The Abrupt. (Book Review on “Of Mice and Men”)

I’m going to tell you the moral of the story before even telling you the story: write stories that make you think. And I’m also warning you. I tell the ending in this post. So unless you like spoilers, you might want to refrain. 😉

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Of Mice and Men is considered one of John Steinbeck’s greatest works. It was published in 1937, but when I read it, I didn’t feel like it was written in a different time period. Not that it was poorly written, but Steinbeck took me back to the olden 1930 days and drew me in with the conflicts and dialogue and descriptions. It was very well written. Steinbeck described his characters of the story, the setting of the scene, and the emotion in the room. There was foreshadowing and fantastic themes. I felt like I was really there, and if I had had a choice, I don’t think I would have put it down until I had finished it.

It is a short book—six chapters. But they’re long chapters. Good chapters. Intriguing chapters. The book is about two men, George and Lenny, searching for work on a ranch. Lennie is mentally infirm. He likes to pet soft things—like puppies and rabbits. That’s his character; that’s what he loves. He loves his companion, George, who gets him out of every sticky situation they get into because of Lennie’s stupidity.

Poor Lennie doesn’t know any better, but no one understands that and Lennie doesn’t understand them either. George, Lennie’s caretaker, is the only one who seems to understand both sides.

George and Lennie have a dream to get land of their own one day. George is tired of always being on the run and looking for work. Lennie just wants land with rabbits to tend to. And it seems to be going their way…until Lennie pets the hair of the land lord’s daughter-in-law, she screams, he covers her mouth…and accidentally kills her since she couldn’t breathe.

“I’ve…I’ve done a bad thing,” he says.

When Lennie runs away, George and the other farm hands go looking for him. George finds Lennie and he tells him he’s not mad. He said he still wants to look after him. And Lennie looks off in the distance as George tells him about the rabbits he’ll tend one day. Lennie’s content, and George shoots him in the back of the head.

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Whoaaaaaa. What?

I thought this was friendship? It was. It truly was. And I still don’t understand this ending.

After I read the end of the book, (it ends very soon after the abrupt climax), I put it down and thought for a long time. I couldn’t understand it. It shocked me. I discussed it with other people who have read it before, and they gave me their take on it. Even though I’m still not sure about what to think about it, I’ll tell you my take on it at the moment. Subject to change. 😉

Back in the 1930s, you didn’t have medicine for mental illnesses. You didn’t have ICAP or special schools for people like that, where they learn how to behave, how to act and respond and control. Back then…one didn’t have anything except for someone telling you how to act, behave, speak…

Lennie had gotten into trouble with females before. With their soft dresses and soft hair, it would be easy to think he wanted to rape and flirt. Did he? No! He likes to pet nice things! He only wanted to touch the soft hair.

20 George and Slim

“Didn’t hurt the girl none?” Slim said. (fellow farmhand)

George shook his head. “Hell naw, he just scared her.”

But was what he did worthy of death? Was George right to kill him? Lenny was being hunted for anyway. He was going to get put in jail for who knows how long? And the husband of the murdered wife wanted to kill him. So…was George right to kill him?

I’m undecided. I feel like I would have to think about it more. Everyone I’ve talked to has said yes, George was good to kill him. Not that Lenny needed to die or that he was worthy of death—it was a simple mistake that he couldn’t help. But, so I’ve been told, it was better for Lennie to be killed by George—a friend who loved him and cared for him and knew him better than anyone else—than to be murdered by a revenge-thirsty husband who could care less about Lennie himself.

I tend to lean towards this point of view, but I’m still not sure. Taking an innocent life is one of those things that really get to me—where I have to think twice, and maybe a third or tenth time, before I take a stance on it. This was one of those times. At first I thought it was a horrible ending and I hated the entire book. One girl I know said she wanted to slam it shut and throw it against the wall. So did I. But then I had to think. And I kept thinking. And I still haven’t stopped.

