Sunday, July 29, 2012

My books - The Turn of the Screw

Wikipedia writes:
"The Turn of the Screw is a novella written by Henry James. Originally published in 1898, it is a ghost story."

This is another title where I messed up. No, I didn't think there was a discussion group on this one. I was in my car without my book list and just randomly picked something on my iPod. I thought the only things on my iPod were on my To Read List (on my side bar). Evidently not. I was well into it before I was home again to check the list, so I finished. Yes, I did clean up my iPod.

By today's standards, this was not a scary book. But I have to say I am glad I was not home alone for the week and it was not dark when I read it. I would have been scared of windows. . .

The title sounded so familiar to me, I thought I had read it in school. But as I listened, it was all new to me, so it just must be a famous title.

I liked this book. It was a very quick read (it is a novella/4 audio hours). I listened to the whole thing on one day. It was a fun book to read that way (in daylight).

Here is a portion of the Context Section from SparkNotes. The rest of the section gives away the plot, I have only copied the 'safe' section here:

"Henry James (1843–1916), whose mastery of the psychological novel markedly influenced twentieth-century literature, was born in New York City. His father, Henry James, Sr., was an unconventional thinker who had inherited considerable wealth. James, Sr., became a follower of Swedenborgian mysticism, a belief system devoted to the study of philosophy, theology, and spiritualism, and socialized with such eminent writers as Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Washington Irving, and William Makepeace Thackeray. James’s older brother, William James, profoundly influenced the emerging science of psychology through his Principles of Psychology (1890) and The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). He also distinguished himself as an exponent of a brand of philosophical pragmatism he named “radical empiricism,” the idea that beliefs do not work because they are true but are true because they work.

"The James children were educated in a variety of schools and with private tutors, in what James later called “small vague spasms” of schooling augmented by his father’s extensive library. In 1855 the James family began a three-year tour of Geneva, London, and Paris, an experience that probably influenced James’s later preference for Europe over his native land. After a year at Harvard Law School, he began writing short stories and book reviews. He continued to travel widely from a base in England, where he chose to settle. He became a British subject in 1915, a year before his death at the age of seventy-three. By the time James died, he had written more than a hundred short stories and novellas, as well as literary and dramatic criticism, plays, travel essays, book reviews, and twenty novels, including The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Bostonians (1886), The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904).

"Although James had many friends and acquaintances, he maintained a certain reserve toward most people. An “obscure hurt,” as James later described a mysterious early injury he suffered in connection with a stable fire, haunted him throughout his life. He never married, and the absence of any known romantic attachments has led some critics to speculate that he was a repressed or closeted homosexual. Others attribute the reason for James’s lifelong celibacy to the early death of his beloved cousin Mary “Minny” Temple, the model for several of his heroines.

"James wrote The Turn of the Screw in 1897, at a low point in his life. In 1895 he had suffered a tremendous personal and professional blow when his play Guy Domville was booed off the London stage. Deeply wounded, James retreated from London and took refuge in Sussex, eventually taking a long-term lease on a rambling mansion called Lamb House. Shortly thereafter, he began writing The Turn of the Screw, one of several works from this period that revolve around large, rambling houses.

"Like many writers and intellectuals of the time, James was fascinated by “spiritual phenomena,” a field that was taken very seriously and was the subject of much “scientific” inquiry. The field remained popular even after the unmasking of the Fox sisters, whose claims of being able to communicate with the spirit world had started the craze for spiritualism in the 1840s. Henry James, Sr., and William James were both members of the Society for Psychical Research, and William served as its president from 1894 to 1896."

My books - The Stranger

Wikipedia writes:
"The Stranger or The Outsider (L’Étranger) is a novel by Albert Camus published in 1942. Its theme and outlook are often cited as exemplars of existentialism, though Camus did not consider himself an existentialist; in fact, its content explores various philosophical schools of thought, including (most prominently and specifically) absurdism, as well as determinism, nihilism, naturalism, and stoicism."

The book is NOT written as a straight out philosophy book. There is an actual story.

This book was originally written in French. I read/listened to the American translation by Mathew Ward. It was read by Jonathon Davis on my audio version. I think it was Jonathon who said he read the English/Great Britain translation while in school.

