Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thoughts on Around the World In Eighty Days by Jules Verne



Find this book at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

In 1870's London, Phileas Fogg and his servant, Passepartout (two of the awesomest names in literature, by the way) set off on a trip around the world to test the reliability of modern travel.  Phileas placed a bet on his ability to complete the journey in eighty days or less in the amount of twenty thousand pounds; and, since he took another twenty k with him for expenses, his entire fortune is resting on the success of the journey.

I had the same problem with this book that I did with Monkey--essentially, there's a lot of plot (and the story is told really well), but I simply could not connect with the characters.  Phileas Fogg seemed cool at first simply because he was so weird, but his personality didn't expand at all beyond my first impression of him.  Indeed, I viewed him more as a symbol of modernization--he's always precise, on time, regulated and repetitive, not to mention cold and impersonal--than as an actual human.  Passepartout was also initially interesting, but he's not enough to balance out Phileas.  I'm essentially a character girl, and if I don't care about these two characters, why should I care if they get around the world or not?  Especially when the whole endeavor to begin with seems at best silly and at worst idiotic.

Another thing that bothered me about the book was the modernization--or, more specifically, the ambiguous way Verne treats modernization.  The trains and steamers have allowed for what is really the modern tourist--rushing to get somewhere for a few hours, then rushing to the next stop.  If you're looking for a travelogue, this isn't it--Phileas just wants to get from one place to the next and counts stopping in a city for a few hours as "seeing" it.  There's also a great deal of talk about time and time zones in the book, which fits in with the theme of modern travel, since trains are what made it necessary to institute time zones in the first place.

Personally, I found it all a little cold and soul-sucking, but I wonder if Verne felt the same?  Or maybe he thought this new technology as teh awesome?  It's difficult to tell from what I read of the book.

Anyway, I didn't finish it.



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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

Proposed alternate title: Zen and the Art of Katana Maitenance

book of five rings cover

Find this book at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

Miyamoto Musashi is one of the most famous--if not the most famous--samurai to have ever lived.  He wrote several books, but The Book of the Five Rings is the ultimate summary of his philosophy in strategy, tactics, fighting, and life.

This book is often referred to as the Japanese Art of War, but I think it's much more accessible than that--the book is surprisingly short and readable.  Musashi starts off with a short autobiography and then summarizes his method, which falls into five rings or "Ways": Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void.

Since I'm not, and not likely to ever be, a swordswoman, most of this book is of limited interest to me.  If it had been a long tome or difficult reading, I would have quit--however, since it was so short, I found it pretty easy to get through even though I know basically nothing about fighting.  I can definitely see how this book is still popular with those who study martial arts.  Considering it was written circa 1645, the writing is refreshingly straight-forward (although repetitive--variations of "you must practice this," "you must learn this," etc., are found at the end of every chapter) and uncomplicated.  Yet the philosophies Musashi lays out are ones you can truly spend years trying to understand and master.

One of the things I really liked about The Book of Five Rings is that Musashi starts off by saying natural talent doesn't matter.  What truly makes a samurai is dedication and practice.  That is a rather egalitarian attitude and one that I wish underpinned more philosophies.

I first heard about this book on a TV show, Samurai, which was on the History Channel a few days ago.  Honestly, I think I learned more about the basics of Musashi's philosophy from that show than from this book.  But it was still interesting to see how the words of Musashi translate to physical action in fighting. 

After reading this The Book of Five Rings, I have to say Musashi definitely deserves his rep as the greatest samurai; and if you have even a passing interest in samurai or martial arts, I definitely recommend this book.



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Sunday, March 28, 2010

What Do We Mean By Classic Anyway?

classics month button

I'm so happy that Colleen from the fabulous Bookphilia is here today to talk about classics.  As soon as I started thinking about having a Classics Month, I knew Colleen was someone I wanted to guest post--she's a bookseller, has a Ph.D. in English Lit., is crazy smart, and reads way more classics voluntarily than I ever will, so she knows what of she speaks!  Welcome, Colleen.




What are the Classics, and why should we read them anyway?

 

If asked, I think most of us could easily rattle off a list of Classic books – how about A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, Hamlet, and Moby Dick? We can also, just as easily, come up with a list of Classic authors – let’s say, Shakespeare, two of the three Brontes, Thackeray, and Chaucer.

 

But what makes a Classic classic? The above examples suggest that age matters. And durability is important, after all. Classics, at their most basic level, are simply books which have remained widely read well beyond and outside their original milieu and context. Within this definition there are two subsets of the Classic. First, there are those Classic texts being investigated in classrooms and scholarly books and articles, but which are also still being snapped up by those with no educational affiliations, people who just want to read good reads that also make them use their brains a little bit.

 

On the other hand, there are the Classic books read almost exclusively in educational settings. These books are Classics because they represent some major moment in literary history. Chaucer’s works are very readable but they’re important because they were the first major English works written in English; they turned the tide towards writing in the vernacular, and that shift defined English literature ever after. But many of the landmark Classics are not what would now be considered readable; they don’t possess that certain something, seen in the works of Dickens especially (in my view), that manages to make the alien aspects of a context long gone seem both familiar and knowable. I recently read such a classic – Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.

