'Lucia', Your First Best Worst Opera

Romeo and Juliet in Scotland.  That is the easiest way to sum up Gaetano Donizetti's dramatic opera, Lucia di Lammermoor.

It is, perhaps, unfair to summarize this opera so succinctly, when it is so famous, so much a "classic" of the opera genre.  Following the links on Wikipedia, I learned that Lucia was based on a Waverly novel by Sir Walter Scott - The Bride of Lammermoor - which in turn was apparently based on true events.  That might explain why it is somewhat more credible, and more compelling, than Romeo and Juliet, even though the plot runs nearly parallel.

The Ashton family is archenemies with the Ravenswood family (what a splendid name!).  As these things go, Lucia Ashton (Anna Netrebko) falls in love with Edgardo Ravenswood (Piotr Beczala).  She happens to have a brother, Enrico (Mariusz Kwiecien), and because he is a baritone, we know whose side he's not on.  Taking her love for Edgardo as a betrayal, Enrico schemes to force his sister into a marriage to Lord Arturo Bucklaw, a political ally.  It does not get better from there.

The "Gloria Scott"

- but first, let me wish you all a (belated) Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

I'm sorry I haven't posted very much.  It's been a strange year from start to finish and, very sadly, less bookish than I had planned.  Pretty much the only challenge I completed (apart from Onegin) was o's Russian Literature 2014 challenge, and even there, I only read Dostoyevsky and Pushkin.  

That said, for a slow year, I'm glad to have read The Brothers Karamazov and Lord Jim, which had seemed so inaccessible before.  I hope to do better next year, but am not making any grand commitments...

There's one challenge I'm carrying over, and that's re-reading the Complete Sherlock Holmes.  I haven't read it in its entirety in about ten years.  It's a joy to come back to my favorite character in all literature, and I'm reading chronologically this time, following this list which looks pretty good.  (There was a day I would have figured out the timeline on my own, but nowadays finding time is not so easy.)

I'm going to keep these commentaries short and sweet and hopefully frequent.  I will try my best not to post mystery-related spoilers!  Here's the first segment, "The Adventure of the 'Gloria Scott'" . . .
Holmes himself says that the "Gloria Scott" was the "first [case] in which I was ever engaged."  It is instantly interesting that he has these feelings of nostalgia, and he, in fact, is insistent that Watson listens to the story of his first investigation.

He goes so far as to describe his "two years" at college in a couple of paragraphs, where we learn his interests and studies were so different than everyone else's that he had nothing in common with anyone.  He made one friend, Victor Trevor, and that by accident (a most literal accident).  Holmes inadvertently depicts his own listlessness by describing the opposite trait in Trevor, and through these bits and pieces we get a pretty clear understanding of Holmes before his meeting Watson.  There is, in fact, a very telling parallel between his befriending Trevor and his befriending Watson - they were both someone Holmes could talk to.

The rest of this story is about the mystery of Trevor's father.  It's not the most thrilling Doyle plot, but two things are interesting about it:
  1. how Doyle writes a sea story, tapping into his experiences as a ship's surgeon
  2. how Holmes interacts with acquaintances
// Spoilers in white
It's particularly depressing that Holmes ends up losing his friend through the very science of deduction that he makes his livelihood.  By the end of telling the story, too, Holmes has come back to "real life," the cut and dry of the "facts of the case," and calling Watson "Doctor" with (what seems to me) audible stoicism.  
// End spoilers

These brush strokes of word-painting are something I doubt Doyle thought twice about - he had a true gift for writing characters in few words.  "The Gloria Scott" speaks a great deal about the character of Holmes, and that makes it worth a re-read. 

The Liebster Award

This blog has been so quiet (too quiet) the past couple of months, as I've been transitioning into my new job and schedule.  Thanks to Sara from Majoring in Literature, here is a fun tag to break the hiatus!

- Link and thank the blogger who nominated you
- Answer the 11 questions your nominator gives you 
- Tag 11 other bloggers who have 200 followers or less 
- Ask the 11 bloggers you nominated 11 questions and let them know you nominated them!

11 Questions: 

1)  What is the first book you remember reading? 

The first books I remember reading were very vintage children's readers, like On Cherry Street.  I also have a fairly vivid memory of reading a phonetics textbook, which I actually thought was fun.  :)

2)  Where do you like to read?  Do you have a quiet little hideout where you can read undisturbed?

I like to read in bed, either with the lamp on or in the dark with my new reading light.

3)  Starting at the very top of your bookcase, what are the first five books you have on your shelves?

The top is where I keep my "Mass Media" paperbacks:
1.  The Thirteen Problems (Agatha Christie)
2.  And Then There Were None (Christie)
3.  The House of the Seven Gables (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
4.  The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien)
5.  The Magician's Nephew (C. S. Lewis).  Which reminds me - Narnia is due for a re-read!

If you could meet one author, living or dead, for coffee, whom would you meet?

Oh...this is a tough question!  I thought about this one long and hard.  I would love to meet Conrad or Kafka, for example, but I'm not sure a chat over coffee would go well with either of them.

In the end, I narrowed it down, and my honest answer is Lewis Carroll.  I think it would be fascinating to meet an author whose legacy has become larger than life and changed drastically through the generations.  Beyond that, his books are chock-full of wit and mathematical references, and it would be an interesting conversation, for sure.

How do you feel about seeing a movie adaptation before you’ve read the book?

Generally, I prefer not to.  Even now, I'm holding off on watching The Great Gatsby until I've read the book, despite the fact everyone says it isn't a great adaptation.  Old habits are hard to break!  I did read North & South effectively after I saw the 2005 miniseries, and I read LOTR and skim-read Little Dorrit concurrently while watching the adaptations.  Of all three, Little Dorrit was the best reading experience, while the others were a little anticlimactic compared to the (excellent) adaptations.

What is your favourite adaptation of a book?

I have so many, which is a good problem to have.  :)

The Lord of the Rings is a no-brainer.  It is possibly the truest adaptation I have ever seen of a book.  Possibly (probably) my #1 favorite movie.

My next two all-time favorites are Disney's 20000 Leagues Under the Sea and Moby-Dick starring Gregory Peck.  Neither of them are purist, but I grew up watching them, and they still leave me awestruck.

Finally, there's Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes.  This series is close to purist-perfect - it's a magnificent adaptation.

Which character from fiction would you most like to be?

It would be exciting to be one of the heroes from Dracula - however, I wouldn't truly want to live that plot.  So I'll go with one of the scientists from a Jules Verne novel, because those usually turn out well.  :)

As for a character I would like to be like - off the top of my head, I'd have to go with Alyosha from The Brothers Karamazov.  I would like to have his fearless sense of forgiveness and ability to be a peacemaker.

Which book do you recommend to others the most?

