Showing posts from 2015

The Tragedy of the Korosko - why some lit remains obscure

I'm afraid Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Tragedy of the Korosko checks most of the bad boxes on the mainstream reader's list; to name a few: exoticism, imperialism, stereotypical females, and racist language.  I had high hopes, based on some reviews I'd read, but even accounting for the mindset of the times wasn't enough to give it more than 3 out of 5 stars on my scale.

Doyle covered a pretty vast range of subjects apart from Sherlock Holmes.  Some of his other topics include medieval knights (The White Company), Napoleonic soldiers (Brigadier Gerard), Huguenot emigrants (The Refugees), and contemporary horror (Round the Red Lamp, The Captain of the Polestar, etc).  I'd recommend any of those, even if some are dated, simply because they transcend their "datedness" and are good stories even today.

I guess that's why Korosko was disappointing - I expected more from Doyle, yet I was under the aching suspicion all the way through that he was doing what …

Minorities - the poetry collection of T. E. Lawrence

During moments in Lawrence of Arabia, or in whole passages in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, you might notice T. E. Lawrence's love for the poetic, both in the actual form and in his prose.  He was, as it turns out, a serious reader and critic of poetry: he toted The Oxford Book of English Verse with him in Arabia, and collected his Minorities during and after the war.  In his own words, he defined Minorities as "Good Poems by Small Poets and Small Poems by Good Poets."  The first U.S. edition was not published until 1971.

The poems (many of which are from the Oxford Book) are fairly what you'd expect from the complex mind of T. E. Lawrence.  Some are classics by his predecessors, such as Poe and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and others are poems by his contemporaries who surpassed his honest criticisms.  I was surprised at the variety, but perhaps I shouldn't have been.  If you take into account his mental state after the war, mixed with his survivor's fighting spirit and …

Seven Pillars of Wisdom - 9 & 10: "But for fit monument, I shattered it, unfinished..."

Some books, when you come to the end of them, leave you gaping inwardly.  Dejected and confused, you feel like you missed something critical, after "getting" everything that came before.   Seven Pillars of Wisdom ends just like Lawrence of Arabia, so I should have seen it coming. But after some whirlwind chapters, the ending came suddenly, doubly sobering as a first-person narrative.  Like so many real-life struggles, it hangs loosely together instead of being tied up neatly; you look for closure and find questions instead.
Men prayed me that I set our work, the inviolate house,                                               as a memory of you. But for fit monument I shattered it, unfinished: and now The little things creep out to patch themselves hovels                                             in the marred shadow                                                                      Of your gift.
9 & 10 - Balancing for a Last Effort; The House is Perfected

Exasperated one nig…

Seven Pillars of Wisdom - 7 & 8: The Dead Sea Campaign; The Ruin of High Hope

The Arab Revolt as led by Lawrence was not a solely independent effort.  Money and reinforcements came from Britain, and in return the Arab tribesmen and leadership collaborated with General Allenby against the common enemy.  The Dead Sea Campaign came after Allenby had taken Jerusalem, and would benefit both Arab and British objectives:
"The Arabs were to reach the Dead Sea as soon as possible; to stop the transport of [enemy] food up it to Jericho before the middle of February; and to arrive at the Jordan before the end of March." (p. 465)This seemingly moderate plan became a source of extreme frustration for Lawrence.  Part of this was circumstantial, playing out in the alternate taking and retaking of the town of Tafileh, a tiresome and unpleasant part of the campaign.  Some of it, too, was the challenge of working with Zeid, Feisal's younger brother, who like Feisal's older brother and father was not of one mind with Lawrence's methods.

At one poi…

Seven Pillars of Wisdom - 5 & 6: Marking Time; The Raid upon the Bridges

Previously: Introduction, Book I, Book II, Book III, Book IV

After the capture of Akaba, the Arab Revolt was again able to re-focus on its core strategy: destroying the Turkish railway in Hejaz.  This followed Lawrence's philosophy of undermining Turkish resources instead of targeting their forces directly, following the priority of utilizing the Arab advantage - mobility and knowledge of terrain - and preserving Arab lives.

With the help of British expertise and the leadership of Arab sherifs, Lawrence set this plan into reality, both leading and training the Arab fighters in a series of bomb attacks on the railway.  The most materially valuable points were the stations, full of loot for the men to take back to their tribes...the most vulnerable points were the bridges.

