Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quick Thoughts: The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates / The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin


The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
I know this is book isn’t a classic, but—holy cow!—I just have to rave about it. Stephen King was right when called Levin the Swiss watchmaker of the suspense novel.

The Stepford Wives was so readable. No, not easy to read, but readable. There are a lot of disturbing themes regarding gender in the book, but Levin was so succinct. He never wasted a single word, and he makes writing look so easy. I highly recommend this one.

The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates
At first, I thought this collection of essays on the writing process reeked of pretentiousness. Oates used a lot of big words like mimesis, memorialization, obliqueness, etc, and there’s a lot of self-clapping on the back involved. I also found some of the essays—one about running and writing, in particular—boring.

HOWEVER, I loved practically all of the quotes by other writers Oates used in the book. My particular favorites are the following:
To Whom the Mornings stand for Nights,
What must the Midnights—be! - Emily Dickinson
Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster. And if you gaze too long into an abyss—the abyss will gaze back into you. - Nietzsche
The essays I did like weren’t about Oates’s experiences, but were usually collections of anecdotes about other writers and books—Notes on Failure, Inspiration, and Reading as a Writer. I liked the last one, Reading as a Writer, best. It detailed how writers are sometimes subconsciously influenced by the things they read. According to the essay, for example, Virginia Woolf was influenced by James Joyce, despite considering Ulysses a “book of a self taught working man.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Latest Acquisitions: Part Five


I've been trying to enforce a book-buying ban, but that clearly didn't work.

Here are some of my latest acquisitions:
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - I know only two things about this book a) it's set in the Belgian Congo and b) it was chosen by Oprah for her book club. I've heard a lot of good things about it from other bloggers, and I shrieked in delight when I saw it at my favorite secondhand bookstore. Really looking forward to this one.
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - This book is a gift from my friend Donna. Thanks! I read Great Expectations and Oliver Twist this year, so I don't plan on reading this book anytime soon. I might overdose on Charles Dickens.
  • Death in Venice and Other Stories by Thomas Mann - I've been eying this book for quite a while now, but it was too expensive. Again, I shrieked from delight when I saw it at the sale bin in National Bookstore. Awesome book + sale = WIN! Although, I don't understand the logic here. Why was Death in Venice in the sale bin? Can't you people recognize the pure awesomeness radiating from this book?
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - I loved Ethan Frome, so I've been wanting to read Edith Wharton's other work. However, when I found this copy of The Age of Innocence, I DID NOT shriek in delight. I loathe movie tie-in editions, particularly this one where Michelle Pfeiffer's mouth is half-open in a rather disturbing way. Who am I to complain, though? This copy was only two dollars. *Shrugs.*
What about you? What are your latest acquisitions?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thoughts: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

When the Time Traveler courageously stepped out of his machine for the first time, he found himself in the year 802,701--and everything had changed. H.G. Wells's famous novel of one man's astonishing journey beyond the conventional limits of the imagination is regarded as one of the great masterpieces in the literature of science fiction. – via Goodreads

I know this book is supposed to be revolutionary and, overall, a REALLY BIG DEAL, but it was just MEH for me. Perhaps, that’s why I couldn’t even come up with my own summary. Every time I try to think of something to say about it, I’m stumped. I can’t come up with a single thing—I blame this, of course, on the MEHness of The Time Machine.

But I digress.

There were some facets of the book that I enjoyed. I liked the glimpse into 802,701 wherein the Morlocks, humans who later evolved into rat-like subterranean beings, prey on the Elois, a race of beautiful but weak men. Before writing this review, I learned that H.G. Wells was a student of Thomas Huxley, popularly known as Charles Darwin’s bulldog. The little factoid completely explained why The Time Machine reeks of Darwin’s theories on evolution. I liked how Wells wrapped up his beliefs in a neat, not to mention entertaining, package.

