April 30, 2013

Language Freak Summer Challenge: Warm-Up, Participants and First Books

Hi, everybody!

I know I wrote that the first monthly post for Language Freak Summer Challenge (BTW, the sign-up is still open HERE) will be in the end of May, but I got so excited that I already have 5 participants, and some of them have already started reading for the challenge, that I decided to write this post to welcome everybody to the challenge and draw a starting line! So...

Our wonderful participants:
  1. Jean @ Howling Frog Books - Danish, Russian and maybe German
  2. Monika @ A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall - Italian
  3. amanda @ Simpler Pastimes - Spanish and Italian
  4. Amy@ book musings - German
  5. n@ncy - French
  6. Me - Spanish, Czech and German

Our first review:
  1. n@ncy has read and reviewed Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit by Delphine de Vigan in French
Go check it out!

As for me, I am nearly finished with Harry Potter y la cámara secreta in Spanish, which is a great start, I think. I'll also try to write a short review in Spanish for it.

Besides, I've found a Czech school literature program, and I'm now in the process of deciding what to pick up as my Czech reading for the challenge :)

How is your progress? Have you chosen your books? Have you started reading them? Do you enjoy it? Are you proud of yourself? I want to know everything! :)

April 27, 2013

Dewey's Read-a-Thon!


Dewey's Read-a-Thon is already today! It's my first time participating, so I have no idea how it'll go, but I'll try to read as much as I can, making breaks for studying as it's the end of the semester.

I'll update my progress here during the day.

I'm going to the park with the first book now and I hope it'll be finished when I come back!


I'm a bit late for the questionnaire, but here it is:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Brno, Czech Republic

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
The Great Gatsby!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I'm on a diet so yogurt, yogurt and more yogurt!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
Well, I'm a bit overwhelmed with my studies right now, and that's the only thing that matters about me right now! :)

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?
It is my first! Well, I'm looking forward to seeing how much I'll manage to read :)

Since the last update:

Pages read: 46 from Murder in Two Flats  by Roy Vickers and 3 from Harry Potter y la Camara Secreta - but it's in Spanish so it's not surprising that I'm slow :)
Books finished: Murder in Two Flats  by Roy Vickers


Pages read: 8 more from Harry Potter y la Camara Secreta in Spanish and A LOT of lecture slides as a preparation for the exams. Does this count? :)


Good morning everyone! I've had a good night's rest, and before falling asleep I read 10 more pages from Harry Potter. My language practice goes well! Now I'm up to several more reading hours, and probably I'll turn to something in English. I still remember I was planning to read The Great Gatsby, so this is probably the solution :)

Thanks to everybody for cheering up! That makes me energetic and saves some coffee :)

14.09 - finish line!

Well, as you might have noticed, I was not very productive: only 46 pages in English, and around 30 in Spanish. And only one book finished. Comparing to other's 1000 and something pages, it's nothing. But the timing is really bad, it's the end of the semester, so studying takes all my time :( And I slept, because not sleeping would make me useless the next day :)
Anyway, I had a taste of a read-a-thon atmosphere, and I really liked it! So I'm looking forward to October, when I hope I will not be so stressed and I'll try to participate more actively!

Thanks everybody for making it happen!

April 17, 2013

Stardust Group Read, Part 2

I was so sad when the book came to an end that even the fact that the end was a good one didn't help. So I immediately re-watched the movie, and I hope I will not mix up story lines from the book and from the movie while answering Carl's questions for the second part of Stardust read-along.

1. In the first part we saw a naive, wool-headed and self-involved Tristran. What are your thoughts about Tristran and his personal journey now that the book has ended?
Well, he has become considerate of other people's feelings, he has realized what he really wants in his life and he has made his mother accept his plans, which was the most challenging of all :) Is it called growing up? I think so. He has become a man, and a rather good one, I must say.

