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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

I finished Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens a while back, and I really enjoyed it.  Be forewarned, though: if you can’t stomach reading about people living in dire poverty, skip this one.  The basic premise of the story is Oliver Twist, a young orphan boy, gets sent to a work house outside of London.  The work house was an invention by politicians of the day—the day being the 1800’s—to keep orphans off the streets.  The problem with the work houses, however, was that they were severely underfunded, so the residents subsisted on the most meager amounts of daily rations imaginable (if you’ve seen the movie “Oliver Twist,” the musical version that won the Academy Award for best picture, think “gruel,” and the song with that title that the kids all sing when eating it in the work house).  Added to that were overseers, people who managed the houses and also lived there, who were cruel to the children.  This combination of a scarce food supply and overseers without a heart for children created conditions that made for a miserable existence for the residents.

Oliver does get out of the work house, however, and gets in with a group of thieving, miscreant kids and teens and their masters Bill Sykes and Fagin, who basically own the kids, providing them with food and shelter and taking almost all of the money and goods that they steal each day (what they don’t take for themselves they give to the kids).  They basically own the kids because without them the kids would have nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat.  Let it be known that Sykes is the most ruthless, most violent, and most heartless villain I have ever encountered in literature, and there probably is no book where a villain tops him in those three qualities.  The words that come to mind when thinking of Sykes’ behavior and crimes are depraved and heinous.  If you think it will bother you to read about Sykes, please skip this novel.

On the upshot, through reading the book the reader gets to see what living in 19th-century London and its surrounding area was like, and what the people were like who lived there during that time (what their dress was like, how they talked, their mannerisms, etc.).  That is one of the great things about this novel and one of the great things about any novel that take place in the past: a novel that takes place is a snapshot of what it was like to live in that place at that time.  I also really like the book because Dickens was a really masterful storyteller; he knew how to spin a yarn.  He ended each chapter in a way that leaves the reader wanting to know what’s going to happen in the next one. Another thing I like about this novel and the other I’ve read by Dickens so far, Great Expectations, is that they both feature main characters (Oliver, and Pip in Great Expectations) who have tenacious perseverance and endurance in trying to improve their lives in the face of oppressive living conditions.  (Dickens, it is well know, was a very outspoken social critic, and in Oliver Twist the point he wanted to make as a social critic was that the politicians of the day in London should have dealt with orphans in a good, life-affirming way, not by sending them to the deplorable work houses.)  So, do Oliver and Pip improve their lives in the end?  You will have to read the books to find out!

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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Review: Joyland

Hmmm, what can I say about the latest installment in Stephen King’s extraordinarily impressive (and, make no mistake, it is very impressive) oeuvre?  Well, how about that it’s a ton of fun, especially to read during the summer?  That’s not only a good start, it’s a good way to sum it up.  As for the specifics, it’s about a young man, age 21, named Devon Jones, a college student attending school in New Hampshire who decides to go work at an amusement park by the beach in North Carolina for the summer before his senior year, and the mystery he finds there.

 

Don’t worry, I mean not to give away too much of this book (I’m always conscious of that when writing reviews).  Suffice it to say that there has been a murder at this particular amusement park, and the murder is unsolved.  From there–you guessed it–it turns into a whodunnit, but not just any whodunnit.  As with all of King’s best work, it’s replete with characters you want to get to know and know more about, as well as a highly entertaining story.  Let’s face it, King is an American treasure when it comes to storytelling- he’s a great storyteller, plain and simple.  In fact, I know of no better storyteller out of all the authors who have written and who are writing today.

 

As the plot of the book thickened, I delighted in wondering who committed the murder.  Another great thing about this book is that it’s only around 300 pages long, which was a nice break for me, since I read a lot of 900-plus-page novels.  Oh, I almost forgot: it’s a love story, too.  And Stephen King is great at writing love stories.  Just look at the love relationships in Bag of Bones or 11/22/63 to see what I mean; love in the stories he writes is powerful, elating, and exuberant! One more thing about the book: as with many or most of King’s work, there is a supernatural element in it.  Enough said.  Go out there and buy this one (it’s available in paperback only, as per Stephen’s request- it’s not available in ebook format) and enjoy.  There is no better summer read, and very few up there with it!

Rating (out of five stars): 5
 
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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Review: Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson

Okay.  Let’s not be too hasty now.  After all, this novel weighs in at over 900 pages.  That said, it’s still a delight.  Taking place in Europe–mostly London, Amsterdam, and Paris–and in colonial Boston, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, it’s full of characters, and I do mean full.  If there aren’t hundreds of characters in the book, the number is close to that.  What’s fun about this is that some of the characters are actual famous personages from the time period, such as Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke, and Liebniz.  All three of these people did form the real organization called the Royal Society of London, whose doings are a central focus of the book.

 

The Royal Society was composed of “natural philosophers,” scientists looking to explain the world by observing it and by geometry and calculus.  Among this crowd is the fictitious character Daniel Waterhouse, by origin a Quaker, whose father, Drake, was considered a radical in his day for his anti-establishment, i.e. anti-monarchist, ideas.  Other main characters are the vagabond Jack Shaftoe and Eliza, a stunningly beautiful woman he rescues during a rebellion involving the Turks.  The section of the book involving these two meeting and their subsequent travels together is picaresque: these two are out to make money by selling the plumes of an ostrich that was running around where Jack discovered Eliza, and their travels together are an adventure.

 

I had a lot of fun reading this book and look forward to reading the other two installments in the trilogy (each is also over 900 pages long).  Mostly the fun lies in reading about Stephenson’s imaginings of what life was like during that time in Europe and Boston.  There are so many characters that I often had to ask myself, ‘Now who is this character again?’  But that wasn’t a drawback.  Stephenson draws you into the story very well with his prose, and there is a lot of humor in the tale.  And it’s exciting to see the advances that Newton, Liebniz, Hooke, and the other natural philosophers make in society.
 
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Posted by on July 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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New Posts

Hi folks,
I’m writing this post to let you know that from now until the middle of December my new posts will be few and far between, if I post at all, as I am working on my masters in elementary education with k-8 teaching licensure during this time. Thank you for being patient with me, and I will resume weekly, new posts again in December.

Until then, happy reading (I’m so looking forward to Christopher Paolini’s new book- the fourth in his Inheritance series- and Stephen King’s new book, both coming out next month)!

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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