My Top 10 Literary Characters of All Time

10. Chigurh – No Country For Old Men

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Seriously, this is the creepy evil dude you NEVER want to look up and see staring back at you out your window. Cormack McCarthy’s archetypal villain comes in at number 10, but he is only the first of several bad boys to make the list. In No Country for Old Men’s southern gothic story, this psychopathic killer keeps your heart pounding as he hunts down the main character and the money he came into possession of. Chigurh is best known for flipping a coin to decide the fate of his victims, so if a dude ever comes up to you doing this and starts spitting mad philosophy, get the heck out of there. And definitely don’t call him Sugar.

People always say the same thing. 
They say, “You don’t have to do this.” 
This is the best I can do. Call it. 
I got here the same way the coin did.
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9. Marla Singer – Fight Club

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If you haven’t met Marla Singer yet, you clearly haven’t been attending your local testicular cancer victims support group. This is where Marla meets the main character of the novel, where her life goes from fucked up to a deranged love triangle with a man and his multiple personalities (studies have found that this is a bit more fucked up).  However weird, Marla is more than just a cigarette-smoking machine with the occasional comedic relief, she is one of the few consistencies in the life of the main character’s twisted story.
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Interesting fact: Marla’s character was named after a childhood bully to the author, Chuck Palahniuk. Got em’.
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8. Robert Langdon – Angels  & Demons, The Davinci Code

Harvard University’s symbology and religious iconography teacher (sounds like something I don’t recommend majoring in) joins us at number 8 on the list as he goes from geeky professor to treasure hunting badass in Dan Brown’s best selling novels. There are 4 books currently featuring the professor, but these 2 are the best known thanks to film adaptations, and just being plain fucking awesome. Always rocking his Harris Tweed jacket and Mickie Mouse watch (yes, this is why I wear one), Robert Langdon follows clues that lead to history’s greatest mythical treasures, that offer both thrills and surprisingly a great deal to learn about religious and archeological history.
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7. Zero – Holes

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In the world of literature there is a character known as the “deuteragonist”- which means you experience agony while doing your duty. ACTUALLY THOUGH it means second in order of importance to the protagonist. Holes is the story of Stanley Yelnats and his untimely detention in Camp Greenlake, where kids are made to dig holes in the desert all day long as punishment. I say screw the duty-whatever, Hector Zeroni, AKA Zero, steals this shit out of this book. Stanley finds out that Zero is the key to breaking his family’s age old curse, and we find out Zero is the key to learning the meaning of friendship and humility at a young age.
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Sploosh and Chill?
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6. Charlie – The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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I think the obvious perk of being a wallflower is getting with Emma Watson in the movie adaptation, but that’s just me.Whether or not you consider yourself one of the millions of people who love The Perks of Being a Wallflower is contingent primarily on one thing: whether or not you ever considered yourself a “wallflower” in school, with a girl, in life. Charlie is one; someone who tries to blend in to the crowd, someone you don’t notice right away. They are silent but they see things for what they are. Charlie’s first person narrative is both insightful and poignant, and basically has his own subsection on Tumblr for all his quotes and awkward smiles that girls go batshit for. For that, Charlie gets number 6 on the list.
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So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.
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5. Don Tillman – The Rosie Project

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Ever wondered what it would be like to have Asperger’s syndrome and searching for the perfect wife? Well, me neither really, but this is what we’ve got.
Don Tillman is a quirky, highly intelligent college professor who is searching for a life partner, by setting up a complex surveying process that makes you wish he would just give Tinder a try. Finally a girl named Rosie comes into the picture and Don learns that there is more to love than just brain chemicals and shit. Don’s social ineptitude mixed with the unfolding of an unlikely romance makes him one of the most hilarious and unique characters I have ever met/read about.
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But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact.
‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.
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4. Jaime Lannister – A Game of Thrones

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There’s something really cool about watching an incestuous ass-hat develop into a good hearted, truly inspiring individual. I wish it happened more often, but maybe thats a bit niche. Regardless, this is Jaime Lannister, whose story meets a serious turning point in the second book when he is taken captive by the Starks. Westeros’ golden boy goes on both a physical and personal journey when he joins up with Brienne of Tarth, losing a hand, but gaining a beard and so much more. Jamie becomes a hero with a past filled with sins he is constantly being forced to pay for, yet someone we can’t help but cheer on. And hope George RR Martin doesn’t kill him. George pls.
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‘I WISH I COULD JUST FIX U’ – adoring fangirl, book 1
‘ok fine’ – Jaime Lannister, book 2
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3. Inquisitor Glokta, The Blade Itself