There is a note from Mathew Ward at the end of the book explaining his American translation is more literal than the English translation of the book. He said the difference would have been subtle, but there are differences between translations.

Wikipedia  went on to write:
"Camus was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature "for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times".[4] He was the second-youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, after Rudyard Kipling, and the first African-born writer to receive the award.[5] He is the shortest-lived of any Nobel literature laureate to date, having died in an automobile accident just over two years after receiving the award."

This was a very odd little book (3 1/2 hours on audio) which generated a huge amount of discussion at my book review group. My husband listened to it the day of the group and attended with me.

One of the first things we talked about was the fact that it was translated had an impact on how the book came across to us. I described it as "Dick and Jane" primer style writing. Very simple, short sentences. We all kept wondering if it sounded that way in French or if it was beautiful in that language. 

Camus describes the book as absurd. And much of what happens in the book IS absurd. Not in a three stooges kind of way, but in a way that goes against what we think of as normal behavior.

I am not going to get into the plot of the book, because there is no way of writing about it, without giving it all away.

All of us (book review group) said this was one of those books which really made us think. And as I mentioned, it generated a lot of discussion. As I think about the members of the group, there is only one who would have read the book even if it was not assigned, because he is a philosophy grad student kind of guy. But all of the rest of us were glad it had been assigned, because we felt it stretched us.

Friday, July 27, 2012

My books - The Picture of Dorian Gray (65/56 foot debacle)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), sometimes referred to as The Portrait of Dorian Gray, is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde.

"Oscar Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland. He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin and at Magdalen College, Oxford, and settled in London, where he married Constance Lloyd in 1884. In the literary world of Victorian London, Wilde fell in with an artistic crowd that included W. B. Yeats, the great Irish poet, and Lillie Langtry, mistress to the Prince of Wales. A great conversationalist and a famous wit, Wilde began by publishing mediocre poetry but soon achieved widespread fame for his comic plays. The first, Vera; or, The Nihilists, was published in 1880. Wilde followed this work with Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and his most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Although these plays relied upon relatively simple and familiar plots, they rose well above convention with their brilliant dialogue and biting satire.

"Wilde published his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, before he reached the height of his fame. The first edition appeared in the summer of 1890 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. It was criticized as scandalous and immoral. Disappointed with its reception, Wilde revised the novel in 1891, adding a preface and six new chapters. The Preface (as Wilde calls it) anticipates some of the criticism that might be leveled at the novel and answers critics who charge The Picture of Dorian Gray with being an immoral tale. It also succinctly sets forth the tenets of Wilde’s philosophy of art. Devoted to a school of thought and a mode of sensibility known as aestheticism, Wilde believed that art possesses an intrinsic value—that it is beautiful and therefore has worth, and thus needs serve no other purpose, be it moral or political. This attitude was revolutionary in Victorian England, where popular belief held that art was not only a function of morality but also a means of enforcing it. In the Preface, Wilde also cautioned readers against finding meanings “beneath the surface” of art. Part gothic novel, part comedy of manners, part treatise on the relationship between art and morality, The Picture of Dorian Gray continues to present its readers with a puzzle to sort out. There is as likely to be as much disagreement over its meaning now as there was among its Victorian audience, but, as Wilde notes near the end of the Preface, “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.”

"In 1891, the same year that the second edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray was published, Wilde began a homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, an aspiring but rather untalented poet. The affair caused a good deal of scandal, and Douglas’s father, the marquess of Queensberry, eventually criticized it publicly. When Wilde sued the marquess for libel, he himself was convicted under English sodomy laws for acts of “gross indecency.” In 1895, Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor, during which time he wrote a long, heartbreaking letter to Lord Alfred titled De Profundis (Latin for “Out of the Depths”). After his release, Wilde left England and divided his time between France and Italy, living in poverty. He never published under his own name again, but, in 1898, he did publish under a pseudonym The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a lengthy poem about a prisoner’s feelings toward another prisoner about to be executed. Wilde died in Paris on November 30, 1900, having converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed."

I have so many things to say about this book.

