Monday, December 26, 2016

The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!


After writing about Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion from isolated miser to compassionate friend in my last post, something occurred to me. When it comes to Christmas stories, so much of them revolve around the importance of socialization. Scrooge is isolated, friendless, and suspicious of his fellow man. But by the end of A Christmas Carol he’s going around saying "hello" to random people on the street. 

Could it be that the extrovert ideal-parties and music and colors and noise and movement and tons of conversation and laughter and food and basically everything in excess--has infiltrated even Christmas?

Monday, December 19, 2016

"Story Genius" and the Art of Making the Reader Care


As 2016 A.D. nears its end, it’s probably only natural that one reflects upon the last 365 days and the events they held, and then begins to plan greater and better things for the next 365 days to come. I am no exception to this proclivity. Two Thousand Sixteen has been a roller-coaster of events and emotions in my life. It was the year I finally crossed The Pond and traveled to Europe, which has always been an aspiration. It was also a year of loss, of struggle, and of depression. And most recently, 2016 is the year that I changed employment again. 

When I interview for a new job, the questions are probing, and (like the change of a year) make me think intently on what my goals are for the future. And practical purposes for making a living aside, I came to the realization I cannot spend the majority of my life working at something for which I have no heartfelt interest. The idealist in me said, “Surely God gave me a love for writing for something more than just one blog amongst a multitude. Surely He meant me to do something more than simply write my life in a journal, and entertain myself with unpublished stories infrequently put onto paper.”

So, afraid as I am, I think that 2017 will be the year I actually try to get something published. I’ve tried my hand at poetry for magazines before without much success. But then, while I like to read poetry on occasion, it isn’t what I long to do with my writing abilities. It’s terrifying, but I think that this coming year’s goal will be to publish a novel. Whether through an agent, or independent, through a mainstream publisher or self-publishing, I don’t know yet. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Reviewing Gene Stratton Porter's "The Keeper of the Bees"


I read The Keeper of the Bees before A Daughter of the Land. My mom, who collects Gene Stratton Porter books along with several other authors, suggested it to me as a sort of peaceful, uplifting story.  In retrospect I wish I’d read A Daughter of the Land first, since that book wasn’t as satisfying, and then read The Keeper of the Bees to cheer me up.

Although admittedly this novel is much more Hallmark-y in its moralizing and sentimentality than any of the other Porter novels I’ve read, I really enjoyed the premise and most of the characters of this story. 

James Lewis MacFarlane—Jamie to his friends and us readers—is wasting away in a military hospital in California from a shrapnel wound in his chest that simply won’t heal. He overhears that, because of his continued illness, the doctors are going to send him to a ward for tuberculosis patients. This will be a definite death sentence, for if he wasn’t already sick, he’d soon contract that sickness and die. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Reviewing Gene Stratton Porter's "A Daughter of the Land"


When I asked for my own copy of The Girl of the Limberlost for Christmas last year, my request was fulfilled fourfold.  I opened up a box and looked up quizzically at my mom.  Inside was not only a vintage copy of The Girl of the Limberlost, but also another copy of Freckles, and then two books by Gene Stratton Porter I hadn’t heard of before: A Daughter of the Land and The Keeper of the Bees

“It was the same price to get a set as it was to buy The Girl of the Limberlost separately,” my mom explained.

This was fine by me. Though Gene Stratton Porter is not my favorite author, there is something comfortable and wholesome about her style of writing that I like to come back to after reading not-so-uplifting stories by Albert Camus or the like. I’ve read a lot of reviews by modern readers who think she’s preachy or predicable, her characters too saccharine or good to be true. 

And this to an extent is justified.  Gene Stratton Porter’s books are kind of like the Hallmark movies of Edwardian fiction. Which is why I was so shocked and uncomfortable when I read A Daughter of the Land.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Puppy Dogs and Picture Books

My family got a puppy going on two months ago.  She’s a red merle Australian Shepherd, four months old by Christmas, with pretty curls at the tips of her ears and amber eyes.  We named her Ginger (for Rogers, not the one on Gilligan’s Island). 

Training her has been an experience to say the least.  House training aside, we must teach her not to jump on things, not to scratch at things, not to bite things, not to eat things like eyeglasses, not to attack our two cats, not to chew at our pant-legs, not to bark constantly, to give, to sit, to stay, to lay down, to get off, to come, and not to beg or get up on People Furniture. 

It’s exhausting, and probably the only reason we persevere is because Ginger is so stinkin’ cute.  I mean, just look at her:

Photo Credit: My Mom.  Picture Book Collection Credit: Myself

I’ve been foregoing a lot of reading of actual novels that I want to read, and researching Australian Shepherds and dog training instead.  Most of the books talk about psychological things like positive reinforcement (giving treats when the dog is good versus negative reinforcement of yelling at them when they are bad), and saying “Good sit!” or “Good stay!” whenever the puppy happens to accidentally do those things. 

