August 30, 2013

Erzählungen by Heinrich Böll (Review)

Title: Erzählungen
Author: Heinrich Böll
First published: 1973
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: ★★★☆☆

As a challenge host, I'm not setting a good example by writing my review on the last day of the challenge. But the good thing about being a host is that you have PRIVILEGES, so I've decided to give everybody a grace period until September 8. to finish all the writings for the challenge. See the finish line post for details.

As for me, I could have written this review earlier this week, but I had two reasons for lingering. First I was arguing with myself if I want of if I don't want to write something in German, and after some frustration about not being able to formulate a simple sentence, I decided that a review in German is too much stress. Second, this week I was nervous about an upcoming minor operation, and just couldn't concentrate enough to write something reasonable. I've had the operation today, and now, as I am lying at home and "enjoying" the feeling of not being able to handle my lower body well because of the anesthesia, I have some calm time for writing all the reviews I want.

This is an adapted book, only 80 pages long. The back states that its vocabulary is only 2400 words, but either there are more, or all of them are some words I don't know, as I had to look up approximately every 5th word. I wanted to take a photo of the notes I was taking in the book just to show you how much I needed to write there, but of course I've lost the device which I use to transfer photos from the telephone to the computer, and I'd prefer to regain control of my legs before undertaking a search-and-rescue expedition under my bed, so this is not going to happen.

Obviously, I've lost the skill of dealing with German word order fast, because there were sentences that I had to re-read up to 10 times to understand the structure of their numerous subordinate clauses. But sometimes after an hour or so of reading I reached some "German Zen" and was able to read whole paragraphs without opening the dictionary. Unfortunately, this state of mind never lasts long :)

There are 5 short stories in the book, bound with the shared topic of justice. Two of them I really liked: "Der Lacher" and "Mein Onkel Fred". One, "Die Waage der Beleks" is beautifully written in the style of a folk legend, and I generally enjoyed it, but for the moralistic ending. And the last two ones, "Wie in schlechten Romanen" and "Daniel der Gerechte" were not such a good experience, the last one because of a lot of confusing flashbacks, and the first one because I just didn't get the point of the story, even after making sure I fully understand it. The stories can't be called optimistic, but even in the adaptation the superb writing style of the author is visible.

In my book:
It is a good book for refreshing your German skills, because it consists of short stories and because the writing is good in spite of it being an adaptation.

This is my last book for my own Language Freak Summer Challenge. I've completed my goals by reading one book in Spanish (review), one book in German (this one) and two instead of one books in Czech (review 1review 2). I'm pretty proud of myself, and I think this summer has not passed in vain!

August 28, 2013

Language Freak Summer Challenge: Finish Line

The summer is coming to an end and so is our summer challenge. Are you sad? I am, a bit. But maybe it's just the rain outside :)

How was your challenge? Have you reached all your goals and read as much stuff in foreign languages as you wished? I'd like to hear about your experience! If you choose to write a wrap-up, that'd be great, and I'll link it here. But if you are lazy, that's not obligatory, of course :) But please at least comment below, because I'm curious, you know :)

Below is the list of all the reviews or non-reviews our wonderful participants have submitted during this event. That's a lot, right? I'm really proud of you all! :) If you are like me and have procrastinated a lot (I've finished my last book for the challenge today. Speak about setting a good example!), I'm giving you a grace week to write whatever you want about your readings, and I'll link it here before 8. September!

After you finish your reading and if you feel like it, please consider giving me some feedback about the challenge in the comments. It's my first challenge and I suspect it was far from perfect, but I'm eager to make it better! So did you like the format? The levels? The updates? The duration? Would you like to participate in it the next year? What would you change? Some constructive criticism is always welcome!

Thank you all for participation! I hope you've enjoyed your readings and feel proud for practicing such a useful language skill as reading in your language(s) of choice! Don't forget to congratulate yourselves and to celebrate properly!

Challenge reviews by language:
Det caribiske mysterium by Agatha Christie (Jean @ Howling Frog Books)

L‘Argent by Emile Zola (n@ncy) - NEW!!!

Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen by J. K. Rowling (Amy @ book musings)
Der Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffman (Jean @ Howling Frog Books)
Tagebuch by Anne Frank (Amy @ book musings) - NEW!!!
Drachenreiter by Cornelia Funke (Priya @ Tabula Rasa) - NEW!!!
Erzählungen by Heinrich Böll (me) - NEW!!!

