The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

dorianWhat would you give for perfection? Would you sacrifice your money? Your possessions? Happiness? How about your soul? Think twice, because perfection is impossible. What may outwardly appear as perfection is never so. Underneath a pristine surface will always be found some form of corruption or imperfection.

Oscar Wilde explores the idea of perfection, beauty, sin, hedonism, accountability, and aestheticism through The Picture of Dorian Gray. When the story was first published in an 1890 edition of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, it received a lot of backlash due to content deemed “objectionable”, ““vulgar”, “unclean”, “poisonous”, and “discreditable” by the British press. However, the version published in the magazine had already been heavily edited by a Lippincott editor without Oscar Wilde’s knowledge, and was further edited before its publication in book form in 1891. The first unedited version was not published until 120 years after the story’s initial publication. Why was Dorian Gray so heavily edited? Due to the excesses, corruption, and indulgences held within its pages. The beauty of the novel lies within this very decadence.

The story centers around three main characters: Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton, and Dorian Gray. Basil Hallward is an artist who develops an infatuation for Dorian Gray, a young member of London high society who often sits for his paintings. Lord Henry is an established society member and friend of Basil’s whose entire moral code is based on his conviction that “the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”. When he asks Basil about Dorian, the artist responds that he “knew that [he] had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if [he] allowed it to do so, it would absorb [his] whole nature, [his] whole soul, [his] very art itself”, and passionately states that Dorian “is all [his] art to [him] now”. Lord Henry asks to meet Dorian, but Basil resists, insisting that Lord Henry is sure to corrupt him with his hedonistic values.

Despite Basil’s objections, Lord Henry and Dorian meet. That very afternoon, Basil finishes a portrait of Dorian that he believes to be the most beautiful work he has ever created. While admiring it, Dorian states that he wishes his physical self could remain as lovely and untouched by sin as the portrait, while the painting ages and corrupts. Dorian’s wish is granted, and he subsequently falls into a life of sin and opulence. As the years pass, his obsessions over the painting tear him apart from the inside, while his appearance remains spotless.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, of course, carries all the trademark wit and mastery of Oscar Wilde. There is an epigram on practically every page (a notable one is “we can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless”), and the dialogue is clever, thought-provoking, and at times humorous. Every word in the novel is deliberate, and Wilde’s prose is lyrical and absolutely beautiful. The Picture of Dorian Gray reaches into the (deep and dark) depths of the human soul and examines what is to be found there while asking a question – what does it take for man to become monster?

Reviewed by Tara F ’18

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A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

gamIf you have watched the HBO show already or are know nothing about the story A Game of Thrones By George R. R. Martin is a must. The land of Westeros is filled with family feuds, fights for power and lots of emotions. See all the characters while they are still young and alive. Understand why even after being published for twenty years it is still one of the highest rated and talked about book series.

In a land where seasons are so off balance that they can last decades, follow the Starks, Baratheons, Lannisters and many other families lose their trust in each other and try and kill one another. Watch secret alliances form only to fall apart with deception and trickery.

When the king of Westeros dies with no legitimate heir the fight begins. With every family fighting for a claim, chaos breaks out. Wars are fought and many civilians and high lords meet their fatal end. In the words of Cersei Lannister, the queen regent, “when you play the game of thrones you win or you die”.

While everyone is fighting for the crown in the south the men in the north are facing a much larger problem. After one of the longest recorded summers comes to an end, the predicted lifelong winter seems to be brewing and with it come the dead. White walkers seem to be rising from the graves and marching south without anyone stopping them except a 700-foot wall and a few men sworn to protect it.

Hear from different perspectives throughout the story as each chapter is from the perspective of a different character. As the story progresses you feel more and more connected with the different characters and you hear their emotions and secret thoughts. A Game of Thrones is not a book for the fainthearted. In George R.R. Martin’s stories, no character is safe from meeting the bitter end, whether it be by sword, melted gold, fire and countless other ways.

This book series has a huge following due to the readers and watchers getting so invested in the characters and always wanting to know what is next. Because every character is liable to die they never know who will live and who will and die who will eventually end up on the throne. George R. R. Martin notoriously takes years to write new books so in the meantime the following grows and people wait anxiously to hear what will happen.