The books remind humans that dogs are not born speaking human.  We are literally teaching this baby dog a new language, one that she won’t be able to speak even when she does understand it.  This made me think of that picture book, I’ll Teach My Dog 100 Words by Michael Frith (illustrated by P.D. Eastman). 

Like the story’s narrator, the boy who’ll teach his dog all sorts of things like “Jump the fishbowl, bring the bone,” we’ve started training Ginger with such lofty goals.  We don’t want her to beg for food or jump up on the couch.  But she is SUCH a handful.  And since 2017 is scampering toward us as fast as a little teething Aussie ready for her dinner, I’m beginning to think we should copy the narrator of this book and say,


“I think I’ll start next year.”

Monday, November 21, 2016

How To Read A Book: A Detailed Tutorial


1.
Know how to read. Since you are reading this blog, I assume this has already been completed.  Good; I like to be able to start a checklist with something all ready to be struck off. If for some reason you are miraculously able to understand this tutorial without reading, may I suggest taking a short break to look into The Literacy Network, or perhaps make a trip to your local library and ask one of the helpful circulation desk staff for assistance. They’d love to help. That’s what they’re there for.  

2.
Okay, now to the more serious obstacles. Find a book to read. Since this is not what to read but how to read a book, I will leave this choice up to your discretion. Although I would like to remind you that I have some recommendations, there are also TONS of places to find book recommendations, including but not limited to: Goodreads, Amazon.com, blogs, newspaper articles, magazines, and again, LIBRARY STAFF. You know how I said they'd love to help you learn to read? The other purpose of their existence is to help you find what to read. They're kind of like human search engines, and if you're a library regular, they can get to know you enough to personalize a reading material search more accurately than any online computer program.*

Monday, November 14, 2016

"Yes yes"...no. Just...no: Reviewing Kenneth Oppel's "Every Hidden Thing"


In continuation of my poor fortune in reading, I was recently disappointed again. I finished the book at least, which is more than I can say for many of the volumes I’ve picked up at the library over the past month. 

The book is Kenneth Oppel’s Every Hidden Thing. The selling point? Romeo and Juliet looking for a dinosaur. Sounds awesome, right?

Actually the selling point for me was that it was by Oppel, who in my past experience has been one of the best YA authors I’ve had the pleasure to read. My favorite steampunk novels are the Airborn trilogy. I enjoyed the bat-fantasy series of started by Silverwing. I even enjoyed the creepy prequels to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Yet after the rather grim and dark content of the aforementioned Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series, I was hoping for a return to the lighter action-filled adventures of a couple of lovestruck teens in the sun-scorched Badlands looking for dinosaurs at the dawn of paleontology. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

How Profanity Shuts the Door


There really isn’t such a thing as luck. But if there was, I’d be having a rather long stretch of the bad version lately when it comes to reading.

Before I elaborate, I have to go on a rant. Perhaps it’s because I’m spoiled by literature where people—albeit created characters—tend to use language in a much more creative and distinguished manner. Perhaps I’ve read too many Victorian novels where puritanical censorship forced authors into that distinguished creativity. Perhaps I personally am prudish, unrealistic, and wishing to enforce a rigidity to language which is against the very nature of language itself. 

No matter the reason, I am sick of swearing.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Vow of Silence in Chretien de Troyes' "Erec et Enide"


One of my favorite things to read as a teenager was Arthurian Romance cycles. In addition to the adventure and heroism found in Greek epic poetry, Arthurian mythology holds a sort of mysterious quality in its tone. These are not simply stories of battles for honor, glory, and country. These are also stories of individuals embarking into the great unknown of life, questing for legendary objects such as the Holy Grail, which they may or may not succeed in obtaining. This is the sort of thing that fascinates me, because it is a sort of allegory for life: we often embark into the unknown of the future, and our goals may or may not be realistic.

But as it says on the tin, "Arthurian Romance" cycles also include romance. This is not so much the romance of today's Hallmark movies--though perhaps both are surreal in their idealism--but that of the French court of the time. Romance had less to do with love leading to marriage and family, and more about a man's undying devotion to a lady from afar,* often proving it by beating other knights in tournaments in her honor or going on lengthy expeditions for something she requested of him.

One of the main proponents of the French courtier definition of Romance was Chretien de Troyes. Even those who don't recognize his name will have at least a passing familiarity with a character he popularized in his retelling of Arthurian legends: Lancelot du Lac. The drama of Lancelot with King Arthur's wife Guenevere is the epitome of courtly romance, and Lancelot suddenly becoming the Greatest Knight of the Round Table in all the stories ever since would normally make me detest de Troyes...because obviously that honor belongs to none other than GAWAIN!!!!!!!!!!

