The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

Title:  The Razor’s Edge
Publisher:  Penguin Group
Format:  Trade Paperback
ISBN:  0-14-001860-3
Pages:  314
Source:  Library

I’m on a roll with great books lately!  The Razor’s Edge is another fantastic classic that I plan on adding to my personal library very soon!

The book follows a group of acquaintances throughout Europe and America right after the end of WW1.  It is told in the first person by Maugham himself and after a bit of googling, I’m still not sure if this is a novelization of real people or not.
Elliott is the richer, older, more distinguished gentleman who’s sole focus in life revolves around the social scene and his place in it.  His niece, Isabel, is a pretty girl just coming into marriageable age and is in love with Larry.  Larry has recently returned from the war and seems to have no interest in going to school or going to work, which nobody can seem to understand.  There is also super-rich Gray, who is in love with Isabel and best friends with Larry.  Of course, drama ensues.
The story follows this group of friends over the course of 20 years or so and I became incredibly invested in each of these characters.  I was laughing with them, disappointed by them, and ultimately in love with each of them even if I saddened by their choices.

I’m equal parts in love with and jealous of Larry.  He traveled the world on a whim while searching for the meaning of life and I just wanted to be with him.  I mean, seriously … “loafing” in Paris??  I’m in!

Reading this alongside East of Eden was kind of mind blowing.  East of Eden is essentially one man’s journey to his belief in timshel, or the ability of free will.  All of mankind is born with good and evil inside them, but it is ultimately a choice made by every person for themselves which path they will take.  The Razor’s Edge, however, discusses the idea that we are all a product of our genes and environment.  A person is not to blame for being evil because it is either hereditary, which is not their fault, or due to their environment, which they cannot help. 

This is definitely now one of my favorite books and I expect I will re-read it many times over.  🙂


East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Goodreads blurb:  Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

This book took me a little while to read, but I’m am glad that I took my time with it. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I’m already thinking about the next time I read it!

Most of the novel is set in the Salinas Valley, which is a metaphor for the line between good and evil.  It’s described as having dark and brooding mountains on one side and light and happy clouds on the other.  It is essentially a retelling of the story of Cain and Abel from the Old Testament, and while the metaphors aren’t very subtle, the story is beautiful and I didn’t feel like I was being hit over the head with a bible.

I’m having a hard time figuring out how to explain how much I enjoyed Steinbeck’s writing.  The only other book I’ve read by Steinbeck was The Grapes of Wrath, which was assigned reading in high school and I HATED it.  That was a million years ago, so I don’t even remember if I hated it because I was “forced” to read it or if it was truly due to the story.  The writing in East of Eden was so incredible and the dialog was fantastic.  I’ve griped before how much it bugs me when an author repeatedly uses phrases like “she said excitedly” or my favorite “she breathed”.  Steinbeck uses other clues to convey the mood and it just feels really natural.

Anyhow, everyone should check out this book because it’s amazing.  Like, I could marry this book kind of amazing.

If anybody knows of a an upcoming group read for this book, please let me know!  I’m not a literary aficionado and I know there is probably so much more to this book than what I got out of it on my first solo read.

I heart Shirley Jackson!

The Haunting of Hill House The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow.  Where have you been all of my life Shirley Jackson?  This book is not necessarily a super scary book, but the writing SO incredible.  The way she writes makes me want to roll around in her words like a blanket.

“Don’t do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again.”

I mean, seriously.  Isn’t that just delicious?

The characters are generally unlikable but the banter between them is terrific.  This entire story is told by an unreliable narrator that becomes even more unreliable as time goes on.  It’s crazy.  And it’s crazy good.

We Have Always Lived in the CastleWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this one even more!  I can’t even express in words how much I love Shirley Jackson right now.  What an incredible storyteller.

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

I love it.  Her writing makes me smile.  And bite my nails.  And stay up too late.  I don’t know how I have lived for the last 36 years and not known about this author.  I’ve never  been a fan of the short story, but I will definitely be picking up some of Shirley Jackson’s.

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Dracula by Bram Stoker

DraculaDracula by Bram Stoker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This took me forever to read. Maybe I would have had a higher opinion of the book had I read it in fewer sittings. I just couldn’t do it. I don’t know if it was the stilted manner in which Van Helsing spoke or the slow pacing throughout the middle of the book. There were sections of the book that I thought were great, but there were just not enough of them to keep my interest.

The beginning starts out with Jonathan Harker held captive by Count Dracula in his mansion in Transylvania. I thought this was a fantastic beginning and I was totally on board. The epistolary format allowed me to see exactly what was going through Harker’s mind as he fully realizes the situation he’s in. His earliest journal entries are full of superstitions and doubts and those niggling feelings. By the time he finally leaves, he is so out of his mind with fear and crazy thoughts that he’s admitted to a sanitarium. It was awesome. I really enjoy being inside of a crazy person’s head (other than my own).

Afterwards, more characters are introduced and the very slow ramping up to the next bit of scary stuff. I found myself irritated with Van Helsing more than once, as he tends to come off as a pompous, secretive, misogynistic ass. And it seems that he really likes to talk. A lot. About not much of anything that can be understood by anyone in the room.

Overall, I’m glad I read it but I don’t see myself picking it up again.

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