Friday, March 09, 2007

February Books (and a first Fighting Illini post)

I have been holding off on this post until I finished with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but with all the excitement of late, I couldn’t wait any longer—I only have 15 pages left anyway. First things first…big news! Most of you know by now that I was ACCEPTED to the Writing Studies MA/PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I couldn’t be more relieved and excited. The U of I has a top twenty English department—which basically means that, in a relatively competitive job market, I should have my pick of universities to begin my career at in 6-7 years when I finish. Yup—you heard that right. It will take me about two years to complete the Masters and then another good four to get the PhD done (which basically equates to about 2 years of coursework beyond the Masters and then 2-3 years to write the dissertation). It all sounds very nebulous to me at the moment—but it’s true. It’s hilarious to me that when I finish I am going to have been in school pretty much continuously for nearly 14 years. Class of 2013. Ha! I guess that is what I get for taking 7 years to find the right bachelor’s degree. Anyway—that is all the groaning you will hear from me on the subject. Sure, I will be 6-7 years older than most of my classmates—but who cares? Tina is happy because Illinois has a great basketball team, and I was perfectly content and pretty much set on going when I found out that Champaign has a Chipotle. Yes!

This entry is meant as a book review. I have four more books to talk about that I have read over the last month and a half or so… here goes:

The Gift of Asher Lev- Chaim Potok

This is the sequel to the book that I read earlier in the year, My Name is Asher Lev and while not delivering in as complete of a way that the first book did, Gift was a great book, and a great continuation on some of the themes that are first addressed in Name. Asher Lev is now a middle aged man, living in France with a wife children of his own. He has experienced a bit of exile from his community in New York due to the controversy of his art and while embittered by this fact, he remains a devoted Hasid while continuing his (still often controversial) work oversees. Gift is about Lev’s return to his home community, a mid-life crisis he goes through trying to remain “fresh” as an artist, and to what extent he is willing to sacrifice a part of himself to his God.

The Gift of Asher Lev is great and I had read that it was the second book in a series of what was intended to be three books but that Potok hadn’t yet written the third. The plot of the second book is left wide open at the end and almost begs a sequel. Imagine my disappointment when a little research uncovered the fact that Potok died of a brain tumor five years ago.

The Handmaid’s Tale- Margaret Atwood

I saw a copy of this book on the shelf of one of my former professors. I had very much enjoyed the class and trusted her judgment on books and so, because the fame of this novel also precedes it anyway, checked out a copy of it from our campus library. I’ll say right up front that this isn’t a novel for everyone. I can’t recommend it. But it was an interesting dystopian look at the future. Basically the gist is this: World War III (or whatever you want to call it) has occurred and what the US government is defunct. What remains is a throwback to Old Testament traditions and culture—very patriarchal and debasing towards women. It goes much deeper than this—there are very strict rules that must be lived by, only the elite have access to media and what media there is controlled (1984 style) by the government, etc. etc. Anyway, the story is about a handmaiden who is assigned to a family as a concubine to the man of the house. Many of the men and women of the community have become sterile due to the radiation of the war, so such measures are put in place to stimulate the population growth. The Handmaid’s Tale is an accounting of this society and tells of the escape of the protagonist to an Underground Railroad kind of asylum. Anyway—very interesting—some questionable content—you could probably skip it and be ok.

The Pearl- John Steinbeck

The Pearl is another novella, much like the Red Pony, and despite it being very widely read in jr. high/high school, I never read it. So, I read it in a few hours (it’s really short—I am not a fast reader). It is a great book! Definitely read this one. The novel examines a classic theme: what in life is of true worth? The book is about an indigenous Mexican tribe who live in huts on the beach. One blissful and perfect morning (blissful and perfect because of its complete and total lack of remarkableness), the protagonist’s infant son is stung by a scorpion. Having no money, the man takes his son into town to the doctor who refuses to treat his son (indirectly) because he has no money. When the frantic father finds a large and valuable pearl in the bay close to his home, what should be new found fortune turns quickly sour and the family finds themselves struggling to understand the true weight of monetary wealth.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain

Even getting an English degree from a major university didn’t ensure that I read this book from cover to cover. Seriously, sometimes I think that I was terribly undernourished as a high school English student. Don’t you usually read Huck Finn as a sophomore or something!? Anyway—I can’t believe it took me this long to read such a marvelous, tragically sad, bitingly satirical, and heart-warmingly (warmingly?) moving novel. If you haven’t read it, you must. If it’s been since you were a sophomore that you read it, read it again. Anything I try to say about it here won’t be able to justify how good it is. Huckleberry Finn is a walking paradox. He is at once the most stupid and the wisest person in his universe. His decisions and actions are completely ridiculous, but totally logical. He has no moral compass, but he is consistently the character with the most morals in the book. I love it; I love it; I love it! Can’t wait to read more Twain.


  1. hey jon. thanks for this taste of artiness..I love reading your posts, because they are academic, but on a level I can understand and enjoy. I want to be a reader now! I will have to check out a couple of these books for summer "take zane to the park" reading.

    and we couldn't be happier for you about UofI. brandon agrees about the basketball (he says, "hey maybe me, zane, and tina can go to basketball games together someday!) and we both agree that it couldn't have happened to a more deserving chap.

    and don't worry about the time it will take. 40 is the new 30 anyway, right?

    you the best. can wait to kick it.

    ps--did you know that the giver is a trilogy of sorts? 3 books. in the last, jonas meets up with the gal from the second one. may be worth reading. not like I'm gonna give you advice or anything...

  2. A word about basketball fandom... It's about time I became more of one--don't you think? Getting into Illinois--the fact that THEY wanted ME(!)--really helps that process. So you can bet that I will be at some games. I really do enjoy watching basketball (my favorite of all sports to watch)--so it won't be too difficult.

    About the Giver trilogy... I have been meaning to read it. I think I will get the next book next week. We can read them together and see if we dig--whatdoyathink?

  3. Awesome. UIUC has a great Electrical Engineering program as well, if you didn't know.

  4. Brandon this time...

    I read the Pearl in middle school and didn't follow it. I like your cliff notes need to read it again.

    Good luck getting tickets to the basketball games. I imagine they are hard to come by even for students.

  5. Jon Thwaits9:20 PM

    I'm glad you have good things to say about Huck Finn. I read it for the first time about 2 years ago and I was totally into it, Twain is so so clever. He writes stories that make me feel human.