May 30, 2017

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This is the fourth book on the TWEM list, the first one I have read before, and the first one I actually enjoyed instead of endured. I remember ADORING P&P before, I didn't see any fault in it at all. However, during this reading I was a bit more critical and tried to not let fangirling blur my understanding. This helped me see that JA is actually lame at dialogues when the discourse changes from bantering/gossip to real feelings. More on this later. However, I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel and here are the TWEM questions:

Is it a fable or a chronicle?

P&P is a chronicle, and reality is shown in much detail: letters, walks, dances - all the social minutiae is described in a very particular manner. Life in JA's society is guarded by very strict rules, ad so is life in the novel. On the other hand, the train of thoughts in Elizabeth's head is also shown quite realistically.

What does Elizabeth want? What's in her way? What does she do to overcome the obstacles?

Elizabeth wants to be married, but happily married, to a person she loves and respects. Her prospects are hindered by low income and social status of her family, as well as their indecorum. She probably sees marriage as a possibility to move away from the confines of home and to broaden her horizons. She tries to improve her "marriageability" by studying (piano, reading) and by attempting to keep her family from embarrassing themselves, which usually fails.

Who is telling the story?

The novel is written in third-person limited, as apart from several asides, we mostly perceive what's happening from Elizabeth's perspective and through her reactions. She can't know everything and that leads to some mistakes and misconceptions. The reader is led astray as well.

Where is the story set?

The story setting of rural England almost feels like a decoration to the characters' turmoils. We don't see much of the cities or people except for the main characters, and the beautiful shrubs are only there to frame lovers;' confessions on long walks. Nature doesn't affect people's lives, with exception of different seasons bringing on seasonal social engagements.

What style does JA employ?

JA writes in long, windy sentences full of well-picked words and irony. The dialogues are mostly small talk or gossip or banter, and in the most intense moments JA infuriatingly switches from direct speech to general descriptions: "he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do" (p.352) - very touching indeed, JA! Why don't you use your imagination and put it in his own words?

Images and metaphors

I guess the image of Darcy takes a lot from "a knight in "shining armor that must prove himself and earn the approval of is lady; although his brooding countenance is decidedly Gothic. I guess Pemberley can be seen as an image of all a lady can want, the shining gate of marriage indeed.

Beginnings and endings

The well-beloved first phrase of the novel states from the beginning that the story will be that of class, society and matrimony. It should be taken as a hint that the book is not a mere generic love story. The ending is a happy resolution: everybody is settled and there's nothing else to be said.

Do you sympathize with the characters?

I do sympathize with Elizabeth's situation when she's painfully embarrassed of her family. I can't not admire her for being very protective of them in spite of seeing their true worth. I can also admire her ready wit and ability to think constructively and behave reasonably when others would whine uselessly. What is irritating is her readiness to judge others based on hearsay and her unwillingness to give them the credit of doubt. This has proved to be her biggest hindrance.

Does technique hint at argument?

As JA lets us follow Elizabeth's changing opinions, I guess one of the points of the novel is to show how our beliefs and preconceptions determine how we see the world. The focus on societal mechanics also shows how much our thinking is a product of our surroundings.

Is the novel self-reflective?

Not per se, but the abundance of letters does show that writing might be the most convenient form of expressing feelings. Reading is claimed to sharpen the understanding.

Did the writer's times affect her?

Yes! All the decorum in the novel is absolutely a product of JA's times. The main plot of the novel (that of a marriage) would not be so tangled if not hindered by different societal norms. The whole marrying thing is necessary not always because of love, but because that's the only way to financial freedom for a lady ("[Marriage] was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want." (p.119)). This gives a whole new facet of urgency to the marriage business.

Is there an argument in the book?

I think the argument is that there's danger in forming your opinion of somebody based on appearances and gossip. Also that there's no biggest happiness and gratification for a lady as a happy marriage.

Do you agree?

There's no doubt as to the first argument, and I do try not to fall prey to first impressions myself to avoid this fallacy. As to the second, although I agree that marrying someone you love and respect is a great joy, my times prevent me from seeing it as the ultimate goal.

May 21, 2017

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

This is a book I thought for a long time I HAD read, and for some reason, I was sure that it's an easy read. Ha-ha-ha. No, I mean, it IS funny sometimes, but plowing through some dense 18-century satire is not an easy feat. Most of all, I'm just glad I'm in the 19th century now, with books that are easier to enjoy. But first, the inquiry stages.

Fable or a chronicle?

The author plays with a chronicle style - although everything happening to Gulliver is surreal and allegorical, he gives such minutiae of his travels as locations, days, measurements, etc. that it totally reads as a real account.

