Old Books, New Readers discussion

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, #3)
This topic is about The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
41 views
Archived > jrb-s-catch-up-challenge

Comments Showing 1-31 of 31 (31 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Jon (last edited Dec 29, 2016 01:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments 2016 Catch-up Challenge
Duration: 05/10/16 - 12/31/16

To Be Completed (in not necessarily numbered order):

1. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (DONE)
2. Hamlet (DONE)
3. A Clockwork Orange
4. Of Mice and Men (DONE)
5. To Kill a Mockingbird (DONE)
6. Candide (DONE)
7. Common Sense (DONE)
8. For Whom the Bell Tolls (DONE)
9. The Cask of Amontillado (DONE)
10. At the Mountains of Madness (DONE)
11. The Taming of the Shrew (DONE)


message 2: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments FYI, I have previously read several of these works. But it is so long ago that I want to read them again, maybe with a different or at least an older perspective.

The newbies to me are Candide, Common Sense, For Whom the Bell Tolls, At the Mountains of Madness, and the Taming of the Shrew. Can't believe I have not read some of these yet.


message 3: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose Rocha dos Santos (roserocha) | 192 comments Hi, Jon! You are in a better situation than me! That's for sure! hahaha


message 4: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Here is my review of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. No spoilers here:

This is a very enjoyable read, in part because the stories are short and because all were serialized to be very readable for publication in The Strand (the Life of its day). It is also fascinating the way the character differences between Holmes and Watson play out. For example, in "The Five Orange Pips," Holmes refers to an episode early in their careers when Watson prepared a written analysis of Holmes' strengths and weaknesses. Some areas of knowledge, like astronomy and politics, were "marked at zero" but knowledge of "mud-stains from any region within fifty miles of town" was marked as "profound." This tells me there is an odd familiarity between them that links them through both professional courtesy and deep respect. And despite Holmes' commitment to reason and analysis of minutiae, I think he very much admired Watson's dry conclusion that Holmes is a "self-poisoner by cocaine and tobacco." Holmes merely says "...a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, were he can get it if he wants it."

I think my favorite stories were "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," and "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet." I liked the first because there is a clear hint of some kind of near-emotional connection Holmes has with whom he calls "the woman," namely Irene Adler. This of course begs for more extensive treatment. I liked the second because of the strong sympathy the McCarthy situation provokes in the otherwise unflappable Holmes, when he says "Why does fate play such tricks with poor, helpless worms? I never hear of such a case as this that I do not think of Baxter's words, and say, 'There, but for the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes.'" Finally, I enjoyed the third one just to see Holmes' deductive prowess tested in order to prove his most famous statement at the end: "It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."


message 5: by Luella (new)

Luella Jon wrote: "Here is my review of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. No spoilers here:

This is a very enjoyable read, in part because the stories are short and because all were serialized to be very readable ..."


That's a great review! Would you mind posting it in the discussion?

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

Part of our hope for the challenge is to get the old discussion threads revitalized as well. :)


message 6: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Luella wrote: "Jon wrote: "Here is my review of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. No spoilers here:

This is a very enjoyable read, in part because the stories are short and because all were serialized to be ve..."


Done. And that is a great secondary goal that I did not consider with the Catch Up Challenge.


message 7: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Next up: Hamlet. Just a little light nothing to read for a change.

I'm using an edition which is updated from the Kittredge Shakespeare series of the plays. It is annotated for some of the denser Elizabethan language. I read this in college, but it is practically new to me now after so many years. To give you an idea how old this book is, it is a paperback marked at the price of 65 cents.


message 8: by Luella (new)

Luella Nice I had a few one those at home but I've since donated them.


message 9: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments I'm through Act I of Hamlet so far. My edition is an updated George Lyman Kittredge edition. That is the edition that was current when I first read it in college. In this second reading, I am much more alert to the power and eminence of King Claudius. Claudius is far from the grasping, ignorant, voracious usurper of the throne that I first considered him. In fact, he is entitled to the throne by the rules of succession at the time. That makes him a considerably more potent force, and an excellent counterbalance to Hamlet. That also explains a lot of Hamlet's hesitancy in his revenge plot.


message 10: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose Rocha dos Santos (roserocha) | 192 comments Jon wrote: "I'm through Act I of Hamlet so far. My edition is an updated George Lyman Kittredge edition. That is the edition that was current when I first read it in college. In this second reading, I am much ..."

Jon, I'm reading Candide right now... but in French... I noticed that you are going to read it too...
I feel like I need a text to explain a few things... do you have any? I found just this one, in french... I wanted more options...
http://www.bacdefrancais.net/candide-...


message 11: by Jon (last edited Jun 17, 2016 10:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Rose wrote: "Jon wrote: "I'm through Act I of Hamlet so far. My edition is an updated George Lyman Kittredge edition. That is the edition that was current when I first read it in college. In this second reading..."

