Considering how busy I was, I actually read quite a lot in June. Granted, most of these were classics that I read with my study group, but since I enjoyed the majority of them, I’d still count that as a win. Which just goes to show that required reading can actually be very useful – it pushes you to read books you might not have picked up otherwise, and sometimes, you find some real gems that way. However, before I go off on a teacher-y tangent, here’s what I read this month:
Middlemarch by George Eliot (3.5/5 Stars)
This book has such a broad scope that it’s almost impossible to summarize what it’s about in only a few sentences, but I’ll do my best to give you the gist. Basically, we follow a bunch of different characters in the English town of Middlemarch, in the years leading up to the Reform Bill of 1832. There’s idealistic and self-sacrificing Dorothea Brooke, who decides to marry an old scholar called Edward Casaubon and quickly realizes that the marriage is not exactly what she had hoped for. There’s the handsome young artist Will Ladislaw, whom, much to her husband’s displeasure, Dorothea quickly becomes friends with. The new doctor, Tertius Lydgate, who soon falls in love with beautiful, but spoiled, Rosamond Vincey. Fred Vincey and Mary Garth, two childhood sweethearts who are kept apart by Fred’s gambling habits. Mrs. Bulstrode, who’s pretty much the village gossip. And probably at least ten more. Middlemarch gives us a glimpse of the small-town life the British upper class experienced at the time, covering aspects such as politics, medicine, and, especially, marriage. It has a relatively slow start, and it took a while for me to figure out who all these people were, but once I did, I actually started really enjoying myself. Especially for the last 200 pages or so, I couldn’t put it down. However, since this is over 900 pages long, be prepared to invest quite a lot of time before it gets really interesting. Nevertheless, Middlemarch provides a good glimpse into the time period, covers some very important social topics, and was extremely influential on literature that followed. If you’re a seasoned classics reader, I think you might really like this, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to someone looking to get into classics.
An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir (5/5 Stars)
This is a dual-perspective YA fantasy novel that I absolutely loved. Our first main character, Laia, was raised by her grandparents after her father and mother were killed for rebelling against the current regime. When her grandparents are murdered and her brother is taken prisoner for treason against the Martial Empire, Laia is determined to get him back at all costs, even if it means turning to the rebels for help. However, they aren’t just about to rescue Darin in exchange for nothing. They need a spy within the walls of Blackcliff Academy, the training grounds of the Empire’s most ruthless soldiers. So, disguised as a slave, Laia is smuggled in, well aware that any mistake here could cost her her life. Our second main character, Elias, is also at Blackcliff, but for very different reasons. He has been training to become a Mask all his life and is already one of the academy’s finest soldiers. Little do his comrades know that Elias is not as happy with that fate as he seems – he’s been planning to desert for months, but before he gets the chance, he’s ordered to participate in a brutal competition designed to choose the next Martial emperor. This book had everything I look for in a good fantasy – a unique setting and characters, intrigue and deception, great, but complicated friendships, and just a touch of magic. I have high hopes for this series, and I’m glad I finally picked it up!
King Richard II (Lancaster Tetralogy #1) by William Shakespeare (3/5 Stars)
This is the first Shakespeare history I’ve read, so now I’ve finally read at least one play from each of the three big categories. This one, as the title suggests, tells the story of the downfall of King Richard II. Though he is the legitimate king by right of birth, many see him as a tyrant and an irresponsible ruler, and when Richard seizes the title and property that rightfully belong to his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, he provokes a war that will change the political landscape of England forever. Though this play didn’t blow me away, it was interesting, and I learned a lot about British history while reading up on the actual historical background. Plus, one thing I did really like about it was the language – King Richard has some of the most beautiful and thoughtful speeches in the Shakespeare plays I’ve read so far, and I actually quite enjoyed analyzing excerpts of them. If you think that makes me weird, just remember that I decided to study English 😉
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (4/5 Stars)
Everybody is probably familiar with the plot of this to some extent: Dorian Gray is a beautiful, carefree young man, who is having his picture painted by artist Basil Hallward. During one of these sessions, Sir Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil’s, talks to Dorian about the fleeting beauty of youth, prophesizing that Dorian will lose the advantages he now has once he ages. Dorian, deeply moved by Wotton’s speech, then makes a wish he will come to regret: He wants to stay young and beautiful forever; instead of him, his portrait should be the one to age. This is a tale about the power of beauty, of decadence and evil, and apart from one exceedingly boring chapter that only described gemstones, foreign musical instruments, books and whatnot, I really enjoyed it. The way this was written gave it a lot of ambiance and, despite Dorian being an extremely unlikeable protagonist, I somehow kept rooting for him anyway. Plus, after all the Shakespeare I’ve been reading recently, I had a lot of fun with all the Shakespeare references in here (the girl Dorian is infatuated with is an actress). Also, this book has way more homoerotic tension than I was expecting – honestly, the amount of times men stare at each other’s lips in here… It’s quite a surprise people didn’t suspect Oscar Wilde of being gay sooner. But I’m not complaining. I had a lot of fun with this and truly appreciated its darker vibes!
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (3/5 Stars)
One of the earliest science fiction books written, The Time Machine tells the tale of a man who has successfully created a machine allowing him to travel through time. As the Time Traveller tells the narrator and some other guests at a dinner party, he has just come back from a trip to the year 802,700, in which humans have evolved into two types of creatures: the perfectly harmonious, but rather stupid Eloi and the sinister Morlocks, who live underground and mostly come up at night. In a story charged with 19th century social criticism, the Time Traveller recounts the adventures he had in the future. I thought this story was okay, but I didn’t love it, either. Its strongest points were definitely its social commentary and the theories it presented to explain how time travel works, but the rest of the story felt pretty mediocre. I didn’t really get attached to the characters, who were mostly flat types without names, and the plot was pretty straightforward. Science fiction has definitely evolved since this was published!