The only thing I didn’t like was how women were portrayed/treated in the book. There’s only one female character in the novel, a female Elois named Weena who befriends the nameless Time Traveler, and maybe that’s the problem. She’s manipulated by the Time Traveler for his own gain, while she treats him with nothing but kindness and unfettered devotion. Yes, my modern feminist feathers were more than a little ruffled.

The Time Machine entertained me, but I forgot about it after I finished it. It was supposed to make me think, and maybe even a little sleepless. (I expect too much from books, don't I?) Hence, the whole MEH thing. I am willing to give H.G. Wells another try, though. The Invisible Man looks interesting. Any suggestions?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Radcliffe College's 100 Best Novels

I have a thing about lists. Last month, I posted Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list, and, somehow, I came across Radcliffe College's 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century list. The Modern Library list had me cowering in shame, because I only read three books in it (now four, I think).

The Radcliffe list, however, makes me feel better about myself, because I've read fifteen books on it. Boo yeah!

For those who are interested, here's the list:

1. "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. "The Catcher in the Rye," J.D. Salinger
3. "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck
4. "To Kill a Mockingbird," Harper Lee
5. "The Color Purple," Alice Walker
6. "Ulysses," James Joyce
7. "Beloved," Toni Morrison
8. "The Lord of the Flies," William Golding
9. "1984," George Orwell
10. "The Sound and the Fury," William Faulkner
11. "Lolita," Vladmir Nabokov
12. "Of Mice and Men," John Steinbeck
13. "Charlotte's Web," E.B. White
14. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," James Joyce
15. "Catch-22," Joseph Heller
16. "Brave New World," Aldous Huxley
17. "Animal Farm," George Orwell
18. "The Sun Also Rises," Ernest Hemingway
19. "As I Lay Dying," William Faulkner
20. "A Farewell to Arms," Ernest Hemingway
21. "Heart of Darkness," Joseph Conrad
22. "Winnie-the-Pooh," A.A. Milne
23. "Their Eyes Were Watching God," Zora Neale Hurston
24. "Invisible Man," Ralph Ellison
25. "Song of Solomon," Toni Morrison
26. "Gone with the Wind," Margaret Mitchell
27. "Native Son," Richard Wright
28. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Ken Kesey
29. "Slaughterhouse Five," Kurt Vonnegut
30. "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Ernest Hemingway
31. "On the Road," Jack Kerouac
32. "The Old Man and the Sea," Ernest Hemingway
33. "The Call of the Wild," Jack London
34. "To the Lighthouse," Virginia Woolf
35. "Portrait of a Lady," Henry James
36. "Go Tell it on the Mountain," James Baldwin
37. "The World According to Garp," John Irving
38. "All the King's Men," Robert Penn Warren
39. "A Room with a View," E.M. Forster
40. "The Lord of the Rings," J.R.R. Tolkien
41. "Schindler's List," Thomas Keneally
42. "The Age of Innocence," Edith Wharton
43. "The Fountainhead," Ayn Rand
44. "Finnegans Wake," James Joyce
45. "The Jungle," Upton Sinclair
46. "Mrs. Dalloway," Virginia Woolf
47. "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," Frank L. Baum
48. "Lady Chatterley's Lover," D.H. Lawrence
49. "A Clockwork Orange," Anthony Burgess
50. "The Awakening," Kate Chopin
51. "My Antonia," Willa Cather
52. "Howard's End," E.M. Forster
53. "In Cold Blood," Truman Capote
54. "Franny and Zooey," J.D. Salinger
55. "Satanic Verses," Salman Rushdie
56. "Jazz," Toni Morrison
57. "Sophie's Choice," William Styron
58. "Absalom, Absalom!" William Faulkner
59. "Passage to India," E.M. Forster
60. "Ethan Frome," Edith Wharton
61. "A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor
62. "Tender is the Night," F. Scott Fitzgerald
63. "Orlando," Virginia Woolf
64. "Sons and Lovers," D.H. Lawrence
65. "Bonfire of the Vanities," Thomas Wolfe
66. "Cat's Cradle," Kurt Vonnegut
67. "A Separate Peace," John Knowles
68. "Light in August," William Faulkner
69. "The Wings of the Dove," Henry James
70. "Things Fall Apart," Chinua Achebe
71. "Rebecca," Daphne du Maurier
72. "A Hithchiker's Guide to the Galaxy," Douglas Adams
73. "Naked Lunch," William S. Burroughs
74. "Brideshead Revisited," Evelyn Waugh
75. "Women in Love," D.H. Lawrence
76. "Look Homeward, Angel," Thomas Wolfe
77. "In Our Time," Ernest Hemingway
78. "The Autobiography of Alice B. Tokias," Gertrude Stein
79. "The Maltese Falcon," Dashiell Hammett
80. "The Naked and the Dead," Norman Mailer
81. "The Wide Sargasso Sea," Jean Rhys
82. "White Noise," Don DeLillo
83. "O Pioneers!" Willa Cather
84. "Tropic of Cancer," Henry Miller
85. "The War of the Worlds," HG Wells
86. "Lord Jim," Joseph Conrad
87. "The Bostonians," James Henry
88. "An American Tragedy," Theodore Dreiser
89. "Death Comes for the Archbishop," Willa Cather
90. "The Wind in the Willows," Kenneth Grahame
91. "This Side of Paradise," F. Scott Fitzgerald
92. "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand
93. "The French Lieutenant's Woman," John Fowles
94. "Babbitt," Sinclair Lewis
95. "Kim," Rudyard Kipling
96. "The Beautiful and the Damned," F. Scott Fitzgerald
97. "Rabbit, Run," John Updike
98. "Where Angels Fear to Tread," EM Forster
99. "Main Street," Sinclair Lewis
100. "Midnight's Children," Salman Rushdie

