[these are my favourite books and top recommendations]
The Road, Cormac McCarthy: A man and his son eke out an existence in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. They must head south before winter, avoiding the dangers of starvation, disease and other desperate survivors. Written in McCarthy’s own minimalist style of prose, The Road is a harrowing yet beautifully written tale of survival against the odds, and an examination of what is truly worth living for.
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas: A victim of jealousy and ruthless ambition at the hands of those he trusted, Edmond Dantes is cast into prison. He resolves to escape, wreaking a calculated revenge upon those who have ruined his life under the guise of the mysterious and charismatic Count of Monte Cristo. However, this will have consequences which even Edmond cannot foresee. A classic tale of revenge and adventure, and one of the best-selling novels of all time, the Count’s story is a timeless tale of morality, fortune and hubris.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood: Set in a theocratic, patriarchal dystopian America which somehow manages to feel disturbingly familiar, The Handmaid’s Tale follows Offred, a ‘Handmaid’ tasked with bearing children on behalf of privileged families. Atwood’s narrative is bleak and narrowly focused, depicting Offred’s struggle for identity and humanisation in a world where she is treated as little more than an implement. Guaranteed to disturb.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak: ‘It’s just a small story really, about, amongst other things: a girl; some words; an accordionist; some fanatical Germans; a Jewish fist fighter; and quite a lot of thievery.’ Told from the (surprisingly sympathetic) perspective of Death, The Book Thief recounts the story of Liesel Meminger. After the death of her family, Liesel is fostered by the Hubermanns. Prepare for emotional trauma as Zusak describes the story of a young girl struggling to survive in a war-torn country - a story of love, loss, and literature.
His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman: When Lyra’s best friend goes missing, the headstrong young girl (accompanied by her daemon, Pantalaimon) decides it is up to her to bring him back. Little does she know, she is soon to become embroiled in a tale of biblical proportions, a fantasy epic spanning parallel worlds and universes. This is a story of the metaphysical, of loyalty and betrayal, freedom and subjugation, angels and daemons, gods and mortals, knowledge and power. Oh, and talking warrior bears. Fuck yeah.
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell: A truly ambitious novel, Cloud Atlas draws a veritable smorgasbord of characters from past, present and future together, examining fate, fortune and consequence. Everything is connected - this is the kind of book which plays on your mind for months later. [full review]
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley: The young and ambitious Dr Frankenstein is set upon one goal - to create life. His hubris proves to be his downfall, and Frankenstein inadvertently creates a ‘Monster’, and his attempt at playing God brings down destruction upon his life and loved ones. Subtitled ‘The Modern Prometheus’, Shelley’s pioneering science fiction novel considers (amongst other things) what it truly means to be human.
Hamlet, William Shakespeare: Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, is mourning the death of his father. However, with the appearance of his father’s ghost comes the shocking revelation that it is his uncle Claudius - now king, and also having recently married Hamlet’s mother - who is responsible. It falls to Hamlet to avenge this regicide, however he is wholly unsuited to the task. This is Shakespeare’s lengthiest play, and in my mind it is his best.
Meditations, Marcus Aurelius: In Meditations, the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher lays out his advice on how to live a healthy and happy life. Often surprisingly relevant to the modern mind, this is a wonderful book to keep on the shelf and dip in and out of.
The Dark Tower, Stephen King:‘The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.’ Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger of Gilead - remnant of a long-lost empire - is a man with an obsession. He seeks to avenge what he has lost, and to reach the mysterious Dark Tower, a nexus for all converging realities and dimensions. Along the way he must form an eclectic ‘ka-tet’ (’one from many’) to fight the evil forces of the Crimson King, who also seeks the Tower. A meta-fictional blend of horror, fantasy, Western and science fiction, The Dark Tower is perhaps King’s magnum opus, and holds at least something for everyone. [full review]
Catch-22, Joseph Heller: USAF bombardier Captain Yossarian has had enough of risking his life in the Second World War - but he can’t be discharged, because of Catch-22. Any man can be discharged on grounds of being insane - however, only a sane man would ask to be discharged. Heller’s novel finds the fine line between laugh-out-loud satire and razor-sharp commentary on the futility of war and the relentlessness of capitalism.
Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami: Kafka Tamura has run away from home, in an effort to evade a mysterious curse from his unloving father. Nakata - an old man who never recovered from a strange childhood affliction - is on the trail of a missing cat, yet soon finds himself implicated in a bizarre murder case. As their two stories overlap, the line between real and surreal is blurred; Kafka will leave you with more questions than answers, and keep you thinking long after you finish it.
[‘it’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish’ (this post will be continuously updated) - further recommendations here]
Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the most famous characters from the Star Wars films, winning StarWars.com’s March Madness in 2014. Most of Obi-Wan’s character was developed and revealed through the Prequel Trilogy. It seems there is not as much criticism directed at the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi because he is a bit of a more conservative character in terms of his development. While Anakin and Padmé are shown to be developing, one more than the other but nonetheless, in a negative direction (although not exclusively), Obi-Wan is portrayed as a person going through more traditional and positive personal growth.
Ironically, Obi-Wan appears to be the most challenging as a character in Episode I, where Obi-Wan given a minor (which met criticism) but crucial role, and that’s probably the reason why this movie has to face the most criticism in regard to Obi-Wan. Essentially in The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan is the character that confronts the audience with their own prejudice.
Jar Jar? What’s this?! Take him with us? We are short of time, Master! Anakin? Another pathetic life form!
