Funny story about how I got this book: I took a nonfiction writing course my junior year of college, and there were five books that were on the syllab...moreFunny story about how I got this book: I took a nonfiction writing course my junior year of college, and there were five books that were on the syllabus. What the syllabus did not specify was the fact that I only needed to get one book that would be assigned at later date, and so I bought all five books. (Sometimes, I bemoan the fact that tablets weren’t as widespread as they are now, because oh my God, buying books at the university bookstore was an ordeal; if you waited, you were pretty much screwed out of getting the ‘right’ edition or they sold out so you had to pay ungodly amounts of money through another vendor. Or in my case, I once bought a vanilla edition of The House of Seven Gables without the relevant essays thinking “Oh, well, I’ll just print from JSTOR and save myself fifteen bucks!” and JSTOR had maybe one of the three essays available. EVERYTHING IS EASIER NOW WITH TECHNOLOGY.
For the record, of the other four books for this specific class, I only ever read three, kept two, and I don’t even have the one I was assigned anymore. /end nostalgic tangent.)
(Basically, this has been sitting in my garage for the last seven years, unread, until my mom found it last summer.)
Anyway. I don’t actively pick up a lot of memoirs on my own and I’m very picky about nonfiction at times. I do like this book, but I don’t love it. It’s very representative of the culture of British East Africa in the early twentieth century, and reflecting the changing social norms, especially given Markham’s upbringing. Markham’s writing is incredibly descriptive and evocative, and she does breath a lot of life into her childhood growing up in Kenya. However, it’s also very restrained and private, and as a reader, I never quite connected with Markham on a personal level. The structure does feel a little disjointed at times, and Markham never really reflects on her inner thoughts whenever she’s confronted of making a life-changing decision. (Which I do think has more to do with her upbringing and that mindset of keeping her personal life personal. Also, I do need to point out that this is very much of the time, with the fairly progressive but still racist mindset towards the native Kenyan people who are featured and the Big White Game hunters who show up towards the end.) It’s an engaging read, and a fascinating one, but I don’t think it’s one that everyone would particularly get into. (less)
Geek Confession #47: I had never seen he Last Unicorn movie until last year. I’m 27, for the record; I have no idea how I completely missed this one d...moreGeek Confession #47: I had never seen he Last Unicorn movie until last year. I’m 27, for the record; I have no idea how I completely missed this one during my childhood. I knew what it was, and I knew there was a book, but I just never got around to it. But I have seen it*, and now I’ve gone and read the book.
And I’m really more disappointed in myself for not having read/seen The Last Unicorn for so long, because I absolutely loved it. This is very close with Stardust or The Princess Bride insofar of it’s a loving homage to fairy tales and their various tropes, while also giving the harsh truth about magic and sacrifice.
I really loved reading this for the first time. I love how the story is put together, I love that there’s not necessarily a Big Bad looming over the plot (aside from the Red Bull, and probably Mommy Fortuna), but characters who are complex in what they do and why they’ve done it. Haggard’s not necessarily an evil king, but he’s done something horrible for his own gain. And in contrast, the people of Hagsgate feel like they’re completely justified in their actions of not having children but keeping the town prosperous. And I love that both parties are judged for the things they’ve done. I love the characters—all of them—because while they seem like tropes and clichés, you see why they’re that way. And Molly Grue is just completely awesome, and her chemistry with Schmendrick is fantastic and is perfection (and that’s not their romantic chemistry). And even stuff with the folklore—virgin princesses who try to catch a unicorn, Lir’s continuous attempts at being a hero and trying to win the hand of Lady Amalthea and failing, the winks and nods that really make up a lot of the charm of the book for me. Beagle’s writing is just so wonderful and honest, and I just love it.
It’s interesting, but right as I started reading the book, I saw a lot of the quotes from it being liked/reblogged/quoted everywhere and it’s the kind of book that works so well outside of its own context. And I definitely do consider this to be a modern fantasy classic book, so if you haven’t read it, do. (And then watch the movie, because perfection.)
*There was a special screening with Peter Beagle Q&A** at a local second-run theater, and he’s a lovely old man. And also now owns a bookstore in my old hometown that I really need to go to more often, which is awesome.
