Tag Archives: classic books

“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” By Carson McCullers

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“Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.”

I was pulled out of my “book rut” when I opened a copy of this novel.  By book rut, I meant that it’s been (in my opinion) too long since I read a book that grabbed my attention, transported me, and left me breathless and overwhelmed with emotion.  Being in a book rut is quite disappointing for bookworms such as myself. I thus scoured the Internet looking for ideas of well-written books that would captivate me.  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter came up on a few lists so I took that as a sign.

It’s funny how loved, popular, and timeless the book To Kill a Mockingbird is, yet I’ve never heard of  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter before.  In many ways, they are very similar.  Both take place in the Southern US, both have a tomboy as a main character, both tackle issues of racism and growing up.  I was actually astounded at the similarities.  However, while To Kill a Mockingbird is centered around white people and the experiences of blacks through a white lens, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has prominent black characters that are richly developed, and complex.

This book was written in the 1940s by a 23-year-old white woman, yet had I not known that before reading this book, I would never have guessed that.  What makes this book so brilliant is the fact that a young Southern and white woman could write about complex issues of racism, grief, and sexuality with empathy and a deep insight that is beyond her years.

The cast of characters is a rag tag melee of misfits in the South who are united by their friendship with a mute named John Singer.  There’s Biff, a recently widowed store owner who is exploring his gender identity; Dr. Copeland, a black man who is frustrated with the plight of African Americans in the US; Jake Blount, an alcoholic who is obsessed with leading a revolution; and Mick, a young teen girl whose high hopes for life are slowly crushed by her family’s descent into poverty.  Singer has his own issues: his best friend/ soul mate (probably lover) is in a mental institution and so he has no one to lay his own burdens and love onto.

The most interesting part about this book was the deep biblical undertones.  Singer is like Jesus: the main characters are constantly coming to talk to him and tell him about their life, their burdens, their hopes and their fears.  Being a mute symbolizes that while people pray to Jesus or God, they don’t get a direct answer.  His character also represents how humans project their own ideas of who God should be.  For Singer, he means something different to each of the characters.  A significant moment in the novel is when all the main characters are together in the same room, and no one can talk to each other.  They all want to talk to the mute instead.  This scene is one example of how brilliant, metaphorical, and powerful this book is.

I could go on and on about the symbolism and meanings in this book, but I don’t want to spoil anything.  Do yourself a literary favor, and read this book. Be warned though: there are a lot of emotional parts.

Have you read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought about it.  Let me know in the comments your opinions!

 

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“Atonement” by Ian McEwan

Atonement_(novel)

In my quest to read at least 50 out of the 100 books on the BBC Book List Challenge, I chose Atonement because it is a short book and I saw the movie a few years ago.  I remember somewhat enjoying the movie, but found it a little depressing.  However, the book is always better than the movie so I went into this book hoping that good writing would make up for the melancholy theme.

Aptly titled, Atonement is a family saga of sorts that traces the aftermath of a young girl, Brionny, who witnesses her cousin being raped and mistakenly blames her sister’s lover (Robbie) for the crime.  I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but the title does make it clear she spends the rest of her life trying to atone for her error.

The success of the book comes from showing the maturity of Brionny, who transforms from a naive girl living in her head, to a nurse who rues her mistake and tries to find absolution with her sister (Cecilia) and Robbie.  Mixed in with Brionny’s character development is what happens to Robbie and his relationship  with Cecilia following the false accusation.

Does Brionny ever find forgiveness?  Do the Romeo and Juliet-esque lovers ever find their happy ending after being torn apart?  For those answers, you will have to read the book.

My only criticism of Atonement is the very last part, which seemed to drag on.  The only purpose seemed to answer the question of what happened to Robbie and Cecilia, but I think the reveal could have been done in fewer pages and still leave the reader satisfied.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars for its en pointe writing and character development.

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Fall Reading Finds

In my last few posts, I have poured my heart out and addressed aspects of my past that have lead me to where I am today.  Today, I am going to take a break from writing about my journey of self discovery and am going to focus on one of my favorite hobbies: reading.