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thoughts: Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Part 2)


HAMLET
They are sheep and calves which seek out assurance
in that. I will speak to this fellow. Whose
grave's this, sirrah?
First Clown
Mine, sir.
Sings
O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.
HAMLET
I think it be thine, indeed; for thou liest in't.
First Clown
You lie out on't, sir, and therefore it is not
yours: for my part, I do not lie in't, and yet it is mine.
HAMLET
'Thou dost lie in't, to be in't and say it is thine:
'tis for the dead, not for the quick; therefore thou liest.
First Clown
'Tis a quick lie, sir; 'twill away gain, from me to
you.
I finished reading Hamlet a couple of days ago, but, every time I try to write about it, I get stumped. I guess I was just scared because I liked Act I a lot, and I didn't think the following scenes could live up to it. I don't know. The whole play seemed BLEEEH to me after Act III.

Maybe because I didn't have anyone to root for. Frankly, Hamlet was an arschloch. He couldn't make up his mind, and he manipulated Ophelia to convince everyone he was batshit crazy. Ophelia, on other hand, was just crazy, so no... I couldn't root for her either. I liked Polonius A LOT, but he was killed off early in the play. I kind of liked Laertes, but he chickened out and apologized to Hamlet in the end. So BLAGH.

I did appreciate Shakespeare's humor, though, especially the wisecracking gravedigger. I also liked how it seemed that everyone had something to hide, and I had to be on my guard at all times. Shakespeare's characters were so human. Everyone had an agenda and a motive.

For a more coherent summary of Hamlet, check out this link: Hamlet in Facebook Statuses. I first came across the site before reading the play, and I didn't get it all. I read it again after finishing Hamlet and literally Laughed Out Loud.

I do look forward to reading something by Shakespeare again, probably a comedy with a bit of romance thrown in. I was interested in The Taming of the Shrew since one of my favorite movies of all time, Ten Things I Hate About You, is a modernized version of it, but I changed my mind after reading the summary--more than a little sexist, in my opinion. Much Ado About Nothing looks good.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

You can download a free audio book from Librivox here.

When the movie version came out a couple of years ago, I decided not to watch it until I read the short story. I didn’t read the story, though, until a couple of days ago. Something always seemed to stand in my way—either I didn’t have time or there was another shorter story I needed to read. When I stumbled upon a free Librivox audio book though, I decided it was time.