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol and "Kukushka" by Alexander Rogozhkin (Juleschka @ Buchlogbuch)
"Kukushka" by Alexander Rogozhkin (Juleschka @ Buchlogbuch)
“Requiem” by Anna Akhmatova (Juleschka @ Buchlogbuch) - NEW!!!


Amy @ book musings
me (it is there, the paragraph at the bottom of the post)
Juleschka @ Buchlogbuch

August 26, 2013

It's R.I.P. VIII Time!

This will be my first R.I.P. event, and I have been looking forward to it and collecting books I want to read :) So from September 1st to October 31st I'm planning to read some of the following:
  1. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  2. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
  3. The Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  4. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe
  5. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  6. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

I am thus going for Peril the First level, which means I'm pledging to read at least four creepy books. Quite doable, I think! :)

As You Like It by William Shakespeare (Review)

Title: As You Like It
Author: William Shakespeare
First published: 1623
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

I'm not a very big fan of Shakespeare's comedies, because, let's be honest, the jokes may have been funny at his times, but they are not funny anymore. So the "funny" scenes usually leave me abashed and perplexed. But luckily there's much more to As You Like It than just humour, so the book was not disappointing overall.

The style of the play may be characterized as pastoral: all the good guys leave the court in favour of a simpler life in the forest with the shepherds. As usual, there is also love, cross-dressing, a fool and some court intrigues, spiced up with a few nice philosophical sayings. By the way, As You Like It is the play where the famous "All the world's a stage" speech comes from. I didn't know it!

Some of the other favourite quotes include:
"Do you not know I am a woman? when I think, I must speak."
"...honesty coupled to beauty is to have honey a sauce to sugar."
"O, that woman that cannot make her fault her husband's occasion, let her never nurse her child herself, for she will breed it like a fool!"
"...take a good heart and counterfeit to be a man."
- I'll remember it to use as an encouragement to somebody :)
"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."

In my book:
It's everything you expect from a Shakespeare's comedy.

Bout of Books 8.0 Wrap Up

Bout of Books ended yesterday, and I can say I'm fairly satisfied with my participation. My goals were:

To finish:

1) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen - for Austen in August event and Mansfield Park Readalong. I'm already half way through! - finished on Wednesday and followed with Nabokov's lecture on Mansfield Park
2) Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell - for Unputdownables read-a-long, for next week is the last one! - finished on Saturday
3) As You Like It by William Shakespeare - August choice for Let's Read Plays event. - also finished on Saturday
4) Erzählungen by Heinrich Böll for my Language Freak Summer Challenge. - I've read half of the book, which is a good progress, considering I had to look up every fifth word or so!
5) One Thousand and One Nights - I've made a good progress: 163 pages. It doesn't seem to be a lot, but considering the dragging style, it's more than you'd think

To start:

1) The Classics Club spin book: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh - I haven't started it yet, but I still have plenty of time!

According to my calculations, last week I read 672 pages from 7 different books in 3 different languages. It was a productive read-a-thon!

August 23, 2013

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Review)

Title: Mansfield Park
Author: Jane Austen
First published: 1814
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I must admit that Mansfield Park, the second book I read for this year's Austen in August event, was a bit of a disappointment comparing with the other Jane Austen's novels I've read. The novel can't boast either equally brilliant characters or such a satisfactory closure as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion. It also feels like it's a bit overstretched, which is totally NOT common for Austen works. Usually you just can't get enough :) There may be spoilers below, so be warned!

My first problem was that I couldn't find anybody to like in Mansfield Park. Fanny Price is considered to be Austen's favourite character, but I don't quite see why. She is not bright, she is meek, she hardly ever speaks and she doesn't have an education to speak of. She is bossed around by everybody and thinks it's normal. Of course, one must consider her Cinderella-like situation and the ideas of proper behaviour at that time, but I can't imagine Elizabeth Bennet, for example, letting anybody go away with treating her like this :) Edmund, the second character who is supposed to be "good" is just dull and indecisive. Sometimes I thought the only topics that interest him are propriety, seriousness and emmm... let's say internal morality, although it sounds pathetic. He is pathetic, after all. But Edmund turns out to be a hypocrite in all his beliefs, because he falls in love with the most coquettish, immoral and spoiled girl ever. To make things worse, he just can't speak out his feelings, although there is an understanding between them for a long time. And after his disappointment in Mary, he finds consolation into quiet and domestic Fanny. How dull and predictable.

