“Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates

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“Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates was first published in 1961 but the solemn truth about life which it divulges still reverberates within the walls of each family house. So brilliant in its honest attempt to depict the dreadfulness of all human relationships, it has also been turned into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. I have not seen the cinema production yet, but I can promise you that the novel would revolutionize your perspective. It is such a genuine portrayal of the purgatory of matrimony.

Frank and April Wheeler appear to be the perfect couple in the bright 1950s. They are smart, fun, open-minded and awfully in love. But the glossy exterior of their life is grossly misleading. As all other married people, forced together by adventitious circumstances, they have waged a myriad of skeletons in the closet of their immaculate suburban house on Revolutionary Road. Yet, a delusion can survive only so long. After a sordid fight in the middle of the road, at the dead of the night, they come to the realization that all they have been sweeping so cautiously under the carpet for the last 6 years has now become a cause of calamity. . Their consummate image of love, matrimony and amity is irrevocably shattered. In long silences and blazing arguments, Frank and April drift apart and are impelled to go to drastic measures to preserve their integrity.

Unlike all the other novels which portray affability and relationships, “Revolutionary Road” didn’t begin happily only to diverge into tragedy later on. It was solemn from the very first chapter till the end and even the sporadic elements of bliss that stole their way into the Wheeler’s life were marked with spuriousness. What made the novel poignant the universal truth that loomed in every action and decision of its characters.  It was scintillating to read about the absolutely drab, appalling side of human nature: the failed expectations, the unrealized aspirations, the helplessness of each individual and the meretriciousness of one’s alter ego. Richard Yates is the first person I have met who has dared to acknowledge the fallacy of marriage, friendship and camaraderie so simply.

At some level I have always sensed the falsehood of all interactions, yet simultaneously I continually harbored the flickering undying hope that there are few relations which transcend the pettiness of our ephemeral nature. However, the suburban nightmare is diffusing in our urban lives as well. There is no complete accomplishment of the notion of the American dream. Instead of liberating and inspiring people, it binds them to the fetters of social conventions and anachronistic stereotypes. Smiling, being polite, staying in one’s good graces, going out and keeping up the ever so fake tone of conversation – those are necessities preliminary for our survival and a guaranteed participation in the act of a decent, respectable society. Our innate need to be accepted and approved upon lands us the lead role in that abysmal stage production.

The only people who peek behind the decorum are deemed as irrational and even insane as so often proves the case in literature (“Hamlet”, “Don Quixote” etc.). It is but treacherous, however, to believe that our reality differs at all from the apocryphal world. We are also stuck in a nightmarish existence feeling that our life passes by too quickly in a perpetual fear that we will never rise to the wisdom and vigor of the golden people. A fear that is well based. For we will not become the images we bear of ourselves unless we halt the pretense that we are happy and satisfied with our presence. We have to concede the awful truth to be able to live with ourselves uncompromisingly, and perhaps alter our final destination. We have to strive infinitely so as not to end up as stereotypes.

Mery

Mery

“Rainbow” by Rainbow Rowell

Lately I haven’t had the remotest urge to sit down and review-slash-analyse even books that have immensely impressed me. It’s not that my passion for literature has ditched me in the midst of the school term but that I have ignominiously failed to muster the courage to write simply because I can or I want to. Perhaps it turned out so because I was so disappointed with my IELTS writing result or because I am adept at convincing myself I am too busy to let halt crowding out all the words bubbling up in my mind unless I have a deadline. However, if I am to be completely candour with you and myself, the aforementioned reasons are collateral damage to a mild case of dementia. I had forgotten how amazing it is to let an apocryphal world linger in the words you have used to depict it and the keys you have pressed to share your experience with other people. How amazing it is to transform the universe of a stranger’s imagination into a part of your life, yourself and the one more personal and precious activity – writing.

“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.” 

Fortunately, books do not exist solely to fulfill these purposes, but also to remind you of them when push comes to shove. ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell is one of those inspiring novels. Its story is quite simple and straightforward which made reading it all the more smooth and relaxing. It also made devouring it in two days easier! It centers around Cath who is an epitome of the nerd girl. She is obsessed with Simon Snow to the point where she lives to live in his magical world by writing fan fiction. But as a freshman in college she is bludgeoned into reality where the villains cannot be transmuted into charming benign gay characters with a clatter of the keyboard.

“It felt good to be writing in her own room, in her own bed. To get lost in the World of Mages and stay lost. To not hear any voices in her head but Simon’s and Baz’s. Not even her own. This was why Cath wrote fic. For these hours when their world supplanted the real world.” 