Your resources look to be the best. All I have is an old book called Romans de Voltaire published by the Librairies Garnier Freres. This is just a collection of everything from Zadig to La Princesse de Babylone, etc. That's it.


message 12: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Rose wrote: "Jon wrote: "I'm through Act I of Hamlet so far. My edition is an updated George Lyman Kittredge edition. That is the edition that was current when I first read it in college. In this second reading..."

I was thinking about reading it in French also, with my Le Petit Larousse dictionary handy. I am familiar with modern French, but eighteenth century French may be too big a challenge. We'll see.


message 13: by Rose (new) - added it

Rose Rocha dos Santos (roserocha) | 192 comments Jon wrote: "Rose wrote: "Jon wrote: "I'm through Act I of Hamlet so far. My edition is an updated George Lyman Kittredge edition. That is the edition that was current when I first read it in college. In this s..."

Jon, I must confess it's the first book I'm being able to read in French beyond the page five! LOL... I tried to read the L'Écume des jours, with no success... You should definitely try it! :)


message 14: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Rose wrote: "Jon wrote: "Rose wrote: "Jon wrote: "I'm through Act I of Hamlet so far. My edition is an updated George Lyman Kittredge edition. That is the edition that was current when I first read it in colleg..."

Voltaire is supposed to be an exceptionally coherent writer, if only because he was at the heart of the Age of Enlightenment in France. He had a reputation as a polemicist for taking on some very big targets, such as the Catholic Church, for its refusal to recognize freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and so on. He was an emphatic critic of the existing ties between the church and the government, which got him thrown into the Bastille a few times. In short, he is kind of a hero of mine. And it is great that you are not finding trouble in reading him.


message 15: by Jon (last edited Aug 19, 2016 10:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Here is my review of Hamlet. This beast took me awhile because I needed to work through several major obstacles in understanding Hamlet's motivations:

Hamlet is the most quoted, critiqued, and cited work in English literature. Everyone knows a situation where a quotation from it is appropriate, such as "Methinks he doth protest too much" or "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy" or "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't."

With every reading, I have been troubled by seemingly gratuitous scenes or monologues of indefinite intent. My concerns have caused me to question Hamlet's motivations. And yes, I know this same question has bedeviled critics over many years. So the basics are easy to follow. Yes, Hamlet is an admirable man of high ideals and excellent intentions, and Claudius is a criminal opportunist, and Gertrude is a woman of the world, and Ophelia is a weakling. But this thumbnail description is not the truth of the play, and it does not explain how the play ends with multiple murders under false pretenses. So how do we get from Hamlet's encounter with his father's ghost to such a ghastly final scene, especially with the numerous detours Hamlet takes through his preoccupation with death, suicide, good and evil, sanity and insanity, and honor and dishonor?

So I read up on criticism from G. Wilson Knight (from his book The Wheel of Fire) and I saw there an explanation. If Knight is correct, Hamlet is out to exist in a place beyond good and evil, and beyond action or inaction, and even beyond life and death. I did not think he might have this wish for a human superstate until I read through the most famous monologue of all time, starting "To be or not to be..." This is an almost dreamlike reverie of many clearly antagonistic thoughts, including suicide, active aggression in killing Claudius, passive endurance of an ill defined evil, and many conditions in between. But it seems he is out to attain something he does not understand, a condition that marries the masculine and feminine, a "lived poetry" that combines the conscious and unconscious, that allows one to cease fearing death since life and death are no longer antagonistic to each other. He clearly admires the values of a Fortinbras who lives as a soldier on the border between life and death, but then he knows that suicide attains those same conditions as well. So a superstate as Knight describes it might be the one condition that allows Hamlet a peaceful resolution of the problem he faces, which is to find a state beyond action and art, and between even good and evil. He will fail to do so, but he is much more at peace after he later learns the truth with the play-within-a-play.

A second point I would make is that this is not a revenge play, or at least not merely a revenge play. Shakespeare knew about many of those plays, the most famous of which may be Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy. But he clearly did not intend such a play because he carefully sketched the role of Laertes to fill that need for the Elizabethan audience and to cast Laertes as an honorable but easily manipulated fool who was useful to Claudius. Shakespeare casts him in the odious position of responding to Claudius' goading about the murder of Polonius by saying "To cut his throat i' the church."

