Sparky Sweets, Ph.D

Have you guys seen Sparky Sweets, Ph.D and his amazing youtube channel and website, Thug Notes? (Yes, I linked both.  He is that amazing.)

Sparky Sweets, my new celebrity crush (Internet fame totally counts!), takes old classics and summarizes and analyzes them in a whole new way – thug-style.  His analysis, by the way, is absolutely brilliant, if short and sweet.  I’ve read several of the books discussed, both in classes and for pleasure, and he always manages  to bring up points that a) make perfect sense and b) I have not been introduced to before.  I like it so much!!!!

The summaries come with fun little animations, which are entertaining enough that I don’t mind sitting through the plotline of a book I’ve read several times and very helpful if you haven’t read it before or are struggling to get through it currently.

My favorite quote, from his video on The Scarlet Letter: “Up in Salem, MA, where everybody got real tight assholes…”

When you have 3-5 minutes, hop on over to his website and pick a classic to watch.  I especially liked his analysis of Of Mice and MenThe Great Gatsby, and, of course, Pride and Prejudice.  Give him a try!

Classics · Fiction · Humor

Miss Buncle’s Book


by: D.E. Stevenson

I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far in life without having heard of D.E. Stevenson or Miss Buncle’s Book. It’s a travesty.

Miss Buncle’s Book is the kind of funny, delightful, and genuinely sweet book that I just adore.  It follows the adventures of Miss Buncle, a frumpy spinster resident of the charming British village of Silverstream.  Finding herself financially embarrassed, Miss Buncle resolves to make a dollar or two by writing and publishing a book.  Rather fortunately, Miss Buncle is only able to write about what she knows, and the only thing Miss Buncle knows is her own small village.  Unfortunately, despite her clever name-changing, the residents of Silverstream soon recognize themselves in the pages of the much-lauded novel, Disturber of the Peace.   Hijinks, as you can imagine, soon ensue.

This book is absolutely adorable.  At the core of it are people finding themselves, breaking out from the roles they have so diligently learned to play and redefining themselves long after they thought it was possible to do so.  It reminded me strongly of “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” which is one of my favorite movies ever.   

The characters are well-developed and likeable and just good fun.  The mean ones are mean enough to be disliked but not mean enough to concern the reader – it’s one of those books that leave you smiling.  There are developing friendships and developing relationships and established relationships.  All of them are sweet and heartwarming.

The only thing I had a strong distaste for was one of the relationships in the book.  It developed quite wonderfully but it ended on the dynamic of the strong man leading the shy, retiring woman into wedded bliss.  I know it’s somewhat reflective of the times but still… ew.  It felt a bit overly pushy – from his end – just at the very end of the novel; the only dark spot on an otherwise wonderful story.  Especially since that female character had done quite a bit of exploring and growing on her end.

On the plus side, there was (very definitely, by my accounting) a barely disguised lesbian couple in there that reminded me of my grandmothers.  So cute!  And – this is kinda spoiler-y – they get their very own happy ending.  It was very unexpected to find in a book first published in 1936.  But very excellent and it makes me happy about the state of mankind. (Again, how did I just find out about this book?!)

I loved watching the characters bumbling through their journeys of self-discovery. Nothing big happens in the novel; there’s no dramatic tales of treachery or star-crossed lovers.  Just a bunch of delightful people doing more or less everyday things.

If you’re into fun romps and quaint British stories in which nothing truly bad can happen, written about people you’re quite sure you recognize, you might want to give this one a go.  If you’re looking for more meaty novels  with grand themes or tragic characters or if you like a touch of adventure and danger, than perhaps this isn’t the book for you.


The Great Gatsby

by: F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m really excited for the new movie coming out! I read The Great Gatsby in high school but didn’t retain much so it was the perfect excuse to reread it. Instead of actually rereading it I listened to the audiobook that Anthony Heald narrated so well.

If you’ve never read The Great Gatsby, it’s an American classic set in the Roaring Twenties. Nick Carraway, our narrator, tells of the summer he went to New York to become a businessman.  There, he meets up with Tom, a former classmate at Yale, and Daisy, Tom’s wife and Nick’s second cousin, a couple of leisure.  He lives next door to one J. Gatsby, millionaire and man extraordinaire.

Upon my “reread” I’ve changed my opinion of the novel.  I think, in fact, that I – not exactly like – but perhaps appreciate this book.

Thematically, I have a very hard time dealing with the novel.  “Daisy and Tom are careless people.” Fitzgerald writes, and of all things that are cruel or hurtful, carelessness is the one I have the hardest time understanding.  I can comprehend a person driven by malice, blinded by emotion, or unable to see the consequences of their actions.  But hurting another through carelessness – not by intent or some unfortunate inability to learn – that’s something I cannot easily grasp. To be so careless takes a willful rejection of something essential to humanity, though what that is, exactly, I couldn’t articulate. It seems so utterly alien to me, that such a person could exist; it creates a disconnect with the novel.

Oh, well, I suppose everyone has characters or themes they cannot connect with, even in the greatest of literature.  Fitzgerald is a brilliant author, however, and his characters are beautifully complete.  Gatsby is one of the most wholly human characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction.  He is by turns magnificent and pathetic, both buoyed up and deceived by a type of hope intimately related to the notion of being American; something akin to, or perhaps part of, the American dream.

