Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thoughts: Call of the Wild by Jack London

Since a Frankie Muniz movie about a boy and his dog turned me into a shuddering mass of tears in the 4th grade, I've shied away from books/movies about animals. A) Someone always dies. (Remember Bambi's mother? Holysweetjesus, that truly scarred my childhood) and B) SOMEONE ALWAYS DIES. That's the main reason why The Call of the Wild has been in my TBR pile for eight years.

A couple of days ago, I finally manned up and started reading it. I know Jack London will be proud, because guess what? I couldn't put the book down. From the very beginning, when Buck was kidnapped and sold to help men searching for gold, I felt compelled to find out what would happen to him.

To say that The Call of the Wild is atmospheric would be like saying Mother Theresa was nice. Not saintly or good beyond comprehension. Just nice. I read the book during a sultry afternoon in the tropics, but I was really somewhere near the Yukon, knee-deep in snow. Some books make you believe that a fictional place is real, but other books like The Call of the Wild transport you to those places.

And the whole thesis of the novel? (I always get nervous about posting my thoughts on the themes of classics, because I’m scared of sounding like a blithering idiot) Buck, cliché as it may sound, really did hear the call of the wild. He didn’t turn into a strong Alpha (male?) dog, because he was kidnapped and forced to run miles and miles everyday without rest. He became a semi-wolf/total badass, because it was in his blood. Even if Buck's a dog, I think the same urges to give in to who we truly are inside can be found in humans. Sure, Buck tried to stay civilized, but he didn’t succeed for long. He soon succumbed to his instincts, and morphed into the kind of dog he should really be.

Overall, I’m glad this book didn’t make me cry, but it was pretty UH-MAZING anyway.

Rating: 5/5

Note: Sorry, guys, if I disappeared and haven’t replied to your comments yet. I promise I’ll get to them in the coming days.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Vlogging 101

Lately, I've been thinking about making a vlog for Your Move, Dickens. I'm not hoping for charlieissocoollike or vlogbrothers fame, but I just want to try something new.

I've looked up a ton book vlogs on youtube, and most of them fall under four categories. First of all, the vlogger reads from a well-loved book to share it with viewers, and, other times, the vlogger creates a Mailbox Monday or Library Loot video where they talk about the books they recently got. There are also others vlogs where vlogers review a book or discuss a particular bookish topic. All four sound like great, solid ideas to me.

Personally, I like vlogs that are slightly sarcastic a.k.a funny, and I don't want them to take more than five minutes (a. I have the attention span of a five-year-old and b. our internet connection is beyond slow). So, I was just wondering what you wonderful people like to see in vlogs, and what you like about them. Do you have one particular pet peeve about book vlogs? Is there a particular type of bookish video you would like to see?

I would appreciate all comments about this topic. All comments, suggestions and even violent reactions are welcome.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thoughts: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

First of all, I just have to wonder how pop culture completely got this book wrong. Not what I expected at all.

A) Frankenstein isn’t the monster. He’s actually the human protagonist of this novel who CREATED the monster, and is described as a very handsome and intelligent young man. Not once in the novel does he cackle and say, “It’s alive!” Nope, didn’t happen. He doesn’t have wild mad scientist hair either.

B) The monster who Mary Shelley called Adam wasn’t stupid or clumsy. He was graceful, able to jump from rock to rock without stumbling, and he learned how to speak French in a couple of months. I now feel like a dunce and a total klutz next to this so-called monster.

Here’s the long and short of it: Frankenstein becomes obsessed with creating a living, breathing creature. When he finally succeeds, however, he is disgusted by his own creation, and lets it loose on the world. The monster, shunned and attacked everywhere he goes, blames his creator for his miserable existence and VOWS REVENGE. *Insert evil cackle here.*

First of all, Victor Frankenstein is one of the whiniest fictional characters I’ve ever encountered. He’s whinier than most of the teen protagonists of YA novels about *ahem* vampires, and that’s saying a lot. He whines and whines and whines, and never does anything to resolve his problems. Dude, I know not all people create evil monsters who VOW TO *INSERT CREEPIEST THREAT EVER UTTERED IN THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE HERE*, but, seriously, we all have problems ya know.

I haz a heart!

On a more serious note, this novel is told from the three points-of-view. Let’s forget the first narrator, because I’m really more interested in the voices of Frankenstein and the monster himself. Since Frankenstein has no backbone, the monster’s point-of-view is actually more interesting. He convinces you that he’s not inherently evil. He was just made that way by the people who mistreated him, and that, I believe, is the whole point of the novel. Are people born with evil inclinations or are they shaped by their environment?

