Monday, November 30, 2009
Like many of you, I had a busy weekend with family and food. My stomach still hasn’t recovered from all of the stuffing and turkey. It was good though. My younger sister came home from college and I got to spend some time with her in her new car.
Matt, my brothers, and some close friends drove down to Chicago for his bachelor party. From what I have heard, they had a great time and drank a lot. When he got back Sunday evening, he was tired, so we relaxed a little and watched Lost. I never really watched it, so he is getting me into it for the last season that is airing soon. I have to say that if I had been watching from the beginning, I probably would have been mad to not know the answers to everything.
Anyway, like I said, it was a good weekend.
In reading news, I managed to hit my goals for last week. I finished The Bluest Eye as well as The Stranger (post will be forthcoming). I also managed to start Germinal by Emile Zola (again, post forthcoming) and at the time of writing this, I am well into it. It is a 500+ page book, so it might take me a little while.
The goals for this week are to finish Germinal. I’m not quite sure what I am going to read next, but I think I might read a play or get into a Steinbeck novel. We shall see…
Friday, November 27, 2009
Making the list of books to put on my list was hard. I wanted to make sure I picked enough to get a broad scope of the classics, but narrow enough that it wasn’t going to become a never-ending task. The result was 250 books, of which there were only 70 or so that I had previously read.
Obviously there were some essentials on the list—Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens, Austen, etc, but there were also quite a few books and authors that were added that I had never heard of in my life.
One of these is Albert Camus. There are two books by him that I am reading: The Fall and The Stranger. Neither one of them have I even heard of. So when I went to my library’s quarterly book sale back in September, I armed myself with a list of books I was having a hard time finding and set out.
When I got there, the library was packed. It was the first day open to the public (this first day is always reserved for friends and family of workers at the library), so I was kind of expecting it. I ended up plopping down on the floor in the middle of a crowded aisle to first go through the books in the mass of boxes on the floor. I ended up buying 23 books that day for only $11.
Of these, my copy of The Stranger by Albert Camus, was one of my favorite finds. I like owning old editions, or editions with fun covers. I also loved to find vintage editions in good condition. My copy of this book met those criteria. You can see the cover of my edition above. I think finding these fun old editions makes your ownership of the book a little more personal.
I also love that someone who owned the book before me left his mark. On the inside cover is his name, along with the date of September 27, 1968. I love knowing that people have read things decades before me. It is a kind of kinship between book readers.
And since this edition was first published back in 1948, I hope that he got the book from someone else, and it was passed on after him to others, so I am not just the second person to open its cover.
Anyway, I also decided to do a little research on Camus before reading his work, because I literally know nothing about him. This is what I found:
~This book is cited as a prime example of existentialism, which is the belief that the individual has total control over giving their life meaning.
~Another early author to be labeled as an existentialist is Fyodor Dostoevsky. Interesting…
~The novel was first published in 1942—right in the middle of World War II.
So, at least I know something about the author and the book, which always helps me set in place in my mind the context in which it was written. I’m finding that learning this always helps me as I tackle these texts.
Anyway, I leave you with the blurb on the back as a teaser,
“The Stranger by Albert Camus is a short novel about an ordinary little man living quietly in Algiers. Life begins to stalk him quietly and slowly, but inexorably. The pace quickens until the little man commits a pointless murder—and reaches its climax after his trial. The Stranger presents an indelible picture of a human being helpless in life’s grip.”
The central theme of the story is one about the meaning of beauty. Pecola believes that by having blue eyes, she will be beautiful. Throughout Morrison’s story, the reader sees how the characters view beauty and interpret in their own way. In the end, Pecola finally attains a tragic sense of beauty.
I loved this novel. I loved the discussion on beauty and the way Pecola, who is only 11, comes to terms with being a woman and what beauty means. Characters throughout the novel all see beauty in different ways, but primarily see beauty as the traditional blonde hair, blue eyes. Pecola’s mother sees beauty in the little white girl she takes care of. Pecola sees it in the blue eyes of china dolls.
Since the novel is set in the year before the United States entered World War II (1941), the views on beauty make sense. This is the era before the Civil Rights Movement explodes and Equal Rights. Whites are still predominant in the media and film, so that image of being fair-skinned, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed is still very much a fact.
It is a novel in stark contrast to today’s images of beauty, which I believe are far more diversified. I think it is more acceptable to see women of all shapes, sizes, and colors as beautiful in today’s day and age, in direct relation to the amount of media saturation we all experience with the internet, television, and movies.
I think that is why Morrison’s story of one “ugly” black girl wishing for beauty is so touching. Even now, with more acceptance of differences in regards to beauty, it is still hard to combat the images being presented. Even when I was growing up, I always wished for blonde hair to match my Barbie dolls and the people I saw on screen. And even though I have blue eyes, it never combated my wishes to be skinner, taller, have a bigger butt, whatever image was being presented.