Which brings me to my next point, and that's the plot. First, the final match is SOOO unconvincing and dull, as I've already mentioned. How much better would it be for Fanny to actually bring Crawford to better life and marry him! And for Edmund to convince Mary to accept him... Or, you know, some reasonable ending. But it seems Austen was a bit tired by the end of the novel, so all the scandalous action is described through few letters, and then all the most important matches and consolations are just described briefly in the final chapter. Comparing with the novel's beginning, the level of detailing is unbearably low, so we'll never know their reasons and feelings. Which means I'll stay unconvinced.

And here we come to the style, and the most suitable word here is heavy. It is mainly a mixture of elaborated constructions, indirect speech and piles of words. And nearly NO dialogues. That's the thing I can't possibly condone. When reading a 19 century novel, I want some heated dialogues, full of hints, cleverness and good breeding! I want some true love speeches! At least from the guys who are main characters and for some reason end up together. Nothing of the sort...

Now that was a lot of rambling, but it is just probably because I am not in a very good mood right now. If you do not listen to me, you'll find everything you want from such kind of novels here. It's still well-written, has a lot of atmosphere, social satire and quite some scandal. It was just not enough for me, and I don't like to be disappointed when I expect a lot from a book...

In my book:
Mansfield Park is a solid Jane Austen classic, but nowhere near Pride and Prejudice! It made me sad and induced me to go look at some Colin Firth in a wet shirt photos on the Internet.

BTW, did you know they made a stature of him in London? It looks like this:

Awesome, right?

August 20, 2013

The Classics Club Lucky SPIN number...

is 4!

Which means I'll be reading Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, which is going to be an awesome read, judging by his other books! Some piece of good luck with this spin :)

Happy spinning, everyone participating! :)

Bout of Books Updates

Here is where I'll post my daily updated for Bout of Books read-a-thon!

Monday 19.08.13
Pages read: 95
From the following books: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Books finished: -
Total pages count: 95
Total books finished: 0

Tuesday 20.08.13
Nothing! It just didn't happen :(

Wednesday 21.08.13
Pages read: 120 + 61 + 22 = 203
From the following books: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen; Nabokov's lecture on Mansfield Park; One Thousand and One Nights
Books finished: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen; Nabokov's lecture on Mansfield Park
Total pages count: 298
Total books finished: 2

Thursday 22.08.13
Pages read: 15 + 43 + 13 = 71
From the following books: Erzählungen by Heinrich Böll; Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell; One Thousand and One Nights
Books finished: -
Total pages count: 369
Total books finished: 2

Friday 23.08.13
Pages read: 24 + 40 = 64
From the following books: As You Like It by William Shakespeare; One Thousand and One Nights
Books finished: -
Total pages count: 433
Total books finished: 2

Saturday 24.08.13
Pages read: 35 + 48 + 21 = 104
From the following books: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell; As You Like It by William Shakespeare; Social Psychology by David G. Myers
Books finished: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell; As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Total pages count: 537
Total books finished: 4

Sunday 25.08.13
Pages read: 36 + 11 + 88 = 135
From the following books: Social Psychology by David G. Myers; Erzählungen by Heinrich Böll; One Thousand and One Nights
Books finished: -
Total pages count: 672
Total books finished: 4

August 19, 2013

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (Review)

Title: Disgrace
Author: J.M. Coetzee
First published: 1999
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

The last book of The Fiction of Relationship course was a wonderful finale to the experience! I wasn't expecting to like it, after all the disappointment of Beloved and The Ice Palace. To tell the truth, I was already beginning to suspect that contemporary literature is too weird for me to ever appreciate it. But Disgrace, although it can also be called weird, is a brilliant, brilliant piece of fiction!

The novel hooked me from the first line: "For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well." How awesome is this writing? "He" is an ageing university literature teacher David Lurie, whose main interest is romantic poetry and who wants to write an opera about Byron's last days. He considers his sexual life far from finished, and starts an affair with his student, 30 years his junior, which results in his losing his position at the university with a lot of bad publicity. David finds refuge at his daughter's farm, where some really bad things are about to happen and change his life dramatically.

