The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
*I first read this in high school. Didn't remember it all, but definitely remembered the gist. I believe that love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between, once you read it, parts of it will always stay with you.
*Many will probably think I'm cruel for making Annie read this for school this year, as I know many complain that they were forced to read it in school, but it honestly is such an amazing, if horrifying, look at the U.S. during the early 1900s. I just spent weeks putting together a unit on this period of time, using multiple videos, non-fiction books, etc....and all of it, to varying degrees appears in The Jungle. As part of our study of 20th century U.S. history, we will be reading various works of fiction. I think that seeing history through literature is incredibly valuable. And there is no denying that this book allows one to vicariously live history through its pages.
*There was extreme racism in parts of this book. Part of the times? Sure. Still despicable.
*Personally, I think the first three-quarters of the book is much more interesting than the final chapters. The end is where Sinclair really got up on his socialist pulpit. And it's not that I personally have a problem with socialism (how many enemies did I just make for admitting that?), but reading page after page after page of socialist speeches just ended up boring me nearly to tears. I definitely found the portions more directly about Jurgis and his family far more compelling.
*I thought the way Sinclair sort of beat the reader down throughout the first three-quarters of the book was brilliant. Not pleasant, mind you. But, and maybe it's just me, I couldn't help but feel that he was wearing me down, sucking the life out of me, in just the same way that, as poor immigrants in the early 1900s, the life was being sucked out of Jurgis and his family. At the beginning of the book, there were scattered beautiful, tender moments. But those moments became fewer and fewer until they ceased to exist at all. It had a truly powerful effect on me.
*Probably goes without saying, but yeah, I was definitely grateful to be a vegetarian while reading this.
*And for some much less "random" looks at The Jungle:
--Charley at Bending Bookshelf
--Lauren at Wading Through 1001 Books
(Okay, so I actually couldn't find that many. I'm guessing there are more out there, so if you've reviewed it, feel free to leave a link in the comments and I'll add it here.)