Most people I meet have very different tastes in reading, so I don't usually make recommendations!

Which book have you re-read the most?

Probably Narnia or Treasure Island.   I know I've read Eugene Onegin four times and Heart of Darkness about three or four times.  (I'm not much of a re-reader, so that's a lot for me.)

How do you feel about eBooks?

I have the original Nook Simple Touch, which I love.  I've read many Project Gutenberg books on it, and it makes it very easy to read in bed, not having to struggle to keep pages open.  Also, it lets me highlight and annotate to my heart's content without making it permanent.

Ebooks are not perfect replacements for hard copy, especially for textbooks and reference books where you need to be able to flip pages quickly.  However, they're a great way to access and read classics instantly, and find obscure classics that are rarely published.  Just a couple of years ago, I discovered my favorite translation of Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which was a wonderful surprise and seems to be a Gutenberg exclusive.  Also, it ties into Librivox, so there's a great community of literature fans who are making it more accessible to everyone.

I'm a fangirl, I guess.  ;)  I still love hard copies, too, but eBooks have been only a positive for me.

Where do you get most of your books from?  Library, bookstore, online?

I used to check out stacks of books from the library, but now I don't read enough to warrant it.  :(  Nowadays, I buy books once a year from Powell's, Amazon, and (once in a while) Barnes & Noble.  I also love library sales, garage sales, and thrift stores.

Alrighty, 11 blogs you should check out!  Some of you may have already been recently nominated, so feel free to ignore or accept as is convenient.  :)
11 Q's for you:

1)  What was the most challenging book you ever read?
2)  Who is your favorite romantic couple from literature?
3)  What is your favorite friendship from literature?
4)  Is there a book you used to like but don't like anymore?
5)  What was a nonfiction book you were glad you read?
6)  Name a book someone recommended to you (which you may or may not have read yet).
7)  How do you order your books on the shelf?
8)  Is there a character that you wish appeared in more books?
9)  Which author's writings intimidate you?
10)  Describe a memorable setting or scene (spoiler-free) from a book, and how it made you feel.
11)  The age-old question: paperback or hardcover?

Kafka (1991)

"That's what you're trying to eliminate, isn't it?  
Everything that makes one human being different from another." 

Perhaps it says the most to admit that, even so soon, I wouldn't mind watching this again.

Hollywood and great authors rarely go together.  If that great author is Franz Kafka, one of my favorites, then the very concept is shaky and a good execution defies all odds.  Interestingly enough, Kafka makes up its own concept and just goes for it.  Somehow even the pickiest of critics can find something to like about it.

But can we talk about Jeremy Irons for a minute?  Portraying Kafka, he strikingly resembles Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes, which is only a good thing.  More to the point, Irons is the glue that holds the show together.  The supporting cast is fine, the script is pretty good, yet he is the one who brings credibility to the setting.  His timidity and humorless perspective bring out the best parts of Gregor Samsa, Josef K., and the rest of Kafka's book protagonists, and fortunately he has few of their faults.

We follow Kafka through a tangled plot which, despite its problems, I must applaud for its attempt.  It places the author himself in various Kafkaesque elements, such as the Castle, Gregor's troubled relationship with his family, and the general unease from The Trial.  Then it combines them all under an umbrella plot of revolutionary terrorists plotting against a dictatorial government.

I would take issue with this, except that it makes a degree of sense, taking Kafka as a movie, which it is.  You have to give moviegoers a plot - beginning, middle, end.  Kafka manages to present Kafkaesque "monotony," if you will, in a more palatable and familiar format, without really sacrificing anything important.  Some may disagree, but I don't think this addition was altogether a negative.

The dialogue was the main disappointment.  There were times it didn't feel genuine, or it glossed over things such as the development of the female character, Gabriela.  This was when the Hollywoodization was most apparent (as an aside, there are exceptions to every rule: Lincoln, for example, had very well-written dialogue.)  Probably not so noticeable if not compared to the books...but that's what I'm here for.  :)

Production-wise, I enjoyed the soundtrack of Eastern European-inspired music and black-and-white cinematography.  That's kind of an understatement - the visuals were stunning.  The scenes of the office, streets, and Castle were properly cluttered and claustrophobic and eerie.  The chase scene down the elevator was way creepy.  Is it strictly Kafkaesque?  No, but it is cinematically Kafkaesque.

I'm not sure that I would recommend this film to non-Kafka fans.  It really depends on what you like to watch.  As a fan, I thought it was worthwhile, and in a sense, much less "dark" than the books themselves.  Dramatization takes some of the mystery out of it.  What you lose in psychological subtlety you gain in entertainment value, and that trade-off, in this unusual adaptation, turns out mostly for the best.

Content:  Rated PG-13 for some frightening scenes and a nude image.  One of the villains goes into a restroom to look at photos of female models.  A maniacal assassin chases people at night; one character seen in the distance is stabbed; a man is tortured off-screen...unsure if anything is later shown.  Near the end a man is shown strapped down while his brain is being examined, a little graphic.  Overall, comparable to some Doctor Who episodes, without the lightheartedness.  On a positive note: no profanity or language that I recall.  (Also, it is easy to anticipate scenes to fast-forward, if you are a bit squeamish like me.)

Disclaimer: I don't own the images in this post; they are used here only for illustrative/educational purposes (fair use). 

White Nights in October

Оз. Соколиное

For my next read after Brothers K, I returned to White Nights and Other Stories, which includes several Dostoyevsky short stories translated by Garnett.  This collection was a mixed bag; in spite of that, I give it a cumulative 4 out of 5 stars based on enjoyment level.
  1. The first and feature story is White Nights, a very romantic, fanciful sketch about unrequited love.  Previously, I had read some quotes from it online, and reading the entirety, I was not disappointed.  The ending was so depressing, but the story itself was bittersweet and thought-provoking.  Recommended if you want to read Dostoyevsky in a nutshell.
  2. I skipped Notes from Underground, having already read it.
  3. A Faint Heart was a psychological mystery, reminiscent of Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener" which I read in September.  (Not to sound like a broken record, but it is worth mentioning that Dostoyevsky's so-called "existentialist" themes are sometimes compared to Kafka, as was "Bartleby," and I think I must have a knack for finding this genre everywhere!)  It was very intriguing and also depressing.
  4. A Christmas Tree and a Wedding centers on a minor character from "A Faint Heart" - at least, I think it does.  Either that, or two characters share the exact same name.  This Yulian Mastakovitch reminded me of Totsky from The Idiot.  I really have nothing else to say, except the story made me sick, and also, that Dostoyevsky is very good at portraying evil characters going about their "everyday" disgusting pursuits. 
  5. I got a bit lost reading Polzunkov - not quite sure what it was about. 
  6. A Little Hero was another strange plot, about a boy who has a crush on an unhappily married woman.  Kind of a coming-of-age story, borderline inappropriate, vaguely Dickensian.    
  7. The last story Mr. Prohartchin is about an eccentric old man and his irrational fears.  Definitely Dickensian.  Not gripping, but one of those interesting, obscure sketches that gives you a good idea of "life back then."
It was fascinating to read Dostoyevsky on a small scale.  I felt his social commentary came through pretty strongly, and he is good at short stories, in the sense he can get you to care very quickly about the characters.  The plots were hit-and-miss, yet overall I'd recommend this book.  In fact, with Notes from Underground, it's an excellent introductory volume to this author.

