Monday, July 29, 2013

Reading in pairs

In case the title of this post gives you the wrong idea, this post is not about reading as a couple. It's about books are interesting when read one after another.

The idea of reading books in pairs came to me when Lesley-Anne was reading a few classics as part of her literature class. It occurred to me that many of these classics either had a modern equivalent or a modern book that made reference to the classic.  I recommended some of them to her and she was pretty fascinated by the parallels or references. In some cases, it made the classic even more meaningful. At the very least, it invoked thought.

Here are some of the pairs:

In sec 3, Dostoevsky's epic Crime and Punishment was on Lesley-Anne's literature choice of reading. Hardly anyone chose to read this book, mainly because it's a gazillion pages long. Lesley-Anne chose to read this partly because she's always up for a challenge but partly also because I had a brand new copy sitting on my shelf. In other words, it was convenient.

Crime and Punishment is essentially about this guy Raskolnikov who kills somebody and then philosophises about the murder throughout the entire book. It's tough going for various reasons: 1) there are so many long names that sound alike and begin with 'R' that it's easy to lose track of who the author is referring to. Sometimes the author refers to the same guys using their second names instead (just for a lark). After a while, we dubbed the protagonist Ratsky just so we'd know who we were discussing. 2) This Ratsky guy can really go on and on. On the same issues, back and forth. It's both fascinating and frustrating.

In the end, Lesley-Anne did well for her assignment, I think because the teacher was so impressed that someone actually bothered to plow through the entire book.

The book I recommended to her after that was Patricia Highsmith's Ripley's Game. It really is a modern parallel of Crime and Punishment. Like Ratsky, Ripley is involved in a murder and tries to justify his actions using psychological and philosophical reasoning. But written in a more fast-paced and readable manner. 

The next pair is Arthur Miller's play The Crucible and Kathleen Kent's The Heretic's Daughter.  The latter is not really a parallel of The Crucible but it was written to take place during the same period and there are references to some of the characters in The Crucible. It's important to note that many of the characters in both these books were real people in history, during the 17th century at the time of the infamous Salem witch trials.

The third pair is a no-brainer - J.D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and Stephen Chbosky's recent hit, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Both are coming-of-age stories and have protagonists who struggle to make sense of life in general during the tumultuous teenage years. Lesley-Anne hasn't read the latter yet but I'm sure she'll get around to it eventually.

The fourth pair is Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth and Anchee Min's Pearl of China. The Good Earth is a classic because it gave people a glimpse of what real China was like at the turn of the 19th century. Even more interesting is that it was written by a foreigner. So how did an ang moh woman manage to capture rural China life so realistically? The answers are in Anchee Min's novel, which tells the story of Pearl's life as a little girl, growing up among the Chinese in a little Chinese town with her missionary parents. In fact, Pearl considered herself Chinese, not American. Compelling read.


The Beauties In Our Lives said...

Thanks for these excellent recommendations - very helpful indeed! It is true that reading in pairs (or triples, in some cases, like the Anne Frank books I read) are very effective in reinforcing the messages in the books. I am a big fan of Pearl S Buck and I think the pair that you recommended makes excellent reading!

monlim said...

Glad you like the recs!

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