Novels: Of Mice and Men, and The Time Machine

Last couple of weeks have been very productive for my reading. I am starting this year with a good pace, so hopefully it stays that way for a while before I burn out. I am currently sitting at eight completed books, which is again pretty amazing. Just like I have mentioned in my previous post, I find taking a quick break from longer books to finish a short novella is a great way to stay out of reading slump and boost your motivation. Right now my plan is to include a book under 180 pages in my reading diet every week or so. To see what my options were, I quickly re-arranged my TBR list on Goodreads by page number and realized that I have an amazing array of classics at my disposal. This week’s choice fell on The Cement Garden by Ian MacEwan, which is also on my TBR 2013 challenge list! Meanwhile, this week I am also starting my book club’s chunky selections 1Q84 and The Count of Monte Cristo. This year is going to be amazing! Also, since I am so behind on my journaling, I think today I will just do a quick write up for two novellas I read back in January.

of mice and men steinbeckAuthor: John Steinbeck, 1937
Genre: Drama
Format: Ebook, 115 pages

Of Mice and Men was outstanding! Well, first I thought it would be another one of those “little house on a prairie/nothing there, but the dusty wind” kind of mid-century boredom I dislike so much. But it earned a place on 1001 books list, besides being extremely short, so I decided that no harm could be done by biting the bullet and just quickly finishing it. Was I ever wrong! This little gem is incredibly tender and excruciatingly sad (my two favorite things in good literature). It follows a brief story of two men: a migrant field worker George Milton and his friend Lennie Small. Lennie is a giant with a heart of a child, and though it is not directly stated in the book, it becomes obvious as the story progresses that he suffers from mental disability. His one passion in life is taking care of small animals, which, due to his uncontrollable strength, he unfortunately usually ends up killing instead. This conflict between Lennie’s childish innocence and his tragic actions become the catalyst for the plot. In fact, when the book opens we see George and Lennie on the run from a small town, where the unfortunate fellow is accused of rape. The truth is, Lennie just likes to “pet nice things” and, upon seeing a pretty red dress on a girl, he instinctively grabs the bright fabric. As the girl starts screaming, Lennie panics and clenches to the dress even more, causing others to believe in the malicious intent. I am telling this backstory in detail, because it becomes an integral part to the events at the men’s new place of employment. These tragic events come crashing down George’s dreams of peaceful living on his own farm and force him to make the hardest choice in his life. The ending is breathtaking and reflective – something I haven’t had a chance to read since The Sailor. I am definitely buying a paperback copy for my shelf; I expect this book to be reread many times in future.

time machine wellsAuthor: H. G. Wells, 1895
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: Ebook, 112 pages

I don’t know how, but H. G. Wells found his way in my hands for the third time in about a year. I don’t think I’ve read any other author with this frequency. I cannot say that he is in my top ten authors either, so what is going on? I like that his stories are imaginative and concise. They are fun and quick, and don’t require too much thinking. But I also love arguing with Wells – maybe that is the reason I keep coming back to him. At the time I was also painfully finishing up The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and Wells only aggravated my irritability towards typical 19th century Englishman attitude towards people that did not belong to the same class and gender as them. At one point I even complained to my mother, suspecting that I just can’t grasp Victorian male writers. But I think Wells just got the heat due to the circumstances around my reading history, and not the quality of his writing. So, to briefly summarize The Time Machine, this book is about a gentleman who happens to invent means by which he can traverse back and forth in time. His first objective is of course to go on an amazing expedition into the far future – alone. Naturally, he lands his apparatus on the heads of some distant civilization that is somewhat deteriorated version of humans. Evolutionary speaking, it is a proven fact that with increased nutrition and healthcare, humans tend to grow in height. It is supported even by the fact that people today are on average few inches taller than they used to be just fifty years ago. Our ape-like ancestors were even smaller, often registering at under five feet. So, naturally you would think Wells’s time traveler would meet some race of giants, ruling the Earth with their plasma guns and flying cars. Nope. The people of hundreds of thousands of years from now will be around four feet tall, incredibly sensitive and prone to laughter, scared of the dark and living in communion-type of society, eating nothing but fruits and unable to swim. They will also care not for sciences or technology, arts or compassion; instead they will float through time until they evolutionary degrade even further. They are so un-human, Wells could have inserted a society of land-bound dolphins, and the story wouldn’t have changed a bit. If that is where life is heading, it certainly is a depressing thought. After the main storyline is over, Wells is graciously giving us a glimpse of what Earth’s final days might look like. His theory is based on the sun gradually dying out, eventually leaving our planet to few crawling plants and strange gigantic crabs. That was the part of the book that tickled my fancy the most; I absolutely loved it! In the end we also learn that the time traveler goes on another expedition, but never comes back again. While the story was just okay, ending actually made me crave some more Wells, so maybe we’ll see me plunging into Invisible Man sooner rather than later.

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