The Brothers Karamazov - 11 & 12 (Conclusion)

Kuindzhi Evening 1885 1890

I finished The Brothers Karamazov this past weekend.  From the last two parts, "Brother Ivan Fyodorovich" and "A Judicial Error," I was left with no particularly strong feelings or impressions.  It was a struggle to finish - ultimately, I rate the book 3.5 out of 5 stars, leaning towards 4 on Goodreads (which still doesn't allow you to have "half" a star.)

Thinking back over this book journal - which I am glad I kept and am sorry to see end - I feel the first half of the book was very strong.  The religious chapters and scenes at the monastery were honestly my favorites.  Parts III & IV, which is to say books 712, were not so interesting, despite being highly sensational, as you come to expect from Dostoyevsky.

Incidentally, this mirrors my reaction to The Idiot.  I gave that one a better rating of 4.5, and I have to say I liked that book better...I'm not sure it is a better book, but its treatment of similar themes was more compelling.  Anyways, I also thought the first half of The Idiot was excellent, while the second half seemed over the top.

If that weren't enough, as I recollect now, Notes from Underground went south - pardon the pun - in the second half, too.  Now I will have to try Crime and Punishment again, which surely gets only better in the second half (I hope?).

What happened in The Brothers Karamazov?  What is this enigmatic Russian classic about?  And why was it disappointing?

I think I was expecting more of the human element.  You might wonder how a book about every dirty detail of a family could be lacking in that area, but really, it isn't a character-driven novel.  When you read The Idiot, you get inside Myshkin's head.  You empathize with Nastasya, and you fear Rogozhin like a personal enemy (well, nearly!).  That didn't happen in BK, because Dostoyevsky intentionally wrote a social commentary.  The endnotes say it, of course, but it's quite obvious throughout.  He wanted us to get acquainted with mentalities, philosophies, and contradictions - not people.  The characters are, for the most part, means to that end.

This wasn't what I was expecting, hence the disappointment.  The ending was incredibly abrupt, and so any interest invested in Alyosha or Ivan or Katrina was not given a satisfactory conclusion.  In retrospect, it makes sense.  I'm not saying BK isn't a great novel.  I do think that, for the modern reader, Dostoyevsky said more, and with more subtlety, in his earlier work The Idiot.  Sometimes the best commentary is implied and not outlined.  The main thing The Idiot didn't have were the subplots about the monastery and the schoolboys, which, again, were my favorite parts in The Brothers Karamazov.

The Brothers Karamazov - 10: Boys

Previously: Book IBook IIBook IIIBooks IV & VBook VI, Books VII–IX

Antonio Mancini - Il Malatino

What does it say about Dostoyevsky that, after the roller coaster of the last three parts, he switches gears and writes a whole section about - schoolboys?

Let me just say: any remaining reservations I had about his writing skills disappeared in this part.  I mean that seriously.  As with "The Russian Monk" (VI), this part left me very impressed.

Most of us who have ever thought of being writers know about the Character Arc.  We tend to think the Character Arc is a long journey (it is).  But the most difficult part is actually writing it.  It can become a laborious process, and in the middle of that process we writers tend to lose the subtlety of good writing that the rest of our novel may possess.  We usually sacrifice the subtlety because the Character Arc appears to us like the milestones of life - big, earth-shattering, and loudly delineated.  Plot twist: it doesn't have to be.

Dostoyevsky uses the conflict and dynamics between Ilyusha and the other schoolboys for two purposes.  One is to include social commentary, such as thirteen-year-old Kolya's rant against medicine (reminiscent of Bazarov from Fathers and Sons).  Kolya is very outspoken and claims to be a socialist, later admitting some of his ideas are copied verbatim from books he has read.  He argues with Alyosha only to realize he doesn't have any foundation to stand on.  The endnotes to the P&V edition suggest Dostoyevsky wrote Kolya this way as a critique of such perspectives, with the implication that those ideas are "schoolboyish."  Whether an effective argument or not, it's plausible enough in the insecure, confused, yet good-intentioned Kolya.

The second purpose of going "off-topic" in part 10 is the aforementioned Character Arc.  We see Alyosha again, but now he is not wearing his monastic attire.  He is acting as a mediator between the proud Kolya and Kolya's former friend Ilyusha, who has now fallen ill and fears that Kolya holds a grudge against him.  The fact that Alyosha has, for the time, left the Karamazov scandal behind him to come and help Ilyusha and his family is quite extraordinary.  This is the same Alyosha who was so intent on being the communicator in his own family; the same Aloysha who, in his own moral struggle, went to talk to Grushenka for Dmitri's sake.  And he is the one who felt confusion and grief over his personal loss that nobody else really understood.

He followed God's Will while living in the monastery.  Now he's found his calling, which is to have the heart of a monk while living within society, with all its flaws and suffering.  In answer to my question from book two, I think Alyosha will be all right.  If there's any justice by the end of this book - I think he'll be all right.

Hamlet Revisited

Over time, I have come to love a lot of things I used to dislike strongly - opera, Debussy, Moby-Dick, and poetry.  Perhaps Shakespeare will grow on me, too - perhaps.

Forbes-RobertsonAs I was reading Hamlet yesterday, I was aware of two things.  One, it was not painfully slow or cringeworthy like Romeo and Juliet.  Two, I actually cared about the characters. As long as they were "on screen," they were very much alive (terrible, terrible pun), and even now, I would be interesting in watching an adaptation, which usually indicates a good story.

The plot starts out with some exposition explaining that the king of Denmark has recently died and his brother Claudius is serving the office in his stead.  Part of this "office," according to Claudius, is marrying his brother's wife, Queen Gertrude.  (Wiki would have you think this is a Levirate marriage; however, since Hamlet is the son of Gertrude and the late king, this does not appear to qualify as such, by Old Testament standards.)  Hamlet is grief-stricken and angry at his mother for what he sees as her betrayal.  This is only worsened by a seeming visit from the ghost of his father, who says his death was no accident and urges him to take vengeance on Claudius, "the serpent that did sting thy father's life."