Nick, the narrator, is searching for something, though I’m not sure even he knows what. He undergoes a type of disillusionment that, I think, is rather common to the middle and upper middle class, especially for recent college graduates. One of the nuances I missed in high school was how he changed from a passive character idly reflecting the values and social notions he’s been taught to an active character acting upon his own observations.  Best of all, he does this by actively living, rather than spending long periods of time in deep introspection or self-examination.  Even though the novel is first-person, it is never about Nick’s involvement with himself.

I’m no expert on the Roaring Twenties, but I rather think Fitzgerald’s caught the feel of a society high on life and winning the war.  The ease in which the war is mentioned, the complete lack of gravity shown towards the veterans, is one of the most notable differences in their time and ours.  It would be hard for an author in today’s society to write about a soldier without attaching some charged notion of heroism or the banality of war.  And yet, Fitzgerald only casually mentions the veteran status of Nick and Gatsby; without any fuss he notes simply that Nick feels Midwestern society unexciting after the thrill of WWI.  And Gatsby’s war heroics simply add to his appeal rather than being a separate status symbol.

Fitzgerald’s writing is elegant and understated.  There’s tons of symbolism, if that’s your thing, and thematically the novel is rich.  Much of it applies to American society today.  Most of the classics I read are European in origin and don’t apply in the same ways; it was oddly fulfilling to read something direct specifically at Americans.  The book is also short and easy to read, so if you’re on a time or energy budget, fear not this novel!

I recommend this to anyone who likes American classics, the Roaring Twenties, great literature, or simply a good story that feels meaningful without being preachy.  If you love your happy endings, though, or want everyone to learn their lesson, you may want to give this one a pass.  

Side note: I’m so excited about Leonardo DiCaprio playing Gatsby; I think he’s perfect for the part! And Baz Luhrmann is one of my favorite directors; I cannot wait to see how he does the Roaring Twenties.  I only wish Amy Adams was playing Daisy; I think her artless charm – anyone seen Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day? – would be the crowing touch of the film.

Wow! Long post! But if you made it all the way through and have a thought on the book or the movie or the casting, drop a line in the comments!

Classics · Science Fiction

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time by: Madeleine L’Engle

We read this for my book club this month (and yay! I actually read and finished the book for my book club!). Surprisingly, I’ve never read this before.  I believe at one point I read the first chapter of one of the sequels but it didn’t make much sense to me so I put it back down.  When I was younger – I think I was in elementary school? – I had very little tolerance for science fiction.  I don’t have much more tolerance for it now, but I’m trying to open my mind.

Anyway, like I said, it was the book of the month.  I started it today during lunch, actually, then decided to see how far I could get before the club started, and then decided that I was going to finish it and be late to book club.

It tells the story of Meg Murry, a young girl whose physicist father has gone missing.  She, her brother, and a new friend, chosen because of their abilities, strike out with the help of some mysterious not-quite-witches to bring him back.

As you can tell, it’s a pretty quick read – short and the writing is straightforward.  I want to describe it as simple, but it’s not.  There’s nice vocabulary and some fairly complex concepts that are delivered so well that is nearly effortless for the reader to absorb them.  You don’t really realize the importance of what you’ve read until the end, when you stop and process it.

This is a children’s book and it feels a bit fairy tale-ish in its setup.  The action and the plot move quickly and without complications or much deviation from the main storyline.  There’re familiar themes, like the presence of three, gifts from powerful beings, and rules that must not be broken.   It’s this familiar structure that allows the easy delivery of complex concepts. It’s a bit ingenious now that I think about it.

I wasn’t expecting this to be as much of a children’s book as it is, which was perhaps an odd expectation on my part. I think I was expecting a more adult presentation on the issues presented in this book, rather than the kid version of things.  (Don’t get me wrong, though! Children’s books are often rather exceptional at presenting complex issues; this one does so rather brilliantly.)

I must say, the writing is excellent and the characters, though sometimes odd, are likable.  They vary on the believable range, but it’s science fiction, so put away your skepticism! I really liked that Meg has an affinity for math and science.  I wish she had been able to use that affinity to her advantage more throughout the book, but there you have it.  Meg is well-developed; the rest of the characters have well-developed actions and dialogue.  They’re well sketched, too, but have little room for development themselves; much of the story is given to plot narrative.

Truthfully, though, I feel a bit unfulfilled after reading this book.

Don’t get me wrong, I was absorbed in the story and really enjoyed it, but it feels like there’s something missing.  It could be that the succeeding books fill in something; given that the plot is not completely resolved within the first book and neither are several important questions, I think this is highly likely. Or it could be that the book’s plot moved so quickly; I think I would have enjoyed spending a little more time with the characters and getting a more intimate glimpse of Meg’s growth throughout the story. It’s a little more plot-driven than I normally prefer; once the action started the book just sped towards the ending.

Overall, this is a rather excellent children’s science fiction novel and a very quick read.  This is a must read for serious science fiction or children’s literature fans.  If you want an excellent quick read, something to share with a kid, or are looking for a starter sci-fi, this is also good. If you’re big into character development and want to spend quality time with your heroine, this, alas, is not the book for you.

If you’ve read or want to read this book, drop me a line in the comments with thoughts or questions!