WHO THE F***??? You’re probably wondering why a person you have never heard of is in my top 3. Hey. Hear me out. If you’re a fan of the Game of Thrones series for the story, and not just Jaime’s rugged good looks, you might definitely like this trilogy, which begins with The Blade Itself.
Several years before the events that take place in The Blade Itself, Glokta was the toast of the kingdom- handsome, champion swordsman; not all that unlike Jaime. And then he went to war and got captured. And tortured. A lot. Fast forward to the present and he is now a torturer himself in the King’s inquisition. Missing limbs and alternating teeth, Glokta is the filet mignon of bitter, self-pitying assholes with just a slight seasoning of humanity that you can’t help but love.
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Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?
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2. Professor Dumbledore, Harry Potter

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I have this fantasy that someday I’ll be sitting in an interview with my future Boss, and, after complimenting me on my dashing tie, he/she will lean in and ask me, ‘Who is your hero?’. I will reply with Albus Dumbledore, and they will proceed to fist bump me and say, ‘Damn son. Say no more’.  The job will be mine.
This man truly needs no introduction. We all grew up reading the Harry Potter series, harassing the mailman, wondering where the hell our letter to Hogwarts went. All to meet this guy. Unlike all the other characters on this list, Dumbledore doesn’t stand out for just his own personal greatness, he stands out for the greatness that he is able to bring out in others. He believes there is good in all of us- whether you are Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter, or even Tom Riddle, this man was willing to help you.
Professor Dumbledore is more than just my literary hero, he was my mentor growing up.
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Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right, and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good and kind and brave because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort.
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1. Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I can only imagine that Prof. Dumbledore might be a little salty that the only literary character to place above him on this top 10 list would likely be placed in the Slytherin house. Just look at those neck spikes. You think any Gryffindor girl fucks with that?

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Anyone who really knows me knows that I worship the bookshelf that this novel walks on. I named my first dragon Tattoo. Many of my closest friends have dealt with the terrifying experience of me holding this book to their neck and demanding that they read it. This is of course, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, which is a crime/mystery thriller following the current events and troubled past of Lisbeth Salander, who- believe it or not, has a tattoo of a dragon.
If you’ve ever called someone an “extreme feminist”, you don’t know what that term means until you’ve met this chick. Lisbeth is the quintessential modern female badass, whose uses her anger and extraordinary intelligence t0 extract revenge on the numerous men that have wronged her. In fact, this novel’s original title was “Men who hate Women”, which I can only assume was changed so that guys would buy this book too. Throughout this mind-blowing trilogy, the novels delve into Lisbeth’s past; revealing a depth of character unlike anything else within girl that lives by her own rules and fights (rather violently) for what she believes is right. If Lisbeth Salander didn’t take #1 on my list favorite literary characters because I said so, she would probably just take it by force.

7561801_f260.jpg I thought Ginny was lying about that Hungarian Horntail tattoo.
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Thanks for reading! Honorable mentions that did not make the list:
  • Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye
  • Marie Laure, All the Light We Cannot See
  • Sevro, Red Rising
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Week 32: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

18143977In the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum for those of us who don’t speak parseltongue), behind no less than 13 locked doors, lies the most beautiful diamond in the world, known as the Sea of Flames. It is said that long ago, a prince found this precious blue diamond in a river, and miraculously survived an attack from a band of thieves who stabbed him in the heart- but did not find the stone that was clutched in his hand. It is rumored that the one who keeps the stone cannot be killed, but the longer it is kept, the worse your luck became. All around the prince, his loved ones began to die from a number of odd misfortunes, and the prince found that the stone was cursed. A Goddess came to the prince, now the sultan, and informed him that the curse could only be lifted when the diamond is thrown back into the sea. But the sultan was greedy, and kept the stone that was sought after by many men, until finally it was lost to history. 200 years later, the 133 carat diamond was found, and locked away in the museum. When the Nazi army invaded France, the stone was removed for safekeeping by the museum lock master, and given to his daughter. The most beautiful diamond in the world landed in the hands of a blind girl.

This book follows the parallel stories of the two most unlikely main characters one could possibly expect. The first is Marie Lour, a blind teenager living in Paris with her father, who works at the museum. When Marie Lour was young, her father built her a complete model of the city, down to every house, park bench, and baguette vendor with perfect detail, so that his daughter is able to navigate the city on her own.

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

In another world not so far away, but very different, Werner is an orphan teenager growing up in Nazi Germany, who joins the Hitler Youth movement to escape the life of a miner that killed his father. Werner has a kind heart in a hateful world, but he is able to use his gift for engineering radios to rise in the academy and ultimately avoid the most violent parts of the war.

The war begins, and Marie Lour and her father are forced to flee to the walled city of Saint-Malo, known as the brightest jewel on the coast of France. It is in this city that Marie Lour and her father find refuge with her uncle Etienne, who provides refuge for them. Soon after, her father is taken prisoner due his connection with the missing diamond, the Sea of Flames. But before he is captured, he is able to complete another model of the city for Marie Lour, which serves a dual purpose: to once again help her survive alone in the city, but also to house the missing diamond from the museum. Together, Marie Lour and Etienne send out crucial radio broadcasts from their hiding place in the attic to serve in the resistance, as the city of Saint-Malo burns around them.

