Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune is generally considered to be one of science fiction's greatest masterpieces. I had been meaning to read it for a long time, and even put it on my Classics Club list. It's length (883 pages in my version) was what kept me from starting it before now. I have so much that I want to read, I didn't want to spend ages on a single novel. However, when I saw that an online reading group was starting for Dune last summer, I decided that it was time to give it a shot. Despite my best efforts, I ended up falling behind in the scheduled reading. This month, I decided to just bite the bullet and finish reading it on my own.

The plot of Dune is so sweeping and epic that it defies a brief summary, but it is essentially about the rise to power of Paul Atreides, a young duke living on the desert planet of Arrakis in the distant future.When an elaborate political scheme shatters his family and brings an end to his sheltered existence, he sets out on a quest for survival, revenge, and family honor. It is difficult and dangerous to survive in this desert world without the comforts he was born to, but Paul's intense training and education, as well as his mysterious ability to see the future, allow him to become a different kind of leader. Blending themes of religion, politics, science, and warfare, Dune is a complex and thoughtful novel with many parallels to our world today.

What stands out the most in Dune is undoubtedly Frank Herbert's world-building. Everything, from names and speech patterns, to places and cultures feel real and solid. It's easy to get lost in the details and feel like you are on a different planet in a different time. Herbert's vision of the future is an eclectic mix of science, religion, technology, and a return to an old school system of titles and ranks. His universe is so complex, in fact, that the back of my edition contains over 100 pages of supplementary materials, including appendices, a glossary, and maps. Herbert's skill in creating this elaborate world forms a bizarre, intriguing backdrop for his story and lends weight to each scene.

Similar to the setting, the characters of Dune are memorable and nuanced. While not every figure gets their full backstory explained, flashbacks, memories, and dialogue reveal enough to give the reader the sense that each character is a complete person, with individual motives, personalities, and desires. Extensive use of inner monologues allows the reader to dig further into the psyche of some of the more major players in the story. As much of the novel focuses on political intrigue, this is a handy feature. The narration is mostly from Paul's perspective, but it shifts around a fair amount, allowing the reader to see the story from several different points of view. I enjoyed this strategy, because while Paul's perspective was interesting, I really wanted to learn more about some of the women in the story, like his mother Lady Jessica and the Bene Gesserit Gaius Helen Mohaim. While this novel isn't perfect in its treatment of women, there are some very powerful female characters, so I appreciated being able to see the story through their eyes periodically.

While I enjoyed the Dune overall, I did have a few issues during my reading. The spiritual elements of the novel were difficult for me to get into and truly understand. There are a lot of mystical scenes where the characters have visions of the future, and I had trouble understanding exactly what they were experiencing. Similarly, some of the locations and items described were so fantastical that I couldn't clearly imagine how they would function or what they would look like. I'm still not clear on critical plot points like how Spice and the sandworms work and what the Bene Gesserit women truly are. I believe that Dune is one of those novels you have to read more than once in order to fully grasp all of the messages that Herbert was trying to convey, so this first reading was, for me, a bit hazy.

However, despite some confusion on my part, I'm very glad that I explored the world of Dune. This novel is the first in a series, and I could see myself picking up some of the sequels one day. For now, I am content with my journey into one of the most epic and important science fiction novels of our time.

Challenge Tally
Classics Club Challenge (#47 on my list): 19/100
Popsugar Bonus Challenge (a book that's more than 800 pages): 7/12 

Total Books Read in 2017: 61

Sunday, October 1, 2017

October 2017 Reading Plan

It's hard to believe that there's only three months left in 2017! I was thinking about the rest of the books I have to read for my reading challenges and starting to worry that I won't make it. I've kept up a good pace this year with my reading, but I have a few monsters books left that I want to get through. In fact, four of the books on my list for this month are longer than usual, meaning that I'm going to have to step up my game if I want to get them all read.

I tried to put some creepier books on the list for this month, since it's the appropriate time of year and all. It should make for a suspenseful month! Here's the plan:

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Classics Club: A Gothic or Horror Classic
  • Classics Club: #60 on my list 
  • TBR Challenge: previously owned

2. Dune by Frank Herbert (continued from last month)
  • Classics Club: #47 on my list
  • Popsugar Challenge (bonus category): A book that's more than 800 pages

3. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Popsugar Challenge (bonus category): A book from a genre/subgenre that you've never heard of - Mannerpunk
  • TBR Challenge: previously owned

4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • Popsugar Challenge (bonus category): A book based on mythology
  • TBR Challenge: previously owned

5.Pointe by Brandy Colbert
  • TBR Challenge: previously owned

6. Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
  • Doesn't fit a challenge category - just counts towards my overall total 

If I finish Dracula this month, I will have completed my Back to the Classics Challenge for the year! I purposefully saved that one for now. It seemed appropriate for the month of Halloween. I'm excited to finish this challenge for the second year in a row.