**Also now that I think about it, Peter Beagle is partially responsible for me getting into Lord of the Rings back in eighth grade, because that’s when I saw the Ralph Bakshi animated film. Awful movie, but I was intrigued. (less)
Whenever I get asked about classic book recommendations, I normally start by admitting that despite the fact that I read all the time and I have a BA...moreWhenever I get asked about classic book recommendations, I normally start by admitting that despite the fact that I read all the time and I have a BA in English, I am the worst literature major ever. You know those lists of the “100 Greatest Books of All Time” and you mark off the ones you’ve read? Even though I’ve read a good chunk of those books, the number of canonical works that I’ve read is pretty pathetic. (For example, I’ve only read one Dickens novel, and that was a children’s abridgement.) My history with Les Miserables is as follows: I saw the 1998 Liam Neeson movie in my HS freshman French I class; the next year I saw the stage musical and then proceeded to listen to the OLCR a couple dozen times. And then I fell out of it until the new movie came out, and on hearing about the number of details thrown in from the back, I thought, “Oh why not.”
What did help out is that because I was familiar with the story, I was able to appreciate all of the extra detail so much more. (Same thing happened when I first read Phantom of the Opera.) Yes, I know how things were going to turn out, but it also allowed me to think “Okay, so how do we get from Point A to B exactly?” And putting the dots together made the experience more enjoyable. For example, at the end of the infamous 200-page recounting of Waterloo, when Colonel Pontmercy introduces himself to M. Thenardier, my reaction was “Holy shit that explains so much.” And even then, my thought process was completely wrong. And the backstories—again, despite knowing that everything was going to end horribly—the backstories add so much to the story. Fantine’s whole summer of love has so much more contextual weight when you find out how screwed over she got. (Fuck you, Tholomyès. Fuck you.) And Marius—I still don’t like him very much once he meets up with Cosette, but the whole background with his father and grandfather got me really sucked into his story.
And even the long digressions weren’t that bad. Admittedly, I did tend to skim whenever Hugo decided to be very philosophical and ramble on about stuff that I’ve already gotten from the plot thanks so very much. However, the aforementioned Battle of Waterloo section and the other long descriptive passages, I really liked. The scenes at the Convent at Petite Rue Pipcus was one of my favorite parts, with the description of this absolutely rigid society and how Valjean is going to manage to infiltrate into it out. I actually also loved the “Intestines of the Leviathan” section because it’s so well-written and does add a lot to the story. And just the actual story of Jean Valjean itself is so good, I just wanted to keep reading the book.
If there was anything else that got a boost for actually reading the book, the characters. The main set of characters I do still like, but I like that there was so much more added to them. (JAVERT SNARKS AND IT IS GLORIOUS.) This is particularly evident in the side characters, specifically LES AMIS. I love Marius’s friends, especially since we actually get to know them and not just specifically “Oh, well, you get one line.” Courfeyrac, as I have fangirled, is the best. Why must you die horribly, Courfeyrac.
(Oh, can I tangent about the book vs. the musical for a moment? So, I had begun to assume that “Oh, so Marius finds M. Thenardier and that’s how he and Eponine are friends” while I was reading. And it turns out that Marius only talks to Eponine twice and when she’s dying he doesn’t recognize her at first. She still has a tragic death scene and the worst dying declaration of love ever, but “On My Own” just got a whole lot of new context after reading the book.)
The only thing I really had a problem with overall was that every character keeps popping up by happenstance. I get that Hugo was playing on providence and that these characters were so entwined in each other’s lives, but it got the point that it didn’t feel like a surprise when he reveals “And it was SO-AND-SO!” It does work well at times—the last time Javert and Valjean encounter each other for example (and I felt so awful because I knew Javert was going to commit suicide and I didn’t want him to do it) – but most of the time, I was thinking, “Oh you. You’re not dead yet. Carry on.”
This being the Kindle translation, I don’t think it was too bad, although there were places that seemed really choppy. It also seemed like the translator couldn’t decide what exactly should be translated in text as opposed to linking a footnote (I don’t remember half of my French so that didn’t help). Also, it took me halfway through the book to realize that the insistence of “thou” vs. “you” was supposed to be “vous” vs. “du.” Again, I don’t know if that was me or the choppy translation.
