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The Professor - Charlotte Bronte's First Novel

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First novels can be hit-and-miss, even those of "great authors."  Nathaniel Hawthorne was so ashamed of Fanshawe he wanted all copies burnt.  Jane Austen's Love and Friendship, written in her teens, did not (unsurprisingly) carry the depth and drama of her later, famous novels.  Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, is arguably one of the weaker of the four.  While some talented authors debut a masterpiece, it's as equally likely that their first book is not their best. All of this goes to show that 1) no one is born a great novelist, and 2) it is worthwhile to keep trying, even if your first writing is highly flawed.

The Professor was Charlotte Bronte's first novel but not published until after her death.  It has a very similar plot to Villette (1853), and it's best read as a first draft of that superior novel.  Unfortunately, this is still insufficient for enjoying the book, because it's just not a great story.  It took me several…

July Miscellany - Books + Life

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It seems the theme of my life in 2019 is "life gets tougher, books get better."  Well, some books anyway.  I have to say, I haven't been reading as much as I would like, but in spite of that, am pretty pleased overall with the books I have read so far.

I've also highly enjoyed reading other's blogs this year and found many new ones to follow.  I've been thinking about doing a post series sharing links to blogs I follow, if that would interest anyone (?).

Ok, let's talk about some books.

Another one bites the dust... Here's one of those "not so great" reads of the year.  I had every intention of posting a review on The Scapegoat, by Daphne du Maurier.  But after reaching a glorious 44%, I came to a screeching stop.  The plodding repetition of the plot was one thing... the narrator's nauseating "aha!" moment was the cherry on top.  I thought I'd take one for the team, finish the book, and present you with a scathing review, b…

The Last Tycoon ... Questioning Why I Read Fitzgerald

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Fitzgerald is one of those authors who provokes in me a love/loathe reaction.  There was something unforgettable and moving in The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise; the surreal, Wuthering-Heights level of drama and the tragic stories lingered in my mind a long time afterward.  Tender is the Night haunted me in a different way: an instant trainwreck with little rhyme or reason, it left me so disgusted I had to quit reading early on.  So when I saw the library had just added The Last Tycoon to their ebook collection...and it was available, and it was under 200 pages...I invariably got pulled into checking it out and reading it over the 4th of July.

There aren't many authors I would recommend reading solely for their writing style, but I think every aspiring American writer should read something by Fitzgerald, even if it's just a chapter.  There's something distinctly American about his style.  It's a strange, signature combination - breathless, matter-of-fact, poe…

Top Ten Books of My Childhood

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Ok... what follows is rather an eclectic list, and many of them are not classics!  But I so enjoyed reading some of you guys' lists for this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic, it made me reflect on the books I read long ago and which influenced my childhood.

1. The Children's Book of Virtues
An interesting collection of fairy tales and poems, some well known ("St George and the Dragon") and others more obscure. To this day, I can still hear my dad's voice reading some of these stories.  I'm also pretty sure I'd start bawling if I re-read "Why Frog and Snake Never Play Together."

2. Dragons, Ogres, and Wicked Witches
I really hesitate to put this one on the list, because these European fairy tales were pretty heavy reading and perhaps not very good for small kids.  (I'm not quite sure how we acquired the book...Costco?  Either way, my mom later got rid of it.)  I've always had an inordinate fascination with fantasy monsters, sea monsters, …

The Four Loves - Weeks 3 & 4

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Well, I missed last week, so once again playing catch up with the readalong.  :)  Here are the last two parts - and thanks again to Cleo for hosting this!
Week 3: Friendship In this chapter, Lewis talks about what he considers to be the "least natural" of the loves: Friendship.  It is less "organic" than the other loves, because, unlike Affection which nurtures or Eros which propagates, Friendship is, in a sense, superfluous in that it is not necessary to our survival. In fact, it can be viewed with distrust by authorities or groups of humans, because it means at least two people have withdrawn from the group and are connected by something which distinguishes them from the rest.

This was the most interesting chapter of the book.  I don't have a wide circle of friends, but I appreciate each one I have (online and offline), and I think Lewis pinpoints why it is so hard to find good friends.  The problem frequently lies with us.  So often we are looking for someo…

The Four Loves - Weeks 1 & 2

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Cleo has been hosting a read-along of The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis, and happily I've been keeping up with it well, in spite of some reader's block.  These are the parts I've read so far:
Week 1: "Introduction" and "Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human"Week 2: "Affection" First off, this book is not quite what I was expecting, and I say that not as a criticism but as an observation.  Lewis's style is a little rambling, in some places like a sermon that switches from topic to topic fluidly but lacks the structure you'd expect from a book with such a structural title.  He focuses on certain aspects of each topic, rather than giving a detailed overview of the whole.  For example, my biggest takeaway from "Likings and Loves..." was his view on healthy vs. unhealthy patriotism; in "Affection," it was more on "what to avoid" rather than "what to do."  It doesn't make the book any less readable, but …

Battling Reader's Block

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Hope everyone is doing well this fine June... It feels like the month is FLYING by.  Tomorrow is going to be about 90 degrees where I live, so I'd say summer is here.