What does Gulliver want?

Most of the time he wants to explore and learn, but when things get tough, he starts earning to return home. In the end, all he wants is to stay away from the humans, in the blissful country of the Houyhnhnms.

Who's telling the story?

The story is told in the first person - G. is telling his own perception of what's been happening to him. It's rather well done, as at first, after encountering something new, it's all guesswork, both for him and the reader. Later, he learns a language or finds somebody to explain and all gets clear.

Where is the story set?

It's set in the blank spots on the map, and there were quite a few of them in the age of exploration. Easy to imagine that they were hiding all sorts of weird and wonderful countries.

What style is employed?

It's a business-meaning, precise style of a travelogue.

Images and metaphors

Oh, plenty of those here. Pretty much everybody and everything symbolizes something in the political world in Swift's times.

Beginnings and endings

Every story begins with G., restless at home and eager for adventure, sailing off and ends with him coming back home, changed and reacting to the people around him in a new way.

Do you sympathize with G. and why?

I do sympathize with G. most of the time - his thirst for knowledge, aptness with languages, eagerness to learn and understand, determination - all that is very likable. Sometimes he can be really full of himself though. And the way he treated his family - I'm surprised his wife hasn't killed him yet.

Did the writer's times affect him?

Oh, yes! As it's satire, it's pretty difficult to get what exactly Swift is making fun of without knowing the political context. Swift has also probably read a lot of utopias and travelogues, as well as political writings, as the book resembles the three. I can't help noticing how even the species intended to have a "utopian" society still have social classes (like colors on H.s). Seems like imagining no such division would be too forward in Swift's times.

Is there an argument?

Lilliputs seem to be mocking England, it's political climate and relationships with France; the third journey points out how ridiculously useless and disconnected from real life science is; part 4 is a treatise on human nature and simple, "natural" living. in the end, it seems to conclude that human race is generally disgusting.

Do you agree?

I agree with many arguments about the ridiculousness of politics, wars, and some laws. Hell, as somebody stuck in academia, I see some of the crazy research from part 3 closely resembling what's happening in the real life)) Is was really funny. However, I can's agree that humans are the inherently evil and disgusting Yahoos. Hey, maybe we're not as cool as the sentient horses, but we're not that bad!

April 29, 2017

Dewey's Readathon: Check-Ins

Hour 5

I've finished my first book - Gulliver's Travels. It means I've only read 58 pages, but man are they dense! I've also taken a 40-min nap (power naps are very effective for me!), drank one coffee, had dinner of spaghetti with pesto and olives and snacked on 2 bananas and some bake rolls. Now I'm switching to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and we'll see how this one goes!

Hour 8

I've had camembert and grapes for snacks and read about 60 pages of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - and I'm still wondering how it could have won Hugo. It reads as an amateurish fiction at best, with a lot of wordy, pointless dialogues and a LOT of explaining (mansplaining included). And yes, don't even get me started on how it treats women - it's horrific. So I think I'll switch to something else for now - maybe A Short History of Nearly Everything? It's a pretty easy read, science notwithstanding. Done some yoga stretches, so feeling good in general, but might have to rest my eyes sometime soon.

Hour 12: Mid-Event Survey

1. What are you reading right now?
Spent a couple of ours having fun with A Short History of Nearly Everything but now am getting sleepy so am switching to comics - Saga 7, here I come!

2. How many books have you read so far?
Finished one, been reading three in total.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
Saga 7!! Love-love-love it to bits

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Just for food, for a short nap and for yoga - I'm shunning any social interactions that may sway me from reading :)

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
How easy it is to stay motivated when you're doing something you really love :)

Finish Line and Closing Survey

I've made it! I slept from 3.30 am to 7.30 am and then read until the finish line at 2 pm before dropping asleep)

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
The last one, because the effect of morning coffee was ending, and 4-hour sleep catching up with me

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a reader engaged for next year?
Saga comics! I left it for the night to keep me from falling asleep and OMG it did...

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
I liked how fun and crowded it was on Twitter :)

5. How many books did you read?
I've finished three books and made a dent in 2 more

6. What were the names of the books you read?
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift - finished!
Saga 7 by Brian K. Vaughan - finished!
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling - finished!
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein - meh
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson - fun!

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Saga! Have I mentioned I love it? Love it! Although it breaks my heart with every volume, and this time more than ever...

8. Which did you enjoy least?
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein - 100 pages in and will somebody please explain to me how the hell is it Hugo-worthy?

