Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book 9: Scott, Dentists, and McTeague.

When I was developing the list of classics I was going to work from for this challenge to myself, I showed the list to the literary minded people I know and asked for suggestions. Since many of the other employees at my park are literary nerds as I am, I figured they would be a great help, and they were.

Scott, in particular, was adamant that I add one book to my list. McTeague by Frank Norris. I had never heard of it and had no idea what it was about, but Scott assured me it was a great book and that I would like it.

So, as I began my challenge and began to read books, Scott wanted to know when I would read McTeague. I finally understood that he really wanted me to read it when he brought me his own copy so I could get cracking.

Looking at the novel, I still couldn’t tell what it was about. I am sure Scott told me at some point, but I think descriptions of books run together in my head into one big blur, so I didn’t remember. The back of the book didn’t help me too much, except for hinting that the book was set in San Francisco, there was going to be a lot of social commentary, and that it is an inevitable tragedy.

How informative.

I have taken it upon myself to learn more, since that simply will not do. Here is what else I have discovered about the mysterious McTeague.

The character of McTeague has no first name and he is a dentist. Of all professions, he has to be a dentist. Ugh.

The novel was first published in 1899, which is a time period where many of my favorite books were published. Frank Norris unfortunately died in 1902 at the age of 32. When he died, he left only McTeague and a few other works for us to read. That alone is reason enough for me to read it. You always have to wonder about the literary minds that die so young. What could they have achieved had they lived longer?

With all this in mind, I begin McTeague. Partly because I want to read it and know what happens to this dentist, but mostly because I was Scott to stop leaving threatening messages on my facebook wall.

Book 9, here I come.

Book 8: Finished.

For such a short little novella, The Old Man and the Sea packs something powerful that I found lacking in the other pieces I have read by Hemingway.

In short, an old man who is down on his luck goes out to sea fishing. He lands a great fish, a marlin, and battles with it for three days before he succeeds in killing it. By that time he is far at sea and must race back to land while sharks attack his catch and destroy the fish he has come to love and respect.

It’s clear that there are a lot of themes and metaphors in these 126 pages. The old man represents the old way of thinking and doing; the young boy the up and coming who are trying to learn from the old but improve on their techniques; and the marlin is the challenge, the essence of what both the old man and young boy are trying to attain—grandeur.

I read this in one sitting, while Matt was playing Guitar Hero and Hemi the cat (not named after Hemingway, but after the car engine) refused to cuddle on my lap. I think the only way to read this is in one sitting. It’s too hard to break away from the old man’s struggle.

I liked Hemingway’s writing style, which I knew from my previous readings of some of his short stories. It’s simplistic and to the point, a far cry from some other things I have read so far (*cough* Dostoevsky). The story is moving, sad, but really full of all the things that we have to find in ourselves at different times.

The old man has a lot to teach us: hope, faith, courage, conviction, passion, triumph, and loss. He faces this battle knowing that the fish must die, or he must die. He respects his enemy and victim, and thanks him for a worthy fight. And even though the sharks take away his victory when he finally pulls into shore, the skeleton of the great fish is a reminder to everyone who sees it of the strength of the old man.

Much like a scar, the skeleton of the marlin tells a story that only the owner can fully understand and appreciate.

And because Hemingway wrote down this story of courage and strength, we too can learn from the old man’s scar and see the skeleton for what it really is: a test of a person’s strength when all odds are against them.

I leave you with some favorite portions:

“Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. How many people will he feed, he though. But are they worth to eat him? No, of course not. There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behaviour and his great dignity.

I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers,” (75).

“I must hold his pain where it is, he thought. Mine does not matter. I can control mine. But his pain could drive him mad,” (88).

“You are killing me, fish, the old man thought. But you have a right to. Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother. Come on and kill me. I do not care who kills who,” (92).

“Then his head started to become a little unclear and he thought, is he bringing me in or am I bringing him in? If I were towing him behind there would be no question. Nor if the fish were in the skiff, with all dignity gone, there would be no question either. But they were sailing together lashed side by side and the old man thought, let him bring me in if it pleases him. I am only better than him through trickery and he meant me no harm,” (99).

Book 8: My 5 Fish to His 2 Fish.

My paternal grandparents had a cottage in the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan, which has been passed on to my dad and his siblings. When we were younger, my grandparents would take my two older brothers and me up there with them all the time. Going up for a weekend trip with grandma and grandpa was always a treat, especially when we stopped at West Branch for McDonald’s.

There was one weekend in particular where I went up alone with Grandma and Grandpa during the summer (or everyone else was on their way and I just can’t recall at the time). I was young, maybe 6 or 7, but it is one of the most vivid memories from those years up there with them.

The cottage is on Otsego Lake, which is rather shallow, and as we jokingly say now, devoid of fish. Way back then we had better luck fishing and often caught big keepers off the end of the dock. On this particular trip, Grandpa and I decided to go fishing off the end of the dock.

Somehow I had managed to catch three fish to his two, when I snagged another fish and reeled him in. In the dim twilight I remember watching my grandpa trying to get the hook out of the fish, but the fish had swallowed it. Grandpa decided to go around to the garage to get a pair of pliers and left me in charge of watching the fish and his line.

While Grandpa was gone, I lowered my fish back in the water and watched him swimming a few inches from the surface of the lake. As I was watching my fish and neglecting my grandfather’s line, I saw a dark shadow approach my fish and linger. Squinting even closer, I realized it was another fish that had come to visit my victim. Instead of swimming away, the fish stayed right by my own fish, keeping him company.

Realizing that I could catch yet another fish, I lowered my grandfather’s line into the water slowly and wriggled the worm in front of the new fish. He grabbed on and by the time my grandpa came back from the garage with the pliers, I had two fish on the line.