These two parts were rich with Lawrence's insights on not only his own actions, thoughts, and struggles during this time, but also the geographical features he saw, the behavior and attitudes of other Br…

Reading England 2016: London challenge

The Reading England challenge is coming back next year, and I'm pretty excited for it!  I'll be committing to Level 1 (1–3 books), though I haven't decided if I'll focus on one county or read from multiple.  So far, I know I want to read The Mint by T. E. Lawrence, which is a London book...after that, anything goes (though I'm reserving a spot for Conrad on the list :)).
1/2/16 update: at the risk of excluding Conrad, I've decided on multiple counties, since I feel most of my British reading so far has been London-centric
8/6/16 update: Leaning back towards London now, since I've read two London books this year. London:The Mint (T. E. Lawrence) ✓London:The Man Who Was Thursday (G. K. Chesterton) ✓London:The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde) ✓

Seven Pillars of Wisdom - 4: Extending to Akaba

Previously: Introduction, Book I, Book II, Book III


This name, uttered by Peter O'Toole as a sleepless T. E. Lawrence, rings out as a revelation, the password to a quandary that only he can see.  In the fit of inspiration, he prevails upon his frenemy, Sherif Ali, to help him lead an attack on the Port of Akaba, without orders or consultation with his British superiors.  The script is not far from the truth - as soon as he decided to take Akaba, the real-life Lawrence was on his way, leaving his commander with a note and relying chiefly on the strength of Feisal's men and his other Arab followers.
The Arabs needed Akaba: firstly, to extend their front, which was their tactical principle; and, secondly, to link up with the British.  If they took it the act gave them Sinai, and made positive junction between them and Sir Archibald Murray.  Thus having become really useful, they would obtain material help.  The human frailty of Murray's Staff was such that not…

2016 Mount TBR Challenge

Despite my truly abysmal record at reading challenges (basically, I failed every one I ever tried), I still haven't got the sense to give up.  ;)  One popular challenge that comes around every year is the Mount TBR Challenge.  Essentially the goal is to read books that have been on the stack for a while, especially ones you own and have never read before.  This is kind of ideal...I own an embarrassing number of unread books.   But I do own them, which means I do want to read them eventually.

In customary fashion, my goal is the tiniest mountain, Pike's Peak (12 books).  (That's factoring in real life and Camp Nanowrimo and possibly other reading challenges, so not quite as sad as it looks!) These are my current ideas: 
Pinocchio - Collodi ✓Nutcracker and Mouse King and The Tale of the Nutcracker - Hoffmann, Dumas ✓Memories of the Future - Krzhizhanovsky ✓Joan of Arc: In Her Own WordsThe Silent World - Cousteau (another to-finish) ✓Dracula's Guest - Stoker ✓An Artist o…

Wishing you all...

a safe & happy Thanksgiving!

In so many ways, Thanksgiving feels like the end of a year.  Harvest foods are put on the table, a long summer leaves behind shivery nights and frosty mornings, and Advent, the Christian New Year, is right around the corner.  I know I'll be cozying up with the second half of Seven Pillars this weekend...I hope you all have a great one, too, with books, loved ones, and autumny goodness!  ^_^

"It's highly technical!", not quite - The Imitation Game

Last year, my family and I went to see an exhibit in Seattle called "SPY: The Secret World of Espionage."  It was an intriguing collection spanning historical, military, and technological history, focused mainly on the twentieth century - far back enough to not be secret anymore, yet still close enough to feel recent.  Among other interesting, sometimes diabolical machines, the exhibit had an Enigma encryption device.

This ominous typewriter became Alan Turing's personal nemesis, when he got a job at the not-so-subtly named Government Code and Cypher School.  A Cambridge academic, Turing put his brilliant mathematical-logical abilities to the task of improving the "bombe" (from the Polish bomba): a machine that would consistently decrypt the Nazis' Engima messages.  This, if achieved, would gain the Allied Powers an incredible strategic advantage, at a time when they desperately needed it.  The Imitation Game follows this period of Turing's life at Bletc…

Seven Pillars of Wisdom - 3: A Railway Diversion

Previously: Introduction, Book I, Book II

In the previous part, T. E. Lawrence acquiesced to his general's request and returned to the field, where he and Feisal took the port city of Wejh, a key victory on the western side of Arabia.  For most military men, this would have been a credit to their resume, but hardly the foundation for legend.  Lawrence, on the other hand, was just getting started - he was not a military man so much as he was a strategic thinker, and how he would build upon this success was, perhaps, no less important than the success itself.