Since I finished 12 Rules for Life, I've been having pretty bad reader's block.  You wouldn't necessarily be able to tell... Current status seems productive:
Still slowly plugging away at the Tesla biography (it's interesting but very brainy)On track for Cleo's read-along of The Four Loves (Lewis), though I failed to post for part 1 (will roll it up into the next part)Also reading Master and Commander (O'Brian) and The Scapegoat (du Maurier), both of which are pretty good books so far I think recent "real-life" stress has zapped my attention span.  I hate it when that happens.

There are certain types of books that can get me out of that.  I will probably keep sampling books till I find one.  Till then, it might be kinda quiet around here...

The Time Machine: Then and Now

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It's been about fifteen years since I first read The Time Machine.  It was so unlike anything I'd read before.  Afterwards, I even wrote my own time-travelling story, which was more like fan-fiction than anything else.

I don't often reread books, but as I build my H. G. Wells collection, I figured I'd reread each book and see how it held up over time.  (No pun intended!)  The Time Machine was the first book by Wells I'd read and seemed like a natural starting point.

The story begins in Victorian England.  A group of friends - a doctor, a journalist, a psychologist, and others - gather at the Time Traveller's house for their customary meal and conversation.  The Time Traveller at this stage has just created a model of his machine which he says he can build at full-scale and use to travel through time.  The demonstration leaves his guests skeptical, but not long after that, the Time Traveller shows up to one of his own dinners, bedraggled and telling a wild stor…

12 Rules for Life - Follow-up

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Well...I promise I'm not trying to milk this for all it's worth.  But I realized that after "finishing" the review of 12 Rules for Life, I'd failed to answer my starting questions from Part 1:
What is about [Jordan Peterson] or his message that generates commonality between such disparate groups?What kind of person, with such a prestigious CV, is so willing to go out on a limb [against political correctness]? Is he really courageous, or is there some other reason? I think the answer to #1 is pretty simple.  Peterson's appeal lies in his embrace of core values, like honesty, hard work, integrity, and self-respect.  Any belief systems that value the individual and accountability are going to gravitate towards his message, which puts a big emphasis on you, the individual, taking action - making your life better and making the world better.  So that is what seems to make his following so diverse.

To the second question - my takeaway from reading 12 Rules is that…

Aladdin 2019 - Reaction (No Spoilers!)

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A couple of months ago I mentioned I was looking forward to two Disney remakes this year, Aladdin and The Lion King.

Well, my siblings and I just got back from Aladdin, and I was not disappointed!   It's funny, beautiful, moving, and action-packed.  Dare I say it??  I like it better than the cartoon original.

It is also my favorite Disney remake so far, even more than Beauty and Beast, my previous favorite.   Aladdin stays true to its origin - a story of adventure, humor, and romance - and doesn't try to be more than a good, old-fashioned kid's movie.  (Yes, Jasmine has her own song and subplot, but it fits her character arc and doesn't seem incongruous.)

So if you have any reservations, I say give it try, you may be pleasantly surprised!

12 Rules for Life - Part 3 of 3

I've decided to share these quotes in the order they appear in the book, plus occasional commentary. All quotes are from the 2018 hardcover edition.

Key:
plaintext - Worthy quotesbold - Favorite quotesitalics - Quotes I disliked 12 Rules for Life: Best and Worst Quotes The dominance hierarchy is not capitalism.  It's not communism, either, for that matter . . . We (the sovereign we, the we that has been around since the beginning of life) have lived in a dominance hierarchy for a long, long time. (p. 14) - Agreed, seems pretty self-evident.

. . . the familiar Western images of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and the Pietà both express the female/male dual unity, as does the traditional insistence on the androgyny of Christ.  (p. 42) - "traditional insistence on the androgyny," what is he talking about?

You should take care of, help and be good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help and be good to someone you loved and valued. (p. 62)

. . . a villain…

12 Rules for Life - Part 2 of 3

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"No one could stand up for communism after The Gulag Archipelago - not even the communists themselves." (12 Rules for Life, p. 310)

I would like to think that's true.  Unfortunately, admiration for Joseph Stalin is, by all appearances, far from dead.  The mass murderer has been rebranded as a WWII hero first and dictator second. While not all Russians subscribe to that narrative, there are some who are nostalgic for the USSR.