It is these radio transmissions in particular that cause the paths of Marie Lour and Werner to finally converge. Werner arrives in the city of Saint-Malo with a small fleet in hopes of finding and putting a stop to Etienne’s radio messages for the resistance- but when he finds out where they are coming from, he must choose to either capture or protect the man who inspired his interest in radios in the first place. When Marie Lour and Werner finally meet, it is somehow like watching two complete strangers being reunited, which is artfully made possible in the pages of this book. For me, the most incredible part of this novel was its ability to create an abundance of imagery through a person that cannot even see in the first place, through smell, touch, and hearing alone. Marie Lour and Werner show that even amidst chaos people can still do good for one another. How the violence and greed of war can still be resisted by those pure of heart, when Marie Lour puts an end to the ancient curse (and metaphorically, much more) by returning the Sea of Flames back to the ocean.

“A real diamond is never perfect.”

The walled city of Saint-Malo

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! I am still behind a few reviews but I will be whipping them out as fast as I can! My next review coming up is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and then more to come.

 

Week 31: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Also known as There and Back Again, this timeless adventure story was published in 1937, and originally written for Tolkien’s very own children. Nearly a century in the future, and that is exactly how it still sounds. Throw together a hero who is destined to make peace between good and evil with the most gentle, light-hearted narrator you will ever hear (seriously, imagine Morgan Freeman is reading this to you, thank me later) and you have the perfect bedtime story for any age. There is one of many observations in this book, where Tolkien muses that a story of a good time is often too quickly told, but a story of an evil time requires a great many words to recount the events thereof. This observation almost perfectly accounts for the difference between The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, which would become one of the most epic trilogies of all time. This book is famous for more than just its incredible ability to take us on an adventure, but because it is the prologue for so much more.

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit much like any other. He enjoys days of living barefoot, blowing smoke rings, and a wholesome second breakfast. A quiet and unpretentious life.

Bilbo is living peacefully in his home at Bag End in Hobbiton when one day his small world is turned upside down by the arrival of Gandalf, a well-respected wizard who is widely known for always having his nose in an adventure, and a killer fireworks show. Gandalf arrives uninvited in Bilbo’s home along with 13 dwarves, who have chosen Bilbo to come on an adventure with them. Gandalf and the dwarves explain that they are on a quest to travel across Middle Earth to reclaim an ancient treasure from a giant, marauding dragon by the name of SmaugOn this episode of Hoarders, we visit the home of Smaug, a giant cavern under a mountain filled with treasure a dragon couldn’t possibly have any use for. Unfortunately for the band of travelers, Bilbo thinks the only good that can come of an adventure is making him late to dinner.

But Gandalf knows there is more to Bilbo than just hairy toes. You see, Bilbo has Took blood running through his veins; his mother’s side of the family, and the Tooks were notorious for their adventurous nature. Gandalf manages to exploit this weakness, and Bilbo finds himself coming along for the journey as the “burglar”- the one who will sneak in and steal the treasure from under Smaug’s snout.

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.

Along the way, Bilbo finds himself pick-pocketing a troll named William, taken prisoner by goblins, plays riddles for his life with a creature named Gollum, battles giant spiders in the dark forest (no invisible flying car to help him here), finds shelter with a vegetarian bear, and escapes an elvish prison in a wine barrel. Bilbo and his companions are constantly out of the frying pan and into the fire, as they are tossed from one bad situation to the next. The hobbit and the gang are able to make it thanks to a powerful ring that Bilbo manages to steal from Gollum, a ring that turns its wearer invisible. A ring that will go on to shape an even greater adventure in Tolkien’s writing career. After a major slump in the quality of the last few weeks of books, The Hobbit was the perfect story to come across. If you are like me and need an escape from reality for a time, I highly recommend this book. I promise it will take you there and back again.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! Next week’s book is just as incredible if you can believe it! Stick around for my review of a new book, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Week 29 & 30: Everything Is Illuminated & Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

12-extremely-loudYou can never really expect tragedy- when it will hit, what it will take. You can’t ever know if it might be the last time you see somebody you love. Just recently, the world lost Robin Williams, a truly incredible individual whose many roles helped shape my generation’s childhood. Robin was a comedian, a gifted actor, and the best god damn Peter Pan we’ll get in this lifetime. I think Pan would agree with me that never is there a more appropriate time to say that heroes get remembered, but legends never die. The characters of these two combined weeks of novels live lives that also revolve around tragedy, and how the things you expect to last forever can be wiped away in an instant. While one novel explores the devastating effects of losing a loved one, the other points out just how lucky we are to live at all. These books enjoy a multitude of similar characteristics- but most obviously, they are written by the same author.

