Thursday, October 31, 2013

First thing at the office this morning, Bob excitedly asks me, "Are you a Hobbit?!?"

Always, Bob.  Always.  With or without the ears :)

31 Days of Books: Frankenstein

Hello lovelies!  In honor of our Halloween Plans, NT Live's encore screenings tonight, and in keeping with the spooky ending to my 31 Days project, I am pleased to offer you my final review: 

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Title:  Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

Author:  Mary Shelley

Published:  1818

Year I read it:  2011

One sentence summary:  The horrors of a student's obsession, extreme isolation, and each individual's quest for significance - Frankenstein is the ultimate story of monsters and men and meaning in an empirically demanding world.

Interesting fact: On a dark and stormy night, on the shores of Lake Geneva, Mary Godwin (later Shelley); her lover, Percy Shelley; and their friend, Lord Byron were discussing re-animation and reading German ghost stories when Byron suggested they each attempt their own "supernatural" tale.  That night, 18-year-old Mary began what we now know as Frankenstein.

Three reasons to read it:
  • This text is fundamental to the cultural shift into the Modern era.  It's a novel that looks to answer things strictly empirically - and that included examining an anthropogenic creation.
  • One of my favorite papers from college included a reading of this novel's stance on race, class, and gender.  It's a fascinating study!  Frankenstein creates a new breed - a Monster; the Creature examines several strata of classes, noting pointed issues with how people treat each other; and Shelley succeeds in creating a female-less dystopia by the end of the novel.  If you're interested in examining "The Other," or the oppressed, this would be a very good book to read.
  • The dialogues and debates toward the middle of the book ask profound philosophical questions.  As the Creature asks questions of his twisted creator, you can almost hear the tortured author asking questions of her Creator.
One reason you maybe shouldn't:  
  • For having reached such significant position on the canonical shelf, Shelley's writing is often unbearably sloppy.  The book jumps forms between epistolary, long sections, and chapters.  The sometimes 4-layered framed narrative is a fascinating technique, but isn't executed the best.  I remember reading the beginning and the diction bothering me so much, I said aloud, "You were the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft!  You were writing after Jane Austen, for goodness sake.  I know you were young, but you should be able to craft a better sentence than that!"  I still respect the book loads, but I can't forgive some of her "stylistic choices"
Great quotes:

“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.” 
“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!” 
"Listen to me, Frankenstein. You accuse me of murder; and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature. Oh, praise the eternal justice of man!” 
“Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. 'Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemlance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred."
[One of my favorite quotes on Oxford]  "The spirit of the elder days found a dwelling here, and we delighted to trace its footsteps."
"It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishments of my toils."
“How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than his nature will allow.” 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Secret:  I only get through fall but not listen to Christmas music by doubling up on 1) instrumentals and 2) choral music.

I do this almost instinctively now.  These are by no means new finds, but I've been returning to them a lot lately:

Here are just a few to help you with Christmas-music-cravings or Fall-chills or just because...

31 Days of Books: The Phantom of the Opera

Title:  The Phantom of the Opera

Author:  Gaston Leroux

Published:  1909 - 1910 (serial)

Year I read it:  2005

One sentence summary:  Christine Daae, daughter of a deceased, though still famous, concert violinist, is just a chorus girl for the Paris Opera until one day a voice offers to train her - could the voice be her father?

Interesting fact:  Once the serialization was published as a novel it was not successful and even went out of print several times throughout the 20th century.  Notable improvement in sales followed a 1925 film featuring Lon Chaney and, of course, the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical.

Three reasons to read it:
  • This is not the musical!  Andrew Lloyd Weber produced a very nice gothic romance based on a novel, but a la Beauty and the Beast.  Nor is it a bad-boy, good boy love-triangle.  Those depictions fail to capture the book.  I will borrow another goodreads reviewer's description of the phantom's "ugliness."  "[Being ugly] is the single defining characteristic of his entire life, his entire pathology. He is so abominably ugly that no one can look on his face and maintain their composure, so repulsive that even his own mother abandoned him in horror. In the book, he is described as looking like a corpse, a skeleton with skin rotting off the bones, with a gaping hole where his nose should be, and eyes so sunken into black sockets that they're invisible except when they glitter at you out of the darkness. This is not Gerard Butler with a bit of scarring. This is a visage from your nightmares."
  • That being said - the more repulsive the horror, the more astounding the redemption. The love Christine offers him is not the romantic sense she feels for the heroic Raoul, it is the acceptance the Phantom's mother never extended.
  • I don't think people should read books just because they're "classics," but there are "iconic" moments - from film, stage, books, paintings, etc. - these moments that, well, you owe it to yourself to experience first hand.  The cavern under Opera House, the chandelier, and several memorable frights - these are legendary for a reason.

