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Showing posts from September, 2012

Weekend Quote: Futility

"And if he finally burst through the outermost door—but that can never, never happen—the royal capital city, the centre of the world, is still there in front of him, piled high and full of sediment."
- Kafka, 'An Imperial Message' This is part of a much longer paragraph about futility.  What I love about this quote is how, despite the overwhelming impossibilities, Kafka still fervently describes what could be--and what could be is still full of impossibility, and so on and so on.  In this way, he portrays the mixed feelings of a sort of defeat very effectively.  

I'm going to read "In the Penal Colony" this week, and also impatiently waiting for a book of Kafka's complete short works from the library...

The Ladies' Paradise

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The Ladies' Paradise, one of my required books for history class, was my introduction to the author Émile Zola and his twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart series.  Apparently, this series may be read out-of-order, and indeed, The Ladies' Paradise works well as a standalone novel.  It is the eleventh installment and (according to Wiki) takes place in the 1860s.

Like a Dickens novel, this book encompasses the whole spectrum of society--in Paris, that is--from the wealthiest and most powerful, to the middle class, to the vulnerable and impoverished.  The Baudu siblings come to Paris to live with their uncle, only to find he has no work for them, as his drapery business is struggling to survive against the success of a giant shop across the street.  The Ladies' Paradise, run by Octave Mouret, is on the way to destroying every small, family business in this district of Paris, due to its new business methods and philosophy (including cheap prices).  Mouret chooses daring and sometimes …

Monstrous Societies

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© Brocken Inaglory
I haven't purposely adhered to the current "dystopian novel" trend, yet my three latest reads have all held striking elements of it.

First is the famous Utopia, a complete contradiction to its name.  This was a really bad book, to put it simply.  The fictitious island of Utopia is a society of Mary Sues, where everyone is so good and kind and noble-hearted.  It made me sick.  Not because I don't like nice people, but because these are phony, utterly unrealistic nice people.  Plus, they're not as nice as they look.  They think slavery and arranged families and shared houses are ok--well, not only ok, but just splendid.  The more I read, the more I noticed another disturbing trend: elderly guys are at the top, women and children (and slaves) are at the bottom.  Gerontocracy, I think.  Religion in Utopia is a bona fide mixing of faiths where everyone worships at the same church, and if your beliefs extend beyond a "one size fits all" worsh…

Character Thursday: Octave Mouret

I am three chapters into The Ladies' Paradise, by Émile Zola, and so far I love it.  Set in late-1800s Paris, it is about a clothing shop called the "Ladies' Paradise", which threatens to destroy all the other shops in the neighborhood with its business innovations, cheap prices, and unheard-of variety.  The shop is currently the brainchild of a man named Octave Mouret.

Usually, I prefer to talk about my favorite characters, but Mouret is so bad that he outshines all the other characters (most of whom are rather horrible as well).  This guy is an evil genius.  So brilliant, he can convert a nondescript corner of the neighborhood into a bright, clean, vibrant, mini shopping mall, creating jobs for hundreds of jobless people, including veterans.  So low, he would pretend to be a friend (and boyfriend) to women, simply to make business connections and improve his profits.  He is utterly shallow, and he encourages everyone around him to be the same.  Part of his power is …

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

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As hard as it has been to mentally distance myself from the Disney movie (an all-time favorite), Jules Verne's writing still has the power to leave me enthralled.  I've visited 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea all over again and found it to be a dark, Gothic, deep book (no pun intended).  Psychologically, perhaps the only other Verne novel that compares is his posthumously published work, Paris in the Twentieth Century.

The story is a simple one--three men are captured by a submarine captain, who calls himself Nemo (Latin for "no one").  Lest they tell the world the secrets of his life and technology, Nemo keeps Professor Aronnax and his friends as prisoners aboard the Nautilus, indefinitely.  Awed by all the underwater wonders they are shown, the professor and his assistant are not overly troubled by their imprisonment, but the harpooner Ned Land remains determined to escape, sooner or later.

"An underwater tour of the world" is a recurring phrase in this book, …

Nightmarish Utopia

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I believe Sir Thomas More meant well when he penned Utopia (1516), but it is quite possibly the worst book I have ever read.

Given the standard of living for the majority of human beings in the early 16th century, More's dream of a perfect nation must have sounded as idyllic as it gets.  Yet even so, 16th-century Europeans hardly lived sheltered lives.  By what reasoning, then, could More ever seriously imagine the existence of a Utopia, in either reality or fantasy?  In his world, all men have the will to be saints, and if not, then their angelic neighbors find the power to overcome all evils of society.  He speaks of shared gardens, and shared houses, and property that belongs to no one because it belongs to everyone.  He talks of quasi-elections and rulers for life, in the same breath.  Human nature, if it exists in Utopia, is easily kept in check by the noble ideals that all the citizens yearn for, as well as their continuous eagerness to work together.

I am far from finished w…

Weekend Quote: Sorrow

"Work is the best antidote to sorrow." - Sherlock Holmes, 'The Empty House'
This succinct quote has been in my head for some time.  In real life I heard someone say a variation of this, about this time last year, and then I experienced it myself.  One of the truest, most useful quotes from any book I've read. 

Character Thursday: Ned Land vs. Captain Nemo

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[It's not yet Thursday where I live, but I thought I would go ahead and post this.  :) ]

As I near the end of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, I realize one thing: I don't like book!Nemo.  And it is (partly) Herman Melville's fault.

Ever since I read Moby-Dick, I have had a huge admiration of, and appreciation for, whales.  I love whales.  Thus, when Captain Nemo decides to attack a pod of sperm whales--to even the odds for some weaker, baleen whales nearby--I had mixed feelings. 
   What a struggle! Ned Land quickly grew enthusiastic and even ended up applauding. Brandished in its captain's hands, the Nautilus was simply a fearsome harpoon. He hurled it at those fleshy masses and ran them clean through, leaving behind two squirming animal halves.At this point, I knew for sure this was horrible.  A little later on, Ned Land agrees, once again demonstrating the importance of common sense:
   The sea was covered with mutilated corpses. A fearsome explosion couldn't hav…