I just happened to read it after another book, Madame Bovary, which was also considered immoral in its time.
im·mor·al (-môrl, -mr-) adj.
Contrary to established moral principles.

a·mor·al (-môrl, -mr-) adj.
1. Not admitting of moral distinctions or judgments; neither moral nor immoral.
2. Lacking moral sensibility; not caring about right and wrong.

For some reason, as I read, The Picture of Dorian Gray, kept reminding me of The Tell Tale Heart (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe. It has been a very long time since I read any Poe, but I popped over to SparkNotes to read a bit about Poe and a summary of The Tell Tale Heart, and I could see why it came to mind.

If you have a very good memory for my minutia, you might recall The Picture of Dorian Gray was one of the books read by my long standing book group last summer (I was an active member).

mi·nu·ti·a (m-nsh-, -sh, -ny-)
n. pl. mi·nu·ti·ae (-sh-)
A small or trivial detail: "the minutiae of experimental and mathematical procedure" (Frederick Turner).

And you might also recall it is one of middle's favorite books.

Last summer I tried to read Dorian and I thought I could not stick with/finish it.

I did not go to last (2011) summer's book discussion (I don't go if I have not read the book).

And this was painful for me. I do not have a lot of things I attend, and I really enjoy this group. I missed not going for the Dorian month.

I also missed the month before (Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky) because I had read the book long ago, didn't want to reread it, but didn't remember enough to discuss it. This was pretty stupid of me. I should have read SparkNotes to refresh my brain and gone.

Two months I missed, and really missed, because I sort of did not have it together.

Reading Bleak House last November (2011)  matured me considerably.

If you recall, the first two chapters of Bleak House made little sense to me. The time line jumped around and I felt like I needed a big diagram to keep track of the characters.

This was Dickens trying to set the story.

When I got to the third chapter of Bleak, the story unfolded and I loved it all the way to the end.

If I had not kept pushing and finished Bleak, I would (probably) never have gone on to read two other Dicken's books Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. Both of those titles were much easier reading than Bleak (or maybe I just got used to Dickens' style). I seriously love Dickens.

The leader of the long standing group wanted to include a Dickens' book on this year's reading list. I talked him out of it (because we were just reading Bleak House as we were making the list).

Now, I would like to suggest we read one Dickens each year until we have finished all his major titles. I think that is what he was saying, but I didn't hear him.

The first couple chapters of Dorian also set the story. The author gives the history of the characters and explains about The Portrait. All of that is necessary. And once all is set, the book turns into an actual story.

I didn't understand this (patience I suppose, maturity I am sure) and just did not stick with Dorian long enough. On my second reading, I still didn't love those first few chapters, but I understand why they were written the way they were, after finishing the book.

I am not quite sure why this book (Dorian) is one of middle's favorites. I note there are very few books she doesn't like. And I think she read Dorian with one of her favorite, high school, English teachers. It might be, if I pay attention, that any time I mention a title, she tells me it was one of her favorites.

Yes, Dorian was a good read. It had a very clear message. And I am gaining a lot by reading the books and then reading the context section from SparkNotes.

I read SparkNotes after I finish the book.

I miss not getting to discuss every book I read.

So, for the ones not related to a group, reading SparkNotes and then posting about it, sort of fills that hole and completes the cycle for me.

And I am glad I have matured up in my reading.

I think I have matured a lot in the past year, in many ways.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My books - Madame Bovary (day 56/56 foot debacle)

Wikipedia writes:
"Madame Bovary (1856) is Gustave Flaubert's first published novel and is considered by many critics to be a masterpiece. The story focuses on a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Though the basic plot is rather simple, even archetypal, the novel's true art lies in its details and hidden patterns. Flaubert was a notorious perfectionist and claimed always to be searching for le mot juste ("the right word"). When it was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between 1 October 1856 and 15 December 1856, the novel was attacked for obscenity by public prosecutors. The resulting trial, held in January 1857, made the story notorious. After Flaubert's acquittal on 7 February 1857, Madame Bovary became a bestseller when it was published as a single volume in April 1857. Flaubert's masterpiece is now considered a seminal work of Realism and one of the most influential novels ever written. In fact, the notable, British-American critic, James Wood writes in How Fiction Works, "Flaubert established for good or ill, what most readers think of as modern realist narration, and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible".[1]"

SparkNotes: ". . .Though admired by his French contemporaries, Flaubert was deeply hurt by the moral outrage Madame Bovary provoked at its publication in 1857. The novel depicted extramarital sex in what were, for the time, graphic terms, and Flaubert and his publisher were put on trial for violation of public morals. They were acquitted, but the experience intensified Flaubert’s hatred of middle-class morality.