Cath and her twin sister Wren (Cather and Wren! Get it?) are forced asunder as one strives to remain true to herself, her past and the passions and the other succumbs to the pressure to fit in with the vapid masses of drunken freshmen. Boy troubles, hospitalization, coruscating dialogues, emergency dance parties and some deep family tragedies made it impossible for me to give ‘Fangirl’ a wide berth.

“I feel sorry for you, and I’m going to be your friend.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” Cath said as sternly as she could. “I like that we’re not friends.”
“Me, too. I’m sorry you ruined it by being so pathetic.” 

It lacked all that usually impess me in a novel – a complicated writing style, a lot of highlights, sombreness etc. However, the striking resemblance between Cath’s and my own life took the escapism to a whole new level. It endowed reading with a pungent taste of reality. I realized that I was at school persistently ignoring the vain conversations of my classmates but simultaneously Pound Hall felt so tangible for I knew it might be me there betaing brazen Nick’s unreliable narrator. It was an unprecedented experience for the complete 14 years that the peculiar characters on the page have been making sense!

“Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.” 

Cath’s refusal to give up on her fanfiction ‘Carry On, Simon’ despite the consuming demands of her education inspired me to sit down and write a tad different review of ‘Fangirl’ even though it is the middle of the night. The novel prompted me to realize that there is always a way to make time to write about the literature you adore and to find people who not only accept your zest for the written world, but understand it. Moreover, it gave me a whole new appreciation of fanfiction and the marvel of fandoms!

This was nothing like my typical reviews. However, ‘Fangirl’ isn’t a typical book, either. It’s not as thought-provoking and meaningful as ‘The Beginning of Everything’ or ‘Looking for Alaska’ but it is much more real and pertinent to a young adult’s life. Cath is by no means a manic dream pixie girl. She is simply a girl and that’s why it is effortless to root for her.

P.S. The ‘Simon Snow’ series by Gemma T. Leslie doesn’t exist despite my absolute conviction it was real while reading the book and writing the review. That explains its similarity to ‘Harry Potter’ which no one else seemed to notice.

Mery

Mery

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury

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It is quite implausible that ‘Fahrenheit 451’ – a book about the depravity of the prohibition of books, was actually banned. We can only admire the unpredictability of irony and its flabbergasting ways! Nevertheless, it is a must-read novel for our society which is slowly progressing towards a fatal future feared so adamantly by Ray Bradbury. His dystopia is irrevocably becoming our reality.

Guy Montag is a firefighter in a topsy-turvy world where TV walls participate in live conversations and family consists of online personas who bicker over pretty much nothing and firefighters do not extinguish fire but beget it. In his universe literature is no longer appreciated but considered offensive and insurgent. Instead of making people erudite, society believes it turns them into abysmal criminals. Thus books are incinerated ( Fahrenhiet 451 is the temperature at which paper burns) and television worshipped.

“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.”

Montag is a paragon of a credulous and obtuse society. He goes around in life, never looking up at the sky, never breathing in the intense aroma of autumn leaves, never appreciating the opportunity to love and hate vehemently. Until he meets Clarisse who lives next door and is a peculiar young girl who likes observing people and tries everything twice. She reminds him subtly that the world was not always the way it is today – that our reality is actually an infinitesimal flicker of the history of life on Earth and Earth itself. But it is imponderably onerous to find the connection between the vastness of the universe with the instant of your existence without literature.

“Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends, look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the unverse together into one garment for us.”

Little had I thought about what a colossal impact the invention of television has had on our lives. It has drastically altered the way we perceive the world as well as amplified the momentum of globalization. We no longer judge the quality of our lives by the rambunctious fulfillment of our expectations but by the standards raised by television series. We find common ground by reviewing the shows we watch and the laughs we have shared over them and not the sighs of revelations we have individually encountered through the hours spent in the basement of a library by a ingenious man who doesn’t suffer from personhood anymore.

“And I thought about books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the book. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. And I’d never even thought that thought before. It took some man a lifetime maybe to put some of his thoughts down, looking around at the world and life and then I come along in two minutes and boom! it’s all over.”

It is a change, and even though change is not necessary a bad thing, it is neither necessary benevolent. Books are our cultural heritage. Losing all of them is equivalent to waking up one day not knowing who we are or where we came from. As Ray Bradbury suggested, we are highly likely to turn into vapid creatures, incapable of independent thinking and reasoning – ergo, easily manipulated by the media and any psychopathic dictator that rises to power. Montag fails to mention politics even once. He doesn’t care about anything except his own well-being and the pang of guilt that is nibbling away at his conscience. Bombs, death, annihilation – he never asks himself why or how to put an end to them until he reads a book.

