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Showing posts from January, 2015

Melville's "Mosses" - from an Old Mast

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The actual title of the book is Billy Budd and Other Stories, published by Penguin Classics.  However, there is such a similarity in the writing, I was reminded of the title of a Hawthorne collection, Mosses from an Old Manse.  Since Hawthorne was the dedicatee of Moby-Dick and also referenced by name in one of these stories, I'm sure Herman Melville would take the comparison as a compliment!

Overall, I give the book 4 stars, but it's a mixed bag, so I'll review each story on its own:

Bartleby, the Scrivener

I really loved this story.  It's probably the closest thing to Kafkaesque, pre-Kafka, that I've read.  Bartleby is an enigmatic scrivener (copier - think Nemo from Bleak House), and it's hard to say if he's the hero or the antagonist, but he is certainly the mystery.  I'm still not sure what to make of it, but it's one of those stories that is very good at painting atmosphere and the impression of things.

The Piazza

Another kind of mystery/word-paint…

8 ♦ Ashputtle

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...also known as Cinderella!

I promise I shuffled the cards very, very well at the beginning of this challenge, and yet here we have another fairytale.   Not that I'm complaining.  (And besides, random selection is unlikely to be uniform.)  I already know my next card - and rest assured! it's not a diamond.

The Grimm fairytales are an altogether different assortment than Andersen.  For one thing, the Grimm brothers were primarily collectors, scholars, and editors, not inventors of original tales.  There is decidedly less poetry in their stories.  The style is terse and upfront, making these plots fast-paced and very short.  "Ashputtle" is no exception.

Once again, I was unsettled by the violence - and, well, mutilation - found in an otherwise familiar setting.  There was no modern feeling of concern in Ashputtle's marrying a stranger, since she could hardly do worse than her own family.  Even her father, alive in this version, appears to disown her; he is quick to …

5 ♦ The Little Mermaid

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Not gonna lie...I cried.  :(

This is an original fairytale by Hans Christen Andersen (who also wrote the lesser-known "The Wild Swans," probably my favorite fairytale of all time).  Most people know "The Little Mermaid" from the Disney film, and initially the plots are very similar.  A young mermaid, forever fascinated by the world of humans, is finally allowed to rise to the surface of the sea on her fifteenth birthday.  As it would happen, she falls in love with a human prince, who is also celebrating his birthday on board a ship.  And - as it always does - the little mermaid's love is a lost cause, because when she tries to escape the world she was born into, it comes at a terrible price.

I almost just called her "Ariel," but Andersen's mermaid, prince, and Sea King are anonymous throughout the story.  It makes it even more poignant, I think, and maybe that is the power of these old fairytales - you are allowed to project your own characterizati…

9 ♠ A Sound of Thunder

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In this second round of the Deal Me In challenge, I was excited to read a classic by Ray Bradbury, whose works are new to me.  "A Sound of Thunder" is one of his best-known science fictions, and it's about a man named Eckels who signs up to go back in time on a safari - hunting dinosaurs, that is.

I guess I will always compare these kinds of plots to The Lost World by Conan Doyle, a big favorite of mine.  My overall feeling about "A Sound of Thunder" was that, in scope, it was trying too hard.  It covered the two big topics, prehistoric life and time travel, but there wasn't a lot of development, and the reader was asked to take a lot at face value.  For example, (spoiler in white):  Eckels's behavior seemed perfectly natural to me, and it's hard to imagine him being the first offender.  There were some good descriptions throughout, but also gratuitous cussing that felt like filler.

1.5 stars.  Decent read for waiting at the doctor's office, not w…

4 ♦ The Golden Fleece

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And my first story for the Deal Me In challenge comes from Tanglewood Tales.  How appropriate!

"The Golden Fleece" is the last story in Tanglewood Tales, a sequel to A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys.  Through the frame plot of a young student, Eustace Bright, retelling Greek myths to his little cousins, Nathaniel Hawthorne takes us through the highlights of these sanguinary dramas in a quaint, cosy, and child-friendly format.  "The Golden Fleece" recounts the epic quest of Jason and the Argonauts, as they embark in a fifty-oar ship to find the mythical ram's fleece and reclaim the kingdom that was stolen from Jason's father.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit.  It was entertaining and often funny, a nice balance to the darkness of Gatsby to start off this year's reading.  The abrupt ending - and a few loose threads - were the main things I wished had been tidied up.  However, those are more or less due to the myths themselves and not Hawthorne's rendi…

Reading Challenge: Deal Me In

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My intention was not to make any big reading commitments this year.  However....  ;)  when I saw this intriguing challenge over at Behold the Stars and Classical Carousel, it just looked too fun (and feasible) not to join!

The challenge is hosted at Bibliophilica, and it's quite simple.  You create a list of 52 short stories and assign each to a playing card.  Then, every week of 2015, draw a card randomly and read the story that corresponds.

Here is the master list, which is 1/4 essays and includes one or two poems.  When building this list, I was a little shocked at how many short stories I had already read, and at how many classics I should have read but never did.  In the end, I had to consult some "top 10" types of lists online, to fill all the places, and some of these choices I know next to nothing about...  I made myself refrain from adding re-reads (apart from a few, like Poe's Dupin stories), so hopefully this will be a good foray into new authors, eras, and…

The Great Gatsby - American classic?

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I completely missed the Gatsby craze of last year.  Of course, I knew about it, but for whatever reason, it remained out of my sphere, something to do eventually.  I've never read the book before or seen any film adaptations, and the net benefit is being able to read the book with a fresh perspective - only prejudiced by the fact that I cannot not picture DiCaprio and Mulligan as Gatsby and Daisy.  *sigh*

(Might I also point out that Daisy is supposed to be brunette and Jordan is supposed to be blonde?  Details, anyone?)

Now that that's squared away, let's talk about the book, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I read it in four days, which for me these days is a pageturner.  Expectations were middling - I tried very hard to read This Side of Paradise a couple of years ago and gave up early.  On the other hand, The Great Gatsby (1925) is hyped as a great American classic, and a portrait of the Jazz Age, and a stirring, "cautionary tale" against the evils of a capitalist syst…