One reason you maybe shouldn't:
  • This book is one of the scarier ones I've read.  When I read it, the majority of the time I was thinking "Every adaptation on film or on stage has lied to me!  There is no way to explain ____ or ____ or _____ if he isn't actually a phantom!!"  My experience directly following my finishing of the book might also have something to do with it... but that would need it's own post. 
Great quotes:

“I am the little boy who went into the sea to rescue your scarf” 

“All I wanted was to be loved for myself."

“If I am the phantom, it is because man's hatred has made me so. If I am to be saved it is because your love redeems me.” 

"Shall we pity him? Shall we curse him? He asked only to be 'some one,' like everybody else. But he was too ugly! And he had to hide his genius or use it to play tricks with, when, with an ordinary face, he would have been one of the most distinguished of mankind! He had a heart that could have held the entire empire of the world; and, in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar. Ah, yes, we must need pity the Opera ghost...”

31 Days of Books: Wieland

Well, because of Halloween, I thought I'd save some of the spookier books on my list for the end.  These novels aren't strictly horror - but at least uncanny.  But without further adieu...

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Title:  Wieland: or, The Transformation: An American Tale

Author:  Charles Brockden Brown

Published:  1798

Year I read it:  2009, 2011

One sentence summary:  An epistolary, gothic, Colonial-American novel, this is the tragic story penned by Clara Wieland, detailing her father and, later, brother's descent into religious fanaticism and of the voices they hear - voices from the divine, from madness, or from the strange, visiting Carwin?

Interesting fact:  Considered by many to be the first significant novel to be written and published in America.  Brown was the most successful American author until James Fenimore Cooper.

Three reasons to read it:

  • If you like mysteries or the gothic, you'd find this really interesting.  Unlike many late 18th English or American novels, this novel leaves several plot points open-ended.  [If you read it, or have read it, DO leave your spoilerific theories in the comments below]
  • Originally, Wieland was written more as a philosophical novel - to explore psychology, community-formation, and even as a commentary of the (then) newly constitutionalized America.  When I first came to it, it really surprised me that one of the original American novels was a philosophical "horror,"  but the more we studied it, the more it made sense.
  • I am not much one for epistolary novels (unfortunately, a majority of 18th C novels are epistolary), but the way Brown handled it, I wasn't so bothered by the epistolary form.  I actually found Clara Wieland to be a very strong, if unreliable, narrator.
One reason you maybe shouldn't:

  • I will admit to this being a bizarre story.  If you are familiar with the gothic, it makes a bit more sense, but, I mean, a character dies from spontaneous combustion [to be fair - Dickens used this to explain a character's death over 50 years later].  It is a strange plot, but having read it now twice, I appreciate it's eccentricities. 

Great quotes:

My narrative may be invaded by inaccuracy and confusion; but if I live no longer, I will, at least, live to complete it. What but ambiguities, abruptnesses, and dark transitions, can be expected from the historian who is, at the same time, the sufferer of these disasters?
Presently, I considered, that whether Wieland was a maniac, a faithful servant of his God, the victim of hellish illusions, or the dupe of human imposture, was by no means certain.

Monday, October 28, 2013

31 Days of Books: To Kill a Mockingbird

Title:  To Kill a Mockingbird

Author:  Harper Lee

Published:  1960

Year I read it:  2005

One sentence summary:  "Scout" Finch, a young tomboy, is growing up in southern Alabama when her father, attorney Atticus Finch, decides, against town sentiments, to represent a black man accused of raping a white girl, giving Scout and her brother, Jem, a harsh introduction to prejudices, racism, and misconstrued "justice."

Interesting fact:  In December of 1956, author & producer Michael Brown gave Harper Lee a gift: a year's worth of wages with a note that said, "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas."  She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird - the only novel she published. [I think this is one of the best Christmas presents I've ever heard of, and I think we all owe him a  "Thank You" note.]

Three reasons to read it:
  • Atticus Finch - without a doubt, one of the greatest fathers in print (or on screen).  He represents so much of what a father should be: patient, caring, and modeling virtues like true justice to his children.
  • This book is offers a hard, but significant perspective on racism.  Lee based much of Scout's view on what her own childhood was like, growing up surrounded by racial prejudice, but just emerging to realize how wrong it was.
  • Like I mentioned with Room, Lee finds a way to address a very difficult subject by approaching it from a child's point-of-view.  In doing so, she causes her audience to dial back into each person's innate sense of justice.  It's a very powerful technique.

One reason you maybe shouldn't:
  • Not appropriate for very young children, but above 13 or so, highly recommended!
Great quotes:

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."