So I feel for Pecola, as I am sure many do, as she is forced to deal with her image and the situations she is placed in. In the end, she is raped, which also causes her to become isolated even more from the people around her.
The result is a novel that packs a punch. Here is a girl who cannot find someone to take her side and in the end is ostracized for what she is and for a situation that happens to her that she cannot control.
This is a novel I highly recommend. It is touching, beautifully written, and leaves you thinking long after you close the back cover.
I cannot wait to read more by Morrison.
Wow. Toni Morrison is an amazing writer. Why have I never taken the opportunity to read her work before? I think that sometimes I intimidate myself with the thought of what “could be” in a book that I never give it a chance. I found that same to be true for Dostoevsky. I was so intimidated and nervous about the name that I psyched myself out about reading it.
But I suppose that’s part of the reason why I am doing this entire challenge to myself. I should be reading things that intimidate me. I am learning from the authors I am reading and improving in many ways.
Anyway, back to Morrison. I am in awe of her writing ability. She crafts her words so carefully that they make such a powerful impact on the reader. She seems to be a very “in your face” kind of writer. I love it.
I want to share some more of my favorite passages from The Bluest Eye. I hope you like them as much as I do.
“The first twigs are thin, green, and supple. They bend into a complete circle, but will not break. Their delicate, showy hopefulness shooting from forsythia and lilac bushes meant only a change in whipping style. They beat us differently in the spring. Instead of the dull pain of the winter strap, there were these new green switches that lost their sting long after the whipping was over. There was a nervous meanness in these long twigs that made us long for the steady stroke of a strap or the firm but honest slap of a hairbrush,” (97).
“There in the dark her memory was refreshed, and she succumbed to her earlier dreams. Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another—physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion,” (122).
“He thought it was at once the most fantastic and the most logical petition he had ever received. Here was an ugly little girl asking for beauty. A surge of love and understanding swept through him, but it was quickly replaced by anger. Anger that he was powerless to help her. Of all the wishes people had brought him—money, love, revenge—this seemed to him the most poignant and the one most deserving of fulfillment,” (174).
“We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used—to silence our own nightmares,” (205).
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
I seem to be drawn to authors who have the ability to craft the English language beautifully. Even though they use words we all use on a daily basis, they do it in a way to make the words seem extraordinary. I wise I had that ease with words. Sometimes my own sentences fall flat, where theirs can grab you and lift you off the page.
Let me show you what I mean. I might craft a sentence to say the following:
“An old store is on the corner of Broadway and Thirty-fifth street in Lorain, Ohio. Its kind of an obvious store for its ugliness as it seems to leap out at the people who see it. People visiting Lorain stare at its ugliness and wonder why it’s still standing, while residents just ignore it, as they have always done.”
And Toni Morrison seems to describe the scene like so:
“There is an abandoned store on the southeast corner of Broadway and Thirty-fifth street in Lorain, Ohio. It does not recede into the background of leaden sky, nor harmonize with the gray frame houses and black telephone poles around it. Rather, it foists itself on the eye of the passerby in a manner that is both irritating and melancholy. Visitors who drive to this tiny town wonder why it has not been torn down, while pedestrians, who are residents of the neighborhood, simply look away when they pass it,” (33).
Morrison makes that old ugly store seem much more real than I do and she does it in a beautiful way. I love her use of adjectives and the way she paints the picture so you see it. I’m just telling you and not doing a very good job of it.
Here is another example from the next page that I absolutely love;
“Each member of the family in his own cell of consciousness, each making his own patchwork quilt of reality—collecting fragments of experience here, pieces of information there. From the tiny impressions gleaned from one another, they created a sense of belonging and tried to make do with the way they found each other,” (34).
It is just a powerful statement. She speaks to how family members exist on their own until they are called together in such an elegant way.
I wish I could write with such open honesty. When I attempt to write passages to get across similar meanings, my emotion falls flat in my writing. I think I have the habit of telling rather than showing my stories. Perhaps learning more from Morrison can help my own writing.
I have one more passage I want to share:
“These and other inanimate things she saw and experienced. They were real to her. She knew them. They were the codes and touchstones of the world, capable of translation and possession. She owned the crack that made her stumble; she owned the clumps of dandelions whose white heads, last fall, she had blown away; whose yellow heads, this fall, she peered into. And owning them made her part of the world, and the world a part of her,” (47-48).
I just find that so powerful, the idea of making enemies of the things that challenge you, your own. Perhaps I need to do that with Dickens. And a lot of other more serious issues going on in my life. Like my current unemployment. I can own my unemployment. I don’t have to like it, but it is my own and makes me a better and stronger person in the end.