After that night, I always teased Grandpa about being a better fisherman because I had caught 5 fish compared to his 2.

Now, you are lucky to catch one fish in that lake and usually it’s too small to keep.

I say all this knowing that I am diving into Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. It is a famous fishing story, perhaps not as epically huge as Moby Dick, but still about a man chasing a dream to catch the monster of all fish.

And as I read about the old fisherman and his battle with the marlin, I’m also going to think about my own grandfather, the fisherman and all those lessons her taught me before he passed away. I have many memories of him, and each memory is as strong as the one I have from that night, but not as touching.

He got down on the dock right beside me to look at the two fish I had caught—the one with a hook in its stomach, and the one who came to keep him company—and said,

“You cheated. You stole my line when my back was turned!”

The next time I went fishing with him, he made sure not to leave his pole untended and told me that even though I out-fished him that night, I would never have the chance to do it again.

And I never did.

Book 7 Part 3: The End of All Things.

I managed to finish The Return of the King in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. I lay down to read at 11:30 Tuesday night and didn’t stop until around 1:30, flying through the 200 pages I had left.

Even though I know the story so well, it stills leaves me with a great feeling of…awe. I love Tolkien’s world, his characters, the language, and the grandeur of what he accomplished in The Lord of the Rings. Even when you think you know the story completely, something surprises you.

During this reading, I particularly paid attention to the poems and songs the characters recall and sing. I remember in my first reading just skimming over them. And while many of them can be long and tedious, they really display the depths of Tolkien’s world.

In particular, I was drawn to this one, sung by Sam when he is drawing up the courage to rescue Frodo from Cirith Ungol:

“In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe ‘tis cloudless night
And swaying beeches bear
The Elven-stars as jewels white
Amid their branching hair.

Though here at journey’s end I lie
In darkness buried deep,
Beyond all towers strong and high,
Beyond all mountains steep,
Above all shadows rides the Sun
And Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
Nor bid the stars farewell,” (205).

It is a beautiful reflection of courage in a dark time and something I hope to remember in my own challenges.

Another of my favorite lines is said by Frodo:

“‘I am glad that you are here with me,’ said Frodo, ‘Here at the end of all things, Sam,’” (253).

It is just beautifully poetic and meaningful. I love the relationship between Sam and Frodo. Their friendship is so deep and powerful that Sam is willing, literally, to go to hell and back for Frodo, and carries him the last part of the way.

It really is due to Sam’s faith in Frodo that Frodo makes it, turning Sam as well into a hero in a story filled with heroic journeys.

The only other portion of the story I wanted to touch on was the part after the War of the Ring when the hobbits return to the Shire and Hobbiton to find it being run by Saruman, the wizard Gandalf destroys. That chapter in the novel seems to reflect the notion that home is not always safe and stagnant, that it too can change in the midst of war, even when you don’t expect it too.

I also think that it is one of two things that Peter Jackson left out of his movies that should have been put in (the other being Tom Bombadil).

In all, I loved reading this series again, but truth be told, I am glad to be moving on to new things that I don’t know as well. I think knowing this story so well made this hard on me to read.

No more Book 7. On to number 8!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Book 7 Part 3: The Journey of a Hero.

The concept of a hero’s journey is nothing new. Lots of people have had ideas about the qualities that define a hero. For those of us who have perhaps studied it a little more in an English class, you might recall the name of Joseph Campbell, who defined the steps of a hero’s journey and the path that one must take to even be considered a hero.

This journey is also referred to as a monomyth (you can search it on wikipedia, which has a good article about it) and basically describes the stages of a hero. Mainly that they are thrust into this role, go though trials and tribulations to define themselves, come to terms with their past, realize their potential, and eventually save the day!

Okay, I over simplified the idea, but I think you see what I mean. Since Campbell defined this process, you can apply it to a lot of characters from both books and films.

The original Star Wars movie, A New Hope, follows the journey fairly closely. Luke Skywalker fits many of the qualities of a hero. He’s born from some high and lofty parents, but lives a normalish childhood. He is eventually thrown into a situation where he faces challenges and has to come to terms with who he is. He ends up confronting his past and eventually saves the day.

In regards to books, there are many examples. I had to write about the whole journey in regards to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game when I was a freshman in high school (by the way, Ender’s Game is one of my ultimate favorite books). In that novel, a young boy realizes his hero role in a rather unexpected way.

A more popular hero today is Harry Potter. He also goes through many of the stages of heroism. In fact, I think J.K. Rowling follows Campbell’s formula more closely than almost any other example I can think of.

The original hero, Odysseus, also follows many of the original steps outlined by Campbell. I have a feeling Campbell based everything off The Odyssey since it is the original story of heroism.

My favorite step of all of these heroes’ journeys is the piece where they confront themselves, the past, and usually visit the land of the dead, or the underworld. For Odysseus, he traveled to the underworld to consult those who died before him. There he learned more about what might be waiting for him at home when he finally did return from his struggle. Harry Potter also visits the land of the dead to talk with a character who died before giving him more knowledge. He also brings back the ghosts of the dead throughout a couple of the novels and confronts them in his own way. In the first Harry Potter book, Harry has to confront the images of his parents in the mirror he finds. Later on, actual ghosts appear in the graveyard scene and before his encounter with Voldemort and the Death Eaters in the Forbidden Forest.

This all brings me back to The Lord of the Rings and the two heroes who emerge. The first I want to talk about is Aragorn. In a very literal sense, he walks through the Paths of the Dead very early on in The Return of the King to have the dead withhold an oath they made years prior. This step also solidifies Aragorn as king of Gondor because he gets the dead to withhold that oath, even though it was to h ancestor the oath was made. When he emerges from the Paths of the Dead, Aragorn finally makes the transition into a hero because he finally accepts that role.

