2016 Reading Challenge: February’s Picks

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Can you believe it’s already March?! It was just Christmas and New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, and now here we are. In case you missed it, we’re participating in Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge for 2016. It’s a really simple list that just has 12 categories, so, at the very least, you’ll read at least one book each month. That’s not to say you can’t read more, though!

This month, Deborah chose the category: a book you should have read in school. Here’s the books we each chose to read.

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Deborah read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

I actually had a couple people recommend this one. A friend from work who is my new reading buddy (I’ve actually got a book of hers sitting in my living room right now!) said that Fahrenheit 451 was one of the books she read for school that she actually enjoyed. My brother was the other one. He likes to read as much as I do, but he’s more particular about his books. I actually borrowed his copy for this part of the challenge! It was the 50th Anniversary Edition, so it had some extra stuff in the back too.

I didn’t really know much about the book before I picked it up. I know that paper catches fire at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, and I knew it was a dystopian futuristic story where they burned the books, but past that, I knew nothing. The story is about Guy Montag, a fire man. Sadly, in this world, fire men don’t put out the fires anymore; they burn the houses of people who have books. Montag firmly believes in his job at first, but after meeting Clarisse, who thinks and speaks differently from anyone else he’s ever met, and seeing his wife Millie almost succeed at an accidental suicide attempt, he starts to second guess. It starts with him snagging one of the books from a house he burns before the flames start, and it just goes from there. He makes the unfortunate mistake of trying to talk to his fire chief and then his wife about the books, but that doesn’t go as he’d hoped. His wife calls in an alarm on their own house, Chief Beatty responds to the call, and Montag watches his wife ride off in a taxi before he’s forced to burn down his own home.

I was kinda bummed by the time I finished this book because I honestly didn’t like it. I understand the sentiment it’s trying to get across, but I was disappointed in the character development. While I was reading it, I was getting a little bored, but I thought it would end up being one of those books I’d like once I’d finished it and could look back at it. Not so. I got excited when it looked like Montag was going up against the government, but then he’d lose his cool and blow the whole thing in a second! I then just got so frustrated with the character that I pretty much just powered through the last few passages just to get it over with. Would I recommend the book for pleasure reading? Probably not. But is it a relevant message in today’s world? Definitely.

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Sarah read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

When I was in high school, at the start of each school year, my English teachers would provide us students with two different lists of books. One list of books would be required reading for the year, and the other would be “suggested” titles that we would choose from for special assignments. I remember The Bell Jar being on the suggested list a few times, but I never had a desire to read it until now.

I took Creative Writing classes in middle school and we studied some of Sylvia Plath’s poetry. I knew that Ms. Plath was very talented, but she struggled with mental health issues and ended up committing suicide when she was only thirty years old. The Bell Jar, which is a semi-autobiographical account of her early life, was first published just a month before her death. Because of those things, I avoided The Bell Jar for fear of finding it depressing or disturbing. Now I can say, while it’s definitely not a feel-good read, I’m still glad I read it.

The book is very well-written—the first person narrative does an excellent job of putting you inside the narrator’s mind. At times the events seem jumbled and the thoughts become frantic, alluding to the nervous breakdown that eventually takes place. However, the voice is quite engaging. I couldn’t put the book down!

“If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

I believe to understand an author’s work, you have to understand the author. Obviously, the thoughts and feelings of the book’s main character were some of the same things the author was experiencing. I commend Sylvia Plath for opening herself up in such a way, exposing the terrible realities of depression and mental illness. She wrote The Bell Jar in a time when it was common for people to be locked away for being “crazy” and then to be experimented on with lobotomies and electroshock therapy. Mental illness was not talked about in public, lest you’d become a social outcast. Thank goodness, times have changed. I’d like to think that this book is partly responsible. There’s no doubt that The Bell Jar will continue to add Sylvia Plath’s captivating, if haunting, story to the conversation for years to come.

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Stay tuned for March’s picks! We’ll be choosing books we own but haven’t read. 

What are you currently reading? Have you read either of these books? If so, what did you think? We’d love to hear from you!

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