Book Reports

“Goodbye, Columbus”

“Goodbye, Columbus” is a novel written by Philip Roth in the sixties, the era in which the book is set. It is about the love relationship between the two characters: Neil Klugman and Brenda Patimkin. He is  a poor Newark boy, and she’s from the suburban Short Hills.

The story is narrated from the point of view of the protagonist, Neil, who is a 23-year-old Jewish man who lives with his uncle and aunt. Both of them are simple and modest workers with an unusual personality. A veteran of the army, Neil works  in a library and he doesn’t have any particular project or ambition to look forward to.

On the other hand, Brenda and her family, composed of her parents, her oldest brother, Ronald, and her younger sister, Julie, are completely different. They are pretty  rich and interested in social life and appearances, especially Mrs. Patimkin. At first these strong differences do not seem to frustrate the characters but the progress of the relationship became more and more evident. Brenda’ s parents do not like Neil because he  is not from a wealthy family and does not have a great job either. Mr Patimkin is more open minded and tolerant, but Mrs. Patimkin is superficial with no regard for others’ feelings especially Brenda’s. In fact, Neil’s presence worsens the already conflicted  mother-daughter relationship. Instead Ronald and Julie get on well with Neil because they only consider his personality and not his background.

Although the plot is not one of the most original things I’ve read, this book is particular for the subtle characterization of the main characters. In fact, thanks to the accurate descriptions, the reader is able to clearly define each character– from Aunt Gladys, Neil’s aunt, to Mr. Scapello, Neil’s boss.

While P. Roth does not describe characters physically, he describes their habits, lifestyle and behavior instead. Moreover, a lot of details the reader can get come from the dialogue.

For example, we do not know why Neil lives with his uncle and aunt. At first, the reader is led to believe that his parents are dead, until Brenda asks him and it is revealed that that is not the real reason why he lives with his uncle and aunt. It turns out they are not dead; they live in Florida, but Neil prefered to remain in Newark with his job. The relationship between the protagonist and his job in the library is particular. He likes working there but he considers it only as temporary work. Anyway, while he does not really care about his job, he enjoys observing people, especially a poor black kid whom Neil befriends.

More interested in his job are Brenda and his parents who do not find it enough. This is one of the reasons  there is a constant tension in the young couple. Indeed they belong to two very different worlds and this makes Neil feel a strong sense of inadequacy.

The language that Roth uses is quite simple, but not banal. In fact the book alternates parts of narrative, which are the more difficult, and parts of speech that are easier for the informal way in which they are written.

Even if the reader knows from the start that the novel would not have a happy ending, it is is still an interesting book that shows and describes the 60’s reality in the US–it not only describes the social differences between Brenda and Neil, but also between white and black people.

Book Reports

“Catcher in the Rye”

Holden Caulfield, 17-year-old boy who goes to a boarding school, gets kicked out of the academy due to his poor grades. He plans to leave the campus and head to New York before the vacation, so that his family would not notice. For the duration before he leaves, he gets into huge quarrel with his roommate, Stradlater. An awkward relationship compels Holden to leave the place earlier than his planned date. After he reaches the hotel in New York, Holden has the interesting experience of seeing a “very distinguished-looking guy” taking “out all women’s clothes, and put[ting] them on”, and “a man and a woman squirting water out of their mouths at each other.” This is a simple summary of the first hundred pages that I’ve read.

“Such an unique novel.” This thought came to my mind after I started reading the book, “The Catcher in the Rye.” “Unique” may sound vague, and some may ask why I chose this word for description. It is simply because there was some distinguishing factor this novel had that I never seen in other books. The way the protagonist narrated the story allowed this novel to strengthen its originality. Holden’s narration is more conversational compared to majority of other novels which often follow certain plot and use formal language. In comparison, Holden talked almost always in an informal language, using words such as [deleted], [deleted] and [deleted] frequently. He also often did not follow the flow of the book, and jumped on to a different topic. These distinguishing factors which may sound puzzling to the readers, actually made the story so much easier, interesting, and enjoyable to read.

As I have stated above, this book was viewed from the first person. This was one thing that I enjoyed since it gives the reader a realistic vision of what Holden feels, sees, senses, and observes as he goes through various experiences. Furthermore, Holden gives so much background information as he explains his life experiences. This was another interesting part of reading since it was not written like a typical book stating the details, but was written in such way that attracts the audience. For instance, when Holden talked about baseball in his narration, he suddenly changed the topic to his past younger brother who was very intelligent and loved to play baseball. Like this, this story was not formed on top of the background information, but was developed as the story flowed.

During the first part of the story, my impression of the main character, Holden Caulfield, is that he is slow and dim, which is how he explains about himself. The fact that he had failed five subjects obviously proves his stupidity in his academic learning. However, seeing the words he uses in his narration as well as his attitudes towards people made me think that he may be consciously making himself look stupid. In order to find out more about Holden as a character, I will need to be keep on reading, though.

There was one factor which made me very interested in Holden: the fact that he barely talked about people in positive way. For instance, when he describes people at the school including Stradlater and Ackley, and other faculty members, he talks in such negative way, using many words that makes the readers see those character in a negative way. The only people he talks positively about are his younger sister, Phoebe, and his brother, Allie, who passed away due to leukemia. As I noticed these differences, it flickered through my mind that this may have something to do with the fact that he prefers to be alone at school, separating himself from his friends, as if he is trying to stymie himself from establishing friendship with them.

Again, these factors in the book bring me back to the word “unique.” The characters, their personalities, narration, and the stories — everything was new and unique for me. And I’m excited to find out more about Holden and his story as I continue reading this book.