The titular Benjamin Button is born in the body of a seventy-year-old man. His wealthy parents are horrified, and they keep wondering why this had to happen to them. Benjamin’s father tries to delude himself by thinking that Benjamin is a normal baby. As the years go by, it becomes apparent that Benjamin is aging backwards, and, throughout his life, he tries and always fails to fit in with the “normal” people around him.

I’m a big Fitzgerald fan, okay? I freaking love the guy. I’ve read his first novel This Side of Paradise which I will never read again unless I’m threatened with Chinese water torture, and The Great Gatsby which I thought was veeeeeery beautiful but also veeeeery depressing.

As a result, I’m confused. I don’t know where to pigeonhole The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It still showcases Fitzgerald’s brilliant writing. The plot is slightly depressing because I felt sad for Benjamin. At first, he has to bend over backward just to please his father, and, in the end, he has to try to please his son. He fails miserably on both accounts. But it was also so funny. There’s a scene where a six-hour old Benjamin asks his father to buy him a cane. Funny, right?

Underneath all that humor, though, the short story spoke to me on a personal level. I guess, at one time or another, we've all felt left out. Fitzgerald transformed and heightened that feeling until it became comical but universal. Benjamin struggled with who he was, and, on an inner level, so do I.

Despite my confusion, I’m really glad I read The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The story showed me a different side of one of my favorite authors of all-time. I learned that besides being a certified literary genius, F. Scott Fitzgerald also had a great sense of humor.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thoughts: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Being the miser that I am, it occurred to me two weeks ago that I was actually paying a required library fee, and I wasn’t using the library. At all. On my first trip, I immediately headed for the classics section. For some reason, they didn’t have copies of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte respectively. They did have, however, copies of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, which I found to be quite curious since most people consider her the “lesser” Bronte. So, I chose Agnes Grey because a) it was thinner and b) I’m lazy.

The titular character, Agnes Grey, is the sheltered younger child of a curate. When her father’s business venture fails, their whole family is plunged into debt, and, in order to help, Agnes decides to work as a governess. The Bloomfields, the first group of children she teaches, are ignorant and cruel, while the Murrays, the second, are vain and shallow. Agnes weathers through the trials of being a poor governess, and begins her search for true love.

The first thing that struck me about this book was how whiny and judgmental Agnes Grey was. I thought I would love it because the prose was so fluid, but I couldn’t stand the main character. She saw something wrong about EVERYBODY except her own immediate family. I admit the children Agnes had to teach were pretty horrible, but I didn’t trust her judgment as the narrator. Everything was filtered through Agnes’s eyes, and it was awful. If some people see things through rose-colored glasses, Agnes sees them through mud-colored ones.

While reading, I saw some similarities to Charlotte’s writing—yes, we’re on a first name basis. A poor and plain governess who finds true love despite having a ridiculously beautiful rival? Check. In Jane Eyre, the reader is the one who interprets what Charlotte Bronte is trying to say. In Agnes Grey, I didn’t have to interpret anything. Anne Bronte spelled EVERYTHING out for me through numerous catechisms masquerading as long speeches by her characters. It was like she was shoving a ton of moral lessons down my throat. I can’t stand it when authors use characters as mouthpieces for their own agendas. Me not like that.

I did enjoy the latter part of the book where it suddenly turns into a love story with—guess!—more preaching. The latter part, though, wasn’t enough to reduce my utter hatred for Agnes Grey. In fact, the only reason I finished it was because of the—drum roll, please—overdue library fee I already to pay for it.

Rating: 2/5

I'm adding this in case I forget: The copy I borrowed was published in the 1930s, so I had to be really careful about it. I did enjoy the old-book smell, though.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde


Irish Short Story Week is an event hosted by Mel over at The Reading Life. He hopes to make it a yearly event in time for St. Patrick’s Day. I’m a little late to the party, since I’ve been busy with finals and my thesis. However, I did manage to read Oscar Wilde’s short story The Nightingale and the Rose.

