Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thoughts: Dubliners by James Joyce

I bought a copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man when I was fifteen, read the first couple of chapters, put the book down, and never looked back. Rinse and repeat the last three steps, and that, my friends, is my history with the elusive James Joyce. When I found a copy of Dubliners and realized that I could actually UNDERSTAND the first couple of pages, I immediately bought it. The main thought running through my head: WE MEET AGAIN, JOYCE. We meet again. *Insert maniacal laughter here.*

Before I go any further with this review, let me get this off my chest. Dubliners was depressing as hell. Almost all of the characters aim for something that will lift them up from the monotony of their daily lives or set them free from commitments they surprisingly found themselves buried in, and guess what? Almost all of them fail. In Araby, a boy tries his best to make it to a night market to buy something special for a girl he likes. The ending kind of broke my heart.

I kowtow to Joyce, because he never condescended toward his readers. Dubliners might be the easiest thing-to-read a.k.a book by Joyce I’ve ever encountered, but the fact that it was written by James Joyce means that it’s still pretty freakin’ hard to get through. There was a certain short story in there about politicians (In hospitals? I have no idea what I’m talking about), and I didn’t understand a single thing. What I did understand, though, made me feel proud. I’ve gotten so used to modern authors who dumb down their books that this reading experience was pretty exciting—like the FIFA World Cup for literary nerds. Minus the hot guys.

In the entire collection, aside from Araby and The Dead, the story that really made a mark on me was Eveline. The main character, Eveline, defines a woman who is stuck in the confines of her roles as a sister and a daughter. Life is hard, but Frank, Eveline’s boyfriend, serves as the light at the end of the tunnel. Frank wants Eveline to run away with him, and she must make a crucial decision. Escape to the unknown or face the known miseries of poverty and an alcoholic father? The resolution of this short story made me put the book down, and stare up at the ceiling for a while, asking myself what I would I have done if I were in her shoes.

I actually thought I would hate this book, but I kind of liked it. Yes, the hopelessness of the characters’ lives was depressing, but it made me think. The short stories in Dubliners made me put the book down, so I could take a deep breath and think about the characters and what James Joyce is trying to tell me. Me, the reader. Me, the person. I have to say that was quite an experience.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, November 28, 2011

An Ode to Secondhand Books

I've always wondered how books reach my favorite secondhand bookstore. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad that someone out there decided to give up their copy of Anna Karenina which I now own, but these books always lead me back to the same question. Why?

There are certain books, like my copies of The Awakening by Kate Chopin and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, that were obviously used for school. Scribbles, asterisks, and underlines abound in the pages of these books. I know marginalia drives some people crazy, but I love them. I feel like I'm in a classroom discussing classics I might not love but find fascinating nonetheless.

Others contain more personal messages within their pages. 'Daisy, I hope you enjoy this. It's one of my favorite classics. Love, Carl' is written on the first page of my copy of Willa Cather's My Antonia. I wondered about Daisy and Carl. Were they just friends or was there something more? Why did Daisy give away something that seemed to mean a lot to Carl? What happened to these people?

I will probably never know what happened to Daisy and Carl, or how The Awakening's previous owner fared in his or her class. The people who owned my books will always be faceless phantoms to me, and, because of that, they will never fail to fascinate me. That, for me, is the magic of secondhand books.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Latest Acquisitions: Part Eight/In Which I Break My Book Buying Ban Again

See, when I said that I wouldn't buy any more books until I finished all the books in my TBR pile, I was just pretending to be a fully-functional adult with a modicum of self-control.

I cracked.


It was payday and I was just browsing around my favorite secondhand bookstore, and... and... You know how these things go.

Here are my latest acquisitions:
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather - Sounds very boring, but I have a feeling I'm going to eat my words once again.
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding - Have been hankering after a copy of this book for ages, but refused to buy a new copy because it was too expensive for such a thin book.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - Have no idea what this one is about.
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt - Children's classic I've heard so many great things about. Just kidding. I saw the movie trailer starring Rory Gilmore a couple of years ago. I know the actress has a real name and Rory Gilmore is just a fictional character, but Alexis Bledel will ALWAYS BE RORY GILMORE. 'Nough said.
  • The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West - About Hollywood in the 30s? 40s? I have no idea what I'm talking about anymore.
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe - Said to be a very influential book during the American Civil War. Must read up on American History before diving into this one.
  • Billy Budd and Other Stories by Herman Melville - Gah. I haven't even started Moby Dick yet.
  • Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie - My second Agatha Christie. Hope to start this after I finish Dubliners by James Joyce to cleanse my palate.
  • The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien - How can I not buy this?!? It was a brand-new copy for only two bucks.
I'm currently plodding through Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Dubliners a.k.a Will I ever finish this short story collection? by James Joyce. In a previous post, I said that Dubliners is the most readable thing by Joyce I've ever encountered. That's still true, but readable thing by Joyce still = NOT EASY TO FINISH. Blast it all.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thoughts: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Part One)

Anna Karenina is a married woman who travels to Moscow to help her brother and sister-in-law reconcile. After (or during?) a brutal train accident, she meets and semi-sort-of falls in love at first sight with the handsome but a tad shallow Vronsky. The charming Vronsky is currently courting-but-not-really Kitty. Levin, a strange but intelligent man, is truly in love with Kitty. She, on the other hand, rejects him for Vronsky, who soon ditches her for Anna. Still with me? Yeah, that’s how Tolstoy rolls.