Everything is Illuminated

Reading order aside, I think it seems more fitting to tackle these books in the order that they were written. Foer’s debut novel is Everything is Illuminated, a break-out hit that turned into a movie a few years later starring Elijah Wood. The motion of the novel is led by main characters Jonathan Safran Foer, also known as “The Jew” (I wonder if naming the main character after yourself is just a debut-novel thing), and his Ukrainian-native translator Alex. Jonathan is an aspiring American author (what a coincidence!) who is on a journey to find out more about his past; specifically, to find his great² grandmother and thank her for saving his family from the Nazi invasion in World War II.

“Everything is the way it is because everything was the way it was.”

The great cultural misunderstanding that ensues between the American and the Soviet makes for some pretty hilarious dialogue, but in my opinion, comes off as a bit overcooked. Basically, the entire book is written as if the author wrote it with an encyclopedia sitting open on the desk, while vowing to select a word similar to the one an American would actually use in that context (I’m actually about 90% sure this is what happened). This minor annoyance coupled with the constant jumping from present tense, to past tense, to nonsense, made me feel that Everything is Illuminated had everything a bit pretentious.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Fortunately, that was not the Foer novel I decided to read first. Jonathan Safran Foer’s second attempt, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, was also made into a movie- and I think this one was far more deserving of it. Oskar Schell is unlike any 9-year-old you’ve ever met. Okay, so most 9-year-olds are slightly annoying and too smart for their own good, but Oskar is a step above. He is different; extremely intelligent and incredibly unique in the sense that he probably knows more random facts than anyone else, regardless of age (it seemed fitting to describe him using his two favorite adjectives). Throughout the novel, Oskar is struggling with the emotional trauma of losing his father to the September 11th attacks, and living with the secret of his father’s last words in order to protect his loved ones.

“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”

His father’s last words are not the only thing he left behind, however. One night Oskar finds a key that belongs to his father, and embarks on a quest to find what it unlocks, and along the way he meets some fascinating people that help unlock some of the pain he is holding inside himself. Oskar was an incredible character, but for me, the real respect I hold for this book comes from the parallel story about Oskar’s grandmother, written to Oskar in the form of letters. While all of the grandmother’s letters appear to be metaphorical, the stories reflect their characters’ inability to connect to the ones they love, the greatest barrier in overcoming their grief. Overall, I think that Foer embraced his forte for colorful language and intertwining stories a great deal better in this novel, with characters young and old that, alongside death, found beauty in life.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! Next week I have a review of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien for all the little people out there. Stay tuned!

Week 28: Lexicon by Max Barry

I posted an image to my previous blog post from The Hundred-Foot Journey that said “cooking is not a tired old marriage, it is a passionate affair.” For me, reading is the same way, and I am embarrassed to say it has been about three weeks since I posted my last review- needless to say I have a lot of catching up to do. NO, I haven’t stopped keeping up with the one book-per-week challenge. I got dat shit on lock. No, I wasn’t rendered comatose by a failed ALS ice bucket challenge and unable to continue. I wouldn’t dump a bucket of ice on my head if Lou Gehrig himself asked me to. I simply hit a slump in my reading where my recent book choices have just not been as fantastic as they used to. Every week up until the last few have been absolutely fantastic, and I have recently been dragged back to a cold world where sarcastic critics and imperfect writers exist, and that has been pretty uncool. This week, I encountered a novel that was ambitious, seemingly up my alley, but in my groundbreaking yet humble opinion fell short of its potential.

 The word Lexicon is a word that basically means all the words a single person is able to pull from their own brain and use knowledgeably, sort of like their own personal vocabulary. One thing I liked about this novel is how cleverly the title was chosen. In this book, the number of words you know, and how good you are at using them, might just save your life. Sounds interesting right?

Somewhere in the world, much in the way that Hogwarts is hidden from the public school system, there is a secret school that is teaching their students far more important things than math, biology, or dare I say it, physical education. These students, called Poets, are being taught to persuade. The underlying premise of Lexicon is that there are hidden words in language that can be used to unlock the minds of us muggles and control our thoughts- but first a Poet needs to discover what type of personality category a person falls into. Max Barry decided that the best way to decode the human mind into various types is by asking questions like, “What is your favorite color?”“Pick a number between 1 and 100”, or my personal favorite, “Are you a dog person or cat person?”

