top 5 wednesday: Books Without Romance

July 5th: Books Without Romance

I love this topic. I’ll admit, I haven’t been crazy about the shipping topics lately. I’m not much of a romantic.  Here are some of my favorite romance-less books:

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And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: The queen of mystery does indulge in some romantic subplots every now and then, but not here. And Then There Were None tells the story of ten strangers, all of whom have been issued a mysterious invitation to an island a mile or so off the English coast. Then one by one, they start to be murdered. The most recent BBC adaptation actually throws in a romantic subplot, but it’s not present in the original novel, which is about as devoid of romance as anything can be.

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Penance by Kanae Minato: This Japanese thriller follows the aftermath of a horrible event in the lives of four young women.  One day in the summer of fourth grade, five girls go out to play and one of them, Emily, is murdered.  Although there are some relationships in the background of this novel, none of these are the focus.  I actually don’t remember the male characters in this story at all – the focus is all on the women, Emily’s mother in particular, who blames the remaining girls for the death of her daughter and who threatens them to either find the murderer before the statute of limitations is up or perform an act of penance, lest she take revenge on them.

29034Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose: This is a play which takes place entirely in a courtroom.  Twelve men are on the jury for a case which at a glance appears to be simple – a young boy stands accused of murdering his father, and there are several witnesses to testify.  Eleven out of the twelve men are in favor of a guilty verdict, but one lone dissenter, Juror 8, advocates for an open discussion which slowly begins to illuminate cracks in the case.  Romance is absolutely the last thing on the agenda in this story, which is at once a fascinating character study and an even more fascinating meditation on the flaws in the U.S. judicial system.

51xhgjvwgvl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski: Told in the format of a podcast, Six Stories is about the investigation of a twenty year old murder.  By interviewing people who knew the victim, 15-year-old Tom Jeffries, investigative journalist Scott King attempts to recreate the circumstances of his mysterious death as comprehensively as possible.  Although there are some accounts of teenage relationships in these pages, this novel is devoid of any romance or sentimentality – it’s a rather cold yet compelling account of the dynamics of the friend group that Tom Jeffries had been a part of.

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An Imaginary Life by David Malouf: This is a short and incredibly moving little book, in which David Malouf gives a fictionalized account of the final years of the poet Ovid, which he lived out in exile.  Malouf tells a strange and unconventional story about Ovid forming a relationship with a child who’s grown up in the wilderness, without human contact.  As Ovid doesn’t speak the language of the characters around him, there isn’t any romance here – just a rather fascinating and intelligent look at human nature and isolation.

So what are some of your favorite books without romance?  Comment and let me know!

book (play script) review: Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

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TWELVE ANGRY MEN by Reginald Rose
★★★★★
originally published in 1954
Penguin Classics

Twelve Angry Men is a fascinating meditation on a certain misplaced faith in the US judicial system.  In this play by Reginald Rose, a jury of twelve men is serving on what appears to be a cut and dry case: a sixteen year old boy stands accused of murdering his father, and there are multiple witnesses who claim to have seen him do it.  While initially eleven of the twelve men are in favor of a guilty verdict, there is a lone dissenter – Juror #8 – who hopes to talk through the evidence they were presented to make sure no facet of the case has been left unexamined.  In the discussion that follows, more and more holes begin to emerge in a case which had initially been deemed air-tight, and more men are willing to consider the possibility of the boy’s innocence.

This is an incredibly tense and moving piece of drama.  Even just reading this I was on the edge of my seat, thoroughly invested in this case – though of course, the specifics of the case aren’t really The Point.  Twelve Angry Men is a reflection on human nature, on the temptation to swallow ‘facts’ without questioning them, on the difficulty required to go against the grain.  The questions that are raised about this case go beyond simple clarification – they require a deeper examination of human behavior.  After all, just because someone heard the boy yell “I’ll kill you!” – is that really enough to convict him, when that phrase is used colloquially so often?  These are the sort of questions that Juror #8 asks of his peers and the audience, and the discussions that follow are appropriately challenging.  While a certain herd mentality characterizes the conversation at first – eleven of the twelve men attempting to silence the only one who disagrees – individual personalities begin to emerge for each of these twelve men over the course of a drama which becomes more and more divisive.

The flaws in the US judicial system that Reginald Rose illuminates are downright terrifying.  Why must jurors be silent – why are those who decide the fate in life or death cases not more involved in the process?  Why can’t jurors speak up, ask questions?  How can objectivity on a jury ever be reached when jurors are bringing in their own beliefs and prejudices?

We don’t ever find out whether the boy is guilty or innocent, but we do find out which verdict the jury reaches, and that alone gives the play a satisfying conclusion.  But again, it’s not this specific case that will haunt readers and viewers as much as the challenging discussion that unfolds over the course of the play.  This was a terrific, thought-provoking, and quick read: highly recommended for anyone who enjoys theatre, or stories which concern themselves with themes of the law and justice.

If you’re interested in how the film adaptation starring Henry Fonda compares, check out my friend Chelsea’s review HERE!