“The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.”  

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” 

"Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”  

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of (another)... There are just some kind of men who - who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.” 

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.” 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

31 Days of Books: The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

Today's was a last minute change.  Most of the others were planned in advance, but I thought, "this deserves a day."  And as I thought more, I realized, yes, I said "books," but we need a poem in this little anthology.  So, today's 31 post...

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Title:  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Author:  TS Eliot

Published:  1917

Year I read it:  2012

One sentence summary:  In this profound, Modernist poem, the young Eliot personifies the aging & intensely indecisive Prufrock musing on his life and on an "overwhelming question."

Interesting fact(s):  It's not a love song.  CS Lewis hated the intro.  It's one of Eliot's few rhyming poems.  

Three reasons to read it:

  • It's much shorter, more accessible, and more delightful than The Wasteland.  I found that it was a good intro into Eliot's perspective before tackling The Wasteland.  Also, I'm not a huge poetry buff, but this one has fascinated me since the day I read it.
  • This poem was written and published during the Great War, just before Modernism exploded onto the scene.  It's very insightful into some of the frustrations and questions plaguing artists at the time.
  • You will find references.  You will want to reference it.  This is a very quotable poem.  It's like an erudite version of Dr. Seuss.  
One reason you maybe shouldn't:

  • It's far, far easier than the Wasteland, but still one of the most intertextual poems ever - so find a version with lots of explanatory notes.

Great quotes:
Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the skyLike a patient etherised upon a table;Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,The muttering retreatsOf restless nights in one-night cheap hotelsAnd sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:Streets that follow like a tedious argumentOf insidious intentTo lead you to an overwhelming question...Oh, do not ask "What is it?"Let us go and make our visit.[Opening lines]
There will be time, there will be timeTo prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet...Time for you and time for me,And time yet for a hundred indecisions,And for a hundred visions and revisions,Before the taking of a toast and tea.
Do I dareDisturb the universe?
For I have known them all already, known them all:--Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,And in short, I was afraid.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

31 Days of Books: Tale of Two Cities

Title:  Tale of Two Cities

Author:  Charles Dickens

Published:  1854

Year I read it:  2004, 2006

One sentence summary:  The classic novel of the French Revolution; of doppelgangers; of family devotion, betrayal, and shame; and of the relation of two cities: London and Paris.

Interesting fact:  Dickens's only historical fiction novel. 

Three reasons to read it:

  • If you, like me, think Dickens is a bit heavy-handed in his symbolism and caricatures and length, etc... Let me assure you, this book is better than most.  [It's like Spielberg's Lincoln - he seems to have stepped back enough to let the characters breathe and fill the space he's created.]
  • Sydney Carton.  No, I'm not just fangirling.  I may have a thing for complex, quasi-scoundrelly protagonists.  But it's not just that.  Sydney is genuinely amazing.  He's brilliant creation and he makes the rest of this story work.
  • This is one of those books that you have to trust that the author is weaving a web of plots and that they will somehow connect in the end.  Dickens does a fabulous job of bringing all his threads together for a spectacular climax - no loose ends, no characters wasted. 

One reason you maybe shouldn't:

  • Being that it's Dickens, there are still (in my opinion) the issue of the weak-or-evil-female conundrum. 

Great quotes:

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” 
“I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” 
"Oh, you will let me hold your brave hand, stranger?""Hush! Yes, my poor sister; to the last.”

31 Days of Books: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Title:  The Scarlet Pimpernel

Author:  Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Published:  1905

Year I read it:  2004

One sentence summary:  Dazzling, French, former-actress Marguerite St. Just seems to be enjoying her socialite life but is privately distant and bored with her aristocrat English husband, Percy Blakeney, until one day she is threatened by a French investigator and pulled into the hunt for the elusive "Scarlet Pimpernel" - an agent smuggling French aristocrats to safety during the reign of terror.

Interesting fact:  While the "Scarlet Pimpernel" seems to be inspired by the Sherlock Holmes-type of costume and out-witting people, his character in turn inspired the "secret identities" of many of our recognized heroes, like Bruce Wayne's alter-ego, Batman.

Three reasons to read it:
  • Mystery - Baroness Orczy does a good job of weaving and then unraveling the mystery of what's going on and who's who.
  • Action - with high stakes, both socially and personally, these characters cut some close calls, and it makes for some wonderful action.
  • Romance - at it's heart, this is really a beautiful romance story!

One reason you maybe shouldn't:
  • Being one herself,  it is very apparent that Orczy deeply sympathizes with the aristocracy.  Some authors do a better job of keeping a balanced approach, acknowledging the fact that there were gross injustices leading up to the French Revolution.
Great quotes:

“She said nothing, and Sir Andrew, too, was silent, yet those two young people understood one another, as young people have a way of doing all the world over, and have done since the world began.” 