See my problem here? While the cover sleeve of the novel promises things like “the science of breaking through an individual’s psychographic barriers with coercion as a science”, instead a poet’s worth comes to be decided by the amount of jibberish in their vocabulary- a bunch of bullcrap that is akin to calling Virginia Woolf’s personality charming. What’s even worse is that you find out later in the novel that there is a “word of power”, one word that is more powerful than the rest of the flibberty-jibberty and causes anyone, even the Poets, to lose control just by reading it. In the world of video games, this is what is known as “game-breaking”. This is when one weapon or spell is all-powerful, and everything else ceases to have a point- except taking that shit right back to Gamestop for your money back. I first heard about Lexicon on the “Our Employees Recommend” shelf at Barnes and Noble and was intrigued by the synopsis, resulting in a purchase. I have yet to track down and use my arts of persuasion on the Barnes and Noble employee who nominated this novel for me, but needless to say I’d use a few words along the lines of “You probably shouldn’t recommend books anymore”.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! A brief apology to anyone who was not a fan of my cynical side, I am fully aware that I probably sound like a man who was just forced to watch The English Patient while eating a burnt pizza. I can promise you that my reading selections in the weeks to come have greatly improved.

Week 27: The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

Every summer, like many of you I am sure, I go to see movies at the theater quite often. ‘Tis the season you might say. I always make a point to arrive to the theater in time to see indisputably  the best part of the movie: the trailers (am I right?). There is a certain point in some trailers, when the line “BASED ON THE BESTSELLING NOVEL BY…” that my ears perk up, and a stream of concession beverage trickles out my mouth onto my neighbor as I sit open-mouthed in anticipation. If you couldn’t tell from the majority of the books that I choose to review, I am always thrilled when a book gets made in to a movie (watch this trailer if you have not!). I quickly engage into 007-mode, with the primary objective of finding and executing the said book before the movie’s release date. Now, I’m not sure whether it was because I recently saw the food-porn summer hit “Chef”, or if I’m excited to see a “humble-beginnings kid that makes it big” movie that doesn’t revolve around a god damn sport, OR if I’ve been binge-watching too many old episodes of Top Chef all summer- but I was totally stoked to discover this book is all about food.

 

I read a review recently that dubbed The Hundred-Foot Journey a mixture between Ratatouille and Slumdog Millionaire. This person is a genius, and I salute you. The Hundred-Foot Journey is the story of Hassan Hajia young Indian street cook from Mumbai, where the destruction of his family’s ambitious restaurant and the death of his mother cause the large Indian family to move to Europe to start a new life. One day while traveling through the French countryside, their car breaks down outside a beautiful village called Lumiere, and Hassan’s father decides that this is where they will build their boisterous new Indian restaurant. Unfortunately, this is going to be a problem for the award-winning and highly civilized French cuisine restaurant directly across the street.

And so fate has it that Slumdog meets Ratatouille, aka Madam Mallory– the bitter owner of the French restaurant, Le Saule Pleureur. A war ensues between the two competing restaurants, with frat-level pranks and various other low-blows, until one accident results in Hassan getting hurt and taken to the hospital. Madam Mallory feels deeply responsible for her involvement in Hassan’s injury, and she decides to take him on as a personal apprentice at her restaurant- an enormous gesture that will shape the rest of Hassan’s life.

“A lot of emotion went into that hundred-foot journey, cardboard suitcase in hand, from one side of Lumière’s boulevard to the other.”

The second half of the novel follows Hassan’s journey from a small-time chef with glimmer of talent, to becoming the most renowned chef in Paris. Throughout the story, I was inspired by Hassan’s ability to innovate while always sticking to his family’s Indian roots. On top of that, the author’s descriptions of the numerous smells and flavors are so potent you can almost taste them. This book was delectable in so many ways, and I can’t wait to see it this weekend with my own eyes.

A powerful thing, destiny. You can’t run from it. Not in the end.”

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! This week was an absolute blast to review- I even took my brother and dad out for Indian food for my first time to get the whole experience. Looking forward to what comes next week when I read and review Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Au revoir!

 

Week 26: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

How far would you go to protect a secret? Would you lie for it? Perhaps. Run away from the problem, flee the scene- maybe. Would you kill to protect it? Hopefully not. If I told you that the lives of your closest friends depended on protecting this secret, does it change your answer? In the very first post that I made on this blog, week 1, I reviewed Donna Tartt’s new and insanely successful The Goldfinch, and 25 weeks later, as I begin the second stretch of this 50-week journey, I find myself reviewing Tartt’s very first novel from 2004. Chock-full of impossibly difficult questions to answer regarding murder, lies, and a secret that lives and breathes heavily on the shoulders of a circle of friends, The Secret History is the perfect introduction into Donna Tartt’s incredibly talented writing career.

Before you start thinking along the lines of “Oh wow, I love a close-knit group of friends, whatever they had to do to protect this secret thingy was for a good cause! Omg they probably did it for each other.”- let me correct you. They Secret History is home to a shit-ton of terrible people. The story is set in the 1980’s at a small private college in Vermont, where the pretentious graduate students and upper-class elitists run as rampant as the expensive liquor and cigarettes that fuel them. Really the only character with a conscience to his name is our narrator and protagonist Richard Papen, whom Daniel Radcliffe’s character in the 2013 film Kill Your Darlings is an almost exact reincarnation of. Richard is compassionate and highly intelligent, but stands out amongst the snobby PhD-hungry academics thanks to his humble roots in California, where he was accepted to the school for his brains rather than his money.