Hopefully I'll be able to stick to a good reading schedule and make my way through some of the longer ones on here. Even if I don't, I'll still have fun trying - that is the point after all. Here's to a spooky and productive October!  

Thursday, September 28, 2017

September 2017 Reading Wrap Up

September was a bit of a surreal month of reading for me. Hurricane Irma created a situation where I had lots of time to read, but it wasn't relaxing. I used books as a way to distract myself from the fact that we lost power for a while instead of as a treat. It was...different. In spite of all the stress, I did end up finishing a good amount of novels.

1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (3/5 stars)

  • Classics Club: #59 on my list
  • Popsugar Challenge: A book that takes place over a character's lifespan
  • Mount TBR: previously owned

2. The Suicide Club by Robert Louis Stevenson (2/5 stars)
  • Classics Club: #93 on my list
  • Mount TBR: previously owned

3. Frost by M.P. Kozlowsky (3/5 stars)
  • Mount TBR: previously owned

4. The Scourge by Jennifer Nielsen (2/5 stars)
  • Mount TBR: previously owned

5. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (5/5 stars)
  • Popsugar Challenge (bonus category): A book recommended by an author you love

My current challenge status is:

I have read 60 books so far in 2017!

My best read of the month was definitely Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers, which I found to be both touching and thought-provoking. Jende and Neni's immigrant story felt real. It was very relevant to our current political climate as well. 

My worst read of the month was The Suicide Club by Robert Louis Stevenson. The three interconnected short stories lacked the action and intrigue that one would expect from a book about murders. It was, sadly, forgettable, especially when compared to Stevenson's other classic works.

My plans for October take a turn towards the creepy. I'm planning to explore some darker fiction in honor of the season. Dracula, here I come!

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Scourge by Jennifer Nielsen

I picked up The Scourge at the same school book fair that I found Frost in. I was initially drawn in by the cool cover design, and summary on the back. When I noticed it was by Jennifer Nielsen, that sealed the deal. I read one of her other young adult novels, The False Prince, a few years ago and enjoyed it. It's one of the few books that boys in my classes tend to like, and I recommend it a lot to students with an interest in fantasy.  Hoping for more of the same, I decided to give The Scourge a try this month.

The novel is set in a fictional medieval world and follows a teenage girl named Ani Mells. She lives in a poor village within her kingdom, but she doesn't let it get her down. Characterized as a brash troublemaker from the start, she spends her days scrounging around for food and coins and getting into all sorts of scrapes with her best friend, Weevil. At the novel's start, she finds herself in the worst trouble she's ever gotten into when she is snatched from her town by the governor's wardens during a random search and tested for the Scourge, a plague-like disease that is ravaging her kingdom. To make matters worse, Weevil, who immediately tries to liberate Ani from the wardens, ends up being taken for testing as well.

To Ani's great surprise, she tests positive for the disease despite having no symptoms. She is then sent to Attic Island, an old prison-turned hospital, to spend her remaining days until the Scourge finally takes her. All people who test positive for the Scourge are sent to this island, to prevent them from spreading the disease others. Weevil, who managed to slip away from the wardens before his test could be administered, talks his way onto the boat headed for the island as well, because he refuses to abandon his friend.

Once Ani and Weevil arrive on the island, it becomes apparent that something suspicious is going on. Rather than the peaceful and compassionate living situation that was promised, the Scourge victims on the island are treated like slaves and subjected to endless drudgery at menial tasks. They are punished if they don't complete their daily jobs with beatings and confinement.  The behavior of the wardens and the other Scourge victims leave Ani certain that there is more going on on the island than meets the eye, and together with Weevil, she sets out to uncover the truth.

Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed with this novel. The plot felt thin, and a lot of the events within it were unrealistic. I fully understand that reading young adult fantasy means that you have to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the ride, but so much of what happened was so overly convenient that I couldn't help but roll my eyes. Many situations and pieces of dialogue were contrived. The characters didn't behave in ways consistent with functioning human beings.