 

The Castle of Otranto (1764) is not just “A Gothic Tale” as its subtitle tells us – it is the gothic tale that both defined and launched the gothic novel which was to become so widely written and read in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Anyone interested in the history and development of the English novel, in the supernatural in western literature, in 18th century English literature would miss a major milestone of both experience and crucial information if they were to skip this book.

 

And yet, it is not widely read outside academic circles now. The Castle of Otranto is, however, widely taught because it is useful as hell – not because like, say, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, that it is both useful and a joy to read and teach. The Castle of Otranto is sort of readable, but that’s in part because it’s only 100 pages long. It possesses none of the familiar yet alien contextual elements that Dickens’ work does – it’s pure alien, through and through. As a tale of horror, there is not one thing in it that would come close to either frightening or titillating any modern reader.

 

Gigantism, portents that lead to nothing, a talking skeleton that keeps its distance and quickly disappears – all would be very either boring or straight up laughable to a reading audience used to literary thrillers like The Turn of the Screw or, at the lower end of the spectrum, films about maniacs who cut your limbs off after trapping you in their hostel. Ghosts and the mere suggestion of divine punishment make no real sense in our cynical, secular world. Insanity and physical maiming, on the other hand, make horrifying sense to us, but Walpole wasn’t going there.

 

So, I guess my first question is, knowing that there are two streams of Classic literature that often have little in common, does the term still make sense? And what do we want to do with it anyway? What is the value in making a point of reading Classic literature for its own sake, if we don’t read all of it, good and bad? This last question I ask for all of you (and I’m one of them) who has at some point, or often, said to yourself “I should read more Classic literature.”

 

The “should” issue is a very different one from that of desire. To feel you’d prefer to read Dickens today rather that Dan Brown is not at all the same thing as feeling you should do so. In these shoulds there is a perceived cultural value in reading the things that have long been considered Classic literature. The problem with this perceived cultural value is that it is unaccompanied by anything that proves its correctness; it’s a tautology, a statement which proves its validity merely by restating itself, i.e., Shakespeare is amazing because he’s Shakespeare. (I wish I were making this phrase up, but as a former prof and a book-seller who likes to eavesdrop on people, I have heard such specious assertions more times than I’d like to remember.)

 

You see, I think we need to ask ourselves what we mean by Classic literature now, and why we mean it, for the label itself suggests there’s something different – more demanding of respect, perhaps – than the light reads we take on beach vacations. Whatever the source of this sense of duty, I think there’s something quite positive beneath our potentially shaming inclination towards the “should” in reading.

 

I think what it means, quite improbably in a world in which things move so quickly and patience is becoming an archaism of both language and living, is that a large portion of the population not only believes in literary art, but also in art which must be enjoyed slowly and often revisited. Or, in the case of the less readable stream of Classics done primarily in school – we nod respectfully at a literary past which has led irrevocably to a very rich literary present, busy with producing a batch of books which will someday also be Classics. We insert ourselves into a community of readers that spans broad time periods and crosses continents, just like those very best of the best Classics – and that’s worth celebrating.


What Do We Mean By Classic Anyway?

classics month button


I'm so happy that Colleen from the fabulous Bookphilia is here today to talk about classics.  As soon as I started thinking about having a Classics Month, I knew Colleen was someone I wanted to guest post--she's a bookseller, has a Ph.D. in English Lit., is crazy smart, and reads way more classics voluntarily than I ever will, so she knows what of she speaks!  Welcome, Colleen.



What are the Classics, and why should we read them anyway?

If asked, I think most of us could easily rattle off a list of Classic books – how about A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, Hamlet, and Moby Dick? We can also, just as easily, come up with a list of Classic authors – let’s say, Shakespeare, two of the three Brontes, Thackeray, and Chaucer.

But what makes a Classic classic? The above examples suggest that age matters. And durability is important, after all. Classics, at their most basic level, are simply books which have remained widely read well beyond and outside their original milieu and context. Within this definition there are two subsets of the Classic. First, there are those Classic texts being investigated in classrooms and scholarly books and articles, but which are also still being snapped up by those with no educational affiliations, people who just want to read good reads that also make them use their brains a little bit.

On the other hand, there are the Classic books read almost exclusively in educational settings. These books are Classics because they represent some major moment in literary history. Chaucer’s works are very readable but they’re important because they were the first major English works written in English; they turned the tide towards writing in the vernacular, and that shift defined English literature ever after. But many of the landmark Classics are not what would now be considered readable; they don’t possess that certain something, seen in the works of Dickens especially (in my view), that manages to make the alien aspects of a context long gone seem both familiar and knowable. I recently read such a classic – Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.

