Authors We Love: Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow (Author of Herzog)

Saul Bellow (1915 — 2005) was an American writer, known as the spokesman of American contemporary literature. Born in 1915 in Racine, a suburb of Montreal, Canada, to Jewish immigrants from st. Petersburg, Russia. In 1924, the family moved to Chicago, USA. He attended the University of Chicago in 1933, and two years later transferred to Northwestern University, where he graduated in 1937 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology. In addition to the occupation as an editor, journalist, and merchant navy, Bellow spent most of his time as a college professor. He received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern universities. Bellow wrote and published 11 novels, 3 novellas, 4 short stories, and a play. In addition, he also published three non-fiction works, such as travel notes, essays, and speech collections.

The protagonists in Bellow’s works all desire to pursue a better life and the meaning of life. Even Maggie, who is in a wandering situation, dreams of starting an orphanage. The pursuit of the perfect self and social life translates into the ideal of Bellow’s heroes. However, life not only rewards them with incentives but more often stabs them in the back without them noticing. Hence, most of the characters exemplify escapism from the harsh reality that is imposed upon them. There is an inescapable paradox between their search for freedom and their flight. Just as they dream of playing the noble role of helping the world and saving the common, they are also victims of the cruel world.

-Coreen C. 

The works of Saul Bellow are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian: Andy Weir: 9780553418026: Amazon.com: Books

The year is 2035. Man has begun to reach for the stars, and begins to colonize the infamous Red Planet, Mars. Among a select few is botanist and engineer Mark Watney, who has been selected to travel to Mars on the Ares 3 mission.

Unfortunately, six days into what should have been the greatest month of Mark’s life and he finds himself living a nightmare.

After a dust storm forces the rest of his crew to leave Mark for dead, he finds himself trapped on the Martian surface with no way of signaling anyone, and is forced to somehow hold on long enough to await the arrival of the next Mars mission – which will land in four years’ time.

However, Mark probably won’t have time to starve, if the damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or simple “human error” don’t do the job first.

Armed with only his ingenuity, engineering skills, and a dark sense of humor that lightens every grave situation, Mark must somehow survive every hostility found on the red planet. 

Andy Weir’s The Martian is a trailblazer in the science fiction field, and Weir finds the perfect balance between accurate scientific details, action, and laugh-out-loud humor to keep the reader entertained. Once you pick up this book, it’s near impossible to put it down again, and I recommend it to all fans of science/realistic fiction, or just people looking for a good read.

-Mahak M. 

The Martian by Andy Weir is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Sister Carrie - Kindle edition by Dreiser, Theodore. Literature ...

Carrie, a country girl, came to Chicago with a longing for the city. Carrie soon felt disappointed after a while. She lived in her sister’s house, and the shabby and humiliating conditions destroyed her dreams. At that moment Drouet, whom Carrie had met on the train, appeared. He extended a generous hand and offered financial help, and the two moved in together. The present life was a little like the one she had dreamed of, but she found that the relationship was not right. Then he meets Hurstwood, a publican, and they flirt and fall in love. Often, as they walked among the lights and the wine and the food, Carrie saw the congruity between dream and reality. However, such a life can not come so easily. Something happened to the landlord. In desperation, Hurstwood fled to New York with Carrie. For the rest of his life, the tavern owner was stranded like a dog. Once again she experienced what hardship meant. By chance, Sister Carrie found work at the Opera, and her good looks and natural voice put to good use. She grew popular and wealthy, and Hurstwood became a worn and rusted machine before her eyes. She left Hurstwood and lived a life of splendor alone which made Hurstwood kill himself.