For example, in one scene, Ani and Weevil get in trouble with the wardens on the island for something. They are taken to a private area and a warden pulls out a rod, presumably to deliver a beating. Rather than just beat them and move on, the warden makes them argue back and forth about who is the worse friend until they end up actually getting mad at each other. The warden then lets them go without a beating, because the real punishment was to ruin their friendship. Umm...what? To make matters worse, Ani and Weevil had been on the island a total of five minutes before this scene. It would have been impossible for a warden to pick up on their friendship and make them fight with each other in such a short time. There are a lot of moments like this, where things are obviously twisted past the point of sense to serve the plot. It was distracting.

Another aspect of the story that felt off was the way the characters spoke. The story was set in a faux-medieval time period, but all of the characters speak in a completely modern way. Ani, for example, calls one of the characters, "literally the worst person I've ever met." She also muses at one point that Weevil, "might have gone fully insane." She didn't sound like a girl living in a past era, she sounded like one of my students today. The language use was a distraction that took me out of the story from time to time.

That being said, The Scourge wasn't all bad. The mystery of the island was an interesting enough plot line to keep me reading, and Ani's outgoing spirit was refreshing to read, even if it led her to make some frustrating choices. I do think that my students will enjoy it, and they probably won't even notice the issues that I had. This definitely wasn't as good as some of Nielsen's previous work, which was disappointing, but it is a story that young adult readers will like. This is just one of those books written for kids that doesn't have a lot of crossover appeal for more mature readers.

Challenge Tally

TBR Challenge: (previously owned) 47/60

Total Books Read in 2017: 60

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Frost by M.P. Kozlowsky

With Hurricane Irma slowly becoming a memory and life finally returning back to normal, I found myself looking to indulge in some lighter reading. I wanted something easy to get through, something that promised an escape from the unsettling feelings I was still struggling with in the aftermath of the storm. Frost, with it's striking cover and dystopian plot, seemed to be the perfect choice. I picked this young adult novel up at my school's book fair a few years ago and never got around to reading it. Eager to get lost in a science fiction world of evil robots and heroic teenagers, I jumped in.

The plot of the novel follows a sixteen-year-old girl named Frost. At the start of the story, it is revealed that she has spent her entire life living in an abandoned apartment building in the middle of a destroyed city. Society has completely collapsed and the streets are filled with rogue robots and disease-stricken humans, known as Eaters. Both the robots, who have launched an insurrection against humans, and the Eaters, who are similar to zombies, try to kill all humans they see on sight. Frost can't leave her apartment safely, so her robot servant, Bunt, does all the scouting for food while Frost wiles away the time reading old books, playing with her pet Romes, and practicing self defense strategies.

Bunt is a special robot for two reasons: he hasn't rebelled against his human masters, and he contains the consciousness of Frost's father, Alex. Alex installed himself into Bunt as a last resort when he became ill and was on the verge of death. The procedure wasn't completely successful, however. Alex is only able to surface and control the robot's body randomly. Most of the time, Bunt remains in control.

Frost, Bunt/Alex, and Romes live a relatively safe, if lonely and boring, life for many years. Their sheltered world, however, is thrown into chaos when Romes falls ill. Romes is a type of genetically modified super-dog that Frost adopted when he was a puppy. He is the only true living friend she has left in the world, and thus, she feels compelled to do whatever it takes to save his life. Desperate to find medical care for him, she decides to leave the apartment that she's spent her entire life in and head out to the Battery, a supposed safe haven where it is rumored that people live much like they did before society collapsed. With time running out for her beloved pet, Frost, Bunt/Alex, and Romes set out immediately.

As Frost quickly discovers, the outside world is more dangerous than she could have imagined, and the group must defend themselves against robots and Eaters constantly, all the while dragging poor Romes behind them on a makeshift stretcher. Eventually, they meet up with a man named Barrow and his teenage son, Flynn. Barrow and Flynn are living hidden in the city, much like Frost. Inspired by Frost's optimism and determination, they decide to team up together to try and make it to the Battery.

Even as a larger group, however, their way forward is arduous. Political unrest between robots and groups of human survivors is at a boiling point, which complicates their journey. Furthermore, an enigmatic and cruel leader named John Lord has risen to power and he maintains an iron grip on the territory that Frost needs to traverse. Avoiding John Lord and his followers soon becomes impossible, and Frost and her friends are drawn into a war they didn't plan on fighting in. Soon, bigger questions about humanity, relationships, and ethics begin to wrestle for space in Frost's mind alongside her original quest of trying to save Romes. As things go from bad to worse, Frost must keep her hope in the Battery alive and somehow keep moving forward against impossible odds.