My big argument for the classics (which I’ve amended from my Brit Lit professors) is that once you take off these books off the Grand Literary Pedestal and take the books as books and bugger to the thematic elements, they’re really good. Before I actually sat down and read Les Miserables, all I knew about the book was “TWO HUNDRED PAGES OF NOTHING HAPPENING.” I WAS WRONG. I really liked the book, even with all of the info-dumping and contrived coincidences. And if you think that you can just go see the musical without reading the book at all, you are sorely missing out. (less)
I’ll be completely honest; much like my experiences with the literary canon, my reading of the sci-fi/fantasy canon is pretty much…nil. More so on the...moreI’ll be completely honest; much like my experiences with the literary canon, my reading of the sci-fi/fantasy canon is pretty much…nil. More so on the sci-fi side, mainly because I was always more interested in fantasy rather than spaceships and other planets and suchlike. (I still haven’t gotten to freaking Isaac Asimov—won’t touch Card, Heinlein is a big maybe.) Richard Matheson was among the ranks of “I’ve heard of him, but I’ve never actually read anything by him.” To be fair, SciFi Channel’s dual holiday Twilight Zone marathons has rectified my ignorance to an extant, and I have seen both the terrible, awful Will Smith adaptation of I Am Legend (okay, the first half hour isn’t bad. That ending, though, *HISS*) and Real Steel, from which the lead story of this collection inspired that movie. (And no, I don’t think I’ve seen the Twilight Zone adaptation either.)
I really did enjoy reading this. “Steel” does have a lot of heart in its characters and their actions, but how it ends is on such an ambiguous note that it could be that the title character isn’t going to survive to see some winnings. And then there’s a story like “A Visit to Santa Claus,” which is incredibly dark with a nice twist of irony. And that’s the other reason why I liked this collection—Matheson’s writing is funny. A bit predictable, but I still laughed and got most of the satire: “Dear Diary” is pretty straightforward in that “Nothing really ever changes”; “The Splendid Source” had me cracking up multiple times (specifically the “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” joke) although the ending was kinda…there. And “When Day is Dun” is just the perfect example of an satirical story—yeah, you can see the ending coming, but it’s very well done. Honestly, the only story I didn’t like overall was probably “Lemmings,” if only because it’s a few short paragraphs and it ends.
So, yeah—I would actually love to read more Matheson in the future (especially I Am Legend because POST-APOCALYPTIC VAMPIRES and o hai ironic ending and look, it’s a classic for a reason); I don’t know when because of the backlog. But I really liked this collection, and I hope to get my hands on more in the near future. (less)
Full disclaimer- I really can't properly review poetry. Mainly because I suck at scansion and meter. Language, I'm good with, but everything else...no...moreFull disclaimer- I really can't properly review poetry. Mainly because I suck at scansion and meter. Language, I'm good with, but everything else...not so much.
That out of the way, I do quite like Dickinson. This is a fairly comprehensive collection, covering three years of writing (1890, 1891, and 1896), and grouped into her four most prevalent subjects. There's a definite change in the tone of her poems from the 1890 section to 1896, and with the majority of topics (particularly anything in the Life and Eternity sections), there's a much darker tone and worldview in her writing. Of the four groupings, I really wasn't fond of the Nature poems- they were nice, but they got a little tedious and flowery (heh) for my tastes. To paraphrase Pratchett, "Apparently, the poet had liked [the garden] very much." I liked the Life and Eternity sections, pretty much because my tastes run toward the darker side. And also, I liked the collection because there's such a wide range of her poetry included here. (Because, let's be honest, "I'm nobody!" and "Because I couldn't stop for Death..." got really old the third time I had to read it for school.) It's not a bad collection, and I would recommend reading it just to get another side of Dickinson other than what gets read in school.(less)
Since this is three short works, I’ll tackle this individually.
Lady Susan: While it’s different to have a novel mostly told through the perspective of...moreSince this is three short works, I’ll tackle this individually.
Lady Susan: While it’s different to have a novel mostly told through the perspective of a villain—I hesitate to use antagonist—this is really over-the-top. Lady Susan pettily laughs, her daughter sobs every five seconds, and everyone else goes “Oh no! What a horrid woman!” It’s like if Catherine from Northanger Abbey tried writing a novel, with the wild characterization and the way the book ends.
The Watsons: The problem with this and Sandition is that the text just stops with little or none explanation or idea of where the plot was going. The Watsons starts off as atypical Austen—young lady in society, is courted by wealthy and handsome gentlemen, but the fact that the book stops right as the plot is really beginning makes it hard to connect with. The editor’s note of Austen’s plans for the book doesn’t reveal much, either, as there are only vague plot details.
