Showing posts from July, 2013

Two short reviews

In the past, I have written these in groups of four, but today I only have two books to review.  They each get 4 out of 5 stars, so perhaps there is still uniformity to this, after all? 

To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
It would seem I should have more to say about this book, but what can I say?  You probably know the entire synopsis with or without having read it before.  I enjoyed it, more than I expected.  The writing was more vivid than the plot, painting a complex examination of prejudice and tension that even the (excellent) movie could not evoke.  Atticus and Scout were deep characters.  The ending felt somehow disappointing after the intricate buildup, hence four stars.  But the journey, rather than the end, certainly makes it a worthy classic, so if you have procrastinated as I did, procrastinate no longer.

Notes on Life and Letters Joseph Conrad
I was reading this book for the longest time, I don't remember when I started it.  Goodreads says February.  Well, it isn…

Werther: Sorrows, Joys, and Other Sturm und Drang

Wilhelm deserves the reader's pity.  Not only is his name easily confused with the village of Wahlheim - a central location in Werther's tale - but his sole role is to play the long-suffering audience to Werther's letters of ecstasies, angst, and other sorrows.  Wilhelm listens attentively, offers his best advice to his friend, and ends his part in the story with a sense of utter helplessness and futility.  At least the audience is not alone.

Perhaps I was biased by having already known the plot of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's most famous novella, The Sorrows of Young Werther.  Even its German Romanticism, however, cannot save this book from 1 out of 5 stars.  The story centers around the title character, Werther, who is a head-in-the-clouds, rather obstinately unemployed young man, with the added misfortune of having fallen in love with a woman already engaged.  This would be Charlotte, whose fiance Albert even Werther cannot dislike, but simply envy.  Werther's fr…

Reading Tag

Saw this at Rosamund's blog Shoes of Paper ♥ Stockings of Buttermilk.  It looked fun, and I don't believe I've done it before - so here goes!

Do you snack while you read?  If so, favourite reading snack: 
I don't snack, but I drink tea!

What is your favourite drink while reading?
A nice large cup of tea. 

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? 
I still have my childhood horror of writing in books or bending pages (library books, you see).  What I do is use sticky notes to mark all the passages I want to remember - after I finish the book, I type up the parts worth remembering.

How do you keep your place while reading a book?  Bookmark?  Dog-ears?  Laying the book flat open?
Bookmarks!  Though when I was a child, I never used bookmarks; I would just set the book flat open, face down.  It was one of the few family rules I broke. 

Fiction, non-fiction, or both? 
Increasingly now, I enjoy both.  There was a phase in my early-…

Weekend Quote: Prison

At such times I felt something was drawing me away, and I kept thinking that if I walked straight on, far, far away and reached that line where sky and earth meet, there I should find the key to the mystery, there I should see a new life a thousand times richer and more turbulent than ours … But afterwards I thought one might find a wealth of life even in prison.

Dostoyevsky has been on the brain lately, which means his unhappy character Prince Myshkin is always in the background, too, somewhere.  I can understand his wish for "walking straight on" without stopping, trying to escape reality, his illness and eccentricity which separate him from the world.  It's the last line that makes it, though - finding life and liberty "even in prison."  And I think there is something even stronger than Stoicisim in those words, because he doesn't just say life, but a wealth of life.

Does Myshkin find this wealth in the prison of his life?  I don't know, but his d…

Meditations with Marcus Aurelius

Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of thy mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.

One of my methods of minimizing bias in my readings and reviews is to avoid introductions.  For Meditations (tr. by George Long), I made an exception since the biographical note was at the beginning and only a page long.  Naturally, learning that Marcus Aurelius (r. 161–180) persecuted Christians during his reign over Rome was something that inevitably altered my perspective.  (If anything, it turned out for the best, giving me a better understanding of and context for the book.)

Stoic philosophy has long interested me with its emphasis on mind and attitude vs. emotions and circumstances.  As I understand it, the overwhelming intent of Stoicism is the achievement of spiritual peace in the midst of physical/external turmoil, becoming mentally "uncontaminated by pleasure, unharmed by any pain, untouched by any insult, feeling no wrong . . . accepting with all his soul…

Notes from Underground

© Yanis Chilov [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
My introduction to Fyodor Dostoyevsky was through (surprise!) Crime and Punishment.  Unable to swallow its psychopathic elements, I gave up just when the story was picking up and could not, in fact, bring myself to finish it.  Fast-forward to summer/fall 2011 - I was taking History of Russia and the USSR, picked up The Idiot because it seemed timely, and found it almost as equally disturbing but vastly more fascinating than C&P.  Now, after several people have (independently of each other) inadvertently recommended him to me this year, I've returned to Dostoyevsky via Notes from Underground.

"I am a sick man.... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased."  The anonymous narrator's self-deprecatory sense of humor is strangely charming, at least initially.  A retired government official, he lives now in seclusion in the "Underground" (or underworld) of St. Petersburg…