Truly powerful, isn’t it? Making friends of your enemies?
There are many other things I want to talk about—the bluest eye for instance, and the issues of how we view beauty, but I think they can wait a little longer. I’m going to go learn more from Morrison.
1. When I was younger, I really like reading a lot of old, historical type novels, like The Little House on the Prairie. I was obsessed with pioneer life and living in the country. It’s no wonder that of the American Girl Dolls, I owned Kirsten, the one who lived in the country. I think this helped inspire my history degree.
2. I graduated from college in April 2007 with two bachelor’s degrees. One was in English and the other in history. In addition, I earned a minor in Social Studies, as well as earning my Michigan teaching certification for grades 6-12. Unfortunately, I’m not teaching at the moment as there are virtually no teaching jobs in Michigan.
3. I love high heels. I own quite a few pairs and wore them almost every day when I was teaching. I used to tell my students it was so they could hear the authoritative clicking as I was walking around their desks, but really, I just love them. I am still in search of a cute pair of purple heels, but I’m not giving up yet.
4. I have played the trumpet since I was 11 and I absolutely love it. I’m not an incredibly awesome player, but I am pretty good. I play every Tuesday night with Matt for a community band in the area run by our old high school band teacher. With all that being said, I am pretty tone deaf and can’t carry a tune to save my life.
5. I like to own the books I read. There is something about having them right there whenever I want them that appeals to me. However, this causes problems because I currently have too many for the space I have and they get rather expensive.
6. I collect bookmarks. I like unique and original designs, but I also own a lot of commercial type ones based off of favorite book series. I probably own something like 70-80 bookmarks, and yes, I have used all of them. I like picking out a bookmark to match the book I am reading. Sound insane? Probably.
7. I have only been pulled over once in the eight years I have been driving solo. It was when I was 16 and running late to school. Even when I cried the officer still gave me the full ticket (he wasn’t a nice guy). I have had a perfectly clean record since then.
8. I love dogs and cats. Growing up, my family has had 3 yellow labs. The first dog we had, Sandy, died when I was in fifth grade and it was my first experience dealing with death. Our second lab, Shelby, was with us for ten years. She ended up getting cancer and we had to put her down when I was a senior in college. Our third lab, Sadie, is quite honestly the biggest personality of the bunch and she just turned 3. I can’t wait to have a big house so I can have labs. Matt has a cat, Hemi, who I will be living with after the wedding. She is super cute and I can’t wait to make her pose for pictures with books.
9. I love to write. I’ve entered the 3-Day Novel Contest a few times, as well as National Novel Writing Month. Of those, I’ve only finished 2 novels and honestly, they’re horrible. I’m working on a new novel now (young adult) with hopes of finishing it and reworking it. I love to write and hope I can make a future out of my work. I kind of consider my blog practice. Any writing helps!
10. I love music and probably own too much of it to really listen to it all. Some of my favorite bands/musicians include: Switchfoot, Disturbed, The Juliana Theory, In This Moment, Nightwish, Muse, Within Temptation, Josh Groban, Adele, August Burns Red, Blue October, Enya, Linkin Park, Dragonforce, Stars, Fall Out Boy, Michael Buble, HIM, Norah Jones, Straylight Run, Kelly Clarkson, Plumb, Ronnie Day, Silversun Pickups, Seether, and about 50 million others.
I’ll be tagging bloggers in comments! Or you may steal if you so wish!
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I also kind of hit a low point on Friday. I had a panic attack in front of Matt, which I am sure freaked him out. Stress from being unemployed and having no money kicked in, so I freaked out. After a reality check with Matt and my mom, I know things will be okay. And of course, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As soon as we’re back from Florida and our honeymoon, I have no more commitments to prevent me from getting a job. I just have to keep telling myself that everything will be okay.
In reading news, I finally finished Great Expectations, which I was starting to think would never happen. I even entertained the idea of quitting my little reading project and going back to reading the science-fiction, fantasy, and YA lit I love and miss. But to only give up after 10 books is pretty weak and I just need to keep my head down and keep going. I know that by reading through this list I am proving a few things to myself in regards to determination. Also, how could I ever expect my future students to keep going if I gave up this early on?
This week has truly been a lesson for me. I think I just needed a little reality check and I am all set to continue.
So, I have finished the first 10 books off the list of classics I made. Which means I am a whole 4% complete with my list! Only 240 more books to go!
This week I am planning on getting through The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and The Stranger by Albert Camus. I also want to get into Germinal by Emile Zola if I can. It’s doable as long as I set aside the time to read, which I haven’t been doing recently.
I think this is the first year since I started tracking the number and titles of books where I won’t be hitting the magical 100. Last year I barely hit 100, but the year before I was at 108. Realistically, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be there, but it took me entirely way too long to get through Great Expectations. I have 14 books to read before January 1st, and with the holidays, the wedding, and the honeymoon, I think it just won’t happen, but I am going to try.