Sandition: Much like The Watsons, the plot stops as it’s getting started, but we’re not left with a short description of what could have happened. While these give some different styles Jane Austen worked on during her life, I’m really not a fan of unfinished products, if only because it’s so jarring to have the book end and knowing that you can’t really recreate the rest. (less)
A bit of a tangential point: I first read The Big Sleep for a seminar on Men in Literature during my senior year of college. (Which is coming up on ab...moreA bit of a tangential point: I first read The Big Sleep for a seminar on Men in Literature during my senior year of college. (Which is coming up on about six years since I’ve graduated. *cries*) And nearly every single book that we read that semester came back to the point of “Well, men are most affected by their potency, and if they’re impotent that means they’ve lost their dominance, until they kill, either literally or metaphorically, whatever’s oppressing them.” (I should also mention that there were more women in this class, and most of us were holdovers from the previous Women in Literature seminar. Same professor for both.)
I bring this up, because I haven’t read this book in about six years, and had completely forgotten where I had my copy until I was cleaning out the garage this past summer. And when I did read this again, all I could think about was the various examples from class discussion, like “Marlowe destroying his bed is symbolic of his sexual frustration at Carmen Sternwood.” I’ve reread books that I’ve read for classes before, and my focusing on the various critical theories that were beaten into me in four years rarely happens. (This is largely because my Brit Lit 1 professor had the idea of “No, take the classic ~literature~ off the pedestal. Knock off it completely. Treat it like an actual piece of entertainment then do analysis.”*)
College flashbacks aside, I do still really like this book. The Big Sleep, and Chandler and the Philip Marlowe character do specifically inform a lot of crime noir tropes and archetypes that one may be more familiar with via pop culture osmosis rather than reading it in its original format. But that said, it’s still a good solid mystery, with various twists and turns as the reader’s trying to figure out who’s blackmailing who and the reasons for it. I will say that it does suffer a lot of values dissonance, particularly concerning Carmen Sternwood and Arthur Gwynne (for different reasons), but on its own, the book largely still holds up.
And in fact, if it hadn’t been for my college flashback moments, I don’t think I would have really noticed the values dissonance as much. Not only with Carmen’s epileptic fits (or probably more fittingly, her affluenza), but how all of the women in this book are represented. The major female players in this are characterized as greedy, overly sexualized creatures who (in the case of the Sternwood sisters) manage to turn Marlowe off whenever they try to make sexual advances on him, and yet in the end, Marlowe is the one who gets the upper hand. Even Agnes, who’s only playing at a criminal mastermind, is characterized in a similar manner to her weak-willed lackey. It’s much more egregious with Carmen, given the number of times she shows up naked and willing (whether or not she’s complicit at times), and Vivien gets in the act as well, although not as overtly as her younger sister. I bring this up with the Sternwoods and the idea of affluenza, because they really do read like they do not care about what they do, because Daddy’s money is going to get them off. (view spoiler)[Even Carmen gets off light in the end—she’s institutionalized rather than being taken to jail for the murder of Rusty Regan. (hide spoiler)] (Of course, you can take it as being that the General has diseased his own children, having them at such an old age, and that’s why they can’t be held accountable and Christ I’m getting into the lit major thing again.)
(I’d touch more on Arthur Gwynne’s sexuality, but it’s pretty much referenced in a few ‘blink and you miss it’ moments. What I really remember as the offensive gay stereotype that was brought up is whenever Marlowe’s going undercover to Gwynne’s bookshop and has to act effeminate. Which is worse in the 1939 movie, btw, because it’s immediately followed up by Marlowe and a girl from another bookstore “killing time” if you know what I mean. Then again, the Hays Code really kills a *lot* of the plot and had to be danced around, plus the fact that they weren’t going to have Lauren Bacall be one of the bad guys. It’s still a good movie, but…yeah, hi context. /movie nerd)
I’ve said on numerous occasions that I’m really more of a fan of psychological thrillers than straight detective novels, although I’m not adverse to the latter. (And the quirky girl detective series, although that’s really one series.) The Big Sleep is one of those latter books that I do really like, and given the circumstances that I read it under, I really don’t think I would have ever picked it up in the first place. And it also says something about the book itself that even a week of overanalyzing the ~themes~ and SYMBOLISM, I can still enjoy this on its own. (Without it weighing too much on my mind; but apparently my brain needed to have a college flashback for whatever reason.)