"Her love for him had been paltry and weak, easily crushed by her own pride”  

“Had she but turned back then, and looked out once more on to the rose-lit garden, she would have seen that which would have made her own sufferings seem but light and easy to bear--a strong man, overwhelmed with his own passion and despair. Pride had given way at last, obstinacy was gone: the will was powerless. He was but a man madly, blindly, passionately in love and as soon as her light footstep had died away within the house, he knelt down upon the terrace steps, and in the very madness of his love he kissed one by one the places where her small foot had trodden, and the stone balustrade, where her tiny hand had rested last.”  [ah! one of the most romantic passages ever!!]

Friday, October 25, 2013

31 Days of Books: Hunchback of Notre Dame

Title:  Hunchback of Notre-Dame, or Notre-Dame de Paris

Author:  Victor Hugo

Published:  1831

Year I read it:  2005

One sentence summary:  Hugo's classic tale of love vs. list, inward vs. outward beauty, appearance vs. fact - the Hunchback of Notre-Dame tells the Gothic Romance of the detested hunchback Quasimodo, the mysterious Gypsy Esmerelda, the dark priest Claude Frolo, and of how all their lives interconnect.  

Interesting fact:

Three reasons to read it:
  • You can't beat Hugo's language - it's cadence, it's poignancy.  His words just soar. 
    Through the eyes of several different characters in search of it, Hugo's fleshes out what love is and what it looks like.
  • If you're not up for Les Miserables, try a 500-page Hugo.  No, it's not the same.  It's not as epic.  But it is still amazing!
  • Gorgeous ending!!  Another fantastic - tragic, but fantastic - ending.

One reason you maybe shouldn't: 
  • "A Bird's Eye View of Paris."  It's a chapter in the middle of the book with no characters and no dialogue - just a meticulous tour of 15th century Paris.  I hate to admit this, but this is the first and only chapter from a classic that I've completely skipped.  [désolé, Monsieur Hugo!]
Great quotes:

“Nothing makes a man so adventurous as an empty pocket."

“Love is like a tree: it grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin. The inexplicable fact is that the blinder it is, the more tenacious it is. It is never stronger than when it is completely unreasonable.” 

“Spira, spera."  ["Breathe, hope."]

31 Days of Books: Heart of Darkness

Title:  Heart of Darkness

Author:  Joseph Conrad

Published:  1902

Year I read it:  2010, 2011

One sentence summary:  Allegorical on so many levels, this novella relays the story of Charles Marlow's journey up the Congo river and of Kurtz, the man he meets there.

Interesting fact:  When Conrad decided to become an author, he had to choose to write in Polish (his native tongue), French, or English.  He chose English.

[Bonus fact:  Yes, this novella is the basis for Apocalypse Now.]

Three reasons to read it:
  • When I was first reading this book, I wasn't enjoying it too much until at one point, I was talking to my brother, and I realized the deep intertextuality in this little novella.  My favorite is an ongoing parallel with the Aeneid, the white man stopping in Africa on the way to his own European empire - there are several specific references with the death of the helmsman, Kurtz's  African Mistress, etc.  Anway - that's just one example!
  • This book offers a very interesting perspective.  Some argue that Conrad was racist and helped establish stereotypes.  While some of that may be true, he does bring to attention the many "horrors" of colonialism. 
  • This is one of the best examples of framed narrative.  It's use is both masterful and significantly adds to the storytelling.  For instance, it makes the retelling of the narrative dream-like.  This is random, but I have a theory that Heart of Darkness helped inspire Inception.  Marlow compares his story to a dream multiple times - "It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream..." “We live as we dream--alone....” "I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice."  The plots of both stories turn (if you'll pardon the pun) on an idea left open-ended [the spinning top, and "the horror!"].  I will have to develop the theory more fully in another post... but I promise - it's trippy!

One reason you maybe shouldn't: 
  • This is a hard book.  One of the harder ones I've read.  It's only 70 pages long, but the first time I read it, I had such a hard time making out what was going on.
Great quotes:

“And this also," said Marlow suddenly, "has been one of the dark places of the earth.”  [First lines of dialogue - he's referencing London colonized by the Romans]

"No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream--alone.”

"The intimate profundity of that look he gave me when he received his hurt remains to this day in my memory--like a claim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment."  [Marlow on the death of his African Helmsman] 

“the mind of man is capable of anything--because everything is in it, all the past as well as the future”

“I think the knowledge came to him at last — only at the very last. But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude — and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating.