Aside from experimenting with drugs, sleepless nights and all the other things that encompass college, Richard’s most significant experiences in the story revolve around his acceptance into an elite group of five Greek scholars, who are all studying ancient Greek literature and classics. It takes a long time before Richard is considered an “official” member of the group, but he knows he is either in or out when he learns his friends’ terrible secret. They tell Richard about one night where they were attempting to recreate an ancient Bacchanalian ritual in the woods; and by accident in their drug-induced state, they killed the owner of the property who stumbled upon them in the process. Although he was not a part of the accident in the woods, Richard is aware of the fact that his knowledge of the incident alone makes him a partner in crime. A circle of trust is formed between the six friends to keep the secret, but it isn’t long before guilt and anxiety start causing problems.

It is around this time that the Greek students come around to the questions I asked you initially- how far are they willing to go to keep their secret safe? When one of the group can no longer keep his mouth closed, the students find their answer and even more blood is spilled- this time not by accident. My second experience with Donna Tartt’s work was once again an extremely vivid pleasure. Her attention to detail is always a mind-blowing experience; you learn to love certain characters and detest others thanks to all the tiny little pieces that make them up. If I had to choose between the two, I think that The Goldfinch is still her best work to date. However, like with music, my passion and respect for an author’s roots always makes their early works a savory experience for me, and The Secret History is a book with a secret worth spilling.

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! This has been the summer of books that have been made into movies- and coming next Friday is a movie that I am particularly excited about. Swing by next week for my review of The Hundred-Foot Journey before you see the film!

Week 25: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (All Time Favorite #1)

.largeScrolling back through nearly six months of book reviews, I think it is interesting that I find myself reviewing my first mystery novel at exactly the halfway mark in my 50-week quest. To give you some perspective, my first experience with mystery novels started back in the 1st or 2nd grade with The Boxcar Children, a series about a group of orphans who live in an abandoned train link (known as a boxcar) out in the woods. The ones I read were pretty damn good, and there ended up being over one hundred titles in the series. Truth be told, I haven’t read many mysteries since. To me, the mystery genre is a serious hit or miss species with three inherent categories. You have the classics that everyone’s grandmother has railed on about;  Nancy Drew is a prime example. You have the modern works of genius like the book I am about to review for you, a book so good that it was continued into the best-selling Millennium Trilogy, and was made into popular films in both its home country of Sweden and The United States. Last but not least, there are the endless number of books in this genre where the only mystery is how in god’s name did this crap get published. My own personal rule of thumb for declaring a mystery to be truly great is this: when you re-read a mystery, the ending seems to become all the more obvious thanks to the clues along the way. You smack your forehead,  wondering “how did I not see that coming?!”- but there was no way you could, because a truly great mystery is not only playing games with the protagonist, it is also playing games with the mind of the reader. The only problem with this approach is that you have to read the book more than once. Fortunately, when it comes to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, this is hard NOT to do.

Our story kicks off with a news report regarding the court sentencing for one Mikael Blomkvist, a well-known journalist who has just been convicted of libel; a false statement that has been published and deemed damaging to someone’s reputation. Mikael is the writer and owner of Millenium Magazine (for which the trilogy is named after), which published an article that meant to expose the Swedish financier giant Hans-Erik Wennerström for fraud- but after the story proved to be false it seemed likely that Mikael was set up . Mikael needs to take some time away from the magazine, and there is one man who uses this opportunity to present Blomkvist with a job offer unlike anything he has ever heard of. Henrik Vanger wants to use Mikael’s unique journalistic skills to re-investigate a murder that happened over 40 years ago. Henrik tells Mikael the story of the day his favorite niece, Harriet, went missing- and how he believes the killer was a member of his large and influential family, someone that was on Hedeby island the day she went missing. Why would he suspect Harriet was murdered? Because the killer has been taunting Henrik Vanger once a year for the past four decades.

After several months of investigating Mikael surprises everyone by unearthing new clues regarding the murder, with findings that indicate that whoever was responsible for killing Harriet was, and still is, involved in something far bigger than what happened on Hedeby Island 40 years ago. As Mikael continues to probe deeper into the murder, he enlists the help of Lisbeth Salander, a gifted researcher (hacker) who is misunderstood by society and has been abused by men her entire life. Lisbeth is a corporate worst nightmare; she is covered in tattoos, facial piercings, and is armed with an attitude that says don’t fuck with the girl with the dragon tattoo. Lisbeth is generally hesitant to work with another human being on a project, let alone a man, but when Mikael reveals the nature of Harriet’s serial killer, Lisbeth is persuaded to join him on the case.

