Solving 'How to Solve It'

1.30.2014


I hit the ground running when I started George Pólya's How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method.  Somewhere in the middle, the momentum disappeared, and months later, I feel so relieved to have finished it.  For all that, I give it 5 out of 5 stars...yes, indeed, why??

This is a math/logic/philosophy classic from 1945, dealing with heuristic, "the study of the methods and rules of discovery and invention."  More particularly, it is a comprehensive guide to problem-solving.   The first 40 pages or so are strictly about "How to Solve It" and classroom strategies, while the rest of the book elaborates on these themes in the "Short Dictionary of Heurstic."  The back of the book has some sample problems/solutions, which, if I had more time and energy, I wouldn't mind trying.

Hopefully the word "math" does not turn you away!  That is the one weakness of the book - most of the examples are in algebra and geometry, which, even for me, were often hard to follow.  However, the heart of it is absolutely universal to all types of problem-solving where there are definite choices and paths to follow (e.g. not moral dilemmas, naturally).  A few points I took away from it:

"Josef K. was dreaming."

1.29.2014


Last fall, at long last, I got a copy of Kafka's Complete Short Stories.  (That would be most everything except The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika.)  It's a book to be savored slowly, piece by piece, while imagining it to be twice its length (~ 450 p.).  I quickly found the best way to read it is jumping back and forth between the longer stories in the front and the micro fiction in the back.

Franz Kafka - most people love his books or despise them.  That's pretty understandable.  He's not the most accessible of authors.  On my part, I fell for his writing after listening to The Metamorphosis; since then, I keep coming back to his books.  Back to their chilling simplicity, back to their gloomy, frequently vulgar depiction of society.  Back to the endless plots that lead nowhere good!

But of course, there's more to it than that.  There is a lot of truth in Kafka's world.  Absurdity, isolation, irony, and confusion.  The real world is not so far off; sometimes it is identical - mazes of bureaucracy and words, the sheer audacity of words.  Kafka's vocabulary is simple, but his sentences are intricate.  His paragraphs are monstrosities, and he is making a point the whole time.  You feel the claustrophobia in those long, long paragraphs, just as you feel the futility of the protagonists' repeated attempts at arriving at the solution.  You sink into their struggle to follow protocol and responsibilities, while vague frustrations meet them at every turn.  The reader need not like the protagonists; I rarely do.  It's the setting that is fascinating, and it's the conflict that motivates the stories.

I'll be very sorry to get to the end of Kafka's writings - that is why I'm glad to be reading this one slowly.  

Eugene Onegin Read-Along ~ Chapters 5 & 6

1.25.2014


{Summary of previous part + new questions below the cut.}

Eugene Onegin, first thoughts

(c) Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
First off - I'm feeling quite sheepish and sorry for my absence during this read-along!  This weekend I am, at last, finally writing my first post and catching up on all of your interesting insights!

Second apology: for my not-so subtle promotion of the 2013 Met Opera production, now on DVD.  I promise I'm not affiliated with the Met in any way - this is just my favorite adaptation of the story!  If you like opera at all, it's worth checking out.

Back to the topic at hand.  This is my fourth year reading Onegin.  How it could possibly be the fourth, I don't know; it's just a tradition I started freshman year of college.  Each translation reads like a new book, and this time it's Charles Johnston.

The Brothers Karamazov - 1: A Nice Little Family

1.18.2014

(A number of bloggers I follow write their thoughts on lengthy books as they go along.  In fact, I believe one of them did this for The Brothers Karamazov in the last year or so.  Credit to them for the good idea!)

Vilhelm Hammershøi - The Collector of Coins - Google Art Project

For years, I've wanted to read this novel.  I enjoyed The Idiot and Notes from Underground, and people only say good things about this one.  Coinciding with o's Russian Literature 2014 challenge, it seemed high time to put it off no longer!

The Brothers Karamazov is divided into 4 parts or, if you like, 12 books.  I do like this format.  If I'm to read a long book, short chapters are preferable.  (Moby-Dick is similar, except that there are no parts or subdivisions.)  Anyways - I plan to write a post for each book.  Because "book journalling" inherently requires talking about plot twists, many of these posts will be spoilery. I'll add page cuts when I get to those parts.

In book 1 we jump right away to meeting the main characters.  Always a good sign!  The Karamazov patriarch, if he could possibly earn that title, is Fyodor Pavlovich.  He's a vile wife-abuser who spends most of his time sleeping around.  Moving on to his sons, the brothers of the title.  I was expecting them to be mutual enemies for some reason - so far that is not the case.  The oldest, Dmitri, is described as rather uneducated and quick-tempered.  Ivan and Alyosha are his younger half-brothers.  Ivan is a reclusive, bookish atheist, while Alyosha is a little less withdrawn and also very religious, hoping to become a monk.

Book 1 simply ends with the family about to come together (for the first time, perhaps?) to discuss Dmitri's dispute with the father over money and inheritance.  In a quirky turn of events that is very Dostoyevsky, the meeting will take place in the home of Zosima, an elder at the monastery and Alyosha's mentor.  Alyosha is already embarrassed, afraid his family's irreverent behavior will offend Zosima, who has become to him, in essence, the father Fyodor should have been.  As in the The Idiot, I predict some very long conversations coming up in book 2.

In Dostoyevsky's introduction, Alyosha is said to be the hero of this book.  I can see that - he reminds me a lot of Prince Myshkin.  I guess I'll inevitably be making this comparison throughout...hopefully not to Alyosha's discredit. I honestly can't imagine a more endearing suffering hero than Myshkin (except Gregor Samsa, but that's from a different author  :) ).  Some of you perhaps have read both already - which character did you prefer?