The Castle of Otranto (1764) is not just “A Gothic Tale” as its subtitle tells us – it is the gothic tale that both defined and launched the gothic novel which was to become so widely written and read in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Anyone interested in the history and development of the English novel, in the supernatural in western literature, in 18th century English literature would miss a major milestone of both experience and crucial information if they were to skip this book.

And yet, it is not widely read outside academic circles now. The Castle of Otranto is, however, widely taught because it is useful as hell – not because like, say, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, that it is both useful and a joy to read and teach. The Castle of Otranto is sort of readable, but that’s in part because it’s only 100 pages long. It possesses none of the familiar yet alien contextual elements that Dickens’ work does – it’s pure alien, through and through. As a tale of horror, there is not one thing in it that would come close to either frightening or titillating any modern reader.

Gigantism, portents that lead to nothing, a talking skeleton that keeps its distance and quickly disappears – all would be very either boring or straight up laughable to a reading audience used to literary thrillers like The Turn of the Screw or, at the lower end of the spectrum, films about maniacs who cut your limbs off after trapping you in their hostel. Ghosts and the mere suggestion of divine punishment make no real sense in our cynical, secular world. Insanity and physical maiming, on the other hand, make horrifying sense to us, but Walpole wasn’t going there.

So, I guess my first question is, knowing that there are two streams of Classic literature that often have little in common, does the term still make sense? And what do we want to do with it anyway? What is the value in making a point of reading Classic literature for its own sake, if we don’t read all of it, good and bad? This last question I ask for all of you (and I’m one of them) who has at some point, or often, said to yourself “I should read more Classic literature.”

The “should” issue is a very different one from that of desire. To feel you’d prefer to read Dickens today rather that Dan Brown is not at all the same thing as feeling you should do so. In these shoulds there is a perceived cultural value in reading the things that have long been considered Classic literature. The problem with this perceived cultural value is that it is unaccompanied by anything that proves its correctness; it’s a tautology, a statement which proves its validity merely by restating itself, i.e., Shakespeare is amazing because he’s Shakespeare. (I wish I were making this phrase up, but as a former prof and a book-seller who likes to eavesdrop on people, I have heard such specious assertions more times than I’d like to remember.)

You see, I think we need to ask ourselves what we mean by Classic literature now, and why we mean it, for the label itself suggests there’s something different – more demanding of respect, perhaps – than the light reads we take on beach vacations. Whatever the source of this sense of duty, I think there’s something quite positive beneath our potentially shaming inclination towards the “should” in reading.

I think what it means, quite improbably in a world in which things move so quickly and patience is becoming an archaism of both language and living, is that a large portion of the population not only believes in literary art, but also in art which must be enjoyed slowly and often revisited. Or, in the case of the less readable stream of Classics done primarily in school – we nod respectfully at a literary past which has led irrevocably to a very rich literary present, busy with producing a batch of books which will someday also be Classics. We insert ourselves into a community of readers that spans broad time periods and crosses continents, just like those very best of the best Classics – and that’s worth celebrating.

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

darkly luminous cover

Pre-order this book at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker is the sequel to The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, and picks up right where that book left off.  Because of this, I don't think it's possible to review the book without spoiling its predecessor (even the title is a spoiler to some extent)--so if you haven't read Strangely Beautiful yet, you might want to skip to the end of this review.

Now onto the good stuff, to wit:  I enjoyed the hell out of this book!  I think it's actually about ten times better than Strangely Beautiful: more romantic, and with a better story.  When the book opens, we're at Athens Academy right after Percy has tossed the Gorgon and Cerberus back into the Whisper World.  But instead of seeing things from the perspective of one of The Guard, we're introduced to Beatrice, a ghost and former Guard member herself.  This seems like little more than a creative way to do backstory, at first, but it actually sets up the entire plot of the book beautifully.

You see, even though Percy has found her goddess powers and closed the portals between the worlds, Darkness still wants his Persephone back.  Meanwhile, Alexi is insisting that he and Percy need to be married right away and they're going to have a honeymoon if it kills them.  Normally this would be problematic enough considering Alexi's job on The Guard; but unbeknownst to Percy, her goddess self had a much bigger purpose in becoming a mortal than just closing the seals between worlds and gettin' it on with the hawt prof.  When Alexi finds out about this--and discovers just how dangerous her mission is going to be--he is none too happy.

I think even if you had some problems with Strangely Beautiful, you're going to like Darkly Luminous.  My personal issue with the first book was Percy and Alexi's relationship, and how unequal it was.  In this novel, Hieber confronts the fact that Alexi is--or was--Percy's professor, and that he's almost double her age, more directly.  Percy is still very young and not entirely sure of herself, which is honestly something I found a bit disturbing at times; but she gets more assertive as the book goes on, and I thought Alexi's authoritarian moments were well-explained and handled by all the characters.

Plus, if you were interested in the story of the other guard members, that's nicely fleshed out and concluded here.  Elijah has several great scenes, and I actually really adored his relationship with Josephine.  We also find out more about Jane's ghostly romance.

