Showing posts from January, 2018

Wednesday Quote: Souls

“I wish we could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances. There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly, and even appreciate more clearly, if we simply thought of them as people in a story.”A great Chesterton quote from a book of his I've yet to read (What I Saw in America).  It is easy enough to view people through the narrow lens of our interactions with them, but to view them in the context of their own life story is another thing.

She - A Classic, or a Trendy Tale of Obsession?

If the title brings to mind a song by the classic tenor Charles Aznavour, you wouldn't be far off from the theme of H. Rider Haggard's book.  The song's tender, yet at times worshipful lyrics could be one way to describe the "spell" which She, Ayesha, inspires in those who are privileged (or cursed) to look upon her unveiled face.  As might be expected, those who do so find their lives bound to hers, and, like a drug, she compels them to love her, in spite of her unpleasant ways.

But let's start at the beginning.  It's the late 19th century, and young Leo Vincey learns from his adoptive father Horace Holly that he is heir to a special family heirloom, comprised chiefly of an ancient piece of pottery.  The pottery is covered in writing, which tells a grim tale of Leo's ancient ancestor, Kallikrates, being lusted after and then murdered by a mysterious, white sorceress, who lives in Africa.  Kallikrates' wife urges her descendants to seek out Ayesha …

She...Who Must Be Obeyed! - Episode 11

An ancient family heirloom - and a mother's call for vengeance - sends young Leo Vincey and his adoptive father on a quest to find a mysterious sorceress, Ayesha, or She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.  In this episode, I review H. Rider Haggard's She, a novel which influenced the fantasy of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

Sources / Further Reading:
How to Pronounce Ayesha? (Sci-Fi StackExchange discussion)
Biography of H. Rider Haggard
"The Annexation of the Transvaal" (The Spectator archives) - Haggard directly participated in this political event.
"Fawcett's Deadly Idol"
Article on Percy Fawcett's disappearance (The History Channel)
The Lost City of Z, by David Grann - My parents read and were fascinated by this nonfictional story of Percy Fawcett and his obsession with lost cities.  We also watched the movie by the same name, but it wasn't very well done... skip it and go straight to the book!

Friday Thoughts: Do You Write in Books?

Recently I found these wonderful page/line markers at the local Daiso.  For those unfamiliar with Daiso, it's a Japanese $1.50 store (only in a few U.S. states, unfortunately).  They're just the right amount of sticky to be reusable but not damaging to paper.  I've found these work great for marking lines in a book that I want to return to later.

This method of line-marking has been my habit for quite a few years now, but sometimes I wonder if I'm missing out on something by being so careful.  Is it important to keep books looking pristine, or is part of the reading experience lost by not writing notes in books?

When I was a kid, I grew up on library books and family books, so being careful was ingrained in me.  I remember one particular horror story (to my perceptions, anyway) of my mom lending a book to someone and the book being returned in, shall we say, lesser condition.  I really intended all my own books to last forever, including paperbacks, and I was going to do…

Wednesday Quote: Independence

"The sea doesn't belong to tyrants. On its surface they can still exercise their iniquitous claims, battle each other, devour each other, haul every earthly horror. But thirty feet below sea level, their dominion ceases, their influence fades, their power vanishes! Ah, sir, live! Live in the heart of the seas! Here alone lies independence! Here I recognize no superiors! Here I'm free!"A memorable scene from a science-fiction classic, Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  This is the excellent F. P. Walter translation, which you can find on Project Gutenberg.

That said, I actually prefer the more succinct version of this quote from the 1954 Disney movie.  James Mason's suave, measured enunciation brings out the introspective side of Nemo here and less of the passionate (though that he demonstrates elsewhere in the film). 

"Think of it. On the surface there is hunger and fear. Men still exercise unjust laws. They fight and tear one anothe…

The Sound and the Fury: Meeting Faulkner

Every so often (e.g. while watching Jeopardy!), I get a reality check and remember there are so many classics I haven't yet read.  As with geography, there are whole regions of classics that are entirely unfamiliar to me, or only half-explored.  This year I've taken a step in the right direction by reading an author brand-new to me, and that author is William Faulkner.

Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury is one of his most beloved novels, and it seemed like a good choice for a newbie.  The story describes the decaying fortunes of the Compson family, once prestigious Southern landowners who now live in dwindling esteem in the 1920s.  What they have left to their name is essentially a whole lot of problems: a sickly, haughty mother, an aloof father, and four children with varying degrees of affection for each other and their parents.  Intermingled with these character sketches is a twisted and troubling drama of hatred, violence, abuse, and racial prejudice.  In Faulkner's …

First Impressions - William Faulkner - Episode 10

In this episode, we meet William Faulkner through one of his most famous novels, The Sound and the Fury.

Faulkner Pronouncing "Yoknapatawpha"

Friday Thoughts: Building Bridges with Books

If you're reading this, it's probably Saturday already.  Being on the West Coast, I have a couple of hours of Friday left, so... "Friday Thoughts" it is.

There has been so much sad news lately.  The Puget Sound area lost a police officer last week, and this week was his memorial.  Through my job, I help and have met many emergency responders, so the loss feels personal.  There's also the fatalities of the flu season...I can't help but worry for the health of my family and friends.  Even the Hawaiian "missile alert" last Saturday was sobering (though joked about), because people believed it.  As usual, I'm very excited for the Winter Olympics - it's one of my favorite TV events - but I'm also uneasy; is something political going to happen, like last time?

To combat these morbid thoughts, I'm striving to appreciate what I have right now and not get hung up on trivialities.

One thing I want very much to do is maintain the bridges in my lif…

Wednesday Quote: Life

"Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable."I've always found this famous Sherlock Holmes quote to be very true.  The most memorable fiction tends to be based somehow on real life - most often tragedies, but also miracles and heroisms. 

In the last few years, I actually find it increasingly difficult to read fiction, just because I've finally experienced events and met people that make fiction pale in comparison.  I hope never …

The Prince - A Study in Expediency

Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite. Through much of the first half of Niccolò Machiavelli'sThe Prince, I did not understand the reason so much malevolence is associated with the author's name.  The first seventeen chapters come across as a detailed guide or manual to being a successful ruler.  Machiavelli initially comes across as pretty fair-minded for his time; he gives examples of successful princes, discusses soldiering much in the vein of Sun Tzu (he would later write his own The Art of War), and even admonishes…

The Reviewer's Dilemma - How I Rate Books - Episode 9

Our voyage takes a detour through that hardest of decisions: how to rate a novel.  I share my four personal guidelines for rating classics and show some examples of how this works in practice.

Friday Thoughts: Bookish Rituals

It was a big deal, getting my first library card.  I was about seven and could just sign my name, sort of.  My ugly scrawl wasn't good enough for the library card, and embarrassed, I knew it.  I treasured the card anyway.

Dad took me to the little library every week on Tuesday or Wednesday for many, many years.  I always had a stack of things to pick up.  Some of them were icky, smelly books, but I saw stories inside them.  I had to go the library every week.  And when a closer branch opened up, I said I'd never go to that library because it wasn't my library...

Fast-forward to the present.  I only go to the library if I absolutely have to (late materials and items to pick up), and I just stop by the closest branch (yeah, that one I said I'd never go to).  One reason is the local libraries are very small, and I read far fewer books per month than I used to.  Also, Overdrive and Project Gutenberg now cover most of the books I read, plus those sites cut down the wait time …

Wednesday Quote: Neighbors

". . . love your neighbour!  As already shown, you can easily find him; him you can never lose.  The beloved can treat you in such a way that he is lost to you, and you can lose a friend, but whatever a neighbour does to you, you can never lose him . . . it is not your neighbour who holds you fast—it is your love which holds your neighbour fast."This is from Soren Kierkegaard's analysis of "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," in his Works of Love (transl. Howard and Edna Hong).  I'd not fully realized the simple profoundness of this commandment before reading this book a couple of years ago.  Though it's a tough one to peruse, there's many such great quotes in Works of Love.