I started to sympathize with the monster, but, then, Frankenstein points out in a later chapter that the monster is cunning and knows how to manipulate people with his words. Of course, I’m like, “WHAT?! I’ve been had by a bunch of body parts sewn together?!?!” If I allowed myself to be manipulated by the words of a monster, what kind of person does that make me? The book plays with your mind like that, and, in the end, I decided I did believe the monster wasn’t completely evil. No one is.

This book was beyond atmospheric, and took me to beautiful locations all over Europe—Switzerland, Ireland, Scotland, England, and even Germany. Each place has a different flavor, and Mary Shelley captured those flavors perfectly. While reading about Switzerland, I felt like I was really reading about Switzerland, not just some other version of England. Does that make sense?

Rating: 4/5

Note: There are a lot of things I want to discuss like Galvanism, and how this book probably represented Mary Shelley’s personal opinions on the effect of science on mankind. All thoughts about this book are welcome in the comments.

This post is part of The Classic Circuit's Gothic Lit Tour. For more exciting stops about Gothic literature, click here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Prepping for Anna Karenina

Throughout my travels on the intrawebz, I’ve come across lots of posts and comments about reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. These comments and posts usually advise a person to familiarize himself with the period in Russian history in which the novel is set, and to find a family tree to keep track of who’s related to whom. Some even advised readers to use charts to keep the names of the characters straight, because every character has at least five names.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I just started reading Tolstoy’s other novel Anna Karenina, and I looked up “guides” on reading the novel. What surprised me was the utter lack of Preparing to Read Anna Karenina posts or websites on the internet, and the closest “about to read Anna Karenina guide” I found was on Oprah’s website.

So, here’s the thing, guys: If you’ve read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, I need your help. Do I need to study a particular period of Russian history to understand the context of the novel? Do I need to create some sort of chart to keep the names straight? Are there historical figures that I need to be familiar with?

All comments and suggestions are welcome, and please avoid spoilers. Thanks, guys.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thoughts: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

After two months of slogging through its pages, I’ve finished The Sun Also Rises! Finally! I’ve broken away from its evil, drunken clutches! Bwahahahahahaha. Just kidding.

If I say that the book is about a bunch of American expatriates who get drunk a lot and fight over one woman, will I be doing the book a disservice? Probably. On the surface, that’s what this book is about, but there a lot of things going on underneath. These expatriates are all part of the Lost Generation, the people whose lives were forever changed by World War I. The war changed their values, and ruined their innocence. They’re aimless, they know it, and they’re unable to do anything about it.

Like in The Old Man and the Sea, I was once again impressed by Hemingway’s ability to pack so much meaning into a couple of simple words. In one scene, Jake, the protagonist, tells one of the other characters that, “You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.” The quote is perfect for the so-called Lost Generation. It doesn’t matter if you decide to go on an adventure-filled trip to South America and get drunk five times a day. Your emotional baggage will always stick with you. You can’t just shake it off.

I still haven’t made up my mind whether Hemingway is a misogynist or if he’s just scared of strong, independent women. Lady Brett Ashley, the woman they’re all fighting about, is fiercely independent (wow, what a Mills & Boon cliché). She changes men as often as she changes clothes, and is merciless about it. It’s pretty obvious she has no emotional attachment to any of them, but the fact remains that she ALWAYS has to be with a man. It’s like she took one step forward in the name of female independence, and took two steps back. I. Cannot. Make. Up. My. Mind.

Anyway, Hemingway’s writing is as crisp as usual, and, while reading, I felt like I was stepping on dried leaves on the street. Cruncheee. This book made me realize how great being an “armchair traveler” is with its beautiful descriptions of Pamplona, San Sebastian, and other Spanish locales. I really thought I was on a bus drinking some form of hard liquor out of a leather sack.

Rating: 4/5

Note: And, no, I didn't forget to talk about the bullfighting. Before reading this book, I never saw the point in bullfighting. I just thought it was a stupid sport where a matador had to wave a red cloth in a bull's face. This book made me understand how graceful and subtle bullfighting can be. Loved the descriptions of the sport. I'm pretty sure I missed some fancy symbolism there.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

So Many Books, So Little Time

Picture this: A girl is reading on a couch. The book could be a classic, a young adult novel, or even a thriller, whichever floats your imaginary boat. Rinse and repeat for the next two to five days depending on the length of the book. Well, guess what? That girl used to be me.

People who read more than one book at a time used to drive me crazy. I kept wondering how they could possibly keep all those characters, plots, and little details straight. I thought "cheating" on a book took away something from the reading experience, cheapening it somehow.

Since I started blogging, I've come to realize how I underestimated the creative powers of the human mind. Sure, you might not like reading more than one book at a time (like I said: whichever floats your imaginary boat), but it is possible to keep those plots and characters straight. For example, you're reading Treasure Island and Pride and Prejudice at the same time. You're not going to expect Mr. Darcy when you pick up a book set on the high seas, are you? Or Mr. Rochester in Harper Lee's Alabama?