Although “Fahrenheit 451” is not my favourite book, it is a brilliant extrapolation of how our lives may turn out were we to persevere in our infatuation with the fictional dimensions of cinema and TV. Should society come down with such an abominable fever, I would take great pride in myself if I don’t succumb to social pressure and remain true to the sanctum of the inkworld.

Mery

Mery

“Franny and Zooey” by J. D. Salinger

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I am one of those appalling bibliophiles who just don’t comprehend the hustle and bustle around “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger. It was banned shortly after its publication and it even got a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma fired for assigning it in class, but even though I proclaimed my fascination with outlawed  novels, I find no rationality and logic behind Holden Caufield’s actions and decisions. Withholding that this may precisely be the beauty and gist of a story about teen angst, it is also my reason for disliking.

Nevertheless, when I glimpsed over the minimalistic cover of “Franny and Zooey” by J. D. Salinger wedged amongst outstanding classics as “War and Peace” and “Ulysses”, I found it irresistible. Such a miniscule book must harbour a lot of , I thought, so as to be shelved among the paramount works of literature (I am yet to read). My inkling didn’t lead me away.

Divided in two parts “Franny and Zooey” depicts another adventure of the Glass family, who are a common subject of Salinger’s short stories. It is told by Buddy, the eldest living sibling. He relates his little sister’s mental breakdown, what triggered it and how she recovered from it. The novella revolves around religion and its implications in art and daily life. But as the narrator points out in the introduction: “I say that my current offering isn’t a mystical story, or a religiously mystifying story, at all. I say it’s a compound, or multiple, love story, pure and complicated.”

In the very first pages of the book we are introduced to a young attractive girl who is supposed to have a whale of time with her boyfriend during the weekend. But there is something peculiar about Franny’s conduct, atypical for the mirth and joy commonly associated with the 1950s. She doesn’t keep her end of the conversation. She berates the pretentiousness and duplicity of her sanctimonious boyfriend and lines up everyone under a common denominator: “It’s just that for four solid years I’ve kept seeing Wally Campbells wherever I go. I know when they’re going to be charming. I know when they’re going to start telling you some really nasty gossip…”

Franny is disillusioned about the world we all live in, pursuing unattainable dreams and attempting to be remarkable in every aspect just like everyone else. “I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s. I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. It’s disgusting.” So in her not-so-dissembled disappointment and abhorrence of human nature and propensities, she seeks reprieve in religion. She forsakes her illustrious career in acting and neglects any zeal for beauty and success. She spends her days lying on her parents’ coach until her brother Zooey reconciles her expectations and aspirations with the reality of the world.

In a lengthy, but gripping, dialogue, Franny discovers the real source of her exasperation with the world. She is incensed by the disregard of people for all the onerous efforts that go into the creation and production of any piece of art. She despises people for the lack of appreciation and their hasty to judge and criticize. But as Zooey confides in her that “An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s”, she finds it in herself to forgive laymen for their privation of sophistication.

And so the story of a mental breakdown morphs into a multifarious love story whose moral story is that we all need to accept and tolerate each other in all our hideousness and absurdity. It is absolutely necessary if one desires to prosper in our ruthless society to love one’s public and to persevere for one’s own self. Thus, the question of whether we should write/draw/play for ourselves or for the others is rendered irrelevant. We should love the human in each other despite the mutations and protrusions sticking out on the surface for we all crave for the same: to be admired and appreciated.

J. D. Salinger, himself, is an epitome of an artists who shoots for perfection on his own terms. His novella “Franny and Zooey” comes over as written gracefully in a flourish of inspiration by the fireplace. His rendering lacks any pretentiousness and ostentation but enchants with its simplicity and approachability per se.

Mery

Mery

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth

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For the last few years there has been a boom in film industry and more and more movies based on YA novels surface finding their way on the silver screen. In my opinion it’s not a bad tendency for it popularizes reading as a pastime. Also it gives you new ideas for what book to grab next. Maybe it was because the actress that portrays Beatrice Prior also plays Hazel Grace in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ that made me read ‘Divergent’. Or maybe it was just curiosity for yet another dystopian teenage drama. All in all I don’t regret it.