I'm not going to pull any punches here - this story was full of clichés and ridiculous plot points. There were a few things that didn't make sense and an ending that left me scratching my head. But here's the thing - it was also really good. Honestly, Frost has no business being as great as it is. I was completely absorbed in the crazy dystopian world from page one, and enjoyed the reading all the way to the end. I really didn't expect it to be so entertaining. It was a pleasant surprise.

This is a pure guilty pleasure novel. It's not high literature, and that's very apparent as you read it, but it is interesting and creative. The world building is pretty good, with details about what happened to civilization slowly uncovered as Frost travels further and further from her home. It doesn't shy away from the violence and bloodshed inherent in a ruined society either. I was a little surprised to see how graphic some sections of it were, for a young adult novel anyway.

Beyond the surface level stuff, it's messages about what makes a human and the powers of hope and friendship feel genuine. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this was especially moving or instructive, but it wasn't as superficial as a lot of young adult science fiction is either. Frost is plucky and tough and you can't help but appreciate her optimism and dedication to her pet. The romantic elements between her and Flynn (because there always has to be a romance, for some reason) are kept mercifully brief too, which is something a lot of other books spend way too much time on. Her development isn't perfect and more time could have been spent fleshing her out before she sets off on her journey, but I found that I came to like her a lot over the course of the story. The same goes for the other supporting characters as well - characterization could have been better in a lot of instances, but I felt like each of them were different and understood their motivations.

Overall, Frost is an incredibly solid read, and young adult science fiction fans will find a lot to like in this novel. This was the right book at the right time for me. I'm glad I gave it a shot.

Challenge Tally
TBR Challenge: (previously owned) 46/60

Total Books Read in 2017: 59

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

I wasn't planning on reading Behold the Dreamers this year. In fact, I hadn't even heard of it until the day my school's media specialist recommended it to me. As this woman is one of the best human beings I know and I trust her opinions on books implicitly, I accepted her offer to loan me her copy. I found it waiting for me in my school mailbox the very next day. She really, really wanted me to read this book!

At first, I didn't think that this novel would fit into any of my remaining reading challenge categories. However, when I checked out the blurbs on the first few pages, I noticed that Jacqueline Woodson called Imbolo Mbue's writing "startlingly beautiful, thoughtful, and both timely and timeless." I read Woodson's Another Brooklyn this year and absolutely loved it. I also enjoyed her young adult novel, Brown Girl Dreaming, which I read a few years ago. She is fast becoming one of my favorite authors, and her recommendation meant that Behold the Dreamers qualified for the Popsugar bonus category "a book recommended by an author you love." Happy that I could use this book to keep working through my challenge lists, I dove in.

Behold the Dreamers is about a family of Cameroonian immigrants living in New York City in 2008. The husband of the family, Jende Jonga, has been working for years in a series of low paying jobs to bring his wife, Neni, and their young son, Liomi, into the country. Once he is able to move his whole family into a small apartment in the Bronx, he lands a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy executive at Lehman Brothers, Clark Edwards. His new salary means that he can pay for Neni's college courses, send money home to his parents in Cameroon, and provide a better life for his son. The family's luck improves further when Neni lands a part time job doing some housekeeping work for Mr. Edward's wife Cindy. Both Jende and Neni believe wholeheartedly in the American dream, and feel like they are on their way to happiness and prosperity in the land of opportunity.

After a bit of time passes, however, the truth about living and working in America begins to show through. Jende and Neni both learn some troubling secrets about Clark and Cindy, which threaten to ruin the lucrative arrangement that exists between their families. In addition to that, the economic recession begins and Lehman Brothers declares bankruptcy, further threatening Jende and Neni's jobs. These stresses, combined with Jende's ongoing issues obtaining his green card, cast a dark shadow over both their marriage and their future prospects in America. Eventually, the family is forced to face difficult truths about what the American dream really is and whether their hard work and desire can actually help them achieve it.