I’ve already told you the moral of the story. Of my story. Write stories that make you think. I finished this book three weeks ago. I’ve refrained from writing anything on it because I had to think about it so much. The ending was sharp, abrupt, and unexpected. Yet it got me to think.

You should want that. Steinbeck was genius. You almost want your readers to be forced to really think about the endings. I could list books with thoughtful endings. I won’t. But they are everywhere. Just read some classics and you’ll find them. I think it’s a major reason a classic becomes a classic: the unexpected, thoughtful endings.

I recommend the book and the movie as well. The abrupt ending in the film is brilliantly done in the movie. And the whole film coincides with the book very well. It awed me even more.

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Go write stories that make you think!

Inspired,

~J.L. Cordova

Book Review: Perks of Being a Wallflower

I haven’t posted in so long, I almost forgot I had followers. But no matter. I am reading, to be sure. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, by Stephen Chbosky, is the story of a freshman in high school. Charlie, in the midst of family problems, crushes, and other beginning high school problems, makes friends… Continue reading Book Review: Perks of Being a Wallflower

“My Antonia”

Do you like Little House on the Prairie? I’m not reviewing it. I’d just thought I’d ask.

Reason I brought up that classic is because my recent read is so similar. Great plains, kids growing up, hardships of the farm…de ja vu.

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My Antonia is a book by well-known novelist Willa Cather (1873-1947). The reason her books are loved so much is because she herself grew up on the wild frontier, so everything in her books, most likely, she experienced. You can rely on her historical facts. My Antonia is one of her most famous works. It follows the life of a young boy who moves to the Great Plains, and it talks about all of his experiences. I learned a lot about the frontier by reading this book.

The story covers the life of Jim Burden and life at his grandparents’ house on the Nebraska frontier. After his parents’ death, Jim leaves his old home and moves to the Great Plains with Jake Marpole, a farm hand at his old place. Soon after he settles, a Bohemian family, the Shimerdas, become the Burdens’ new neighbors. The story really tells the life of Antonia, one of their daughters. It tells of her triumphs and struggles through the eyes of Jim. Jim and Antonia become good friends, and Mr. Shimerda asks Jim to teach Antonia better English and more about America. As time goes on, Jim falls in love with Antonia. Later, it turns into a filial love rather than romantic love. Jim leaves for college in the last half of the book, leaving Antonia, the frontier, and everything behind for the big city. It is a long time before Jim returns home. After all his travels and schooling, he visits beautiful Antonia. (I won’t tell you what he finds.) I think the book ends on a positive note, implying that the frontier life never changes, but it changes the people who grow with it.

Hope I didn’t spoil it too much for you…

First, I love the description that Cather writes for every little thing. I have a whole new understanding of frontier life. It was difficult. Sure, there’s rolling plains, lots of space…but there’s much more to it. . Plowing the fields, caring for the animals, making food from scratch, going to town to stock up on supplies—everyone on the farm was working. Also, there was a lack of social life. Even neighbors’ houses were so far apart in distance, they couldn’t visit them very often. There was always work to be done for heaven’s sake! During the winter, neighbors rarely saw each other. Also, out West, they didn’t have high-tech, easy equipment to use around the house. Everything had to be washed, made, cleaned, and worked by hand. This made work harder for everyone on the farm, especially the women and the girls. Yet, despite all these hardships, there was still opprotunity for some farm kids to go off to college in the city. Not everyone did, and those who did were in for a great awakening. Let’s face it: city life is not the same as frontier living.

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I mentioned that this book reminded me of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It does. Because neighbors lived so far apart, and only the men and boys went to town, farm families really bonded together. You can definitely see the strong bond between Jim and his grandparents and even the farm hands. Friendship and family ties add to any story you write. The fact that Jim was close to both of his grandparents and Jake Marpole (a farm hand) really added to the plot and seemed to lighten up the hard frontier life that he had.

Lastly, I will commend Cather on a wonderful storyline. In the middle, it did drag a little bit. But it followed the life of Jim and Antonia. From thier elementary age to post-college, it tells thier story and experiences, whether together or apart from each other. If I dove into any details, you’d be reading this all day. But the bond between them is always there. It’s a theme throughout the book.

