Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (2015)

Summary

Two decades after To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch returns home to visit her father, Atticus Finch. It is a bittersweet trip that painfully challenges Scout’s values and her opinions of the people close to her.

Review

Go Set a Watchman was an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was recently rediscovered and controversially published this year.

The writing felt messy and sluggish, but that isn’t surprising since it’s a rejected and unedited manuscript. The book particularly dragged in the second half, where the conversations were too long and unrefined (not to mention sickeningly racist).

The thing that upset readers most about Watchman was the characterization of Atticus Finch. America’s beloved ethical hero from Mockingbird is a racist in Watchman. Some people think Atticus must have always been racist and search for signs of it in Mockingbird; others think he may have transformed as he got older. I don’t think either is true, because I don’t think it’s the same character. Watchman was written before Mockingbird Atticus existed. Watchman was an early draft and the character evolved into something different before the final version, Mockingbird, was published. Regardless, one of the themes of Watchman is that if you idolize someone, you set yourself up to to be disappointed. There’s something to be learned from that.

I don’t think Watchman should have been published and reading it makes me appreciate Harper Lee’s editors who helped her transform her ideas into Mockingbird.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Racism
  • Life-altering realizations
  • The American South
  • Racists defending racist beliefs

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

Summary

Scout Finch is a young girl growing up in the segregated south in the 1930s. Her father, Atticus Finch, is an attorney who takes a case to prove the innocence of a black man accused of rape.

Review

To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic and I reread it in preparation for Go Set a Watchman‘s release.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Classics
  • Racism
  • Injustice
  • Coming of age stories
  • The American South in the 1930s

Kindred

Kindred - CoverKindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

Summary

Dana, a young black woman from the 1970’s, gets spontaneously thrust back in time to the slave society of the early 1800’s. She meets her ancestors (both white and black), endures life as a slave, and even time travels a couple times with her white husband (whom they have to pretend is her owner).

Review

I thought this novel about Dana’s dual life as a modern woman and as a slave was brilliant. She struggles with trying to change attitudes toward slavery while also ensuring that her lineage stays intact, fearing she might cease to exist.

The time travel mechanic is never explained, but that’s because it’s not what the book is really about. Kindred brings slavery to life through the eyes of a modern protagonist, making it feel present instead of something that happened a long time ago. It deals with issues of both race and gender as well as survival, relationships, and freedom.

Everyone should read this book.

You might like this book if you like…

  • The antebellum South
  • Racial & gender issues
  • Time travel
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

A Wrinkle in Time

If I read A Wrinkle in Time in my childhood, I forgot about it, so I thought I ought to read this beloved sci-fi/fantasy classic.

Summary

A Wrinkle in TimeMeg is an awkward teenager whose father mysteriously disappeared years ago while on a top secret mission for the government. Together with her five-year-old telepathic savant brother, Charles Wallace, and their new friend, Calvin, she gets caught up in an adventure to save her father, who has been lost in time and space.

Review

Keeping in mind that A Wrinkle in Time is a children’s book, I felt like it was a let down.

The book was very black and white, good vs. evil. The Christian influence was too heavy-handed and I didn’t like how the book ended with a quick, love-conquers-all conclusion.

Another part of the problem was with the characters. Meg was whiny and self-loathing. Charles Wallace’s abilities and use of language were weird and unbelievable. Calvin was largely forgettable except for his strange, over-the-top praising of the Murray house.

That said, there were some good things about the book. Having a young, female, math-loving protagonist in a sci-fi/fantasy book in 1962 is pretty awesome. Unlike your typical hero, she’s also full of faults, which makes her feel more relatable. I also like how Meg’s view of her father changed from an omnipotent idol who can fix any problem to a flawed, uncertain person like her. That’s a fairly deep thing to have in a children’s book.

You might like this book if you like…

  • The battle of good (light, love, guardian angels, individuality) vs. evil (dark, black, cold, conformity)
  • Christian themes
  • Space and time travel
  • Narcoleptic fortune tellers
  • Illusions of delicious turkey dinners
  • Faceless tentacle creatures

And if you like A Wrinkle in Time, there are four other books in the series.

