Monday, November 3, 2014

QUICK REVIEW: A Separate Peace by John Knowles


An American classic and great bestseller for over thirty years, A Separate Peace is timeless in its description of adolescence during a period when the entire country was losing its innocence to the second world war.

Set at a boys boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic.

Paperback, 204 pages
Published September 30th 2003 by Scribner (first published 1959)
ISBN 0743253973 (ISBN13: 9780743253970)

About the Author

John Knowles (September 16, 1926 - November 29, 2001), b. Fairmont, West Virginia, was an American novelist, best known for his novel A Separate Peace.

A 1945 graduate of the Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, Knowles graduated from Yale University as a member of the class of 1949W. A Separate Peace is based upon Knowles' experiences at Exeter during the summer of 1943. The setting for The Devon School is a thinly veiled fictionalization of Phillips Exeter. The plot should not be taken as autobiographical, although many elements of the novel stem from personal experience. In his essay, "A Special Time, A Special Place," Knowles wrote:

The only elements in A Separate Peace which were not in that summer were anger, violence, and hatred. There was only friendship, athleticism, and loyalty.

The secondary character Finny (Phineas) was the best friend of the main character, Gene. Knowles took to his grave the secret of whether Finny was all a part of his imagination, or an actual friend whose true identity was never spoken.

Gore Vidal, in his memoir Palimpsest, acknowledges that he and Knowles concurrently attended Phillips Exeter, with Vidal two years ahead. Vidal states that Knowles told him that the character Brinker, who precipitates the novel's crisis, is based on Vidal. "We have been friends for many years now," Vidal said, "and I admire the novel that he based on our school days, A Separate Peace."

Knowles' other significant works are Morning in Antibes, Double Vision: American Thoughts Abroad, Indian Summer, The Paragon, and Peace Breaks Out. None of these later works were as well received as A Separate Peace.

A resident of Southampton, New York, Knowles wrote seven novels, a book on travel and a collection of stories. He was the winner of the William Faulkner Award and the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In his later years, Knowles lectured to university audiences.

My Thoughts
I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before.
This is a classic and the story of boys at a prep school. Gene and Finny are roommates and good friends. Finny is athletic, charming and easy-going. Gene is more academic, and seems envious of Finny. There is an incident involving a fall from a tree that changes everything.

I had a hard time with this book. It is a relatively fast read at just over 200 pages. I think you can't help but envision Dead Poet's Society (one of my favorite movies) as you read it. The writing is good and the characters well developed. However I just found it boring. I kept waiting to be drawn in, and that never happened. In fact, I went to my book club discussion for this book, and couldn't even remember any details about what had happened. It is one of those books that within a day or two of completing it, I had completely forgotten it.

So if you like the classics, like books about the human psyche and the relationships between young boys discovering themselves, give this quick read a try. For me? I just never got it.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My Rating:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

READATHON: End-of-Event Meme

Well, it's that time! We've reached the end of the road of this read-a-thon. I was able to participate this year much more than the last year or two, since we've discovered that I'm anemic and have been treating it. I slept through much of the last read-a-thon.

End of Event Meme:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I think it was around Hour 19 that exhaustion finally hit me, and I gave in to sleep. I was going strong up to that point!
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Nope. I always read whatever I have on my list for reviews, and they usually aren't "exciting" books. One of these years, I need to enjoy a good horror story or something!
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope! It keeps getting better each year!
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? It looked as if you guys are really getting the whole prize scenario down, with the form and all. Excellent work!
  5. How many books did you read? Just one, but I think it is the first time I've read an entire book during the read-a-thon.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? Well, I didn't really enjoy it. I thought it was a pretty boring book, but it was the one selected by my book club for this month.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? That would be the one I read!
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? n/a
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'll always try to participate, and I'll always try to be a reader. A cheerleader, I am not!
So it was a great read-a-thon! I was able to hang in this year until around Hour 19 or 20 without any trouble! Thanks to all that make it possible, and we'll see you next time!