Among the book's motives are ageing, sex, rape, social opinion, racial and land feud, animal rights and much more, all of them being beautifully interwoven into one plot. I may admit that some readers, especially female, would have problems with the protagonist, Lurie, as his attitude towards women is intolerable. At one point he convinces a girl to have sex with him motivating it with the statement that her beauty does not belong to her, and she must share it. I can't help but hate him at this moment, but I appreciate the writer's mastery at writing such a "hateable" character. Besides, his comments are always learned, original and sarcastic if not amiable.

The writing and the mood of Disgrace is very matter-of-fact, which is however only a superficial simplicity, hiding a lot of meaning underneath. After the abundance of stream-of-consciousness in my life lately it was a huge relief. Moreover, I've enjoyed South African setting: I am not very well acquainted with what is happening there, and the book gives an overview, sometimes also using regional words, which is a great mood-setting device.

In my book:
The novel is beautifully written and has a lot of substance. The realism is sometimes shocking, but not unnecessarily so, and the book makes you think without being obtrusive. Read it!

August 18, 2013

Bout of Books 8.0 Goals

Bout of Books starts tomorrow! As it's a normal working week for me, I'm not expecting to read ALL THE STUFF, but I'll try to read instead of losing my time in the Internet, for example, and hopefully it'll result in more reading time.

I have several books I want to finish:

1) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen - for Austen in August event and Mansfield Park Readalong. I'm already half way through!
2) Wives and Daughters - for Unputdownables read-a-long, for next week is the last one!
3) As You Like It by William Shakespeare - August choice for Let's Read Plays event.
4) An adapted German book for my Language Freak Summer Challenge.
5) One Thousand and One Nights - that's just a dream, as I am only 75% through, which means there are around 700 pages left, so it's not very likely I'll actually finish it.

Books I want to start:

1) The Classics Club spin book!

So here are my goals! I'd be happy to achieve at least half of them, but maybe I'll do better! :) Looking forward to my first Bout of Books!

Austen in August Movies

Apart from reading two Austen novels for Adam's Austen in August event, I've decided to watch some recent adaptations, and here's the first two:

Northanger Abbey (2007 film)

I don't pretend to remember the book very well, as I read it long ago, and I actually didn't like it then, probably due to my poor English and lack of knowledge of Gothic novels. However, Jon Jones's adaptation reminded me of the plot and made me want to re-read it. 

The casting is perfect: Catherine is so lively and excitable, Henry Tilney is cuteness itself, and General Tilney is menacing and very stately! Although I have vague remembrance that I imagined Isabella to be a bit older, I was probably wrong. The best thing in the movie is Catherine's dreams: every night she imagines herself a heroine, and people she meets during the day take place of other characters. Very funny!

In my book:
A very enjoyable film, highly recommended to all Austen fans! Especially good if paired with good wine and a decent rain outside :)

Persuasion (2007 film)

Now, with this adaptation I had some problems. Maybe I'm more strict because I've just read the book, or maybe it's the lack of wine :) but I didn't actually enjoy it, and there were also objective reasons for it, apart from the presence or absence of beverages to accompany the film. 

First, the casting is strange. I probably agree with the choice of Anne Elliot, but Lady Russell just can't be THAT young and sympathetic. She was Anne's mother's friend! And she looks like Anne's coeval. Mary's gouty manner of walking was also a bad choice: yes, she was pretending to be ill all the time, but she walked normally. And needless to say, I didn't like any of the men in the movie, and it always spoils everything for me (yes, yes, I'm that shallow, I like looking at cute men!)

Second, the information dumps are awkward. It's probably inevitable in a story in which all the characters have so much history, but I'd prefer a narrator's voice, for example, instead of some explanatory dialogues. Also showing Wentworth discuss his intentions towards Anne with his friend prior to coming to Bath kinda spoiled everything. And there was too much running in the end, which is not present in the book and is certainly not becoming to a decent girl.

In my book:
I'll have to look for a better adaptation of Persuasion, because this one was not convincing enough.