But that is another rant for another post.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Suffering as a Part of Love according to Poetry of Sappho


The concept of love in Sappho's poetry is multifaceted, taking complex ideas--which other poets have written about ad nauseam--and putting them into concise, simplified form. (This brevity is of course helped by the fact that Sappho's works have only survived to this day in extremely fragmented form, but this too serves as a testament to her artistry, as it has endured and is beautiful and meaningful even in its incompleteness.)

Sappho's love is not confined tot he romantic love between man and woman, but also on the love that makes poignant other relationships such as those of mother-daughter and woman-woman. Although portions of her love poetry can be justifiably interpreted as erotic, Sappho's description of love transcends physical desire. There is something deeper, spiritual, in the way Sappho talks about people in love, and of people's love for each other. When creating the voice of a woman in love, she says:

I can't 
speak--my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under my skin*

This is a simple and relatable style that separates Sappho from lesser poets who have written on such a popular theme.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Who is Heroic? Achilles vs. Hector in Homer's "Iliad"

Seriously Achilles stop being such an emo. Ugh.
The Iliad portrays both Achilles and Hector as heroes with both admirable and faulty characteristics.  each represents his side of war: Achilles is the greatest warrior on the Greeks' side, Hector on the Trojan's. 

Despite the fact that both exhibit heroism and cowardice in this poem, it's always been my opinion that Hector represents the superior type of heroism. Sure, one could argue that Achilles is brave in that he does not really have a vested interest in war, and volunteers of his own volition.  But Hector is one of the few warriors on the losing side, and he fights bravely for his family and country.  Instead of giving up when things don't go well for him, he perseveres. This is in direct contrast with Achilles, who withdraws from war when he's insulted over petty matters of pride. In fact, Achilles is only drawn out of sulking in his tent by the death of his friend at Hector's hands, and returns to battle not for any greater cause than to carry out a personal vendetta of revenge against Hector.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Little Old Ladies 8: The Nosy Miss Marple


“I’m old and I have very little strength in my arms or my legs. Very little strength anywhere.  But I am in my own way an emissary of justice.”  
Miss Marple in Nemesis
Chapter 21: The Clock Strikes Three

While I love Agatha Christie’s writing, and am usually outwitted by her mastery of mystery, I am usually more of a fan of her one-off novels than of her series. I’ve read a great deal of Poirot, all of her Mr. Quin, a few of her Tommy and Tuppence, and then a smattering of Miss Marple. Of all these series, Miss Marple is next to last my least favorite (I really didn’t care for Mr. Quin, but that’s another blog for another time). 

Why do I dislike Miss Jane Marple? She’s so odd, illogical, nosing into all sorts of crimes in a very un-grandmotherly type way. I always feel that it is unrealistic when she starts questioning suspects and these people actually tell her things. If some random lady came up to me and started talking local crime while she was knitting, I would at least equate her with a sort of Madame Defargean lady, especially if she started to rant about evil and seem morbidly fascinated with murder. Also the fact that she seems less than six degrees separated from murder victims would make me paranoid; at best she’s a bad luck charm, at worst a serial killer! 

(Of course Poirot suffers the same bad luck, since every time he goes on vacation a body shows up.  This trend continues from books to television, so much that one wonders why Archie Goodwin ever leaves a client alone since they’re bound to be strangled by Nero Wolfe’s necktie, or why Jessica Fletcher isn’t banned from book tours. Really, unless a detective is a cop or a private investigator, there is no other way of having a sleuth get involved in murder investigations, and even then fictional cops and gumshoes better never take a ride on the Orient Express unless they want to be accessories before or after the fact!)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Little Old Ladies 7: Oh, Marilla!


“ ‘I will say it for the child,’ said Marilla when Anne had gone to her gable, ‘She isn’t stingy.  I’m glad, for of all faults I detest stinginess in a child.  Dear me, it’s only three weeks since she came, and it seems as if she’d been here always.  I can’t imagine the place without her.’” 
~ Marilla Cuthbert, 
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, 
Chapter 12: A Solemn Vow and a Promise

It may seem odd, but my favorite aspect of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s writing is her characterizations of “mean old ladies.” Valancy, heroine of my favorite Montgomery novel The Blue Castle, is stifled and downtrodden not just by her egocentric cousins and ignorant aunts and uncles, but by her own mother. 

(As an aside, I do wonder whether all the “mean” aunts of fiction are a sidestepping of making the mother characters less than, well, motherly. It could be the modern bowdlerization, just as fairy tales originally had evil mothers which over time were changed to evil stepmothers since maternal saintlihood, while perhaps not always realistic, is still put on a pedestal in most fiction and social expectations.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Little Old Ladies 6: The Cures of “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle”


“Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle certainly knew how to make work fun and she also knew that there are certain kinds of work that children love to do even though they do not know how very well.”
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald, Chapter 1: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Herself

I blame Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for many of my obsessive thoughts in childhood.  One was a constant looking up at the ceiling, trying to imagine it being the floor (Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s house is built upside-down on a whim, just to satisfy her own childhood curiosity on the subject). While interesting, it also caused massive vertigo once or twice, and made me look a bit batty to the casual onlooker all the other times. Another was the irrational but overwhelming fear of radishes growing out of my skin. I’ve never been able to eat radishes since. One never knows where they came from.