2. The star, who we now know as Yvaine, also experienced a transformation of her own. So I ask the same question, what are your thoughts about Yvaine and the journey she took?
Yvaine is a bit tragic and desperate in this half of the book. She has no other option than to follow Tristan, and he doesn't want her. That first love failure makes her calmer and kinder, I think. Remember how she treated the witch? Do you know anyone who could kiss a person who wants to cut his heart out? I don't. But it makes her less human too, so I connected with her much less in the second half of the book than in the first one.

3. The villains of the story came to interesting ends, but not necessarily expected ones. How do you feel about Neil Gaiman's handling of the Stormhold brothers (who had remained at the end of Part 1) and the two witches, the one Lilim and Ditchwater Sal?
I think it is only fair that all the brothers die. It kind of cleans their line of all the bad traits of character accumulated through centuries and gives place for Tristan, who is very different. I even pitied the Lilim witch, as old age is not very pleasant for anybody, and to be confined to an old body forever must be a hell of a punishment itself. 

4. Were there any descriptions, characters, settings, plot threads that stood out to you personally during this second half of the book?
I adored the scene where Tristan finally meets his mother and they immediately start arguing. It doesn't matter if your mother hasn't seen you for 17 years, she is still your mother and she wants you to settle down and behave reasonably. It was so realistic and recognizable that it made me laugh :) I also enjoyed the pun with two Mondays and how it freed Una.

5. At the very end of the book we see that Tristran and Yvaine's relationship and fate echoes that of Aragorn and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings. If this question makes any sense to you (lol), what comparisons and/or contrasts do you see, especially in the fates of Yvaine and Arwen?
Although there is an apparent similarity, there is one major difference here: Arwen chose her fate herself, and Yvaine didn't have much choice, as there was no way for her to go back to the sky. So I think she was very happy indeed on Earth as I can't imagine a better fate for her given that she HAS fallen, and she was spared Arwen's doubts if she had made the right decision.

6. What are your overall impressions of the story now that it is done?
I loved the story! Although the ending was not so Hollywood-perfect as I remembered from the movie, I liked it even better this way. There is some sadness left in you when you close the book, but it is a good sadness, a sign of a really great story.

7. If Gaiman were to return to Wall/Faerie, would you take another journey there? If so, are there any adventures hinted at in Stardust that you would like to see Neil expand on?
I think I would not like to return to the same characters or the same places. They were so fully exploited and the story is so well-rounded, that a sequel would spoil it all. I'd like something completely different, probably in different time or in a different place of the Faerie (there must be other entrances there, right?), but in the same style and with the same mood!

Mabinogion and Welsh Mythology

Title: Mabinogion
Author: Anonymous
First published: 1410
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

Mabinogion is a collection of several (13 in my edition) prose stories from different medieval Welsh manuscripts. It was first published in London in 1879 by Lady Charlotte Guest, and this translation, although censured, first sparkled public interest in Welsh mythology. I read a translation into Russian from medieval Welsh by Erlichman, with a lot of comments on translation, the origin of names and the roles of some characters in the oral tradition. I'm glad I chose this edition, because without the comments it would be rather difficult to understand several things and enjoy the book so much.

All the stories are divided into several sub-collections in accordance with their style. The first part, the "Four Branches of Mabinogi" itself, was the most exciting for me, as it comtains the oldest and the best preserved myths. They are concerned mainly with the sacred history and geography of Wales, as they tell how heroes/gods taught people different crafts, explain why some places are called as they are and so on. What is the most valuable about these stories is that somehow they nearly evaded monastic and Norman corrections and additions, and therefore show Welsh oral tradition in its purity.

Later collections demonstrate the origin of Arthirian legends. He appeared in the nation's fantasies as a protector from all the invaders from the continent. In the first tales he doesn't have his Camelot or the round table and is not called an emperor. He is just a traditional Welsh hero. But the further the story in the book, the more familiar traits we see. Some argue that the last tales were even borrowed from Chrétien de Troyes because of so much chivalry. Church's influence is also obvious, as proper weddings and Christian holidays appear in the stories. This process of adapting the old myths to the new "fashion" is very interesting to observe, but it is also a bit sad that such a vast narrative tradition was sacrificed to the new literary standards.