August 17, 2013

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz versus The Wizard of the Emerald City

Our Coursera Fantasy and Sci Fi book club is discussing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz this week, and this was a wonderful excuse for me to finally read the book. Yes, yes, I have never read it before, but that doesn't mean I'm unfamiliar with the story. There is a wonderful retelling called The Wizard of the Emerald City by Volkov, which was one of the most favourite books of my childhood. I've already talked about it when I made a list of Russian classic children's literature, and now I want to make a list of differences between the two books, which I collected while reading. It was fun!

So, here are the ways in which The Wizard of the Emerald City differs from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:
  • The girl's name is Ellie instead of Dorothy
  • No witch's feet visible, Toto just finds the shoes and brings them to Ellie
  • Toto speaks!
  • No magic kiss on Ellie's forehead, the shoes make her untouchable.
  • No difference in the prosperity of different munchkins.
  • There is a pretty intense encounter with an ogre in the forest. It is before meeting the lion, if I remember correctly.
  • There are sabre-toothed tigers instead of Kalidahs.
  • I'm pretty sure the tin woodman didn't cut a cat's head off to save the Mice Queen. Ellie just saves her from Toto's barking instead.
  • There are no fighting trees or china town. I also have vague remembrance that the fight with the spider is scarier.
  • Instead of telescopic neck the fighting guys are just very good jumpers. Less creepy.
  • Different colour and name design of the world. The witches all have names, which, I think is much better than a reference to their geographical location.

I have also got an impression that Volkov writes better than Baum, whose writing is too plain and repetitive to my taste. But maybe I'm just too grown-up now to enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed it when I was a kid :) But anyway, in my book Volkov undoubtedly wins!

Speaking of sequels, Volkov has 4 totally amazing ones and the last one that I don't like, and all of them are have nothing to do with Baum's stories. I remember taking some Oz book about a pumpking-head guy in the library, and it totally crept me out, so that I could not finish it. That's why I'm not sure I want to read more Oz books, but you know I love to be made change my mind, so I ask you: are there some amazing books in Oz series that you would recommend?

I'll finish the comparison with the two most famous maps of the two magic countries, because I love maps! Do you still have doubts which is better? :)

August 15, 2013

Kouzelné zrcadlo literatury Jaroslava Blažkeho

Title: Kouzelné zrcadlo literatury I
Author: Jaroslav Blažke
First published: 1998
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

První díl učebnice “Kouzelné zrcadlo literatury” Jaroslava Blažkeho obsahuje informace o písemných památkách od začátku písemnictví do konce osvícenství. Chronologicky postupující kniha poskytuje krátkou informaci o významných autorech této doby a o jejich spisech. Hlavní výhodou této učebnice je, že obsahuje také krátké úryvky některých děl, což je perfektní pro seznámení se se stylem autora.

Hlavně jsem v této učebnici hledala informace o českých autorech, o kterých asi nic nevím. Po přečtení jsem si udělala na památku krátký seznam zajímavých titulů.


1. Konstantin-Cyril a Metoděj
  • Překlad Bible do Staroslověnštiny (9. stol.)
  • Proglas - nejstarší slovanská báseň (9. stol.)
2. Kosmas
  • Kronika česká (12. stol.) - psána latinou, skládá se ze tří knih
3. Karel IV.
  • Majestas Carolina (1353) - návrh zemského zákoníku
  • Vita Caroli (1371) - vlastní životopis 
4. Jan Hus
  • De ecclesia / O církvi (1413)
  • De orthographia Bohemica (1410) - traktát o českém pravopise

Český Humanismus

1. Jan Blahoslav
  • Gramatika česká (1571)
2. Václav Hájek z Libočan
  • Kronika česká (1541)
3. Oldřich Prefát z Vlkanova
  • Cesta z Prahy do Benátek (1563) - cestopis

Evropské Baroko

1. Jan Ámos Komenský
  • Didactica to jest Umění umělého vyučování (1657) - pedagogický spis
  • Labyrint světa a ráj srdce (1631) - alegorický spis
2. Bedřich Bridel
  • Co Bůh? Člověk? (1658) - skladba
3. Bohuslav Balbín
  • Rozmanitosti z historie Království českého (1687) - obrovská encyklopedie
  • Obrana jazyka slovanského, zvláště českého (1672)
  • Nástin humanitních disciplin (1666) - učebnice


