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Leon's English Literature Review

For ESL/EFL Students & Just for fun



Foreword

 

Dear Literature Lover:

I don't like to waste time.  So, I like to read when I'm in situations where I'd otherwise be idle, such as:  sitting on the porcelain throne or sitting on a train commuting to and from work.  I also read to learn.  While for ESL/EFL students, the main motivation to read English literature may be quite different from my own, I cannot help but think that there would be some overlap.  Reading can be an interesting way to learn a language, (even if it is your first language).

And so, I hereby present Leon's Literature Review, for any and all who care (or dare) to read it.

Sincerely,
Leon
Webmaster

 

 

 

I'll try a genre-based approach.  Here are all the genres of literature that I can think of:

I.  FICTION

            A.  NARRATIVES:

                    1.  historical fiction:  the story is set in a real historical place and some of the events actually occurred and some of the characters may have actually existed, but the main plot of the story surely did not occur.

                            Examples that I've read:

                            a.  Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

My Review

The book was originally written in Russian.  I read it in English.  The translation was magnificent (from my limited perspective not having read it in Russian, since I cannot read Russian).  We are told in the prologue that the translator tried to remain as faithful to the original story as the English language would allow, and I felt that such was the case.  But, aside from all that, I felt that Dostoevsky's understanding of the human psyche is unparalleled (at least in regards to how one could commit murder).  His understanding is so frightfully realistic that I fear there must have been some experience in his own life which was similar.  I'm not saying that Dostoevsky committed murder, but he very well may have entertained the idea.  In my estimation, only one who has experienced those feelings could express them so vividly and magnificently.  I would highly recommend this book to any adult.  It is very provocative, and I like the provocative.  The content includes murder and might not be suitable for minors.  I would rate it NC-17.  The English is difficult, perhaps university level or above.

                            b.  David Copperfield (simplified version)

                            c.  Oliver Twist (simplified version)

                            d.  Mutiny on Board the M.S. Bounty (simplified version)

                            e.  Moby Dick (simplified version)

                            f.  Treasure Island (simplified version)

                            g.  Huckleberry Finn (simplified version)

It should be noted that I thoroughly enjoyed all the books above (b - g) for their plots, but I cannot adequately "review" them because I read the simplified versions as a child.  I do not know if the original versions would be as interesting to read.

                            h.  Wilson Rawl's Where The Red Fern Grows

My Review

Where the Red Fern Grows is a popular book with young teenagers.  I read it in my teenage years and was deeply touched by the relationship between a boy and his two dogs.  I would highly recommend this book to all dog-lovers around the world.  It is definitely for general (G) readers, but the level of difficulty might be at sixth grade or higher.

 

                    2.  fantasy:  the story may be set in a fictional place, and quite generally the characters include beings that do not exist in real life and possibly talking animals.  A sub-category of fantasy might include fairy tales (or at least most of them).  The Harry Potter books would be in this category, but I haven't read any, and do NOT plan to.  I'm a bit taken back by the world-wide HYPE over this one series of fantasy when there are so many other great pieces of literature in the genre.  I guess J.K. Rowling has a great PR manager and that's why her books are doing better than say, the Chronicles of Narnia, which I have read (Well, I've read the first one: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe).

                            Examples that I've read (aside from fairy tales):

                            a.  Tolkien's The Hobbit

My Review

This was either the first or second novel in the genre of fantasy that I had ever read.  It was so magnificent in my eyes as to inspire me to read many more of the genre.  I have since come to understand that Tolkien's whole Lord of the Rings trilogy is based upon Nordic lore.  Wow!  To think that at one time there were elves and dwarves and giants living in Midgard.  So, maybe we should classify it as historical fiction rather than fantasy?  At one time I had planned to read the whole trilogy but never had the opportunity.

I highly recommend this book.  However, my middle school students say that the rest of the series is "dry" and uninteresting.

 

                            b.  Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time

My Review

A Wrinkle in Time was the other book, one of two, that instigated my love of fantasy.  L'Engle's book presents insights into the evils of egalitarianism that even a child could understand.

Unlike in L'Engle's book, we do not have to "tesseract" through space to find societies like the one in A Wrinkle in Time, or to find societies that strive to become like the one in the book.

I highly recommend this book.  