I once briefly dated someone who felt that way.  It wasn't apparent on first impressions, but, as we got to know each other better, I learned he was an ardent Stalinist, fully heroizing Stalin and believing all the bad to be exaggerations, lies, or American propaganda, or (barring all that) nothing any worse than what U.S. presidents had done.  Though born in a former Soviet republic, he was not really old enough to remember life in the Soviet Union, yet to him it seemed to be a Golden Age he'd missed out on.

There is really no arguing with…

12 Rules for Life - Part 1 of 3

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So... I have this get it back to the library ASAP (fines are accruing), but I can't seem to write a short review.  I tried, I really did, but it's hopeless.  Here is Part 1, and I hope to have Part 2 up tomorrow.


First, some background...
Jordan Peterson
As I mentioned in a previous post, my purpose in reading this book was to see what the fuss was about.  Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto (and formerly at Harvard and McGill), has become a controversial figure in recent years, for voicing his views on forms of political correctness which he sees as threatening to freedom of speech.  It's a long story which you can read about on Wikipedia, and I only mention it to give some context.  Peterson, whose YouTube lectures attract millions of followers, went on two years after the publicity to publish his 2018 book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.  This book became a huge bestseller.

Why read the book if you can watch the videos?  I'll be honest, thou…

On Fictional Violence and Naming Children

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Note: Contains Game of Thrones Season 8 spoilers

(Note 2: I never thought I would be doing a post on Game of Thrones, but here I am.  Never say never.)


When I first heard about this book/TV franchise, it was years ago, still in the early days of the TV series.  At first I was interested, because a lot of people were comparing it to The Lord of the Rings, and aesthetically there is some similarity.  I read some Amazon reviews of the books (as I usually do) and was a bit disturbed to hear the series is full of heinous, macabre scenes, including frequent sexual violence.  I always pass on that kind of content and decided not to read it.  Frankly, I also expected the hype would fizzle out sooner rather than later.

Well, hindsight being 20/20, I was completely wrong, and enthusiasm for the series catapulted into eight TV seasons.  I've been observing the franchise's progress from afar and, thanks to the media, wasn't allowed to not know the fact that it finally reached its last…

Ten Classics That Should Be Movies

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This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a page-to-screen freebie.  I've talked before about my favorite costume dramas, so I thought I'd go with Jana's take on this topic and share some books that really need to be adapted!

Also, some of these have been made into films already, so if it's on the list, it means I haven't yet seen the "perfect" one (subject to my picky opinion, of course).

10.  The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte Yonge
Yonge's novel may have faded out of popularity (or even recognition), but there are plenty of cinematic moments in this one: feuding family members, a shipwreck, and a haunting graveyard scene. Actually, forget the movie - I have plans to turn this into the next blockbuster musical.  Only half-joking...

9.  The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I can hear critics' howls of protest..."not ANOTHER Sherlock Holmes movie!"  But hear me out: Jeremy Brett (sadly enough) was not able to play Holmes in all …

Science City by Parekh & Singh - Album Review

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Just last month, Parekh & Singh finally released their second album.  I say "finally," because I've been waiting for more music ever since I finished listening to Ocean (2016). I must have given up hope, because the new music sneaked up on me, and I kinda freaked out when I stumbled upon it a day or two after its release.  Would Science City live up to all my hopes?!

Parekh & Singh, Indian Indie Duo So, who are Nischay Parekh and Jivraj Singh?  I hadn't heard of them or their genre - "dream pop" - until May 2017, when they released their music video for "Ghost."  The retro vibe, bright colors, and Parekh's introspective vocals immediately grabbed my attention.  I felt strangely nostalgic for something I didn't even know existed.

"Ghost"... still my favorite Parekh & Singh song!
Being already a huge fan of electronica artist Owl City, I love dreamy, poetic lyrics with a healthy dose of synthesizers, so this band was r…

What I'm Reading (and More): May edition

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Well, friends...this month's edition of "What I'm Reading" is going to be a bit of a ramble.  You might want to grab something to snack on or drink.  I usually try to abridge, but this time I just feel the need to stream-of-conscious it....
Personal
For starters, a personal update. Though work and everything are going fine, I've been feeling very directionless lately and in need of a change.  The thing is, there's so many things I would like to do - from buying a house to changing jobs - but no one thing that especially stands out as "yeah, that makes sense." It feels like a big decision chart with lines going all over the place.

I've been through all the conventional wisdom - focus on others, not yourself; try to find what you're passionate about; make small goals; etc.  But after all of that, I'm still in a maze, with too many ideas and hopes and doubts pulling me in different directions.  And in spite of everything being fine, that se…