Here’s to a great week of reading ahead of me.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
I know that she is well-respected and her work has won numerous awards. She is also one of the more “modern” writers on my list and after Dickens, well; I need something a little livelier and less ridiculous in regards to length.
So, it is with this in mind that I am choosing The Bluest Eye as Book #11.
So, what did I think of it?
The first 350 pages are all exposition (the setting up of the story). You meet the characters, Pip comes into his wealth, some small problems pop up, and next thing you know, you’re 350 pages in and nothing has really happened. Yes, it is all important. You learn a LOT about the characters so that by time the action does happen, you understand why they do what they do. But still, 350 pages?
The last 100 pages are where the action is. Magwitch reveals himself, Pip realizes what a whiner and idiot he is, and things resolve themselves. Finally all those little details Dickens throws in seem to matter.
Here are my thoughts.
Had the book been half the size, I think it would have been a lot easier to read. Dickens is known for being wordy. Why? Because when he first published his novels he released them in a serial format. A chapter or two a week would be printed in a magazine. Every week the next chapter or two would come out. Obviously people would have to buy all those magazines if they wanted to read the entire story. What makes more money; a 200 page novel or a 500 page novel? Obviously Dickens padded his works to make more money, and you can’t really fault him for that.
However, now reading it in novel form, it is just too much. Too much description, too many details, too many things that just don’t need to be there to make it an effective story.
Besides all that, I did like the story. The premise of it is interesting. Pip is poor and an orphan. He’s adopted by his older sister and her husband, who bring him up in hopes he will be an apprentice to Joe and also be a blacksmith. However, he soon has a few encounters with some mysterious characters (Magwitch and Ms. Havisham) who alter his future. He is told that he has a benefactor, a person who wants him to become a gentleman and he goes off to London to learn more.
Through all of his learning, he becomes rather snobby towards his beginnings and assumes he knows everything. It is only after he learns the truth that he realizes that having expectations does not mean a better or more successful life.
Really, it is a good story. It just could have been shorter. A lot shorter.
In any case, I am glad to be done with it and moving on to something I will hopefully enjoy more.
1 Dickens down, 6 to go.
Friday, November 20, 2009
I finally told myself that I just needed to get it over with and to suck it up. Turns out, the book gets slightly more interesting after page 350. Pip finally learns who his benefactor is and there’s a little more explanation about what has been going on. I also like the fact that the guy’s name is Magwitch, which really just reminds me of Manwich. So instead of picturing a man, I just picture a big Sloppy Joe walking around. It makes for more entertaining reading.
I think I figured out why the first 350 pages were so hard to get through. They’re all exposition. There seems to be no drama, no challenges, nothing until Manwich comes back and stirs things up a bit. Up until that point you just get Pip whining and treating the people who raised him like crap.
(And really, the funeral? Couldn’t Dickens have given Pip a LITTLE EMOTION about that death? REALLY??)
So now I seem to be in the home stretch. 120 pages to go. I’m going to try and finish today, but we shall see.
There are so many more interesting books left for me to read that I simply want to be done with this one.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
1. Most of the world has already read the books.
2. The Twilight novels, while lovely, are horribly written and I’m sorry, I can’t stand Edward.
3. Writers become better the more they write, and since Twilight is her first series, I simply can’t recommend it.
4. Again, the writing is HORRIBLE.
With this is mind, I decided to talk about Meyer’s other novel The Host, which I think is underrated and overshadowed by its older sisters. Where the Twilight saga is more young adult and really focuses on the relationship aspect between characters (between completely one dimensional characters), The Host is far more science fiction and really focuses on creating a world.
Meyer basically went from a fantasy land to a science fiction reality between the two series. And in my opinion, she is a much better science fiction writer. Too often fantasy and science fiction are grouped together as one genre. They are completely different. Fantasy doesn’t have to have rules. It doesn’t have to make sense. Magic can just be and things can just happen. Nothing really ahs to be explained and the reader has to take it as it is. That’s where you can get loopholes-because nothing is concrete.
Science fiction is far more set and finite. Things have to be explained with logic and the characters have to follow rules that cannot be broken. Science fiction is much more real than fantasy and the reader can feel the possibility of that reality actually happening.
The Host is a view of a future that can feel very real at times, which is its strength. Unlike Twilight, where things seem to happen and then explanation happens, the world of The Host is already set. While the characters don’t necessarily agree with their world, they fight back, within the parameters of the rules Meyer set. That makes for good science fiction.
