Studying a course which is delineated by literature and almost posthumously controlled by literary giants requires me to read at a lightening pace. Reading, or rather devouring at least 6 books a week for college, not to mention sourcing secondary reading material leaves very little time for dwelling on plot, character or setting. Studying English at university level means that you have to be on top of your game all of the time – you have to be able to consume the novel, understand its themes, analyse it, psychoanalyse it, deconstruct it and then do that at least 6 times over within the space of a week. So, when summer comes, it’s no surprise that I like to abandon Trinity’s reading list and reacquaint myself with my favourites – books that I can and have read over and over again. It takes a lot for a book to merit re-reading, but here are 3 books that are always present on my summer reading list and never get old:
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Anyone who knows me knows that this is my all-time favourite book. Jack Kerouac’s generation defining novel races across the page just as vivaciously as its protagonist Sal Paradise and his hero Dean Moriarty race across America. Set in 1950s America, On the Road embodies the generation Kerouac became the prime exemplar for – Beat. Largely autobiographical, the novel partly details Kerouac’s life and vision of a tainted American dream, filled with passion, sex, drugs, poetry and jazz. The writing is sublime – sharp, honest, brutal and unyieldingly spirited. The novel is full of life – it speaks to life itself in all its glorious forms, from down and out hitchhikers in Denver to the fast-paced American life style available in places like New York and San Francisco. A must read. I’ve just finished reading this for the 4th time and it’s as gripping and powerful as the first day I read it. Read this and then read Allan Ginsberg’s poem “America” for the true Beat experience. Here’s my full review of On the Road: https://jamietuohy.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/book-review-on-the-road-by-jack-kerouac-jamie-tuohy/
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
If Kerouac’s On the Road is a hallmark of the Beat Generation, then this Hemingway novel possesses the defining characteristics of an era known as the Lost Generation. A term which was created by Gertrude Stein, the Lost Generation refers to the generation that came of age following the end of World War 1. Published in 1926, Fiesta: The Sun Also is one of the first Modernist novels and is about a group of American and British expats who travel from Paris to Spain to experience the hedonistic atmosphere of the bullfights. Hemingway’s protagonist is Jake, a journalist living in Paris, who is madly in love with English socialite Brett Ashley. Just like On the Road, this is a remarkable novel that merits re-reading over and over again. It’s powerful, intensely evocative and a visual and sensual feast. The bullfight in Pamplona is one of the novel’s most famous sections and gets even more wild and raucous the more you read it. This is a classic novel which established Hemingway as a literary genius. An essential read.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I promise you, I did not search around 1920s Parisian cafes and bars to pluck out two of literature’s most famous writers and drinking buddies. Hemingway and Fitzgerald are two of literary world’s most celebrated friends and influential writers, and Gatsby and Sun have also been compared to each other, but that isn’t why I’ve chosen them. So what if they may be similar testaments to a Lost Generation? They exist as separate stories and bloody good ones at that! The Great Gatsby will undoubtedly invade popular culture in the coming months with the movie to be soon released and fashion gurus everywhere claiming that their 1920s flapper dress is ‘oh so Gatsby’. While this is inevitable, it still makes my blood boil. In an ideal world, all comparisons would be nullified unless F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book has actually been read (and in my world, all comparisons are; nullified). Undoubtedly F. Scott Fitzgerald’s best novel, The Great Gatsby offers readers an indicting insight into 1920s America which is glamorous, desperate and full of nouveau riche types. Amongst the champagne-sipping exists Fitzgerald’s protagonist, Jay Gatsby – whose wild Long Island parties are legendary. However, as the narrator Nick Carraway finds out, Gatsby’s wealth is futile, when all he really wants is the affection of Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald tells the story of America’s Jazz Age and offers a social commentary on the ruthless 20s, where social climbing, murder and manipulation lurk beneath the glamorous, champagne-coated surface. A story that never gets old. Read it before you see the movie!