The other hero is Frodo. Frodo encounters death and the underworld in many different variations throughout the series. Obviously when he goes to through the ring into Mount Doom he is facing the idea of death, especially when Gollum fights him for the ring. There he is faced with the ultimate struggle between life and death. He also faces death on Weathertop, when he is stabbed by the Nazgul’s blade and starts the transformation into a wraith.

More importantly, the ring itself is Frodo’s constant struggle with the dead. It is a constant temptation to give in to Sauron’s power and commit to evil and the destruction of Middle-Earth. In the end, it is Frodo’s decision to get of the ring that saves him and makes him into a hero. He can’t really be called a hero until that decision is made, or at least that is what Campbell’s theory says.

Both of those heroes in this trilogy are different. I see Aragorn as the token hero. He is meant to be a hero. Frodo is the unlikely one so of course, he is the one we all route for. His course and decision seem to be far more difficult than Aragorn’s decision on whether or not to take on the role as King.

This has to make you wonder whether we bestow the title of “hero” too lightly. I know that as a kid my heroes were the people I saw on TV or movie screens, not necessarily people who were really deserving of that title. Now I look more to humanitarians, soldiers, and people who are striving to make a difference as my heroes.

And of course, authors. :)

Are there any qualities you think a true “hero” should have?

Book 7 Part 2: The Middle Comes to an End.

I think the hardest book to get through in a trilogy is the second book.

The first book sets up the story. You get to meet the characters, the plot unfolds, drama explodes, and it leaves you craving more.

The third book finishes the story. By that point you know the characters well and you want them to find happiness by the last page. You’re curious to see what happens and if your own predictions were accurate. It also includes all the action and resolution.

But that middle book is the hard one. It’s the connection between the beginning and the end and sometimes, you just want to get to the end and see where the beginning was taking you.

For The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I find that to also be true. The Two Towers is definitely my least favorite of the trilogy, with the exception of the Ents. While events happen, you really just want to know: Does Frodo succeed in destroying the ring in Mount Doom?

I also seem to be having a hard time finding anything to say about this middle book. Of the three movies, it is the one I have watched the most. Mainly because the movie is Matt’s favorite, as he loves the battle of Helm’s Deep. So the actual plot line does seem as exciting. I also think the film version of the film is incredibly close to the book, so there are a lot of similarities that aren’t really grabbing me.

I also just think that I simply want to get through these and on to something new. I almost feel like I made the wrong decision to read all three back to back instead of spreading them out, but I am almost through them now.

One more to go.


I had signed up for the 24 hour/day read-a-thon a couple of weeks ago without realizing it was the same day as an MSU home game! Since we have season tickets, I knew I wouldn't be able to read the entire day, but here I am, still hoping to get more reading done!

The goal for the night is to finish The Lord of the Rings. I am way behind where I should be for my own personal reading challenge, so I need to get some reading done!

Off I go.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book 7 Part 2: The Ents.

Sometimes life gets in the way of things you really love. This week has been like that. Matt and I have both been all over the place since Friday.

We have been apartment hunting and found a place we both loved! So, in addition to signing the lease and all that jazz, we have also been moving in some boxes of belongings and furniture. I’ve also been scrubbing and cleaning the place from top to bottom.

Needless to say, reading has taken a backseat. This is my first night home where I have nothing to do, so after watching my much needed Top Chef, I plan on curling up with The Two Towers.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a great deal left. For those people who have never read the books, they are actually divided into 6 short books, two in each volume. Each volume centers on a specific plot line and story. The first is Frodo’s flight to Rivendell with the other hobbits and Aragorn. The second is the decision to form the Fellowship to deliver the ring to Mordor and their journey until they break.

The third book, the one I just finished and the first half of The Two Towers, centers on the characters of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry, and Pippin. The main focus is on taking down one of the towers which belongs to Saruman and saving Rohan.

However, my favorite part of the entire book is the Ents.

For those of you who are completely clueless, the Ents are “tree-herders” who take care of the trees in their home forest, Fangorn. Treebeard, the oldest and wisest Ent left alive is quite honestly by favorite character in the entire series. More than any other race of peoples in Middle-Earth, they have the darkest and most complicated history.

Perhaps it’s due to my own experiences with nature as an employee of my city’s park systems, but I absolutely love the beauty of forests. I think that the Ents really display that, especially once they get riled up enough to fight back against the destruction of their home by Saruman; riled up enough to go and tear down his fortress and destroy what he himself has built.

I always have to wonder if Tolkien had an ulterior motive in developing his Ents and their plight. Most likely he didn’t, but that tree-hugger part of myself hopes he did. I think it’s impossible to look at the beauty of a forest and not be awed. So many of the giant redwoods and sequoias out west have been there since the time of Jesus Christ that its hard to understand why people would want to cut them down.

It makes me grateful for my own little park and the beauty that’s there.

And the super nerdy part of me would love it if we had an Ent. But I don’t think that’s really possible. I can dream though!
*Picture was taken at Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills, MI by yours truly*

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Book 7 Part 1: Music, Matt, The Fellowship, and Finishing.

Every sixth grader in my school district gets to make one decision regarding their electives when they start school: choir or band.

My oldest brother, Dave, chose band and played trumpet for his three years in middle school. My brother Eric decided to do choir and quit after the one year requirement was up. But when it was my turn, I knew what I would pick.

See, I am horribly bad at singing. I cannot carry a tune to save my life and I cannot hit notes. So it was easy for me to decide that I wanted to learn an instrument. When I was tested, the teacher told my mom that I would in better playing a brass instrument, primarily a low brass instrument like a baritone or a tuba. However, mom decided that since we already had a perfectly good trumpet at home that wasn’t being used, I would play that.

Being in band and learning to play a musical instrument has had a significant impact on my life. I met my fiancé in band and a lot of my fondest memories revolve around music. Even today Matt and I both play in a community band and love it.