The real reason why I like The Host better than the Twilight saga is that Meyer learned to write. She’s not so focused on making a teenage love triangle work, but rather than she display a world and characters that are far more relatable. And while there is still a love triangle, it happens far more naturally and normally than it does in Twilight. Overall, it is simply a much better written novel—far more entertaining, well-written, and touching than her other novels.
It saddens me to think that it was not as well-received as it should have been. For authors like Meyer, they will forever be regarded as the writers of immensely popular fiction. Like J.K. Rowling, Meyer will forever be known for the world she first created. It will be hard for her to break away into writing more serious works, unless The Host is just a warm-up to the novels she has in the works. I hope that she can break away and create more works like this.
I will say, as a negative, that they only thing I did not enjoy about the book was the ending. I really wish Meyer has been brave enough to give the book the ending it deserved. She went there, then took it back. I understand she’s turning The Host into a trilogy, so I get it. I just wish she hadn’t. I believe part of that decision lay with her publisher. A publisher can make more money off a trilogy than a standalone novel.
Anyway, mini-rant aside, if you haven’t given The Host a try yet, either because you hate Twilight or you’re scared to go there—go there. It is a wonderful novel with great characters and an amazing world.
And for those of you also going to the midnight showing—go Team Jacob!
You can find out more information about Stephenie Meyer and her novels at her official site: http://stepheniemeyer.com/
Btw, Stephenie has no idea who I am and I am 100% positive she doesn't care. This is just my own opinion and recommendation.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
There’s also the whole “I can’t stand this book so I don’t really want to read it.” I’m dreading picking it back up because the last 2 times I attempted to get more reading done, I fell asleep.
But I still think the book is haunting me. My mom, sister, and I decided to relax a little on Friday night and watch a movie. We picked P.S. I Love You with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. I figured it would be a nice little romantic movie to watch and a way to de-stress before the shower (I was also getting a migraine that ended up lasting all through my shower and into Sunday), so what better way to cure it than to watch a beautiful man act?
Until a reference from Great Expectations ruined it all for me. One of the characters told Hilary Swank’s character that she was turning into Miss Havisham. I flipped out hearing the reference and turned around in my seat to stare at my mom and sister. I believe I said something to the effect of “The book is stalking me!!”
So of course, I haven’t read it since then. In fact, I haven’t done any reading since last Wednesday when I fell asleep in the chair at the apartment with Hemi the cat. Today I spent a lot of time cleaning out my dresser and my closet, but now it is time to sit down with Pip and attempt to get through this so I can really get on to other books.
I think the problem is that I know I don’t like Great Expectations, so by pretending it doesn’t really exist I’m just not reading it. I’m almost telling myself it is okay to not read it because I don’t like.
But I will conquer and hopefully sooner rather than later. I assure you, it doesn’t normally take me this long to get through a book. But then again, if this were any other book I didn’t like, I would have set it aside LONG AGO.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
I decided that the honor of #2 should go to an incredibly moving book that I absolutely love and recommend to as many people as possible.
Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood focuses mainly on Sammy, a boy growing in a barrio in New Mexico during the 1960s. The barrio is nicknamed "Hollywood" and is a home to a large Chicano community. Sammy and his friends face quite a number of issues: love, drinking, drugs, decisions about the future, a friend joining the military and leaving, homosexuality, racism, and death.
It is an incredibly moving story and one that made me cry when I first read it. I say that not to exaggerate its power, but to tell you how touched I was by the voices of these characters.
Sammy, in particular, is a boy after my own heart. They call him the “librarian” among his group of friends, and many of his friends seem to turn to him in times of need. Sammy finds solace in himself, especially after the tragedy he faces in the beginning chapters of the novel.
The other characters also seem to grab hold of you. Pifas is another one of my favorites. He is drafted to go fight in the Vietnam War. His leaving the barrio truly touches the group and brings them closer together.
However, even though the characters are remarkable, it’s the situations and issues they face that really make this book excellent. Together, they face heavy issues that teenagers should never have to face, but do every day. The characters are relatable, so as things seem to move against them, the reader is also on their side. The issue of homosexuality is one that really stands out in this novel in the way it is discussed. I believe that it can really hit home with teenagers in the way that the characters handle it.
This is a book I would love to teach to students, but probably will never be able to. Why? This book is too honest about the lives of teenagers and the darker side of life and humanity. It also contains a lot of profanity, but what I believe to be necessary profanity. It would not have as much power over the reader as it does without it.
The author, Ben Alire Saenz, is also a poet, which is obvious from the way he weaves his words together. Many passages are simply so beautiful that you need to sit back and let them digest a bit before moving on. Unfortunately, I don’t think this book was as well-publicized as it should have been, or as well-known as it should be (Overall, multi-cultural authors are never as “big” as others, which is a shame).