"The horror!  The horror!"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

31 Days of Writing: To the Lighthouse

Title:  To the Lighthouse

Author:  Virginia Woolf

Published:  1927

Year I read it:  2012

One sentence summary:  In this stream-of-consciousness, autobiographical novel,  Woolf tells the story of the Ramsay family and their artist-friends and of their visits to the Isle of Skye between 1910 and 1920.

Interesting fact:  Woolf felt haunted by memories of her parents until she started this novel and finished it very rapidly.  She wrote this novel, in part, to understand her parents better; and afterwards never sensed the haunting again.

Three reasons to read it:

  • If you are wary of Virginia Woolf, modernism, stream-of-conciousness, or all three (as I was), this is a rather good place to start.  [I preferred it to Mrs. Dalloway - gasp!]
  • Woolf's language is stunning!  She's writing prose as poetry or poetry as prose or something really amazing with bits of philosophy & psychology thrown in.  I enjoyed her language immensely!
  • Interactions between the characters struck me as rather universal - wives and husband, children and fathers, the misunderstood and socially awkward nerd, the female artist being told her work in some way doesn't count.  They're people I've seem to have met - or seem to have been.

One reason you maybe shouldn't:

  • Woolf can be hard to grasp.  There's so much in there - but it's fun trying!
Great quotes:

To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.

Never did anybody look so sad. Bitter and black, halfway down, in the darkness, in the shaft which ran from the sunlight to the depths, perhaps a tear formed; a tear fell; the waves swayed this way and that, received it, and were at rest. Never did anybody look so sad. 
What is the meaning of life? That was all—a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.
It seemed to her such nonsense-inventing differences, when people, heaven knows, were different enough without that.

Monday, October 21, 2013

31 Days of Books: A Severe Mercy

Title:  A Severe Mercy

Author:  Sheldon Vanauken

Published: 1977

Year I read it:  2012

One sentence summary:  Vanauken's autobiographical narrative of the deep love he and his wife developed; their adventures all around the world, leading them to Oxford; their journey into faith, with the help of Oxfordian friend, "Jack" Lewis; and of their loss, the severe mercy.

Interesting fact:  It contains 18 of Vanauken's letters from C. S. Lewis.

Three reasons to read it:

  • This is honest-to-goodness one of the best love stories I've ever read!  The depth, the romance produced from self-sacrifice (and common love for literature), is just astounding.  And it's so refreshing to hear a romance from the man's perspective!  Loved that beginning.
  • Oxford!  This book captures Oxford of the '50's - which really hasn't changed much.  See below for some of the best explanations of life in that University town.
  • The pain Vanauken goes through - and the faith with which he faces tragedy - are far more than "tear-jerking" or "heart-breaking."  None of those cliche's will do.  This book touches something far deeper.

One reason you maybe shouldn't:

  • It has very, very sad parts.
Great quotes:

Love is the final reality; and anyone who does not understand this, be he writer or sage, is a man flawed of wisdom.
We saw self as the ultimate danger to love, which it is.
Coming to England was like coming home, coming to a home half-remembered - but home.
"That's what Oxford is, a place to talk about everything..."
"This, you know, is a time of taking in--taking in friendship, conversation, gaiety, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, holiness--and later, well, there'll be a time of giving out... Now we must store up the strength, the riches all that Oxford had given us, to sustain us after.  She stood there, Oxford, like a mother to us all with her hands heaped with riches."
I tended, indeed, to feel that God Himself dwelt in Oxford, His holy city, where He could hear the bells.
He had been wont to despise emotions: girls were weak, emotions–tears– were weakness. But this morning he was thinking that being a great brain in a tower, nothing but brain, wouldn’t be much fun. No excitement, no dog to love, no joy in the blue sky– no feelings at all. But feelings– feelings are emotions! He was suddenly overwhelmed by the revelation that what makes life worth living is, precisely, the emotions. But then– this was awful!– maybe girls with their tears and laughter were getting more out of life. Shattering! He checked himself, showing one’s emotions was not the thing: having them was. Still, he was dizzy with the revelation. What is beauty but something is responded to with emotion? Courage, at least, is partly emotional. All the splendour of life. But if the best of life is, in fact, emotional, then one wanted the highest, the purest emotions: and that meant joy. Joy was the highest. How did one find joy? In books it was found in love– a great love… So if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have it, if he could find it, in great love. But in the books again, great joy through love always seemed go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still, the joy would be worth the pain– if indeed, they went together. If there were a choice– and he suspected there was– a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he, for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths.

Jon Acuff started a new blog today... and he's really speaking to where I'm at.  Check it out.

I may be wrong, but I'm hearing from a few of us who, for one reason or another, are re-attempting dreams.  And that is exciting.  And that is scary.