The only part of the book I didn't like was the conclusion to Rebecca's story and her love for Alexi.  I just found it unbelievable and wayyyy to easy.  Michael's great, but is he really her equal in intellect and personality?  I just wasn't feeling it.  The book also dragged a bit in the middle, when everyone gets a time out for Alexi and Parcy's honeymoon; but otherwise, the beginning and end flew by with amazing swiftness.

If you're looking for an atmostpheric Victorian novel with adventure, ghosts, travels to the Underworld, and romance, this is pretty much it.  I don't recommend reading this one before Strangely Beautiful, but if you've already done so, dig right into Darkly Luminous as soon as you can.  In fact, re-read the first book before you start this one--you'll thank me later.



Thank you to Leanna Renee Hieber for providing me with an early copy of this book!  The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker will be released April 27th, 2010.



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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Musical Notes: Little Vampire Women and Rupert of Hentzau

musical notes gif Image by suchitra prints

Musical Notes is a weekly feature where I talk about the music that accompanied my reading.  It was inspired by the lovely Memory from Stella Matutina.

Little Vampire Women

David Bowie goes perfectly with Little Women.  Yes, he does!  Especially when the little women are vampires.  I think Jo would sympathize with this song:



Rupert of Hentzau

Fleet Foxes is really the perfect band to listen to while reading this book (and probably Prisoner of Zenda as well)--romantic, mysterious and timeless.





What have you been listening to and reading this week?



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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rupert of Hentzau by Anthony Hope

rupert of hentzau cover

Find this book at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

As I mentioned in my review of Prisoner of Zenda, the evol villain Rupert was my favorite character in the book.  Therefore I was really excited that the sequel was titled Rupert of Hentzau.  Unfortunately, I don't think it was as good as Prisoner.

The book opens several years after Prisoner concludes.  The king has never fully recovered from his ordeals in The Prisoner of Zenda.  He's sickly and pale, harbors jealousy toward his doppelganger, and still lives in fear of Rupert Hentzau--who like any good villain managed not only to escape, but raise himself in stature from a normal man to a count.  Meanwhile, every year, the Queen sends a rose and a note with Fritz Tarlenheim, who meets her true love somewhere outside of Ruritania.  At the beginning of the book, Hentzau steals the Queen's note from Fritz with the goal of taking it to the King.  Rudolf, Fritz, Sapt, and some new characters go chasing after Hentzau in an attempt to recover the note and protect their queen.

The entire story is told, not from Rudolf or Rupert's viewpoint, but from that of Fritz--which is kind of odd, since he misses a good portion of the action in the book.  I didn't mind that too much, however.  I loved catching up with all the characters from Zenda and seeing Rudolf and the princess together again.  Plot-wise, this sequel is probably better constructed than Zenda, too, although it feels like it moves more slowly.

My main problem with the book is that Rupert of Hentzau is hardly in it!  He might get twenty pages, max.  I thought he would be all over this novel, since, you know, it's titled Rupert of Hentzau (although come to think of it, The Prisoner of Zenda didn't devote much time to the prisoner of Zenda, either), so I found that not only disappointing, but confusing.  Around the middle I felt very confused as to where this book was going and started to skim through a lot of parts, which helped to pick up the pace and keep me reading.

I was also very frustrated with the entire conclusion, which didn't advance any of the characters forward.  In hindsight, I suppose I should have expected it, but I didn't.  And to be honest, I feel a little manipulated into not expecting it by the author.  What exactly was the point of the running around and crap that everyone went into just to protect the freaking queen's reputation?  And, let's face it, it's not as if she didn't love someone besides the king, is it?  I'm just not sure it was worth it.

Don't get me wrong:  I still liked this book.  It just wasn't as ridiculously awesome as Prisoner of Zenda.  I don't think it has as broad of an appeal, either; there were times when I was reading where I thought this was a definite "guys" book.  But if you read and like Prisoner of Zenda, it goes without saying that you have to read Rupert of Hentzau--just don't expect a lot of Rupert in it.



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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Classics Month Meme: Overlooked Classics

classics month

After reading The Prisoner of Zenda last week, I started wonder about books like it that are often overlooked as classics--novels that can certainly fall into the classic category, but it seems like only a few people have read or even heard of.

With Prisoner, I believe that because it's a fun adventure novel, it's been deemed a "lesser classic." (Those exact words were actually used in the intro to the book.)  No, it's not the deepest book on the planet, but I think scholars and bloggers would have lots to do unraveling romantic symbolism and connections with Arthurian tales in the novel.

What are some classic novels you've enjoyed that you would consider unfairly neglected?  And why do you think people don't read them any more?  Answer in the comments or on your own site (be sure to leave a link if it's the latter)!



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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Little Vampire Women by Louisa May Alcott and Lynn Messina

little vampire women cover

Pre-order this book at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

First line:  "Christmas won't be Christmas without any corpses," Jo grumbled, lying on the rug.

You didn't think I'd be able to do a Classics Month without an adaptation or retelling, did you?