The story begins when a nightingale overhears the Student lamenting over not being able to find a red rose. The Student’s Love told him that she’ll dance with him if he gives her a red rose. The nightingale finds a nearly-dead rose bush, and begs the bush to produce one rose. The rose bush replies that a red rose can only be made with a moonlit song and a nightingale’s blood. The nightingale, then, must make a choice.

This is the first time that I read anything by Oscar Wilde, and I was pleasantly surprised. The Nightingale and the Rose almost feels like a fairy tale in the beginning, and the passages are so beautiful, almost like poetry. It takes a sinister turn in the end, and I wondered what Oscar Wilde’s views on love were. Judging by this short story alone, he seemed rather bitter.

This sample of Wilde’s writing made me want to read more. I intend to read The Picture of Dorian Gray this year, but I haven’t found an actual copy—I might have to settle for the free Gutenberg e-book.

You can read The Nightingale and the Rose here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thoughts: Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Part 1)


This is what I said last week when my English Lit professor mentioned Hamlet: Shakespeare scares me. I’m not afraid to admit that I cower at the thought of reading the works of a guy who’s been dead for over five hundred years. It’s just that his plays are so hard to understand, not to mention booooooooooring…

This is me after reading Act I of Hamlet: Shakespeare is pretty cool, not to mention funny… as long as you actually understand what he’s saying.

Okay, let me backtrack a little.

I’m a Literature major (I’ve mentioned that so many times on this blog that you’re probably tired of hearing it). I’m about to graduate and the only Shakespeare I’ve read is King Lear, and I can’t remember a thing about it except that they all, you know, died in the end.

So, after seeing seeing Mel Gibson as Hamlet, I decided to remedy the situation by reading the original text. Luckily, I found an edition with a modern line-for-line translation at my favorite secondhand bookstore. I felt so smug, since I could finally understand what Hamlet was saying.

And guess what?

I love it. My favorite character so far is Polonius. There’s a part in Act I Scene III where Laertes, Polonius’s son, is leaving for France. Polonius gives him a load of advice, and every single word out of his mouth is like a gem that you have to treasure. Here’s a sample:
Beware of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear’t th’opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.
He’s telling Laertes to avoid getting into fights, but to make sure he wins if he does get himself in one. I think Polonius means something deeper, but I prefer to think of the above quote in that context. Dude (I can call you dude, right Polonius?), why is my father not like you? You’re too cool for words.

My favorite Polonius line, though, is almost a cliché these days:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
To thine own self be true! That’s like a non-cheesy way of telling someone to follow his heart. Someday, I’m going to put that on a gold plaque, and hang it over my door. The quote spoke to me on a completely different level. It echoed in my brain, and tattooed itself on my heart.

How can I be true to myself when I don’t even know who that is? In my Theology class two years ago, the teacher asked us to draw a symbol that represented our individual selves, and I was stumped. I had no idea what I was supposed to draw to represent “myself,” and I still don’t.

But I guess figuring out who I am or who I’m supposed to be is half the fun. From now on, I’m going to try to be true to myself as much as I can.

I look forward to reading Act II.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thoughts: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

"All the long misery of his baffled past, of his youth of failure, hardship and vain effort, rose up in his soul in bitterness and seemed to take shape before him in the woman who at every turn had barred his way. She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all the others."

Even if I had never read one of her books, I usually thought of Edith Wharton as a chronicler of the travails and heartbreaks of the upper class, a class where she belonged. So, I was surprised when I discovered that her novella Ethan Frome is about a poor farmer.

The story is told through the eyes of an unnamed narrator who’s new to the town of Starkfield. The narrator’s curiosity is piqued when he sets eyes on the disfigured Ethan Frome. One of the townspeople says that Frome has “spent too many winters in Starkfield.” Through a flashback, the narrator, along with the reader, learns all about the tangled and completely tragic lives of Ethan Frome, his wife Zeena, and her young but poor cousin Mattie Silver.

