Category Archives: Reading

Coming of Age — The Young Adult Experience

I always have liked the coming of age story – the character is a young person who moves through innocence into a more   mature view of the world either by experiencing a life changing relationship or event, assuming responsibility or learning a   lesson.  Two books I read recently and one movie I saw all fall into this realm.

I’ve decided that, while all three of these stories (the film is based on a book) are coming of age pieces, they differ in each seems to tackle specific aspects of life.

Looking for Alaska by John Green.  I’d heard about this book when it was first published in 2005.  I heard it compared to the novel Catcher in the Rye, and if it had some of the same sardonic tone, I was curious. Miles, the central character, is sent to attend Culver Creek Preparatory School in Alabama, the alma mater of his father.  Miles had been something of a loner during his first year at his local high school and when his parents suggested he go away and live at this private school he actually thought it would be a good thing.  At Culver Creek he develops close friends, learns how to maneuver both the academic and social maze of the private school environment, and finds that life does goes on after loss.  One of this novel’s strong points is that it’s told in first person.  In my opinion, also, it’s a book that is most definitely worth a person’s time, whether he or she is 14, 40 or 80.  Yes, that good.  It’s coming of age emphasis is friendship and academics/school.

Hunger Games  by Suzanne Collins.  Never before can I recall a book being read by such a diverse group of people (teenagers, librarians, and parents to name a few) and all of them being enthused by it.  Again a strong point is it is told in first person.  Central character, Katniss Everdeen from lowly District 12, is a very smart young person whose mental acuity and physical agility is brought to an extreme test.  A science fiction story that blends a character’s awakening with the dynamics of a totalitarian future and the ever constant striving for individual and familial survival, the book is exciting and consistently fascinating.  Its coming of age aspect is competition/survival and familial concern.

White Oleander – the film (based on the book by author, Janet Finch)  This film was an eye opener, to say the least.  A young girl’s relationship with a beautiful artistic unstable mother is tested when the mother is sent to jail for murdering the mother’s boyfriend.  The young girl never knew her father and has no siblings or other relatives.  She is placed in foster homes as well as a home for abandoned children who cannot be placed in foster care.  As she begins to have experiences away from her mother’s ever watchful eye, the young girl begins to realize that her mother is a dangerous person whose strength is often used to destroy others.  A painful exploration of relationship difficulties along with probing deeper truths, this story has significant impact.  Its coming of age theme is relationships, trust and love.


More about Books….author Marilynne Robinson

I have a favorite book.  Before I read this book nearly twenty years ago now, I didn’t have one.  It is the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.  There is something ethereal and haunting about the story and it is written, according to someone who described it at some point, as if “it was one long poem.“  Until I read that description of Housekeeping I didn’t know what about it captivated me so much.  Perhaps the way it was written is a big part of it.

It is one of the only books I’ve read that when I finished it I gave it to a friend and said it such a good book he ought to read it.  Funny that years later this friend does not recall my giving him the book, and he didn’t read it evidently.  I don’t begrudge him as he has a lot of books and this book was just one more in his apartment.  I can only surmise that I must not have dwelled upon my fondness of Housekeeping at the time I gave it to him otherwise he would’ve possibly remembered it.

During the past really 20 years since I read Housekeeping I did wonder about the author, Marilynne Robinson.  It turns out she published another novel Gilead in 2004 and followed that with the novel Home in 2008.   I did hear about Gilead around the time it was initially published, and I put it in my mind to read this novel.  Home I didn’t actually know about until recently.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson             

Just this week I finished reading the novel Gilead.  It took several weeks and it wasn’t until mid-way through this novel that the pieces of it began to fit together for me.  It is the story of an older man, a preacher in the small Iowa town of Gilead who is slowly failing in health.  Approximately 10 years earlier this man married a younger woman and together they have now a 7 year old son.  Gilead is comprised of this older preacher writing to his young son about his life, their heritage (the older preacher’s father and grandfather were also preachers) and trying to give his son some guidance that later the son can possibly benefit from.

Very different from the novel Housekeeping that I so was enamored with.  Still there are passages within Gilead that seemed to me almost astounding and at that point I usually had a hard time comprehending what I was reading.  Recently I read that when entertainer and reader Oprah Winfrey told author,Toni Morrison that she often has to reread parts of Morrison’s novels to understand them, the author replied, “That, my dear, is reading.”

I am including here two separate sections from the novel Gilead by author, Marilynne Robinson, that stopped me in my tracks (there are actually more of these segments that similarly affected me).  Sometimes I would read the sections aloud as I was re-reading them.