Book Reports

“The Great Gatsby”

The book “The Great Gatsby”, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, has a first-person narrator, a man named  Nick, who also writes the story. His family has pushed him to attend a business college. He had moved recently to New York and  lived near a guy called Gatsby, who was very rich and had a mansion. The narrator introduces two more characters to the book: Daisy — Nick’s cousin — and Tom, her husband. There is a green light coming from Gatsby’s mansion that intrigates Nick because he doesn’t know what that is.

Nick and Tom were in a train heading New York and Tom convinced him to get out of the train in one of the stops. They went to George Wilson’s house (whose wife was Tom’s lover). They went to New York and threw a party there and Tom got drunk. At this point, Gatsby is well known but no one seems to have a concrete information about him; he is mysterious.

One of the things that Gatsby was known for was that he threw huge parties at his house. One day he invited Nick, who went to the party. When he got there he heard a lot of people talking about Gatsby. No one  really knew where he and his wealth came from. A woman named Jordan speculates that Gatsby is a German Spy, graduated from Oxford and had already killed a person. At the party, Nick sat at a table with a man who said he looked familiar and introduced himself as Jay Gatsby. Nick noticed that Gatsby put himself out of the party and stayed watching his guests. Nick starts to be attracted to Jordan who had a mysterious conversation with Gatsby.

Nick went to a trip to New York with Gatsby who started talking about his life but the stories seem a little improbable and Nick is not believing Gatsby. Nick meets Jordan in New York and she tells him about the mysterious conversation that she had with Gatsby. He was in love with Nick’s cousin Daisy for a long time and Gatsby wanted Nick to invite her to Nick’s house for drinking tea and Gatsby would show up there to see the love of his life.

When Nick was back at his house, he was surprised that Gatsby’s house was quiet. He saw Gatsby, who seemed very exited and nervous. Gatsby was trying to make Nick feel good because he wanted Nick to help him with the plan to get Daisy back. Nick agreed with it.

On the day of the encounter, Gatsby was very nervous and sent someone to cut Nick’s grass and sent flowers to him. He was worried that, even if they got back, it would not be the same as it was when they were young. The encounter was pretty good and they even forgot that Nick was there. At one point, Nick stood up and left them alone.

Gatsby is a mysterious guy in the begining of the book. As the book advances, he starts to reveal himself and the reader can notice that like all people, he has his good qualities and bad qualities. Jay is insecure, he is strange, anxious, but also can be a good man. This book shows that wealth isn’t a happiness fountain. Throwing parties all the time and spending money doesn’t made Gatsby as happy as when he met Daisy.

Book Reports

“Charlotte’s Web”

The children’s novel “Charlotte´s Web“ was written by Elwyn Brooks White. White was born in July, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York, and was an famous American author and poet. He died in October, 1985, in North Brooklin, Maine.

The novel is about a pig, called Wilbur, who meets the spider, Charlotte. Both live on a farm. The farmer wants to kill Wilbur, but Charlotte tries to prohibit it. The main characters are Charlotte, Wilbur and the eight- year-old girl, Fern.

The novel starts with the birth of Wilbur at the farm of Fern´s dad. Wilbur is weak and small. That is the reason why the dad wants to kill him, but Fern appeals to her dad and convinces him that she can take care of the pig. Fern is very smart and assertive. After some weeks the pig has to move to the uncle of Fern. Wilbur is sad and does not know other animals here. But then he meets the spider Charlotte, who is very smart, and becomes a member of an animal community. She knows that the uncle, called Homer Zuckerman, will kill Wilbur at Christmas.

She explains to Wilbur, what will happen to him. Wilbur is nervous because he does not want to die. “I just love it here in the barn,“ said Wilbur. “I love everything about this place.“ Willbur asks Charlotte if she can help him. The spider promises Wilbur help, although she does not have a plan. Wilbur and Charlotte get to know each other better with time; she teaches him how to spin a web and then she gets an idea, how she could help Willbur.

Charlotte spins a web, in which she writes words. These words describe Willbur as a fantastic and extraordinary pig. Through these words, she tries to prohibit the slaughter of Wilbur. When Mr. Zuckerman sees  the web with the message “Some pig” he was thinking that he “received a sign- a mysterious sign.”

Fern´s uncle goes to the minister´s house and explains what happened. “Everybody knew that the Zuckermans had a wondrous pig.” From then on, Wilbur and the Zuckermans become famous. Wilbur is represented as an amazing and miraculous pig. The miracle of the message is explained by the minister in the church: “The words on the spider´s web proved that human beings must always be on the watch for coming of wonders.”

Charlotte succeeds; Wilbur won´t die  at Christmas. In order that the people can gaze further at Wilbur, Charlotte writes new words in her web. For this purpose she gets help of a rat, called Templeton, who helps her with finding good words: “TERRIFIC, RADIANT.”

Fern spends a lot of time at the Zuckerman farm and plays with the animals. Her mother, Mrs. Arable, is worried about Fern’s attitude. Therefore she contacts the doctor, who can put Mrs. Arable´s mind at ease.

Wilbur asks Charlotte, if she wants to come to the fair. But Charlotte does not want to got there because she has to protect her web and lay eggs.The fair is a special event, for animals as well as for people. In the night before the fair, Zuckerman dreams, that Wilbur will win a prize.

I think, that Wilbur will win a prize. But I think that Charlotte will get into trouble because she thinks of her new babies.

Elwyn Brooks White uses simple language and he often quotes conversations and thoughts of the animals and people.

In conclusion, I like the novel because it is funny to read the conversations between animals, especially between Charlotte and Wilbur. The spider, Charlotte, bolsters the pig, Wilbur, and protects his life.