“To know how to read is to light a lamp in the mind, to release the soul from prison, to open a gate to the universe.” (Pearl S. Buck)
How fast time flies! I just wrote my 2016 Great Reads list few months ago and here I am writing a 2017 edition. Truth be told, this year has been so busy and I honestly slacked off in my readings. Nevertheless, allow me to share these few books I read this year that have found a special place in my heart.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre, a story of a young governess who fell in love with her employer (Mr. Rochester), is a classic tale set in 19th century England.
Jane views herself as a small, plain and obscure. Mr. Rochester is a single man with an orphan at his charge — Adele, whom Jane teaches at Thornfield Hall. Rochester’s attraction to Jane is attributed by their intellectual exchanges and by her ability to withstand his severe, domineering presence.
Despite their declaration of love for each other, Jane is forced to leave. Her despair is not simply the result of her feelings for Mr. Rochester- it is her discovery of a secret he has kept from her.
This novel strengthens the idea that in matters of love, honesty and acceptance are essential. And most importantly, wherever life may lead you, you will find yourself longing for that one person whom your heart desires.
I would say that this novel is one the best books I have ever read. Present in this masterpiece is the conflict between truth and acceptance, passion and morality, and a struggle for independence. They both truly loved each other but conscience tells her it is wrong to engage in such affair. What is amazing in this novel though is that the mind wins over the heart, or should I say Jane’s morality won over her passion. Because to do such a thing (to run away from love because you know it is the right thing to do) is not easy. She goes on saying:
“Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt! May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonized as in that hour left my lips: for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.”
In the end, it was a happy novel where love wins because Jane and Rochester, after being separated by their tribulations, are reunited and they know this time around, their love’s right.
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Gustave Flaubert’s highly-acclaimed novel was set in mid-1800s Normandy, France, where a farmer’s daughter Emma marries a young doctor, Charles Bovary. With colossal ambition for a fairy-tale future like the ones she reads about in novels, she moves in with Charles with hopes of Utopian happiness.
But marriage doesn’t live up to Emma’s romantic expectations. Charles loves Emma but is preoccupied by his work. Throughout their marriage, Emma is bored and finds her husband’s dullness repulsive. She also encounters people and events which leads her to become more and more discontent with her life. She slowly turns into a materialistic and pleasure-seeking wife, to the extent of engaging in affairs with other men to seek fulfillment. With shame and terror of her infidelity and mounting debt, she dies in a painful suicide by arsenic.
This is indeed a tragic story but very thought-provoking. At one glance, you can say it is an adulteress’ tale of misfortune and that what happened to her was her own selfish doing. Others would also contradict that Emma is just a victim of circumstance and that she doesn’t deserve a terrible bashing that lasts until now. Well for sure, everyone deserves forgiveness but the truth ought to be highlighted that adultery should never be tolerated and the lessons Madame Bovary has taught us must never be forgotten.
I am no literary expert, but having an in-depth analysis of Emma’s character opens our eyes to a not-so-surprising reality that we are all like her. Like Emma, we have our motives that if left unchecked are very detrimental to us. We daydream of things we want to achieve, that we forget to savor the present. While dreaming for the future is not totally bad, what is wrong is failing to actually live in the moment where it could potentially shape the realization of those aspirations.
It is also note-worthy to point out that Emma’s envious desires are influenced by circumstances around her — the extravagant ball, the exquisite and expensive items sold to her by that merchant, the tempting men she met. Relating it into our lives, how many times have you found yourself being envious of what others have? This is something that we must all be vigilant about.
As Lydia Davis (Madame Bovary English translator), writes in her introduction, Flaubert was “holding up a mirror to the middle- and lower-middle-class world of his day, with all its little habits, fashions, fads.” I say, reading this novel is like holding up a mirror to yourself, you reflect and learn from it.
3. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
This novel is often cited to as Jane Austen’s Gothic parody. The story’s protagonist is Catherine Morland, an unwordly seventeen-year-old woman who spends a few weeks in Bath with a family friend. Catherine meets families and people through dances and dinners and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit Northanger Abbey, his family estate.
While there, Catherine, an avid reader of Gothic thrillers, allows the gloomy air of the old mansion to fill her thoughts with appalling suspicions such as the death of Henry’s mother or the hidden family secrets. Catherine creates terrible warnings in the most ordinary incident, until Henry made her realize to see the menace in mixing reality with fiction.
I must admit I had difficulty reading the first part of the novel. I wasn’t really able to follow the pacing of events. I think Austen’s style of writing at this time (this is her first completed novel) is too much for me compared to her other novels. But I was able to adjust after a few attempts of re-reading the first parts. (Hehehe I am not ashamed to confess that it indeed took me awhile to continue to the next chapter because I want to make sure that I understand what I just read.)
So my take away for this novel is that how crucial it is for us to be great judges of character. Like we need to know how to read and understand people. Many mistakes and failures in our lives can be attributed to the lack of this ability. For instance, Catherine befriended Isabella and never noticed how worldly and quite ambitious she is to the point that she really adored her and pushed his brother’s engagement to Isabella. Even Catherine’s family approved of this because they indeed thought she was fit for James because of her joyous countenance. Later on they knew she was a materialistic woman and broke off with James when she got a chance to flirt with a rich man.
Same is true with our lives, the people we meet everyday have their stories that at first are unknown to us. We begin to spend more days and weeks, months and years with them but we can really never tell if we have fully known them. It takes a keen observation and good judgment to choose who are these few but significant people whom you can really trust and are worth your loyalty too.
Also, this novel shows the importance of levelheadedness, logic and reasoning. I can really relate to Catherine because sometimes (just sometimes), I confuse reality and art, wrongfully connect the past and the present, and I am such a sensitive over thinker. It is no fun. It is perilous. One time I had my bouts of overthinking, a very wise handsome man reminded me of Matthew 6:27, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”. Let’s say amen to that!
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel set in the 1930s in the Southern United States. Scout Finch and her brother Jem, live with their father Atticus in Maycomb, Alabama.
Scout and Jem learn that their father is going to speak on behalf of a black man named Tom Robinson, who is accused of violating a white woman. They have to face an avalanche of racial allegations because of Atticus’ representation in the case.
Tom is convicted though Atticus showed strong arguments that Tom could not have possibly done the crime. There was a report later on that Tom Robinson had been killed in an attempt to escape. In the end, Scout learns to see people with how they are, and not be daunted by prejudices.
In its simplicity, this novel is moving and compelling. It has a forceful political message regarding the oppressed lives of African-Americans in 1930s America, and the hostility they have to deal with every day. With Atticus’ boldness, he defends Tom Robinson despite the negativity of others.
As James Topham said, “Beautifully written, evocative, tender, but with a passionate message that drives the novel’s action, To Kill a Mockingbird is rightfully a much loved and much-studied classic. A tale of childhood, but also a tale of how the world should be (and how we can change it), the book lives on in the hearts of those who have read it well after the final page has been turned.”
So there’s my 4 Great Reads this year (I know I haven’t been reading diligently). If you have read these books please do feel free to share your thoughts about what you’ve learned from them. And I also accept book suggestion for year 2018.
And again, let me leave you with these words from Ray Bradbury: “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them”. Together, let us read! Happy reading!