 The hatred of middle-class values is strongly apparent in Madame Bovary. In Flaubert’s lifetime, France was caught in the throes of immense social upheaval. The Revolution of 1789 and the imperial reign of Napoleon were recent memories, and the collapse of the aristocracy was paralleled by the rise of a new middle class—or bourgeoisie—made up of merchants and capitalists with commercial, rather than inherited, fortunes. As a member of the educated elite, Flaubert found the moral conservatism, rough manners, and unsophisticated taste of this new class appalling. He attacked the merchant class in novels such as Madame Bovary, the story of a woman imprisoned by her middle-class surroundings, and in another novel, Sentimental Education.

 In addition to criticizing the middle class, Flaubert’s novel also reacted against romanticism. Romantic writers, who were popular in France between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, wrote emotional, subjective novels that stressed feeling at the expense of facts and reason. When Flaubert began writing, a new school called realism had started challenging romantic idealism with books that focused on the harsh realities of life. This school included other French writers such as Stendhal and Honorè Balzac, as well as English writers like George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. Unlike his contemporaries, however, Flaubert recognized a strong streak of romanticism in himself. In Madame Bovary, romanticism is present, but Flaubert always treats it with irony. Flaubert allows himself a few romantic moments but recognizes their flaws.

 Though it was his first novel, Madame Bovary is Flaubert’s most accomplished and admired work. In many ways, the novel provides the blueprint for the genre of the modern novel. For example, Flaubert was a pioneering stylist, matching the style of his prose to the action of his story in a remarkable new way. Where other realist novels of the mid-nineteenth century used detached, objective narration, Flaubert’s prose conveys the mood of his characters. When Emma is bored and restless, the prose plods dully; when she experiences sensual pleasure, it moves rapturously and swiftly. We frequently see this technique of communicating mood through language in novels today."

I read this book in error/by accident.

It was not on my to read list from either of my classic book groups.

I got an email notification (last week) of a meeting of another/new to me book group listing Madame Bovary (1857) by Gustave Flaubert for their next meeting. I was excited to think I might have found another group reading classic books, at least occasionally, and started reading Madame Bovary immediately. When I looked up more information on the group, thinking the meeting was this week, I discovered the notification listed the book for last month's meeting. I had missed the discussion on Madame Bovary.

This book was a bit like reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy. Remember middle forewarned me - "it is a t-r-a-g-e-d-y". It was interesting Hardy was actually mentioned in the SparkNotes (above).

The two books ended in similar ways. However one book had characters interested in doing better for the next generation, and one did not.

I did like Madame Bovary. I am not sure it would be listed as most people's favorite book, but it made me think in a lot of ways.

I enjoyed it a heck of a lot more when I thought I was going to get to discuss it. I was down to the last chapter when I realized the error.

PS - there are actually 3 Madame Bovary's. The first is the Doctor's mother. The second is the Doctor's first wife. The third is his second wife. The book is about this third Madame Bovary.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Books: The Time Machine

Wikipedia wrote:
 "The Time Machine is a science fiction novella by H. G. Wells, published in 1895 and later adapted into two feature films of the same name, as well as two television versions, and a large number of comic book adaptations. It indirectly inspired many more works of fiction in many media. This story is generally credited with the popularisation of the concept of time travel using a vehicle that allows an operator to travel purposefully and selectively. The term "time machine", coined by Wells, is now universally used to refer to such a vehicle. This work is an early example of the Dying Earth sub-genre."

