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.

December 13, 2016

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou (Review)

Title: Mom & Me & Mom
Author: Maya Angelou
First published:  2013
Add it: Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This is the last pick for Our Shared Shelf reading group organized by Emma Watson. I've enjoyed reading along with the community because it has made me pick a lot of books that I wouldn't even consider reading otherwise. That said, it was a 50/50 hit/miss for me: some books I loved and some hated, but it was a great journey nevertheless.

Mom & Me & Mom was one of the books I didn't enjoy. The writing is overly simplistic and disconnected - jumping from story to story skipping whole years. A lot of stuff got glossed over - like, who mentions being raped in childhood and then just goes further without elaborating?? It's kinda important, you know?

I'm aware that Angelou has other autobiographies and perhaps for readers who are familiar with them or who at least know who she is, the book would have made more sense. I have never heard about Angelou before and I still feel like I don't know her, even after reading her autobiography. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that's how autobiographies SHOULD work.

In my book: A confusing read.

December 12, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? December 12th

In an effort to staying more organized in my reading, I've decided to join the Monday party of updates hosted at Book Date. Monday update posts are my favorite in a blog update feed - I love peeking at what everybody around is reading - it's like creepily trying to read the title of a book your fellow morning commuter is engrossed with.

What I Read Last Week:

Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche

I've struggled through 50 pages of the book and then gave up. More on that failure later :)

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

A very matter-of-fact and encouraging read. I was inspired to pick it up because I was moving to another flat and pretty depressed with this whole boring and difficult adult thing. 

What I Am Reading Now:

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

For my WEM project. The book is very big and heavy so I only read it at home, which greatly slows the process, as I'm constantly on the move. I'm about 1/5 through now and although it is funny and clever at times, it's very tiring to read because of wordiness and repetitiveness.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich

This is a heartbreaking but essential read. Very difficult to read emotionally but very worth it too.

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip G. Zimbardo

The book is very interesting and educative, but the author is not a master of concise writing, so it's taking more time than I've expected. Still, I'm nearing the end of the book already :)

And what are YOU reading this Monday? Join in the fun!

December 11, 2016

The Modigliani Scandal by Ken Follett (Review)

Title: The Modigliani Scandal
Author: Ken Follett
First published: 1976
Add it: Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

It was my first Ken Follett, and I was so prepared to love it - I know people who are HUGE fans. But before committing to some of his giants, I've decided to read something smaller (besides it was a bargain on Book Depository). Well, maybe this was my mistake - to start with a less known and praised work. I did not like The Modigliani Scandal.

I feel shortness might actually be one of the main sources of problems in the novel. The characters feel like props and the plot goes fast and is not very elaborated. Most of the key shocking revelations I have guessed in advance and characters behaved pretty predictably.

I love the art world atmosphere and it was nice to glance a bit behind the scenes of the art world, yet some of the plot twists depended on people behaving highly unprofessionally and I'm wondering now if this is even slightly close to the true situation. But then the book is rather old, so it's very possible that security standards have changed a lot since then.

In my book: A fast-paced but not very elaborate or complicated novel.

December 10, 2016

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Review)

simon vs. the homo sapiens agenda by becky albertalli review cover
Title: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli
First published: 2015
Add it: Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

Weirdly, I like books about high school. They are so angsty and emotional and sometimes calling for facepalms every second page. But hey, we all remember we WERE that crazy at this young age. Anyway, these books usually end with the main character growing somewhat and hopefully figuring his or her shit out. This is more difficult to achieve for this book's protagonist, as he's not out yet, blackmailed about his orientation, and oh yes - in love with an anonymous dude online that might just be from his school.

Simon's life situation pretty much sucks, but he always stays funny, committed to remaining a decent human being and even sometimes considerate of others - unthinkable for a high-schooler! Characters are what make the book so fluffy - most of them are instantly likable (apart from some occasional unnamed jerks) and accepting and even reasonable in situations when it matters. I think it's one problem I had with this books - I mean, come on, why does everything need to go smoothly?

Nevertheless, I was left with a happy feeling of satisfaction at the ending, and am glad I've bought the book. It's a fast and funny read, and Facebook scavenger hunt MUST be a real thing! Seriously, let's all play that :)

In my book: A cute little book which tells you that sometimes it doesn't suck to be a teenager that much :)
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