The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews
“Have you noticed how nobody ever looks up? Nobody looks at chimneys, or trees against the sky, or the tops of buildings. Everybody just looks down at the pavement or their shoes. The whole world could pass them by and most people wouldn’t notice.”
Centered around three young siblings, this story explores themes of how adults, once grown up, tend to forget the wonders of the imagination. And these three particular children, with the help of a wise old professor, learn to embrace their childhood once again in order to open up a world of dream and imagination.
In all honesty, I’m surprised how underrated this book is. Even re-reading it as an adult, I still find it a wondrous throwback to my childhood. It sports this sort old-fashioned and romantic sort of quirk that is strongly evocative of classics such as Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. What a charming and adventurous book–sweet, heartfelt, and astutely written in its entirety, I applaud you Dame Andrews.
1984 by George Orwell
“For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then? Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.”
Set in future England, this dystopian world is run by Big Brother who monitors every corner of the nation’s ongoings with the help of the Thought Police who hunt for those harboring hints of rebellion. And Winston works for this government, destroying history of people’s existences and past events–but despite this, he is still unable to suppress his hatred for this government, and he at his own peril starts to reach out to others who might share this sentiment.
Oh boy. Here we are at one of the most morbid and depressing literary landmarks, along with Brave New World, Metamorphoses, and The Sound and the Fury. The conclusion of this book is so exhaustively hopeless that it’s almost unbearable. Likely, you’ll be left staring blankly at the wall for the next few hours after reading it. So why do I recommend it? Despite everything, the philosophical ideas presented in this novel are so extremely intriguing, and it is undoubtedly well-crafted.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“Atticus said to Jem one day, “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Narrated from the perspective of Scout, a young girl living in Alabama with her older brother and father, this book gives insight into hypocrisy, racism, and prejudice in the South. Through Scout’s eyes, we see not only how she learns to overcome her childhood struggles of fitting into school and getting along with other children, but also how she comes to understand racial injustice through her father, Atticus Finch.
My favorite scene is the one of Jem and Mrs. Dubose. As minor as that scene is in the context of the book, I cried buckets at the end of that chapter. I mean, Jem’s breakdown and inexpressible anger at Mrs. Dubose’ death really evoked the child’s naivete and his maturation into adulthood, both of which were so unspeakably sad and bittersweet. By the way, did you know that the sequel or “prequel” of this book is coming out in July 2015?! I will be first in line at Barnes and Noble.
The Tell-tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
“It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees – very gradually – I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.”
A short story by Edgar Allen Poe, it’s scary as hell. In this story, a man murders his elderly neighbor, but attempts to assure the reader that he himself is sane, that the only reason why he killed the old man was simply because he hated the old man’s “evil” glass eye. Otherwise, the narrator claims he even loved this old man and had no issue with him.
Now the extent to which this narrator goes to commit this murder–WOW he has patience, I’ll give him that. (He takes more than an hour to even crack open the door in fear that the old man might awake from the noise!) Afterwards, the narrator buries the old man’s body under the floorboards, but the scuffle had drawn the attention of local officers, whom the narrator invites into the house, very convincingly assuring them that the old man was out of town. But as he is chatting normally with them, he starts to hear a beating, a pounding–the sound of a beating heart from underneath the floorboards!!!!
Okay, I’m getting scared even writing about this. But despite all the goosebumps, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. And it leaves me wondering…what would happen if this narrator were to meet Mad-eye Moody? Oh, the fan theories.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“You’re afraid of making mistakes. Don’t be. Mistakes can be profited by. Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people’s faces. They beat me with sticks… If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.”
Set in a distant dystopian future, this story explores the life of Montag, a “firefighter,” who goes about his job setting fire to illegal books. Not your typical firefighter I dare say. Unfortunately, this dystopian society has completely embraced the quick-and-easy lifestyle; they would prefer the vague shallowness of television than the challenging ideas that books could offer. In turn, people themselves have become very shallow, emotionless, cruel, and thoughtless.
This book is evocative of Orwell’s 1984 in sharing the idea of a corrupt government censuring and filtering knowledge, but the overall message is much more positive in this book. It says yes, corrupt societies will come to destroy themselves in the end, but at least hope is reborn from the ashes–hope for a new beginning and the chance to rectify mistakes of the past.
I found this novel to be very accessible. The plot moves at a quick pace, the ideas presented are plain in sight, and it’s consistently dramatic and entertaining. I might criticize it for being too obvious, but maybe that affirms the relevance of this novel–the fact that I can understand the message of the book so clearly is because this dystopian future isn’t all that far-fetched. The book is great as a word of caution in that sense.
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
“Maniac kept trying, but he still couldn’t see it, this color business. He didn’t figure he was white any more than the East Enders were black. He looked himself over pretty hard and came up with at least seven different shades and colors right on his own skin, not one of them being what he would call white; except for his eyeballs, which weren’t any whiter than the eyeballs of the kids in the East End.”
Jeffrey “Maniac” Magee is a sort of very deviant character–he seems to hate being tied down to any one thing, dislikes too much order or definition. He always is on the run, pitching camp here and there whenever he sees fit, making new, random, and brief families as he goes along.
Which needless to say causes problems in places where blacks and whites are strictly divided into two neighborhoods, neither side appreciating the fact that Maniac crosses that boundary so freely. This might be a sort “blindness” on Maniac’s part, but perhaps this sort of blindness isn’t so bad. Perhaps not noticing the differences between people is the key to harmony and peace?
Most of the story consists of Maniac’s random and entertaining encounters, but the bigger message of Maniac’s story, besides addressing the issues of racism, is that Maniac really is just a child. He may be mature for his age, but he still yearns for family, home, and comfort, and he himself is on the search without even realizing it himself. And it’s all very subtly done! Surprisingly warm, charming, funny and compassionate, this book is an absolutely inspiring read, and I absolutely recommend it.
I myself have an autographed copy sitting on my bookshelf 🙂 Once you connect all the dots, you will be laughing and crying like an idiot by the end.
Keep your eyes peeled for Part 4, and don’t forget to check out Part 2