9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
YES!! The role of ever-munching red-eyed sofa reader :)

Dewey's Readathon Opening Survey

It's here!!! I'm so excited!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Brno, Czech Republic. It's 2 p.m. to 2 p.m. in this place, so I definitely plan to nap a bit at night!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Finishing Gulliver's Travels! I like finishing things.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I found blueberries on discount today, and I LOVE them! I'll keep them for the night, to brighten the most difficult hours if the readathon!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I'm a Ph.D. student of computer science and weirdly enough also an enthusiastic fiction reader. I love fantasy, sci-fi and classics, but try to read from a wide range of genres.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
I was very happy with my 4-hour sleeping last time which allowed me to finish strong. I'm planning to do the same this time) Also, I'm planning to do yoga stretches every two hours to avoid back pain.

Good luck to everybody!

April 27, 2017

My Dewey's Readathon TBR Pile

No plans for the weekend, so I hope I'll be able to read for the whole duration of the Readathon, unless I fall asleep, of course :) Here's the pile I will be choosing from:

The only reason it's so big is because there's no telling what mood will hit me, so I have all sorts of things there :) Hopefully, I'll have enough concentration to finish Gulliver's Travels, which is a TWEM title and long due. In that case, I'll be able to start Pride and Prejudice which simply can't go wrong :) A Short History of Nearly Everything is borrowed, so I'd like to make a dent in it too. The battered thing on the top is my e-reader, which hosts The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which I have started but which is yet to impress me enough so that I believe it has really earned its Hugo. Well, and Fantastic Beasts will be for those night hours when I struggle to even keep my eyes open!

I'll be posting on Twitter and maybe several updates here.

Good luck to everybody participating, and let's have fun!

March 28, 2017

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan: Logic and Rhetoric Stage Inquiry

I've decided that I don't want to invest my time into reading the second part (Christiana's journey), as I've had enough preaching already in the first part. Bunyan is immensely irritating, and I think that reading the first part is more than enough to form an opinion of his novel.

I'm not sure why this novel has become so popular, but I admit that maybe I'm not seeing the appeal it might have to a religious person. Being a non-believer, I'm in no place to judge. So bear with me as I share my ignorant opinions here and correct me if I'm wrong :)

Is it a "fable" or a "chronicle"?

The Progress is a fable. Christian's sally is an allegory of a christian's spiritual journey to salvation

What does Christian want? What's in the way? What's he doing to overcome it?

Ch. wants to get to the Celestial City (reach salvation). In his way stand the usual temptations and difficulties facing a christian through life. Ch. overcomes the obstacles by reading scripture, following good advice and with some help from fellow pilgrims.

Who is telling the story?

Bunyan himself tells the story as if he's seen it in a dream. The novel is in 3d person omniscient - B. knows what all his characters think and explains the meaning of the terrain they cross to the reader.

Where is the story set?

The story is set on a fictional allegorical landscape. Locations represent either states of mind (Despond), temptations (Vanity Fair) or life lessons (forking paths, statues, etc.)

What style is it written in?

Lengthy sentenses with a lot of logical constructs (therefore, etc.) The dialogues are in the form of a debate or a lecture; sometimes Bunyan goes as far as to provide lists of "what is correct"

Images and metaphors

Is there anything but? The burden is an important metaphor representing sin. The path is an image of life. When it's forking, a choice must be made. Sometimes it's harsh to follow, sometimes pleasant, as life is.

Beginning and ending

B. begins and ends with pointing out to the reader that the story is his dream. He also reminds the reader of that regularly throughout the story. I think that's his way of underlining the allegorical and maybe even divine-inspired nature of the story. The ending is a resolution: Ch. reaches salvation.

Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones? Why?

I sympathize with Ch. in the beginning of his journey, when he's desperate and lost and has no idea what to do. Every time he's unsure of himself or afraid, I can sympathize because I often feel like that about the future too. However, in the end Ch. turns into an overly-confident, preaching, gossipy and judgemental prick. See how he treated Talkative and Ignorant on the way? He's passed his judgement on them based on hearsay only and rudely dismisses them. This a truly shitty behavior.

Does technique hint at argument?

I think that the form of a similitude underlines the philosophical nature of the book. That author presents it as a dream ay hint that he wants to say it was "sent" to him and is thus undisputable.

Is the novel self-reflective?

A scroll with some divine writing helps Ch. a lot along the way. I think B. may hope that his book will be of similar help to somebody.

Is there an argument in this book?

That the life of a christian is full of challenges, but if he's adamant in his intentions and follows the scripture to a t, he'll find salvation.

Do you agree?

The picture Bunyan paints of the world is too brutal, unpardoning and unfair. I can't agree that a small misstep deserves a beating and that people with different world views should be shunned and despised. I don't need eternal glory if it means I have to be a boring prick. Maybe the novel worked in Bunyan's day, but it looks hopelessly outdated now.