Though the movie streamlines this part of the story quite a bit, in reality, a rather intricate thread of politics directed Lawrence's next movements after Wejh.  Already he had his eye on Akaba, but his idea of attack - strictly from land and not sea, leading Arabs rather than French or English - was another point of contention between him and the French commander, Colonel Bremond.  Additionally, the British wanted to be at …

Blog name changing! And Ishiguro.

Hi all,

I've been so remiss in my blogging this year, it hardly seems like a big announcement - still, if I don't explain it, it may be confusing, yes, it's worth announcing.  After five years of being Tanglewood - from Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales - this blog is (soon) going to be

Since the time I split out my book reviews into their own blog, I've always felt 1), glad I organized it that way, and 2) still wistful my book reviews were partitioned off from my main blogging.  Recently I've concluded that changing the name and URL is probably the easiest solution to this quandry.  By naming it similar to my non-book blogs, the blog can still be its own "thing," but it'll make it easier for me to link content across all three blogs, as sometimes I'd like to.

I did a bad thing this weekend, and that was to buy another book.  Actually, what I did next was worse: I started reading it.

When I think about …

100th Anniversary

of the publication of The Metamorphosis!  (I would link to the article I saw about it, but won’t because spoilers (sigh)).

You know, it is on my list of top 10 favorites, but I’ve yet to read it on paper.  I first listened to the excellent LibriVox audiobook by David Barnes, then later I listened to a partly-abridged audiobook read by Cumberbatch.  I have it in my “Complete Short Stories” - I really should read it before the month’s up.

It’s stunning to realize that, after 100 years, Kafka's insights are still very applicable.  Undoubtedly The Metamorphosis can mean different things to different people...  To me, at its most basic, it’s a concise analogy of the facade many people consider to be “love.”  In other words, when love is defined in materialistic, give-and-take terms, it means a “normal” family like the Samsas can turn into a dysfunctional one, when their “normal” life is interrupted by the unexpected.  The morphing is, perhaps, not the appearance of the "monst…

Seven Pillars of Wisdom - 2: Opening the Arab Offensive

Previously: Introduction, Book I
Against his adamant protests and self-doubt, Lawrence is sent back to Arabia by his superior officer, General Clayton, who believes the bookish journalist-cartographer will be an excellent substitute until the professional military advisors arrive. "I was unlike a soldier: hated soldiering" writes Lawrence point-blank (p. 114).  Having no alternative, he surrenders to necessity and returns to Feisal's base, finding the Arab leader no less resolute for suffering early betrayals and mixed successes.  Together, and with the aid of diverse allies, they endeavor to unify the contentious Arabic tribes into an anti-Turkish force, with the immediate objective of taking Wejh, a port city in the north under control of the Turks.  Lawrence is impressed with Feisal's ability to gain a following, learns more of the psychology of the Arab people, and becomes increasingly wary of the maneuverings of some of their European, military "supporters.&…

Seven Pillars of Wisdom - 1: The Discovery of Feisal

Previously: Introduction

I had believed these misfortunes of the Revolt to be due mainly to faulty leadership, or rather to the lack of leadership, Arab and English.  So I went down to Arabia to see and consider its great men.Unlike his film counterpart, who comes across as a little awkward and almost passive, T. E. Lawrence had specific goals in mind when he undertook his investigation of the "Arab affair" - that is, the struggling Arab Revolt.  On this journey, he must gain months' worth of information in the matter of weeks, make connections on behalf of the British military, and, in any way he can, put his best talents to the cause of planning the Arabs' freedom from the Turks.  He also experiences his first heavy camel rides through the desert and meets two of the sons of Hussein bin Ali - one of these sons is Feisal.  This meeting proves to be the turning point in Lawrence's early efforts.