                            c.  C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia

My Review

I've read the first book of the series:  The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  The movie that has just come out stays remarkably true to the story in the book.  C.S. Lewis was a writer who thrust Christian themes into almost all of his writings (if not all).  The Lion is clearly a Christ archetype.

While the plot was not unique, I did find the medium of the plot, namely fantasy, very appealing.  For any one who can accept talking animals and creatures that only exist in the realm of pure imagination, I would recommend this book.

                    3.  science fiction (Sci-Fi):  possible events/stories that could have happened and may have happened, but are generally assumed not to have happened;  OR, that could happen now or in the future.

                            Examples that I have read:

                            a.  Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

My Review

Never had I encountered such a delightful author as I found in Douglas Adams.  He does his research and knows his stuff.  He combines science, satire, linguistics and fantasy into one; And, he does it in such a way that it immediately grabs the reader and keeps the reader wanting to know what will happen next.  After I was done with the first book of the series, I immediately went out and bought the other four.  I read them all as fast as I could in succession.

In the last book, Mr. Adams had to kill off everyone, or the series may never have ended, because people would have clamored for more.  Sorry.  I ruined the ending for you.

For any one who has a sense of humor, appreciates satire (both political and religious), and a good laugh now and then, I would very highly recommend all five books of the series.

                    4.  contemporary fiction:  make-believe stories set in modern times.

                            Examples that I have read:

                            a.  Bel Kaufman's Up The Down Staircase

My Review

The book was published in 1965 (so it might be considered historical fiction by some), but it is recent enough to be considered contemporary fiction.  The author uses a style of writing referred to as "epistolary", which is to say that the whole book is a compilation of teacher correspondences, school memorandums, and students' notes.  I found the writing style delightful and refreshing in its novelty.  The content was very entertaining.  I laughed.  I wept.  I was sent on a roller coaster ride of emotions.  Every teacher could relate to the book.

I very highly recommend this book.

 

II.  NON-FICTION

            A.  Reference:  literature which gives basic information

                    1.  Lexicons:  books that give the meanings of words

                    2.  Dictionaries:  books that give the pronunciations of words

                    3.  Almanacs:  books of facts/statistics

                    4.  Atlases:  books of maps

                    5.  Encyclopedias:  books of informative articles on nearly every topic

            B.  Trade book(s):  book(s) which give(s) detailed information on a specific topic

                    Examples that I've read:

                    1.  a book about sharks

                    2.  several books about insects

                    3.  several books about dinosaurs

                    4.  several books about dreams and dream interpretation

            C.  Self-help:  literature designed to help one better one's self

                    Examples that I have read:

                    1.  How to Win Friends and Influence People (by Dale Carnegie)

My Review

This book profoundly changed my life (for the better).  I highly recommend it to all the world.

                    2.  The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (by Stephen Covey)

My Review

Not bad.  It was helpful.  I'd recommend it.  It was not always entertaining, but it had its moments.  The anecdotes were interesting and insightful.  It is a very practical, no-non-sense type of book.  The problem is at times, it reads like an instruction manual.  

            D.  Inspirational (Secular):  literature that makes you feel better about yourself and help motivate you to improve your life

                    Example:  a book about Self-Esteem

            E.  Inspirational (Spiritual):  See:  "III. Religious/Spiritual: C" (below)

            F.  Poetry:  literature which has rhyme and meter.  Some poems don't have rhyme or meter, but somehow they are included in the category of poetry.  Don't ask me how.

            G.  Essays / Commentaries:  Most essays are in fact commentaries; They comment on something and attempt to convince/persuade the reader to agree.

            H.  Histories:  literature which attempts (sometimes erroneously) to describe the past.

            I.  Documentaries:  literature (and films) which document actual events supposedly without commentary but sometimes with commentary.

            J.  Ethnographies:  literature which focuses upon the culture of certain ethnic groups.

                    1.  Body Language [Author unknown]

My Review

Nowadays, there are literally hundreds of books written on the subject of body language.  The book I read was written in the 1960's.  I read it in the 1980's.  At the time it was very popular and I think that it was a "ground-breaking" book in that it was one of the first pieces of literature on the subject published for the general public.