The truth is that as scary as the blank page might be, the harder thing to deal with is the one you've already drawn on. 

That page is covered with marks and mistakes

There is history there.

There are scribbles and lines and cross outs...
[But you also know] that something fun is going to happen, that the best concerts always have encores, that tomorrow always starts the day after today.
There are new stories to tell.

There are new adventures to have.

There are new mountains to climb.

... Today is a second chapter.
- Jon Acuff

Sunday, October 20, 2013

31 Days of Books: Surprised by Oxford

I missed yesterday's!  But I promise I'll make it up.

If you want to read some funny stories connected to me and today's book, you can read about them here and here.

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Title:  Surprised by Oxford

Author:  Carolyn Weber

Published:  2011

Year I read it:  2011

One sentence summary:  In the memoir of her first year of grad school studying English at Oxford, Weber recalls her journey into new realms of academia, relationships, and faith.

Interesting fact:  My cousin had the author as a professor and I found this out only after she had moved - missed connection. 

Three reasons to read it:

  • You want to talk about intertextuality?  Weber, now a lit professor, weaves her story with marvelous connections to famous authors, beautiful passages, and a load of U2 lyrics.  It's a beautiful read for any fellow bibliophile.
  • While reading this book, I walked into my mom's room and said, "Mom, I have a problem.  I'm falling in love with a guy in a book.  And he's not fictional.  And he's not dead."  All that to say, the romance in this book is a delight!  And the fact that it takes place in Oxford doesn't hurt...
  • It is so refreshing to hear of an intellectual's journey of faith.  Weber gets vulnerable, sharing about her wrestling through skepticism, feminism, and a host of other things.  I loved reading about her wrestling and the revelation she got through it.

One reason you maybe shouldn't:

  • I really can't think of any detractors for this one.  Highly recommend it!
Great quotes:

"Even Oxford's infrastructure was conducive to contemplation, revelation. Its walls seemed infused with mystery... It was tempting to think that resting my head against htis stony chest would betray a heartbeat, or by putting my ear to this shell, I could hear the distant but undeniable advancing and then retreating of whispered wisdom." 
"Life is messy. Life is beatuiful and terrible and messy. So why would we expect a faith in this life that is easy to understand?" 
"Any student of literature knows that metaphor is far more precise than the literal..." 
"Books become alive not only when read, but when shared..."
"A happy ending makes up for a lot."

"Dead authors really do make the best friends."
I just found this post from 1.16.12.  The day after the fall.

It's been nearly 2 years and it still hurts.

Friday, October 18, 2013

31 Days of Books: Manalive

Title:  Manalive

Author:  GK Chesterton  [You didn't think I could leave him out of this, did you?]

Published:  1912

Year I read it:  2011

One sentence summary:  The odd and enthusiastic Innocent Smith arrives at a London boarding house full of disillusioned modernists; but after the stir he causes in the cause to improve his fellow tenants, he is arrested and charged with burglary, polygamy, and attempted murder, turning the boarding house into the trial of Innocent.

Interesting fact:  Chesterton was friends and philosophical adversaries with George Bernard Shaw, author of Pygmalion.

Three reasons to read it:

  • Chesterton is all about paradox - and this book is full of them!  I won't spoil the ending, but let's just say that Innocent is himself a paradox.
  • If you need a reminder of the delight of the little things, this would be a great book to read.  There are so many moments we moderns/post-moderns take for granted that the author recognizes and celebrates.
  • This novel is witty and funny and perfectly Chesterton.  [Don't tell anyone, but I actually preferred this to Man Who Was Thursday]

One reason you maybe shouldn't:

  • It is very obviously and intentionally a parable.

Great quotes:

“I don't deny," he said, "that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say that at certain strange epochs it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet.”  

“This man's spiritual power has been precisely this, that he has distinguished between custom and creed. He has broken the conventions, but he has kept the commandments.”

“Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.”

“I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him–only to bring him to life.”

Thursday, October 17, 2013

31 Days of Books: Ender's Game

Title:  Ender's Game

Author:  Orson Scott Card

Published:  1985

Year I read it: 2013

One sentence summary:  Aliens have twice attacked the Earth and now 6-year-old Andrew "Ender" Wiggin has been selected as humanity's greatest chance of defense and survival - the only question is: can he survive the training?

Interesting fact:  Originally published as a short story in 1977, the Ender's series now contains 12 books, several collections of short stories, and Card is still fleshing out the "Enderverse." 