Putting aside these inherent phobias, let’s talk about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle herself. Limiting myself to the first book, because that’s the only one I read as a child, there’s really not too much revealed about the mysterious widow in the upside-down house aside from what author Betty MacDonald provides in the first chapter. There we learn that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is the widow of a pirate, the ordinary housewives of the 1940s think her strange and don’t go near her, but all their children love her and go about her house and yard as if it were a playground.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Little Old Ladies 5: The Aunt to End All Aunts


“…I do not approve of mercenary marriages.  When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind.  
But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way.” 
Lady Augusta Bracknell, 
The Importance of Being Earnest

I have no deep thoughts or profound themes to expound in today’s blog entry. That’s because I am laughing too hard at Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s quite possibly my favorite play, not only of Oscar Wilde, but also of all the drama I’ve ever read, including Shakespeare. 

Part Dickens, part Monty Python, part Marx Brothers, all wit and all hilarity, Earnest is a clever farce in which the boring Mr. Jack Worthing departs his dull duties in the country with the excuse that he must deal with his fun-loving and reckless brother Ernest in the city. Once in the city, though, Jack takes on the persona of this nonexistent brother in order to enjoy his young life and woo the sophisticated but naïve Gwendolen Fairfax. All the while he also keeps a secret his humdrum life—and his young ingénue ward Cecily Cardew—from his equally fun-loving and reckless friend, aesthete and idle rich Algernon Moncrieff, who happens to be Gwendolen’s cousin.

When Gwendolen’s mother, Algernon’s indefatigable Aunt Augusta, refuses to let Jack/Ernest marry her daughter, Jack/Ernest decides that it would be useless to carry on the charade, and decides to kill off his fictional brother. This, along with letting slip his actual country address, gives friend Algy a foothold into his friend’s life. Algy arrives at Jack’s home posing as “Ernest,” and of course falls for sweet Cecily. 

Of course insanity is bound to ensue when the two so-called Ernests collide…and their love interests’ paths intersect. But nothing could compare to the bombshell that Aunt Augusta drops when she drops in. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Little Old Ladies 4: Those Meddling Sources of Civilization “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”


When I first read Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a child, I took the side of the children in that story.  And so Tom’s Aunt Polly to me was the villain of the story more than Injun Joe. Injun Joe was all part of the adventure, as spectacular as Captain Hook.  But Aunt Polly is more like Mr. Darling, just wanting to spoil the fun and make all the kids to grow up. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Little Old Ladies 3: Bertie Wooster’s Aunts


Much as I love Bertie Wooster, especially played by Hugh Laurie where he’s not quite so much of an upper-class twit as most illustrators make him, I can’t help but feel that he deserves all the trouble he gets for being such a doormat. It’s not that he’s a doormat to one person that knows his kryptonite and manipulates his weaknesses. It’s that he caves to every person he knows. This includes fellow Drones club members, old Eton classmates, cousins, girlfriends and fiancées, former girlfriends and fiancées, enemies, bullies, constables, and most especially his aunts. Of course his butler Jeeves also exerts a fair amount of influence on Bertie, but usually this is of a positive note, such as making him shave off terrible mustachios, and it is implied Jeeves would like Bertie to go to fewer parties and read more Spinoza. 

For someone who is particularly susceptible to the threats and manipulations of aunts, Bertie is flooded with more than his fair share. Of the ones that are mentioned (and I am led to believe there might be other unnamed aunts off skulking in the wings) there are Emily, Julia, Agatha and Dahlia. Emily and Julia are aunts by marriage, and not so much problems in their own right, except their children often are off getting into trouble which of course Bertie (rather than the actual parents) is responsible for getting them out of. To be fair, this may be less about aunts Julia and Emily feeling up to the task of reprimanding their children, and more about Bertie’s having a certain butler who has a knack for solving sticky issues.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Little Old Ladies 2: “Janet, Donkeys!”—Dickens’ Betsey Trotwood and Sundry Other Imposing Females


Did you miss me, dear Internet?

After a long absence I return to my blog refreshed and ready to return to my derailed character analysis series, “Little Old Ladies.” What started out as a comparison of all the Imposing Aunts in fiction slowly expanded to include the other non-matriarchal elder females in fiction.  And what I found when I widened this lens was fascinating. Remember, most literature written pre-1960’s—which also happens to be the majority of my reading material—looks at women from a prefemenist point of view, a perspective that women were in some way weaker than men. And the reality was not much different from that perspective: according to law and social convention, women’s property was their husband’s, their rights were constricted according to what their male relatives allowed them to practice, and their lives were not their own to control.