Eugene Onegin Read-Along ~ Chapters 3 & 4

1.15.2014

(c) Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
In part 1 of our read-along, we met a rather vain but world-weary Eugene on his way to his inherited country estate.  By chance, he befriended his neighbor Vladimir Lenksy, a young, Romantic (and romantic) poet.  We also get to meet Olga Larina, Lensky's beloved, and her sister Tatyana, as opposite in personalities as Onegin and Lensky.  Chapter 2 concluded with a pithy description of the sisters' mother and father.  There's much to suggest that every "narrator's aside" in this story holds some significance, so we'll see if/when/how these themes tie into the story.

You can join this read-along at anytime!  Please add your blog post link(s) in a comment (directly below the title of this post).  Comments in lieu of a post are also welcome.  All discussion questions are optional.

I have a little catching up to do, but I hope to post my own thoughts over the next week.  :)  It's been great reading all of your posts so far!


Chapters 3 & 4 Questions

- Impressions of Tatyana and Olga?

- What do you make of Onegin's reaction to Tatyana?

- How does the story, thus far, compare or contrast with another classic romantic novel (of your choice)? 


Ongoing Questions

- Reactions and/or predictions?

- Any quotes or passages that stand out?


Notes:

~ St. Tatiana is commemorated on January 25 (or 12, on the Julian calendar), so that would be Tatyana's name day.


Feel free to comment with any additional notes that you find interesting!

Eugene Onegin Read-Along ~ Chapters 1 & 2

1.06.2014

Eugene Onegin's portrait by Pushkin
Pushkin's sketch of his title character

Welcome to the first part of our reading of Eugene Onegin! Please add your blog post link(s) in a comment (directly below the title of this post).  Also, if you would rather leave a comment than write a full post, that works great, too!  Chapters 1 & 2 discussion is "current" for the next week or so - please see the schedule for an update on this - but of course you can join in at anytime.

I came up with a couple of optional questions, while trying to leave it as open-ended as possible.  The book is full of ambiguity, making it ideal for diverse opinions.

Chapters 1 & 2 Questions

- First impressions of Eugene?

- What do you make of the narrator's commentary?

- Thoughts on the characters sketched out in Chapter 2?


Ongoing Questions

- Reactions and/or predictions?

- Any quotes or passages that stand out?


Notes:

~ One of Mrs. Larina's favorite authors is Samuel Richardson, an 18th century English writer who was popular well into the 19th century.  He is best known for Pamela (1740), Clarissa (1748) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753).  (Wikipedia)

~ There are numerous references in Eugene Onegin to French language and culture.  The Russian upper class was, in fact, as much French-speaking as they were Russian-speaking (this article, by the Gale Encyclopedia of Russian History, goes into the details as to why).  Additionally, at the time of Eugene Onegin's publication, the Slavophilism movement was just beginning (Wikipedia), so you still see a lot of English/French influences throughout the book.

Feel free to comment with any additional notes that you find interesting!

Eugene Onegin: Editions, editions, editions

1.01.2014


Happy New Year 2014!  It's going to be an awesome year for reading - I'm so very excited to start the challenges I joined for the year. 

In one week, in fact, we start the Eugene Onegin Read-Along!  On January 7th, there will be a post with the first link-up/check-in.  Over the following week and a half, you can then add the link to your blog post(s) on chapters 1 & 2. 

I mentioned briefly before a quick list of copies and places to read Onegin.  Here I want to talk about them a little more in-depth:

Online - original Russian

I am (sadly) in no ways qualified to make a recommendation for a Russian edition.  However, a free online version, linked to by Wikipedia, can be found here:  ЕВГЕНИЙ ОНЕГИН

Online - English translation

The one I have read is Henry Spalding's translation, from Project Gutenberg.  It comes in many formats, and it has a Victorian vocabulary, which is kind of nice.  On the other hand, some of the word choices are very "thesaurus."

Another freely/legally available online translation is one by Poetry in Translation. I haven't read it yet.  It does come in PDF, Mobi, and Epub formats.

Hard copies - English transl.

The two I have read are Stanley Mitchell (Penguin Classics, 2008) and James E. Falen (Oxford World's Classics, 1998).  They are pretty comparable translations; personally I like Falen's a little better (it was the first I read).

The Mitchell translation features a beautiful cover and formatting, as you expect from Penguin Classics.  There is also a map inside and extensive notes (too extensive, maybe?).  It also includes some fragments of an unfinished chapter (Onegin's travels).  If you like to get a full grasp of the story's background, this would be a great translation to start with.  My main quibble is that the poetry/rhyme is less intuitive than other translations.

The Falen translation is less artistic, format-wise, but the translation is emotive and well-done.  There are a couple of anachronistic word choices ("girlfriend" and "zen"); still, I like this one best, so far.  The stanzas and rhyme are more melodic than Mitchell or Spalding.

Audiobooks

There are at least two free ones (which I have yet to listen to): Librivox and Stephen Fry.  Librivox is generally excellent and professionally done, and Fry's is, of course, professional.  You could hardly go wrong with either one.  Audiobooks are a great way to go, and poetry is particularly fun to listen to.

Please do comment with your own recommendations!  There are many, many editions I haven't listed.  Also, this blog has an excellent comparison of the first stanzas of several English translations, a great resource if you need help deciding.