The world of Westeros awaits.

Reviewed by Sarah C ’18

 

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

secrThe Secret Life of Bees is the compelling tale of how one girl’s life spirals out of control when she runs away from her abusive father. After falling upon the Boatwright sisters, she lives in a world of uncertainty and apprehension. She has finally found a place of refuge and happiness, but fears everything she has gained can be taken away in the blink of an eye. It follows the journey of one girl’s living nightmare, transformed into an unimaginable heaven in a world of tumult.

Set in South Carolina in 1964, Lily Owen’s lives with T. Ray on a peach orchard. He is abusive, violent, and ignorant of his daughter’s feelings and existence. She is cared for by Rosaleen, an African American woman who used to work on the orchard. Lily goes through each day, curious about the blurry memory of her mother’s death when she was four years old. For her fourteenth birthday, she asks T. Ray for more information about her mother, because all she has are a few small belongings buried in a box under a peach tree: one being a wooden carving of a black woman with “Tiburon, SC” carved into the back. He reluctantly tells Lily that her mother cared for all living creatures and used to lure cockroaches out of the house using graham crackers and marshmallows. Lily cherishes this information and the next day, Rosaleen is going to town to attempt to register to vote and Lily joins her. On the way, they are approached by three white men who question why Lily, a young white girl, is walking with a colored woman. Rosaleen proceeds to spit her chewing tobacco on their shoes, which lands her in jail. The men also beat her when she refuses to apologize. T. Ray angrily brings Lily home and punishes her. He tells her that on the day of her death, her mother came to pack up her things to leave Lily because she did not love her. Determined to refute this information, Lily packs her belongings, writes T. Ray a note that states her hatred for him, and runs into town to sneak Rosaleen from the hospital where she is strapped to the bed and being treated for her wounds. Lily and Rosaleen hitchhike to Tiburon, South Carolina in an effort to discover the missing pieces to the puzzle of her mother’s life.

Once they reach town, they stop at a general store where Lily notices a jar of honey, labelled with the same image from her mother’s wood carving: a black Virgin Mary. She asks the store clerk for the details of the source of the honey and Rosaleen and Lily make their way to the house. They meet May, June, and August Boatwright who warmly invite them into their house after hearing Lily’s story about how both her parents died and how she is on the way to her aunt’s house in Virginia. They plan to work for their stay, with Lily helping August on the honey farm and Rosaleen helping May around the house. They settle into their new, peaceful life and seamlessly transition into the Boatwright lifestyle, with no questions asked about their reasoning for being there. One day, Lily discovers May attempting to lure a cockroach out of the house using the same method as her mother: with graham crackers and marshmallows. Lily asks May if she knew Deborah, her mother, and May says that she used to stay in the honey house. This causes Lily to bring up the wooden carving with August. When she finally builds up the courage to open up about the real reason she ended up at the honey farm, it is revealed that August has been aware of the lie the whole time. August recognized Lily the second she walked through the front door many weeks before. When Lily’s mother needed a break from T. Ray’s violence and oppressiveness, she came to stay at the honey house for a while. She left one day and decided to go back to the peach orchard and pack the rest of her belongings and bring Lily to live with the Boatwright sisters. It was this event that resulted in her death. This news leaves Lily stunned when she fills in the missing pieces of her mother’s story and how she came to be. She is comforted when she realizes that she has eliminated a toxic male figure in her life but gained three new mothers who love her deeply. The theme of mother-figures is present throughout the novel when Lily is reminiscing about her mother or rejoicing in the three new mothers she has gained in her new life at the honey house. “Walking to the honey house, I concentrated on my feet touching down on the hard-cake dirt in the driveway, the exposed tree roots, fresh-watered grass, how the earth felt beneath me, solid, alive, ancient, right there every time my foot came down. There and there and there, always there. The things a mother should be.” We witness the transformation of Lily from an ambitious, sheltered young girl to a kind, mature, and determined young woman.

Sue Monk Kidd successfully blends the issues of segregation and gender inequality in the twentieth century. August Boatwright exhibits the breaking of racial and gender stereotypes by being a black woman who owns a house, runs a business, and is highly educated. The novel embodies female empowerment and color-blindness as Lily blossoms while living in an all-black community. The Civil Rights Act is newly enacted but is “nothing but a piece of paper,” and the presence of racial injustice is evident throughout the novel. We witness the overcoming of abusive relationships and the power of persistence shining through.

