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Posts tagged ‘101 books’

It’s Mailbag Time!

It’s mailbag time.

The first 101 Books mailbag back in December went fairly well, so let’s do it again!

Got a question for me—about the Time list, my blog, my blogging process, books in general, or how to grill a pretty freaking good steak? Then fire away in the comments.

I’ll take a bunch of your questions and answer them in Friday’s post.

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The 101 Books Christmas Gift Guide

Christmas is two weeks from today. Did you read that….Christmas is two weeks from today!

OH CRAP. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO BUY? Who knew Christmas actually came on December 25 this year?

But don’t despair. 101 Books has some gift suggestions for you today, at least gift suggestions for the book lovers in your life.

So if you’re buying for any of these people, here are my suggestions:

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20 Questions: Round 3

Today, 101 Books brings to you the third round of 20 Questions!

This is simple. I ask questions. 20 of them. Some are about books. Others are just for fun. You answer the questions in the comments. (Check out the first two rounds of 20 Questions here and here.)

My answers are in italics.

Let’s go.

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Ranking The First 51 Books

So, as you may know, Time Magazine chose not to rank the 100 All-Time novels when they created this list, but I thought I’d be a dove and help them out. So I rank each novel after I’m finished with it. I like to call these my totally meaningless and highly subjective rankings.

After every 5-6 books, I take a little time to explain why I ranked each book as I did. It’s my way of staying accountable to you and letting you rain down hate upon me in the comments section, if you so choose.

So, here’s how I ranked books 46 through 51:

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The Dangers of Trusting Wikipedia

I use Wikipedia a lot. It’s one of my main sources of information while researching information related to each of the books I read.

But I always take an extra step. If Wikipedia doesn’t have a source, if it doesn’t link out to some other respectable site that provides the same information, then I won’t use it in that case.

So there are definitely dangers in trusting Wikipedia, and here’s a great example why:

Recently, Philip Roth (read my review of American Pastoral) wrote “An Open Letter To Wikipedia” in which he spelled out his experience trying to change a piece of faulty information in an entry about his novel, The Human Stain.

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The Grapes of Wrath: From “I” To “We”

The Grapes of Wrath is an incredible piece of art. And that’s exactly what it is…art.

But, make no mistake, this novel is essentially a pitch for socialism.

In the novel, Steinbeck paints an interesting picture of corporate landowners in the 1930s. They were the farming conglomerates who actively harassed and denied work to “Okies”–the hundreds of thousands of midwesterners who moved to California following the Dust Bowl drought.

If you can imagine moving to a new city and being told, “We don’t like your kind around here, boy,” then you can start to understand the plight of the “Okies.” Multiply that by about 10–where the locals attack you and burn down the tents you are dwelling in, then you get an even better picture.

Steinbeck explained his motivation for The Grapes of Wrath this way:

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The First 40: A Look Back

This project is 40% done, people. The next time I do a “look back” post like this, 101 Books will be halfway complete! What will I do?

Today’s post is simply a review of some highlights and lowlights from the first 40 novels. It’s a 101 Books Award Show, if you will, except that there are no awards to hand out and no drunken celebrities to present them.

Let us begin.

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Love Stories That Aren’t Really Love Stories

Okay. I’ll give in.

It’s Valentines Day. That means I have to do the obligatory, “Hey! It’s Valentines Day! Write a post about love or hearts or romance or something from Hallmark.” That’s not a requirement? Oh crap.

We’ll I’m already 40 words into this post, so I’ll keep going.

In honor of Valentines Day, I present to you 6 of the greatest love stories that aren’t really love stories in literature. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep my “man card” after this post.

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Book #1: The Catcher In The Rye

Quick Facts:

  • The Catcher in the Rye is J.D. Salinger’s only published full-length novel.
  • Around 250,000 copies are sold each year, with 65 million copies sold total.
  • According to Modern Language Review Journal, the novel was the most censored book in high schools and libraries between 1961 and 1982.
  • The novel has influenced notorious criminals (Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley Jr.) as well as former presidents. George H.W. Bush said it was one of the books that inspired him.
  • Sean Connery’s reclusive character in the movie Finding Forrester was loosely based on The Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger.