Actually, I got this book a bit by chance.  Pam from Bookalicio.us heard me whining talking about the original Little Women on twitter and offered to loan me Little Vampire Women to see if I liked it--and I did!  I found this rewrite a lot more enjoyable than the original, I have to say.

Before you die of horror, let me explain why:
  • There are vampires.  You know hows I love the vampires.
  • Beth actually complains!
  • Kittehs!  OM NOM NOM
  • Whenever the book starts getting the least bit sappy or sentimental, the Marches are attacked by vampire slayers.
  • The German professor is much more coolio--he can change into a bat!  That's awesome.

Little Vampire Women is basically the original Little Women, edited down to a much shorter length, with more modern writing (i.e., that Victorian thing where it takes them ten words to say what we would in three?  Gone), and the March family as vampires--but very moral and upstanding vampires, of course.  Instead of being a writer, Jo wants to be a Defender, a vampire who hunts down pernicious vampire slayers.  Basically it's the novel re-written as if we lived in an alternate universe where vampires exist, complete with scholarly footnotes on vampire history and literature.

As I said, this is a much quicker, easier read than the original.  I think people who love the original LW will enjoy this book the most--it's full of clever little twists and jokes that you won't get unless you've read the original novel.  For someone who hasn't read LW, this book will probably be just okay--the writing and plot are decent, although the language is sometimes jarringly modern.  It certainly doesn't surpass the original, and Little Vampire Women's strength mainly lies in how it plays off its forebear.  But like I said, it's fun.

One thing that really annoyed me about the book, though, is that Jo is the LAMEST Defender I could possibly imagine.  She never apprehends a single slayer, can't even catch a stake that's flying right at her, and I'm supposed to believe that she's this great vampire?  Uh, no.  It was so bad that when she considered giving up being a Defender, I was totally on board with it and disappointed in her when she decided to stick it out.  Also, I just missed Jo being bookish and into writing!

But really, this book is just a fun, silly read that I think succeeds in its main purpose: to entertain.  And since I needed some entertainment this week, it was very much appreciated.


Little Vampire Women is scheduled to be released May 10, 2010.






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Monday, March 22, 2010

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

the prisoner of zenda

Find this book at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

This is by far my favorite read out of Classics Month so far!  It's a little cheesy, but cheese is one of the few things in life that has never bothered me.  And it's also full of romance, and adventure, and a smart hero--I didn't want to put it down!

Rudolph Rassendyll is a lazy second son of a noble family, and he carries the coloring of a scandal in the Rassendylls' past--when one of their ancestors had an infamous affair with the Prince of Ruritania (a small country somewhere beyond Germany).  Well, of course Rudolph takes it into his head to visit Ruritania; and of course when he does, he becomes embroiled with his distant relatives.  Throughout the book, two questions keep you reading:  will Rudolph remain in Ruritania?  And will he and Princess Flavia get together?

This is a really fun book I can honestly say I'd recommend to anyone.  It's very romantic, in the traditional literary sense; completely and utterly ridiculous; charming; and at once full of adventure and Victorian subtleness.  Plus, it has probably one of the best villians I've ever come across in a book--Rupert Hentzau, who is just absolutely fascinating (fortunately Hope did write a sequel about him, which I have already downloaded).  Despite its short length (less than 200 pages), it makes you care about the characters and the outcome of Rudolf's adventure.

My favorite part of the novel, of course, was the romance between Flavia and Rudolf (although the entire book could really be called a romance).  It's a love-at-first-sight, Arthurian-type romance that I didn't expect to work at all--but somehow it does.  And the ending is simply delicious, even if it wasn't the conclusion I was hoping for.

You seriously need to give this book a try.  You can download it for free, and it's a total blast from start to finish.  Like I said, my purpose in life now is make EVERYONE read this.



I read this for The Society for Exploratory Action in Literature, a book group on GoodReads that focuses on 19th-century literature.



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Discovering Culturally Diverse Classics

classics month

Today, the lovely Rebecca from Lost In Books (one of my favorite bloggers) is with us discussing a speciality of hers:  Classics from different cultures!  Welcome Becca!


Quick. 

Think of a classic novel. 

What is the first one that pops into your head? 

I am willing to bet that for most of us it is not one that is full of diversity in setting or characters.  It seems the majority of us think of classic American literature as books like The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men.  Or we think of English literature such as A Tale of Two Cities and Pride & Prejudice.  But how many of us go automatically to a novel full of rich cultural diversity?  How many of us even read classic novels that feature diverse cultures?  How many of us even know they exist in abundance?