File-Hamlet, Prince of Demark Act I Scene IV
One of my biggest questions is whether the Ghost is real.  I have yet to read what others think about that, but it seems possible that Claudius's guilt could have been found out by Hamlet's intuition, much like how some detectives would extract a confession.  I also went back and re-read o's post on Ophelia, which reconfirms my feeling that more could have been said about her plotline.  Even Horatio is given little description of his own, while there is everything to indicate he is Hamlet's only friend and very emotionally attached.  Finally, I wonder which side of Hamlet is realer - his former, confident, lovestruck youthfulness, or his bitter, misogynistic, self-destructive "madness."  I will probably spend some time reading this Wiki article...

It's a dark story, but well worth it if you want to read a giant of English literature and culture.  I recommend reading it all the way through before you think of giving up on Shakespeare.   4 out of 5 stars.

The Men Who Knew Too Much (and Not Enough)

You invariably have some expectations when watching a thriller.  Though I haven't seen a lot of this genre, it's similar enough to mystery that I expect something.  I expect to be scared, and I expect to care about someone in the film.  To a degree, all three of these accomplished that.  Some more than others.

Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man trailer 02
The Wrong Man (1956).  
Christopher Emmanuel "Manny" Balestrero (Henry Fonda) gets arrested for a series of crimes he did not commit.  5/5 stars.

The Wrong Man was the most interesting and worthwhile.  I'm biased in that I'm drawn towards any film with Kafkaesque qualities.  Henry Fonda's character is essentially Josef K. from The Trial, albeit a more sympathetic and family-man type of guy.  The plot is based on a true story, in which circumstantial evidence and other issues render the suspect, Balestrero, practically guilty until proven innocent.

There is something inherently frightening about "due process" going horribly wrong, affecting not just Balestrero but his wife Rose and two sons.  Hitchcock focuses a good deal on Rose, who becomes completely overwhelmed by her husband's suffering.  It is vaguely reminiscent of the psychological effects of the lengthy court case in Bleak House.  I wish that the film had depicted the aftermath of her story, instead of printing it on the screen, but probably that was for dramatic effect.

I certainly recommend The Wrong Man, especially to Kafka fans.  It's suitable for most ages (young children might find it boring).

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).  Dr. and Mrs. McKenna (Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day) find their vacation turning into a nightmare after they meet four mysterious fellow travelers in Morocco.  3/5 stars.

The theme of female psychological reaction reappears in The Man Who Knew Too Much - however, it is worth emphasizing that this story is purely fictional.  Stewart as Ben McKenna gives an excellent performance (his best, out of his films I've seen) as a middle-class dad who suddenly has to go up against world-class assassins.  Day also is well cast as Jo McKenna and sings her signature song "Que Sera, Sera."

That said, I didn't care for the way these characters were written.  They leave their son in the care of total strangers, probably a 50s-ism that is nonetheless disturbing.  There is also a scene in which Ben makes his wife take a sedative, because he predicts she will become hysterical.  He doesn't suggest she take the pill; he refuses to tell her critical information unless she takes it.  Again, not necessarily unusual for the era, but not appropriate for very young/undiscerning viewers, either.

The plot is reasonably good and pretty suspenseful.  It centers heavily on the theme that familiar places and people may not be as safe as they appear.  Recommended, with the above reservations.

The Woman in Black (1989).  A young solicitor, Arthur Kidd, goes on a business trip to a house haunted by a bitter, mourning-clad specter (Pauline Moran).  1/5 stars.

Here we find a film that is definitely not for young viewers.  Everyone else will be either bored or rather "unsettled" (yes, that's me).  I've watched more disturbing or gory stories, but this was filmed in such a way as to get your imagination going, in a way that was not particularly rewarding.  The ending was gratuitously upsetting and abrupt, which was more irritating than anything else.

Plotwise, the story had potential and your typical Victorian characters - the eccentric elderly lady, worldly-wise older man, adventurous young man, and angelic young wife.  It seemed very much like a spin-off of Dracula, without Van Helsing or any of the redeeming qualities of that classic.  We have a female character who is kept in the dark, with slightly more understandable reasons, which still didn't convince me as being necessary.  I am not sure how the story would have gone if she had been aware of what was going on.  In any case, Kidd's family is here just used as another part of the plot's trainwreck.  That, to me, shows poor writing and too much reliance on shock value, even for a thriller.

Let me know what you think - have you seen any of these films?  Have you read the book The Woman in Black or seen the newer film starring Daniel Radcliffe?  I'd be interested to know if that one is any better.

Disclaimer: I don't own the images in this post; they are used here only for illustrative/educational purposes (fair use). 

Hello, Fall!

Summer is taking the calendar seriously this year - an overstay of dry weather for the greater Seattle area.  (The dictionary tells me "overstay" is not a noun.  I protest.)  Meanwhile, I am hoping for rain this week and looking for fall color anywhere it dares show its face.

Book Haul

Not long ago we made a trip down to Oregon and on the way back stopped in Portland.  You cannot visit Portland without going to Powell's City of Books.  Like last year, I came well prepared, with wishlist and books to sell (sorry Jane Austen).

It was a weekday; there were plenty of people, but not so many as on a weekend.  We were in and out of there within an hour.

What I love about Powell's:
1)  It's a REAL bookstore.  Rooms and rooms of books up to the ceilings.  You could potentially get lost.  They still have those noisy little stools on wheels, and you actually need them (for tall bookshelves made out of wood).  Powell's is the real deal.
2)   You will tend to find multiple editions and copies of books.  You can contrast/compare prices to your frugal heart's content.  Prices for used books are very reasonable, even compared to thrift stores'.

This may all sound like marketing, but honestly, Powell's is one of my favorite stores.  :)

Polar exploration is a continuing phase of mine, hence In the Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov.  This was a little-known, Russian expedition to the Arctic, which took place before Shackleton's second journey to Antarctica (1914).  The Heart of the Antarctic is about Shackleton's first expedition south (as a leader), on the Nimrod.  I really enjoyed South and am interested in learning how the Nimrod fared and influenced the Endurance trip.  Together, these polar books cost $8.

I "splurged" on these two.  There was a cheaper version of Gatsby, but you can't beat the original cover art (and even so, it was less than list price).  Still need to read it...  Then there's Memories of the Future, with its own pretty awesome title and cover.   It has been described as, essentially, Soviet-era Kafka.  I may end up hating it, but it sounds very intriguing.  According to Wiki, the author Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky shared Kafka's trait of remaining largely unpublished in his own lifetime.  Wiki also claims "major influences on his style were Robert Louis Stevenson, G. K. Chesterton, Edgar Allan Poe, Nikolai Gogol, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and H. G. Wells."  So far so excellent.

Other Things

By now I should have finished BK, except that I really, really can't stand Dmitri.