This was a slow, yet intricate group of chapters.  It summarized a lot…

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I didn't "click" with

Saw this over at Hamlette's blog, and thought it would be a fun trip down memory lane.  Here goes - and hope I don't tread on any toes.  ;)

Werther from The Sorrows of Young Werther.  Everyone from A Passage to India.  (Sorry, Forster.)Irene Adler from "A Scandal in Bohemia". Erik from The Phantom of the Opera.  In all fairness, I am meaning to re-read this.  During my first read, I definitely found book!Erik to be less likeable than Webber's version.Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby.  I get the impression one is supposed to like him, but I was left unimpressed.  (I was also shocked that his undisguised racist commentary never gets mentioned in mainstream circles).Everyone from Dragonwyck.  When I was in middle school, a friend recommended it to me, on the basis it was similar to Jane Eyre.  My mother cautioned me that it sounded like a romance novel, but in my blissful ignorance I wasn't quite aware what that meant.  (Hint: think Edward and Bella in 1800s D…

Guest review ~ Five Weeks in a Balloon

Five Weeks in a Balloonis a Victorian book that takes place in 1862 and was written by Jules Verne.  It is about three individuals, Dr. Samuel Ferguson, his servant Joseph Wilson, and a hunter, Richard Kennedy, who set off in a balloon off the coast of Zanzibar to cross the African continent.
I liked this book a lot because it is very detailed and adventurous and has some science and physics in it (nothing too complex), and since I am interested in the Victorian and Edwardian times, the British Empire, and its exploration and expanse, this was quite satisfying and intriguing.
I would give this book 5/5 stars.

Thanks to Barnabas, my brother (and fellow Jules Verne fan), for this review! 

Mini summer book haul

Yesterday my family and I had another chance to visit Powell's City of Books, which, as I raved last year, is the coolest bookstore you'll ever get lost in.  I naively assumed it would be fairly quiet in the middle of a Monday...that was a very, very wrong assumption.  The place was absurdly busy - summer has not ended at Powell's!

I felt kind of overwhelmed and exhausted after twenty minutes, so I didn't really spend as much time as could have been spent, easily, looking at all the classics and polar exploration books (sigh).  This was my list:

In the end, my timid heart decided not to spend a lot of money, so I got two Conrads and The Scarlet Letter, all three for under $10:

I don't know how I possibly could have missed it, but The Scarlet Letter has some bad pen marks in the middle of the book.  It was only $3.50, and though I love Hawthorne, there is a chance I'll be underwhelmed.  If I love it, I'll get a clean copy; if not, I don't have to keep it.


Seven Pillars of Wisdom - The Foundations of Arab Revolt

What draws you into Lawrence's narrative from the start is its setting.  As Westerners, we often view history in a binary perspective.  There is the past - epitomized frequently in our culture by the World Wars, and the still living generations who remember them - and there is the present, the de facto global war with terrorism, physical and psychological.  Though the terrorism of today operates on an international battlefield, we associate its geography with the origins of its ideology (and the ideologies of its opponents), and that location, generically speaking, is the Middle East.   T. E. Lawrence's account originates in a familiar setting, blurring the border between notions of past and present.

Whether we are thinking of the legacy of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, or the aggression of ISIS today, the spirit of sadism and violence requires no effort to remember.  In his introductory part, "The Foundations of Arab Revolt," Lawrence writes of the oppression by the Tu…

Fear and Trembling - Abraham revisited

For he who loved himself became great in himself, and he who loved others became great through his devotion, but he who loved God became greater than all.

I gave this books 5 stars on Goodreads, but I almost gave it none.  By that, I mean it is an almost impossible book to rate in a generic sense.  I don't know where you are in your spiritual beliefs and growth, and so as a reviewer I can't possibly say what this book will be to you.  On the other hand, to me it was a five-star book - the caveat is that my rating is inherently personal.  Because of that, it may not be of much use here whether it has five stars or no rating.

To quote the first sentences of his biography, in this Penguin edition:
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen in 1813, the youngest of seven children.  His mother, his sisters and two of his brothers all died before he reached his twenty-first birthday.For context, Fear and Trembling was published in 1843 - he was only about thirty at the time.  He ha…

Lawrence of Arabia

I grew up watching two of those long, epic-historical pictures...Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments.  My attention span was pretty good back then.  I wonder what the younger me would have thought of Lawrence of Arabia.  For sure, I would have sat down and watched it straight through, unlike the me of today, who watched it in three parts over three days.  ;)

My brother recommended it.  I was always under the impression it was a boring film, and to be sure, on the face of it, there's nothing to indicate what a fascinating, frightening, and overall amazing movie Lawrence of Arabia is.  My brother was right - it was well worth the nearly 4-hr commitment.

The plot is not exactly linear.  Though there is an overarching plot, on screen it kind of goes from one scene to the next, which is part of the brilliance of the script.  It follows T. E. Lawrence's life in Arabia, from his seemingly unpromising career in the British military to his magnetic and highly successful campaigns leading A…