I have put together a short list of classic novels that feature world cultures.  This is of course not a complete list (that would take way too long!) and you are welcome to leave more suggestions along with your comment!
a passage to india cover
 
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster tells the story of Dr. Aziz who takes his British friend’s visiting relatives to the Marabar Caves.  Adela accuses Aziz of attempting to rape her when they are alone in the caves.  The accusation, the trial, and the aftermath bring out all the prejudices and racial tensions between the Indians and the British colonists who rule India at the time. 
Visit the Congo with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  The tale of Mr. Kurtz, successful in his greedy quest for ivory in the African Congo, shows what happens to the natives- hunger, death, and slavery.
In Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Paton related the moving story of a Zulu minister who searches for his children in Johannesburg, only to learn that South African society has destroyed their lives.
Dostoevsky is one that many people want to have read, but one that not many people actually have read.  I will focus on one of his books, Crime & Punishment, which focuses on a poor man in St. Petersburg who designs a plan to kill a hated pawnbroker for the money, thereby solving his own financial problems and ridding the world of an evil person, which he justifies by relating himself to Napoleon.  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is another Russian classic novel worth trying out.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys tells the story of a white Creole heiress, from the time of her youth in the Caribbean to her unhappy marriage and relocation to England.  Caught in an oppressive society in which she belongs to neither the white Europeans nor the black Jamaicans, this novel deals largely with racial inequality and the harshness of displacement and assimiliation.
wide saragossa sea cover
 
If you want to visit Spain through the classics, try the romantic Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.  If you want to learn about a rich Bengali noble who lives happily until a revolutionary appears, read The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore.  Visit 19th century France after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  Or you can visit French aristocracy shortly before the French Revolution via Dangerous Liasions by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, where two rivals use sex as a weapon to embarrass and degrade others. 
house made of dawn
 
Have you considered Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, which tells the story of an old Cuban fisherman who is down on his luck, but fights an incredible battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream?  The story is about courage, determination, and personal strength.  There is also a little known Pulitzer Prize winning novel called House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday which relates a Native American’s experiences after fighting overseas in WWI and struggling to find his place with his people again once he returns.  The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper is also a classic novel about Native Americans, who this time are fighting for, among other things, their way of life as the forests they call home give way to “civilization.”

And, if you are really into reading a great classic full of cultural diversity, there is always The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki Shikibu.  This is widely considered to be the world’s first novel, which was written in the early eleventh century.  At 1216 pages, it is definitely a clunker!  But there are shorter stories inside the bigger tale that help to bring it to a more readable level.  I have read some of it, but have not read all of it.  And if I can do it with ADHD, you can do it too, haha!

Of course this is just a sampling of the great classic novels out there that present a great cultural diversity.  I did not even touch on many cultures.  However, like I said, please leave a comment with other books you would like for people to know about and, also, any plans you have on reading some classics that feature cultural diversity.  Here are some websites that you can visit to discover more culturally diverse classics to read:
Penguin Group ClassicsLots under World Literature, including The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China, the only complete edition of the fiction of Lu Xun, the father of modern Chinese Literature
Oxford University Press: World LiteratureFrom 19th century Cuba’s Cecilia Valdes or El Angel Hill, to the more familiar novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Classic Literature with Esther Lombardi on About.com – The expert in Classic literature, there is also plenty included on World Literature, which you can find by looking under the Browse Topics list in the left column of the site.  Lombardi has included articles and links to literature from Afghanistan and Bangladesh, to Serbia and The Netherlands.

Thank you to Tasha for allowing me the opportunity to guest post on her awesome blog!

Thank you, Rebecca!  And don't forget, another great place to find books from many different cultures is Lost In Books.  Check out Becca's feature, Take Me Away, where she shares books that can transport you.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

TSS-Blogger Interrupted

The Sunday Salon.com

The past few days have been difficult for me, blogging-wise, because my grandfather went into the hospital for lung surgery.  He had about three inches of tumor on his lung and they took it out on Thursday.  Fortunately, he's getting better pretty fast--he was already walking all by himself Saturday morning--so I think he's going to be okay.  In the meantime, my grandma needs someone with her most of the day and night to take of her, and I volunteered for the job.  That means I don't have as much access to a computer as I usually do, and not as much time for blogging.

Having said that, you might be surprised to hear I've been reading a lot this week.  Of course, I've been pretty stressed out, and when I'm stressed I read a lot more than when I'm not (which is probably why I read almost nothing all last summer).  But I'm also having trouble concentrating on anything remotely serious, so I've been sticking to short, fun books instead.  Overall I had a great reading week and have reviews of two books that I can't wait to share with everyone.

What are some short, fun classics that you'd recommend?




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Musical Notes--Darkly Luminous and The Prisoner of Zenda

















Image by suchitra prints

Musical Notes is a weekly feature where I talk about the music that accompanied my reading.  It was inspired by the lovely Memory from Stella Matutina.

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker

Have you heard of Melody Gardot?  Well, you have now.



This is the song I thought of when Alix and Percy were dancing:



As you can tell, this book put me in very romantic mood.

The Prisoner of Zenda

I love this song for Prisoner of Zenda because, one, it makes no sense. Straight-up. And two, if anyone would understand being burdened with other people's problems, it would be the hero of this story.



Also, the whole time I was reading Prisoner, I had this song stuck in my head. Could be because it's catchy, could be because of the castle & Taylor Swift looks like a princess. Who knows!