While in Oregon, I read a bit of Melville.  If you haven't read "Bartleby, the Scrivener," you really must.  I still don't know what to think of it.  Wiki (again) makes references to Kafka, and I would agree, except that it is an inverted Kafkaesque tale, where the mystery is in the character and not his surroundings (or is it...?).

Currently I'm perusing a brief history of numbers and math, called Numbers and Infinity.  Stylistically, it's as dry as it sounds, and some of the information is dated.  However, the topic itself is interesting, especially where there is overlap with history and philosophy.

Speaking of overlap, I'm thinking about posting film reviews on this blog.  I don't want to go very far off topic, but usually I watch classic movies and movies related to literature/history.  Most recently:
  • Kafka (1991)
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
  • Shackleton (2002)
  • The Woman in Black (1989)
The Kafka one is especially due for a review.  Shackleton is also worth talking about, and the other two, both thrillers, might make a good compare/contrast review.  Which one sounds interesting to you?

In "real life" news - I graduated from uni last month and anticipate starting work soon.  It should give me more time to read and blog (no more homework on evenings/weekends!).  My 2014 challenges remain sadly neglected; at this point I will be happy to finish BK by the end of the year.  That's the plan, anyways.

Final Thoughts on Lord Jim

Note: Before getting into the review, I want to mention how disappointed I was by the Barnes & Noble Classics edition.  There was an unnecessarily massive amount of footnotes, and one of the endnotes disclosed a major spoiler, long before I reached that plot twist!  Normally I'd recommend B&N Classics, but this one I cannot.

Seascape - Sunset

It's been more than fitting to have read Lord Jim during my last quarter of college.  I would say, in fact, that this 'bildungsroman' by Joseph Conrad is a timely read for those of us who can sympathize with Jim - a Romantic holding his ideals in one hand and finding his place in the world with the other.  Is it best read as a warning, a fairytale, or a historical fantasy?  Hopefully, by the end of this post, I will have figured it out.  One thing is certain: Lord Jim is not your typical trainwreck.  It's a longer, more tedious disaster, realistic in its portrayal of events whose consequences are as realistically ambiguous.

Once again, we meet up with Marlow, the narrator from Heart of Darkness, who is telling his audience the life story of the titular Jim.  The son of an English cleric, Jim's ambition since childhood is to go to sea, like many another sea story protagonist.  Jim's dream, however, is to be more than ordinary - he wants to be a hero.  He wants to be in life-threatening situations and, if necessary, give his all to save someone.

In a bizarre chain of circumstances and decisions, Jim ultimately becomes a failure to his dream.  He becomes, in his own eyes, the lowest of the low, battling his depressing reality with a strange brand of egotism.  It is a longer and stranger path which later earns him the respectful title of Tuan ("Lord") Jim, given him by people who truly regard him as a hero. The question is, will he ever see himself again as they see him now?

MJ Heade Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds

I'm hopelessly biased, in that I love Romanticism, Joseph Conrad's writing, and sea stories.  I'm giving Lord Jim 4.5 out of 5 stars, because Jim's story really resonated with me.

To be more objective, I can say I don't remember reading any book that deals with these themes in the way Conrad has.  First of all, Marlow does not concretely judge Jim's actions.  In fact, the illustration of Jim's family is a not-so-subtle reminder to the reader that it is difficult, impossible - not even permissible? - to judge him from our psychologically and geographically distant environment.  However, I found myself sympathizing with Jim because there were grounds for sympathy.  There was a real dilemma; this is a book where the ambiguity is real, without sugar-coating the very real wrong of Jim's actions.

I would say that Marlow certainly wants us to sympathize, but nowhere did it feel like I was being required to take Jim's side.  The very fact that Jim feels a need for "redemption" indicates there is a wrong needed to be made right.  I think it is subject to interpretation, whether he redeemed himself or not.  Though the ending was extremely unsatisfying - subtracting half a star from my rating - personally I felt Jim had at least forgiven himself.  That was the one conclusion that I could find.

It raises the question of how much of his troubles resulted from his Romanticism.  One of the brilliant aspects of the book is Marlow's interviews of other characters, in which he learns their opinions of Jim.  One is a French officer, one is an old German adventurer, another is the girl Jim loves, and a fourth is a ruthless pirate.  While excessively varied, the common theme is an awe of (or contempt for) Jim's heroic ideals.  Do these ideals originate out of moral standards or simply egotism?  Some of both, probably.  Undoubtedly they are the cause of much of his unhappiness, and the greatest source of his sense of what it is to live.

These characters either love or hate Jim passionately.  What most of them don't understand is he would not be himself without his ideals.   "That was the way.  To follow the dream, and again to follow the dream..."

Romanticism in Lord Jim

Despite a bit of a guilty feeling - not having finished The Brothers Karamazov yet - I was really in the mood to read Lord Jim.  This is my second or third attempt.  Previously I could hardly get past three pages; now I'm nearly a third of the way through and have definitely put BK on hold.

That's not to the detriment of BK, but to the genuinely captivating prose in Lord Jim.  Once I finally get into a Conrad story, I become intrigued and entranced.  It doesn't matter if I don't always understand what is going on.  This novel, probably Conrad's best-known after Heart of Darkness, is almost quite as surreal, reading like stream-of-consciousness, albeit very structured and subtle.  Part of this comes from a familiar voice: the narrator Marlow.  Ever loquacious, he recounts his perspective of the controversial seaman "Jim," his trial, and his personality.

There is much to talk about, even so early on.  What particularly stands out are the echoes of Romanticism (and, at times, Melville-esque "Dark" Romanticism).  The story itself is simple: the ship Patna appears to be about to sink; the officers escape, leaving their passengers behind them, and Jim is one of those officers.  It is the psychology of the case that fills pages with nuances and further questions.

Conrad refers back to themes from Heart of Darkness, which he had published earlier that same year (1899).  Again, there is the idea that motives are complex, and that Kurtz is not so much an entity as he is a trait or alternative identity.
The commonest sort of fortitude prevents us from becoming criminals in a legal sense; it is from weakness unknown, but perhaps suspected, as in some parts of the world you suspect a deadly snake in every bush—from weakness that may lie hidden, watched or unwatched, prayed against or manfully scorned, repressed or maybe ignored more than half a lifetime, not one of us is safe.
Juxtaposed with this pessimism is the character of Jim.  He is fascinating because, like many Romantic or Byronic heroes, he is a product of his times and he strives for what he has not achieved - heroism.  Jim spent his childhood dreaming of being a hero, being always prepared to be a hero, yet ultimately missing opportunities and being confronted finally with what, from many perspectives, constitutes not only a disaster but a crime.
It was solemn, and a little ridiculous too, as they always are, those struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be, this precious notion of a convention, only one of the rules of the game, nothing more, but all the same so terribly effective by its assumption of unlimited power over natural instincts, by the awful penalties of its failure. 