Matt is more of a music nut than I am and in particular he loves soundtrack music. He can watch a movie and know within moments who the composer is—John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore, etc. He just knows. It is a rare gift I think. And if Matt loves anything more than soundtrack music, it’s a good movie. Well, we both love movies, but Matt is far more insane about them than I am.

Enter the perfect birthday present.

Way back in July I was goofing around on Facebook when I saw an ad. Usually I ignore such things but this one was worthy of clicking. It was advertising an event surrounding The Fellowship of the Ring film and its soundtrack. After reading more, I bought two tickets for Matt and his birthday and resolved not to tell him until we were on our way there.

You can just imagine when on Friday how I excited I was to finally tell him what we were doing.

And he was very excited as well. And even more enthusiastic after the performance.

We went and saw the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra. The performance we saw was a full score production of the soundtrack to The Fellowship of the Ring WHILE the film was playing. Basically we saw the film with live surround sound. There were cellos, violins, tubas, trumpets, and a huge choir on stage that played every note and sang every word that made up the soundtrack to the film.

In one word the performance was amazing.

For me, it combined quite a few things I love: Matt, music, movies, and of course, The Lord of the Rings.

This event was the main reason why I wanted to reread the books now, so I could be fully prepared to appreciate the story on the massive screen the spanned the stage.

It was also a great moment to revel in the fact that I finished The Fellowship of the Ring and was moving on to The Two Towers.

To be honest, I cannot put into words a good enough description to tell you how wonderful the experience was. Not only did I get to reflect on things I already know and love, I got to experience them with someone else I know and love.

It just goes to show that while sometimes stories and words can be a personal experience, they are in essence meant to be shared with the people most important to us. Only then can we really appreciate the beauty of what we have experienced.

*And yes, I am already in the middle of The Two Towers.*

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book 7 Part 1: The First Time and Old Friends.

One of the main reasons I like to keep the books I have read is to look at them and remember where I was and “when” I was when I first read them. Sometimes I stand in front of the linen closet that currently houses my books and just look at the titles. While I own quite a few books that I haven’t read yet, there are many old battered titles that have been in my hands more times than I can count.

I am one of those people who re-reads her favorites all the time. Each time I read a book I find something new—a new line to make me smile, a new favorite character, or a scene I thought I forgot. As I get older and read some of my early favorites, I can also remember how much I used to love that book as a kid and how it helped encourage my love of reading at a young age.

Books have the potential to teach you something new each time you read them. That’s why you can never really be done with a book. No matter what, there is always something more waiting in the pages.

Even the books that I can almost recite always surprise me. Mostly because I really can’t recite them and when I think I know what’s coming next, I get it wrong.

As I am drawing near the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, I am recalling a lot of old memories. I’ve read the series a few times (maybe 3 or 4), but I have seen the films more than I can count. And I really think the films are well done, even though things are not exact as so many wish they were.

I believe it was during my freshman year in high school when my family went out to Colorado the first time. We never flew, but instead drove to wherever we were going on vacation. That was the year we had a huge van and we were crammed into it for 20+ hours as we drove past cows, grass, and nothingness for what seemed like an eternity. I read or slept for most of the trip and I flew through my reading material rather quickly.

Halfway through our vacation, I made my parents go into a bookstore in one of the small towns we were passing through and visiting. I remember that the bookshop was really small and their science fiction and fantasy section consisted of one lowly bookshelf. I had just recently started to read that genre, as my freshman Honor’s English class had to read Ender’s Game and I had fallen in love. So, I searched the shelves trying to find something to read.

At the time, the movies were not even being mentioned. There was no or anything similar. I had heard of The Lord of the Rings only from my English teacher who told me, “If you really want to read good fantasy, you need to read Tolkein. He is where it all started.”

The small bookstore had a copy of all three books, so I picked them and searched the back for the “blurbs” that either sell or destroy a book. The back of The Fellowship of the Ring said the following:

“The dark, fearsome Ringwraiths were searching for a hobbit. Frodo Baggins knew they were seeking him and the Ring he bore—the Ring of Power that would enable evil Sauron to destroy all that was good in Middle-earth. Now it is up to Frodo and his faithful servant, Sam, with a small band of companions, to carry the Ring to the one place it could be destroyed—Mount Doom, in the very center of Sauron’s dark kingdom,” (Del-Rey Paperback Edition).

It sounded gloriously epic and dramatic, just what my teenage heart desired. So, I begged my dad to get them for me, and he got me all three. I remember the shopkeeper telling me they were good and I would certainly enjoy them.

It was only once we were back in the car that I noticed they had this printed in a line on the front cover:

“An Epic Motion Picture Trilogy Coming Soon From New Line Cinema!”

I dove right in and while I thought it was hard to read in some parts, particularly all the songs and poems, I really began to fall in love with them. I have memories of sitting in the backseat of that van reading about the Misty Mountains and looking up at the Rockies soaring around me, comparing them in my mind.

I finished the third volume, The Return of the King during the car ride on the way back to Michigan. And I remember thinking to myself, “Wow. That was awesome.”

I was incredibly articulate for a 14-year-old.

Flash forward a few years and The Lord of the Rings hit the big screen. New editions were coming out with Elijah Wood plastered on the cover, or scenes from the movie. My lowly little editions with the old artwork were outnumbered by illustrated versions with stills from the film, or cast interviews, or a pull out map of Middle-earth. It seemed like everyone was reading them and it didn’t seem as personal an experience as when I read them.

Sometimes I feel that film adaptations ruin a book and the value it had once before. When I started reading these again, all I could see was Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom in my head (not that I’m really complaining) and my long-ago images of who the characters used to be have been lost.

But now, I am remembering that trip to Colorado and how I fell in love with the story then. And now, I am falling in love with the story all over again.

