagging is to spend night after night at the cinema. Tom knew that he was responsible for his family, but his dream of being a poet was incompatible with the reality, and his desire to break free and realize himself was so strong. Laura’s plainness and slight deformity of the leg were not a problem, but in a southern culture where women were supposed to please and cling to men by their looks, her disability was a major drawback. It was her mother Amanda’s implicit message to her daughter that led to Laura’s extreme low self-esteem and psychological disorder. The pure and fragile Laura is unable to communicate with people normally, has a pathological fear of the outside world, and is unable to survive on her own. She can only find comfort in a group of delicate and fragile glass animals she has collected. But her spiritual home, The Glass Menagerie, may disappear at any time.

The evil of slavery eventually led to the Civil War, and the defeat of the war was a fatal blow to the proud and confident southerners. Guilt, failure, poverty, and moral depravity became shadows of southern moral consciousness. Southerners consoled themselves by reminiscing and imagining the good old days. Hence the magical southern myth was born, an important part of the southern cultural tradition. The south, with cotton as the main product, enjoyed a stable and prosperous economy, and the people in the south were happy and harmonious. Even black slaves in plantations continued to breed under the protection of white people. There are even some southerners who believe that the mythical south is the real south. Yet conscience-conscious southerners were deep in their hearts torn between love and hate, memories and dreams, pride and fear, clinging and doubt for the sins of their forefathers, slavery, and lynchings.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Amazon.com: Anna Karenina (Barnes & Noble Classics) (9781593080273): Leo  Tolstoy, George Stade, Constance Garnett, Amy Mandelker: Books

An excellent psychological description is the essence of the artistic charm of Anna Karenina. The psychological description of the characters is an important part of the whole work. Anna’s choice shows human error. In order to realize the narrow personal love, she did not mind leaving her family as a slave to her own lust. Leo Tolstoy profoundly reveals the origin of Anna’s tragic fate through this magnificent work, that is, the incomplete emotional personality determines Anna’s tragic fate. Although her life exploration is aimed at realizing the spiritual self-pursuit, her life force lacks rational coordination, support and control, resulting in a tragic ending of drifting with passion.

Anna vigorously pursues the extension of perceptual life, strives to explore the original existence mode of life, and earnestly calls for the return of human nature. This behavior mode and understanding of life are understandable, but it does not mean that we should completely abandon even a little bit of rational constraints. Anna in the pursuit of spiritual freedom and practice of the liberation of human nature at the same time fell into the sensual error of indulgence. The freedom she sought to cast off the shackles of society was a selfish freedom, a freedom without scruples, a satisfaction of emotional and possessive desires.

Freedom is not a simple sense of doing whatever you want to do, but a rational sense of active life stretch. If we abandon the principle of reason and only recognize the freedom of the individual, then the freedom of the individual can easily constitute a violation of the freedom of another person, harm the interests of the surrounding groups, lead to contradictions and conflicts, and ultimately make the freedom of the individual insecure and unstable. Just as the pareto principle in economics requires, the realization of individual freedom must be restrained by rationality to ensure the freedom of the whole society is not reduced, that is, the increase of individual freedom must be presupposed by respecting the freedom of other relevant individuals.

It is only under the guidance of reason that each individual seeks his or her own freedom that he or she will be recognized by the social subject. Freedom must be combined with reason to manifest and realize, so as to form a complete concept of moral self-discipline. On the contrary, freedom without reason is at best an empirical self, not a positive extension of life. Only by constraining oneself with the power of reason, realizing the unity of sensibility and rationality, and establishing a sound ideal personality, can we achieve the true state of freedom, which is the highest state that human beings should pursue.

Moreover, Tolstoy saw that in Russia, with the development of urban civilization and material civilization, people’s natural emotions were suppressed, subjectivity gradually lost, and they became the slaves of selfish desires. In the novel, Levin is a man who loses himself in the bureaucratic strife. Through this character, the author shows his reflection on rationality and his deep worry about the alienation of human nature. In the novel, Tolstoy also created two environments, two kinds of aristocrats, through the lives of Levin and Anna. One was the city, where the Karenin, the Oblonsky, and the Vronsky aristocracy lived.

The other was the countryside, where the Levin aristocracy lived. The former is far from nature, for selfish desire to slowly lose the natural emotion of people. In the competition between human beastliness and human nature, they gradually abandon the good self for their own selfish desires. And the latter is in the natural environment, in the real work to exercise the body, purify the mind, get real happiness. Tolstoy shows his opposition to urban civilization through different aristocratic attitudes towards nature. From the cultural point of view, Anna’s tragedy should be the manifestation of Russian cultural tragedy.

Anna struggled between emotional satisfaction and religious repression, lacking a rational regulatory link, a mental defect that showed the fragmentation of Russian culture. Russia is a latecomer to capitalism. It is a millennia-long religious and authoritarian system that keeps the state running. The scientific Enlightenment, which rose slowly in Russia from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century, was often led by the ruling class to serve the autocratic system, which resulted in a lack of real rational spirit and legal consciousness, let alone a sense of democracy.

In Russia, only a small number of intellectuals (such as Pushkin, Belinsky, Turgenev) were affected by western science, democracy and rational spirit. However, most intellectuals have a strong religious consciousness inherent in their minds (such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc., who best represent the characteristics of Russian culture). For the Russian people as a whole, their way of looking at problems and dealing with things is either instinctive desires or moral beliefs, and their instincts and beliefs are in a state of confrontation and division. Hence, Anna embodies the fractured nature of instinct and belief in Russian culture.