Here is one of my favorite passages from the novel:
“I didn't know anybody could sing like that. And the song she was singing, it was an old Mexican love song entitled La gloria eres tu. She was singing from a different place. And in the moonlight, she didn't seem like a girl at all. She was a soman with a voice. Any man would die just to hear that voice. I thought the world had stopped to listen to Gigi Carmona from Hollywood. I could see tears rolling down Pifa's face. As pure as Gigi's voice. Maybe this was the way the world should end. Not with me and my own thoughts, not with high school boys using their firsts on each other, not with Pifas going off to war - but with the tears of boys falling to the beat of a woman's song, the sounds of guns and bombs and fists against flesh disappearing. This is the way the world should end with boys turning into men as they listen to a woman sing."
This novel is worth the read. Believe me.
You can learn more about Ben Saenz at his site. http://www.benjaminaliresaenz.com/
He has many other books which I have not had an opportunity to read, except a volume of poetry Elegies in Blue which is phenomenal.
And Ben has no idea who I am, nor does he know about my lowly little blog. This is all my own opinion.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
So, I was reading Great Expectations tonight curled up in the La-Z-Boy at the new apartment while Matt was off doing something else.
The next thing I know I am jerked awake by the cat jumping up on my lap and nuzzling against me. The book is still lying open where I had left off reading when I apparently fell asleep.
I checked the page number and realized that I only read 25 pages before falling asleep. The funny thing is I wasn’t even remotely tired when I started reading. Charles Dickens just made me fall asleep. I was so bored by Pip, sleep just seemed like a better option.
You know, I think it really says something when I can’t even stay awake when I am not feeling tired to read a book.
Charles Dickens, you made me fall asleep.
I fear I will never conquer you.
Monday, November 9, 2009
So, with that said….Great Expectations.
It started out fine. I was hooked into the beginning with the convict and that drama, which quickly ended. Then it just kind of rambled on and on and on…until I finished the first section of the book where Pip leaves home to go to London to learn how to be a gentleman.
And 150 pages later….I am bored out of my mind. I think that I could like the premise of this story. A boy (Pip) wants to move up in the social ladder and is willing to give up the family he has known to do so. I like that, it’s interesting.
Charles Dickens does not make it interesting. He rambles on and on and on about things that I really don’t care about. It makes me want to gouge my eyes out. But, I have 300 or so pages left and at the rate I’m going, I’ll be done by Thanksgiving (hopefully I’m just kidding about that because I really want to be done with this so I can read something more interesting).
Anyway, now that I am free from the torment of writing out invitations, I can torture myself with Charles Dickens.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I think that the experience you have surrounding the reading of a book really adds to your own personal feelings towards that book. When I first read this, it was the summer after my 8th grade year and it was an assignment for the summer before my freshman Honors English class. I had never read any science fiction before and I instantly fell in love with Ender and his world.
I credit this book with helping me discover my love of science fiction. Without it, I don’t think I would be as obsessed as I am now.
So, for those of you who have never read it, let me paint a picture for you.
In Ender’s world, parents are only allowed to have two children. Each child is monitored by the government for a period of time to evaluate their intelligence. Peter and Valentine Wiggin, older siblings to Andrew Wiggin, weren’t at the right intelligence level the government wanted, so Ender’s parents were asked to have a Third, and ended up with Ender.
Ender is also evaluated and is determined to be a right fit for Battle School. At the age of five, he is taken from his family, placed on a shuttle, and sent to Battle School (which orbits Earth). There, Ender is trained for war against the nemesis of Earth—the Buggers, an alien race that had already attacked and retreated once before. The children train in a room where armies are pitted against each other and they much win to score points and honor for their army.
Alongside Ender, there are hundreds of children in Battle School also training for a war that is sometime in the future. Violence and manipulation run rampant in the school on part of the highly intelligent children and the staff who run it. It is a vicious and challenging place and all who are there wonder, when will the war begin?
I love this novel, even with its faults. The idea of training children for war is a powerful one and it grabs hold of you, right to the very last page. When we presented this in my ninth grade English class, we talked a lot about the saying, “The ends justify the means.” If it means we’ll win, why not train children for war?
While Ender’s Game is surely a standalone novel and can be read as such, there are two parallel series that branch off from it. One is called the Shadow series, and follows the other children Ender fought with as they return home after the war, It contains a lot of political talk that can really hook you and isn’t as heavy on the science fiction. It is also newer than the other series, with the last book, Shadow of the Giant, being published in 2004.
The second series, and my favorite of the two, begins with Speaker for the Dead which was published in 1986, one year after Ender’s Game. One of the coolest things about Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead is that they both won back to back Hugo and Nebula Awards. No other science fiction author has achieved that. This series only has two more books after Speaker, Xenocide and Children of the Mind. Children of the Mind is actually one of my favorites in the series and my senior quote in the yearbook comes from it (yes, I am a nerd). This series is a little heavier on the science fiction aspects and takes place a number of years after the events in Ender's Game, unlike the Shadow series which is immediately after. I also find this series to be a lot deeper and more powerful.