I found it very interesting; However, I disagreed with some of the assertions therein.  For example, just because someone folds his/her arms during a conversation, does not necessarily mean that the person is "closing" his/her mind to the ideas of his/her interlocutor.  Maybe it is just a comfortable position, or maybe culture dictates that one fold his/her arms.  My father made his children fold their arms in church as a sign of reverence.  We children certainly did not "close" our minds to the words coming at us from behind the pulpit (although we may have, at times, found the sermon boring).  So, I found the book making claims or assertions that were not always correct.  One needs to consider the culture of one's interlocutor,

I would not recommend any book about body language that does not consider the micro and macro cultures of the individual.  As I have read no other books on the subject, I have no recommendation for you. 

            K.  Anthropologies:  literature which focuses upon groups of people deceased or living.

 

III.  Religious/Spiritual:  This class of literature would be classified as "Fiction" by the non-believer and "Non-fiction" by the believer; So, I have made a separate category.  You get to decide for yourself whether they are fiction or non-fiction.

            A.  Scriptures

                    1.  Vedas: sacred writings of the Hindus;  They are the oldest scriptures that are still in print.  It is estimated that they were "received" from Krishna around 2000 B.C.  As I understand them, the Vedas are organized like in the table below:

Vedas
Rig-Veda Yajur-Veda Sama-Veda Atharva-Veda
Samhita Samhita Samhita Samhita
Brahmana Brahmana Brahmana Brahmana
Aranyaka Aranyaka Aranyaka Aranyaka
Vedanta /
Upanishad
Vedanta /
Upanishad
Vedanta /
Upanishad
Vedanta /
Upanishad

                    There are four sections of the Vedas: Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Artharva.  Each section is divided into four parts: Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka, and Vedanta/Upanishad.

Definitions
Veda Wit and/or Wisdom (also translated as knowledge)
Rig Prayers of praise to the gods & Aryan heroes
Yajur Sacrificial and Ceremonial Rites
Sama Musical versions of Rig and Yajur
Atharva Science; especially medicinal, herbal knowledge (both beneficial and harmful to humans)
Samhita "Composition"; the original text
Brahmana Interpretation of the text for CITY life
Aranyaka Interpretation of the text for FOREST life
Vendata /
Upanishad
Vendata = end of wisdom / Upanishad = sitting near the teacher (knowledge directly from the teacher); some say it deals with metaphysics.

I have read some of the Vedas.
My references:  [source1] [source2]
To read the Vedas [click here]

                    2.  Quran (Koran):  sacred writings of Islam (Muslims).  I've read some of it.  You can find the Koran online.  [click here].

                    3.  Talmud: sacred writings of the Jews (Hebrews); includes the Law (Pentateuch: the first five books, attributed to Moses) and the "Prophets" (other prophetic writings).

                    4.  Holy Bible:  sacred writings of the Christians {includes the Talmud, the four Gospels of Jeshua the Nazarene (AKA: Jesus), and the epistles of the Apostles}.  It has been reported that the Holy Bible is the all-time best seller in the history of the world.  I've read most of it.  I highly recommend that all Christians read it from cover to cover, and not just read it, but strive to UNDERSTAND it.  You can find the King James Version online.  [click here].

                    5.  Popol Vuh:  sacred writings of the Mayans.  A partial translation of the Popol Vuh can be found online.  I've read most of it.  [click here] or [click here]

 

            B.  Commentaries on the Scriptures

                    1.  Sutras; commentaries by religious reformers on the Vedas, reforming the Hindu religion.  As a result there are at least three religions that have branched from Hinduism.  They are:

                             a.  Brahmanism
                            b.  Buddhism
                            c.  Jainism

                    The Sutras of the above religions may be considered "scripture" by the followers of the religions mentioned above, namely Brahmanism, Buddhism, Jainism.  So be it.

                    2.  Cabala[or Kabala, or cab·ba·la or cab·ba·lah or kab·a·la or kab·ba·la or kab·ba·lah also qab·ba·la or qab·ba·lah]:  Jewish occulted theosophy, a collection of commentaries on the Talmud.  I have not read this.  The first publication in English ever written was partially published in 2004 by Stanford University Press.  It was translated by Daniel Matt.  I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy.

 

             C.  Inspirational (Spiritual):  stories which (whether fiction or non-fiction) are intended to increase faith in the believers of religion, or convert non-believers

My Review of the Genre

While I have read some literature of this genre, I will not and verily shall not recommend any, as non of it is documented and much of the genre is full of fictional stories which do not declare themselves to be fictional, and thus mislead many into believing that they are in fact based upon truth.

           

                     

 

 

 

 

 

 

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