The Sea Wolf – by Jack London (1904)

the-sea-wolf

It is not often that I take to reading a “classic”. Most often, I find them overly-wordy and well, boring. But while sick in bed this week, I looked on my library’s website for an audio-book to download. This one caught my eye, as it was read aloud by none other than Frank Muller, one of my favorite narrators.

During a voyage on the Pacific Ocean, Humphrey vanWeyden’s ship is hit and he is flung into the water. After drifting apart from the other survivors, he is picked up by “The Ghost”, a schooner hunting seals. Instead of being pampered as a gentleman, Humphrey is treated harshly by the insane captain, Wolf Larsen. Poor Humphrey – or Hump, as the captain calls him – has never worked a day in his life, and being the cook’s dishwasher and potato-peeler is a great indignity.

It quickly becomes obvious that everyone on board is treated as a slave by the Wolf, and there is no escape. Life becomes a struggle to survive both the physical abuse and the psychological terror. Later, “The Ghost” picks up the survivors of yet another shipwreck, including a young woman, Maud Brewster, who is a poet. Everyone aboard yearns to be free of Wolf Larsen and his tyranny, but it is an almost-impossible battle to win.

I don’t think I would have liked reading this as a regular book, but it certainly was enjoyable listening to Frank Muller’s rich, animated voice read it. He really made the book come alive. I can honestly say I enjoyed this classic.

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The Good Earth – by Pearl S. Buck (1931)

the-good-earth

 

Some time back I bought this audiobook from the library’s used book sale. Last week I pulled it out and started listening. “The Good Earth” is the story of a humble Chinese farmer named Wang Lung. Wang is the only child of his poor father, and has had a slave woman, O-Lan, chosen to be his wife. The story begins on his wedding day. Life is hard for the young newlyweds, but they are both hard workers, and their labor together in the fields yields profitable crops. Children are born to them, and life is good.

But as usually happens, good seasons are interspersed with times of trial. Wang and O-Lan suffer through droughts, flooding and a locust plague. At one point, they are a whisper away from starvation, as is everyone in the community. But they manage to survive and rebuild their farm.

I truly enjoyed the first part of this novel. I admired Wang’s love for the land, and his devotion to his aged father and his wife. I loved O-Lan, her loyalty to her husband and children, and her untiring work to make their little sod house a good home. But as Wang left poverty behind and became wealthy, he became a different man. He was mostly concerned with being numbered among the rich, buying more land, and having the women he wanted. As the years went by, his sons became arrogant and like their father. By the end of the book, I despised both Wang and his sons.

The author grew up in China, and lived there about half of her life, so it is natural that she would use it as the setting for her books. But it seems to me that stories such as these portray the country of China in a very undesirable light. The story includes infanticide, prostitution, incest, concubines, mob relatives, and opium addiction, while making it sound as if it was all perfectly normal. Were these things really that acceptable in Chinese culture? I sincerely hope not. I finished the book, but was sickened by the depressing ending. Despite this book being given the prestigious Pulitzer Prize For The Novel award in 1932, I cannot recommend this book.

A Christmas Carol – by Charles Dickens (1843)

A Christmas Carol

Book cover of the 2014 Penguin Books edition

You’ve probably seen at least one version of the movie. The earliest was the 1938 black-and-white one starring Reginald Owen and Gene Lockhart, followed by another black-and-white version in 1951 with Alastair Sim. Or the 1971 animated short, with Alastair Sim performing the voice of Scrooge. Then there was the 1984 movie with George C. Scott, the 1992 Muppet version, the 1997 animation, the 1999 Patrick Stewart one, the 2009 animated Jim Carrey one, and a Scottish version that is currently being made. So many ways to watch the story, but… have you read the actual story?

I checked out a copy of the book from my public library, and dug in. As I expected, the language was a bit different, since it was written over 150 years ago. There were some words that we just don’t use anymore, but the story was still very understandable.

What really struck me were the religious themes. Marley’s ghost seems to be stuck in Purgatory, and unable to get out of it because of his self-centeredness and lack of caring about others in his earthly life. The spirits showing Scrooge around made me think of the eternalness of God – He’s in the past, the present, the future. And finally, Scrooge is given a second chance to change his life, just the way God offers each of us a second chance.

It’s a great book to read this time of year. It’s short – a little over 100 pages. You can find it at your bookstore, local library, or even free online at websites like Pagebypage.com or the Gutenberg Project.

http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Charles_Dickens/A_Christmas_Carol/
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46

To Kill A Mockingbird – by Harper Lee (1960)

To Kill A Mockingbird

“To Kill A Mockingbird” centers around the Finch family in the small fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. The head of the household is Atticus, a widower and a lawyer, a man of deep religious and moral convictions. He has a son – Jem, a daughter – Jean Louise (Scout), and a black housekeeper – Calpurnia. Atticus is older than most fathers of young children in town, and the Finch family lives in a neighborhood of mostly senior citizens, so the children grow up mostly playing by themselves and being around older people. The first 80 pages or so focus on the day-to-day life and conversations of the Finch family, and set the base for the rest of the book.

Then the story really takes off. Atticus becomes the defense attorney for a black man charged with attempted rape of a white woman. As it is the 1930’s, there is still widespread segregation and mistrust between the two races. Many in town consider it disgraceful that Atticus is trying to get Tom Robinson acquitted. The racial prejudice affects everyone in town, either directly or indirectly.

There are many things to love in this classic novel – the close brother-sister relationship of Jem and Scout, the quirky character of the neighbors, the mystery of the man across the street, the depth of Atticus’ nature, and the two sides to Calpurnia. The amusing conversations of the children are mixed into the story to keep it from becoming too heavy and depressing. The account of the trial is very well written, and makes Atticus shine.

But the thing I enjoy most about this book is the way Atticus speaks to his children, as if they are grown-ups not children. He instills in them a love and respect for people of all racial and social groups. It doesn’t seem to bother him in the slightest when others disagree with him and mock him. Atticus teaches his family to walk to the beat of a different drummer, and to not be afraid when trouble comes.

Excerpt:

“Scout,” said Atticus, “when summer comes you’ll have to keep your head about far worse things . . . it’s not fair for you and Jem, I know that, but sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down – well, all I can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe you’ll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn’t let you down. This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”

“Atticus, you must be wrong . . .”

“How’s that?”

“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong . . .”

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”