Posts

Showing posts from 2014

'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 Lor…

The "Gloria Scott"

Image
- 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, bu…

The Liebster Award

Image
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 s…

Kafka (1991)

Image
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 p…

White Nights in October

Image
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.
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.I skipped Notes from Underground, having already read it.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 "Bartle…

The Brothers Karamazov - 11 & 12 (Conclusion)

Image
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 7–12, 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.  Anywa…

The Brothers Karamazov - 10: Boys

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


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 ofgood 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 use…

The Brothers Karamazov - 7–9: Part III

Image
Previously: Book IBook IIBook IIIBooks IV & VBook VI

And now we (unavoidably) head into spoiler territory...



In these three parts - "Alyosha," "Mitya," and "The Preliminary Investigation" - we learn that Grushenka, while attempting to escape with her former seducer, becomes convinced that it is Dmitri "Mitya" Karamazov she really loves.  He pursues her and interrupts her elopement by throwing a raucous party, squandering hundreds (or is it thousands?) of rubles which he claims he stole from Katerina, his ex-fiancee.  Meanwhile, when his father Fyodor is found dead and 3000 rubles missing from his bedroom, all evidence is against Mitya.  He is found and interrogated; he himself claims no alibi.  In fact, he confesses he was at his father's house, but ran away before committing the murder that was in his mind.  Nothing else Dmitri or the witnesses say can corroborate his alleged innocence, and he is arrested as the criminal.

This wa…

Hamlet Revisited

Image
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.

As 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.)  …

The Men Who Knew Too Much (and Not Enough)

Image
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.

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 no…

Hello, Fall!

Image
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 edi…

Final Thoughts on Lord Jim

Image
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.



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…

Romanticism in Lord Jim

Image
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 Romanticis…

The Old Man and the Sea ~ Read-Along

Image
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 th…

Age of Sail book haul

Image
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…

The Brothers Karamazov - 6: The Russian Monk

Image
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.
On…

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

Image
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 eit…

The Brothers Karamazov - 3: Sensualists

Image
*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…

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

Image
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 a…

Viktor Frankl and the Will to Meaning

Image
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 di…

The Brothers Karamazov - 2: An Inappropriate Gathering

Image
*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 - ofte…

Hiatus?

Image
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.