Three reasons to read it:

  • What I expected?  An 80's sci-fi story aimed at 14-year-old boys.  What I got?  An extremely thought provoking, gripping book that delved into philosophy, psychology, sibling rivalry, human fears, loneliness, otherness, and empathy.  The point is, you might not be into sci-fi but trust me that this book transcends sci-fi!
  • Battle school is the Hogwarts of space!  The games, the maneuvers, the teams, the loyalty, the enemies, the teachers - when written well, I think stories about schools like this one can be some of the most insightful (if perhaps slightly over-simplified) to our daily lives.
  • Card knows how to write!  The pacing and cadence of his writing is so good, and the character of Ender Wiggin - just wow!
[Bonus reason:  Film adaptation coming out November 1st!]

One reason you maybe shouldn't: 

  • Some have complained about the ending, that it veers in a new direction or doesn't feel cohesive... I actually appreciated the ending, but some have objected.
Great quotes:
[Opening line]  “I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one.”  
“Everything we do means something.  Them laughing.  Me not laughing. He toyed with the idea of trying to be like the other boys. But he couldn't think of any jokes, and none of theirs seemed funny. Wherever their laughter came from, Ender couldn't find such a place in himself. He was afraid and fear made him serious.”  
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.... I destroy them.”  
“Humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant on its behalf.”
“Remember, the enemy's gate is down."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

31 Days of Books: History of Love

I've talked about this book a lot, so I thought I should give it a proper review.   It will also be forever connected, in my mind, to yesterday's book because I read them in an Honor's Seminar on "Memory, Emotion, Space, and Place" - in which my final paper was on how the human mind copes when lacking interpersonal relationships... anyway, it was a very interesting class and these two books are very dear to me because of it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Title:  History of Love

Author:  Nicole Krauss

Published:  2005

Year I read it: 2011

One sentence summary:  A "beautifully sad," multiple-narrator novel about an aged and lonely holocaust survivor named Leopold Gursky and the lives his writing unknowingly changed--including his own.

Interesting fact:  Krauss incorporates Bruno Schulz's Street of Crocodiles in her novel, a book which her husband, fellow NYT-bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer, literally carved up to form a new book, Tree of Codes.

Three reasons to read it:
  •  Leopold Gursky.  He remains one of my favorite characters - romantic, tragic, comic.  I love his grumpy self.  And his writing... his writing is like a romantic poet's, but without being pretentious; it's like a post-modern's without being depressing.
  • This is a writer's mystery novel - working out the tangles Krauss has woven takes 4 narrators and several intriguing twists.  [After reading this for class, my professor had us each create a chronological sequence of events - only a few people were accurate, and I didn't pick up everything until a read-through] 
  • This book is "beautifully sad" in a remarkable way.  It somehow is both happy and sad, but, overall, extremely satisfying.  Krauss's language, intertextuality, and symbolism is really lovely.
One reason you maybe shouldn't:
  • Some adult content.
Great quotes:

"All I want is not to die on a day when I went unseen."

 When I saw a Starbucks I went in and bought a coffee because I felt like a coffee, not because I wanted anyone to notice me. Normally I would have made a big production, Give me a Grande Vente, I mean a Tall Grande, Give me a Chai Super Vente Grande, or do I want a Short Frappe? and then, for punctuation, I would've had a small mishap at the milk station. Not this time. I poured the milk like a normal person, a citizen of the world, and sat down in an easy chair across from a man reading the newspaper. I wrapped my hands around the coffee. The warmth felt good. The next table over there was a girl with blue hair leaning over a notebook and chewing on a ballpoint pen, and at the table next to her was a little boy in a soccer uniform sitting with his mother who told him, The plural of elf is elves. A wave of happiness came over me. It felt giddy to be part of it all. To be drinking a cup of coffee like a normal person. I wanted to shout: The plural of elf is elves! What a language! What a world!

“Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle. Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field, from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, and they parted with leaves in their hair.
Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” 

“there are two types of people in the world: those who prefer to be sad among others, and those who prefer to be sad alone.” 
"When will you learn that there isn't a word for everything?"

"Life is a thing of beauty and a joy forever."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

31 days of Books: Room

Title:  Room

Author:  Emma Donoghue

Published: 2010

Year I read it:  2011

One sentence summary:  Five-year-old Jack doesn't know why his world consists of one 8' x 12' Room; he doesn't know if anything besides Room and his Mom and Nic, the man who only comes in at night, even exists; and he doesn't know if he could ever escape the comfort and captivity of Room.

Interesting fact:  The entire book is told from the 1st person, present tense perspective of Jack. 

