Friday, July 25, 2014

The Cephalopod Coffee House (the Bloggers Book Club!)


Thanks to the Armchair Squid for hosting the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, on online gathering of bloggers who love books. If you're interested, please sign the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.

I'm the weird one in this group, I've decided. Reading is a passion, but it is the season of life where other responsibilities determine how I spend my precious reading time. While prepping to help homeschooled high school students in World Literature, my duties as teacher have required me to go back and re-read many classics.

 


So, while I want to the The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt or Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, I find myself cramming the classics to refresh my memory this month...and a little time for one re-read of a much loved book. 



There's really not much that is exciting that I can tell you about The Iliad or The Odyssey. Shhh...don't tell my young people. It's a very unfair world out there where they will be required to be literate and conversant on a lot of books that they might not have chosen for their weekend fun-read.

For example, The Iliad is about the Trojan War, Even more than the war, it's about Agamemnon's beef with the warrior Achilles, mistreated female captives, glory earned in war, gods and goddesses sticking their nose in humanity's business and the Trojan prince, Hector, getting a raw deal even in death.  

Intrigued? Good, because I have to practice making this extremely interesting to teenagers while possibly maintaining a dactylic hexameter. Ditto for The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Augustine's Confession, Dante's Inferno, Faust, War and Peace, but with different meter...you get the picture. 

That, my friends, is the main reason those books form the black hole that consumes my reading hours.

After so much required reading, something had to give, and so I searched through my own library for a good, solid read and passed all the recently written stuff to revisit Sophie's Choice by William Styron.

Why do I love this book so much? I've pondered that , and  it's truly the character development. I think Styron is a master at pulling me in to the story immediately and getting me to that all-so-important place where I care about the characters and really want to know more about them. 

The story is told by one of the characters twenty years after the events occurred in 1947, post World War II. Southerner and would-be writer, Stingo, goes north to Brooklyn where he meets the beautiful Sophie, a Polish woman who had survived the holocaust. Stingo is a bit of a third wheel, because Sophie is devoted to the charismatic and charming Nathan, but they all rent rooms in the same boarding house.

Nathan is as volatile as he is charming. Sophie seems a little too willing to put up with Nathan's shenanigans and Stingo is drawn to both of them. All through the book, we see Nathan and Sophie battle and make up. When times are good, they're very good, but when Nathan's paranoia and unpredictable nasty temper rears it's ugly head, trouble ensues and no one is safe. 

A emotionally wounded Sophie finds herself leaning on Stingo as a friend and confident during these ugly episodes with Nathan, and through their conversations, Stingo learns about Sophie's time in Auschwitz during the war. Sophie is haunted by things she had to do during the war years, and has not completely shared important details - like her Nazi-loving father or her resistance fighter lover or her own attempts to seduce a Commandant at the concentration camp to save the life of her son.

Together, Stingo and Sophie worry about Nathan's mental state. Nathan is flipping out with greater frequency and it is revealed that drug use is involved and Nathan may not be the brilliant scientist he claimed to be. Eventually, he threatens both Stingo and Sophie; add a gun to make sure you realize that guy is serious. Along the way, they learn that Nathan is mentally ill and has always been so.

Stingo and Sophie flee to Virginia by train, fearing for their lives. Stingo reveals his love for Sophie and his desire to marry her and settle down, but Sophie has an air of impending doom. She shares her most difficult truth: that she had to make the terrible choice to send one of her children to the gas chambers, so that the other might live. 

None of this scares off the long suffering Stingo, who loves everything about Sophie without reservation. Finally, our guy Stingo participates in the horizontal bop with Sophie. I'm sure the character thought that this was the beginning of the relationship he craved with his dream girl, but it would not be so. See what happened there? I'm worried about what a fictional character thought.

Convinced that her death is near, Sophie does her part to make it happen faster by returning to Nathan. The next morning, Nathan and Sophie are found dead by their own hand, having committed suicide.