So although characters like Catherine de Bourgh, the various “mean” aunts with names like Dahlia, Agatha, Augusta, etc., and Miss Havisham are all “negative” characters, in one way they are positive: they show strong women standing up for themselves, exercising powers that women of their day weren’t supposed to have.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Happiness for Its Own Sake: Aristotle’s Concept of Eudaimonia in "The Nicomachean Ethics"


According to modern definitions of ‘happiness,’ it is a state of feeling some sort of emotion that results from pleasure. A happy person has a positive outlook on life, often is socially outgoing and popular with other people, and often is seen as successful or having some reason to be happy. This modern perspective on happiness predispositions readers from understanding concepts of happiness as set forth by classical philosophers such as Aristotle.

Contrasting modern definitions, Aristotle’s concept of happiness is not of a fleeting emotion, but rather a representative of the entire course of a person’s life. It is not a sense of feeling in which the subject of happiness is passive, but rather a form of action in which the subject controls whether he is happy or not. Happiness is a goal, a lifelong pursuit, characterized by the definition of its Greek word, eudaimonia, which translates not only to “happiness,” but also to “human flourishing” or “success.” 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pursuit of the Good and the Noble Lie in Plato’s Republic


In Plato’s Republic, a dialogue between Socrates and several other thinkers concerns itself with the definition of justice on both a personal and socio-political level.  In doing so, the discussion is sidetracked to investigating The Good.  In this discussion, Socrates states that “every soul pursues the good,” a statement that conflicts with the other Platonic theory that social order must be gained through a “Noble Lie.” The puzzle is that if everyone pursues good, why is there any need for the Noble Lie?   
           
The existence of the Noble Lie leads modern readers one of two contradictory conclusions. The first is that the desire to know The Good is not as universal as Plato infers, thus making the Noble Lie a necessity in order to keep people from deviating from its pursuit. The other conclusion casts a more devious light on Plato’s entire philosophy, because if people really do pursue the good, then the Noble Lie implies that Plato’s ideal Republic is a façade disguising an institution of caste strictures, brainwashing, and totalitarianism.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Variations on a Theme: The Nature of Change and its Role in the Cosmos


Change (chānj) v.t.
1, make different; alter.
2, replace by another; substitute.
3, give and take reciprocally; exchange.
--v.i. become different; pass from one condition or state to another.
n. 1, alteration; modification; transformation.
2 substitution; exchange.
3, variety; novelty.

What exactly is change, and how does it function and interact with the rest of the universe? Since the answer affects any subsequent theories on the universe, its substance and organization, this is a question that occupies a significant part of Presocratic thought. Within the individual philosophies of Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and Zeno, theories of change and how it interacts with the universe are not so dissimilar, in that change is only a variation on a single theme.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Language, Value, and "Troilus and Cressida"


In any work, the intentions of an author influence how that text is read and applied to everyday life.  Because of this, William Shakespeare’s intentions in writing Troilus and Cressida, what his message about language and the debate between inherent worth and intrinsic value, are particularly important to how we understand the play’s characters and their actions, and interpreting the underlying meaning is perhaps the most elusive aspect of an already ambiguous text.  

Throughout the debate within the play of these two methods of valuation, Shakespeare demonstrates that language is a creative force, for good or bad. It is a way of perpetuating certain concepts of how people are valued, and that one’s perceptions of reality—especially the reality of identity—can be made into an illusion through the manipulation of words.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Speaking Out No Matter the Cost: Chretien de Troyes' "Erec et Enide"


One of the most pivotal and mysterious parts of Chretien de Troyes’ Erec and Enide is the vow of silence. The vow of silence is the source not only of physical conflict—Enide’s breaking her vow introduces Erec’s fight scenes—but also moral and emotional conflict between the husband and wife.  As a plot device the vow illustrates the relationship between Erec and Enide in not only peaceful, but also dangerous circumstances. In this way the story Erec and Enide shows the conflict between true, self-sacrificing love and the expectations of fulfilling chivalric codes of honor.

There isn’t necessarily a premeditated reason for the vow of silence. However, investigating its possible functions is important in order to understand the plot as a whole. Although typical romance cycles are by nature cyclonical and disconnected, this Chretien de Troyes romance is atypical in that other parts of the story are interconnected with the vow of silence. Enide’s first words are what cause Erec’s anger, and her enforced vow of silence is a consequence of this action. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Deceitful above All Things: Condemnation of Human Nature in “Young Goodman Brown” and "The Mysterious Stranger"


The works of both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain critique the moral conventions of not only historical societies, but that of their contemporaries. Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown” and Twain’s unfinished novella “The Mysterious Stranger,” for example, make grim judgments on innate characteristics of human nature. Although their individual aspects differ, both works demonstrate humanity as naturally depraved, hereditarily corrupted, and without any hope of breaking this futile cycle of sin and hypocrisy. Despite the differences between the works, therefore, they communicate a common message about the status of human “civilization” throughout history. 