My Thoughts:

This is the first time I’ve ever read The Catcher in the Rye. How is it that a 34-year-old writer with an English degree has never read one of the classics of American Literature? I don’t know. It’s shameful, really. That’s why I thought I’d start this 101 book journey by reading this Salinger classic.

Published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most controversial and most-censored novels of all time. The controversy around the book is for a couple of reasons:

First, crazy people love it. John Lennon’s murderer—Mark David Chapman—was fascinated with the book. A copy of the novel was found in his possession the night he shot John Lennon—with the words “This is my statement” and Holden’s name written inside the book. John Hinckley Jr. was also a big fan. Police found the novel in his hotel room after his assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.

Second, parents of teenagers historically hate it. It’s a book about a vagabond, rebellious, drinking and smoking 16-year-old boy, Holden Caulfield, who goes on a three-day romp through New York City after he is kicked out of an elite prep school. Since the protagonist is a teenager, teenagers would naturally be drawn to the book.

Until recently, though, when teachers assigned the book as school reading, all hell would break loose. That’s mainly because the language in the novel makes The Sopranos look like an episode of Barney. For a book published 60 years ago, that’s saying something.

The book is a quick, easy read. Holden narrates in a casual, stream-of-consciousness style, which adds to the authenticity of his character. He’s a teenager, and he narrates like a teenager.

Teenage angst. Loneliness. Relationship frustration. The no-man’s land that lies between childhood and adulthood. These are the themes of Salinger’s novel.

The Catcher in the Rye is punk rock in novel form. As a Generation Xer, the book feels almost like I’m reading through a Nirvana album—which makes it easy to understand how it’s been so successful through multiple generations. It’s timeless. Really, Salinger’s novel was punk rock before punk rock.

And what teenager hasn’t felt like Holden Caulfield? Holden is a teenager stuck between the authenticity of childhood and the “phoniness” of adulthood. He’s a rebellious kid with the mouth of a sailor and the propensity for dropping GD in every other sentence. He’s also holding onto his childhood—his favorite person in the world is his younger sister, Phoebe—while finding fault in almost every adult he encounters.

He reminds me of the person who is quick to point out the faults of others but never sees anything wrong with himself. For instance, he repeatedly points out the fakeness of other people (his date’s ex-boyfriend, his teachers, and adults in general), but he also admits to being a fabulous liar and seems overly concerned with his appearance (e.g. the orange hunter’s hat).

But that’s the beauty of the novel: Salinger wrote Holden’s character in such a way that he is always true to the complex nature of himself—an immature teenager trying to find his way in a fast-moving world (both literally and figuratively)—with all of his contradictions, inconsistencies, and hypocrisy in tow.

Other Stuff

The Meaning: I kept waiting on the significance of the term “The Catcher in the Rye.” Holden explains it in Chapter 22. In short, he’d love to save kids from the edge of a cliff that is adulthood.

I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all.  Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me.  And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.  What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.  That’s all I do all day.  I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.  I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.

Highlight: I loved this bit of insight from Holden as he was getting ready to leave Pencey Prep after getting kicked out because of grades. Profound stuff, I thought. Do you ever regret not being able to tell a person—or, in this case, a place—goodbye?

What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of a good-by.  I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them.  I hate that.  I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it.  If you don’t, you feel even worse.

Lowlight: The fact that The Catcher in the Rye was J.D. Salinger’s only published full-length novel. He did publish many short stories and novellas, but he spent his last 50 years in near total seclusion from the rest of the world. This brings up the question: When you have a talent like Salinger, do you have a responsibility to share that talent with others?

Memorable Line: “All morons hate it when you call them a moron.” –Holden Caulfield

Final Thoughts: The Catcher in the Rye is a classic of modern American literature. If you want to consider yourself “well read,” you’ve got to read it—which means I wasn’t well read until a few days ago.

Up Next: To Kill a Mockingbird

Have you read The Catcher in the Rye? If so, what are your thoughts?

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