READATHON: Best of the Best Challenge (Hour 22)

Lisa from over at Lisa's World of Books is hosting a challenge for the best of best of your reading year. I didn't realize until this moment what a lackluster year I've had so far this year. Looking over my list of books that I've read this year, I realized that there are so few that I'm excited about, but here are my choices:

Best Setting of Your Reading Year

Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes

A terrible loss. A desperate journey.
A mother seeks the truth.

In December of the year 1377, five children were burned to death in a suspicious house fire. A small band of villagers traveled 200 miles across England in midwinter to demand justice for their children’s deaths.

Sinful Folk is the story of this treacherous journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village.

For years, she has concealed herself and all her secrets. But in this journey, she will find the strength to claim the promise of her past and find a new future. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and redemption.

Why? I could picture this entire book in my head. If you've ever seen Game of Thrones and know the barren cold of the North, then you know the setting for Sinful Folk. The author did a great job developing the setting.

Best Mystery of Your Reading Year

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

Twelve years ago, Eve Lattimore’s life changed forever. Her two-year-old son Tyler on her lap, her husband’s hand in hers, she waited for the child’s devastating diagnosis: XP, a rare genetic disease, a fatal sensitivity to sunlight. Eve remembers that day every morning as she hustles Tyler up the stairs from breakfast before the sun rises, locking her son in his room, curtains drawn, computer glowing, as he faces another day of virtual schooling, of virtual friendships. But every moment of vigilance is worth it. This is Eve’s job, to safeguard her boy against the light, to protect his fragile life each day, to keep him alive—maybe even long enough for a cure to be found.

Tonight, Eve’s life is about to change again, forever. It’s only an instant on a rainy road—just a quick text as she sits behind the wheel—and another mother’s child lies dead in Eve’s headlights. The choice she faces is impossible: confess and be taken from Tyler, or drive away and start to lie like she’s never lied before.

Why? This was an interesting story. Built on top of this "whodunit" mystery of who was responsible for a hit and run that killed a neighborhood girl, there is this boy with a rare genetic disease that forces him to live in the night, where he wanders his neighborhood and learns his neighbors' secrets.

Best Series Book of Your Reading Year

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

#1 New York Times bestselling novelist Greg Iles returns with his most eagerly anticipated book yet, and his first in five years – Natchez Burning, the first installment in an epic trilogy that weaves crimes, lies, and secret past and present into a mesmerizing thriller featuring Southern mayor and former prosecutor Penn Cage.

Why? I've never understood why this book is described as "the first in a trilogy", as it is the fourth book in a series involving the character Penn Cage. Perhaps it is the first that takes place in Natchez? Regardless I really enjoyed the writing and it held my attention throughout. This was a really exciting story about an attorney trying to solve murders that took place during the civil rights era, now decades later. It was so good, that I now want to go back and read the first three books showcasing Penn Cage.

Best Non-Fiction Book of Your Reading Year

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg 

An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom.

The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults.

At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.

Why? This book is absolutely fascinating! In the West, we tend to simplify things, but the issues in Afghanistan are so much more complicated than we want to acknowledge, and this book delves into what leads many parents to turn their daughters into boys, at least for a few years leading up to puberty, and some that remain this way long beyond.

So those are my favorites so far this year. I hope maybe someone else out there who reads this will give at least one of these books a try!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

READATHON: Pet Parade (Hour 16)

Estella over at Estella's Revenge is hosting this hour's challenge, and asking read-a-thon participants to post a picture of what their pet is doing right now.

Well, I have a lot of them in my house, but right now I have this going on in my lap...

This is Shotsie, one of my three cats.

And at the foot of the bed we have this going on...

That's Zook. He's one of my two dogs, and he's jealous that Shotsie is in my lap.

And now back to reading!

READATHON: Book Spine Poetry (Hour 15)

Irish at Ticket to Anywhere is hosting a mini-challenge this hour, challenging people to create poetry from book spines. This isn't my best book spine poetry work, but here is my attempt:

The bird sisters.
The third son.
The forgotten girl,
fiendish Katie Gale.
My mother's secret
autobiography of us.