1. Josef Dobrovský
  • Dějiny české řeči a literatury (1792)
  • Českých přísloví sbírka (1804)

August 14, 2013

Back to the Classics 2013 Wrap-up

I have finished Back to the Classics challenge! I've completed not only the required categories, but also all the optional ones, which means I've earned 3 entries. Sometimes I entered a book for a category and then changed it, because I read something more suitable and it'd be a shame not to have it in the final list, so sometimes I even have two books linked in some of the categories. However, there is only one book left in each category in the final list: 

The Required Categories:
  1. A 19th Century Classic: The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
  2. A 20th Century Classic: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  3. A Pre-18th or 18th Century Classic: Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos 
  4. A Classic that relates to the African-American Experience: Light in August by William Faulkner
  5. A Classic Adventure: Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Bernard Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
  6. A Classic that prominently features an AnimalThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Optional Categories:
  1. Re-read a Classic: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  2. A Russian Classic: The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
  3. A Classic Non-Fiction title: Philosophical works by Kant and Rousseau
  4. A Classic Children's/Young Adult title: The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame
  5. Classic Short Stories: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
I've really enjoyed the challenge and am looking forward to signing for 2014 version!

P.S. I have signed up as Arenel @ Slightly Cultural, Most Thoughtful and Inevitably Irrelevant, but then linked my Google account and changed my blog name, so later entries are signed Ekaterina @ In My Book.

The Classics Spin #3

It is the third Classics Club Spin already, but it is the second for me, and I hope it'll be the first one I actually succeed in :) I failed miserably in the first spin, because I had some bad luck and I got Middlemarch, which is not only over 900 pages long, but is also not gripping enough to make me finish all these 900 pages in a month and a half during university semester. I read the first part and I haven't picked it up again since. I was actually so ashamed of it that I didn't participate in the second spin, which I regret. But now I'm fully recovered, have some time and will give it another try! To make things simpler, I'll just take the list for the first spin and change the books I have already read since then to other books from my Classics Club list. So here goes:

5 I can't wait to read:

1) Eco, Umberto: The Name of the Rose Austen, Jane: Mansfield Park
2) Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby Alcott, Louisa May: Little Women
3) Maugham, W. Somerset: Of Human Bondage
4) Waugh, Evelyn: Brideshead Revisited
5) Woolf, Virginia: Mrs. Dalloway Hardy, Thomas: Tess of the D'Urbervilles

5 I'm hesitant to read:

6) Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales
7) Joyce James: Ulysses
8) Milton, John: Paradise Lost
9) Hugo, Victor: Les Miserables
10) Ovid: Metamorphoses

5 I really don't know what to expect from

11) Stoppard, Tom: Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead
12) Rand, Ayn: Atlas Shrugged
13) Du Maurier, Daphne: Rebecca
14) Eliot, George: Middlemarch - now I know!! But I'll let it be :)
15) Apuleius, Lucius: The Golden Ass

1 I just can't finish:

16) One Thousand and One Nights - still cannot finish it! But I'm 75% done with it already which means there are only about 700 pages left, what a trifle :)

4 Random:

17) Dickens, Charles: Great Expectations
18) Twain, Mark: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
19) Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The Lost World
20) Kerouac, Jack: On the Road Radcliffe, Anne: The Mysteries of Udolpho


August 12, 2013

Beloved by Toni Morrison (Review)

Title: Beloved
Author: Toni Morrison
First published: 1987
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

I have definitely had too much of stream-of-consciousness this summer, and all of it for The Fiction of Relationship course. I admit that my total inability to appreciate Beloved may be partially caused by my fatigue from fighting my way through this type of writing, but I'm sure it is not only this. The novel has both Nobel and Pulitzer prizes and is widely acclaimed, so I may be very mistaken, but I tried to like this book and I can't. And I'll try to explain why.

First, this magical realism didn't work for me in Beloved. I have nothing against this genre, for example Kafka does it beautifully, Borges is just brilliant... But can't a story of slavery be told without it? I don't think it is necessary or revealing in the novel. Most of the time I was asking myself what the hell was happening in that house and what do these ghosts, spirits and other mystical creatures are doing in and for the story.

