Wednesday, December 12, 2018

John Irving A Prayer for Owen Meany

In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Mission Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. We are currently reading John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, one of my favorite novels ever.


Here's some basic information about the book:


Check out an interview with John Irving here:


A movie version, retitled Simon Birch, was made in 1998.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Gabriel García Márquez One Hundred Years of Solitude

In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Mission Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. For November, we tackled Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The following information was distributed at that meeting:


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote

In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Mission Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. The second book we tackled was Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote. Because of its length, we spread it out over two months, tackling the first part in September 2018 and the second part in October 2018.

The following information was distributed:


Questions About Don Quixote, Book 1:
  1. Don Quixote is often called the first modern novel. Do you agree? Why or why not?

  2. Why do you think this is, according to most estimates, the best-selling novel of all-time?

  3. Lionel Trilling once claimed that “All prose fiction is a variation of the theme of Don Quixote: . . . the problem of appearance and reality.” Discuss.

  4. What was Miguel de Cervantes’s purpose for writing Don Quixote? Critics have debated the question of whether Cervantes’s intention in Don Quixote was to ridicule the chivalric romances…Do you think the book repudiates chivalry?

  5. What is the cause of Don Quixote’s possible madness? Is he even mad or, as Italian literary critic Giovanni Papini suggests, not mad at all, but merely pretending to be?

  6. How does Don Quixote’s perception of reality affect other characters’ perceptions of the world? Does his disregard for social convention change the rules of conduct for the other characters?

  7. Why do you think Sancho Panza sticks with Don Quixote throughout his adventures?

  8. Is there a moral center in Don Quixote? If so, which character occupies the center? If not, why would Cervantes leave this space absent?

  9. What attitude does the novel take toward social class? How is social class a factor in relationships between characters?

  10. What is the role of women as depicted in Part 1 of Don Quixote?

Questions About Don Quixote, Book 1:
  1. Is Quixote a tragic figure, a comic figure, or both?

  2. Is Don Quixote insane or merely eccentric?

  3. Why does Sancho Panzo follow and remain loyal to such a bumbler as Don Quixote?

  4. Does Don Quixote need Sancho Panza?

  5. What is the function of the invention of Cide Hamet Benengali?

  6. What is the significance of Sancho's self-lashing?

  7. What is the significance of Dulcinea del Toboso?

  8. What is the relationship between the intercalated novel of "The Curious Impertinent" and the main body of Don Quixote?

  9. What qualities does Cervantes consider most important in literary art?

  10. Consider whether you prefer Part I or Part II and why.

  11. Discuss some differences in Cervantes' treatment of Part I and Part II.

  12. Was Don Quixote lying when he told what had happened in the Cave of Montesinos?

  13. How is the cave used as a symbolic device in Don Quixote?

  14. What kind of attitude does Cervantes (as a voice in the book) have towards the Moor?

  15. What is the relation between madness or foolishness and wisdom in Don Quixote and Sancho Panza?

  16. Is there any way in which they seem wise or virtuous because of their oddities?

  17. How do you react toward those who use Don Quixote as an object of amusement (the Duke and Duchess, Don Antonio Moreno, etc.)? Is this different from or similar to your reactions to characters who did the same in Part One?

  18. What view of chivalry emerges from Don Quixote as a whole?

  19. Consider Don Quixote’s final repentance. What reaction did you have to it?

  20. Is it a fitting ending?

Sources for Questions:


Check out a 2017 movie version here:


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Fyodor Dostoyevsky Crime and Punishment

In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Mission Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. The first book we tackled was Fyodor Dostoyevsky Crime and Punishment.

At the first meeting of our book club, I distributed handouts which gave context for the book as well as a character list.


Check out the 2002 BBC miniseries of the novel here:


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book Club: Expectations and Guidelines

In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Mission Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. At our first meeting, we established the following expectations and guidelines for our group. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Motivation. Why did people join this group? It will hopefully inspire all of us to read the classics!

  2. Rant/Share. This should be a place where people can rant about books (or aspects of books) which they don’t like as well as share what they enjoy.

  3. To Finish or Not to Finish… While everyone is encouraged to finish books before book club meetings, we also understand people have busy lives or may have lost motivation to finish certain books. Everyone is welcome, regardless of how far along they got in the book. Just don’t expect the group to keep quiet regarding spoilers!

  4. Help. Another big factor in being part of a book club is the assistance we can offer each other in reaching a greater understanding of books, whether it be unpacking a complicated plot, understanding characters’ motivations, or delving into the themes behind a story.

  5. Social/Talk About Books. A book club offers a chance to make connections with others. We want the chance to gather with others who enjoy reading and discussing what they’ve read.

  6. Movies. We also agreed it is perfectly acceptable to watch the movie adaptations of books. Part of our discussions may even be about the differences between a book and its movie version.