And if I really want to, I can be THAT book snob who says, “I read them before the movies, and I loved them then.” But that really doesn’t matter, does it?

The point is this; these books are old friends that everyone had forgotten for awhile, and even though they’ve gotten all glamorous and well known, my books and my memories with them are still the same as they’ve always been. No one can really take that kind of experience away from me.

So I encourage you to read an old friend. You might be surprised to see what kind of memories it brings back to you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book 7 Part 1: Hobbits and Sickness.

It’s not that I didn’t want to write a new post, it’s more along the line of “life took over” for a bit. Coupled with a busy few days and what I am terming, “the death cold” I am finally writing an entry that should have been written a few days ago!

Truth be told, you didn’t miss much. Since I am sick (with the worst cold ever—perhaps I am exaggerating), I haven’t been reading much. I have had a headache that simply won’t go away and my eyes can’t seem to focus on the pages in front of me.

That being said, I am reading something. I’m in the middle of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in The Lord of the Rings (On my list, the LOTR is listed as one book, so I am actually going to read all three volumes back to back, even though it only counts as one off my master list). I have read LOTR many times before and I know the movies almost by heart, so it’s really like visiting an old friend. I am especially enjoying all the hobbits and the scenes that take place in the Shire before Frodo and boys leave for Rivendell. In the film version, the action really gets moving so you don’t get to spend as much time learning about the hobbits and their quirks.

You also miss out on the amazing character in Tom Bombadil in the movies. Peter Jackson simply couldn’t put in more film when the movies were already 4 hours and up. However, Tom Bombadil is the one thing sorely lacking in the film. He’s hilarious and well-written.

For example, here is a snippet of the song he sings:

“Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow,
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.
None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master:
His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster,” (180).

I just like picturing a big old man with huge yellow boots bounding over the hills. It makes me chuckle.

It is also interesting to see how the characters are described in the book as to how they are interpreted in the film version. For instance, Frodo is over 50 when he leaves the Shire with the Ring, whereas in the film little Elijah Wood plays him and he appears much more youthful.

I happen to be right at the part where the four hobbits and Strider (later called Aragorn) reach Rivendell after being pursued by the Black Riders. Its one of my favorite scenes and I can’t wait to curl up with it and get to Moria with the Fellowship.

And if that didn’t make sense to you it means you haven’t read the books or seen the movies. Which you need to do. Now.

I have a lot more to say about the hobbits and these books in general, but I don’t think little sick me should push it. Until tomorrow…happy reading.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Book 6: Finished.

Apparently I am a bad blogger. See, I thought I had this post already written and up, but when I actually went and looked, lo and behold I was mistaken.

I finished Frankenstein on Wednesday and I never wrote about it! Bad, bad Allie.

So, here I am, writing the post I thought I had already written.

I just wanted it in words officially: I loved Frankenstein. No, amend that: I LOVED FRANKENSTEIN. I honestly don’t know why I never gave it a chance earlier. I think I had some preconceived notion that it was a horrid scary kind of book when in fact, it is quite wonderful.

First, you have the invention of the storyline itself. A “crazy” scientist creates a new being, then deserts it after finally realizing “hey, maybe I shouldn’t be playing God.”

Second, the writing is amazing. The story is continually moving forward and each word and each sentence is so beautifully constructed. There were many times when I simply had to stop and say “wow.”

Third and finally, it was just simply more than I originally thought. I think it often gets the rap of being something completely different. Yes, there is a monster and he does do some monstrous things, but the real monster is the man. This isn’t a story about the monster. It is about the man who pushes science too far and regrets that decision. Really, I can’t rave enough.

So yes, I finished Frankenstein and loved every word of it. I think I might even go as far as adding it to my list of all-time favorites (which is around 30 or so books).

I will leave you with a few quotes.

This first is actually one from Shelley’s introduction. I have to give credit to Kyla for pointing it out to me:

“It is not singular that as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, that I should very early in life have thought of writing. As a child I scribbled; and my favorite pastime during the hours given me for recreation was to ‘write stories.’ Still, I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air—the indulging in waking dreams—the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents,” (5).

Just for the beauty of the language:

“O! what a miserable night I passed! The cold stars shone in mockery, and the bare trees waved their branches above me: now and then the sweet voice of a bird burst forth amidst the universal stillness. All, save I, were at rest or enjoyment: I, like the archfiend, bore a hell within me, and finding myself unsympathised with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin,” (132).

I love Victor’s musings on life and death:

“Soon, oh! Very soon, will death extinguish these throbbings, and relieve me from the mighty weight of anguish that bears me to the dust; and, in executing the award of justice, I shall also sink to rest. Then the appearance of death was distant, although the wish was ever present to my thoughts; and I often sat for hours motionless and speechless, wishing for some mighty revolution that might bury me and my destroyer in ruins,” (175).

Also beautiful:

“A fiend had snatched from me every hope of future happiness: no creature had ever been so miserable as I was; so frightful an event is single in the history of man,” (191).

And lastly:

“No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine. When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone,” (213).

Penguin Classics Contest.

In my internet wanderings I discovered a contest going on through Penguin books. They recently released a list of their "Top Ten Essential Penguin Classics." It is a pretty good list and I am glad to see that The Odyssey is up there on their list.

I really like Penguin editions and I find them well done, so I was excited to see that they are hosting a contest.

If you win, you get a Penguin tote bag, complete with ten copies of their ten essential classics.

Of course I entered, but I wanted to pass along the contest information to you.

Just follow the link and good luck!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On Banned and Challenged Books.

Even though I had a post-it note on my calendar for the last three weeks reminding me what last week was, I completely forgot to write about. Last week was Banned Books Week hosted by the ALA (American Library Association) which an annual event to call attention to the list of books that have been banned and/or challenged in the past, as well as reminding us all of first amendment rights.

