# 52:  Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has earned its prominent place among the classics of American literature. First published in 1852, the novel was a big seller at the time with what we can best assume as abolitionist readers. The novel can be easily label as a sentimental anti-slavery narrative; however, this does not capture all this novel has to offer. Immensely readable and touching, the novel explores the inhumanity of slavery and relies heavily on the audience’s emotional response to capture slavery as it was. The novel is rife with kind and cruel slave owners, hardworking slaves and runaway slaves. Perhaps what the novel captures best is the overwhelming influence of slavery—the individual or even groups of individuals seem to be incapable of fighting or stand against with any effectiveness. 
# 51: Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” 
Beckett’s Worstward Ho is void of plot (perhaps, or a sentence that’s longer than 10 words, for that matter). It doesn’t go much beyond groupings of words that prompt contemplation rather than conveying meaning. Worstward Ho is very much reminiscent of Beckett’s absurdist drama. Classified as a novella, Worstward Ho will probably take you no more than an hour to read; understanding it fully is another matter
#50: Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
Victor Mancini has a trick up his sleeve—he periodically makes himself choke in restaurants and keeps a list of all the “good samaritans” that have saved his life. The “good samaritans” can count on Mancini to send them letters with stories of imaginary bills he cannot pay and will likely end up sending him money. 
The bill that Victor does not always write about is his mother’s nursing home fee. We learn about Victor’s mother through flashbacks, which yield an image of a woman that struggles to demonstrate her fitness to raise Victor while repeatedly getting into trouble. Victor’s story is raw, absurd, and gratuitous; it is also totally worth a read
#49: Tsitsi Dangaremba, Nervous Conditions
[Insert acknowledgement about long absence here. Best explanation I can come up with is graduate school. Blame everything on graduate school.]
Nervous Conditions begins with a startling line: “I was not sorry when my brother died.” As the novel progresses, it is clear that the sorrow the protagonist, Tambu, lacks is not due to heartlessness or lack of love—it is because of her all-encompassing desire for education. We see Tambu struggle with forces of colonialism, lack of opportunity, familial discouragement of female discouragement, and poverty. At the same time, Tambu manages to find support and companionship in the form of a cousin, the troubled Nyasha. Perhaps the best part of my reading experience were the tongue in cheek accounts of white missionaries (the novel unfolds in the African Rhodesia—present day Zimbabwe) and the combined force of Tambu and Nyasha in the face of cultural and educational rejection. With education, Tambu comes to occupy a place of cultural discontinuity—between traditional culture and the European influence. Who better to sympathize with her than England educated Nyasha? 
Most importantly, this novel is about female relationships—those that encourage advancements and those that drag us down—making it simultaneously  heartbreaking and beautiful. 
# 48: Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave
Aphra Behn’s personal background makes her an intriguing figure—especially considering how limiting a woman’s role was in the society. Behn’s protagonist Oroonoko, an African prince, falls in love with the beautiful Imoinda and eventual downfall to being sold into slavery. Some of the elements that are remarkable to me are the elements of proto-racism that are apparent throughout. One that springs to mind is Oroonoko’s description—Behn seems to purposefully emphasize how European looking her protagonist’s facial features are. This description seems to be intended to help make Oroonoko more appealing to her audience—to show his nobility, to make his story of tragic downfall have a bigger impact, which leaves her contemporaries’ perceptions of race open to speculation. 
# 47: Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust
From a recommendation selling point of view, I think that if you like Downton Abbey, you would enjoy this book. In A Handful of Dust, Waugh deals with a myriad of complex issues—both cultural and personal. On the home front we are presented with a seemingly perfect family—Tony and Brenta Last—that starts to crumble apart in front of our eyes. In a larger sense, however, the novel deals with inheritance issues (big house, no money to keep it going), infidelity, characters obsessed with their own personal gain, England at the cusp of colonialism, and the breakdown of aristocracy. Some of my favorite elements in this novel deal with the very thing that makes up the English character (at least to me)—a husband that pretends to have an affair in order to help his wife safe face and conceal her own affair. At the same time, there are the kinds of characters that represent an almost exactly opposite of that, characters that are willing to do anything and everything to find their next meal without having to pay for it. This is change at its best; at its most destructive. The social mores and rules no longer apply. The old must yield to the new. The changes coming to the main characters, both on the microcosmic and macrocosmic lead to an ultimate destruction, both of character, of reputation, of personhood, and of aristocratic possession.
#46: Aesop, Fables
I’ve been reading Aesop’s Fables for as long as I can remember. His writing lends itself easily into reading appropriate for children, which is how I first came across it. The stories themselves are numerous, mostly short, and focusing on some type of a morality lesson. The animals in Aesop’s world are without fail capable of speech and the experiences they go through are intended to teach the readers lessons about morality, charity, generosity, moderation, kindness, to name a few. 
#45: Alan Moore and David Gibbons, The Watchmen
Before I even continue typing up my little review for this one, a confession is in order. The only other graphic novel I have ever read is Satrapi’sPersepolis. I have heard of the wonders of graphic novel classics many times over, but since I pride myself on my faster than average reading speed and thorough comprehension of the reading material, getting used to the format of graphic novels is somewhat of a daunting task. Even after finishingThe Watchmen, I am not confident in my graphic novel reading abilities.
My reluctance to get through the unfamiliar format was coupled with my general conviction that in order for superheroes of any kind to exist, some cliched words regarding the inefficiency and general uselessness of police forces have to be uttered. Then there is the other cliche of a post-apocalyptic world, wherein chaos rules and the general public needs rescuing.The Watchmen, while guilty of the aforementioned cliches, does not dwell on them extensively.
Enter our affable group of superheroes.They range from the super powerful to the super intelligent and the super insane. Besides finding favorites in this group and admiring their qualities, I enjoyed the narrative construction of the novel. Moore’s non-linear narrative allows the readers to go back and forth in the storyline, to follow the unfolding events while learning of the origins and past activities of the protagonists.
Overall, the dynamic pace of the story made me I enjoy it more than I thought I would.
#44: Edith Wharton,Ethan Frome
Ethan Fromeis not what Edith Wharton is famous for. There are other works for that. However,Ethan Fromeis a perfect example of Wharton’s skillful examination of human emotions and feelings. The characters in this novel do not merely experience emotions; they become obsessed with these emotions, their lives reduced to being shrouded by feelings and their lives rendered inescapable from them.
Ethan Frome, the protagonist of this novella, has married a woman, Zenobia, out of obligation and convenience. When Zeena’s cousin Mattie comes to visit the couple and care for Zeena, Ethan gets a glance of what his life could be like if he had married for love. Eventually, circumstances put the three into a stifling threesome, not giving any one of them a way to escape no matter how hard they try.
# 43: Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence 
Before discussing the novel itself, I am compelled to discuss my favorite details from Wharton’s personal life. Some of these details include the fact that Wharton’s first published book, unlike the rest of her work that made her famous, was a book on home decorating. Ever heard of the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses?” Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones and her family was the “Joneses.”
Wharton’s background, coupled with  her tremendous talent of prose, has yielded the many works that are impeccably composed. Arguably, the novels achieve more when taken in the context of preserving the social history of her time. Besides narrating about the love triangle between Newland Archer, May Welland, and Countess Ellen Olenska, The Age of Innocence  gives us a glimpse into the rules and codes of conduct, the exclusivity of which would have prevented many of Wharton’s contemporaries from gaining entrance. As such, The Age of Innocence goes beyond its role of narrating about the lives its protagonists, and serves as chronicler of history.