That Hideous Strength and Its Weaknesses

Disclaimer: I have a longstanding, sentimental regard for C. S. Lewis's writing.  His Narnia series was a love of my childhood, opening up a beautiful world of heroism, wonder, and bravery that's influenced me ever after.  My first fictional scribbles at a young age were a personalized plagiarism of Narnia and Carroll's Wonderland, because I just loved those stories so much.  With that in mind, if I'm a bit hard on Lewis in this review, it's because there is so much of his writing that I love, and it is impossible to evaluate this book without comparing it to the greatness he is capable of.  (For a recent example, please see Till We Have Faces.)

That Hideous Strength begins in the village of Edgestow, a quaint corner of England and home to a small but illustrious university.  The protagonists are a recently married couple settling down in their new life together - Mark, comfortable in his fellowship at the college, and Jane, less comfortable in the role of housewife…

C. S. Lewis in Outer Space, Part 2 - Episode 8

We wrap up the Space Trilogy with That Hideous Strength, Lewis's dystopian thriller which takes place on our very own planet Earth.

Friday Thoughts: Zeitgeist, Faulkner, and The Prince

Friday Thoughts... a new weekly feature where I talk about stuff.  Excited yet?

I don't know exactly where this series will take us.  Per my blogging goals for this year, I want to share more candid thoughts about reading - reading as an experience and as a part of life.  Friday, as the week winds down, seems like a good time to reflect.

This week I have been reading The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, as well as listening to The Prince by NiccolòMachiavelli.  Both of these are new authors and new books to me, perhaps an over-ambitious start to the year.

As I get further and further into The Sound, I seem to be learning more about myself than Faulkner, which was not at all the intent.  For example, more than ever do I dislike reading dismal fiction, a la Thomas Hardy and, in a certain sense, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (though the latter wins me over every time).  The real world is gloomy enough; why should I read novels that hit me over the head with it again?

The current zeitgeist is…

Wednesday Quote: Work

A few years back, I used to participate in a weekly feature called "Weekend Quote," hosted by Lemon Tree at Half-Filled Attic.  I so enjoyed that feature that I wanted to bring it back this year, except on Wednesdays instead of the weekend.  There are so many great quotes to come across while reading, and not nearly enough opportunity to share them.
"I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself."This is spoken by Marlow, the narrator from a few of Conrad's stories, and the context novella is his most famous one, Heart of Darkness.  As an inspirational quote, it's one of my very favorites - instead of holding up an idealism, it presents you with a different view of reality. 

Today is my first day back at work since Christmas break, so I'll be keeping this in mind.  ;)

Food for Thought in Benson's Lord of the World

A very happy new year to you all!  I can hardly believe it's 2018 already.  The number just sounds so... futuristic.

Speaking of which, my first review for the year goes back 111 years in order to go forward to about the present day, with John Hugh Benson's futuristic-dystopian novel, Lord of the World.  I feel a little awkward for starting with such a depressing book, but it was one of my recent 2017 reads, so it's high time to review it.

The story follows a young, 21st-century Catholic priest, Percy Franklin, who struggles to remain upright amid a volatile scene of political, religious, and social changes.  Through a series of unusual events, Franklin comes into contact with a prominent MP, Oliver Brand; Oliver's wife, Mabel; and Oliver's mother, who wants to return to her faith, against her son and society's wishes.  Things come to a crisis when a mysterious American, Julian Felsenburgh, arrives in London.  His twin-like resemblance to Franklin puzzles the pri…

Lord of the World - Episode 7

Here we uncover another dystopian classic: Robert Hugh Benson's little-known novel from 1907, Lord of the World.

Sources / Further Reading:
List of Dystopian Literature (Wikipedia)
Article on Benson by The Catholic World Report
Summary of papal statements (Wikipedia)
Interview with Pope Francis by Catholic News Agency (2015)