Even though the national events took place last week, I still think this is an important topic to discuss. I don’t believe in censoring art and literature is art. I also think that those people who are attempting to ban or censor books haven’t considered everything that is important about that piece.

Let’s talk about one book in particular: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. This novel is contested constantly and usually for one main reason. True, the novel contains a lot of offensive language—particularly the “n word.” Now, why I can see why this book in particular is offensive, it is incredibly reflective of the time period in which it was written. To ban it is to simply pretend that one specific time period in U.S. history just didn’t happen.

For the people who challenge books for this kind of “questionable” content, I have to wonder about a few things. First, are they taking into account the kind of lessons you can teach about these pieces? For Huckleberry Finn in particular, I would love to teach my own children about the past where words like that were acceptable and common and how we have changed.

Secondly, are they challenging the books without reading them? I know this to be the case. We had an incident at one of the schools I taught at where a parent “heard from their child” about the content of the book and challenged it. Without reading it. How is that teaching your child responsibility?

Thirdly, by challenging a book you might be succeeding in preventing many others from reading it. Instead, take an active role in what your child is reading by knowing what they are reading. If you personally have an issue with something, then explain why to your child.

As I continue reading through my own list of books, I have to keep in the back of my mind that many of things I am reading were once considered quite scandalous, but as time as passed on, they have lost that shock value. Just as I am sure that many of the current books being challenged (Harry Potter anyone?) will also fade in offensiveness as time goes on.

For your own personal pleasure I am leaving with a few links. One links to a list of classics that have been challenged sometime in their existence. I am also linking to the ALA’s site on banned books so you can learn for yourself. I encourage everyone to read a “banned book” and see for yourself whether it is right to censor such art.

Banned Classics:

ALA Website on Banned Books:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Book 6: The Man and the Monster.

I am sure somewhere in my school career I was supposed to read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. And I am about 100% positive that rather than reading about the monster I decided to go to and just read the summary. In fact, I know that I didn’t read it in one of my college classes because I fell behind and luckily for me, it was one of those classes where you could choose your essays on the test and I simply picked the ones not about Frankenstein.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what I had against Frankenstein. Perhaps I thought the book had to do a lot with the monster and would leave me trembling in my bed at night. This explanation makes sense seeing as after I saw the movie Signs I slept with a glass of water by my bed for over two weeks to splash on the aliens. And that I almost cried in I am Legend and the new King Kong. Matt laughed at me both times while also cringing as he tried to dig my nails out of his arms.

I am hoping by this point that you understand one thing: I am a huge chicken when it comes to anything remotely scary. My junior year of high school I scheduled a counseling appointment to talk about colleges on the day I knew we would be watching Poltergeist in class because I was afraid I would start crying. So yes, I am a chicken and perhaps that is where my fear of reading Frankenstein stems from.

The truth is, the book is not really about the scary monster who is trying to eat people and do other monsterish type things (or at least I am not to the bonecrushing, screaming, murderous part just yet, if there even is one). Instead, it seems to be more about Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the creature and a man who is just as much a monster as his monster.

Victor creates his creature out of deep loneliness and a desire to show off his skill and intelligence. Throughout the long process of creation, he never once thinks of the destruction and havoc of what he is doing, or what others will think of his experiment. Instead, he is selfish and only cares about his work, which is proven when his family writes to him saying they have not heard from him for some time.

It’s not until the creature actually opens its eye and looks at him that Victor realizes the implications of what he has done. He has purposely created something stronger and taller than man that can walk and eventually talk. It is a creature created of sewn together body parts and Victor’s own designs. The creature is not human and never can be, but is a result of a human’s desire to create something larger than himself.

Early on in the novel when Victor first goes to college to study, he says this,

“In other studies you go as far as other have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder,” (49).

That may very well be true, but should the boundaries be pushed to the limit as Victor has done? If his eventual dismissal of the creature is any response, than the answer to that question is a resounding “no.”

So yes, Victor pushes the limits of science and what has been done before, then simply dismisses the creature and runs away (and hides like a little girl, distraught at what he has done). Who is really the monster? The creature who did not ask to be born (made) and who is defenseless in a world where his creator has abandoned him? Or the man who pushed science so far he took creation into his own hands and mind and created a being and then left it to its own when the sight of it disgusted him?

I am sure I am not the first person to read Frankenstein and make the connection that when you talk of the monster, you are not talking about the creature, but of Victor Frankenstein himself. And that the title, Frankenstein, does not allude to the creature, but to the man.

It makes all those Hollywood movies seem silly, with the monster shuffling along with outstretched arms moaning and attacking innocent villagers. The villagers should be rallying behind the monster and going after Victor with their pitchforks and torches.

Now, I could be saying this all prematurely, as I haven’t finished the book (but I am close to). The creature could decide to go all Hollywood on me and eat some people or terrorize some virgin maidens, but I still feel the real monster is Victor. Without him and his desire for greatness, there would be no monster wrecking chaos on the poor humans.

I feel a great deal of sympathy towards the creature, for being unable to control its lot in life and the reactions of people to its ugly exterior. I feel the same way towards many other lost things in this world, abandoned by people who are selfish and seeking greatness—the people they stepped on along the way.

I am hoping for a happy, Disney-like ending for the creature, even though I know he won’t get one. A girl can dream, right?

Now off to finish…

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Book 5: Finished.

I finished “Much Ado About Nothing” while at work this afternoon—in my defense it was raining and there was not much else to do. And besides, I only had about 30 total pages left.

I knew I was going to enjoy the play, as it’s my favorite and it simply can’t disappoint. I particularly love the character of Dogberry, the constable, who muddles his words and offers the right timing in his lines. The clowns in all of Shakespeare’s plays are wonderful—Dogberry is just my favorite. Especially in this passage right here:

“Don Pedro:
Officers, what offense have these men done?

Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves,” (5.1.207-212).

If read that passage aloud, it is much more humorous. I read it to Kyla and Scott while at work today and while they chuckled, I think it was more at my amusement.

There are some other lines that I just love:

I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest,” (4.1.282-283).

Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humor?” (2.3.224-226).

I also love the banter between Beatrice and Benedick, especially at the beginning of the play. Their conversations are so witty and it seems as if they just continue to try to get the last sting in.


The reason I love this play so much is the language and the two love stories. On one hand, you have Hero and Claudio. Claudio sees Hero and decides he must marry her, which is all fine and dandy until Don John the Bastard steps in and interrupts their happiness. Claudio and Hero seem to have that typical Shakespearian romance—they meet and fall instantly in love with no real development—not like Beatrice and Benedick, who while still end up together, take a little longer to get there.

I see the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick being just a little more believable than that of Hero and Claudio, just because I know that it takes work to make a relationship succeed.

The only other thing I really want to mention is that I notice a plot device being used in this play that is also used in “Romeo and Juliet.” In both plays, a female character—Hero and Juliet—fake their own death at the advice of a friar. So here is the question I pose: Why are the friars convincing these young women to pretend to be dead? I asked this at work and Nicole and Kyla both said something about the Freudian aspects of the friars manipulating the love and relationships around them. I’m not sure if I agree or not, but I did notice the similarities. I can’t call to mind any other repeats of the same situation in another Shakespeare play, but perhaps you might know of another example.

I just find it interesting that a plot device was used twice. These things amuse me.

I suppose you could say I am making much ado about nothing.


Alas, time to move away from Shakespeare and on to something a little more sinister.

Frankenstein, anyone?

Book 5: Reading Shakespearian Plays.

Reading a 300 page romance novel is not the same as reading a 300 page document on the history of the Phillips screwdriver; just as reading a 700 page novel by Charles Dickens is not the same as reading a 700 page Harry Potter novel. Just because a book is longer does not mean it is automatically more difficult to read. Instead, it’s about the content and the time period of the piece that determines the difficulty of the reading.

For a more personal example, I stayed up all night and read the last Harry Potter book in one sitting the night it came out. It took me roughly 7 ½ hours to get through it. And I know for a FACT that it would take at least twice that to read through a novel by Dostoevsky simply because of difficulty. Since many of the books on this classics list are written in a completely different time period, they require much more concentration than if I were to pick up the latest Nora Roberts book (which my mom surely has). I am sure that you can all relate to an experience in high school where a certain book or piece just took forever to get through because of the complexities of language.

This brings me to Shakespeare and plays in general. Obviously, reading a play is far different that reading a novel. In a novel, the author gives the read cues as to emotion, etc. In a play, all you really have to go by is dialogue and the few stage directions.

Here is an example:

“Why are you always leaving me?” she cried, stomping her feet like the immature teenager she is whilst tears streamed down her cheeks, “Am I not enough for you? Just tell me now so I don’t have to pretend anymore.”

In this first example, you, the reader, have some clear clues to go by. First, you know that the speaker is a she and she is undoubtedly crying. She also seems to be speaking to a partner of some sort who is “leaving her.” You can also tell that she feels inadequate and insecure by how and what she is saying to the unknown speaker. These feelings might be an indication of her age, which is that of a teenager. These are clear clues that paint a picture in your head of the scene taking place.

Now, here is another example:

“I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried
in thy eyes—and, moreover, I will go with thee to thy uncle’s,” (v.ii. 87-88).

First, the language is completely different (this is from “Much Ado About Nothing”) and that has to be first deciphered like this:

“I will live in your heart, die in your lap, and be buried in your eyes—and, moreover, I will go back with you to your uncle’s.”

Well, that seems a little better now that I got rid of the “thy” and “thees.” But from these lines, who is speaking? Just looking at the dialogue you can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman, how old they are, or to whom they are speaking. It’s slightly trickier than the scene above. The playwright is counting on the performance to deliver these words in the manner they deserve. On a simple read through, it is hard for the read to find the passion in the words alone. They reader, or viewer, is meant to see and feel the passion through a performance.

I say and explain all this in hopes of making a few points.

First, that a play is meant to be performed rather than read.

Second, that Shakespeare’s plays are truly difficult to understand and read because of the language.

Third, anyone who can read a Shakespeare play straight through and understand all the nuances and emotions of the characters and tells you so, is most likely lying (and you can tell them I said so).

Luckily for people who want to read Shakespeare (not so much for other plays), many publishing companies are finding ways to help the reader. I own a complete set of his plays, which are all just straight versions of the dialogue, but there are editions that have the play on one page in its original text and “modern speech” on the opposite side to decipher the meaning. I own an edition that has footnotes to explain puns and out of date slang so that I can fully understand what is being said.

I’m not going to lie, reading Shakespeare is hard. Not only are you forced with the basic challenges of trying to ascertain emotion and passion from only dialogue, you are also contending with a different kind of English than what you speak today.

I think that is the main reason why people find Shakespeare difficult. When I taught “Romeo and Juliet” to ninth graders, I had to explain everything because of the language gap. To many, it just seems like another language entirely and even words like “you” seem to complex to comprehend.

So, if you are looking to broaden your horizons and read some Shakespeare, try one of the new versions of the play of your choice that has a breakdown of outdated words and modern translations. While some “book snobs” might tell you that’s cheating, its not. It simply makes a very difficult text more attainable.

Have at it!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Book 5: "Much Ado."

Much to my surprise, the poll ended and “Much Ado About Nothing” was chosen as my first play by William Shakespeare to read. I was hoping for something else to pull ahead and win, but it seems as though I was destined to read this.