The book was also quite entertaining for me as a fantasy lover, as the names of the places and people were heavily borrowed by Tolkien and all the Arthurian writers. With such a vast influence on the literary tradition, Mabinogion is an important read for those who are always interested in the origins of things.

April 13, 2013

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Title: The Color of Magic
Author: Pratchett, Terry
First published: 1983
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

Goodreads description:
On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There's an avaricious buy inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet...

The fact that I am putting a plot description from Goodreads here instead of writing it myself means that I'm not particularly inspired to write about this book. The reason is that Pratchett's humor is just not my kind of humor. I know a lot of people who adore his books, so I expected quite a lot from The Color of Magic, but I wasn't impressed at all. While reading, I noticed all the places where the narrative is supposed to be funny, I understood why, but for me it was not, that's all. It is written on my cover that Pratchett is a mixture of Jerome K. Jerome and Tolkien, but I think he is not even near any of them. 

Another problem is that I didn't care for the main characters at all. I didn't like any of them, except probably the Luggage, which is rather cute. The Discworld is quite authentic, with its peculiar geography and physics, but without some likable characters it loses its charm. Whatever happens to them, the reader is sure that somehow (probably in the most improbable way) they will be saved. Besides, all the action scenes look like some D&D log and are not very convincing. 

So this book was quite a disappointment, and I don't think I'll read more from the Discworld series. Sorry, all Pratchett fans! :)

Germinal by Emile Zola

Title: Germinal
Author: Zola, Emile
First published: 1885
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

This was my first Zola ever and I picked it up for the Zoladdiction reading event this month. I must thank the girls for hosting it, as it was a nice start and I'll definitely be reading more Zola eventually!

Speaking of nice, this is not the word to describe the book itself. Dealing with the strike at the coal mines, it is very dark, depressing and over-realistic. But it is at the same time very moving and beautifully written. Etienne Lantier's search for a job during an economical crisis brings him to a coal mining town Montsou, where he is finally given a job. He observes the harsh conditions that the workers have to suffer, and he is determined to fight for them and with them according to his inchoate revolutionary beliefs. And eventually, following the change in the salary tariffs, a strike happens.

One of the main points of the book it that you can't control the mob. When you set it to action, be prepared that this action can and will become destructive and violent. Etienne likes the feeling of being a leader, and his proclamations and suggestions are usually quite reasonable, but he soon becomes aware that the hungry people want only revenge and violence. So after several months of protesting and a lot of unnecessary deaths it all ends quite badly and avails to nothing.

Why does it end so? Well, I think that the reason is lack of preparation and education. Even Etienne doesn't have a solid plan of how to make the governing board listen to their demands. There is one person who knows quite a lot about revolutionary movement and could have helped, and that is Souvarine, a Russian political emigrant. But he sees no hope in any actions except terroristic, and it is shown very clearly in the novel that this is not an option.

In the end of the book, when everybody goes back to work and to the new unfair tariffs imposed by the governing board, Zola tries to draw some hopeful conclusion. It is said that this strike would not be forgotten and would lead to more revolutionary actions in the future, that though unsuccessful, their actions stirred something which would grow and take a form of the complete change of the society. But somehow this doesn't sound so reassuringly to me when I think about all the horrible deaths that ensued from the strike.

As you have probably noticed, the book was quite moving for me, and this is entirely because of Zola's writing, which is very precise, realistic and visual. However, I feel that he overdid the description of the miserable life of miners just a little bit. I find it hard to believe in all the sex habits these people had. At least I haven't seen it in any other books on the same topic. There is really too much sex in the book, to my liking. And dear Zola, people don't do it after being blocked underground without food for 2 weeks!!

Anyway, I have really enjoyed the book, and I'm glad I've read it. Now I want to try reading from the beginning of Rougon-Macquart series to see some more of the time with Zola's eyes!