Veronica Roth sets her background in a futuristic Chicago that has been divided into five factions, each one upholding a virtue of humanity: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Erudite (the intelligent). Every year every sixteen-year-old must undertake an aptitude test which will determine the faction they belong to. But in the end the choice they make may not be the final result of the examination. The decision is final and of the utmost importance for if you err or fail initiation you become factionless. Not a desired faith for in this world faction comes before blood.

Beatrice Prior is confronted with the decision of her life making a step that surprises even her. Choosing Dauntless she leaves behind her family in Abnegation where she never could find peace of mind. And now she has to face the physical and mental difficulties of proving herself worthy of the bravest faction. But there is something that makes her different from her brothers in arms which must be kept secret. Because it is a secret so big it may cost her life. Will she manage to survive in such a hostile environment and will she manage to keep attention away from her in a place where everything is under close surveillance?

And while all this questions are at hand, Tris (the new name our protagonist acquires) finds friendship where she didn’t even look for it. Not only that, the trainer Four is more mysterious and attractive than desirable and not on one occasion she finds herself distracted by his demeanour. But will she find a person she can trust? Well, one thing is sure: you’re not getting any answers here.

‘Divergent’ gives a very good point of view of what bravery is. For sometimes the line between a valiant act and a stupid act is quite thin and easily crossed. The reader gets a glimpse of all kinds of ideas of what dauntless stands for: some are selfless and just and others cruel and scary. Is the person who accepts his fate in a faction where not everything is agreeable with him the brave thing to do? Or is the one who has the guts to quit and venture into the life as a factionless the real dauntless man?

To see where Tris’ instincts and decisions lead her, don’t hesitate to garb ‘Divergent’. Veronica Roth’s writing is such that you won’t be at peace until you finish the novel. It will take you just a couple of days from the first shuffling through the pages to the thoughtful staring at the back cover. Enjoy!

Sophie

Sophie

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Saenz

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Secrets are not necessarily mendacious. Most secrets are actually the truth – the truth kept hidden deep inside our hearts and minds, concealed not only from the others, but from ourselves as well. Such secrets are essential and definitive to our existence. They imply who we are; who we want to be; who we love; where we derive from; how we envision ourselves in society. They are the hardest truths to accept but you can’t live in peace with yourself until you come to terms with them.

Such secrets are gnawing at the heart of Aristotle, a 15-year-old Mexican pariah. He is a bitter teenager, condescending towards his peers and perturbed by the skeletons in his family’s closet. His closest friend is his own mother and even though he is never bullied at school kids ostracize him. He is fascinated by the mysterious air around his brother who has been imprisoned, but his parents’ reluctance to talk about it engenders yet another secret to frown over.

Aristotle meets Dante while trying to learn to swim without the help of any instructors. Not only do their names complement, but so do their personalities.  Dante hates wearing shoes and is extremely vehement about animals. He falls in love with paintings and lyrics and inhabits a world completely different from that in El Paso. “Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without darkness. Wow, a world without darkness. How beautiful was that?”

 Unlike Aristotle, Dante is enchanted by the world, its wonders, its beauty and its infinity. He leaps at every opportunity and never avoids social contact. Their unconventional friendship changes both their lives irrevocably. It defines their present and their future and endows their past with a meaning. It is a spectacular portrayal of the sacrificial and altruistic part of love.

As the story traces the growth and maturation of those two innocent boys, it questions whether we ever truly get to know ourselves and the world we live in. It depicts life as an incessant strive to take control over your feelings and actions, and accept everything that makes you up. “High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you – but when you graduated, you got to write yourself”

What defines us is all the inner conflicts and contradictions which beget our deeds. It’s not what you do that makes you – you, but the reason you do it. “Because when you do something, you have to know exactly what you are doing.” It is the driving force that distinguishes us from each other and determines what we would delineate as beautiful, inspirational, worthwhile or scintillating. Thus, we are fundamentally different in our purpose to go on breathing. “We all fight our private wars.”  and within those ruthless struggles our brilliance and uniqueness arise.

The novel describes how two boys acknowledge what propels them forward. It alleges that the secrets of the universe: why do we live? what is the point of our existence? what purpose do we serve? do we matter?; are actually the secrets of the self. The meaning we bestow upon our lives is the meaning we bestow to the universe.

As Aristotle says “Summer was a book of hope” and so is this novel. “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” offers a captivating glimpse in the Mexican culture and the struggle to outgrow one’s Hispanic heritage. It is one of those books that you get glued to and can’t put down for a second. Once you embark upon it, there is no quitting, so I strongly suggest reading it during the summer holidays.

Mery

Mery