An interesting fact that I learned while reading the biography of the late Stieg Larsson was that the original title for the Swedish version of this book is actually Men Who Hate Women. The book is aptly named, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo deals with murderers, rapists, and Lisbeth’s fight against misogyny is an engrossing story through the eyes of an incredibly unique character- easily one of my most favorite. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made it on to my favorite books of all time list without any hesitation, and honestly it was hard to not just say that the entire trilogy are my three favorite books.  I recommend reading this one and even checking out the Swedish film trilogy, which is streaming on Netflix! This mystery starts 40 years ago as a small seed but quickly grows as clues are pieced together and dug up from the past. The thrill of the hunt is like nothing else as we investigate alongside Blomkvist and Salander, as truths become uncovered that are bigger than they could have possibly imagined.

“Everyone has secrets. It’s just a matter of finding out what they are.” 

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! To all of my friends and followers that have been keeping pace with me the last 25 weeks- a quick thanks, and apology. I am at a weird time in my life right now, and lately inspiration to write has been difficult for me. Not only have I had less time, but a lot more junk taking up space in my head. I will be continuing to read one book a week- escaping to these amazing places is the easy part. But I might be taking a break from writing the blog, depending on my level of motivation- and imagination. We’ll see what happens as the year progresses, but thank you so much for coming where we are so far.
– Jake

Week 24: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (All Time Favorite #2)

Before I begin reviewing anything, I feel that I should start by talking a little bit about Dan Brown for those of you who have not read anything by him or heard of his books. Dan Brown honestly must spend about as much time researching the information for his novels as it takes most authors to write a novel itself. I have read nearly all of the novels that Brown has ever published, and all of the information included in his books adheres to a scrupulous attention to detail. From computer encryption algorithms in Digital Fortress, to the nine circles of hell in the famous divine comedy discussed in his most recent bestseller, Inferno, Brown’s vast knowledge of information never ceases to amaze me. However, an abundance of historical information is not the only thing Brown is known for. Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code have incited an enormous amount of controversy amongst the reading public. Brown’s combination of religious conspiracy theories and controversial historical facts make his publisher a factory that specializes in two things; bestselling books and angry Christians. If you’re like me and enjoy a mix of history with one damn epic treasure hunt, The Da Vinci Code is a quest through art and history that you won’t forget.

Robert Langdon is a professor of symbology at Harvard University, whose knowledge of ancient symbols in art and religion has earned him quite a reputation following the events at the Vatican in Angels and Demons. One night while Professor Langdon is in Paris for a presentation in symbolism, he is abruptly woken in the middle of the night by the French Judicial Police, claiming they need his expertise in a murder investigation. Before Langdon even has a chance to curse the French, he is dragged from his hotel and into the Louvre, a famous museum that is home to Da Vinci’s most famous work, The Mona Lisa. It is at this crime scene in the Louvre that Langdon meets Sophie Neveu, a cryptologist who is not-so-coincidentally the granddaughter of the dead museum curator. Beginning with the symbols covering the dead body of Sophie’s grandfather, the two scholars begin on the hunt for a secret that a dying man clearly wanted only Robert and his granddaughter Sophie to know. A secret hidden in the works of the one and only Leonardo Da Vinci.

“The Last Supper is supposed to be thirteen men. Who is this woman?”


“Everyone misses it, our preconceived notions of this scene are so powerful that our mind blocks out the incongruity and overrides our eyes.” 

While Langdon believes his purpose at the Louvre that night is purely to assist in the investigation, he soon finds out that he is actually suspect numero uno. The pair find out that Sophie’s grandfather was a member of the Priory of Sion, an ancient brotherhood responsible for protecting one of history’s most sought-after secrets: The Holy Grail. While it is a common misconception for people to believe that the grail is a literal object, the true nature of the grail is the long-hidden truth about Jesus Christ. In his dying breath, Sophie’s grandfather created a trail of bread crumbs that would lead Sophie and Langdon to the grail’s hiding place, but along the way they encounter enemies who will kill to find the secret first. However to get there, they will have to follow the clues and solve the riddles that the Priory of Sion have set in place.

An anagram for another famous Da Vinci painting.

Throughout their hunt for the grail, Robert and Sophie gain a great deal of insight into the role of science and art in religious history, along with Christianity’s lesser-known bloody past. While Langdon’s treasure hunt is entirely fictional, all of the historical events, places, and art symbolism described in the book are completely true. The conspiracies surrounding The Holy Grail and Da Vinci’s art might be only rumors, but this book discusses the coexistence of “faith” and “truth” on a meaningful level that even a bible-banger could respect. I am pretty strict about which books I am willing to consider my best-loved, and Dan Brown once again cracked the code to my all-time favorite book list- it doesn’t take a genius to solve why The Da Vinci Code comes in at number 2.

Thank you for reading  what I have to say about books! I am so excited to tell you about my #1 all time favorite, next week!