        “Our dream of life will end as dreams do end, abruptly and completely, when the sun rises, when the light comes.  And we will think, All that fear and all that grief were about nothing.  But that cannot be true.  I can’t believe we will forget our sorrows altogether.  That would mean forgetting that we had lived, humanly speaking.  Sorrow seems to me to be a great substance of human life.”

And another…

        “As I have told you, I myself was the good son, so to speak, the one who never left his father’s house—even when his father did, a fact which surely puts my credentials beyond all reproach.  I am one of those righteous for whom the rejoicing in heaven will be comparatively restrained.  And that’s all right.  There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality.  It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal.  So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence? 

        It is worth living long enough to outlast whatever sense of grievance you may acquire.  Another reason you must take care of your health.”

This novel Gilead won several awards, I believe.   I have learned this week that Robinson’s subsequent novel after Gilead entitled Home is a companion to  Gilead and an elaboration of the Broughton family who are featured in the former novel.  Some people have said that reading Home helps to create a better understanding of Gilead.  I’m not ready to try reading Home just yet as I’m really still absorbing Gilead.

Further Confessions of a Guilty Book Reader

      Books I started to read and didn’t finish….Part II

A few weeks ago I posted a blog confession regarding books I started to read and for some reason wasn’t able to complete.  Last week I stumbled upon an article published online in late January this year.  The article appears on both the online Atlantic Monthly Magazine and on and its about a 2007 book entitled The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.

As I looked at the two book lists that were compiled from the voting of choices made by 125 famous authors, I wondered how these greatest books compared with the books that I started to read and stopped.  Here are the two top 10 book lists (organized by the past two centuries) with my guilty or not guilty (meaning yes, I read the entire book) notations included:

Top Ten Books of the 20th century

1.  Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald   (YES, completed)

3.  In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

4.  Ulysses* by James Joyce

5.  Dubliners* by James Joyce  (Oops, this one isn’t on my original list–I forgot I started it and stopped — GUILTY)

6.  One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez   (GUILTY)

7.  The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

8.  To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf   (GUILTY twice)

9.  The complete stories of Flannery O’Connor

10. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

**I must include here that I did read at least (and finish) Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Top Ten Books of the 19th Century

1.  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

2.  Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

3.  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

4.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain  (GUILTY)

5.  The stories of Anton Chekhov

6.  Middlemarch by George Eliot

7.  Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

8.  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens   (YES, completed)

9.  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

10. Emma by Jane Austen

The articles also include two additional lists related to authors whose books were most frequently included in the voting process.  If you are interested in reading further here is a link to the online piece written by Maria Popova on her website


Here also is a link to the work The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books on


I don’t know if I’ll use these lists to fill in the gaps in my reading.  I guess I’m wondering about Nabokov as he’s on the 20th century list twice (for Lolita and Pale Fire) and I’ve never read him.   It will probably be Pale Fire if I decide to.

Confessions of a Guilty Book Reader

I read.  I’m not an avid reader per se.  I just enjoy fiction (especially) and I believe that reading a good novel can be a very worthwhile experience.   However I’m not a quick reader so it takes time for me to finish a book.  Maybe because of this, in my life I’ve sometimes stopped reading a book when I grow disillusioned with the story or the approach the author is taking.  Does this mean I’m a quitter or just have particular taste?  I’m not sure.

I guess what’s strange is I can remember fairly vividly the books I started and were not able to finish.  In some instances I also can recall precisely why I stopped reading the work.  Today I decided to make a list of these “unfinished” books.  This list goes back some years, and I have carried in me the guilt of stopping and never picking them up again to finish.

There is one peculiar instance where I started one of these books more than once and still never completed reading it.  I remain in awe of this book to this day.

Books I started to read and never finished:

Light in August by William Faulkner (I read his Go Down Moses)

V by Thomas Pynchon (read his The Crying of Lot 49)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (read and “performed” his short story “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship” as a choral reading)

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipal

Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins (read his first four novels – this was his fifth…)

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (this I tried to read twice and never made it to the end)

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (read some of his short stories in college however I don’t remember their titles)

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (my older sister and I both read this at the same time – she finished it; I didn’t)

So that’s it.  I’m not asking for absolution.  Just wish I had more perseverance.

**this piece is dedicated to writer, Cathy Crimmins and her article “Confessions of a Guilty Shiksa,” that appeared in Philadelphia Magazine in the 1980s.  RIP Ms. Crimmins**


Credit: Graphic of novel War and Peace from the blog: