Book Review: Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

Dangling Man (Penguin Classics): Bellow, Saul, Coetzee, J. M. ...

The text of “Dangling Man” unfolds in the form of a diary. The story follows the complicated psychology of Joseph, the Jewish protagonist, who resigned and waits to enlist during World War II. Joseph had planned to use the delay in enlistment to relax and enjoy his freedom before joining the army. Joseph had no peace of mind. He stayed indoors all day long, lost in his own inner world. Joseph peeks into the world through the closed room, the emotional catharsis in the diary, at the same time record the emotional changes and the world. He did not know who he was, could not find a place in society, and gradually became a lonely patient rejected by his family and abandoned by his friends. Joseph had to talk to his alter ego, the surrogate elf. Joseph swung back and forth between the ideal and the reality, with loneliness and bewilderment constantly attacking him. He even began to doubt about family, marriage, friendship and future, and finally became a dangling man free from the society.

The heroes in Bellow’s works all have good wishes for a better life and the meaning of life. It is the consistent ideal of Bellow’s heroes to pursue perfect self and then perfect social life. However, life rewards them with hurt again and again, so they choose to flee. An inescapable paradox lies between their search and their flight. Just as they dream of playing the lofty role of helping the world and saving the world, in real life they are victims. The eternal contradiction between ideal and reality is reflected in them vividly. No matter how good they are in their professional fields, they are extremely clumsy in real life. Although Bellow’s heroes also persistently pursue their own ideals, they are fundamentally different from the traditional heroes. The traditional heroes leave behind a noble beauty of tragedy with arduous struggle, final failure, and destruction while the hero of Bellow leaves behind a paradoxical color.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Herzog by Saul Bellow

Herzog by Saul Bellow - Reading Guide: 9780143107675 ...

Herzog, the hero, is a university professor. He is knowledgeable, kind and sensitive, but he is at variance with the real society. He was married twice and divorced twice. The second wife, Madeleine, was fooling around with his best friend and drove him out of the house. Like an outsider, Herzog wandered about outside the family and society, but he could not find a spiritual way out. He was extremely miserable and lonely in heart, and he kept writing letters to all kinds of people, exploring and searching for the meaning of survival. He knew that he would not be understood, but regarded as a lunatic. But then he felt happier and more peaceful than he had ever felt before. Herzog came to visit an old flame, but immediately left without saying goodbye. Later, he returned to his childhood home and took an old gun that his father had left behind. He wants to kill Madeleine and Valentine. But after seeing Valentine patiently bathe his little daughter, he lost the will to kill. Soon after, he had a car accident. The police found his gun and detained him. His brother paid the fine before he was set free. Herzog in his middle years was bewildered, dizzy, mentally broken and helpless. In the end, Herzog and his lover Ramona return to their country home and found a home in love and nature.

The name of the protagonist of the novel focuses on a middle-aged Jewish intellectual seeking psychological balance, trying to find a foothold in the process. Herzog is a Jewish historian who teaches in the university. He is a senior intellectual who advocates rationality and bourgeois humanism. He believes in the development of social civilization and cares about the living conditions of human beings. Two failed marriages, his best friend became the lover of his second wife, and his emotional difficulties drove him almost insane. Because real life is everywhere against him, the hero fell into the habit of writing letters in the crazy meditation of a deep spiritual exploration. He vented his frustrations in words or in his head in a thousand letters but never sent any. He wrote to family members, relatives, friends, newspaper editors, even enemies, and prominent members of society, living and dead. Here Bellow does not directly show the readers Herzog’s personal life experience, but lets the isolated intellectuals in real life reflect his confusion in the process of trying to state the past, search for rationality, clarify thinking and find themselves.

-Coreen C.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen: 9780307386854 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

In the book, Austen spends much of her time describing the years of pain that “prudence” brings to the heroine, Anne. She wants young people to look to the future with confidence, without undue worry and caution. When Anne was young, she had to be careful that she did not know what romance was until she was old — the inevitable consequence of a deformed beginning. If in Sense and Sensibility, Austen emphasizes the triumph of reason over emotion and believes that only in this way can people achieve happiness, then in her last novel, Austen spends much of her time describing the years of pain caused by prudence to the heroine.

Persuasion affirms the evolution of characters from cautious to romantic, which undoubtedly reflects the change of the author’s own creative thinking. It was also a challenge to the traditional ideas of the time. While choosing women and women’s lives as the main themes of Persuasion, Austen also succeeded in portraying positive female images. Through the description of these female images, she protested against the distortion and degradation of women in male literature and corrected and subverted the model of male superiority and female inferiority. It is worth noting that Austen’s men, who had always been regarded as noble gentlemen, were often cast as villains and ridiculed, such as Sir Walter, who was conceited but foolish and incompetent, and Mr. Elliot, Anne’s mean-hearted cousin.

In Persuasion, Austen puts men and women on an equal footing in marriage, just as men like the beauty and kindness of women, Anne likes Wentworth not because of his male power and money (Wentworth was not born rich, but rose all the way through his own efforts, representing the emerging class). Although at the end of the novel, Austen still insisted that the heroine was married off according to the stipulations of the patriarchal society, but her marriage was no longer a Cinderella model and no longer depended on the charity of the patriarchy, but had the germination of the women’s liberation movement.

A Death in the Family by James Agee

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Personally, I would say that this is definitely a book that I didn’t hate about the reading list I have to go through for school. It captures the authentic emotions of the main character, Rufus, who had to confront his father’s death. But as a very little kid, Rufus doesn’t really know much about what it means to die and how feels like to have someone intimate to you die. Therefore, the author does an amazing job at portraying the internal thinking processes of the characters.

Moreover, what I really loved about this book was the focus of religion. Unlike some of the other novels, delineating Christianity and God as deities that cannot be offended or questioned, this novel, on the other hand, exemplifies characters who don’t believe, or even curse the reality of religion and hold a suspicious attitude toward the existence of Jesus.

Lastly, the detailed expression of the characters’, especially Mary, Rufus’ mother. She was generally seen as a feminine character who takes very good care of Jay, her husband, and the two children. However, when the breadwinner of the family dies, she was forced to confront the harshness of reality and be both the father and the mother to her children. Similarly, this reflects an aspect of our modern society where women can be psychologically strong and support their children even without the help of men in cases of divorce, death, and others where the male influence is missing.

-Coreen C. 

A Death in the Family by James Agee is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

An Appointment With My Brother by Yi Mun-Yol

This novella, An Appointment With His Brother, talks about the unseen interaction between North and South Korea. Basically what happens is, the protagonist’s father defected to North Korea, which is unusual because it would normally be the other way around. The protagonist finds out years later that his father had a new family. Since the father lives in North Korea, visiting each other is nearly impossible. However, one day he learns about the boundary line between North Korea and China. People would cross the border with the help of a broker and essentially escape. So the main character attempts to meet his father but ends up having An Appointment With My Brother instead. Once they meet each other, they talk to each other about their lives and compare them. They come to a realization about their lifestyles after talking–their lives weren’t as different as they thought.

There was a lot learned from this story, things that aren’t usually revealed in the news, and only something that those people know. Even though the book was difficult to understand, the underlying theme and message are important to one’s everyday life. Reading this book allowed me to put the prejudice views aside and really see the true events that occur instead.

-Phoebe L.

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Middle school shouldn’t be a time for people to be put under so much stress. But, Fern, a twelve-year-old girl, has to deal with much more than she should.

Her father is constantly trying to boost business for the family restaurant, and unfortunately, Fern often gets pulled into the mess, being forced to wear stupid t-shirts for ads. Her mother is always meditating, and on the rare occasion that she’s not, she’s doting over Fern’s three-year-old brother Charlie, who always gets what he wants.

As if that weren’t enough, her two older siblings are dealing with their own problems that often end up affecting the entire family. Sarah, her older sister, is taking a gap year after high school and is busy avoiding work, while Holden, Fern’s brother, is focused on making himself believe that his parents don’t realize that he’s gay.

But then something catastrophic happens – something Fern would have never expected, and it changes all of their lives tremendously. Ran is Fern’s only solace in this huge mess, with his soothing presence, and his t-shirts with positive and encouraging quotes. She must rely on his mantra: “all will be well” to convince herself that she will be able to get through all of this.

I didn’t really know anything about this book before reading it, but I was looking for something to read, and thought this book looked interesting. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was and read the whole thing in one day. The book itself isn’t very long-so it’s a fairly quick read. But, it is pretty deep, and it’s definitely filled with a lot of emotion.

Although the author, Jo Knowles, did grow up helping out at her parent’s family restaurant, the characters in this book are fictional. However I felt that she did an amazing job at describing and developing these characters. I could easily imagine a family like Fern’s to be out there somewhere.

I really love this book despite the fact that it is very sad. If you do end up reading it, which I highly recommend doing, make sure to have a tissue box nearby.

-Elina T.

The Superlatives series by Jennifer Echols

When you open up your yearbook, there usually is a Best Of page, such as Best Dressed, Most Athletic, etc. Some people don’t know that this page is called the Superlatives, or as dictionary.com defines it: being of the highest kind, quality, or order; surpassing all else or others; supreme; extreme. Jennifer Echols weaves together a series about how three different titles affect three best friends: Tia, Harper, and Kaye.

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The first book, Biggest Flirts, starts off with Tia, the drum captain. She bilingual, 5’ 9”, is a serious underachiever, and almost has an allergic reaction if anyone tries to put her in charge. What she thinks are her values and morals all start to change when the new guy, Will, shows up from Minnesota. She states over and over again that she doesn’t want a boyfriend, but will that change as she gets to know Will better?

 

 

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The second book, Perfect Couple, is about Harper, the yearbook photographer. She’s first dating the yearbook editor, Kennedy, and then gets voted Perfect Couple with the schools quarterback, Brody. She doesn’t understand why the school would pair her with someone like Brody.  She’s a photographer with glasses and her funky homemade dresses. So why would the school think that Brody is a perfect match for her while Kennedy already is?

 

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The final book, Most Likely To Succeed is about Kaye, the head cheerleader. She’s the student body vice president, and has exceptional grades, but her mom always pushes her to work harder. She’s dating the student body president, Aidan, for the past three years. But even though similarities at first may attract at the beginning, they sometimes don’t work out in the long run. Maybe she needs to date the school’s bad boy, Sawyer, who has a father than was in jail, dresses up as the school mascot, and tries to convince her that he’s a good fit for her.

 

All three girls first start out with the jerks at the beginning, even though one isn’t a jerk at the end of book three. Each of the girls have a rocky start with the guy they’re supposed be with, but it eventually works out. And of course you have to have the curve-ball, such as when Kaye tells Harper a shocking secret in book 2, which makes you go, wait, what?

This is a nice, relaxing series by Echols. If you want a series that will make you smile, this one is for you! These books make you rethink about wanting to have one of those titles. What if you are voted a bad one, such as Sawyer’s Most Likely To Go Jail award? On the other hand, would you really want the Most Academic Award, and feel like you have to live it up, and be more pressured to be valedictorian? This series is for ages 14 and up.

-Rebecca V., 8th grade

Biggest Flirts and Perfect Couple are available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library.