This review is of the stories "Father Sergius", "The Devil", and "Alyosha the Pot". I'd read the other stories before in a separate collection which i...moreThis review is of the stories "Father Sergius", "The Devil", and "Alyosha the Pot". I'd read the other stories before in a separate collection which is also on a bookshelf here on goodreads. Of those stories, "The Cossacks", "The Kreutzer Sonata", and "Master and Man" rank among my favorite stories of all time both for enjoyment of the content as well as appreciation for their artistic boldness and creativity. Of the stories being reviewed here, "The Devil" and "Alyosha the Pot" were the better two of the three, particularly the latter in its almost Hemingway-esque brevity and subtle suggestiveness. It's only 5 pages long where a "short work" of Tolstoy can be anywhere from 50-200 pages. Yet, it was almost as profound as "The Devil" which, in spite of some of its long-windedness packs a philosophical punch at the end that leaves the reader dazed for at least a quarter of an hour, if not more. "Father Sergius" was a tad too moralistically sentimental for my taste: Tolstoy falls too often in the 19th century (although the story was written at the tail-end of it) trap of long-winded explanation as opposed to artistic demonstration. Yet, as dated as Tolstoy's style can be (speaking now of his writing as a whole), his ideas and insights are as fresh as if you'd thought them yesterday. (less)
Certainly one of Lewis's more sophisticated allegories, as his main character is actually a minor character of what might even be deemed a minor myth,...moreCertainly one of Lewis's more sophisticated allegories, as his main character is actually a minor character of what might even be deemed a minor myth, deserving no more than a sentence or two in any myth-summary. That is, the story focuses on one of Psyche's sisters, not Psyche herself, and really not that much about her affair with Cupid. That is just a vehicle to expose Orual's (Psyche's sister) inner vices, albeit subtle ones, at first. And that is Lewis's true talent (what he does so well in "Screwtape" and "Narnia", at least): showing the process of how otherwise-subtle states of being develop, exposing the inner dialogue that occurs within a person when one is justifying one's actions, or willfully ignoring signs that might point contrary to one's intended path. As we hear the story from Orual's perspective, we easily miss some of these signs as well! Several vices, and the root causes of such, are exposed: it struck me as I was reading, for example, that pride/arrogance arise not only from insecurity, but stronger forms of them can even arise from a sense of self-loathing or outright self-hatred. Jealousy is the main vice exposed here though, and Lewis demonstrates well the manipulation that so easily stems from it. There is a theological/spiritual dimension to this text as well, which is gratifying for the religious reader, but not that terribly complex (which is probably why).
"O! beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey'd monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on. "
"I hold my peace, sir? no; No, I will speak as libe...more"O! beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey'd monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on. "
"I hold my peace, sir? no; No, I will speak as liberal as the north; Let heaven and men and devils, let them all, All, all, cry shame against me, yet I'll speak."
"Put out the light, and then put out the light."
The last of these is perhaps the most creepily haunting lines I've ever encountered in literature. Iago is certainly one of the most well-drawn characters in all of Shakespeare, who achieves evil with only the whispering of a word, the slight hint of suggestion, the encouragement of doubt and envious curiosity. It's not without meaning that the first word of his first line in the play begins with a hissing sound and ends with the word "blood".(less)
The lines between aestheticism and morality are often blurred, and, for some, do not exist at all. Such a one is Alex, who in his own parlance conside...moreThe lines between aestheticism and morality are often blurred, and, for some, do not exist at all. Such a one is Alex, who in his own parlance considers a “horrorshow” evening (an anglicized version of хорошо, pronounced “khoroshow” and meaning “good” or “well” in Russian) one replete with violence and rape. Indeed, what to Alex is “horrorshow” (good, to him) is frightening to the rest of us. This demonstrates not only the boldness of Burgess’s subject matter, but also his clever use of language. Another example is in the word “groovy”, as in “the red red groovy”. This is morphed from the Russian word кровь, (pronounced “kroyv”, meaning blood), which would again be sickening or gross to most of us, but to Alex is kind of neat.