Three reasons to read it:
  • This is a harrowing story.  But the author addresses a dark and brutal and terrifying existence from the perspective of a 5 year old - and Jack's narrative is sweet, even while it is heartbreaking.  Overall, he makes this difficult story palatable. 
  • 1st person present narrative - this amps up the suspense of a novel exponentially! [E.g. The Hunger Games]  When the character is speaking in present tense vs. past - you don't know if they survive.  The narrative could end abruptly at the end of the book - or in the middle in the case of multiple narrators.  It creates a very powerful page-turner.
  • While this story is fictional, there are far too many real-life cases of captivity and abuse. This narrative gave me a deeper level of empathy with the victims and survivors of tragedies like this one.

One reason you maybe shouldn't:
  • At times this book is very intense and contains adult content.

Great quotes:

[Opening lines] Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracabadra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. “Was I minus numbers?”

We have thousands of things to do every morning, like give Plant a cup of water in Sink for no spilling, then put her back on her saucer on Dresser. Plant used to live on Table but God's face burned a leaf of her off. She has nine left, they're the wide of my hand with furriness all over, like Ma says dogs are. But dogs are only TV. I don't like nine. I find a tiny leaf coming, I've seen her two times, that counts as ten.  

Ma knows everything except the things she doesn't remember right, or sometimes she says I'm too young for her to explain a thing. 

When I tell her what I'm thinking and she tells me what she's thinking, our each ideas jump into our other's head, like coloring blue crayon on top of yellow that makes green. 

"Scared is what you're feeling," says Ma, "but brave is what you're doing...Scaredybrave."
"Stories are a different kind of true."

Monday, October 14, 2013

31 days of Books: Picture of Dorian Gray

Today marks the half-way point of my 31 days project (I started 9/30) - yippee!  Thank you all for reading and commenting.  There's pretty much nothing that makes me happier than other people reading a book I love!  So, thank you all :)
Also, (more to come on this, but) this weekend I got to see a first edition copy of today's book - autographed by the author!  Oh my word!!

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Title:  The Picture of Dorian Gray

Author:  Oscar Wilde

Published:  1890

Year I read it:  2011

One sentence summary:  Corrupted Dorian Gray has a portrait that mutates and warps to show the state of his soul, while physically he gets to remain young, rich, and handsome.

Interesting fact:  Wilde's only novel.

Three reasons to read it:

  • The prologue [see below].  I don't agree with all these statements.  I don't even like all of these statements.  But I love that Wilde compiled these statements!  They move me to think about what art is and what power it has.
  • The story is a classic and I hear it alluded to all the time.  I was recently in a business meeting where one of the younger professionals scolded everyone else for not getting a reference from it.  I nodded in agreement.
  • The novel is intriguingly autobiographical.  Wilde himself later referred to this book when reflecting on his own life.  

One reason you maybe shouldn't:

  • Dorian Gray sleeps around, steals, murders and is in general a very corrupt, tragic figure.  Be forewarned.

Great quotes: [several of which I don't support... they're just Wilde being witty]

“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” 
“I am too fond of reading books to care to write them.”  
“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” 
“Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.” 

The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things. 
The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. 
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty. 
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. 
The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. 
The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.  
The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.  
No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.  
No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.  
No artist is ever morbid.  
The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.  
From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.  
All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.  
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.  
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.  
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. 
All art is quite useless.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

31 Days of Books: Oedipus Tyrannus

Title: Oedipus Tyrannus (or Oedipus Rex, for those who prefer Latin)

Author:  Sophocles

Published:  C. 429 BC

Year I read it:  2005, 2011

One sentence summary:  Thebes is suffering from plague as a consequence of King Oedipus's unwittingly and unknown self-fulfilled prophecy that he will murder his father and sleep with his mother.

Interesting fact:  While the trilogy this play was a part of did not take home 1st prize at the City Dionysia, since Aristotle it has been considered the greatest of the Greek tragedies.

Three reasons to read it:

  • It's not just Aristotle - this play is widely considered one of the best written plays of all time.
  • Sophocles goes to great lengths to heighten dramatic irony within the play and, in so doing, he creates nail-biting suspense.  This obviously makes him the precursor and inspiration for the dramatic irony in Shakespeare.  [By the way, for more incredible dramatic irony, read Seneca's Phaedra - SO good!]
  • This is one of the greatest classics and it's short - only 65 pages.  It's also a remarkably accessible play if you're just entering (or re-entering the classics).  I personally recommend this translation.

One reason you maybe shouldn't:

  • It is about a man who's murdered his father and slept with his mother.  I must clarify that he didn't do either intentionally or knowingly, but it is the central conflict of the play.

Great quotes:

"No river is great enough, not the Danube, 
Not the Phasis, to wash this house clean.
So deep is the stain of evil here. 
Soon it will come to light:
The worst pain is self-chosen, deliberate."

"How dreadful the knowledge of the truth can be 
When there’s no help in truth.” 

“How terrible-- to see the truth when the truth is only pain to him who sees!”