I, Robot

I, Robot

Summary

I, Robot is a series of short stories about robots by Isaac Asimov in the 1940’s. They illustrate Asimov’s fictional history of robotics in the 20th and 21st centuries, along with some of the challenges U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. encountered with their robot models.

Programmed into almost all of U.S. Robots’ positronic robots are The Three Laws of Robotics, which can’t be bypassed:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Most of the stories in I, Robot are about how the robots interpret The Three Laws in unintended ways.

Review

I, Robot is a classic work of science-fiction and, despite being over 60 years old, still remains relevant today. It is thought-provoking, funny, and chilling. My favorite stories were “Reason” (about a robot that doesn’t believe it was created by humans) and “Little Lost Robot” (about a robot that tries to hide itself after being told to get lost).

If you’ve seen the 2004 movie I, Robot starring Will Smith, don’t expect the book to be like the movie. Other than Asimov’s Three Laws and some of the character names, they don’t have much in common.

Twelve Years a Slave

Summary

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave is a memoir by Solomon Northup, a free-born black man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. For 12 years, Northup worked on cotton and sugarcane plantations in Louisiana before he was ultimately rescued and able to go home to his wife and children.

I can speak of Slavery only so far as it came under my own observation — only so far as I have known and experienced it in my own person. My object is, to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage.

Review

Twelve Years a Slave is truly a remarkable narrative and I was blown away by the amount of detail it contained. Solomon Northup provided fascinating and painful insight into what slave life was like.

So we passed, hand-cuffed and in silence, through the streets of Washington — through the Capital of a nation, whose theory of government, we were told, rests on the foundation of man’s inalienable right to life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness.

I read the enhanced edition by Sue Eakin, who spent her life researching Solomon Northup’s story. When she was twelve, she read a copy of the book, which had disappeared into obscurity by then. Eakin dedicated her life to researching Solomon Northup’s story and she breathed life into it again by republishing in 1968, annotated with her extensive research notes.

Movie

Solomun Northup’s story was turned into a movie, 12 Years a Slave, which received the Academy Award for Best Picture earlier this month.

Obviously, there are some deviations from the book in the movie (like omitting Northup’s escape from Tibeats through the swamp), but, for the most part, it stays very true to the book, even quoting some of it verbatim. Definitely worth seeing.

Flowers for Algernon

I picked up Flowers for Algernon at a book sale in the fall and after seeing a Reddit post about it last month, I decided to bump it to the front of my queue.

Flowers for AlgernonSummary

Charlie Gordon, a 37-year-old man with an IQ of 68, takes classes at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults to better himself. When Charlie is chosen to be the test subject for a surgery that could drastically improve his mental performance, he’s ecstatic because he’s wanted to be smart his entire life.

Within a few months of the operation, Charlie’s IQ nearly triples. The college students and professors he so admired now seem amateurish and ignorant. While he has grown intellectually, though, Charlie is still lagging behind emotionally, making relationships difficult.

I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.

When Algernon, the mouse who got the surgery before Charlie, starts acting erratically, Charlie and his researchers worry about what will happen to Charlie.

Review

Warning: My review contains spoilers!

Who knew a missing apostrophe could be so heart-breaking?

Flowers for Algernon is told through a series of progress reports written by Charlie. His first several reports are full of misspellings and grammatical errors. As he grows intellectually, there are fewer and fewer errors and then none. Even though I knew what was coming at the end of the book, it was still so sad to see that first missing apostrophe. 🙁

It was painful to see Charlie break out in anger over his mental deterioration, because he knew what was happening and although he was trying, there wasn’t anything he could do to prevent it. My grandfather has Alzheimer’s and I couldn’t help but think about him when I read that part.

Although it’s tragic, I highly recommend Flowers for Algernon. If reading isn’t really your thing, there is a short story version that some people recommend even more than the novel. I haven’t read the short story, so I can’t say which I prefer. Either way, go forth and read it!