So that makes two romantic books this week!


What have you been reading and listening to the past week?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chicagoland Vampire Series by Chloe Neill

some girls bite cover friday night bites cover

Find these books at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

This is a great, fun new UF series with a lot of wit, humor, action, and romance.

Merit is a grad student in Chicago studying romantic literature like Tristan and Isolde, when her life is completely changed by a random attack on campus.  Instead of letting her die, Ethan, the leader of Cadogan House, changes her into a vampire without asking her permission.  Suddenly Merit has new powers, new responsibilities, and is forced to abandon the life she chose to make something out of one that she didn't.

I read both these books with Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads as part of our bookclub, Romance Readers Anonymous.  I really enjoyed both books--the second more than the first, actually--but it's difficult to explain why.  They aren't perfectly plotted, but they do have something that makes them alchemically enjoyable.

The first book starts off fairly slowly, as Merit is being stubborn in accepting the fact that she's been changed into a vampire.  She wants desperately to hang onto the remnants of her old life, including her roommate, Mallory.  Unfortunately, she finds out even the people she holds dear and beloved at not what they seem.

Then she suddenly has a moment with Ethan, and the book really picks up from that point.  There's also Morgan, a vampire who's part of Navarre House.  I'm not going to go into these two guys a lot, because I feel like I've already beaten the point to death, but let's just say I am Team Morgan all the way.

Anyway, the real appeal of these books in Merit's relationship with Morgan and, I admit, Ethan.  Every book has a mystery (which I won't go into for fear of spoilage), but that seems to be kind of incidental.  In the second, I saw most of the plot twists coming a mile off--yet I didn't really care because I was enjoying reading about Merit and the other characters so much.

Another appeal is Merit, who is bookish and geeky (yet another protagonist who reads) and romantic; but suddenly finds herself with amazing athletic abilities and attracted to Ethan, who is definitely not the most romantic guy on the planet.  To say the least.  Merit doesn't truly know herself now that she's a vampire, and that makes for some very interesting reading and problems for our heroine.

I really like these books and I can't wait for the next book to come out.  I definitely think Chloe Neill has created a great series.



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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thoughts On Monkey

monkey cover

Find this book at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

If you've followed this blog for a while, you might remember that a few months ago I read a comic version of this book called The Monkey King because Jeff Markowitz recommended it.  Then I saw the actual book at the library book sale and naturally I had to get it.

Monkey is an ancient Chinese tale that tells the story of a monkey who is made of heaven and earth.  After this auspicious birth, he leads the other monkeys into a cave behind a waterfall where they're all very happy, and he becomes their king.  But after a few years, he realizes he's going to die and is terrified.  He travels the world for many years trying to find a way to acheive immortality, until he stumbles upon a Buddhist teacher who shows him how to stave off death, turn himself into a tree, and other fun stuff.  Then he gets tossed out for showing off and returns to the waterfall cave, where his fellow monkeys are being terrorized by a demon.  Using his new powers, Monkey defeats the demon, starts building an army, and soon gets into a lot of trouble.

Monkey is one of those books that can appeal to all age groups--it's written in the simple style of fairy tales or fables (although Kherdian, the translator--or "reteller" as the book puts it, which worries me--uses anachronistic language that seems really strange; i.e., "Chill, Monkey!") and I can see it appealing to kids.  At the same time, there's a lot of themes in this book that can make an adult really think, too.  It's a much deeper book than one would expect at first glance.

My main problem with Monkey was, well, Monkey.  To be honest I was kind of rooting for that little bastard to get his ass smacked into the ground--he's rude, arrogant, and a bully.  If there's someone who does not deserve to acheive immortality, it's him.  And is not wanting to die really a good impetus for spiritual growth?  Shouldn't one want to be reincarnated?  Also, that fairy tale, fable-y style of writing has never worked for me, even when I was a little kid.  It's just too hard for me to connect to the characters that way.

So while I do whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone who's interested in Buddhism or Chinese culture, or even if you're looking for a different sort of fairy tale to read to your kids, I just couldn't get through it.  Not that I've given up completely--I do intend to get back to it.  But I don't think it will happen this month.

Deep Thoughts

Monkey's search for immortality reminded me what one of the main purposes of religion is--to ease our fear of death.  All religions in some way offer a chance at ever-lasting life, or they're not very successful religions.

Yet in the modern world, do the majority of us really believe a religion can make us immortal?  Not just metaphorically or spiritually, but actually physcially immortal?  No.  But science--science does hold the possibilty of that, as books like The Adoration of Jenna Fox demonstrate. 

So after reading Monkey, I'd have to say that science really is the new religion.  Which is sad.

And even though I didn't like Monkey, I do have to confess that it's revived my interest Buddhism yet again.



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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Answer Questions





Today I'm being interviewed by Keira from Love Romance Passion--plus there's a picture of my real life self for you to goggle at.  Check it out!

