October 22, 2014

Biblio-Files |The Three-Book Rule

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By NATALIE TSAY

As a self-proclaimed bookworm, I try to read everything: Fiction, memoir, non-fiction — you name it, I’ve read it. I strive to include books for pure entertainment and books that have been acclaimed and held up on a pedestal of literary genius. In particular, I try to focus on the authors on that pedestal. After reading many “great” books and not loving them, I came up with the “Three-Book Rule:” I give each author three chances to prove themselves. Many have succeeded, but a few are on their last chance with me.

Warning: Unpopular opinions follow. Read at your own discretion.

1. F. Scott Fitzgerald

Read #1: The Great Gatsby

I read Gatsby in 9th grade on my own and 11th grade as part of my English class; both times, I was underwhelmed. I’d always heard people rave about Gatsby and the way it epitomizes the Jazz Age — I imagined a sensational, fast-paced novel about flappers, gangsters and speakeasies. Frankly, I found Gatsby kind of … well, boring. Throughout the book, exciting things are happening, but they’re conveyed to the reader in such a nonchalant fashion that it seemed to move languidly. Though so many people just loved it, I was unimpressed by Gatsby.

Read #2: Flappers and Philosophers

Here’s where things turned around for Fitzgerald with a collection of his short stories. Each one is intriguing, well paced, and filled with interesting characters, and I found that after reading the eight stories in the collection, I could’ve read eight more. They were phenomenal! Written in the same era but with much more flair, the stories in Flappers and Philosophers won me over.

2. Ernest Hemingway

Read #1: The Sun Also Rises

Ah, another writer of the “lost generation.” And his first novel is about just that: A bunch of young-ish expatriates with tons of ennui, trying (or, rather, not trying at all) to come to terms with the post-war world by drinking a lot, sleeping around, and engaging in general tomfoolery. Sure, it captures the spirit of the age, but I thought the novel was sort of aimless. There’s barely any action or plot, and things end pretty much where they started. Of course, that’s the point, but it doesn’t mean it was enjoyable to read.

Read #2: A Moveable Feast

I liked this one slightly better, but Hemingway still isn’t faring well. A Moveable Feast is non-fiction; it’s about Hemingway’s time spent in Paris. The book is cool because it’s an insider’s look at the writing scene back then, but a lot of it didn’t really hold my attention. The sections about Hemingway’s friendship with Fitzgerald were great — easily my favorite part. Yet despite A Moveable Feast’s good qualities, I wasn’t enamored with it.

3. Kurt Vonnegut

Read #1: Cat’s Cradle

I didn’t dislike this book; I just don’t know how to feel about it. Cat’s Cradle, a satire, is perplexing at times, but always ridiculous. Maybe it’s because my taste is plain, but I was slightly turned off by the absurdist tone. In addition, I’m not sure I’m the biggest fan of satire. I finished Cat’s Cradle feeling ambivalent, but I did like it when the protagonist briefly mentioned his undergraduate career at Cornell!

Read #2: Slaughterhouse Five

This did little but affirm that Vonnegut can write a book unlike any other. Imagination and originality aside, I couldn’t find much to praise. Both of Vonnegut’s novels that I read left me feeling indifferent, but maybe the next (Breakfast of Champions) will help me make up my mind.

If you have recommendations in line with the authors above, please leave them in the comments!

Natalie Tsay is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at ntsay@cornellsun.com.  Biblio-Files appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

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