The Bell Jar By Sylvia Plath

There are a number of reasons for which this book is famous, but my favorite is that The Bell Jar is the only novel ever written by Sylvia Plath, who has only published two other works (both are books of poetry). In fact, Plath took her own life about a month after The Bell Jar was published, famously putting her head into the oven and turning it on. Her novel is semi-autobiographical, as it follows her life story, changing only the names of her acquaintances and the mental health treatments that the main character, Esther, endures.

While the plot of the novel is intriguing, the most important aspect for me was psychological. The main character, Esther Greenwood, compares life to a bell jar, suffocating her when it covers her completely, and letting her breath when lifted. The bell jar’s meaning has been debated, but I believe that it symbolizes the box that society and Esther’s own perfectionist ideology create. Esther actually spirals into a depressive state, and this peaks when she attempts suicide via overdose in her other’s basement, almost exactly like Plath did with her mother’s sleeping pills under her house in 1953.

After her suicide attempt, Esther spends some time at a mental institution, where she is prescribed electroshock therapy, which was a form of therapy for depression used in the 1950s, in which electric shocks were administered until the patient had a seizure. Guess who else was prescribed electroshock therapy for years? Sylvia Plath- the sheer number of details that match between the novel and its author are the reasons for the novel being called semi-autobiographical.

Overall, this novel is absolutely fantastic, and I would certainly recommend it or anyone looking for a mental and psychological eye-opener. Plath’s detailed insight into mental illnesses that women suffered through during the early to mid-1900s as well as the treatments for these illnesses is truly awakening to the mind. A true work of art, The Bell Jar is a perfect novel for someone looking for psychological semi-fiction.

-Arushi S. 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I recently read Lord of the Flies by William Golding for my English class. When my teacher first introduced my class to this book, I thought it’d be like the other books we’ve read in school last year, and I was not particularly thrilled to read it. However, the story Lord of the Flies tells is extremely chaotic and I found myself liking the book more and more.

The novel is about a group of extremely young British school boys who are stranded on an island and who thought it would be heaven on Earth since there are no adults around and no rules to obey. However, the boys soon realize that they need to establish ground rules and the makeshift democracy seemed to work for a while. To be honest, I didn’t think boys 10 years and younger paid much attention to politics. However, as the book progresses, the reader could tell that the boys are actually shredding their civilized self and becoming more and more animal like and savage. Jack, the main antagonist, even manages to first handedly murder 3 boys who were on the island. I know. I’m shocked too.

The novel opens with its protagonist, Ralph, and I found myself disliking the immature, “fair” boy who the others choose as leader of their “society”. However, I felt pity towards the social outcast, Piggy. Piggy is ostracized because he is overweight, has asthma, and he has glasses. I could relate more to Piggy because I’m more or less a nerd myself, and I felt angry at how today’s society isolates the nerdy kids, as well. As the book progresses, the shockingly brutal actions that the young boys perform caused me to think about the savagery that exists in our own society and how Golding is right to stress that everyone has innate evil in them and how it cannot be killed. I like this book for this sole reason: this book is not merely about a group of immature school boys, it is about chaos, fear, danger, savagery, and above all, the degeneration of human nature. Golding cleverly intervenes references, plot, and personalities into his masterpiece and I never thought I’d learn so much about human nature through a book that we’ve read in English. Lord of the Flies has taught me a valuable lesson and I would definitely recommend it for a light read outside of school.

-Angela L.

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is one of those rare novels that remains enduring long after publication and lives immortally within the minds of its readers. Crafted with frothy and beautiful prose, Fitzgerald proves himself to be one of the greatest American authors of all time.

Set in the lost empire of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald weaves a tale with poetic and fluid words about the longings and desires of humankind. It’s slathered in lavish parties and flamboyant characters but maintains a darkly whimsical nature, one that is utterly timeless. And, unexpectedly rising from its seemingly superficial exterior, The Great Gatsby teaches us about the intrinsic nature of humanity.

We are brought to the stage by Nick Carraway, whose ever-observing eye captures the details of our story with unrelenting vividness. Jay Gatsby, whose five-year purgatory awaiting redemption with silver-voiced Daisy Buchanan, possesses unfathomable charisma that jumps out at you from the page. By the end of the novel, the reader is stunned by the burning revelation that all people are exactly the same as Gatsby—reluctant to let go of the past and stagnant between ghosts and the present.

If you’ve already watched the movie, it’ll be hard to disassociate Leonardo DiCaprio’s disarming smiles from Gatsby’s arresting charm – but DiCaprio and the partygoer seem to diverge once pulled into the mystery that is Jay Gatsby. Upon climax, Gatsby ventures darker than did ever the reputation of sunshiney Leo, but that is a debate for another article.

Altogether, I’d have a grand total of two words to say in conclusion: read it. Read it and marvel at the literary artisan that is Fitzgerald, then wonder what ever did happen to his wayward characters.

– Esther H.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is available at Mission Viejo Library.

Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee by Mary G. Thompson

This book was far too drawn out. In the beginning, the event of when both Amy and Dee got kidnapped by the same man was interesting. Not only was Dee the only one the man wanted, but additionally the kidnapper, Kyle, didn’t treat either Amy or Dee with respect, and ultimately hit Amy day on, and raped Dee.

Now with Amy being free from her kidnapper, she has to pick up all of the pieces she left behind in her life; but how can you protect a dark secret for so long? Amy remembers the frightful day when she killed her cousin Dee; if it wasn’t for Kyle raping her every night she may have actually loved her own children, but from the day that she recognized she was pregnant all the lights went down on her. In order to save her cousin’s kids, Barbie and Lola, Amy will do everything she can to save the only thing she knows.

-Rylie N.

Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee by Mary G. Thompson is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.