Blogging never fails to introduce me to new things, and, now, I can't believe I'm reading four books at the same time--a Frankenstein e-book, Anna Karenina, Rebecca, and Dubliners. All I can say is I'm having a fabulous time reading all four books. When the short stories in Dubliners become too much for me, I can always switch to the intrigue provided by Rebecca. There's no pressure to finish a book on a specific date, because I'm having so much fun.

It just goes to show that, over time, the preferences that we thought were set in stone change. I always thought I would never cheat on the books I love so much, but it turns that more is indeed merrier.

How about you? What's your reading method of choice? Do you read more than one book at a time or do you stay faithful?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thoughts: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

While reading The Bell Jar, a strong urge to attack the pages with a highlighter seized me. The beautiful prose made me want to crawl into the pages, and there were so many portions I wanted to memorize. In the end, though, one quote stood out among the rest. Here it is:

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet. – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I don’t want to sound like every other teenage girl who has read The Bell Jar, but the above quote perfectly sums up the things I’ve been asking myself since I turned 19. There are so many things I want to be—a novelist, a lawyer, a literature professor, and so much more. Sometimes, I worry that I might take too long trying to decide on the right path that it might be too late, and, other times, I worry that I might fall flat on my face once I actually give something a shot. Maybe wondering about my life choices is just part of being 20, part of not knowing who I am or who I’m going to be.

The Bell Jar is set in the 50s, but it tackles a lot of issues about women that are still relevant today. The novel points out that the fears of having a baby and being “impure” are always held over a woman’s head, limiting her choices in life. I don’t know about people from other countries, but, in the culture I grew up in, society places a very high importance on a woman’s virginity. Our elders sometimes say that a man might not marry you if he finds out you’re not a virgin.

In The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood, the protagonist, rebels against such social constraints, and forges her own unique path. Within herself, Esther managed to demolish the “why buy the cow if the milk is free?” mentality, and I kowtow to her for that (even if she was a little crazy). A woman’s value shouldn’t depend on her virginity. In fact, a woman’s value shouldn’t be counted at all, because she is priceless.

Totally fabulous read.

And while we're on the subject of gender...

Rating: 5/5

Note: Sorry for this ridiculously lengthy post.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

One Less Lonely Reader

First of all, I apologize for punning (is that even a word?) the title of a Justin Bieber song. It is immature, I know, and you probably cringed.

But I digress. While jumping from one blog to another earlier today, I found a couple of events that I thought the brilliant, amazing, awesome, uber-cool people who visit this blog might be interested in.

Usually, reading is a solitary experience, but we bloggers have found ways to make it less so. I think the following events and one soon-to-be regular feature will show you exactly what I mean when book blogging makes reading a less lonely experience.

Allie from A Literary Odyssey will be hosting a Heart of Darkness readalong this November. I previously participated in her readalong for Oliver Twist, and it was a lot of fun. We all interpreted the book differently, so I always looked forward to what the other bloggers had to say. You can sign up here.

Rebecca will also be hosting the Gothic Literature Tour this October. I can tell the entire book blogging community is quite excited for this. From October 17-31, we’re going to talk about books filled with haunted castles, Bleeding Nuns, monsters, vampires (non-sparkly ones, I promise!), and so much more. Unfortunately, it’s too late to sign up, but you can check out the complete list of participants here.

The last thing I’m going to highlight isn’t exactly an event, but I believe it’s going to be a regular feature on Ben’s blog, Dead End Follies. It’s called The Dead End Follies Book Club, and, every month, Ben is going to recommend six books for all kinds of readers. This month’s recommendations include In Cold Blood (I now want to buy this because of Ben’s recommendation). If you want to see his other recommendations, you can click here.

So, did I miss an event for October or November? What are your favorite blog features?

Note: I don't know if you've noticed, but I've updated my blog's theme. I love The Great Gatsby, so I thought I should go with a 20s inspired banner. If you're having difficulty reading anything because of a too dark or too bright font, please let me know.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Latest Acquisitions: Part Seven

Remember my post about my Tackle the To-Be-Read Pile Project? In the aforementioned post, I boldly stated that I wouldn't buy any books until I finished the ones in my TBR pile.