Burgess’s novel becomes further complicated when, through events in the novel, he essentially asks, “what is to be done with such a person?” Do we just lock them up so that they can cause no further harm? Or do we try to reform them? An effort for the latter is attempted, although it quickly becomes clear that, though morally improved, Alex’s humanity has suffered (demonstrated in his ability to appreciate the art and pleasures he once did), and even prompts him to want to kill himself. Hence the title of the novel, “A Clockwork Orange.” Can we take something that’s natural and primitive and make it run like clockwork, i.e., the way we want it to? To what extent do we do this already? Isn’t art often an effort to push the envelope of what is considered “right” and “wrong”? Why are we so entertained by sex and violence and other breakdowns of social norms? For all of Alex’s despicableness, one cannot deny that there is an aesthetic strain in him, particularly identified in his cool, creative use of language, even though it distorts any shred of morality he may have.
A truly provocative novel, and a horrowshow read indeed, especially when one knows a bit of the old Russkiy. (less)
One of those quintessential high school reads that, for whatever reason, we were never expected to read in any of my high school classes. I'm sure I'd...moreOne of those quintessential high school reads that, for whatever reason, we were never expected to read in any of my high school classes. I'm sure I'd have found it incredibly mind-blowing as an angsty, naive adolescent. Reading it as an adult, though, as well as 80 years after its initial publication, I feel I've encountered either this story or similar concepts several times over (the Matrix comes to mind). I like that the ideas in Huxley's work, though, are not so simple and straightforward as other futuristic visions tend to be~although the Savage is onto something in terms of the fullness of human experience (including a wider range of human emotions, particularly pain and suffering), his indulgence in these emotions is just as extreme as that of "the civilized" with regard to pleasure, and his conclusion quite problematic (although, it can be read as a kind of martyrdom). I like, too, the irony in how the Savage is more cultured than anyone else, the civilized being rather insipid rule-followers (in spite of being followers of Freud, of all people). Altogether, a relevant read, but I felt I was forcing myself to turn the pages throughout much of it. (less)
Loved each and every one of these stories...particularly, "The Gambler", "Notes from Underground" (although I prefer the Michael Katz translation), "A...moreLoved each and every one of these stories...particularly, "The Gambler", "Notes from Underground" (although I prefer the Michael Katz translation), "A Disgraceful Affair", "A Gentle Creature", and "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man". Volumes could be written about each. I'm sure many have already. I'll just cite a quote to display the piercing quality of Dostoevsky's philosophical exploration:
"Why, we don't even know where this 'real life' lives nowadays, what it really is, and what it's called. Leave us alone without books and we'll get confused and lose our way at once--we won't know what to join, what to hold on to, what to love or what to hate, what to respect or what to despise. We're even oppressed by being men--men with real bodies and blood of OUR VERY OWN. We're ashamed of it; we consider it a disgrace and we strive to become some kind of impossible 'general-human-beings.' We're stillborn; for some time now we haven't been conceived by living fathers; we like it more and more. We're developing a taste for it. Soon we'll conceive of a way to be born from ideas..."
--the underground man in "Notes from Underground"
(we could easily substitute "entertainment" for "books" in our day and age)(less)
This easily ranks as one of my top 5 favorite Shakespeare plays (although I'm not quite sure what the other four are), as it deals with the persistenc...moreThis easily ranks as one of my top 5 favorite Shakespeare plays (although I'm not quite sure what the other four are), as it deals with the persistence of the human conscience even in the path of the utmost villainy. This mostly occurs in the person of Richard III, one of the most capable villains I've encountered in the bard of Avon, but the problem is even present in the hired murderers employed by Richard. Naturally deformed, Richard, Earl of Gloucester, must use his wit (both of speech and of mind) to succeed in his ambitious endeavors. While for the most part we are disgusted with his duplicitous conniving and serpentine wheedling, he does emerge at times to be genuinely funny and, perhaps to some, even charming. This gets him as far as the battlefield in defense of the crown he has had to plot and murder to obtain, on which he is left to cry "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" So aptly does Shakespeare show how desperate a man driven by mindless ambition can become that he would be willing to sacrifice the very thing he has struggled to obtain in order to achieve his immediate desire (a horse to track down and kill the contender for the throne, Henry, Earl of Richmond). He was indeed one of two kings in British history to die on the battlefield, and his story is really emblematic of the entire struggle on the part of the house of York for the throne, culminating in what became known as "The War of the Roses" (a series of bloody, sundering attempts to usurp the throne). Altogether, an entertaining and thoughtful read, even though its historical accuracy has been called into much doubt. (less)