Obi-Wan seems to be neither impressed by Jar Jar nor by Anakin, which is something he shares with - particularly some of the older - parts of the audience. He doesn’t want to “keep dragging these pathetic life forms along with [them]” (deleted line from the script), he feels they keep them from doing their job, which is to make sure that the Naboo Crisis will be resolved as peacefully as possible.Throughout the film, Obi-Wan has to learn that both characters do have their merits and also help them accomplishing their mission. Without Jar Jar and his role in bringing the Naboo and the Gungans together, it would have been almost impossible to free the planet. Without Anakin, the Droid Army couldn’t have been defeated and lots of people would have died.
They both proved to be valuable allies, worthy of being treated with respect and dignity, and Obi-Wan gets the lesson. At the end of the film, having witnessed Anakin’s talent and worth during the battle, and he doesn’t criticize Qui-Gon’s desire to train Anakin against the warnings of the Jedi Council anymore (“The boy is dangerous. They all sense it, why can’t you?” | “Don’t defy the Council, Master, not again.”), but decides to train the boy himself against the wishes of the Council (“I will train Anakin. Without the approval of the Council if I must.”). There are people arguing Obi-Wan only did it for Qui-Gon, but that’s ultimately irrelevant because it was still Obi-Wan’s own decision and it’s similar to saying Han didn’t really want to save his friend at the end of A New Hope but merely did what Luke asked him for.
There is a clear development, going from a slightly immature young person that dismisses other (seemingly inferior) creatures prematurely to a more matured, more adult man who sees every life’s value. There is a sense of Obi-Wan growing up The Phantom Menace - never made more obvious than through the Duel Of The Fates, where Obi-Wan had the face the death and separation of a parent (Qui-Gon), struggled to stay on the parent’s path (attacking Maul vengeful and reckless, which got him hanging in the pit) but ultimately remembered the parent’s teaching and overcame the dark path, killing Maul with the parent’s lightsaber - which wouldn’t have been possible if Obi-Wan had remained the older Jedi Master of the earlier drafts, something many fans wished for.
It’s very rewarding, in a way, to witness Obi-Wan (alongside his now-Padawan Anakin) greeting Jar Jar warmly and respectfully at the beginning of Attack Of The Clones, from a “What this?” in Episode I to a “It’s good to see you, too, Jar Jar.” in Episode II. Nicely reminding us of Obi-Wan’s growth in that character’s first scene in the second movie, Lucas showed us Obi-Wan interacting warmly with the two characters he formerly referred to as “pathetic life forms”.
Generally, while Episode I was about questioning Obi-Wan himself, his own prejudice and place within the Jedi Order, Episode II questions the world that Obi-Wan lives in, his institutions, being the Republic and especially the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan is sent to investigate a series of assassination attempts on Senator Amidala. An investigation that leads him to an army that appears to have been ordered by a Jedi ten years ago. The Jedi appears to have lost control over the Republic, the Republic itself is heading for war and Obi-Wan finds himself in the middle of it, getting captured by the Geonosians and Count Dooku. Count Dooku lures Obi-Wan, tempting him with words about his former student Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan’s former Master, who would join him “if he were still alive”. Count Dooku challenges Obi-Wan’s allegiance, his loyalty to the Jedi Order and the Republic, he is ultimately tempting him with the dark side, asking him to join him and “destroy the Sith”.
Obi-Wan doesn’t bite, he immediately resists Dooku’s advances, saying he’ll “never join” him. Obi-Wan has found his place in the Jedi Order, he has become a loyal knight of the Republic who won’t betray his friends, so while Obi-Wan was still struggling with his rebellious teenage student in Attack Of The Clones he has already reached a stable and firm world view.
Revenge Of The Sith eventually presents us the most complete version of Obi-Wan. Having already proven to be a worthy Jedi and loyal Republic servant, Obi-Wan has finally managed find balance in his relationship with Anakin. Having been through a lot of common missions, being at each other’s throats at times, Anakin has matured under Obi-Wan’s leadership and Obi-Wan has picked up a bit of Anakin’s cockiness: “Spring the trap.” There is a harmony to their relationship, visualized by their perfectly timed synchronous flying during the Opening Battle, and an inner balance about Obi-Wan’s character in this movie that has to be admired. Obi-Wan, who started out as a slightly dismissive and prejudiced Padawan learner, has become a mature and wise Jedi Master, who respects each individual and fights for democracy and his Order.
Anakin’s ultimate fall was a heartbreaking experience for Obi-Wan, being expected to face and confront his own student, a boy he considered to be his “brother”, in a battle over life and death on a hellish world. Lucas, having always a bit suspicious of Darth Vader’s unquestioned popularity, made Anakin’s fall as hurtful as possible. Even though we - as the audience - should sympathize with Anakin’s troubles (being separated from his mother, wanting to live with the people he loves etc.), he made sure Anakin would commit crimes that were so horrible (killing children) that it made his evil disgusting and undesirable in a way that the Original Trilogy probably couldn’t achieve.
For that reason, it was essential to have other characters that make the tragedy of Anakin’s fall all the more palpable and unfortunate because for all the pain that Anakin deserved for his deeds; Obi-Wan, Padmé and the others didn’t deserve the pains and suffering that Anakin’s fall brought about all of them.
The Prequel Trilogy depicts a tragic story about love and loss, brotherhood and betrayal, and Obi-Wan is at the very heart of it.