  7. Agree to Disagree. It is important that people can express their honest opinions about the books and the feelings they evoke. We must understand that we won’t always agree and that it is okay to have these differences of opinion.

  8. Author Background. We also talked about the value of knowing some background about a book’s author and the possible motivations and context in which the book was written. We agreed that we could post comments on the Meetup page about the author and also bring that into the discussions at book club.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Top 100 Works of Fiction

image from aol.com

A month ago, I posted a list of the top 100 books of all time (see here), assembled by aggregating more than 60 best-of book lists. That list, while mostly fiction, also included works of poetry, non-fiction, and children’s books. This list focuses exclusively on works of fiction.

More than 20 lists focused on fiction were compiled. Then the books which made those lists were ranked based on their overall ranking amongst all books. In the end, only 9 books appear on this list (noted with *) which didn’t appear on the top 100 books of all-time list. Here are the results:

  1. J.D. Salinger The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  2. F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby (1925)
  3. George Orwell 1984 (1949)
  4. Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  5. Vladimir Nabokov Lolita (1955)
  6. Joseph Heller Catch-22 (1961)
  7. John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
  8. James Joyce Ulysses (1922)
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings (trilogy) (1955)
  10. Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre (1847)

  11. Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote (1615)
  12. Emily Brontë Wuthering Heights (1847)
  13. Jack Kerouac On the Road (1957)
  14. William Golding Lord of the Flies (1954)
  15. Toni Morrison Beloved (1987)
  16. Gabriel García Márquez One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
  17. Leo Tolstoy War and Peace (1869)
  18. Aldous Huxley Brave New World (1932)
  19. Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  20. Herman Melville Moby-Dick (1851)

  21. Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness (1899)
  22. Ernest Hemingway The Sun Also Rises (1926)
  23. Margaret Mitchell Gone with the Wind (1936)
  24. George Orwell Animal Farm (1954)
  25. Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  26. Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
  27. Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina (1877)
  28. Fyodor Dostoyevsky Crime and Punishment (1866)
  29. William Faulkner The Sound and the Fury (1929)
  30. Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

  31. Homer The Odyssey (800 B.C.)
  32. E.B. White Charlotte’s Web (1952)
  33. Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse (1927)
  34. Alice Walker The Color Purple (1982)
  35. Ralph Ellison Invisible Man (1952)
  36. Homer The Iliad (800 B.C.)
  37. George Eliot Middlemarch, a Study of Provincial Life (1872)
  38. Charles Dickens Great Expectations (1861)
  39. Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
  40. Gustave Flaubert Madame Bovary (1857)

  41. Salman Rushdie Midnight’s Children (1981)
  42. Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart (1958)
  43. J.R.R. Tolkien The Hobbit (1937)
  44. Louisa May Alcott Little Women (1869)
  45. James Joyce A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
  46. Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange (1962)
  47. Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter (1850)
  48. Ernest Hemingway For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
  49. Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 (1931)
  50. John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men (1937)

  51. Ken Kesey One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962)
  52. Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
  53. Mary Shelley Frankenstein (1818)
  54. Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
  55. Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels (1726)
  56. C.S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1970)
  57. Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale (1986)
  58. Charles Dickens David Copperfield (1850)
  59. E.M. Forster A Passage to India (1924)
  60. Jack London The Call of the Wild (1903)

  61. Dante Alighieri Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) (1304)
  62. William Faulkner As I Lay Dying (1930)
  63. Oscar Wilde The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  64. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince (1943)
  65. Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe (1719)
  66. Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  67. Alexandre Dumas The Count of Monte Cristo (1844)
  68. Edith Wharton The Age of Innocence (1920)
  69. Ernest Hemingway The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
  70. Richard Wright Native Son (1940)

  71. Albert Camus The Stranger (1942) *
  72. William Grahame The Wind in the Willows (1908)
  73. Daphne Du Maurier Rebecca (1938)
  74. Virginia Woolf Mrs. Dalloway (1925)
  75. Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms (1929)
  76. Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
  77. J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) (1999)
  78. Frank Herbert Dune (1965)
  79. Richard Adams Watership Down (1972)
  80. Jane Austen Emma (1816)

  81. John Irving A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
  82. Marcel Proust In Search of Lost Time (1913) *
  83. A.A. Milne Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)
  84. L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables (1908)
  85. Victor Hugo Les Misérables (1862)
  86. Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island (1883)
  87. Francois-Marie de Voltaire Candide (1759)
  88. Evelyn Waugh Brideshead Revisited (1945)
  89. Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar (1963)
  90. William Makepeace Thackeray Vanity Fair (1848)