This work is characterized by realism, which reveals the tragic fact of people’s fanatical pursuit of The American dream in the early 20th century. It reveals the instinctive theme that drives people to enjoy but ultimately disillusion and shows that there can be no real happiness in the money-centered American capitalist society. It can be seen from the novel that Carrie’s degeneration has certain social factors. First of all, due to the capitalist system at that time, Carrie was the representative of a group of people at the bottom of society. She was forced by a hard life and had to go down the road. On the other hand, it stems from Carrie’s dissatisfaction with the present situation of life and her constant pursuit of a higher life to satisfy her desire, which leads the man on whom she constantly depends to embark on this degenerate road. It was social and objective that Carrie had lost her job. It was this objective factor that led Carrie down a depraved path. Even when Hurstwood had told her that he had a wife, his financial ability and social position still attracted Carrie so deeply that she followed him to New York. For this man was able to gratify Carrie’s desires and her great vanity. Because in society at that time, having money meant still having a good quality of life. Having a high social status is not the value orientation of Carrie alone, but the value orientation of the whole society. It is this value orientation that influences a group of women from the countryside like Carrie to take this path.

-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.

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

This book, was incredible. It follows the perspective of three teenagers, Tony, Conner, and Vanessa. All who come from different backgrounds but are connected by mental illness. Tony struggles with pills, Vanessa with cutting, and Conner with suicidal thoughts. They all meet in a mental institution called Aspen Springs where they must fight their mental illness for a better life. This book is one of the longest books I’ve ever read, 666 pages.

Although, the book is written in a poem style, I really enjoyed it. This books made me feel all kinds of emotions, happiness, sadness, nervous, and many more. This book really changed my perspective on life, and made me appreciate that I have others around me. For this book, I recommended you read it if you have a high maturity level. I would definitely read this book again and others by this author. From the moment I read the first page to when I closed the book at the end, I was obsessed. I did not think I would love this book as much as I did. This book is definitely now in my top ten favorites. I highly recommend this book, and hope you find it as intriguing as I did!

-Kyndle W.

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

Candy by Kevin Brooks

I read this book cover to cover in a day, I happened to find it at the library without even knowing it existed. From the start I was hooked.

The intensity and suspense throughout the entire book kept me on my toes. The book follows teenage musician, Joe who meets a mysterious girl named Candy. He soon discovers Candy is a drug addict and a prostitute.

I one hundred percent recommend this book. It was so intriguing and I was surprised by how fast I read it. This book was one of those books where after I read it, I just had to sit back and reflect. Even after finishing I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This book was definitely one to re read, so if you haven’t already read this book, I can almost promise you you’ll love it!!

-Kyndle W.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Craig is depressed. What could be funny about that? He cannot handle his work at Executive Pre-Professional High School. He throws up when he tries to eat, because, as he says, there is a little man pulling a rope that makes him regurgitate his food. He smokes pot with his best friend and has a huge case of jealousy over his best friend’s girlfriend. He meets regularly with two psychologists, or shrinks.

He knows basically all there is to know about his depression. He knows when the Cycling is starting up, how he hopes the Shift will come, but sometimes he experiences a Fake Shift. He just doesn’t know when the real Shift will come.

And then he experiences the lowest of lows and admits himself into the hospital.

Vizzini, having suffered from depression himself, presents depression in a way that is understandable to the lay person, and in a sense, relatable to teens who have the same issue as Craig: being over stressed and over worked at school. I enjoyed the simple way in which Craig looked at the world, but it was tough to read about the people he met in 6 North.

This novel is appropriate for most teens. It has been made into a movie, which may be interesting to watch, but I would definitely recommend reading it first.

– Leila S., 11th grade

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download from Overdrive and Hoopla

The Martian by Andy Weir

Image result for the martian book

If you’re one of the ten people who didn’t see the movie, The Martian is a book about an astronaut who gets accidentally abandoned on Mars and his efforts to make his way home. In this perfect blend of Cast Away and Interstellar, Mark Watney (portrayed in the movie by Matt Damon) must survive adversity after an explosion strands him on the red planet. The story of his survival on Mars is told to the audience through daily logs. It feels as if Watney is talking directly to the reader. The Martian truly illustrates how anything is possible, no matter how terrible the odds, and that humanity’s greatest virtues is its ability to overcome.