Well, less than a month later, I've cracked, but this is my final relapse. I promise. Anyway, here are my latest acquisitions in no particular order:

  • Dubliners by James Joyce - A collection of short stories by the man who never fails to make my head hurt. I'm reading one to two stories everyday, and, so far, this book is the most readable thing by Joyce I've ever encountered.
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair - I have no idea what this one is about, aside from the fact that there's meat. Lots of meat.
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - Recently finished this one. You can expect a review soon.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison - I still haven't decided if I'm going to read Beloved or Sula first. I don't want to dive right into Morrison's most popular work without a bit of preparation.
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - I read ten chapters from this book everyday, and I hope to finish it before the end of the year. This is the only book I have an excuse for. I've been looking for a copy for over a year, and, when I finally found one at my favorite secondhand bookstore, I simply couldn't let it go.
What about you? What are your latest acquisitions?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thoughts: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

This book made me want to stab my eyes out with a plastic fork.

Just kidding.

Well, not really.

Le protagonist is a young woman who has just been hired as a governess for two exquisitely good-looking/good-natured children at a remote estate. Their uncle, the legal guardian, lets her do anything she wants with (to?) the children under one condition. Even if one of them gets maimed or ravaged by a pack of lions, she can never contact him. To add to the mystery, the ghosts of the children’s former governess and her boyfriend keep popping up all over the estate.

The governess is annoying as hell. The whole time I was reading the story, I just wanted to shoot her in the kneecaps. (Sorry, I just finished watching Kill Bill Vol. 2) She thought and thought and thought some more about the mysterious apparitions, until she was almost drowning in her thoughts. And, ohmygod, I got so sick of hearing how perfect the children are, how sweet and beautiful.

I guess this book was supposed to be some sort of psychological thriller, and was probably meant to be subtle. Well, believe me, this book wasn’t subtle. It was repetitive. The sentences are so long, and THERE ARE COMMAS EVERYWHERE. I know that the overflow of commas is part of Henry James’ writing style, but it’s annoying. I forgot what every sentence meant by the time I finished reading it.

If Danielle Steele’s writing style minus the romance and Stephen King had a bastard child, the result would be this book.

Rating: 2/5

P.S.: This book raised a lot of questions but barely a single one is answered by the time you turn the last page. Made me want to scream.

This is the third book I read and reviewed for the RIP Challenge VI.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Dinner with the Greats

Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is hosted by the ladies of The Blue Bookcase, and is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion.

This week's question comes from Mel u over at The Reading Life:

When I was in my early teens I read a book called Van Loon's Lives by Hendrick Willlem Van Loon. It was written in 1942 (Van Loon was a Newberry Winner for another work). I was maybe ten or so when I first read it and I was totally fascinated. The story line is that Von Loon and his good friend found a magic way to invite three famous literary figures from different eras for a Sunday Dinner. The book gives mini bios of the guests, explains the food the would have wanted and shows their dinner conversations. If you could invite any three literary figures from different eras to a Sunday Dinner who would they be? Magic takes care of the language issues.

First off, I just want to thank Mel for coming up with this question.

The first person who popped into my head was Jane Austen. I'm sure her sarcastic wit will liven up even the dreariest of dinners. There also other reasons why I want to invite her... For starters, I want to find out how she could have possibly come up with a fictional character like Mr. Darcy. She probably won't tell me, but I want to ask her why she never got married. Was it a personal choice or was it a case of unrequited love?

F. Scott Fitzgerald is the next person in my list. I love, love, love, love, love The Great Gatsby. That's already reason enough, but Fitzgerald actually seems fascinating, not to mention charming.

J.K. Rowling finishes this list. How can I not include the woman who brightened up my childhood? For more information on my obsession with Harry Potter, you can read this post. Aside from that, I can't wait to find out what she's working on at the moment. I don't care if it's a treatise on the diet of elephants. I would still be interested.

And that, my friends, are the three literary figures I would love to invite to Sunday Dinner. What about you? Who are the three literary figures you'd love to have dinner with?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thoughts: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Warning: Not a review.

Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman. - via Goodreads

For the past couple of days, I've been thinking about Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. A part of me just wants to shove the memory that I ever read the book aside, but another part keeps nagging me to write something down. To remember.

There's a portion in the novel where Toru, the narrator, describes his best friend Kazuki as someone who always makes you feel like you're part of the group. Since Kizuki committed suicide, more often than not, Toru doesn't fit in. His peers are reading contemporary Japanese authors, while he's immersed in The Great Gatsby.

Toru's feelings of not really being understood touched me the most. Lately, I've been feeling very awkward in social situations. I tend to say the wrong thing, and I always seem to end up asking myself why my social skills have deserted me.

There's also another portion in the novel where Toru feels like he's stuck in a routine. The aforementioned routine is only shaken up by the appearance of either Midori or Naoko. I feel like that. Everyday feels the same. I'm not saying I want a Midori or Naoko of my own, but I wish I could shake myself out of it.

I think I might be having a quarter life crisis. Whatever it is, there's a lot of stuff going on in my head, so I couldn't step away from Norwegian Wood and examine it objectively.


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