April 10, 2013

Stardust Group Read Part 1

For Stardust read-along Carl is encouraging us to answer the following questions about the first 5 chapters of the book. I really love the book so far, so I gladly join!

1. We have spent a little time with Tristran and even less time with the star. What are your initial thoughts/impressions of our two protagonists?
Well, the first word the star pronounces is he f-word, so I'm rather shocked by her behavior, but I think she is rather cool. And although she tries not to show it, she is very kind too. Remember how she healed the unicorn? Tristan is less likable right now, I'm afraid. He is rather narrow-minded and can't talk about anything except "his love", which is totally fake. I hope some adventures in Faerie will change him into a proper hero :)

2. There are some very interesting potential villains introduced in this first half of the book. Do any of them particularly stand out to you? If so why or why not?
Oh, I love the villains in this book! They are so ruthless and immoral, which makes them really believable and scary. I can't decide which one is my favorite, as both the witch and Septimus are equally gorgeous!

3. In Chapter Three, just after the section with the brothers in Stormhold, Neil Gaiman gives us a description of Faerie that includes "each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn't there...". What imaginary lands do you then hope are a part of Faerie?
I think that the world from 1001 Nights is surely there, with genies and everything... It would be really fascinating (but frightful!) to visit it! Then some dragon land will be appreciated too. And all the queer lands from the Greek myths. Wouldn't it be cool to know that the Atlantes are there somewhere, supporting our skies?

4. We do not get to spend a great deal of time in the market but while there we are given a number of interesting descriptions of the wares being bartered or sold. Which if any of them caught your eye, either as items you would like to possess or ones you would most certainly hope to avoid.
I finished reading this part a week ago, so I don't remember any wares in particular, but I guess I'd acquire some useful potions or curious animals, and I'd avoid accepting anything for free. Now we know how it ends! :)

5. If you have read much of Gaiman's work, particularly his short fiction, then you have come across some rather graphic and disturbing portrayals of sex. Gaiman offers up something very different in the way of a sex scene early on in Stardust. What are your feelings of the scene either in general or as a contrast to other Gaiman-penned scenes involving sex?
I haven't read any of his other works, but I remember being shocked with the sex scene. It was beautifully written, very romantic and everything, but it's not what you expect after such a fairy-tale beginning. I hope nobody gives the book to children thinking it's a fairy-tale! :)

6. I suspect Neil Gaiman is influenced by a number of fairy and folk tales in Stardust. Are there any elements of the story that made a particular impression and/or reminded you of other fairy stories you have read or are familiar with?
I completely adore Gaiman's way of writing! He takes some well-known patterns and then mixes them up, adds vivid characters and spices it with some humor. What you get is still very recognizable, but something completely new at the same time. The whole book is based on the traditional travel pattern, which is found in folklore all over the world. Scientists say it's because of the initiation ceremony which was obligatory for boys nearly in every culture. It usually involved surviving in the forest on their own for some time to prove they are fit to provide for themselves. And we see it in Stardust very clearly: Tristan's father somehow understands that it's time for his son to go on his quest and does not object. I hope Tristan will really become a grown-up through this challenge!

7. And finally, which of the many side characters introduced have caught your eye and why? Or what else about the story thus far is of interest to you?
I really adore this small pessimistic forest guy who gave Tristan the candle. He is grumpy, but cute, and he seems to be a good friend. I hope we'll meet him again in the book!

So that's all for this week's discussion. I'm looking forward to seeing others' posts on this half of the book and reading the second half!

April 9, 2013

Language Freak Summer Challenge: My Sign-up

This is a sign-up post for my own challenge. I'm really nervous about how it'll go, but at least I'm going to enjoy it myself :)

So I'm signing up for Crazy Linguist level, of course, which for me means reading at least one book in Spanish, German and Czech. I decided not to count English, as I'm reading in English all the time. And Russian is my mother-tongue, which definitely excludes it too :) I'll also watch some movies in these languages for Subs Fan level, but I haven't planned which ones yet.