All in all, reading The Progress this was not a pleasant experience. I hate being preached at, and Bunyan does it with teeth-wrenching boredom and self-righteousness. I gave it two stars only for the battle with Apollyon (still not sure what he was meant to represent). Now that was rather cool!

March 4, 2017

Don Quixote by Cervantes: Rhetoric-Stage Reading and Musings

Today I continue the analysis of D.Q. with the help of the rhetoric-stage questions in TWEM book. Again, analysis does not flow easily for me, but I've done my best :)

Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones? Why?

I really relate to D.Q.'s desire to live his favorite books. Is there a bookworm who doesn't? Although his aspirations turn to delusions, his reason for committing all the outrages is very understandable. I also feel like S.P. pretty often - the urge to stop somebody talking about advanced moral matters by a down-to-earth sarcastic remark. And it pains me to miss lunch too! :)

Is the novel self-reflective?

Yes, and it's one of the central points of the novel. It explores how fiction can affect people, what happens to a book before (like writing a preface) and after the publication (public finds errors, imitators steal the idea). It poses questions of trustfulness of sources (Cide is "only an Arab", can he we believe what he writes?). It also looks at how the lives of people are changed once they become popular through books. Differences in the worthiness of books of different genres are underlined (novels vs. accounts of real events) and it's acknowledged that even literature for pleasure has a right to exist if well-written (book-burning scene).

Is there an argument in this book?

Cervantes states himself in the preface and in the end that the purpose of D.Q. is to mock and condemn chivalrous romances, but I don't think that's the real point of the book. First, the novel is much bigger than would be necessary for this one argument, and second, it defies this argument by being too true to the original that it's supposed to ridicule. I tend to think that what Cervantes wants to say is that books have real power, but this power is not rooted in reality, so too much immersion into books can disconnect you from the real world. And, after all, there is no getting away from the real world.

I'm really glad that TWEM list made me read this. As I've mentioned, I enjoyed it much more than I'd expected. Somehow, someway, the novel does not feel outdated at all (well except for the humor), and the characters really come to life on its pages. I'm not surprised at its immense popularity now, as it's a true classic. So if you're afraid of its size (you can easily kill somebody with the tome by just dropping it on them), don't be! Although it does take a lot of time to get through it, it's still very accessible, and you would not regret the effort!

One down, 30 more to go! Now on to Bunyan!

February 28, 2017

Don Quixote by Cervantes: Grammar and Logic-Stage Reading

Yay, I've finished my first Well-Educated Mind title! What a huge thing it was, I'm really proud of myself. Although long, it turned out to be much less scary than I'd thought. I'd feared it would be primitive, repetitive and didactic, but instead, it was engaging, touching and sometimes (not in the intended places) even funny. Especially the second part impressed me by being a full-blown grown-up novel with character development and what not.

I didn't find it problematic to keep notes while reading, but answering the logic-stage questions felt a little awkward and a bit like high-school literature classes. However, I've made an effort to relax and not sweat about these answers too much. It's the first book, after all, I can't be a perfect critic yet) So here are my thoughts, and logic-stage analysis will follow in the next post. If you have some thoughts, please share :)

A Story of the Adventures and Mishaps of Don Quixote,

who, driven by a desire to revive the order of knights-errant, of which he's read so much and to honor his lady Dulcinea (a simple peasant girl not acquainted with him in reality), ventures out to battle evil together with his faithful and wordy squire Sancho Panza. After a series of unfortunate adventures and following a disappointing defeat, he comes to his senses and dies having renounced his "madness".

Is it a "fable" or a "chronicle"?

The novel is obviously a fable. First, Cervantes never hides that it's him behind the story, inserting his comments from time to time. Second, the coincidences in the story are so wild that nobody would believe they could really happen. Cervantes invents a chronicler, Cide Hamete, do deepen his make-belief, but it's for the reader's fun, no to enforce the plausibility. I think that Cervantes write in the fable style to underline parallels between the knightly romances and the adventures of D.Q., who is trying to imitate them. The similarity of both worlds helps deepen the contrast with reality, which hits D.Q. often and hard.

What does D.Q. want? What's in the way? What's he doing to overcome it?

D.Q. desperately wants to be part of the magical world that he finds in his books. His aspirations are doomed, first, because hey, reality! and second, because some of his friends plot to bring him home against his will in order to "cure" him. In his mind, however, all these obstacles take the form of the vague "magicians" that pester him and keep him from glory. To achieve his heart's desire, D.Q. keeps to all the rules of chivalry to a "t" and strives to always behave valiantly and to seek adventures.