*She and the aforementioned seminar professor were the best two professors I had in college. The seminar professor was actually my advisor, and during one of my first advisement meetings, we got into an in-depth discussion about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, plus I wrote my favorite paper ever for one of her classes. My Brit Lit 1 professor had us rewrite Beowulf as a rap boast and derailed a class on The Three Penny Opera so we could tell her all about emo subculture. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Allow me to tell you a bit of my history with Phantom, because when I was rereading this, I realized that this story has repeatedly shown up in variou...moreAllow me to tell you a bit of my history with Phantom, because when I was rereading this, I realized that this story has repeatedly shown up in various forms for me. My very first introduction to the Phantom of the Opera properly (aside from various pop culture references) was a class trip to Toronto in 1998 to see the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. That was Baby’s First Musical Theater experience, and I received the OLCR that Christmas from my godmother, thus starting a few good years obsessing over musical theater. About a year or so later, said godmother also found a copy of the actual book and gave it to me. And I’ll be honest, it took me awhile, until one day, I sat down and read it all the way through…and fell in love with pulpy horror. When the film came out, an online friend pointed me toward a parody of it, which I automatically loved and had to follow Cleolinda Jones immediately. My very first Discworld book? Maskerade, because of the main parody. (And before anyone asks, no I haven’t seen/heard Love Never Dies aside from a few…choice clips. That’s all that I need to know.) Basically, for reasons I’ve yet to figure out since I’m not obsessed with it, this story has been looming in the background of my interests for a long time.
But enough of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overblown dramatics, let’s talk about LeRoux. This was also my intro into horror classics, especially when you take the Phantom as one of the major ‘monsters’. But it’s also more pulpy than say, Frankenstein or even Jekyll & Hyde—the short introduction of my copy points out LeRoux’s former career as a newspaper reporter and his flair for the dramatics. The story is very standard of the time: the young ingénue is seduced by the dark ‘other,’ while her valiant above-ground lover desperately tries to save her. But unlike say, Dracula wherein it’s made very clear that the ‘other’ is a monster, LeRoux does give us a measure of sympathy for Erik. No, none of the things he does is forgivable, but it makes him more human and sympathetic by the end. The book is far more focused on Erik’s human genius and trickery than ever playing up any otherworldly abilities. For example, Madame Giry’s involvement in protecting Erik—it’s because he promises that her daughter will one day become empress of France. Sure, it’s more a stretch in the book, but it really shows what Erik’s abilities are like and that he’s extremely charismatic.
But at the end of the book, we get to see exactly why Erik has done the things he does. It is that wanting to belong and needing to be around people. There is a heart-breaking moment towards the end where he points out that he has a mask that would allow him to go outside and look normal. (Although the first time the mask shows up, it’s kind of funny to see Erik walk in with a bunch of parcels and telling Christine that he’s been out shopping. Sorry, just having the various versions in my head, I can’t help but laugh.)
And there are some genuinely creepy scenes in the book. The grand finale of Raoul and the Persian going through the Phantom’s underground lair (which apparently he’s created a desert underneath the Paris Opera House. Yeah, LeRoux’s overly dramatic.) The room of mirrors and the iron tree still manages to creep me out to this day, specifically because it’s more of the anticipation of what could happen…especially when the Persian specifically describes the Punjab lasso and what it does. However, I can see if someone’s not as fairly with the writing style of the time, it does come off as overdramatic and narmish. Particularly once they move to the Persian’s part of the narrative, which can be confusing if this is your first time reading it.
Much like Les Miserables earlier this year, I think this is easier to tackle if you’re familiar with the derivatives, mainly because you know what all the story beats are going in. Yes, there are differences between the book and musical, but you know the basic outline. And sometimes it’s more fun, because I really love the Persian’s story and what it adds to Erik’s character; it gives a more layered portrayal than the romanticized view of other people. (I am looking at you, Susan Kay.) But I’d also say that no, this isn’t for everyone—again, the writing style—but it’s still a fun little read to pick up and check out. Phantom has always been on my list of “Give it a shot, you might actually like it” classics, and I’ve always enjoyed it. (less)