The Old Man and the Sea ~ Read-Along

I was so excited to hear about this read-along at Hamlette's blog!  In fact, I got a bit of a head start and made sure to read it this past Saturday.  But that gives me time now to read other people's posts over the course of this week, and I'm looking forward to hearing other people's thoughts.  :)

+  Have you read The Old Man and the Sea before?  If so, did you like it more or less after this reading than you did before?

This was my first time reading the book, but I grew up on the classic film with Spencer Tracy.

As a child, I absolutely loved Age of Sail books and movies.  What I especially liked about TOMATS was the Marlin jump.  It never failed to strike a bit of terror in me - I was right there with the Old Man, thrilled and awestruck by the size of the "Fish."

This made the Marlin in the book sort of anticlimactic.  It was beautifully written and probably would have been exciting had I not seen the film - but it felt short, very short.  I still enjoyed this story; only, that part of it was slightly disappointing.

+  What do you think the main point of the story is?  What is Hemingway trying to say here?

On this first reading, it struck me with themes of old age (of course), pride, and masculinity.  Most of the time I felt Hemingway was talking about the glory of mankind, particularly the male gender, its perseverance, changes, and "complicated" relationship with femininity.

For that reason, the story felt slightly less universal than, say, if it had been written by Melville.  However, there is much to sympathize with and even identify with, closer to the end of the book.

+  Some people say this story is full of symbolism, maybe even an allegory.  What do you think things like the old man, the fish, and the sharks could symbolize?

It was almost as good as stated that the Old Man and the Fish were two sides of the same entity - that is, the Old Man himself sees himself in the Fish at times.  The sharks, then, would be the things that break his strength, such as his aging body and daydreams about baseball.

If you were to base the allegory on and starting with the Old Man himself, there's probably a political/historical symbolism that could be inferred.  But that's reading pretty deeply.

+  In 1952, Hemingway wrote a letter to his friend Bernard Berenson in which he said:  "There isn't any symbolysm [sic].  The sea is the sea.  The old man is an old man.  The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish.  The shark are all sharks no better and no worse."**  Do you think he was telling the truth, or being cagey?  Do you think that sometimes an audience can see more in a story than its author does?

Audiences (myself included) are very good at reading between the lines where there is sometimes nothing to see.  I felt the Marlin was indeed symbolic, but that symbolism - the parallel with the Old Man - was clearly apparent.  For the rest, I think Hemingway was telling the truth.  I was actually hoping for more symbolism to chew on, as in Moby-Dick or Heart of Darkness.  This is not the same kind of book, though, just the same genre.  It's a simpler story, and there's nothing wrong with that.

+  What do you think of the writing style Hemingway uses here?  Do you like it?  How does it add or detract from the story?

The writing style was refreshingly readable.  It fits the story very well.  My only quibble is that sometimes Hemingway uses fragments for no apparent reason.  I don't mind grammatical liberties, but it felt disjointed at times.

+  The Old Man and the Sea is required reading at a lot of high schools.  Do you think this is a good choice for teen readers?  Do you think some other story or book by Hemingway might be a better introduction to his work?

While not a fan of making specific books "required," I actually think this would be a great choice.  It's short and sweet and should appeal to most people (who can't relate to the Old Man on some level?).

The beauty of The Old Man and the Sea is what it says about the Old Man.  It's a character sketch, more like a portrait because it tells us so much about him in nearly every paragraph.  We see him as a young man, a happy man, a depressed man, a weak and a strong man - facing society and the elements single-handedly.  He's not a "Western hero" by definition, but these same characteristics makes the book an American classic.

I could write a post entirely on the Old Man vs. the Boy, or the Old Man vs. the Young Men, the next generation.  But I'll stop here with my favorite quote, which says as much:
He looked down into the water and watched the lines that went straight down into the dark of the water.  He kept them straighter than anyone did . . .  Only I have no luck anymore.  But who knows? . . . It is better to be lucky.  But I would rather be exact.  Then when luck comes you are ready.

Age of Sail book haul

An incredible, incredibly busy summer quarter hasn't left me much time to read.  I'm taking two classes, tutoring part-time, and job-hunting on the side.  However, yesterday I was able to get over to Barnes & Noble and pick up this lovely trio.

I couldn't keep myself out of The Old Man and the Sea, so I read it today and will be posting a review for Hamlette's read-along at The Edge of the Precipice.  Not gonna lie - the cover and typography are just gorgeous!  (Admittedly a purchasing factor.)  I will say nothing yet of the story, except I'm glad I finally read it.

And then there's Melville and Conrad.  Conrad really is best-read in hard copy.  His writing is wonderfully intricate, so much so it's easy to feel a little lost in the e-Ink versions.  I already know the story of "Billy Budd" from a radio drama, but I wanted to read the original and also "Bartleby the Scrivener," which comes highly rated.  Also, on a tight schedule, short stories are always fun.

Have you read these three giants of nautical literature?  Particularly, what do you think of Hemingway's style?

The Brothers Karamazov - 6: The Russian Monk

Previously: Book I, Book II, Book III, Books IV & V

Today I spent some time cleaning out my closet, one of my favorite things to do on academic break.  Afterwards, I settled down to read another part of BK.  In all honesty, the chapter "From the Life of the Elder Zosima" did not look too promising.  Typically my expectations are low for stories in a story, and I was anxious to get back to Alyosha's story.  This was going to be a struggle to get through, I thought.

As Thorin might say . . . I have never been so wrong.

About halfway through, this "story in a story" actually moved me to tears.  And it struck me how timely it was, reading this part during this time of my life.  I always thought I should have read BK long ago, but it turns out this was the best timing.  "The Russian Monk" is a story about love, Godly love, and what a powerful force it is, and how profound, deep, painful, and beautiful it must be, to love your neighbor, and your enemies.
One may stand perplexed before some thought, especially seeing men's sin, asking oneself: "Shall I take it by force, or by humble love?"  Always resolve to take it by humble love . . . A loving humility is a terrible power, the most powerful of all, nothing compares with it. 
I think I should mention another theme in "The Russian Monk," which is Zosima's directive to "take on" others' guilt, or at least to feel as if it is yours.  This kind of confused me.  Does he mean for his listeners to interpret it literally?  (That is not, to my knowledge, a biblical idea.) As a description of humility and sin being universal, it would make a striking point.  I think that was the intent, but I'd have to re-read it several times to come to a more definite evaluation of what he saying.  As a way of disclaimer, there were one or two other points like this that call for reading this part with a grain of salt, in terms of Christian beliefs.