This novel was simply phenomenal. I was pulled in from page one and breezed through the whole thing in just a few days. Mbue's writing is thoughtful and complex without being difficult to understand. She has a way of writing that speaks to your soul; I really came to care for all of the characters, despite their flaws, and was rooting for everyone to find a way through their troubles. Jende and Neni were both beautifully developed and felt like real people. Their Cameroonian culture showed through nicely as well, with memories, cooking, and conversation with other Cameroonian immigrants conveying a good sense of what their homeland was like and their complicated feelings towards it. I felt like I learned something about both their country and my own, since the immigrant experience of living here is so different from the life of someone born here.

Mbue uses the story to comment on the reality of immigrant life and the idea of the American dream in ways that were interesting and thought-provoking, but not preachy or political. Jende and Neni both work extremely hard to achieve their goals of providing better lives for their family, but struggle with elements that lay outside their control, like immigration laws, the cost of living in New York, the high tuition charged to international students, and economic downturns. In particular, the effect of the Great Recession on immigrants was interesting to explore. Many immigrants earned their livelihoods working service jobs for the wealthy, and the troubles on Wall Street became serious troubles for them once their employers began cutting back on extra luxuries like maids, nannies, and chauffeurs. I hadn't thought about things from that perspective before, and I enjoyed exploring it.

The juxtaposition between Jende and Neni and the Edwards family was very well done. While the two families couldn't be more different from each other in matters of wealth and lifestyle, they both shared very similar feelings about the importance of family and how to raise children, among other topics. These similarities allow both families to get along well with each other, for the most part. At the same time, there's a beautiful irony hiding in their differences. While Clark and Cindy have incredible wealth, the process of obtaining it means that they are unable to achieve true happiness for their family. Jende and Neni live extremely modestly and don't have very much money, but they are able to maintain the type of relationship with their child that the Edwards wish they had. The idea that money can't buy happiness is an old one, but Mbue's treatment of it is thoughtful and nuanced.   

Immigration, both legal and illegal, is a hot topic in the news today. Behold the Dreamers, while set almost ten years ago, still makes very relevant points about immigrant life in America. I would venture to say that this is an important read for people seeking to understand more about why immigrants choose to come here and what they must go through to stay and be successful. It also makes you question the validity of the American dream, which is a lovely sentiment, but may not ring true for everyone attempting to go after it. This book is one that makes you think and makes you care about other people in the world, and I can offer no higher endorsement of a work than that. This book, which, shockingly, is Mbue's first, is a triumph. She is definitely an author that I will be looking out for in the future. This is one of my favorite reads of the year so far and one that I, much like my media specialist friend, will be pushing into the hands of others. 

Challenge Tally 
Popsugar Bonus Challenge (a book recommended by an author you love): 6/12 

Total Books Read in 2017: 58

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

 There is one good part in riding out a hurricane, and that is that it gives one plenty of time to indulge in one's hobbies. I live in Florida, but not in an evacuation zone. I've bought my supplies, kept abreast of the weather developments, and tried my best to avoid the general hysteria sweeping through my segment of the world right now. There's not much left to do except read. What better way to escape the doom and gloom of a dire forecast than to get lost in a classic Victorian tale of hedonism and debauchery?

The Picture of Dorian Gray begins with two friends, the mild-mannered Basil Hallward and the cynical Lord Henry Wotton, enjoying a beautiful day in Basil's art studio. Basil is working on a portrait of a young man named Dorian Gray, who he claims has become the main inspiration behind all of his art. As they trade quips back and forth about life, pleasure, and morals, Dorian himself arrives for his final sitting.  

Lord Henry is immediately drawn to Dorian, and the two strike up an easy friendship. After Dorian poses for a little while, the two take a stroll in the garden while Basil finishes off the portrait. During their walk, Henry makes several comments on the fleeting pleasures of youth and beauty. Dorian is both fascinated and disturbed by this conversation. He becomes fearful of losing his own youth and good looks. When he returns to the studio to view the finished portrait of himself, which everyone considers to be a true masterpiece, he makes an impulsive wish inside his head. He wishes that instead of growing old himself, the portrait of him might grow old instead. That way, he can enjoy his youth and beauty forever while the portrait suffers the ravishes of age and decay.

He doesn't think much of his wish afterwards, and he takes the portrait home and hangs it in one of his well-appointed, fashionable rooms. His life goes on from there, and his friendship with Lord Henry deepens. He is continually influenced by Henry's sardonic sense of humor and his relationship with the less exciting Basil begins to weaken. In time, he becomes the toast of society and falls in love with a beautiful young actress. He makes plans to marry her, but cruelly breaks the engagement off after she acts poorly in a production of Romeo and Juliet. Brokenhearted, the actress commits suicide.