Week 23: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

THE PACIFIC JOURNAL OF JAKE RICHARDSON

Monday, 30th June-

It is a scorching hot afternoon on the outdoor patio of Black Dog coffeehouse as I put down my copy of Cloud Atlas, and begin to reflect on the seemingly infinite questions that linger after the book has been shut. Next to me, Matt Kostroske takes a sip of his iced White Cow as he reads off another mind-bending quote for a pretentious post-grad discussion, as only two book snobs in a coffee shop are destined to do. It’s a funny thing, destiny. Are people born into lives that are predetermined, a series of events that are set in motion long before our time? My rambling thought process might be attributed to being on the verge of heat stroke coupled with a caffeine overdose, but I think I can more safely credit my dumbfounded mental state to the book we just read. Cloud Atlas is a compilation of novellas- stories that are too short to be novels but too long to be considered short stories. In the tales that follow, told by an ancient man named Zachry, fates are intertwined as the souls of our characters travel from one life to the next, to finish what they started.

Part One (1849)
Adam Ewing is an American-born man sailing through the Pacific Islands on behalf of his father’s plantation business. Aboard his ship, Adam discovers a stowaway slave hidden below deck. His decision to save the slave comes back to save his own life in the long run, all of which is documented in his personal journal.

Part Two (1936)
Robert Frobisher is a talented young composer who seeks fame for his music as he writes his masterpiece “The Cloud Atlas Sextet”; becoming inspired after reading The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing. Robert records his story in letters to his lover, as it turns out the old bastard who adopted Robert as his protege is more interested in stealing Robert’s talent rather than fostering it.

Part Three (1973)
Luisa Ray is a nosy journalist who begins investigating a huge cover-up story at a power plant after discovering one of the company’s scientists was murdered. She finds Letters from Zedelghem from the dead man’s lover, Robert Frobisher, in his belongings. Luisa’s own life is put in grave danger as she seeks to uncover the truth about the power plant.

Part Four (2012)
Timothy Cavendish is an old man who is reading an interesting work of fiction called Halflives: The First Luisa Ray Mystery on the way to his hotel. It turns out that he isn’t on the way to a hotel at all, however. He ends up losing his freedom as he is locked up in an institution for the elderly, and this section is a series of laughs as Timothy makes his grand entrance (and escape) from the old folks home.

Part Five (2144)
Sonmi-451 is a “fabricant”, a genetically modified clone who lives as a slave in a futuristic Korea. Sonmi-451 is different from the other fabricants, and one day she is able to make her escape. She consumes vast amounts of knowledge, and begins to realize the injustice of her life. During her short period of freedom, she enjoys a comedy called The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, and realizes her kind are not so different from the people who enslave her.

Part Six (2321)
Zachry lives a primitive existence in the far distant future, a post-apocalyptic world where civilization no longer really exists. Zachry is the leader of a tribe called the Valleymen, who worship a God called Sonmi. Zachry’s simple life as a goatherder is interrupted when an emissary from a distant and modern society lands in the valley. Together, they begin a journey to find The Orison of Sonmi-451, a recording of Sonmi’s last words before her death sentence.

Analysis (2014)
Matt Kostroske: “Cloud Atlas touches on a variety of subjects and themes but to me the major themes are the universality and consistence of human nature and the constant effort to change the natural order of things, and to improve life for those who are, for lack of a better word, oppressed. The title itself is a sort of description of the theme of human nature. Violence, oppression, and hate are a constant in human nature throughout time. “In a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only ‘rights,’ the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful.” In each story this prejudice is evident. However, in each story there is also one person that sees beyond the superficial and external differences and attempts to change them, despite being “one drop in a limitless ocean”.

Now, reincarnation is one of the obvious subjects of the story. To me, the subject of reincarnation in Cloud Atlas is really just a tool to amplify the theme of the unchanging human nature, despite the changing of the times. Each story takes place in a different part of the world in a different time period but the human nature and attempts to change it remain. I can think of no better way to describe the structure of the book than the way that Robert Frobisher describes his masterpiece, “The Cloud Atlas Sextet.” The symphony is a “sextet for overlapping soloists” (six characters in the book; coincidence? I think not). Robert describes the symphony like this: “In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order.” It’s as if one is setting up dominoes. Each domino is set up individually, on its own, and when the first is knocked over the others each lead into each other just as the first five chapters each start and end abruptly until the sixth, Zachry’s chapter. After that, the chapter boomerangs back around to finish the second half of each person’s story.” (Matt’s Facebook)

In the novel, each of the six characters bears a striking birthmark in the shape of a comet. The comet might represent the same reincarnated soul through time, or like Matt was saying, it might represent different souls that have their turn to play an important role in history. Each part of Cloud Atlas is like an instrument with its own unique sound. When combined, they become a symphony.

Thank you for reading what I have to say about books! Next week I will be reviewing a book that I have probably read in a past life, as I continue my countdown for my top-three favorite books of all time.