The Martian is the first interesting science textbook I’ve ever read. I know that it’s technically not a textbook, but it pretty much is, just written in the first person and with a story. Andy Weir literally explained every single piece of the science in the book in detail. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, it just probably goes over the head of anyone not extremely interested in Science. I think I learned more Science from reading this book than I have in school for the past three years.

The book The Martian doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves. In fact, it was almost cheated by the movie. Not that the movie was bad, actually it was really good and followed the book really well. The issue is that, because the movie was so popular and so good, a much larger group of people just watched the movie and forgot it was even based on a book. Even I saw the movie first, so the book felt more like a movie novelization. That said, it is still 100% worth reading, and I highly recommend.

-Evan G, 8th Grade

The Martian is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.

Burn for Burn Trilogy by Jenny Han

burnforburn_jennyhanBurn for Burn, Fire with Fire, and Ashes to Ashes, is a trilogy by Jenny Han. This series is about a fascinating turn of events that leave the readers feeling haunted inside.

In Burn for Burn there are three main characters: Kat, Lillia, and Mary. Kat and Lillia had a history of friendship with Rennie until one fine day, Rennie backstabbed (not literally!) Kat, causing their friendship to fall apart. Lillia is the “it” girl, best friends with Rennie, on the cheerleading team, and right in the middle of the popular group at their high school. Mary is traumatized from an event that occurred years ago in her childhood, for the very reason she has come back to Jar Island is for revenge. All three of the girls meet each other at the right place at the right time, and cook up a pot full for homecoming night, an event that shakes all and changes the lives of few.

In Fire with Fire, the girls serve time for their actions, causing them to regret the decisions they made months ago. Homecoming night hurt a lot of people, but it also critically damaged one of them–coincidentally it was Reeve, who tragically haunted Mary years ago. The girls just wanted to show the rest of the school Reeve’s bad side, but things happened that night that weren’t planned. They’ve gotten away with it for now… but Mary needs to control her anger and it seems like she just can’t.

In the last novel of this trilogy, Ashes to Ashes, Lillia, Kat, and Mary lit a fire without even thinking. Their goal was to get even, but now the fire is spreading. In this last book, a huge plot twist comes our way, and I am talking amazingly enormous. Out of all of the books I have read throughout my life, the plot twist that the readers come to find out in the last book of this trilogy is the best most surprising twist I have ever read.

I would definitely recommend this series to any girl because it starts out as a normal high school novel, but really turns into something you never expected, and its just really interesting to see how the characters progress throughout the couple of years. Absolutely on the top of my list for my best reads.

-Nirmeet B.

Jenny Han’s trilogy and her other works are available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library, Overdrive, and Axis360

Nothing But The Truth by Avi

nothingbuttruth_aviIn the realistic-fiction novel, Nothing But the Truth by Avi, ninth-grader Philip Malloy aspires to run for the school’s track team. Unfortunately, his satirical answers on his final exam earned him a failing grade in his English class, taught by Miss Narwin. Without a passing grade, Philip could not run on the track team.

After finding out his inability to join the track team, the next morning, instead off standing respectfully, he hummed along to the National Anthem in Miss Narwin’s homeroom. Dismissing his childish behavior with a reprimand, the teacher sends him to the principal’s office when he defied her and hummed again the following morning. Refusing to apologize to his teacher, Philip was suspended from school for two days by the principal.

Claiming that he was suspended for singing the National Anthem, his father told their neighbor who was running for the school board. As his story gains national headlines, the truth gets twisted and turned. Will Philip come clean and promise to tell nothing but the truth?

I had mixed feelings about this book. This book could have been much improved. The beginning seems to have promise of being a good and simple book. In the novel, Philip, the main character, is unnecessarily rude with his English teacher, who seems like a nice lady. Treating and blaming Miss Narwin, Philip fails to take ownership for his poor grades, which were his own fault. An interesting aspect of the book was how it was written in “script.” With such an abrupt ending, I did not enjoy it the novel as much as I expected. Overall the novel was below expectations, but it was a quick and easy read for anyone in middle school.

-Anmol K.

Nothing but the Truth is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library