The Secret Life of Bees sends a powerful message of breaking the barriers of stereotypes and we travel with Lily as she overcomes challenges while venturing to a South Carolina town that holds the key to her mother’s past. The writing style is fluent and powerful, and the word choice leaves the reader feeling mesmerized and captivated. The language makes us feel as though they are right there with Lily, enduring her fear, pain, and happiness. It makes us question our own lives and the way we live them. This excerpt captures the ambiguity yet power of Kidd’s writing. “Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life. I’d traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn’t know which one was heavier. Which one took the most strength to carry around? It was a ridiculous question, though, because once you know the truth, you can’t ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier or not, the truth is yours now.” We journey with Lily as she overcomes the abuse of T. Ray and transitions into a life of bliss and contentment.

Reviewed by Charlotte K ’18

Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison

invIt is a universal experience for humans to battle with the solidification of our identities and the experience of self-exploration varies among each individual. For the main character of Ralph Ellison’s novel ​Invisible Man​, the struggle to define his identity is his greatest challenge.

From his education-driven life in the South, to the hustle and bustle of Harlem, the protagonist recounts the difficulties of self-discovery and establishing his purpose in life. Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Ellison’s novel is that the protagonist’s name is never revealed to the reader. One’s name is arguably the most notable factor of their identity and it is given to you when you first enter this world in order to establish your singularity and character. Not only does the main character feel as though he is invisible, but Ellison’s decision to emit his name from the entirety of the novel relates enhances this belief and allows the main character’s struggle to define his identity to become a firsthand experience for the reader.

We become very familiar with the main character’s interests and qualities, yet despite this familiarity, we never learn his name which causes him to remain slightly foreign to us. One of the most renowned moments of Invisible Man​ is Ellison’s vivid description of the infamous “Battle Royale” which reduced young black men to animals. The main character and the other participants in the Battle Royale were forced to brutalize each other for the enjoyment of wealthy, white men. This moment displayed how the dehumanization of black men in this time period were so easily dehumanized and taken advantage of. ​Invisible Man​ is a difficult read as it confronts various instances of

racism and the difficulties surrounding defining one’s identity. Although it is a challenging read, the detail and descriptiveness are profound and overall I recommend this novel.

Reviewed by Sharde J ’18

Settle for More by Megyn Kelly

setFor my last book I read the autobiography, “Settle for More,” by Megyn Kelly. This book starts off at the beginning of her life. She was born in Bethlehem, NY, and lived with both of her parents and her two siblings. Megyn lived an ordinary life; went to public school, was an average student, and took high school social drama. Megyn attended Syracuse University, and then Albany Law School. After a lot of hard work she became a lawyer, which brought her to many places around the country. We learn about her life in Chicago, Washington D.C, and then New York. My favorite part of this book is the second half of it. This is where she talks about her time as a journalist on Fox News. Megyn was in charge of helping with the Republican Party debates. She tells her side of the story when she and Donald Trump had their differences, and she explains her reasoning behind every question she asked in the debates.

I picked this book because I have enjoyed watching Megyn Kelly on TV, and I found it interesting that she is from the same area as I am. This book encourages hard work, and teaches us that hard work pays off. I have read many autobiographies, but this one sticks out as the best one I have read. Megyn doesn’t just tell us about every important detail in her life, but also teaches us through her mistakes, and successes. She realized she was on the wrong path in life: “spending your life pretending you are something other than what you are is unsustainable,” and was able to get herself back on track embracing her best self.

One important lesson I took out of this book was to never go to bed angry at someone that you love. In the beginning of the story we learn about Megyn’s close relationship with her father. One night they got in a fight because Megyn wanted the most expensive class ring. When her father told her that they couldn’t afford it, she stormed off too her room angry at her father. That night her father had a heart attack and died in his sleep. After her father’s sudden death Megyn said “the answer was that I had gone through a major transformation the past year and a half, and as I changed myself for the better, better things started coming to me. I was settling for more. And “more” meant more from myself”. This book has taught me to never settle for less and always work hard.

Reviewed by Caroline G ’18