Sparknotes wrote:
"Herbert George Wells was born in 1866 in London. He attended Bromley Academy, a private day school. After attending the Normal School of Science in South Kensington, he became a science teacher. At the Normal School, he studied under Thomas Henry Huxley, a famous advocate of the scientific theory of evolution. Several early versions of The Time Machine were published in the early 1890s, but the completed novella did not appear until 1895, when Wells was 34 years old. It was the first tale of time travel, and it is considered one of the forerunners of the science fiction genre. The Time Machine's literary influences are numerous. Most obvious is Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, written a century earlier. The Time Machine is a fusion of tales from fantastic lands, commentary on current British social questions, and an introduction to cutting-edge scientific theories. Wells went on to publish more works of science fiction, including The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898). He also published comic works of fiction such as The History of Mr. Polly (1910) and An Outline of History (1920)."

The oldest and I listened to The Time Machine (1895) by H. G. Wells on the way home from the east coast. It was short (4 CD's / 4 hours). We both enjoyed it very much. We both like science fiction. The book is easily understood and entertaining.

The thing about a long car trip is one can listen to a book in one straight shot and really get absorbed in the story. If I am not overly fatigued, give me a good story and I can drive/ride a very long way. It makes all the difference in my perception of time.

We had seen the The Time Machine 2002 feature film. That version was not (at all) a strict adherence to the book, but does capture the essence of the book (in my opinion). The film version made the two future humanoid races more easily identifiable. And added a Star Trek twist to the story by talking about what happens when people mess with the time line.

More Time Travel Thoughts, Star Trek style:
Temporal paradox

Books: Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

Sparknotes wrote:
"David Herbert Lawrence was born in 1885 in Nottinghamshire, England where his father was a miner. His experience growing up in a coal-mining family provided much of the inspiration for Sons and Lovers. Lawrence had many affairs with women in his life, including a longstanding relationship with Jessie Chambers (on whom the character of Miriam is based), an engagement to Louie Burrows, and an eventual elopement to Germany with Frieda Weekley. Sons and Lovers was written in 1913, and contains many autobiographical details. Many of Lawrence’s novels were very controversial because of their frank treatment of sex, and both The Rainbow and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were banned during his lifetime. This controversial treatment of sex is evident as well in Sons and Lovers; Lawrence’s fear of negative public opinion may have been one reason for his vague use of language and the obscure treatment of sex in the novel."

Sons and Lovers (1913) by D.H. Lawrence was on the list of titles previously read by my long standing book group. I mentioned at our last meeting I was in the midst of it (Sons and Lovers) and the moderator asked how I liked it. I said I was enjoying it very much. He said when the group originally read it, there was only one person (a man who no longer attends) who liked it. I was sort of surprised.

It might be a bit like the woman who got tired of reading how Robinson Crusoe was scrounging for food and making plans endlessly (to her, I loved it). Except with Sons and Lovers it might have been they got tired of the mundane bits of mining family life. Or they got very tired of the sons and their lovers and the sons relationships to their mother.

I did enjoy it. Every bit of it in fact. It was about 17 hours on CD. I had purchased it from and downloaded it to my iPod. I started it the week before we headed to the coast and then finished it on our drive east (the night with no power).

There is a preview option for all books on Audible. You can listen and compare the various readers to see how you like their voices. It is all about voice and pace and accent. I like a book from outside the USA to be read in a voice with an accent from that area. There are some books where I prefer a neutral voice (no distinct accent). And I am very careful about the pace. I do not like a reader who rushes. 

It struck me the mom in the story had married a boy friend instead of a husband (Anna Quindlen). And then when she didn't have a husband (still married, but he is sort of an unfortunate fixture), she connected at an emotional level with two of her sons (in place of husband). Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the third son, who was most like his father and adored his father is barely mentioned in the book.

I also understood the importance of young men only dating women they would like to marry, women they would like to raise their children. And I understand how easily people get stuck with each other if they date too long.

I didn't know the book was autobiographical until I read the Sparknotes. I tend not to read anything about the titles I read until after I have finished the book. No one at my house had read this book. Sometimes if the kids have read something, they will give me a heads up (like Tess of the d'Urbervilles where middle told me it was a t-r-a-g-e-d-y and I should remember that all the way through to the end).

I thought Sons and Lovers was a good read. Now that I am finished, I will find out why the book group people didn't like it. It might be that it was a very low attendance meeting and he was giving me a false impression.