All in all, a wonderful work of historical fiction. Willa Cather really brings out frontier life as it really was. The story was intriguing and it kept me reading. I would definitely reccomend this as a must-read for fans of the classics.

All due respect,

~J.L. Cordova

Review: The Color of Water

Hi everyone! Busy busy life. But I still find time to read.

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I recently finished this book about a woman and her son growing up in the 1960s: The Color of Water by James McBride. McBride, an African-American journalist, wanted to write a book about growing up during the Civil Rights era. But he didn’t feel confident about it. Why? He didn’t have the whole story. He did this by interviewing his white, Jewish mother about her life growing up, which is devestating to read about. The struggle between Black Power vs. racial equality was themed throughout the book.

Rachel Shilsky (Ruth) grew up in a Jewish family, with a racist rabbi father and a crippled, abused mother. Ruth’s father was not well liked. And he was as immoral as they come–going to Ruth for sexual satifaction instead of his own wife, since she was crippled. He forced Ruth and her sister, Dee-Dee, to work his story from the second they walked out of school to the moment he told them they could stop. Since her father was a racist, of course Ruth has to fall in love with a black man. She leaves home completely after her mother dies. She marries a black man and she is completely shunned by her family. Pregnant with her seventh child (James), her husband dies, and she has seven kids to raise.

Another section of the book is the story through the eyes of James, her seventh child. Growing up black with a white mother, it was hard for him to understand why they were different, and why people thought of them as different. His mother never told him directly. “Brown”, she’d say.

“I asked, ‘What color is God’s spirit?’

‘God doesn’t have a spirit,’ she replied. ‘God is the color of water…’ ”

Growing up was difficult in those times, since people still didn’t want to accept color equality. Most of the kids that James befriended were black, and he grew ashamed of him mom. But that changed over time, when he began to see her point of view. When he knew of her past. Her pain. Her suffering.

I won’t spoil the storyline too much. My definition of a good read is me not wanting to put it down because I want to know what happens. The Color of Water was definitely a good read.

The way the book is written is really creative. Every other chapter is italicized, which tells the reader that Ruth is sharing her childhood. The regular text is James sharing his. Two different generations, yet they coincide so much. This is the main thing I love about the book: the same feelings, the same struggles, and arguably the same problems, in two different lives. So it’s kind of like one big story, just not exactly in chronological order. This is a good writing technique. It keeps you intrigued.

In addition, there was a lot of symbolism in the book. For example, the second chapter is in James’s point of view, and he complains about his strange white mother riding her ancient bicycle, letting every black kid on the street see her and laugh at her. The bicycle, we find later, was Ruth’s way of grieving–biking away from all her problems and not caring about what the world around her thinks. Throughout the book, everytime someone mentions a bicycle, we think of Ruth.

Also, “the Bird Who Flies” represents Ruth’s mother, who passes away while Ruth is still young. Her mother loved birds. Ruth sings a song at her funeral that her mother sang to her in Yiddish, “Birdie, birdie, fly away.” So “the Bird Who Flies” is Ruth’s crippled, abused, misunderstood…but loving and loyal mother.

Emotion is expressed throughout the book. I guess girls are more avid fans of emotion than guys are, so I can’t speak for everyone. But I will speak for myself: Emotion adds so much to the story. It helps you relate to the characters 10 times more than you would any other way. Because racial equality was a controversial subject for so long in this country, so much emotion is put into it. I think that’s another reason why this book was so powerful.

So. In conclusion. From the story style, to the symbolism, to the emotional aspects, The Color of Water was a powerful novel. I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in that time period. Even someone who just loves a good story. I can guarantee you won’t be disapointed.

Anyone else read the book? What are your thoughts?

Inspired,

~J.L. Cordova

The Great Gatsby

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. “The Great Gatsby” is one of those where you are taken back in time and taken through the minds of fictional characters that could easily be non-fiction. I thought this was a great analysis.