Another thing I love about this novel is the power of some of the lines even when you take them completely out of context. Card has a way of truly mastering language. Here are some of my favorites:
“Sometimes lies are more dependable than the truth,” (2).
“Carn Carby left, and Ender mentally added him to his private list of people who also qualified as human beings,” (184).
“Perhaps it's impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be,” (231).
“I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them they way they love themselves,” (238).
“I am your enemy, the first one you've ever had who was smarter than you. There is no teacher but the enemy. No one but the enemy will tell you what the enemy is going to do. No one but the enemy will ever teach you how to destroy and conquer. Only the enemy tells you where he is strong. And the rules of the game are what you can do to him and what you can stop him from doing to you. I am your enemy from now on. From now on I am your teacher,” (262).
“I don't care if I pass your test, I don't care if I follow your rules. If you can cheat, so can I. I won't let you beat me unfairly-I'll beat you unfairly first,” (293).
“We have to go. I'm almost happy here,” (323).
I hope you add this to your reading list if you have never read. It truly is a powerful novel and one that really stays with you long after you have finished reading it. It has stayed with me through numerous re-reads and discussions and is still the number one book I recommend to everyone I meet, especially fans of science fiction.
If you want to learn more about Orson Scott Card and all of his novels (many others that are also amazing), please visit his official website: http://www.hatrack.com/
And Orson Scott Card has no idea who I am and I am sure he doesn’t care either, so this is not a shameless promotion.
Basically every Thursday I am going to pick a book that I love for some reason or another and discuss it. This will give me the opportunity to revisit some old favorites, as well as recommending some things other than “classics” that I think are simply wonderful. It’ll also give me a break from talking about some heavy stuff and leave room for some more lighthearted posts.
It should be a fun experience and I hope you enjoy the new posts!
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
My second exposure was in ninth grade Honors English when we had to choose between reading David Copperfield and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (now my favorite book). After reading the back covers of each book, and weighing them in my hand (a very scientific process), I decided on Card’s book, which eventually led to my love of science fiction. I thought to myself at the time that I made a very narrow escape, as the kids who choose David Copperfield all confided that it was a miserable bore.
Unfortunately for me, later that same year we were all assigned to read Great Expectations. And I hated every minute of it. I believe I read the first 100 or so pages before deciding I would rather gouge my eyes out than read more about Pip. After that, I went to sparknotes.com and managed to squeak through the rest of that unit—sorry mom. I never finished the novel and I thought to myself that I would rather die than read any more Dickens.
Alas, for an English major, it is quite hard to avoid Dickens, but I tried my best to do so. I actually switched sections for one of my required classes because I heard that the professor I had class with LOVED Dickens and FOUR of his novels were on our reading list. Switching ended up being a good decision. There was only one Dickens novel on the list, Hard Times.
In that class, the professor told us we could manage to get away with only reading half the books if the reading was too much. I had never heard that from an English professor before and all of the kids in my class had their mouths open. Then he amended what he was saying and said that if you read half the books, you could squeak by with a passing grade of 1.5.
That class ended up being my favorite English class I ever took at MSU and the professor, Professor Watts, was my favorite. We read A LOT and while some things I didn’t enjoy, I discovered a love for many 19th century authors in his class.
When it came time to read Hard Times I would like to say that I tried. In fact, I think I read 5 pages before making a very hard decision. Hard Times became the ONLY BOOK in my entire college career that a professor assigned that I did not read—again, sorry mom. I couldn’t stand those five pages and my prejudice from my previous experiences with Dickens solidified my decision.
I graduated with and English degree without reading any Charles Dickens. Doesn’t that sounds horrid??
Well, when I decided to embark on this little challenge of mine, I was kind of annoyed to find that so many of Charles Dickens novels were on the A.P. list and on “best of classics” lists. I even thought about ignoring his work and pretending he didn’t exist, merely so I wouldn’t have to read anything written by him. After deciding that I would be cheating if I did so, I relented and put on the novels written by Mr. Dickens that seemed to pop up the most. They ended up being the following:
1. Bleak House
2. David Copperfield
3. Great Expectations
4. Hard Times
5. Nicholas Nickleby
6. Oliver Twist
7. Tale of Two Cities
7 books to challenge me more than any others (well…perhaps the Russians might give Dickens a run for his money). You might notice that I left A Christmas Carol off the list, mostly because I know it too well and I wanted to keep the number on my list to a rounded 250 titles.
Instead of leaving these to the end and sloughing through them, I have decided that since I have read 9 wonderful books, I might as well throw in an awful Charles Dickens experience to get it out of the way. Besides, six is a much better number to have looming over my head than seven.