There are no heroes or villains in Ethan Frome. There are merely people who cling to every last bit of happiness in order to survive in their bleak surroundings. Ethan blamed Zeena for his miserable life, but he was the one who chose to marry her simply out of his fear of loneliness. Zeena hides behind her illness, but she was capable of taking care of Ethan’s sick mother when they first met. There’s obviously something more to her.

Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie aren’t the only characters in the book. Winter plays a vital part in the story. Wharton’s descriptions of Starkfield winters are lush, and I could almost feel the snow falling on my shoulders and the coldness of the air. Somehow, the season echoes the bleakness, coldness, and maybe even hopelessness of the characters’ lives. Ethan marries Zeena after his mother dies, because he’s afraid of being alone on his farm during winter. This beginning sets the tone for the rest of their lives, and has dire consequences on their future.

Also, I recently read The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert—both are about women who commit adultery. Gender wasn’t an issue in Ethan Frome, but I liked the contrast between the protagonists of the three books. They all struggled against the constraints of the lives they chose for themselves or were thrust into. Funny enough, the female characters in The Awakening and Madame Bovary were braver than Ethan, and infinitely more assertive of their desires.

Ethan Frome was a beautiful book that made me experience a Starkfield winter with my breath fogging in my face and my hands trembling from the cold. It was short and very sweet. I look forward to reading more of Edith Wharton’s books.

Rating: 5/5

Note: No one I know personally has read Ethan Frome, so I don’t have anyone to talk to about the ending. So, if you’ve read this book, what did you think?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On Audio Books

Since falling asleep while listening to a Chuck Palahniuk audio book, I’ve been wary of audio books in general. Audiobooks? Not for me, I used to scoff. When I started blogging, though, things started to change. Amanda of the The Zen Leaf is quite fond of audio books, and reviews one practically every week.

So, out of curiosity, I decided to give audio books another try. I stumbled upon Librivox, a website that offers free classic audio books read by volunteers from all over the world. I decided to download Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, because it was short, so I didn’t think it would tax my attention span too much.

And, now, I’m really glad I decided to give audio books another chance. I’ve come to realize that what I listen to greatly influences my enjoyment. Chuck Palahniuk, in any form, isn’t for me, while I completely loved Ethan Frome.

The long commute home has always been a torture for me, and a bumpy one at that. I love reading e-books on my phone during the commute, but I usually have to strain my eyes. The audio book is perfect for a long commute, and I didn’t feel as lonely as usual.

I’m definitely going to download more audio books from Librivox, and, at the moment, I’ve got my eye on Katherine Mansfield’s collection of short stories. What do you think about audio books in general? Yay or nay?

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Doll's House by Katherine Mansfield

"But whatever our Else wore she would have looked strange. She was a tiny wishbone of a child, with cropped hair and enormous solemn eyes-a little white owl. Nobody had ever seen her smile; she scarcely ever spoke. She went through life holding on to Lil, with a piece of Lil's skirt screwed up in her hand."

I've heard a lot about Katherine Mansfield from Mel at The Reading Life--she's one of the main focuses of his blog--and from the blogging community in general. Out of curiosity, I decided to look her up, and was delighted when I learned that most, if not all, of her works are in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.

The first short story I encountered was The Doll's House. The three Burnell girls, members of the elite in their rural community, are given a magnificent doll house. They allow all the girls at their school to see it, all except the two Kelveys--the daughters of the town washerwoman.

For me, the short story was very beautiful, written in elegant but direct language. I guess the short story shows us how social classes divide us, and how they influence our lives. In today's so-called modern society, social classes are still very distinct, something Mansfield demonstrated subtly in her short story.

I really enjoyed Katherine Mansfield's The Doll's house, and look forward to reading her other short stories.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Thoughts: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Note: I’m more than a little tired, so I’m sorry if this is short and a teeny bit incoherent. :)

Last year, I read Neil Gaiman’s short story A Study in Emerald, a tribute to Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft, and I saw Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. The two combined made me want to read A Study in Scarlet.