 

All due respect,

 

J.L. Cordova

Cristian Mihai

Some of you know that The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel. I never fully explained why, and the truth is that I wanted to write this post for a long time, but I was reluctant because The Great Gatsby is so popular that some people will say they’ve loved it for that, the same way some will say they hated it because it’s cool to hate everything that’s popular. You know, it’s a common misconception that popular always means of lesser quality.

But this is just my opinion. Also, I’ll never say The Great Gatsby is the best novel ever written. I don’t think such a thing exists. Instead, I believe there are a few novels out there that are perfect.

My definition of perfect is the following: a story where a balance has been established. There’s nothing to be taken away, nothing to be added. I’d list a number of such…

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“But, reader, he did live…”

My first book review! I’ve decided to go with something I grew up with. I picked a book that not only did I love as a kid, but now that I’m older, I begin to see more writing styles and effects I didn’t see before. Selection? Ladies and gents, from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tiger Rising comes…

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux! “Being the story,” says Miss DiCamillo, “…of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread.”

Now, more than likely, you have all heard of the book. And, chances are, you’ve read it as well. So I won’t go into detail about the storyline, as most people already know what it is. It takes place in a castle and begins with the birth of a mouse. Basically, little Despeaux is a mouse that loves humans and falls in love with the princess of the castle. No mouse is ever supposed to do that! They’re mice, for pete sake. But oh, Despereaux’s dream is to protect the princess like a knight in shining armor! He doesn’t care if he’s different–he is on a quest!

Oh, and it’s about a rat named Roscuro, who loves light (unlike any other rat).  He is tired of living in the dungeon of the castle and always in the dark. His dream is to see and live …upstairs!–in the light! He doesn’t care if he’s different–he wants to go upstairs and take revenge on the humans that threw them down in the depths of the dungeon. That’s what this story is about.

Wait, no. Nevermind. It’s about the kitchen maid of the castle. Migory Sow. She’s fat, ugly, and no one is ever nice to her. She can’t talk normally and she can hear about as good as a cottonball can. But she wants to be a princess! That’s her dream! So what if she’s different? She wants to wear a crown.

Wait, so this book has three storylines? Well…yes and no. That’s why I chose this book rather than…say…Green Eggs and Ham.

When I was little, sure I liked the characters, and the funny lines, and the antagonists and swordfights. (Spoiler Alert: They all die. KIDDING.)

But there was something about it that I loved that I couldn’t put my finger on. The more I think about it, the more my theory grows: I like it because everything fits together swimmingly.

The story of Despereaux includes his love for the princess and his ability to read, and he is led into the dungeon by his own brother because he is too different from the rest of them. He is led to the dungeon, then Miss DiCamillo rewinds a little to start the story of Roscuro, the rat Despereaux will meet in the dungeon. Then as they escape together, DiCamillo halts the story once more to recount the background of Migory Sow, the kitchen maid. In the ending parts of the book, we see it is Roscuro and Migory vs. Desperaux and the princess.

And we all know why. Why? Because now, we know everyone’s stories.

That’s what I love about the book: the three parts are combined in the fourth to where everything makes sense. “Oh THAT’S why he did that!”, “Ohhhhhh I didn’t notice that!”, “That makes sense because he did that earlier!”

Personally, I love when little stories fit together to make something bigger. It makes it more fun to read, and it means more to the reader. The Tale of Despereaux is a perfect example of this. It’s difficult to write, given that you’re afraid your reader won’t understand anything while reading. But, if done well, it can lead to a meaningful work.

Plus, Despereaux is just plain awesome. That’s another reason you should like the book.

I’ve done a little of this in my fantasy series. (They aren’t posted on the blog, but I just thought I’d throw that out there). I have to admit, once its written and while you edit it, it’s pretty cool to see how it all fits. It makes you feel accomplished.

So try it: little stories that come together in the end to make a big story. It’s really, really neat. Tell me your thoughts!

“But, reader, he did live. Despereaux Tilling lived.”

~J.L. Cordova