Another problem is that I didn't understand any motivations of the characters, and explanations and remembrances were too vague and too far in the novel to get a clear picture. If reading Faulkner is like exploring, reading Morrison is like feeling your way in the dark, stumbling all the time. I never got who was Beloved, why did she behaved like this, why everybody treated her as they did, etc.

And then the writing... It is even less coherent that Woolf's and certainly less beautiful than Faulkner's. I regularly found myself not understanding what was being talked about at all and not paying attention as a result. And I just flapped through the several pages of what seems to be some LSD-caused balderdash without any punctuation in the end of the second part, not being able to read it at all. A very unusual occurrence, as I'm generally very persistent.

In my book:
Beloved is a miserable and weird novel. The story itself might have been very powerful if treated normally and used with skill, but this is not the case. I apologize for any fans of Morrison for this maybe rather harsh review, but for me this was the worst read for quite some time.

August 11, 2013

Some Philosophy: Kant and Rousseau

I've taken up a new Coursera course called The Modern and the Postmodern. I'm not sure if I like it yet, there's too much philosophy and nothing about modernity so far, but I've decided I'll give it a chance. The first two weeks were dedicated to Kant and Rousseau, and as I'm still very bad at reading philosophical works, I'll write just short reviews here.

Immanuel Kant

Title: An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?
Author: Immanuel Kant
First published: 1784
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Rating: ★★★★☆

Kant sees enlightenment as a willing "growing up" of a man. He must stop being afraid of thinking by himself and start doing it. But Kant doesn't think that independent thinking is always appropriate. He divides everybody's lives into two parts: private, including his work and family life, and public, which means written articles or public speeches. And an opinion is not out of place in public life, whereas in everyday life people must follow rules. The most important is that these rules must be the ones consciously imposed by men on themselves.

In my book:
Overall, Kant seems to be a reasonable guy, who steers a middle course which doesn't look either dangerous or impossible.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Title: Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau
First published: 1750
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

In his first discourse, Rousseau tries to prove that the development of arts and sciences doesn't make people better or happier and isn't good for the nation as a whole. His argument can be summarized as this: Sparta was better than Athens. He references a lot of research works of others and brings to the reader's attention some very selective historical facts that support his idea, but on the whole his point is so contrary to what we all, I assume, believe now that it's really hard to relate to his writing.

Title: Discourse on the Origins of Inequality
Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau
First published: 1754
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The second discourse is much longer than the first one, and I think this length is quite unnecessary. Rousseau tries to trace the human history to pre-society times to explain how this society appeared. I expected a lot from this work, because the topic is really interesting, but I got nothing except vague suppositions. I guess much less was known then than is known now about the early history of humankind, but I still got the feeling that Rousseau is not trying to get to the core of the problem but only wants to support his ideas about the incompetence of the state and the wonderfulness of the barbaric existence.

In my book:
I find it really difficult to get Rousseau not only because of his rather controversial and disturbing ideas, but also because of a very abundant writing style. What I mean is that it is not at all concise and sometimes is not very structured, and has such a lot of references to other works, that I spent half of the time reading commentary. It is tiring. 

August 9, 2013

Persuasion by Jane Austen (Review)

Title: Persuasion
Author: Jane Austen
First published: 1817
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Rating: ★★★★☆

The Elliots is a proud but now quite broken family of English land owners. Walter Elliot is an appearance-obsessed widower with three daughters, only one of whom has managed to marry, and no sons to inherit his estate. The eldest daughter, Elizabeth, has become the mistress of the house at the age of 13, after her mother's death, and it has not improved her character. Besides, being 28 she now has little or no chance to marry. Anne Elliot, the main heroine, is now 26. 8 years ago she was engaged to an officer, but was persuaded to break the engagement because of his lack of money and position. She hasn't married since, and now she is to be trialed with meeting her fiancee, now rich and successful, again while staying with her younger married sister Mary, an owner of a whining and hypochondriac character.

Persuasion is a bit different from the other Austen novels I've read, mainly because the heroine is older, is supposed to have lost all her charms (at 26!!! Now this is shocking!), and have quite some history. This makes her a good observer and a skeptic rather than an easily-excited girl. Living in such a shallow family, it is surprising how she could get such a good understanding and tolerance, but she has, and it makes her a great narrator.