Tolstoy isn’t actually that hard to read, which surprised me. There were some pretty heavy passages about philosophy that had me scratching my head, but, with the help of footnotes, I think I understood everything. His eye for little society details reminded me of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, but his characters are so much more direct. They declare their love and get on trains to chase after their lovers. They don’t depend on fate or pack meaning into a single glance. Maybe this directness is a Russian trait or maybe it’s just Tolstoy.

There are also passages where Tolstoy’s acerbic sense of humor reminds me of Jane Austen. In one scene, a character is appalled to hear that Vronsky is going directly to French theatre after listening to Christina Nilsson, one of the most celebrated opera singers of the time, but this same character wouldn’t be able to distinguish Nilsson’s voice from that of a chorus girl’s.

The train accident when and Anna and Vronsky first meet? It’s like a gigantic neon sign saying ‘THIS ISN’T GOING TO END WELL.’ Then again, it’s part of human nature to stick around after horrible accidents, taking in the carnage and thanking our lucky stars it’s not us. I do fear for my heart when it comes to this book, because I do like the characters. Previous experience, though, is warning me not to get too attached. (Does Madame Bovary ring a bell? Or The Awakening? Or Ethan Frome?)

Can’t wait to get started on Part Two.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thoughts: Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

Working as a lady's companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers. - via Goodreads

In a previous post, I said I fell asleep while reading the first quarter of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca two years ago. In the same post, I also admitted that I’m an uncultured Philistine (an uncultured Philistine? Talk about redundant) who feasts on babies for breakfast. Just kidding (about the Philistine part). I finished reading the book, and guess what? Rebecca didn’t make me want to stab my eye out with a plastic fork or do violent things to an already-dead author.

In fact, I kind of loved it.

Originally, I thought Rebecca was one of those books whose brilliance solely depends on its ‘shock’ factor, and, once again, the book proved me wrong. I looked up the ending halfway through the book, because I couldn’t stand the suspense anymore. (Damn you, Wikipedia, for encouraging my spoilertastic tendencies.) Even if I already knew the ending, I still stayed up until the wee hours of the morning and raced through the final half of the book. Yes, I knew what was going to happen, but I still had to know HOW IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. So, no, Rebecca’s brilliance doesn’t just depend on its completely heartrending ending. It can hold itself up with or without the shocktastic ending.

The unnamed narrator tells the story a couple of years after the events in the book transpire. After I finished reading the book, I immediately reread the first chapter to gain a little more insight on the characters. This particular method of storytelling made me think of all the things that we look back on with regret, the things we can never change. Words we could have said but clutched closer to our hearts instead, a street we could have crossed at a particular moment, or a door we shouldn’t have slammed shut.

This book actually made me cry. *HIGHLIGHT TO READ SPOILER.* That scene where Maxim actually tells the protagonist he loves her, and that he never loved Rebecca. Why did you tell her when you were about to get arrested, Maxim, why?!?!?!?! Sniff. Sniff. *END OF SPOILER.*

The writing was UH-MAZING—the perfect mix of beautiful and creepy. I don’t regret reading Jane Eyre before diving into this scrumptious masterpiece, but it wasn’t actually necessary. Maxim de Winter and Mr. Rochester are two different characters who are *ahem* hot in their own unique ways. Both are tortured and oh-so brooding, but the similarity ends there.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Will I ever be able to post regularly? No, don’t answer that question.

According to a blog post I read last October, the best way to get more followers is to post DAILY. I thought, “Hey, I could do that. Tons of bloggers work, take care of their kids, and post daily.” So, I decided to post daily, and realized that, no, posting daily isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s actually pretty hard.

I kind of burned out. In this case, burn out = staying away from classics like the plague and completely running out of ideas for posts. I forgot that I started this blog because I wanted a place where I could babble about classics as much as I want to and to have FABULOUS conversations with people who love books as much as I do.

After taking a little *ahem* rest from blogging and classics, I think I’m finally ready to get back into the swing of things. I’ve thought about this blog, and what I really want to do with it. The main thing is this: I want to record my thoughts on classics and to talk to people about them, exchange ideas in case I ever have any.

I’ve also decided to stop being so uptight/OC about this blog. There are so many things I’ve wanted to talk about, but I forced myself to put a cork in it because a post would already be too long. There have also been times when I didn’t have much to say about a particular book, but I forced myself to write a full review on it that ended up boring as hell. So, I’ve decided to be a little more relaxed.

And to stop buying so many books.

Here I am, apologizing once again for my sudden absence. I’ve got a couple of posts lined up, and I still hope to post a vlog in the future. Just not today.

P.S: Have I mentioned that you all look great?


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