After this incident, Dorian notices a curious thing. His portrait has changed. There are some lines around the mouth that weren't there before, and his expression in the painting has turned cruel. He soon realizes that his wish to remain ageless while his portrait grows older has come true. In addition to absorbing the physical changes of aging, the portrait also seems to absorb the damage he does to his soul through immoral behavior. He locks the picture away so that no one else can notice the changes.

Freed from his fears of growing old and becoming ugly, Dorian sets out to experience everything pleasurable in life, no matter how unsavory. Lord Henry's cynical influence inadvertently aids him in this quest, and as the years go by, Dorian commits several illegal and hedonistic acts. He ruins the lives of many others during this spree, and begins to develop a bad reputation among some of his former friends. All the while, he remains the very picture of youth physically. His portrait, which he regularly views with lurid fascination, becomes hideous and twisted. After Dorian commits a particularly heinous act, what remains of his conscience begins to plague him. He curses his reckless wish and swears to try and turn his life around. However, by the time he makes this resolution, it is too late, and his scattered emotions begin leading him down a path to ruin. 

There was a lot to like in The Picture of Dorian Gray, but there were also some elements of the story that irked me. On the positive side, Oscar Wilde's prose is masterful. No one can turn a phrase like he can. His witty retorts, outrageous views, and clever comments fill the pages with quotable moments. At times, the conversations between the characters were so well-timed and smart that it felt like too much. One gets a true vision of what having a discussion with Wilde, who was a celebrated conversationalist, would actually be like in this novel. While the subject matter gets very dark at times, the scenes where Dorian and Lord Henry socialize are always an interesting mix of funny and scandalous.

Another element of the story I enjoyed was the creepy atmosphere. In the portions of the story where Dorian is behaving badly, a delicious sense of darkness pervades. At times, I was reminded of another classic horror story of the Victorian era, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There's just something about evil characters creeping about during this formal and proper time period that lends an extra layer of foreboding and suspense to stories. The ending of the novel maintained this mood very well and was suitably disturbing, I liked it very much.

However, this dark atmosphere that I found so intriguing was frequently broken up by long digressions. These interruptions were my biggest issue with the book. There were a handful of chapters that could have been entirely removed from the story without harming the plot at all. For example, one chapter exists solely to list several purchases that Dorian makes throughout the years. Precious stones, embroideries, musical instruments, and more are all described in painstaking detail over the course of several pages. In another chapter, Dorian becomes obsessed with a book that Henry loans him and more pages are spent explaining the plot of that story. I found myself quite bored during these sections, and was impatient to return to what was going on with Dorian. As the entire novel is only around 230 pages long, spending 25 pages here and there on this extraneous information significantly impacted how much I enjoyed the story.

I also struggled a bit to grasp the message behind the story. The upper class to which Dorian and Lord Henry belong is the subject of both criticism and adoration, so I didn't get the overall sense that Wilde was lampooning high society. After all, he did very well within that group in his real life. If anything, he was using this novel to gently poke some fun at it, but it didn't seem like a major focus of the story. The callous disregard that Lord Henry shows towards pretty much every subject is never punished, so I don't think his cynical views on marriage or morals were the focus either. If a real message exists in this novel, it must have to do with not placing too much importance on youth, beauty, or pleasure, but this point is muddied by the fact that Dorian is never really sorry for his actions. He's sorry he made the original wish, but only because it brought him into so much trouble. He doesn't really feel remorse for any of the bad things he does.

I know that it's very possible that Wilde didn't mean for there to be an overall message at all - he was a leader in the Aesthetic Movement, which emphasized enjoying art for art's sake and not looking for a moral element in works. Maybe this was simply meant to be a disturbing and scandalous story with some interesting ideas for the reader to ponder.

Ultimately, I did enjoy The Portrait of Dorian Gray, but the plot digressions  and somewhat unclear theme definitely took away from my reading experience. As a brief side note, I was also bothered by the depiction of women in the story, as they were the target of several extremely rude quips, but I can't fault a novel written in the 1890s too much for that. This is essentially required reading for any fan of the Victorian era, so I am glad that I read it. It isn't destined to become a favorite of mine, but I am glad that I visited.

Challenge Tally 
Classics Club Challenge (#59 on my list): 18/100
Popsugar Bonus Challenge (a book that takes place over a character's life span): 5/12 
TBR Challenge: (previously owned) 45/60

Total Books Read in 2017: 57