As the semester, finals, and the year 2016 come to an end, I thought it would be worthwhile to close it off by talking about some of the things I personally like to do when I don’t have exams. A December without finals seems like it should have occurred a long time ago, but somehow I have managed to recall some of my favorite books that I have completed as a past time. In case you were wondering, reading is not my first choice of a hobby after exams. I don’t just go home and crack open Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species the minute I finish a bio or chem exam. In fact, I’m lucky even if I finish a book within a few months, which is my personal record. But since many have talked about their favorite shows on Netflix, popular Youtube videos, or great video games that I personally miss playing (Assassin’s Creed to name a few), I thought it would be nice to go through some of the biggest classics I’ve managed to finish over the past two years to give a glimpse of the adventures, tragedies, and horrors that preceded our generation and still leave an impact on the reader after they finish reading.
Before I get started, I want to note that there will not be any spoilers for those of you who haven’t read these books yet, if you plan on ever doing so.
So let’s travel back in time to…
1. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Okay, maybe this one wasn’t that far back, but Book One of George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, on which the show is based, was the one I most recently completed before school started this past summer. I kept hearing about Game of Thrones throughout high school, and personally I have liked medieval fantasies in the past, and some of my friends and family members really like the show, more than they like school, and when I found out it was based on a series of books, I thought I would give the first one a try to see how the story flows and whether I still possessed the medieval mindset. When I finished, on July 30, I was exhausted. Every detail was spelled out precisely and each chapter began with another character’s perspective and I had to adjust to fitting into my mind each one’s storylines, and the overall plot quickly became complex within the first 100 pages. But it was still remarkably captivating, and when I finished the book, I wanted to know more, but was too tired and anxious about the new school year that I decided to start watching the show instead (sorry fans who insisted I read the books first). Maybe I might read the next books anyway, because even watching the episodes proved to be quite a task at times, and I’ve tried not to look at spoilers to ruin my experience. I am far behind, currently on Season 4 , and plan to catch up as soon as possible. I told myself I wouldn’t watch any more episodes until finals are over, but keeping that string tied has been as difficult as studying for multiple tests at once. I must fight!
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Going further back this time, I now present the 1897 Gothic horror classic by the Irish author Bram Stoker. I never considered myself really into tales about vampires or anything too supernatural, but since I read Frankenstein in English class during high school, I thought I would go back to the original story of the other Halloween-favorite,a monstrous blood-sucking creature that is still portrayed in today’s society. Although the story had some lapses in progress at times, it was still pretty scary to read some of the letters and messages written by a few of the characters, and one particular part had me wanting to sleep with the lights on and I hope that writing this now hasn’t reinstated that fear. But not to scare all you future readers, the story does pick up at the end, and each character has left a different impact on my view of the overall horror genre during the Gothic period. This is a new kind of horror that is different than the ones I see in slasher or paranormal films. It is the type that is not meant to scare by action, but by setting and character development, a horror that I did not experience as much in Frankenstein, whose tale I walked away from with more a sense of sympathy than fear or uneasiness, but that was compensated for by this book, which I hope I won’t be too scared to read again.
3. Beowulf by ???
The original author is unknown, but the 1999 English translation by Seamus Heaney (from really Old English) leads me to this epic poem in alliterative verse of a godlike hero who fights monsters. The story sounds simple, but is actually a complex tale of survival, pride, and religion that dominates the land of the Danes and Geats in the story. Beowulf is the upholder of hope for a number of ruling families who are seemingly helpless when dealing with various supernatural entities that threaten their existence as rulers and as warriors, and also as people. However, ultimately, there will always be a final battle even for the greatest of heroes, but for me the adventure and suspense associated with each of Beowulf’s undertakings on each of the three monsters in the epic is what led me to finish what we had started in English class junior year, in which we only examined snippets of the story. As the only full length manuscript of Old English literature still around, this story is truly unique in its delivery of the tale of a courageous warrior with superhuman capabilities. Good luck to you folks who decide to try and read the original text. You’ll be left wondering how our own language has evolved.
4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
I now go to the tale of the monstrous white whale Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Spoiler alert: This story is mostly about whales. Over 800 pages exist of the crew of different classes of the Pequod chasing down the whale who chewed off Captain Ahab’s leg, with cetology (the study of whales) taking over the middle for a solid portion. It took me a good nine months to chew through it all, and I was left wondering whether it was worth it. There is a story, but it took a lot of patience and perseverance to understand the conflicts on the ship along with the mysteries that the sea holds. This was a great read because personally I was curious to find out what life on the sea in the 1800s would have been like, especially since it would be different from a modern-day cruise, and since none of my family knows much about fishing or whaling. It was quite an adventure to explore the sea side of literature and learn more about Nantucket and the various other ships the Pequod comes in contact with. I wouldn’t be lying when I say this is a difficult book, but I personally admire Melville’s passion and style of writing like a textbook author, especially since he himself spent a lot of his life on the sea. But honestly, I don’t think I will be reading the book from beginning to end again any time soon. Looking back, I wonder now how I actually managed to do it the first time.
5. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
I haven’t read this yet, so I can’t really say anything about it.
These books were only some of the handful of memorable ones that I remembered reading over the years. I initially didn’t consider reading to be anywhere near fun in high school, but during the summer before my freshman year of college I was charged with a sudden new curiosity about the classics and their impact on modern literature and other media. Somehow I felt that I started at the right time, as college, being a time of exploration, allows one to go beyond oneself, and delving into the classics has been a journey that showed me new perspectives I wouldn’t have gained simply by taking science courses or choosing a career in medicine. With this broad new knowledge of the world from different angles I hope to extend my interest and curiosity to more classics to develop a bigger picture, after finals are done of course. My next one will most likely be The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
As the first year of my blog post writing comes to an end, I want to take the time to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and of course, good luck on final exams!
I hope this post wasn’t too distracting.