March’s reads aren’t very tall. Remember, I spent part of the month Vanity Fair. And this month I hit up another time consuming classic. So I’m pretty darn proud of myself for finishing this short list.

March Reads

My books are organized by color, and I’m slowly working my way through each stack, picking out the books I haven’t yet read. I’m on ORANGE.

March Reads

Now for the books!

Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865) by Charles Dickens
What you need to know: Show me the money! This novel is all about money and the effect it has on society and morality.

This took me longer to read than any other work of fiction I’ve ever attempted. Seriously. It took me almost three weeks. This book ate pretty far into April, actually.

Once I get into a book and start connecting with the characters, I read super fast. Thing is, I didn’t connect to the characters for about half of the book. That’s 400 pages. It takes dedication to stick with something that far.

This novel was published in 19 installments, so think of it more as a television show rather than a movie. There are a ton of characters, and each “episode” drags out the main plot with the primary characters as much as possible by giving sub-plot for secondary characters. Like Grey’s Anatomy. This can be confusing because there are so many characters.

I find it helpful to make a short list of characters, their relationship to other characters, and a few markers (like dressmaker, ward, heavy eyebrows- whatever I need to jot down to call up my memory of the character). This will help jog your memory when you haven’t seen a character in two hundred pages and the book picks up like a scene with them just ended.

As for the actual book, it was amazing once I got my bearings. I loved Dickens’ character descriptions and setting; everything is so vivid. He’s one of the few writers that actually can take me back in time. My only major criticism (other than the LENGTH) is the development of Bella’s character. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that she started out strong willed and then ended up an opinionless relationship zombie (kind of like another Bella I know). Ugh. So, my feminism got in the way. But otherwise excellent.

And now for a quote: “And yet, Pa, think how terrible the fascination of money is! I see this, and hate this, and dread this, and don’t know but that money might make a much worse change in me. And yet I have money always in my thoughts and my desires; and the whole life I place before myself is money, money, money, and what money can make of life.”

P.S. I’d love to get this edition. Nick Hornby, one of my favorite contemporary writers, wrote the introduction.

Dharma Bums (1958) by Jack Kerouac

What you need to know: Hippie dippy folks, you already know you’ll love it. Just ignore me.

Because I hate Jack Kerouac. Not his writing necessarily. But him. It’s like reading a fifteen year old’s journal. One day it’s: I totally believe in celibacy. And the next it’s: Oh, I might as well join this orgy. Seriously. I can’t stand it when people are preachy, but aren’t even steadfast in their own beliefs. I’m okay with people exploring. Just SAY you’re exploring. Don’t shove ideas down my throat when YOU won’t even believe them tomorrow.

Rant over.

This book is at the height of Kerouc’s interest in Buddhism. Even though his beliefs annoy me (again, not because he’s a Buddhist, but because he’s so inconsistent and bossy about it), I love his nature descriptions. I’m not that into setting in general, but he’s the only writer I know that can make you feel the elation of climbing a mountain. Beautiful example below.

And now for a quote: “We finally got out of there and climbed on up, soon leaving the shrubbery and leaving a new alpine height of rocky meadow with blue lupine and red poppy feathering the gray mist with lovely vagueness of color and the wind blowing hard now and sleet. “

What you need to know: If you’re interested in social history, then you’ll love this. This is the only account of a footsoldier in the Napolenoic wars. Usually only high ranking officers wrote accounts; this is the only common account that has been found. Pretty cool.

I really like that this account doesn’t glorify war. There’s very little battle action and a whole lot of walking. It also shows how immature the soldiers are in the early campaigns. It shows how much it sucked for the villagers who had to quarter soldiers. The soldiers spent most of their time foraging for the villagers’ food. It shows the soldiers weren’t taken care of in the campaign of 1812 and 1814: they were starving after the retreat from Moscow. They stole eachother’s horses, in effect killing each other. Very dog eat dog.

This book is super cool to read because letters that showed the true bitterness and hardships of the war were confiscated to retain public moral back home. So it was difficult for historians to know how it really was for the common soldiers. Six confiscated letters are also included in the book.

And now for a quote: “The town of Poniemon was already stripped before we could enter, and so were all the villages. Here and there a hog ran around and then was beaten with clubs, chopped with sabers, and stabbed with bayonets; and, often still living, it would be cut and torn into pieces. “

Utilitarianism (1863) by John Stuart Mill

What you need to know: Pick it up if you’re interested in different branches of philosophy.

I read Mill’s Autobiography in January; it’s easier for me to read works of nonfiction in chunks with a few works of fiction sprinkled in between. Luckily, this book (part of the Essential Works of John Stuart Mill (1961), edited by Max Lerner) is really four books in one.

I’ve been interested to read this since my Junior year of high school; we brushed on the philosophy in my Theory of Knowledge course. I’m not a utilitarian and dislike the philosophy as a whole, but reading the primary source really helped me to better understand the philosophy and those who sympathize with it.

I wrote a bit more about the book in this post.

And now for a quote: According to the Greatest Happiness Principle… the ultimate end, with reference to and for the sake of which all things are desireable (whether we are considering our own good or that of other people), is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quality and quantity; the test of quality, and the rule for measuring it against quantity, being the preference felt by those who in their opportunities of existence, to which must be added to their habits of self-consciousness and self-observation, are best furnished with the means of comparison.”

March Reads

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

What are you reading lately? Any recommendations?