  91. Paulo Coelho O Alquimista (The Alchemist) (1987)
  92. Stephen King The Stand (1978)
  93. John Bunyan The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)
  94. Henry James Portrait of a Lady (1881) *
  95. James Baldwin Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) *
  96. Franz Kafka The Trial (1925) *
  97. Thomas Pynchon Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) *
  98. Thomas Hardy Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) *
  99. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1887) *
  100. Laurence Sterne The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759) *

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Top 100 Books of All Time

Inspired by the 2018 PBS special The Great American Read, I assembled more than 60 best-of-books lists and aggregated them to create one master list of the all-time books. Here are the results:
  1. Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  2. George Orwell 1984 (1949)
  3. J.D. Salinger The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  4. F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby (1925)
  5. Joseph Heller Catch-22 (1961)
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings (trilogy) (1955)
  7. Vladimir Nabokov Lolita (1955)
  8. John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
  9. William Golding Lord of the Flies (1954)
  10. George Orwell Animal Farm (1954)

  11. Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre (1847)
  12. Aldous Huxley Brave New World (1932)
  13. Jack Kerouac On the Road (1957)
  14. Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote (1615)
  15. Margaret Mitchell Gone with the Wind (1936)
  16. Leo Tolstoy War and Peace (1869)
  17. Toni Morrison Beloved (1987)
  18. James Joyce Ulysses (1922)
  19. Ernest Hemingway The Sun Also Rises (1926)
  20. E.B. White Charlotte’s Web (1952)

  21. Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  22. William Faulkner The Sound and the Fury (1929)
  23. Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  24. Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
  25. Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness (1899)
  26. Emily Brontë Wuthering Heights (1847)
  27. Gabriel Garcia Marquez One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
  28. Herman Melville Moby-Dick (1851)
  29. Homer The Odyssey (800 B.C.)
  30. Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky Crime and Punishment (1866)

  31. Ralph Ellison Invisible Man (1952)
  32. Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart (1958)
  33. J.R.R. Tolkien The Hobbit (1937)
  34. Louisa May Alcott Little Women (1869)
  35. Alice Walker The Color Purple (1982)
  36. Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)
  37. Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse (1927)
  38. Jack London The Call of the Wild (1903)
  39. Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina (1877)
  40. Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

  41. John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men (1937)
  42. Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
  43. Charles Dickens Great Expectations (1861)
  44. Edith Wharton The Age of Innocence (1920)
  45. Plato The Republic (380 B.C.)
  46. Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale (1986)
  47. Richard Wright Native Son (1940)
  48. Various writers The Holy Bible: King James Version (1451)
  49. Salman Rushdie Midnight’s Children (1981)
  50. Homer The Iliad (800 B.C.)

  51. Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 (1931)
  52. Frank Herbert Dune (1965)
  53. George Eliot Middlemarch, a Study of Provincial Life (1872)
  54. Daphne Du Maurier Rebecca (1938)
  55. Gustave Flaubert Madame Bovary (1857)
  56. Charles Dickens David Copperfield (1850)
  57. Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange (1962)
  58. Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter (1850)
  59. Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels (1726)
  60. Ernest Hemingway For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

  61. Dante Alighieri Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) (1304)
  62. Niccolo Machiavelli The Prince (1532)
  63. William Grahame The Wind in the Willows (1908)
  64. Ken Kesey One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962)
  65. James Joyce A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
  66. Mary Shelley Frankenstein (1818)
  67. John Bunyan The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)
  68. Evelyn Waugh Brideshead Revisited (1945)
  69. Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
  70. William Makepeace Thackeray Vanity Fair (1848)

  71. Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms (1929)
  72. Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe (1719)
  73. C.S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1970)
  74. William Faulkner As I Lay Dying (1930)
  75. Alexandre Dumas The Count of Monte Cristo (1844)
  76. Oscar Wilde The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  77. Jane Austen Emma (1816)
  78. Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
  79. Francois-Marie de Voltaire Candide (1759)
  80. Ernest Hemingway The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

  81. E.M. Forster A Passage to India (1924)
  82. Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar (1963)
  83. Virgil The Aeneid (29 B.C.)
  84. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Faust (1832)
  85. Anne Frank The Diary of a Young Girl (aka The Diary of Anne Frank) (1947)
  86. Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  87. Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are (1964)
  88. Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island (1883)
  89. Adam Smith Wealth of Nations (1776)
  90. Henry David Thoreau Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854)

  91. John Irving A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
  92. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince (1943)
  93. Richard Adams Watership Down (1972)
  94. L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables (1908)
  95. Virginia Woolf Mrs. Dalloway (1925)
  96. Geoffrey Chaucer The Canterbury Tales (1387)
  97. J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) (1999)
  98. A.A. Milne Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)
  99. Stephen King The Stand (1978)
  100. Paulo Coelho O Alquimista (The Alchemist) (1987)