We started this blog in 2010 after a New Years' Resolution to read 60 books between the two of us. (40 for C, 20 for D.) After reaching our goal, we decided to keep going in 2011. This year, C has pledged to read 30 books, and D will read 12. By no means are we professional reviewers; we're not even professional bloggers. We're just two people who love to read and decided to share our thoughts and offer our limited insights. We hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book #28 -- The Picture of Dorian Gray

I can't tell you why, of all the books on my ever-growing list of books I want to read, I randomly chose to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. It was complete impulse. I'm really glad I read it, though, and as it turns out, it was pretty freaking creepy, so it worked nicely as a kick-start into the Halloween season.

Oscar Wilde's (most famous novel, apparently, according to the cover art that I chose) The Picture of Dorian Gray is about exactly what it says it's about -- a picture. Of a guy. Named Dorian Gray. Dorian's friend Basil is a painter, and Basil thinks Dorian is just about the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, so he has him sit for a painting. During one of the painting sessions, Basil's friend Harry is visiting. Harry has a terribly cynical, blunt worldview that he likes to spout off to whomever will listen, and in the course of a couple hours, he has Dorian's head spinning with all these weird philosophies. Harry also can't seem to get over how pretty Dorian is and feeds his ego until Dorian realizes, "Hey, I really am pretty stunning, aren't I?" When the painting is complete, Basil gives it to Dorian as a gift, so that Dorian can remember his youth and beauty as it is captured in the painting. Dorian wishes that he could give up his own soul so that the painting could grow old and ugly instead of his physical self. Well... They always say to be careful what you wish for, right?

I won't spoil it, but suffice it to say that Dorian's life gets pretty bad pretty quickly, and things go downhill from there. The first thing that struck me about this novel was the fact that all of the male characters are totally in to each other. They are literally obsessed with each other, constantly going on and on about how they wish they could be like the other, and he's so pretty, and you're so smart, and blah, blah, blah. Geez. Get a room. When they do talk about women, it is remarkable how chauvinist they are. I wish I had highlighted some of the passages that stuck out, but wow -- these guys hate some women. It was pretty entertaining, to say the least. The Picture of Dorian Gray was originally printed in 1890, so it's not like I expected much better, but I can safely say I have never read something so misogynist. Some bigger issues come up, too, like accountability and morality and all of that, but I try not to get too College-Lit-Class critical when I read, because it kind of takes the fun out of it. 

Anyway, this is a great piece of work, and it's well worth your time if you decide to read it. It's not too long, and there are only a few spots where it lags. (Ironically, the only part I found completely boring was an entire chapter that describes a book that Dorian reads and becomes obsessively fascinated by... It sounds like the worst book ever, and I hope it doesn't actually exist.) Even if you disregard all of the thought-provoking philosophy stuff of The Picture of Dorian Gray, there's still an interesting story there. Oscar Wilde definitely did his job there. 

I will leave you with a quote found toward the end of the novel (when Harry is speaking to Dorian) that really struck a chord with me, possibly because, for those of you who don't know, it is Banned Books Week -- a week dedicated to raising awareness about the fact that many great pieces of literature are banned in schools and libraries because, essentially, they make people think or feel a way that some Higher-Up somewhere doesn't find appropriate. One of your favorite books is probably on the ban list in many areas. I know plenty of mine are. So,  when I read this sentence, I had to file it away with my favorite quotes:

"The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame."

Very true, Mr. Wilde.

4/5 Stars

Read from September 19, 2011 to September 28, 2011


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book #27: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Ah, Harry Potter. How I have missed you. I've been looking forward to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for a long time, because many Harry Potter fans have told me that this book is their favorite in the series. That is no surprise, because this book took the franchise to a new level.

At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry witnesses the murder of a classmate and faces Voldemort himself, but Harry returns to Hogwarts as an outcast instead of a hero because none of his classmates believe Harry's story. As this book begins, some wizards begin to prepare for a possible war with Voldemort and his Death Eaters by forming the Order of the Phoenix. Unfortunately,  the Ministry of Magic (the "government" of the wizard community)  is trying its best to convince everyone that Harry was lying about Voldemort's return. The Ministry begins to interfere at Hogwarts, including passing educational decrees and making faculty appointments that stand in the way of the Order's plan to prepare wizards and witches for defending themselves against Voldemort.

Of course, it's very hard to go into a detailed review without a) spoiling the previous books and/or b) rambling about a bunch of characters that you don't know unless you're familiar with the previous books. My reviews of the later books in any series are always lacking, but that's just the way it has to be.

I will say that there is quite a lot going on in this book. Let's see... There's the building anticipation of a clash with Voldemort's followers, Harry's reputation re-building at Hogwarts, the tyranny of Hogwarts' new instructor, a crazy look into Professor Snape's past with Harry's father, some underlying family issues, some developments with Harry's love interest, some REALLY IMPORTANT PEOPLE DYING, and... I could go on. I mean, this book is heavy -- literally and figuratively. (Seriously, every book is longer than the last one. This one is nearly 900 pages. In hardback. It's like carrying around a brick.)

If you had asked me when I was half-way through if I thought this book was better that the last four, I would've said no. Ask me now, and I will say it's my favorite. The last half, or maybe even just the last third of this book is exquisite. Say what you will about J.K. Rowling, but I think she is fabulous at character development. These are just kids, after all, who are growing into young adults, and Rowling gracefully moves us right along with them. As for the plot... I have said this about pretty much all of the Harry Potter books, but I am continually surprised by the depth and surprises this series has. Rowling's a very, very creative and intelligent author.

Confession: I totally cried toward the end of this book. (That's TWO books in the last couple of months that have made me cry. It's terrible. I need to read happier things.) It was gut-wrenching. I had to reread a few pages three or four times to be sure I was reading it right, and then I cried. And then I felt like crying for the rest of the book, but I toughed it out. From what I understand, the next two are even more of an emotional rollercoaster, so that should be fun. This book ends with some serious "WHAT?!" moments, so I'm very much looking forward to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. SOON!

5 out of 5 stars

Read from August 8, 2011 to September 18, 2011