I might have given it five stars had I read it as an angst-ridden teen instead of a slightly less angst-ridden adult. But wanting to do good in a worl...moreI might have given it five stars had I read it as an angst-ridden teen instead of a slightly less angst-ridden adult. But wanting to do good in a world that is difficult to understand is a timeless theme that deserves high marks.(less)
War and Peace famously transcends traditional literary appelations such as "novel", "epic", "historical chronicle", etc. The thing is just massive: a...moreWar and Peace famously transcends traditional literary appelations such as "novel", "epic", "historical chronicle", etc. The thing is just massive: a cast of over 500 distinct characters, comprised of several social strata, with events occurring in several countries, along with hundreds of pages devoted to rich battle scenes, elaborate balls and simple peasant life, and two epilogues, for good measure; all written, as stated by the author himself, "to make young people appreciate life." For all its artistic excellence, however, many critics (Nabokov, notably--see criticism below) find this art marred by Tolstoy's dabbling in his own story's relgious, moral, and philosophical problems. Tolstoy emerges as a character himself, critiquing this or that action, ruminating on the overall meaning, and yet doing so in such a conclusive way that you find yourself robbed of the delightful dance of suggestion-anticipation that characterizes the author-reader relationship of most good art, and certainly most of this story. This reviewer does not share, therefore, the criticism of Nabokov, et al., but rather thinks the historical analysis could have been done in a more interactive way, the way Hawthorne will throw in a rhetorical question here and there in his stories which only adds to the delight of the story itself. Don't get me wrong, Tolstoy's conclusion is very delightful and thought-provoking to read, and focuses mainly on the historical events of the book, not the fictional elements, but it's a different kind of art than good story-telling; I'd rather have read the historical analysis separately from the book, so as to enjoy the story more. And yet, without it, it's hard to imagine the book being what it is. Go figure. As to the story, one could hardly ask for a more splendid display of characters struggling to realize who they are and what purpose governs their life. And did I mention rich description? It's like listening to a Vienna waltz as you read.
*Nabokov's criticism: "War and Peace, though a little too long, is a rollicking historical novel written for that amorphic and limp creature known as "the general reader," and more specifically for the young. In terms of artistic structure it does not satisfy me. I derive no pleasure from its cumbersome message, from the didactic interludes, from the artificial coincidences, with cool Prince Audrey turning up to witness this or that historical moment, this or that footnote in the sources used often uncritically by the author." (from http://www.lib.ru/NABOKOW/Inter13.txt) (less)
I read this while lesson-planning for it, so I approached it from a different angle than if I had merely read it for pleasure. My question was, namely...moreI read this while lesson-planning for it, so I approached it from a different angle than if I had merely read it for pleasure. My question was, namely, how to make it interesting to high school students?. In that regard, I feel it lends itself well to adolescent interest: it has witches (or rumor thereof), people dancing naked in the forest, steamy romance, and of course the perennial problem (and well sympathized with by my students) of being accused of something you didn't do. Aside from trying to make it appealing, I thought the play thouched on some timeless themes, particularly in its portrayal of how different characters respond to, and are thus shaped by, conflict. How we deal with complex situations says a lot about who we are, and takes us in a direction that dynamically forges us into our new (perhaps real?) selves. (less)
Fascinatingly strange. Borders on the edge of dream/reality, thus giving it a mystical, magical quality. At the same time, it brutally satirizes life...moreFascinatingly strange. Borders on the edge of dream/reality, thus giving it a mystical, magical quality. At the same time, it brutally satirizes life under the Soviet Union, particularly the negative ramifications of enforced atheism. It makes these jabs indirectly, requiring a good deal of background knowledge, which at least this edition provided. Also includes an alternate history of Jesus Christ's (referred to as "Jesus the Nazarene") encounter with Pilate, which is at least thought-provoking, if not a bit off. The novel definitely merits (and, perhaps requires) multiple reads, which I'm sure I'll give it.
All that aside, how could you go wrong with a gambling, cigar -smoking, chess-playing and vodka-consuming cat who is approximately the size of a hog and is named "begemot" (Russian for "behemoth")? Oh, and he can talk and walk on two legs, by the way. (less)
It was great to get a sense of early Dostoevsky, to see how his style had developed over time. These short stories reveal a higher level of sentimenta...moreIt was great to get a sense of early Dostoevsky, to see how his style had developed over time. These short stories reveal a higher level of sentimentality than his later works, but they also are marked by the philosophical/psychological probing for which he would become so famous. There are many interesting conversations in "Poor Folk" (an epistolary short novel), especially on art, its function, interpretation, etc. Altogether, fascinating stuff. (less)