Now a little introduction to my language situation.

I have been living in Czech Republic for nearly two years now and I study and work in Czech, so I'm quite OK with it, although I started learning it only after arriving here. I guess the surroundings help a lot! :) After living here for a year I passed a language test for B2 level, for which I'm very proud. But the problem is that I don't read in Czech and I don't really know a lot of Czech writers, which is a shame considering that I live in the country. So my plan is to make a little research and probably compile a list before starting to read.

Spanish is my big love! I didn't need to learn it, I started it just for fun, and after two years I also have a B2 level in it, although I haven't passed any exam. It's a pity that I'm completely out of practice now, and I miss it very much sometimes. So I'll try to read and watch as much as I can to refresh my knowledge of it! I'm thinking some Marques and Almodovar will do for the beginning!

I must confess I don't like the language. Maybe it's the grammar, maybe the "classical university education", but I neither like it nor can speak or write in it. But I can read quite successfully when I concentrate and have a dictionary nearby. So this one will be tough, and I pledge to read only one book, and maybe it will even be an adaptation or a fairy tale. We'll see!

So here are my linguistic plans for this summer. And you, dear reader, is cordially invited to join my challenge and practice foreign languages too! It'll be fun!!

Language Freak Summer Challenge: Announcement and Sign-ups!

Do you love learning foreign languages?
Have you ever suspected that something is lost in translation when reading a book?
Do you feel ashamed of not practicing some foreign language enough?
Are you an unbearable snob who tells everybody that they haven't read a book if they have read it in translation?

If your answer is yes to any of these questions, this challenge is just for you! As a seasoned linguist myself, I can answer in the positive to all of them, so I'll be the one to organize a challenge for all of you foreign language lovers!

The idea is simple: read books in a foreign language, enjoy it and be proud of yourself! I will collect whatever you want to post about your experiences from now till the end of August and hopefully we will all have some progress in languages by the beginning of September!

There are levels, of course:

Beginner: read 1 book in a foreign language
Intermediate: read 2 books in a foreign language
Advanced: read 3+ books in a foreign language

The books can be in one language or in several different languages. You choose what you want to practice! But for really crazy linguists I have a special offer, which is called accordingly:

Crazy Linguist: read at least 1 book in EACH foreign language you know

Bonus level is for films:

Subs Fan: watch any number of films in a foreign language (Why is it called so? Because subs are allowed, of course!)

The rules are easy:
  • Any types and formats of books are allowed.
  • Really, I mean it! If you are just a beginner then a short story, a fairy tale or an adapted book counts as a book! The point is to practice.
  • If you are bilingual or nearly so, then this language doesn't count. For example, although English is not my mother-tongue, 80% of my reading is in English, so I will not count it. But you are to decide if some language is challenging for you or not :)

To sign up please link up an introduction post to the linky below. You may tell us:
  • What languages do you know? Note: even if you are a beginner, it totally counts! And don't forget to mention what your mother-tongue is!
  • What is your history with these languages?
  • Do you use them or are you out of practice?
  • Have you read some books in these languages? Did you like it?
  • What are your plans for the challenge?
Or whatever you want :)

I'll add all of the participants to my RSS feed, and if in some review you mention that you have read a book for this challenge, I'll link it up with other reviews at the end of each month (first one is planned for the end of May). I plan to sort them by language, but we'll see how it'll go :) You must not write a review, of course, you can just describe what your experience with the book/film was. Pointing out some linguistic peculiarities is encouraged! You may also try to write a paragraph or two in the target language, if you want some practice!

Don't forget to spread the word and grab my button!

P.S. It's the first challenge I host so please be patient :) If you see that something is wrong, please tell me and I'll fix it as soon as possible!

April 3, 2013

Oedipus the King by Sophocles: What's so Greek about It?

Oedipus the King is my first Greek play, and I must say I didn't like it. And it's not the story, which is very powerful itself, it's the form that spoils everything.