So, Book 10 is a Dickens wonder (HA!). And to make it even more super-duper fun, I have decided to give my arch-nemesis a go and get it over with. Great Expectations has the honor and privilege of being Book #10 and I will probably hate it just as much this time as I did the last time through.
Let’s just say that I have no great expectations for Book 10 (HA!).
Here I go.
I am not sure where to start in my final thoughts on McTeague by Frank Norris. On one hand, I loved the novel. But on the other, it has left me feeling…rather depressed.
It was unlike any other “classic” I have read and a far cry from the adoration and happiness that plagues Pride and Prejudice and a few of my other favorites. In one word I would describe it as “seedy.” In another word “greedy.” The characters are both and they are what drive Norris’ depiction of social class and environment.
Throughout its entirety, McTeague is a reflection of a time and place in American society where all are hoping for something better in life—a better standing, etc. Marcus tries this by leaving San Francisco to go into ranching. McTeague did this when he left the mines of his youth and took up dentistry. However, underlying all of that is greed. Each and every one of the characters, with perhaps the exception of Old Grannis and Miss Baker, want something from someone else.
McTeague is perfectly happy with what he has in life (no wife, a solid dentist practice) until he meets Trina and wants her. All of a sudden he needs a wife and he gets one, even though his friend Marcus “loved” her first. He wants Trina and gets her.
Trina becomes greedy when she wins $5000 in the lottery. She is greedy in the way that she is protecting her money, to the point where she becomes an old miser (McTeague’s word, not my own). She wants to save so much that it drives McTeague and herself to destitution and eventually a form of madness.
Marcus is also greedy, looking to get a part of that $5000 that he believes he deserves, since he “gave” Trina to McTeague in the first place. Had he not done that, that money would have been his.
This greed on part of all of the characters is what drives this story to madness and eventual tragedy. Even in the final showdown between Marcus and McTeague, greed is what prevents them from reconciling and from moving on in life (I can’t say more or I would give it away).
I also want to point out that the graphic violence in the novel leads to the depressed feeling as well. McTeague is always mentioned as a big brutish man, but when you first meet him, you can’t quite think of him as violent. However, as the novel moves forward and his circumstance change, you can see him become a much darker and scarier man. He begins drinking, which leads towards a more violent temper towards Trina and others. He doesn’t seem disturbed by his own violence, as his violent acts as a result of his greed and need for more. In the end, his violence and greed trap him, as greed traps all of us.
In all, this is a disturbing view of life around the turn of the century. It paints a picture far more depressing and shocking than anything else I have read from this time period. I can certainly see why this little book created some public outrage upon its publication and why it has a legacy all its own.
It is also a shame that Frank Norris died shortly after its publication and has left so little work behind him. In the future I will definitely be reading his other work to see if they are as powerful as McTeague.
I will leave you with this last line from McTeague, which I think sums it up very nicely:
“McTeague remained stupidly looking around him, now at the distant horizon, now at the ground, now at the half-dead canary chittering feebly in its little gilt prison,” (347).
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
In particular, the characters are what drive this feeling. All of the characters are well-developed and written so that they become the worst representations of human character you have ever met…er…read about.
The dentist, otherwise known as McTeague, is one of the most brutal characters I have read about. He’s described as being 6’4”, blonde hair, and huge fingers (large enough to pull out teeth with his bare hands). He also appears to be slow and a little dimwitted, but he surprises you the further you read. Instead of being a big friendly giant, he turns into a bitter old monster.
Trina is something else entirely. When you first meet her, you almost love her. She’s young and beautiful. Then she wins $5,000 in the lottery and she turns into a miserable old miser who hoards money and insists on living far below their status level, to the point where it eventually drives McTeague to madness and then away.
The only characters that you can truly love for being honest are Old Grannis and Miss Baker, two old tenants who seem to love each other, even though they never speak.
I also have some fondness for Maria and Zerkow. Both of them are so insane and obsessed with objects that they eventually get married because of their insanity.
My absolute favorite, however, is Trina’s family. Norris paints them so beautifully that I loved any chapter with them in it, especially when they were talking. Some writers merely mention an accent when they are writing dialogue, and write the dialogue in standard English. However, Norris really plays up to their accent and writes their lines so you can these characters talking. For example, even though the boy’s name is August, he is referred to as Owgooste. Hearing the difference when you say it aloud makes the characters come alive. I love that.
I seem to find in my reading that authors are usually really strong in one area. It might be their plot line, their world building, their dialogue, their flowery descriptions, or their characters. I tend to find myself drawn to authors who know how to build and create characters that live with you, either because they’re approachable, or in this case absolutely insane.
I haven’t read any of Frank Norris’ other work, but I think after this I am going to need to try.