Over the past month(ish), I have finished four books.  Go ahead, call me a nerd/dork/bookworm/introvert.  However, when I lack inspiration for writing, I read as much as I can.  If i want to be a writer someday, I feel that reading is as important to training myself as writing is.  So what has Hilary been reading?

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First up: Catch-22.  A classic book that I somehow was not forced to read in high school.  Since one of my life goals is to read all the books on the BBC book list challenge and since this books is on my list of classic books I should be ashamed I haven’t read yet, I decided it was about time I read it. To give a very brief review: this book was extremely slow moving until the last 70 pages.  I had to keep reading Sparknotes to understand just what the heck was going on.  Not that it is a hard book to read, but I kept finding my eyes glazing over every other page.  However, to give the book credit, it is supposed to be a unique novel in that its style was very different than other WWII novels at the time.  To give the book credit, some parts were funny and it had a strong message about the absurdity of war.  I wish though that I had read this book in high school to fully understand the historical and literary context.

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Gillian Flynn is a phenomenal writer.  I’m sure most of you have heard of or read her newest book, Gone Girl.  I read that book too and thought it was great, until the very end.  However, I love her development of characters, the dark themes she writes on, and the shocking twists in plot.  This book came highly recommended to me by a fellow reader I have high esteem for (my mom).  It was the beginning of October and I was looking for a creepy, dark book.  Every October I get in the mood for gory slasher flicks and twisted, suspenseful books.  Sharp Objects had everything I was looking for.  Basic premise: a woman goes back to her home town to investigate the murder of two young girls.  Like Gone Girl, this book hooks you right away and keeps you guessing until the climatic end.  It’s a short book that can easily be read in one day if you have nothing else to do, or cancel all your plans because you are so enthralled in the story (which is what happened to me).

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After reading Sharp Objects, I was hungry for more Gillian Flynn, more messed up protagonists, more crazy families, more twists, and more darkness!  Again, my reading guru suggested that I must read this next Gillian Flynn book.  Basic premise: one night a girl’s mother and two sisters are brutally murdered.  She escaped and survived.  Her brother gets blamed for the murders based on her testimony and is sentenced to life in prison.  Years later, desperate for money, she finds a group of people willing to pay her to find out what exactly happened to her family to seek justice for her brother.  Again, there are imperfect characters, a crazy family, and plot twists.  What I like about this book and Gone Girl is that the stories are told from different perspectives.  It switches from the present to the day leading up to the murder.  This book is longer than Sharp Objects, but I finished it quickly because the suspense hooks you in.  As I got closer and closer to the time of the murder, I forgot basic things like eating and sleeping.  For anyone looking for a dark, well written read, I recommend these two books.

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It was still October, and I was still on my creepy thriller kick.  After doing some Amazon.com research, I came across this book.  I remember it from working at a bookstore because I thought the cover was intriguing.  Reviews of this book said that it was a lot like Gone Girl.  Since Gillian Flynn can’t come out with new books as fast as I am reading them, I decided to give this book a try.  Basic premise: a mom finds out her daughter committed suicide at her posh high school. She then gets a text saying her daughter didn’t jump.  For the rest of the book, the mom is trying to find out what happened to her daughter.  As she does this, she starts to learn there is a lot about her daughter she didn’t know.  I went into reading this book expecting the same great writing Gillian Flynn puts out.  That was a bad idea.  This book only compares to Gillian Flynn in that it is told from multiple perspectives and is suspenseful.  I expected huge plot twists.  There were a few, but they were revealed rather casually rather than hitting you hard like Gillian Flynn’s books.  I didn’t really like the mom character.  I found her kind of flat.  The daughter, Amelia, slowly became a more complex character but compared to Gillian Flynn’s books, she was pretty tame.  Compared to Gillian Flynn’s books, the plot twists seemed very mild and not that shocking.  Maybe they  would seem shocking if you were a very sheltered person.  Additionally, there were a lot of plot holes at the end.  The whole book seemed to build up to a huge climatic ending with tons of intrigue, but then it seemed like the author got tired of writing and just ended the story as quickly as possible.

Conclusion: read Gillian Flynn. So far, I haven’t found any other books that compare to hers.

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