The usual Austen humour is of course present too: the book is full of mockery towards the notions and ways of rural aristocracy, and some of the situations made me laugh out loud, especially the ones including Mary's scheming. But there are also some beautiful moments in the book, one of which is the relations between Admiral and Mrs. Croft, who consciously choose to spend time together, seem to care about each other and are generally an example of a happy family.

In my book:
Persuasion is a bit inferior to Pride and Prejudice for me, but then what can equal it at all? :) However, it is a very nice and decent book, a comfort read of sorts, written with Jane Austen's brilliant wit and inimitable skill.

August 2, 2013

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (Review)

Title: Wyrd Sisters
Author: Terry Pratchett
First published: 1988
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Rating: ★★★★★

After some of you convinced me not to judge Pratchett by The Colour of Magic, I have already made it up with him as a result of reading Good Omens, and now we are finally fully reconciled. I can honestly say that I enjoyed Wyrd Sisters very much, and I'm now willing to read more of the Discworld series.

The novel makes fun of Shakespeare's plays by taking all the stuff he used to put in his works, including ghosts, kings, witches, fools, etc. and making a story out of it. A slightly different story, for sure, and with the normal language use. Moreover, there is a character that parodies the Bard himself, and he is a gnome! And their theater company is building a theater which is called guess how? The Dysk! Awesome, isn't it?

The main characters are the three witches, two of which are granny-ish, grumpy, severe and old-fashioned (but very cute!), and the third is a young beginner in witchery. They are respected by everybody around until a rather hypochondriac usurper begins to see them as a danger to his reign, and the witches have to settle a few governmental matters. Theatrical propaganda plays no little role in the palace intrigues. So the characters are very likable and the book is full of Shakespearean events and plays-inside-plays.

In my book:
A totally enjoyable novel, with a lot of jokes and witty parodies. You need to know some Shakespeare to enjoy it, but I suspect it is not an impossible condition :) Thanks to everybody who convinced me not to give up on Pratchett and Discworld!

August 1, 2013

Bout of Books Read-a-thon Sign-up

I've decided to participate in Bout of Books read-a-thon this year! I found out about it too late to join the previous one, so it'll be my first Bout of Books! This is an official description of the read-a-thon:

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 19th and runs through Sunday, August 25th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 8.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

I'm planning to concentrate on finishing books during this read-a-thon, but of course it's too early to talk about more specific goals. Looking forward to August 19th!

The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas (Review)

Title: The Ice Palace
Author: Tarjei Vesaas
First published: 1963
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Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Ice Palace, the eighth book from The Fiction of Relationship course, is supposed to be a modern masterpiece full of symbolic and philosophical value, but even the lectures haven't helped me see it this way. It would have been 1 star if not for the beautiful imagery of the ice palace itself, a marvelous nature wonder, constructed by water and frost under the waterfall. Everything else was... well, weird and rather useless.

Let me just describe you the plot to show you what I mean. Two eleven-year-old girls, Siss and Unn, first meet when Unn comes to school after arriving to Siss's small village to live with her aunt following her mother's death. They don't communicate much until they decide they want to be friends and Unn invited Siss to her house. They lock up, get naked together (!!), look at some photos and try to make a conversation. Unn mentions some secret she wants to tell Unn, but doesn't. Siss leaves. The next day instead of going to school Unn goes to the ice palace that has grown under the waterfall some distance down the river. She gets inside, gets lost, takes off her overcoat (!!) and freezes to death inside. This is only the first quarter of the book. The rest of it Siss is trying to deal with her grief by not communicating with anyone, and by the end of the book she manages to get back to normal. Ah, yes, we never know what Unn's secret was. Anything from normal pubertal body changes to rape and pregnancy.

Now, I was all "WTF is going on??" while reading the novel. Girls don't get naked together during their first conversation, children don't grieve for a year over someone they have talked to only once, and what kind of dumb-ass you must be to go somewhere you are not sure you can get out from, taking off your overcoat on the way in a decent Norwegian winter?? Prof. Weinstein talked a lot about the underlying ideas, urge for deep relationships, the multi-layer symbolism of ice palace, etc., but however easily I'm usually convinced that there is meaning even in the most unlikely places, I still can't abide this novel.

In my book:
The Ice Palace is a weird and unappealing book. Beautiful and intricate language might have saved the situation, but alas, there was nothing of the sort about it.

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