That said, it is still worth reading, and there is much that is relevant.  I was not looking for Christian doctrinal instruction in a secular novel.  I did find many Christian truths poignantly illustrated in the character of Zosima.  He is certainly one of best representations of a cleric in any literature I've read.  There were so many beautiful quotes, like the one above.  I will just add one more (also about love):
. . . love is a teacher, but one must know how to acquire it, for it is difficult to acquire, it is dearly bought, by long work over a long time, for one ought to love not for a chance moment but for all time.
This has been my favorite part of the book so far.

The Brothers Karamazov - 4 & 5: Strains; Pro and Contra

Previously: Book I, Book II, Book III

The carriage started and raced off.  All was vague in the traveler's soul, but he greedily looked around him at the fields, the hills, the trees, a flock of geese flying high above him in the clear sky.  Suddenly he felt so well.

What I got out of these two parts was not so much plot development but character development.  Through the eyes of Alyosha, we finally get to meet the enigmatic Karamazov brother, Ivan.  This in turn shows us their family's dysfunctional situation through his perspective, which by instinct is less disinterested than he might wish it to be.

It's odd, but by far Ivan is my favorite character.  He is somewhat coldhearted, frequently profane, and not without some of the violent emotional tendencies of the oldest brother, Dmitri.  Still it is his anti-heroic traits and heroic potential that make him the most interesting character.  His bitterness is paradoxically deep-rooted and superficial.  He can't conceal either his loneliness or his confusion.  He expresses self-destructive thoughts, only to confess:
I want to live, and I do live, even if it be against logic...some human deeds are dear to me, which one has perhaps long ceased believing in, but still honors with one's heart, out of old habit.
And later, as if in response to everything that has happened with his father:
I don't understand anything...and I no longer want to understand anything.  I want to stick to the fact.  I made up my mind long ago not to understand.
The existentialist themes make me think of Notes from Underground, as well as Kafka, in places.

Ivan's outlook is, to some degree, summarized in the chapters "Rebellion" and "The Grand Inquisitor."  "The Grand Inquisitor" is a remarkable chapter (containing a paragraph eight pages long), a rather bizarre story told by Ivan about a persecutor from the Spanish Inquisition who meets Jesus and rejects Him.  It is spoken in first-person by the Inquisitor.  While I have not read Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, this chapter seems to have been written in the same style - that is, making a point from the opposite side.

Of course, maybe it depends on your perspective.  Maybe it can be read from an anti-Christian viewpoint, and quite probably a lot of people take it that way.  What made me question that interpretation were lines like the following (spoken by the Inquisitor):
You did not come down from the cross when they shouted to you, mocking and reviling you: "Come down from the cross and we will believe that it is you."  You did not come down because, again, you did not want to enslave man by a miracle and thirsted for faith that is free, not miraculous.
This hearkens back to something the narrator asserts way back in chapter 5: "In the realist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith."  He claims a realist must wish to believe in miracles, and if the realist does not, then "if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact."  I don't know about stating things in such generalized terms, but certainly this reminds me of the Pharisees' refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, even after witnessing numerous miracles.

But back to the Inquisitor's words, "faith that is free." This notion of free will is a recurrent theme in DostoyevskyNot only free will, but the contrast of choosing to be enslaved to something, in a psychological or moral sense.  The Karamazovs' cruelty and dissipation is something they (except Alyosha) view as a family trait, even as an excuse.   Ivan, at least, even in his cynicism, has given it some thought and questioning, if on a more global scale.

The concept of "national identity" is somewhat controversial.  Throughout The Brothers Karamazov, the characters have been making certain statements, usually derogatory, about the Russian identity.  I find it quite fascinating, the way you can interpret subject matter in this book as referring to specific characters, Russia, or the world at large.  It is one thing to read it from a detached, Western perspective and find some thread of connection throughout Russian historical events, up to the present day.  At the same time, it is extremely important to read it autobiographically.  The subject matter hits much closer to home than we might be comfortable to admit.

I did not mean for this post to be so long!  For sure, this was the most thought-provoking section so far.  This is why I can't enjoy reading Dostoyevsky.  He inevitably reminds me of people I have met and real topics discussed, and then I start to feel claustrophobic.  Appropriately enough, philosophy is less enjoyable when it is least abstract. 

The Brothers Karamazov - 3: Sensualists

*Page cuts will be added, should any posts in this series involve major spoilers.
Previously: Book I, Book II

In the previous installment, we saw the Karamazov family and friends bickering at Alyosha's home, the monastery.  Now we see the Karamazov family feuding in its natural habitat, and as what the father Fyodor and the son Dmitri call themselves, half-proudly: "sensualists."

Book III really gets inside these two Karamazovs' heads, where depravity reigns over whatever better side they may (or may not) have.  Dmitri is engaged to Katerina Ivanovna, but he is also part of a lust-triangle involving his father and a young woman named Grushenka.  We are also introduced to Smerdyakov, a young man who, according to rumor, is Fyodor's fourth son.  Alyosha, as usual, is caught in the middle and ends up being the one to suffer most.  He is grateful to return to the monastery as soon as he can.
Why had the elder sent him "into the world"?  Here was quiet, here was holiness, and there—confusion, and a darkness in which one immediately got lost and went astray . . .
I'll admit to being somewhat sensitive, and it was difficult to get through these pages.  At times it seemed almost unreal, the sick behavior of Fyodor Karamazov, and while the way women were treated is not news to me, it's still not easy to read.  I keep wondering if Dostoyevsky based these characters on real people, and at the same time, I'm not sure I want to know.

I get frustrated with Alyosha, because he still cares about his family.  Pretty much most of us would find it easiest to relate to Ivan, the brother who is detached and critical of everyone.  Alyosha, on the other hand, has a forgiving heart, and nobody deserves it...which is kind of the point of Alyosha.  I still wish he wouldn't put up with so much.

Katerina is a fascinating character.  Not particularly likeable.  But she wants so much to be treated as more than an object, and even though there is something pathetic about her actions, you feel for her, because there's nothing else she can do.  (Save, perhaps, stay away from the older Karamazovs, which would be the best option.)  Definitely interested to see how her story goes.

“It's no use going back to yesterday...”

Just dropping by for a quick update! 

It's getting to be a difficult time of year, in an equally challenging year.  I hope to graduate in August, which means from now until then school remains fairly time-consuming. "Real life" issues have also been causing me a bit of stress.

However, because of all this stuff building up, I think I will be reading more often, and blogging, too.  In fact, I feel a little desperate for some good reads to get me through the next several weeks.  (Also, summer == books.)

Have you heard of Tolkien's Beowulf, which was just published last week?!  I am excited to get my hands on a copy.  Maybe it will spark my enthusiasm for the story (admittedly lukewarm).

Right now, I have The Brothers Karamazov looming overhead, but I've actually been reading A Study in Scarlet for my Sherlock Holmes challenge.  Of course, it should be a one-day read, but I am so slow a reader these days.