I actually really like this play and in fact, it’s my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays (that I’ve read thus far). I really enjoy his comedies and I think they are far more entertaining than his tragedies, or his histories. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a good gloomy story like “Macbeth,” I just prefer something a little lighter—and a play where everything does get resolved in a pleasant way in the end.

I first read “Much Ado about Nothing” in high school. In my A.P. English class senior year, my teacher showed us the 1993 film version which is an excellent adaptation of the play. It’s fairly accurate. I also love the fact that it combines well-known Shakespearian actors with Hollywood actors. There is a big difference. The version I am speaking of has the following cast members: Kenneth Branagh as Benedick (you might recognize him as Gilderoy Lockhart from the HP movies), Emma Thompson as Beatrice, Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, Keanu Reeves as Don John the Bastard (a very funny performance by the way), and Kate Beckinsale as Hero (one of my favorite actresses).

One of the reasons I love the film so much is that it really captured the essence of the play. On later readings, I could remember moments and scenes from the film that made the play come alive in my head. Also, I just loved seeing Keanu Reeves in a role “pre-Matrix.”

Anyway, even though I was initially said that I was re-reading one of my favorite plays so early on in this project, it will be a good place to start. I can save the challenge of reading something completely new for the next Shakespeare selection.

*I should point out now that I know that this is not a "book" as the title indicates. But for the purposes of this blog and keeping track of what I am reading, each piece that I am reading is simply being called a "book." It makes sense in my head.*

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book 4: Finished.

With the weather acting a little odd recently in Michigan, I have been plagued with some headaches (fronts moving in give me instant headaches). After finishing my DJ paperwork for my upcoming wedding last night with Matt, I attempted to go to sleep to get rid of the ache. I ended up waking up at 12:30 and for the life of me, I could not get back to sleep.

I ended up grabbing Pride and Prejudice with the intentions of reading until I felt sleepy. I usually read before bed anyway and I was thinking that my body just missed that routine. I didn’t end up going to bed until 2:00 when I shut the back cover of the book. I couldn’t help it. I got sucked in and I just finished it.

I’ve read it quite a few times, but I still get so moved by Darcy’s actions in the last half of the book. More than anything he wants to win her over and he wants to show her the man he can be. It just touches me every time.

I’m glad to be done with Pride and Prejudice. It’s a favorite of mine and I’m glad I got the opportunity to read it again, but its time for something more. And for me to gain new favorites.

Book 4: Author Criticisms.

I like knowing how authors view the work of other authors. I think what they have to say about another’s work reflects on their own. I also find it humorous to see whether I agree or disagree with what they have to say about books and plays that I consider to be my favorites.

In my edition of Pride and Prejudice, there are a number of quotes in the back from other authors about her work (this is a fun addition to the Barnes and Noble Classics Editions, of which I own many and really like). Austen is obviously well-known and her work is loved. So in addition to the praise, I also wanted to post some of the more…scandalous things that other authors had to say about her work. Many of these authors are on my list and whether I have read their work or not, their words will be on my mind when I finally get around to their pieces.


Lady Byron:

"I have finished the Novel called Pride and Prejudice, which I think a very superior work. It depends not on any of the common resources of novel writers, no drownings, no conflagrations, nor runaway horses, nor lap-dogs and parrots, nor chambermaids and milliners, nor rencontres [duels] and disguises. I really think it is the most probable I have ever read. It is not a crying book, but the interest is very strong, especially for Mr. Darcy. The characters which are not amiable are diverting, and all of them are consistently supported."

Charlotte Bronte:

“Anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outrĂ© or extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well. There is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy, in the painting. She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him with nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood ... What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study: but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of life and the sentient target of death--this Miss Austen ignores....Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete and rather insensible (not senseless woman), if this is heresy--I cannot help it.”

Walter Allen:

“More can be learnt from Miss Austen about the nature of the novel than from most any other writer.”

Sir Walter Scott:

“Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen's very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going, but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!”

Anthony Trollope:

“"Miss Austen was surely a great novelist. What she did, she did perfectly. Her work, as far as it goes, is faultless. She wrote of the times in which she lived, of the class of people with which she associated, and in the language which was usual to her as an educated lady. Of romance, -- what we generally mean when we speak of romance -- she had no tinge. Heroes and heroines with wonderful adventures there are none in her novels. Of great criminals and hidden crimes she tells us nothing. But she places us in a circle of gentlemen and ladies, and charms us while she tells us with an unconscious accuracy how men should act to women, and women act to men. It is not that her people are all good; -- and, certainly, they are not all wise. The faults of some are the anvils on which the virtues of others are hammered till they are bright as steel. In the comedy of folly I know no novelist who has beaten her. The letters of Mr. Collins, a clergyman in Pride and Prejudice, would move laughter in a low-church archbishop."

Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. ... All that interests in any character [is this]: has he (or she) the money to marry with? ... Suicide is more respectable."

E.M. Forster (who wrote A Room with a View which I just finished and loved):

“I am a Jane Austenite, and therefore slightly imbecile about Jane Austen. My fatuous expression, and airs of personal immunity — how ill they sit on the face, say, of a Stevensonian! But Jane Austen is so different. She is my favorite author! I read and reread, the mouth open and the mind closed. Shut up in measureless content, I greet her by the name of most kind hostess, while criticism slumbers.”

Mark Twain (who has many things to say about many authors—remind me to mention his hatred of Cooper when I get to it):

“To me his prose is unreadable -- like Jane Austin's [sic]. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane's. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

“I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

And my favorite, from W. Somerset Maugham:

“Nothing very much happens in her books, and yet, when you come to the bottom of a page, you eagerly turn it to learn what will happen next. Nothing very much does and again you eagerly turn the page. The novelist who has the power to achieve this has the most precious gift a novelist can possess."