Thoughts on Little Women

little women cover

Find this book at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

At the beginning of Classics Month, I invited everyone to vote on a classic novel for me to read.  Little Women won by a landslide.  For those of you not familiar with the story (and who isn't?), it follows the growing-up of the four March sisters in Civil War-era US.  There's also one boy added into the mix named Laurie.

I knew I was going to have a problem with this book on the fourth sentence, but I soldiered on in the name of book blogging.  It was all just too idyllic and sweet and nicey-nice.  If you've seen the movie with Wynona Rider--there is way more conflict in the movie than there is in the book.  That's how full of the warm fuzzies and sweetness this book is.

I'm not saying it's horrible, but it's definitely written for very young girls--not even YA, more like MG.  And if I was still a young girl, I probably would have enjoyed it.  But since I'm a cynical old crone (haha), I just couldn't buy into the perfect life and people that is Family March. 

louisa may alcott

At the same time, reading the book was kind of a bizarre experience, because I've read some of Louisa May Alcott's horror stories, as well as Work.  And neither of those books was like this one at all.  I was shocked when Rebecca from Lost In Books said Alcott was a drug addict; but now I believe it, because there's no way the same author who wrote A Whisper In the Dark could have written Little Women without smoking something.  And do all Victorian women look like psychopaths in their photographs, or have I just watched way too many episodes of Deadly Women?

Anyway, I didn't finish it.  But I can see why it's a classic and I wouldn't mind reading it to my own daughter some day, should I ever have one.

Side Note: Movie Rant

I also watching the movie (the 1994 version) this week, and after reading the book, I just think the whole thing is TRAGIC.  First, Jo rejects Laurie.  Then she meets the German professor; and while I love Gabriel Byrne, he tells her her stories aren't good because they don't come from her heart or some bull like that.  Oh, yes, Jo, why don't you write this happy-happy stuff instead?  I mean, what. the hell?  This is the guy she marries?  And then Laurie marries Amy and claims he never loved Jo.  No one believes you, Laurie!!!!

The end.


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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Appealing/Appalling Victorians

victorian woman reading--Ana? ;)

Guest post time!  Today I'm very happy to have Nymeth from the wonderful blog, Things Mean a Lot.  Nymeth is famous for her love of all things Victorian, so I asked her to explain what she finds appealing about Victorian literature.  Welcome, Nymeth!



When Tasha invited me to write a guest post about why I love Victorian novels for the Classics month, I had a moment of panic. Though I do love the Victorians, my interest only dates back a few years, and there’s SO much I haven’t read yet. No George Eliot! No Trollope! Only one Dickens! What do I know? Who am I to write about this at all? But then it hit me that perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that I’m only a common reader with a newly-found interest. I can tell you, as one reader to another, what ignited the spark.

The first thing to attract me about the Victorian period was simply its aesthetic. As a lover of Gothic fiction, it was a natural follow-up. I love the atmosphere: the fog, the hansom cabs, the gas-lit streets. I love the isolated country houses, the early trains, the feverish letter-writing, the several mail deliveries a day. I love the clothes, though the knowledge of how uncomfortable and unhealthy those tight corsets really were duly horrifies me. When it comes to writing, I even love the intricate prose of all those unnecessarily long novels. And above all, I love how the Victorian era feels like a whole other world in some ways, and yet also feels remarkably close to our own in others.

And this brings me to another thing – to the thing that truly hooked me.  Atmosphere is marvelous, but on its own it wouldn’t account for the slight obsession I seem to have developed. The reason why I’ve come to enjoy Victorian novels so much is because I find that they tell me a lot about the world we live in today. I’m not saying, of course, that Victorian society is similar to twenty-first century European society. I realise that back then women’s rights were in an appalling state, that racism wasn’t even subtle, that colonialism was considered Only Right and Proper, that homosexuality was criminally punished, that class divisions were extremely rigid and seem as Facts of Life, and so on and so forth.

Only, as is often the case, to say that about the Victorians is to only tell half the story. All of the above is true, but what about the people who lived amidst all that rigidity? What about the real, breathing living human beings who looked around them and saw injustice? As in any historical period, not everyone supported the status-quo, and many people suffered under it. If we read between the lines we can find their stories too, and they tell us so much about what it means to be human.

I guess that in some ways, I see the Victorian world as an amplified version of our own. All the problems I mentioned above are still around today, but they have become more subtle and diluted, and therefore they are easier to ignore for those who can afford to do so. In the Victorian, era they were so obvious they were impossible to miss, which is why I enjoy reading about how people responded to them. Also, in my most pessimistic days I feel that we’re losing some of the headway we made in the twentieth century, so it’s comforting to know that even in an extremely rigid society, people survived.

But it’s really not just a matter of comfort, or of aesthetic pleasure: it’s that in the stories of early feminists, of intelligent women who realised how unfair and artificial their position was, of gay people who had to live in shame, of those who fought for social justice of any kind, I hear strong echoes of the world that surrounds me today.

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