In “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Mysterious Stranger,” an ignorant young human comes into contact with a devil-figure and experience supernatural incidents. The protagonists are naïve in their preconceptions of humanity’s moral and social uprightness, while the devil-figures show the protagonists the diabolic character traits in human nature. Through interactions with these supernatural entities, both Hawthorne and Twain illustrate how humanity is so corrupt, even the devil himself “in his own shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man.”

Monday, May 30, 2016

Thoughts on Stephen Crane’s "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets"


Maggie Johnson is born into poverty and degradation, a life without hope of escape from her circumstances, and without the education or resources to do anything to better her life. It is her innate desire for a better life that drives the rest of the story. Maggie attempts to elevate her lifestyle through a relationship with Pete, a man whom she believes will help her break away from her present circumstances, but in doing so she brings about her downfall.

Written in the gossiping tone of a bystander, Crane reports life in the slums, where people are hardened until their humanity is almost unrecognizable. These people are trapped by the world they were born into and slowly assimilated into the culture so as to obstruct them from any escape. After the story’s tragic ending, Crane makes no editorial comments, preaches no possible solutions. He doesn’t have to, because if there is any remaining empathy within Crane’s readers, the story’s message speaks for itself.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Injustice of Fate in Mark Twain's "Pudd’nhead Wilson"


The dichotomy between an individual’s willpower and inherent destiny is one of the predominant themes throughout Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. The original title, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, implies that the ultimate outcome is somehow predestined and unchangeable by any human effort. Thus within this world some things cannot be altered; a person’s birth dictates their status rather than their individual merit. This point is evidenced by the way neither Tom nor Chambers’ identity can be hidden; no matter what they do, their fingerprints are a constant which identify them in the end. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Art as Imitator and Commentator on Life: Realism in Mark Twain’s "Pudd’nhead Wilson"


Mark Twain's The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson is an example of three methods of realist writing in this era of American literature; the use of vernacular dialogue (that is, spelling it out the way someone pronounces it, even if that is technically spelled incorrect), the correspondent-type narrative, and the writing on issues important to contemporary society. 

Twain is perhaps the most famous among the American realists for his use of regional vernacular in dialogue as a characteristic of realist style. By spelling out the pronunciation of different dialects, Twain portrayed reality not only with the plot, but with the very words themselvesNot only that, but Twain’s use of so-called ‘lower’ forms of English served to equalize the language
           
While other realists such as Stephen Crane, Rebecca Harding Davis, and to an extent Louisa May Alcott used vernacular spellings in their literature, none have done it to such an extent or with such commitment as Mark Twain. In fact, writers such as Alcott often spelled out vernacular in quotations, as if they were foreign instead of words native to America. As for Twain himself, he was disdainful of other writers whose vernacular writing was stilted and inconsistent. For this reason, Twain disliked James Fennimore Cooper and Charles Dickens’ writing, which he thought unrealistic because their vernacular was not invariable.
           
To him, the way a character spoke was as important as what they spoke. Yet Mark Twain’s realism was not confined to realistic portrayal of language pronunciation, but also relied on two types of real-life accounts. Newspaper stories continued where his own experience was limited, and where the newspaper stories were mundane, his active imagination expanded upon them

Monday, May 16, 2016

Character Growth in "Huckleberry Finn"


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain almost defies categorization. In a way, it’s a sort of sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, except it takes on a much darker, serious, adult tone in contrast to Tom’s antics. Huck is essentially an orphan, and though starting at the end of Tom Sawyer and into the beginning of Huck Finn the Widow Douglas has sort of adopted him, Huck revolts against her attempts to civilize him and soon is on the run. 

Sounds like the making of more Sawyerian shenanigans, right? Maybe Huck will be able to attend his funeral again, right? 

Wrong. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Little Old Ladies: Introduction


Stories are filled with archetypes and stereotypes of characters, which first oral storytellers and then professional writers plugged into their works in almost formulaic fashion. Sometimes this was deliberate, other times unconscious on the storyteller’s end. But these types of characters in turn serve a role in forming the opinions and preconceptions of us, the readers. For example, the stories of princesses who are fairest in the land create a subconscious ideal of blonde, blue-eyed beauty.  Character types aren’t always that simplistic.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Long Reviews of Short Stories: Charles Yu's "Third Class Superhero"


With names like "401(k)" and "32.05864991%" and “Two-Player Infinitely Iterated Simultaneous Semi-cooperative Game with Spite and Reputation Autobiographical Raw Material Unsuitable for the Mining of Fiction,” it is a fair guess in just perusing the table of contents of this short story collection that is both quirky and probably written by a former science major or something. And both inferences are accurate.

