Dracula (Bram Stoker)

5 Star

Finally, the reason I have been away from this page for a few weeks – Dracula! I finished this novel today and I am very excited to write about it. It made a definite impression on me and left me reflecting on the story and its legacy on the genre of vampire fiction that followed.

Stoker is an excellent writer, and I stopped numerous times to note phrases that I particularly enjoyed. While I frequently underline quotes while I read, it is rare for me to stop to appreciate so much of an author’s language. He is especially impressive in his use of similes and other comparisons, creating sentences and paragraphs that flow together and make a reader stop to appreciate the elegant simplicity of his writing.

Many of my underlined passages come in the journal entries of Mina and Jonathan Harker, whose romance inspires me today, over a century after Stoker originally conceived of it. At the start of Dracula, Jonathan is away from his fiancé on business at Castle Dracula, and Mina becomes sick with worry at his continued unexplained absence. After being reunited, we see them marry and care for each other throughout the hunt for Count Dracula. Together, they discover and face their own weaknesses and imperfections, and their love for one another never wavers. This love inspires all those around them and acts as the continuous beacon of hope throughout the novel.

During the novel, I frequently wondered how much of the story Stoker invented and how much of it was taken from or inspired by existing 19th century vampire folklore. After I finished reading, I looked it up and was surprised to learn that Stoker actually borrowed much of the vampire descriptions from earlier essays and writing. This does not diminish the novel for me, but was definitely surprising as I was under the assumption that Dracula was the first concrete start of Vampire fiction.

However much inspiration Stoker took from other authors, it he clearly left a significant legacy on the genre. Elements of his story are reminiscent of modern vampire stories and television shows, and even of other fantasy stories. The hypnosis of Mina to spy on Dracula immediately reminded me of J.K. Rowling’s “horcruxes,” and the infamous connection between Harry and Voldemort. Maybe it’s the Harry Potter nerd in me, but this definitely seemed like a potential inspiration for Rowling’s idea.

This is probably my favorite of all the classics that I have read this summer, and I would encourage everyone who loves a good suspense story to pick it up immediately!

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)

This was, for lack of a better term, a really cool book. I expected it to be much longer, considering the amount of literature and other media that it has inspired over the years. My first exposure to the character(s?) came with The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, a movie loved by a childhood friend of mine.  Like many of its modern readers, I began the book with the preexisting knowledge that Jekyll and Hyde were one and the same.
This knowledge did not take away from the story at all, and it was still exciting to read the original tale of Jekyll & Hyde. In some ways, it made it even more interesting, as I tried to figure out what was going on as I read through the beginning of the book. At  Stevenson’s first description of Hyde, I was immediately thinking to myself, “That’s Hyde!” and then spent the next few chapters waiting to see if I might be right. Stevenson’s tale, being the original, also explains exactly how Jekyll becomes Jekyll and Hyde, a fascinating bit that is often left out of modern adaptations.

The book was the perfect mix of creepy and entertaining, keeping the reader anxious to learn more with each turning page. Stevenson evolves his tale into a commentary on the good and bad in all of us, and the dangers of allowing evil to dominate your personality. This was a very thought-provoking book that leaves readers considering their own identities and how they might act in Jekyll’s shoes – I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it, as we can all benefit from a bit of self reflection.

Turning to “The Classics”

I have recently developed an interest in classic literature, which has become a rewarding chapter (no pun intended) in my literary experience. It started last year when I decided to read through a number of Dickens novels that I ended up really enjoying and learning a lot from. I was gifted a decent amount of Barnes & Noble credit this summer, which I happily took to their huge store in Midtown Manhattan to purchase new reading material.

For those of you who don’t know, Barnes & Noble has an amazing classics collection. You can find it upstairs in the 5th Ave store, covering an entire wall. Not only do they have a wide selection of classics, they are available in different sizes and prints to fit your needs. And the best part – Most of them only cost a few dollars, with the more expensive ones hitting just $6-$7. I was able to purchase about ten classics, each a comfortable size to fit in a small purse, and none of them larger than the Kindle I normally carry.

Anyway, I have been working my way through these books all summer, and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only is it enjoyable to read through such strong writing from great authors of different times, it is also great for my Social Studies classroom. History and literature go hand in hand, and integrating them can help students find a more personal connection to both subjects.

My personal commentaries on the books will be hitting the blog in the upcoming weeks, but it felt appropriate to include this post to explain the trend and encourage all of my readers to start their own classics binge!

The Man in the High Castle (Philip K. Dick)

3 Star

Warning: Clicking through to Continue Reading will reveal spoilers.

Although slow to start, the Man in the High Castle turned out to be a very thought-provoking book. Despite my interest in WWII, I had trouble engaging in the book until around the halfway point. By the time I finished, I was glad that I persevered through the beginning because it was definitely worth the read.

I watched season one of the TV show beforehand, which might be a first for me. I always try to read the book before seeing it in picture, as it usually does better justice to the story. In this case, I had surprising trouble accepting that the story was completely different than the Amazon interpretation. Specifically, I just loved the Frank-Juliana relationship in the show, and was disappointed that it was not part of the book. Other than the omission of their relationship, I think the book had a better, though less suspenseful, story.

The Man in the High Castle is considered a science-fiction novel, which is not usually my cup of tea. However, the story was not overwhelmed with sci-fi elements, and I might not even have classified it as sci-fi if I wasn’t told the genre before reading. Although alternate reality novels are very science fiction, this one almost bordered between sci-fi, fantasy, and fiction. It was very spiritual, incorporating the ideals of mysticism and energy throughout the story. I would encourage any reader who hesitates before science fiction to give this one a chance – It really might surprise you.

More than anything, I keep thinking to myself – How has nobody used this plot before? I mean, a hypothetical global society that might have emerged if the Axis Powers won WWII…It almost seems like a no-brainer. At first I thought that maybe the further the world moves away from WWII and the Cold War, the easier it is for the general public to look back and imagine what could have been, or what was thankfully avoided. But then I realized the book was actually written in 1963, although it did not become popular until Amazon Prime Video picked it up this year. The Man in the High Castle takes the great risk of making light of a very serious situation, but Dick manages to keep the balance between the emphasis of terror under Nazi rule and the development of quality fiction.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a really interesting read. This is definitely not your light-hearted, happy go lucky book to pickup for the beach, but it was an intriguing story that suggests a terrifying post-war alternate reality to the one that we know.

Warning: Spoilers past this point.

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