Two days ago, I finally started it, and I flew through the book pretty fast. In a previous post, I mentioned that my reading speed is slower when I’m reading classics. I was wrong. I said that before coming across A Study in Scarlet.

The book actually tells us how Watson and Holmes meet. Watson, who was injured during his stint as an army doctor in Afghanistan, doesn’t have enough money to continue lodging at a hotel, and, through a common friend, he meets Holmes who’s also looking for a roommate. The two take up a room in the now famous Baker Street.

I didn’t know all that stuff before, and most of my knowledge about Sherlock Holmes entered my brain through the film adaptation and various pop culture references. Reading Sherlock Holmes, the original one, opened my eyes to things about the famous detective that were absent in the films.

The first half of the book is told through Watson’s eyes, while the second half suddenly shifts and takes us to somewhere in the middle of a desert in Utah. The parts in Utah were action-filled, but were very offensive to Mormons. I tried to keep in mind, though, that Doyle’s portrayal of Mormons was how people viewed them at the time.

Overall, Sherlock Holmes was a fast, exciting read—a great introduction to the famous detective that shows us his extraordinary skills of deduction, not to mention his flaws.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Funny Enough...

Literary Blog Hop

If you’re stopping by from the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase, welcome to Your Move, Dickens. I’m Darlyn, a nineteen-year-old Lit major from the Philippines. I blog mainly about classics—novels, short stories, and even retellings.

This week’s question is:

Can literature be funny? What is your favorite humorous literary book?

I find this week’s Literary Blog Hop question really interesting. People usually view literary fiction, classics in particular, as boring. I thought most of them were gloomy with depressing endings. Since I made a conscious decision to really start reading classics, I’ve discovered that the “depressing ending” only applies to a few of them.

Even if the premise of a book sounds boring, a good writer can liven it up and sprinkle a little humor in it. Novels by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are few of the books that come to mind. I thought the characters from Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet’s in particular, were hilarious, and, although Oliver Twist was a bit draggy, the minor characters, like the bumbling beadle or the thieves, were pretty funny.

If I have to pick a humorous literary book, though, I’d pick Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s one of the first “humorous” classics that popped into my mind. Vonnegut’s writing is laced with sadness, but there are a lot of funny moments in between. His humor sometimes borders on the ridiculous, but he always manages to surprise me with another joke or a simple, ‘So it goes.’

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thoughts: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary is about a woman who feels dissatisfied with her life. She dreams about finding romance just like in her favorite novels, but she ends up marrying a country doctor—a boring, ignorant man who puts her on a pedestal. Still on her search for the romance she so longs for, she becomes entangled in an adulterous web of lies.

Okay, I have to be honest here. I’m a bit of a dreamer. Just like Emma Bovary, I dream about romance, and wonder if I’ll ever find it. I completely understand her feelings of restlessness. In fact, if I have to sum up Emma Bovary in one word, I’d use the term antsy. She’s antsy about life, and, through Emma, Flaubert captured in words feelings that have always eluded me.

I’m nineteen years old, and I can’t wait for my life to start. I’m antsy because everyday feels the same, and I keep wondering when something exciting—something romantic, something right out of the books I love so much—will happen to me. Emma Bovary felt that way, and I completely understand her.

However, I did feel sorry for Charles Bovary, the cuckolded husband. Yes, he was a bit slow and so not a romantic hero, but he really loved Emma. In the first chapter of the book, a young Charles enters a schoolroom for the first time, and ends up becoming the class laughingstock. I felt that the first chapter set the tone for the entire novel, where Charles constantly becomes a fool because he’s blinded by his love for his wife.

When I finished the book, I thought I completely hated it. The ending left me with a sick feeling in my stomach, because it told me pretty clearly that there’s no justice in this world, that the most annoying people on earth could possibly triumph over the saintly. After thinking about it, though, I realized I actually like it, maybe even love it. Madame Bovary told me something about myself, something I didn’t know before. See the Cliff Fadiman quote on my left sidebar? When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before. Well, Madame Bovary is the first book that led me to truly understand that quote.

Rating: 5/5

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