Though I’m not much of a short story fan, I was drawn to this colorful paperback’s cover and science-fiction-y title. I was not disappointed with the content. Short stories have a tendency for being minimalist, a bit ambiguous, and existential. Again, I was not disappointed. Some stories, like “Realism” are so bleak as to almost feel like a cliché of Bleakness. What Yu does differently with his writing than most other contemporary storytellers is incorporating technobabble almost seamlessly into his world-building.    

Monday, March 28, 2016

Ross McCammon’s "Works Well With Others": Things I Liked, Disliked, and Wondered About


Things I Liked About Ross McCammon’s Works Well With Others: An Outsider’s Guide to Shaking Hands, Shutting Up, Handling Jerks, and Other Crucial Skills in Business That No One Ever Teaches You:

1.       Chapter 2: Should You Keep Reading This Book established that I was well within my rights to skip around in the book. And so I did.
2.       Chapter 4: Classic Interview Rules, Plus One More is a good nutshell list. 
3.       Chapter 8: Ways in Which you Must Screw Up Early On: A Handy Checklist.  It made me feel good to read about someone even more horrible at First Day Jitters at a job than I [hope that I] am.
4.       “You cannot be an interesting conversationalist if you are faking interest in something.”
5.       I was so happy to have my “It’s a little earlier than I want to leave this party, so I’d better leave” philosophy validated. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Play-By-Play Reactions: A Review of Haruki Murakami's "The Strange Library"


An unnamed, unaged, undescribed boy character goes to a library in his new shoes to return his books. He has to be home by 6:00 or else his mother will worry; not long ago he was attacked by a Big Black Dog and ever since then he has never been the same and his mother has always expected him to get home in a timely fashion. The librarian at the checkout counter is a stranger to him.  Checking in the returned items, she asks if there is anything else. The boy says yes, he’d like some books.

Me: Really?  Well from now on, unnamed boy of indeterminate age, I shall refer to you in my blog as Captain Obvious.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Agatha Christie's "Endless Night" - A Review


It’s hard to describe Agatha Christie’s Endless Night without worrying about slipping up and spoiling the ending.  So I am not going to even try. 

 So, um, if you don’t want spoilers, don’t read this.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Words to Read By: Evaluating Books by Their Blurbs

BLOGGER’S NOTE: I usually try to keep my blog family-friendly and age-appropriate, but this entry will describe briefly some of the things I avoid when choosing reading material.


The last time I was at the library I went on another borrowing binge. As I was scouring the stacks searching for my next Great American (or any other nationality, I’m not particularly picky on that count) Novel, I realized that I was judging books by their covers…but more than that, I was judging them by their blurbs.

This is perfectly acceptable library behavior. Blurbs—the description of the book’s contents either on the back cover or inside the front flap of the dust-jacket—are carefully crafted in order to communicate how great and readable the book is, in order to sell as many copies as possible.  It’s important to remember that a badly written blurb does not mean the book itself is badly written or vise-versa. However, it is also important to put some time into decoding a blurb in order to get a correct idea of what the book will actually be about.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Some Short Story Reviews


I don’t often review short stories, and that’s mostly because I don’t often read short stories.  Especially during this time of year where I live, the days are short and dreary and windy, making for great atmosphere to read a long novel by Elizabeth Gaskell or one of the Bronte sisters. But just as sometimes one hankers for a feast, and other times is just a pit peckish for a small snack, sometimes it’s just the right time for short stories. I’ve had my fill of Araby, Mrs. Dalloway, and The Awakening from my college years—though oddly enough I didn’t get any Kafka or Dostoyevsky assignments, which is a conundrum and a shame in my opinion. But when it comes to picking out contemporary fiction—short stories and novellas in particular—I look for less depressing fare, mostly quirky, magic-realism or almost science-fictional genres.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Beginnings and Endings…not necessarily in that order…


Every year I make the same reading resolution, and every year I break it: to not start any new book series before I finish the ones I’m already working on. This includes but is not limited to the Amelia Peabody mysteries, all books by P.G Wodehouse, various YA books that seemed like one-off novels until the last page when it read “Such and such characters will return in ________.”  The worse repeat offenders of my ruined resolutions are Agatha Christie novels and Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. Not that I’m complaining; these mysteries, either in paper or audio book form, are among my favorite reads. However, since there are so very many of them, I have given up trying to read them in order.

This had proved problematic for two reasons. First, sometimes Poirot or Wolfe refers to an incident in the past which is actually in a previous novel which I may or may not have read yet.  This is not as problematic for me personally, since chances are by the time I get around to reading that other mystery I will have forgotten the “clue from the future” and besides, these mentions rarely spoil the climax of the whodunit. 