What does this say about me that I love this sad story? I root for the underdog, Stingo, rejoice when Nathan is charming and nearly weep over the trials of Sophie. I feel the weight of each conflict and the yearning of Stingo. I'm totally pulled in to the story.

In 1982, the movie came out (which I also loved, in spite of the fact that I almost always think the book is better). I put the book away for twenty plus years. I'm glad I have it, though. Dang, that is a good read. If you haven't read it, find a copy, don't just say, "I've heard of that one..." quietly to yourself. Go! Get that copy! Don't make me go all Nathan on your hiney.




22 comments:

  1. I read Sophie's Choice in college and remember crying my eyes out. Loved this book, but don't think I could ever go back and reread it because its so so sad. You're right - the character development was brilliant and riveting. Good recommendation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katie, you were raised right... I, on the other hand, am a glutton for punishment.

      When I have a good read, I LIVE in that book till I'm done (and sometimes, a little bit afterwards!).

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  2. You're not going to believe this - I hardly do - but I actually woke up thinking about Sophie's Choice this morning. I'm not even sure how my brain came around to it but there it was. I've never read the book but I've seen the movie - definitely a story that stays with you, no matter the medium.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I saw the movie and it was so sad, so heart-wrenching, I don't think I could revisit it in any form.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hmm, I've heard of it but I've never read it. Your love of it makes me want to though, onto the list it goes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome! You'll be a Styron fan, for sure. :-)

      Delete
  5. Sounds like a guaranteed book hangover! I have never read the book, or seen the movie though I'm familiar with the storyline. If I'm gonna plunge in I had better have some fluff book on stand-by so I don't crash too hard!

    Thanks for recommending it.
    Veronica

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Proceed with caution, Veronica! Have a designated driver.

      Delete
  6. These sound like great books! I never get to read the classics...always trying to keep up with what's selling now in children's fiction. Every now and then I'll work in a grown-up book, though, and it feels so indulgent!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've given me a big list of things I want to read just by checking out your blog daily. Thank you, Ms. Stephanie!

      Delete
  7. I'm quite fond of The Odyssey. You should show the students Brother, Where Art Thou? It's hilarious. When The Hurricane and I first saw it, we couldn't stop whispering to each other about what was going on in the movie and how it related to the book. I read Sophie's Choice long ago. It is the reason I became a Christian, so it has a very important place in my life. Styron is a brilliant stylist.

    Love,
    Janie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Janie, we are wired the same way, I believe.

      Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? is a favorite around here ("my hair!") and I, too, couldn't help but comment on the parallels. It's not that I don't like the classics, it that I don't like having to "sell" them to young people. So many want pure entertainment, whereas I am trying to push critical thinking. I get creative with it. :-)

      I LOVE this comment.

      Love, Cherdo

      Delete
    2. Classics are wasted on the young. They should read the classics when they get to college. In high school, they should read modern classics that will make them eager to learn more.

      Delete
  8. This sounds like a book that novice writers should read to learn about developing depth in their characters. I'll pass on reading it, though, as I'm a stickler for happy endings. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree! It would be a great learning tool.

      I can't explain why I love to have my heart ripped out by a novel, ha ha.

      Delete
  9. I've been working on re-reading classic stuff, lately, too.
    Sort of.
    But not Sophie's Choice. That's one I don't think I'll ever read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Recommendations are always appreciated, Andrew. Lay one on me. Large print version? Even better (ha ha).

      Delete
  10. Dagnabbit! I thought you were going to review the Goldfinch. I read it a few months ago and really enjoy reading other people's comments on it, so promise me at some point you'll read and review it for a CC. :) William Styron has been on Amazon's radar lately, they keep offering up his books as Daily Deals. I was also too traumatized by the movie to want to wade through the book, but I'm glad I have your review as a proxy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your wish is granted - next month, I will try my best to deliver a solid Goldfinch review! I just needed a push. My desk is like a smorgasbord, and now I have a great reason to chose Goldfinch over the other options.

      Delete

Thanks for your personal yada, yada, yada,
Love, Cherdo