Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews

Posted 6 May, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 8 Comments

I used to do this years ago where, if I didn’t have too much to say about a particular book I read, I’d just post a brief line about it. The following are books I’ve re-read as part of the A Year in Re-Reading: a 2014 Reading Challenge that I am participating in; these books either were previously (and recently) reviewed at length or I didn’t have too many thoughts on it to warrant its own post.
So, without further ado, the following titles are included in this batch of reviews (you can click on the name to be redirected to the specific review):

May contain some spoilers ahead!

The Bell Jar
By: Sylvia Plath
Format/Source: Mass bound paperback; my copy

The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

I remember enjoying reading this novel the first time I read it sometime during my undergrad. Re-reading it again recently, I really liked and empathised with Esther’s plight of not knowing what she wanted to do after college. It’s a universal theme that has resonated no matter how much has changed in society. Esther is a diligent young woman who has a rough idea of what she wants to do and wants a lot of things out of life but feels the constraints of society in general (the need to earn a living, the economic background she comes from, etc.) and the constraints of her gender on top of things affecting the opportunities that are available to her.

This time around though, I also found myself feeling a little cold towards Esther with the way she interacted with other people–it never occurred to me the first time around how disparate she was from other people. I can also see why people refer to this book as an epitome of teenage angst; it seemed a little much this time around, a little outside my own feelings now. I guess it’s one of those books that change as you get older.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Howl’s Moving Castle
By: Diana Wynne Jones
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy
My original review of the novel

“How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contact I’m under.”

In the land of Ingary, where seven league boots and cloaks of invisibility do exist, Sophie Hatter catches the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

I decided to re-read this book as I recently picked up the other two books in the series, Castle in the Air (review) and The House of Many Ways (review). I don’t know what else to add that I didn’t mention the first time in my review except that it was a delight to re-read this book again, the world of Ingary and the company of Sophie, Howl, Michael and Calcifer.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection
By: Pope Benedict XVI
Format/Source: Hardback; my copy

This is the second book in Pope Benedict XVI’s projected three-volume work on Our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world, and who rose from the dead in triumph over sin and death. For non-Christians, he is almost anything else—a myth, a political revolutionary, a prophet whose teaching was misunderstood or distorted by his followers. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and no myth, revolutionary, or misunderstood prophet, insists Benedict XVI. He thinks that the best of historical scholarship, while it can’t “prove” Jesus is the Son of God, certainly doesn’t disprove it. Indeed, Benedict maintains that the evidence, fairly considered, brings us face-to-face with the challenge of Jesus—a real man who taught and acted in ways that were tantamount to claims of divine authority, claims not easily dismissed as lunacy or deception. Benedict XVI presents this challenge in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection

I re-read this book as part of the Lenten season this year; it was a fitting time to revisit and contemplate on the events and the mysteries leading up to Jesus’ death and Resurrection. Benedict XVI is a famous scholar in theology and biblical studies and his academic authority is present in this volume and in his other works. He brings together biblical scholarship and tenets of theology but also the practical side and understanding of these events together, of how all of these elements tie in to our faith. Events and readings from the Old Testament, Judaism and the events of the Passion and of Holy Week are discussed at great length as well as the main Gospels, when they were written and how this affected the interpretation.

But at the end of the day, all of these discussions and debates come down to faith in God, in Jesus, that our Catholic faith is rooted in the here and now and not merely isolated as events from the past. It’s a fantastic meditation.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Inferno (The Divine Comedy #1)
By: Dante Alighieri; trans. by Robert Pinsky
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy

This widely praised version of Dante’s masterpiece, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award of the Academy of American Poets, is more idiomatic and approachable than its many predecessors. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Pinsky employs slant rhyme and near rhyme to preserve Dante’s terza rima form without distorting the flow of English idiom. The result is a clear and vigorous translation that is also unique, student-friendly, and faithful to the original: “A brilliant success,” as Bernard Knox wrote in The New York Review of Books.

The primary reason why I picked up this edition was because it contained the original Italian on the left page and the English translation on the right. I initially started reading back and forth in Italian and then in English but given the time that I have the number of books on my TBR pile, I skipped over and started reading it in English straight *blushes* I wish I had Mark Musa’s edition on me as I was reading this version just to see how they compare; I remember my English professor preferred using Mark Musa’s version because it was the most accessible of the versions (and probably the simplest, but I don’t remember and it would have been interesting to see how they held up). What’s great about having the original Italian there on the page is that I get to see the sort of things that the translator has to face when translating from one language to another, how the order sometimes appears different and what word would aptly fit the original.

While most of the names still sort of whizz overhead a bit in the later cantos, it’s nonetheless interesting how Dante includes them along with the interesting figures from history and Greek & Roman mythology. What also struck me reading this classic this time around was the atmosphere that Dante evokes throughout; the reader gets a feel of the misery and the horror and the darkness and the overall suffering that exists in hell. I got chills reading some of the passages.

As a side note, I found it interesting how often Dante (the character) swoons and passes out throughout his journey further down into hell. lol. It had to be said =P I’m sure I would’ve passed out often enough too.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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And those are my mini-reviews for this batch! Until next time 🙂

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8 Responses to “Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews”

    • Thanks! 🙂

      lol, I’m relieved 😛 In all seriousness, it was interesting how my impressions changed on some aspects of the novel this time around. Still an excellent and eye-opening read though!

  1. I like to read The Divine Comedy with some sort of guide, like Guy P. Raffi’s Danteworlds, to make sure that I’m picking up on and understanding most of the allusions. Otherwise, I find it rather difficult to know what Dante is doing. It’s sort of like, “Who’s this guy? What’s that woman doing here? This one’s just some dude who lived down the street from Dante, he’s not even considered historically notable?” Information overload!

    And I wondered about all that fainting, too!

    • I’ve heard heard of that guide–will have to check it out, thanks! I think that’s why I liked the Mark Musa edition as well, it had a summary at the start of each canto and notes on who’s who and stuff at the end of the canto. Agreed about the information overload! xD

  2. Even though I haven’t actually read it, I understand what you mean by The Bell Jar being one of those books that changes as you get older. I really want to though so I should probably get on that before it’s too late, haha.

    • Hope you enjoy it when you get to it! 🙂 It is quite a fascinating read–raises some very interesting questions, not to mention sheds some light on the subject of mental illness & mental health–but I was quite surprised at how some of my impressions of the other elements of the story changed this time around…

  3. I hesitate rereading The Bell Jar for the reason you mention; it worked for me when I read it, but I think it wouldn’t stand up now for me. It’s the same reason I haven’t reread Wuthering Heights — I’m afraid the stuff I loved will seem overwrought to me now!

    • Same here, the first time I had read The Bell Jar it totally worked for me as well but yeah, it was interesting how much had changed since the first time I had read it. I used to re-read quite a bit growing up but now it’s a bit frightful to experience certain reads not standing up to the test of one’s personal time.

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