One more thing - I really enjoy following you all on the blogs and Goodreads!  It's fun to see what you're reading, and it gives me some motivation to get back into it.

Viktor Frankl and the Will to Meaning

On the bus this afternoon, I finished reading Viktor Frankl's nonfiction classic, Man's Search for Meaning.  It is a short, two-part memoir, detailing first his experiences as a Nazi concentration camp survivor, and second, his own system of psychotherapy, logotherapy.  This latter is based on his belief that the driving force in human life is the search for life's meaning, as opposed to more materialistic or Freudian motives.  Frankl stresses the relationship between meaning and survival, as well as his assertion that a human being is not solely shaped by his or her surroundings.  On the contrary, a person in the worst of conditions is still left one liberty, and that is to choose the way they react to what is happening to them.

For such a short work, this was a fascinating read.  I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars and would actually recommend it to anyone, whether you are into psychology or not.  There were several points that particularly stood out to me:
  • The meaning of life differs from person to person.  Meaning cannot be described in abstract, "one size fits all" terms.
    • My sister also read the book, and we debated on what this point entailed.  We both agreed that, as Christians, we can see meaning in the abstract, as God's Will.  However, perhaps there is another level of "meaning," insofar as different situations call for different reactions, and everyone has their own specific part to play.
  • Every situation has a reason in your life.  There is meaning in the past and in the future, but also in the present, no matter the circumstances.
    • I was intrigued to read this, because this has been on my mind before picking up this book.  I've become increasingly convinced of living in the moment, in the sense that I believe even day-to-day routine life is for some definite purpose, every day or scenario being in itself something complete.  It is reassuring to read similar thoughts in someone else's words.
  • You can find meaning in suffering, though suffering is not requisite for it.
    • This impressed me greatly, because I've often heard the idea that maybe, say, great artists could not have created great art without living unhappy lives.  Personally, I don't like the idea of defining art, meaning, or goodness in terms of adversity.  I think it is like Frankl implies, that great art can exist in spite of suffering.  But suffering is not the key ingredient.

There was much more that struck me at the time; these are just a few of the themes. 

More specific to Part I, Frankl's account of his enslavement was unlike any I've read before.  As doctor in neurology and psychiatry, he had the ability to analyze his life in the camp from a medical perspective.  He describes the mental changes a prisoner underwent, as well as touching upon the psychology of the camp guards.  I was very much moved by his description of how he dealt with and escaped from reality, both through thoughts of his wife and new strength stemming from an inner, spiritual development. 

I feel obligated to explain why I didn't give it 5 stars.  It is hard to pinpoint, and maybe a little pedantic, but I felt the chain of reasoning could have been more concrete in places.  There was also an example or two he cited in which I thought logotherapy might have been misapplied.  I would like to read his book The Doctor and the Soul which goes into more detail.  For now, I would still recommend this one.  It is an excellent perspective to add to your reading on Stoics, existentialism, and the like.

The Brothers Karamazov - 2: An Inappropriate Gathering

*Page cuts will be added, should any posts in this series involve major spoilers.
Previously: Book I

Oh, yes, I am still reading this book.  It's a quick read; I simply haven't been reading very frequently.

Case in point: book II is almost entirely the dialogue that takes place when the Karamazov family comes together at (of all places) the monastery.  Dialogue is to Dostoyevsky what narrative is to Kafka.  Characters talk on for paragraphs, and it starts out sensibly enough, only to end in a vastly different topic.  That's the beauty of it, though: it sets the cogwheels of your mind turning so you're never quite bored.

By the way, I am loving this translation (Pevear/Volokhonsky).  Translation is such a wildly disputed topic, too much so, perhaps.  I enjoyed the Alan Myers translation of The Idiot, and Constance Garnett's Notes from Underground was quite good.  What really shines in Pevear/Volokhonsky is the emotional subtext.  That is, the narrator's voice - often tinged with sarcasm - comes through strongly, and all the characters are brought up to a new level, as a result.  In tone, it's a great mix of modern and Victorian, nothing too jarring.  Having previously read some sad translations of Jules Verne, I am greatly impressed with this so far.

Back to topic, I'm not sorry The Idiot was my first Dostoyevsky, but The Brothers Karamazov has a much stronger introduction.  Book II is so weird, it's got me pretty intrigued.  Via the strange conflict between the father (Fyodor) and his son, Dmitri, we have it where the plot seems obvious, yet there is enough uncertainty to propel it forward.  (There was also a scene that is possibly premonitory, though again, just vague enough to keep you wondering.)

What is the purpose of this book II?  The father made an utter embarrassment of himself - no surprise.  Actually, I was surprised he went so far.  I love how the reader can sort of "soak in" the awkwardness through the character of Pyotr Miusov, whom we must also thank for the few laughs in this part.  Secondly, I appreciate the down-to-earth portrayal of the monks.  It's a rare circumstance to read about well-written religious characters, let alone clerics.  Father Zosima and even Rakitin come across as pretty realistic.  The Father Superior's reaction to Fyodor's scene was also a great bit of writing.

One more thing - I found it interesting that Rakitin teased Alyosha, half-questioning and half-telling him he must be the same as his brothers and father, a "sensualist."  I have misgivings about the future of Alyosha, more maybe than I had about Myshkin.  Bracing myself...I just hate watching good characters get into trouble.


Never mind a post title - that ought to be the blog title!

I came into this year so sanguine about my reading list, and here it is a few hours away from March, with little to show for such ambitions.  School and work are keeping me on my toes, literally all week long.  As for reading, I've fallen asleep to The Works of Josephus and after a page of Nostromo.  I'm still reading The Brothers Karamazov, but very slowly.  Pretty sad.

Spring quarter might give me more time to read, since I will only have two classes.  It's just that step of making time to read which is daunting.  I'm going to keep trying and hopefully have something to share with you here, before long.

Eugene Onegin Read-Along ~ Chapters 7 & 8

Here we are at the final part of the read-along!  It feels like it's gone so fast!  Truth be told, I still have to read chapters 5 & 6, so if you're not up to chapter 7 yet, rest assured you're not alone. 

The last week has been hectic for me, and I know the next week will also be.  I had some laptop issues and lost quite a few files, hence my unpreparedness for this concluding part.  Nevertheless, keep submitting your links - for any of the chapters - and I will certainly be reading them soon and writing a second post. 

Lastly, thanks to you all for your participation!!  It's been fascinating to read your different insights, and really given us all new ways to perceive the characters, their motives, and the story.  Honestly, I could go on for hours dissecting the character of Onegin alone.  Perhaps some future year we could have this read-along again.  :)

Solving 'How to Solve It'

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."

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

{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.