Angela’s Ashes / Tis / Teacher Man – Frank McCourt
Summary: Dirt-poor family with deadbeat drunk dad struggle to survive.
Frank McCourt’s memoirs of eye-watering poverty in Ireland had me bawling over my Sunday roast to T about the big bad English and the horrors of blind religion. (I’m not bashing Catholicism, but I am critical of drilling the mortal fear of sin into every child, while teamed with a woeful lack of education in some of life’s most vital matters. A recipe for disaster and unhappiness.) Those bloody Poms! I ranted to him. I can’t believe they did that to you! Oh, there was no shortage of things to get riled up about. The useless, drunkard men, for example.
Two passages in particular stood out for me: the first is the part where Frank recalls licking the grease off the newspaper wrapping that had held some fish and chips; the second almost physically hurts me to type out, so deeply did it affect me – the dinner of corned beef which turns out to be nothing but a lump of grey fat with a tiny “nipple” of red meat on top.
Food is such a central part of my life. I know that there are people, children elsewhere in the world everyday who don’t have enough to eat. And starvation hits you over the head all the way throughout Angela’s Ashes. More than the filth, more than the alcoholism, the hunger was what broke my heart chapter after chapter.
Oh, and as for the other two – while enjoyable, I could take or leave them.
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
Summary: The world is going to hell and only the ruthless but brilliant capitalists can save it.
Forget 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World. Atlas Shrugged is in my eyes the ultimate dystopian novel. If ever there was proof that anything in extreme is to be avoided, then surely it is to be found in Atlas Shrugged. I’ll admit, as a lefty-leaner, I was horrified to realise just how much I sympathised with Rearden and Dagny at times – how logical and reasonable their thoughts and actions were, in comparison with their moralising, feeble counterparts. But seeing both sides of the coin is one of my strengths (weaknesses?); I’m all about cognitive dissonance. Chilling, terrifying, amazing.
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Summary: Rich, bored, unhappy students who don’t fit in run wild, go too far and end up killing someone, secret-society style.
I have seen this book described as summing up the liberal arts college experience. Well, we don’t have those here. I never even lived on campus, so I’m pretty poorly equipped to speak of such things. This is a tale for misfits, of pretension, of sheer stark raving madness, IMO (the shenanigans they get up to must be read to be believed, and what’s scary is that in context they don’t seem half as insane as they actually are). A tale of money and drugs and aimlessness. Sort of like Atlas Shrugged, I greatly enjoyed it but am still not exactly sure what to make of it.