More problematic is when I read the last book of a series and it spoils an aspect of the books that have gone before. Much like trying to watch any of the earlier Newhart episodes after seeing the historic ending, it’s hard to go back “home,” as it were, by reading any previous books.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Surprises and Disappointments: "The Birds of Pandemonium" and "Drood"


After the pleasant surprise of my previous audiobook What If? (which I briefly reviewed last week) I almost though it would be pressing luck to immediately get another random audiobook from my long library queue. However, I’d already clicked “Place Hold” so there was no going back, and before I knew it The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among the Exotic and Endangered was waiting for me at the checkout counter.

When getting nonfiction books, I often stumble across little pockets of our world heretofore unknown to me. I didn’t know the blog xkcd existed until I read the book What If?, and even now I’m not sure I know how to spell it. 
 
The same thing happened with Pandemonium. The Pandemonium Aviaries is a nonprofit bird sanctuary that started out as a woman taking in unwanted birds, then developed into a breeding program for endangered species. The main characters are the birds themselves, of course, along with the humans who love them. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hits and Misses


This is the story about how I read Randall Munro's What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, which is a book compilation of entries to Munro's blog xkcd.com, renown for science, humor, and stick figure doodles.  

But first, some autobiographical backstory.  The way I get most of my library books is randomized: every month my library puts a list of “Don’t Miss” new additions on their online catalog.  I go through this list, checking boxes next to the titles that look even remotely of interest to me, and then hit “Add to My Lists.” This goes into a queue of books that I eventually want to check out.  As time goes on, then, I gradually put books on hold—I usually have about 10-20 books checked out, and pretty steadily have 15 on hold.  Some items take longer than others to reach me, so that by the time I am at the checkout counter of the library and receive my holds, I might have forgotten why I wanted a certain item to begin with. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Arthur Conan Doyle's “Other” Short Stories: The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard


One lesson which I have learned in my roaming life, my friends, is never to call anything a misfortune until you have seen the end of it.  Is not every hour a fresh point of view? (pg 76)

I did not care much for The White Company or Sir Nigel, so as far as I was concerned, Arthur Conan Doyle was wrong when it came to estimating his historical fiction works as better than his adventures with Sherlock Holmes. Then I read The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard. While there is no doubt that history has proved Holmes to be the masterpiece—however begrudging—of Sir Arthur, I must admit I enjoyed these much lesser-known short stories immensely.

These stories, which follow the French brigadier through his missions and misadventures on behalf of France and Emperor Napoleon, are the sort of thing one expects from Victorian action-adventure penny dreadfuls. Swashbuckling, honor, secret missions, patriotism, are all part of the fun.  The heroes are brave and undaunted, the villains are dastardly cowards, and the safety of the nation and the values they uphold hang in the balance.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Looking Back at "Back to the Classics"


2015 was the year where I consistently forgot that I had signed up for a reading challenge, only to remember in December and quickly fill in the qualifying books from the previous months. It also was the year I exceeded my 100 Book annual goal (by a mere seven, of course, but I'll take what I can get), so it was not a total loss. In any case, I completed the Back to the Classics challenge hosted bkarensbooksandchocolate.blogspot.com, and here are the results:


1.  A 19th Century Classic -- any book published between 1800 and 1899.

by Mark Twain

2.  A 20th Century Classic -- any book published between 1900 and 1965.

The Mystery of the Blue Train 
by Agatha Christie

It’s only taken reading the majority of her work, but I’m finally getting the hang of solving Agatha Christie’s mysteries.  I successfully deduced whodunit for The Mystery of the Blue Train and have felt immensely proud of myself ever since.  I wouldn’t say this was either Christie’s best-plotted puzzle or her easiest. Instead it strikes a pleasant chord between the two, and seemed to me an amalgam of Christie’s usual fare of Murder Mystery Set In The Heart Of England and her less famous espionage novels. I would recommend this to be “read” as an audio book, as there may (or may not) be a clue that’s more obvious when read in text.  It all depends on how hard the reader wants to make the detecting.

Monday, January 4, 2016

"Darkwing" by Kenneth Oppel


It’s the end of an era: the saurians who had been the dominant predator on Earth are dying out due to a mysterious sickness and through the machinations of all the other beasts, who have made a pact to exterminate this common threat by destroying any saurian eggs they find. About twenty years before Darkwing begins, however, a small group of chiropters who reject the pact and go to live on a secluded island as conscientious objectors. 

As our story begins, the young chiropter Dusk is about to make his first leap into the air. He’s a weak newborn, strangely built, and instinctively he wants to flap his sails like wings. As he grows up with his father Icaron, the leader of the island colony, his impulsive sister Sylph, and the rest of his family, Dusk is subjected to a great deal of pressure to conform or risk being shunned by his community. But Dusk is not like the others. Whereas in the story, the chiropters are a sort of pre-bat species (I immediately imagined them looking like sugar-gliders, though later in the book there are illustrations which contradict my mental image), Dusk is a true bat, with the ability to “see” in the dark and, much to the fear and confusion of the rest of his people, to fly.