Well, I assume everybody knows the plot, so no need to remind you of it. However I'd like to say that  I don't understand why everybody thinks this a story about perversity, about sexual desire to one's mother, which is even named "Oedipus's complex". Come on, people, he never knew it was his mother! And when it was revealed he took his eyes out. He is a normal man, it is just his bad fate. So I think the story is about Fate, with the capital letter. You are not getting away no matter what you try.

But I wanted to discuss form rather than the story here. And here is what is the most striking:

1) Nothing happens on the scene. There are murders, suicides and other atrocities, but we know about them only from the dialogues. Well, I guess it's difficult to stage taking out one's eyes believably, but the murder - why not? As a result, the whole play looks like a session of some club of old gossipers, and it is hard to believe in the misery of the characters, as they appear only to read their monologues.

2) There is chorus, which acts for the mob and sometimes also for the reader, as it "unobtrusively" hints what everybody should feel about the events. I don't like anybody telling me what to feel, and it's quite irritating when something is going to happen (well, not really happen, but be discussed rather :) ), but you need to read the laments of the chorus before. Were those pauses made to give the public time to go to the toilet in the middle of the play, I wonder? ;)

3) You are supposed to know the story BEFORE you read or watch the play. Otherwise you'll have no chance to understand what has Oedipus done to become a king. There is a hint about the Sphinx, but it is not told directly. Well, I guess that everybody knew it then, but still it's rather inconsiderate :)

It may partially be my fault that I expected too much of such a renown play, but I was rather disappointed. It will not divert me from further reading of Greek plays, of course, not yet at least, but for now I really prefer Shakespeare. I enjoy some real drama on the scene!

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

How do you write about a book that you like but don't understand? I guess admitting the fact is a good thing to start with. So here it is: I don't understand this book. But for once it is actually a compliment to the book, not otherwise. Somehow Woolf managed to put so much on these 139 (in my edition) pages, that I'm still wondering what was all this about.

There is no plot in the usual sense of the word in the book. It describes just one day in Westminster, London, and the flowing of time is accentuated by city clocks striking. It is on purpose that I don't say that it is one day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway, as the reader "gets inside" several people's minds as they meet, talk to each other, observe street scenes and remember their past. One of these people, Septimus, is actually a madman suffering from shell shock after his friend (or more than friend?) was killed in the war, and it's amazing how his thoughts and illusions are made so real for the reader by following them from inside, that they really make sense.

But let's get back to the main heroine, Clarissa Dalloway, an aristocrat, a wife of a politician and a hostess of a fitting household near the park. She is already 50-something, and her life is very decent and proper. She had some turbulence in her youth, and sometimes she wonders if she should have married another guy, her big but very demanding love. But surely one needs some distance and coldness in marriage, so decides she has chosen well. Only HE returns from his long absence this very day, and all their history pops to the surface.

However, this novella is not about love at all. It's about life choices, about life values, about life-long relationships and the passage of life. Well, about everything in life really. And it's about leaving life too. Until the last pages I was sure Clarissa was going to commit suicide. There are some clues in the text. But somehow when she hears of Septimus going out of the window from his doctor at her party, she approves of the deed and sees the beauty of life at the same time. So she doesn't attempt anything, and somehow in the context of the book it seems that Septimus committed suicide INSTEAD of Clarissa. Which brings us to the point of concluding that we are all mad to some extent, which is also underlined by the similarities in the thought flow between Septimus and Clarissa.

When I came to this point in my speculations, I just stopped. Because the deeper I go inside this novel, the more addled my brain becomes. But I really liked the stream of consciousness style, it brings the reader really close to the characters and helps understand their motivations. The only drawback is that there is no convenient place to stop, but is it really a problem for a bookaholic? =)

I have seen two reviews of Mrs. Dalloway recently, so I'll link them here. It's rather interesting to compare what different people think of the same book!

Fanda's review
Allie's review

If I've forgotten somebody, please don't get cross, I have a short memory :) Just tell your thoughts or link your review, I'd like some discussion!

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