by Abby Gemechu

Last year’s ratings:

  1. The Bean Trees- Barbara Kingsolver (6/10)
  1. Arabian Nights- translated by Husain Haddawy (6/10)
  1. Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury (5.5/10)
  1. The Odyssey- Homer, translated by Emily Wilson (2.5/10) 
  1. Midsummer Night’s Dream- William Shakespeare (6/10)
  1. Farewell to Manzanar- Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston (10/10)

This year’s ratings and reviews (first semester only):

  1. Great Expectations- Charles Dickens (3.5/10)

I didn’t want to be too harsh on Dickens’ 19th century coming-of-age novel, but unfortunately, as my rating probably suggests, I was not too big of a fan of this unit last year. I don’t know if my dislike of Great Expectations stems from the fact that I generally don’t tend to gravitate towards historical fiction(?), but overall, I remember being slightly bored with the general plot and majorly annoyed with our infuriating protagonist Pip. This, in addition to Dickens’ penchant for including incredibly lengthy and jam-packed sentences, contributed to this book’s pretty low score.

  1. Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte (5/10)

Overall, I would have to say I sort of liked Jane Eyre- the storyline was pretty interesting, considering how much happened over the course of the plot. While I generally like coming-of-age novels, I’ll admit that I was, for some reason, expecting this book to be a little bit more like Great Expectations (unfortunate pun intended!), but I ended up finding it much more interesting. This is probably because it was (1) easier to become emotionally invested in Rochester and Jane’s storylines, which had more back-and-forth than Pip and Estella’s, and (2) Bronte’s writing style seemed to read a little bit more smoothly and was easier to follow, at least for me. 

  1. The Metamorphosis- Franz Kafka (7/10)

While I appreciate the overarching themes Kafka sought to explore in his 1915 novella The Metamorphosis, such as isolation and loneliness, as well as familial relationships and their artificiality, I was initially not too fond of this book. This was partially because, at first, I found the transformation aspect of the storyline a little difficult to wrap my head, and I think that definitely affected how I viewed the rest of the plot- but in retrospect, it was much easier to accept Gregor’s metamorphosis at face value than trying to reason through it for the remainder of his life as a beetle. One of the things I did end up appreciating about this book was its length, which, given that it was so brief, I thought worked well with the plot. Additionally, the ending with Gregor’s death and his family’s immediate moving-on seemed a little bit anticlimactic, or just not quite as much closure as I had hoped for, but it was overall a pretty good read.

  1. Gogol’s Short Stories- Nikolai Gogol- “The Portrait,” (4.5/10) “The Nose,” (8.5/10) and “The Overcoat” (5/10)

As February started to roll in, we kickstarted our Gogol unit during the first two snow days of the year. I found these stories to be pretty eventful compared to the coming-of-age and transformation novels we had read up to that point, and overall I thought they were rather enjoyable overall, with “The Nose” being my favorite. Many of Gogol’s pieces share common themes, such as art and its complications, social status and class dynamics, identity and self-perception, and more. A lot of my interpretations of his work were influenced heavily by the biography we read about him at the beginning of this unit, as it contextualized many of his interesting, albeit sometimes strange, character and plot decisions throughout the three stories. It seemed like many of his own personal tragedies found their way into his art, particularly in The Nose and The Portrait, both of which discussed the correlations between art, wealth, and its value/integrity, in addition to losing creative ownership or control over art- things which I think he may have experienced over the course of his life.