Who is telling the story?

The story is told from the omniscient point of view. This allows the author to jump between the main characters and explain to the reader what these characters themselves don't understand, but totally undermines any pretense at a chronicle. Cervantes starts telling the story himself, then invents the Arabic historian who had put it all down and whose work Cervantes is only translating. Cervantes allows himself to comment in Cide and the book when he feels like it, and Cide adds his comments too. A lot of sub-stories are told by different side characters, also from the omniscient point of view.

Where is the story set?

In Cervantes's time Spain. Real events like the eviction of the Moriscos and wars are mentioned. The real world is cruel and unwelcoming towards D.Q., mostly because he denies it. Nature alone is kind and welcoming for the knight.

What style is it written in?

D.Q. is written in lengthy and windy sentences with a lot of clauses, providing a lot of details and embellishments. Dialogues are much better written than the descriptions, and main characters have very recognizable voices (D.Q.'s educated speech, Sancho's proverbs).

Images and metaphors

The magicians that are always pestering D.Q. (at least in his mind) stand for the real life that comes crushing all of D.Q.'s fantasies. The cave of Montesinos of a metaphor for the whole journey of D.Q. He asks repeatedly (the monkey and the stone head) if what he's witnessed in the cave is read or not, and the answer both times is that some of it was real and some of it not. As this one adventure, all of his adventures are an amalgam of reality and imagination. D.Q. and S.P. stand for different social classes and behave accordingly. Inns represent normality and society. S.P. is always for them (in spite of the thrashings) but D.Q. prefers to sleep in the forest. The famous windmills that D.Q. battled are also symbols of the dream-crushing reality.

Beginning and ending

The beginning introduces D.Q. as Alonso Quixana and in the end, he returns to positioning himself as such after his adventures are finished. It's as if he was reborn as Don Quixote the knight in the beginning of the novel and dies in the end because he loses his identity.

December 17, 2016

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown (Review)

adulting review
Title: Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps
First Published: 2013
Rating: ★★★★☆

If you are an adult, I bet that sometimes (or often as in my case) you lament the amount of shit you have to take care of on a daily basis. Remember how easy it was when you were a kid? You do your homework, help about the house, read a poem... And this is enough for people to accept you as an accomplished human being. Not so easy now, not so easy! 

On the other hand, as rightly points out, the feeling of accomplishment after you've nailed a complicated adult situation is worth straining your will. From house maintenance to job interviews to handling a breakup - Adulting covers a lot of issues that you have no idea about until they manifest themselves in your live and you're like WHAT?

The book is a bit too US centered so you may just skip the tax returns and retirement plans is they don't apply to you, but the general idea is still valid - you should totally take care of this shit or else it will take care of your undoing. Overall, after reading this I don't feel overwhelmed, rather reassured. I mean, it's totally doable, so chances are I can manage too.

In my book: An encouraging read for those who despair over dish washing, car maintenance or handling social events with grace.

December 15, 2016

Alif the Unseen by G.Willow Wilson (Review)

Title: Alif the Unseen
Author: G.Willow Wilson
First published:  2012
Add it: Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

Since I started learning Arabic in summer, I'm trying to also learn more about the Middle East, because frankly speaking, my ignorance is vast and unpardonable. Alif the Unseen combines all the stuff that I love so much in books - computer sci-fi and urban fantasy - set on a backdrop of one of the rich oil cities in the Middle East. And the setting is not just a prop - the background defines the characters and the storyline, and the reader learns so much while not being explicitly lectured.

Alif is a young and poor computer genius who earns money by providing online anonymity to everyone who needs it. As social unrest breaks into Arab Spring revolutions across the region, the government becomes less and less happy with Alif, and BIG PROBLEMS are looming in front of him. Alif, of course, is more concerned about his girl issue, because, well, hormones. When shit hits the fan, he has to make some tough decisions and seek help in unimaginable places. But I won't tell you more of the plot, do yourself a favor and read the book :)

I loved how Alif the Unseen tackles the social and religious aspects of life in the nameless City - without any kind of judgment, very matter-of-factly. The wild mix of characters lets the reader observe a lot of facets of life in a Muslim police state and make her own opinions on them. There is also a very powerful message that however different people are, they can work together if they respect each other, and this is the only way to get things changed for the best.

My only problem with the book was how programming issues are tackled (professional deformation, you know :)) and that sometimes the action just stops so that the characters have time to philosophize about IMPORTANT STUFF. But, you know, these are minor problems in an overall great book.

In my book: An exciting sci-fi + fantasy read that also gives you tons of interesting insights of the Middle East life.
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