Third, sanity is a critical feature of Hamlet's quest to learn the truth. His father's ghost may or may not be a demon intending to mislead him into a revenge that will doom his soul to hell. Elizabethan audiences fully expected ghosts to be either truth-tellers or demons or possibly a mixture of the two, and that the apparent truths they spoke might lead to far worse consequences. So Hamlet had little choice but to devise first the phony insanity, and then the play-within-a-play device to try to learn the truth. Phony insanity is a clever device simply because it allows others to speak more frankly in front of the one deemed to be insane, and many other plays have used that device for the same purpose.

Finally, it is important not to undercut Claudius' command of the majesty he has attained. He is not merely the grasping power-mad monster that is often portrayed. He has good reason to occupy the throne, and does so within the confines of the powers of succession. For Hamlet to kill him is a treasonable offense, and Hamlet's hesitancy about this is well-founded. Hamlet has good reason to think he would be killed for doing so. Furthermore, Claudius develops stately powers that are cautious and reasonable. He has some stature that reminds me a bit of MacBeth.

Overall, I think the play gives us a good picture of a soul tormented by the need to find choices not available to him. So it fulfills the major demands for the making of tragedy. Hamlet is a man born before his time, and in particular before the structure of the Superman in Nietzsche was modeled.


message 16: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Of Mice and Men is next up.


message 17: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments I completed Of Mice and Men fairly quickly. I found it to be as powerful as when I first read it in school. It is essentially a "slice of life" novella for the Depression-era life that caused so many people to become detached from their homes and their family support. It paints a picture of the day-to-day work-life of men who had the aspirations for a better home life and knew they could never attain it.

So what kept them going was to recite their idea of that better life over and over, and to keep company with those they loved. That is the ultimate picture that emerges.

George and Lennie are the positive and negative sides of that aspiration and hope: George for his ability to protect Lennie from conniving men and women, and Lennie for his frightening ability to hurt and kill inadvertently, and to do so in fright at emotions he does not understand. We would today consider Lennie cognitively disabled, and want him cared for with the appropriate therapy. But in the 1930's, no such treatment was possible. He had only George, and in the end, even George could not protect him. There was only the justice of knowing George could spare him the consequences of what Curley would do to him.

The concluding line is significant: "Curley and Carlson looked after them. And Carlson said, "Now what the hell ya suppose is eating them two guys?" I think it summarizes perfectly the social dislocations embedded in this book. And it reminds me that we all have just family and friends, whether we are in the social fabric of life or not. It reminds me of what Steinbeck himself said about that social fabric:

"We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — "Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought."


message 18: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Here is my review of At the Mountains of Madness:

This is part of my Catch Up Challenge, and was one of my easier reads. That is only because I read a lot of Lovecraft growing up, so his writing style and genre were already well known to me. But somehow I had missed this one before now. Since it is the lead off story for the entire Cthulhu mythos, I was glad to get to it finally.

My edition included an introduction by China Mieville, who is a well-established writer of the weird in his own right. That introduction gave me the background about Lovecraft I did not know before. For example, I did not know Lovecraft was a blatant racist, and even published a poem in 1912 called "On the Creation of Niggers." I will not describe how offensively terrible this is except to say that Lovecraft explicitly characterizes black people as subhuman. He also joyously followed the activities of the KKK in the 1920's, and had a strong admiration for Adolf Hitler, including his eugenics programs, in the 1930's.

What I take from Lovecraft's personal history is a much better appreciation for his narrative techniques. I also may have the answer to the questions many readers have expressed as to why his narrators were compelled to describe in hideous detail the indescribable monsters in his stories. How can the reader better understand the motives here?

I think the answer is that all his monsters can all be clearly understood as a compilation of his embodied fears: these include his horror about miscegenation, his hatred of hybrid cultures, his sense of a perceived threat to his illusory status as a Victorian gentleman posed by workers and immigrants, and finally what he saw as the "downfall" of European society. He also read Oswald Spengler, famous for "The Decline of the West." In short, he recognized and welcomed his phobias and obsessions, and used them to express those fears in his many writings.

Another element in explaining Lovecraft is to understand the huge historical impact that World War I had upon literature and the arts. The unbelievably horrible conditions in which that war was waged, with trench fighting, mustard gas exposures, and the non-stop din of explosions day in and day out, created a new sense of reality for the soldiers, where they or their friends might escape one day, and for no reason be killed the next. Existence for them was strictly willy-nilly. I think that is the reason for Lovecraft's obsession with those fears. He even wrote a short essay about fear being our deepest and strongest emotion. He once wrote "All my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large." He believed that wonder and dread were the proper state to appreciate an indifferent universe in which humans are at most inquisitive grubs, powerless next to the pantheon of his monstrous deities like Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, and others.

Finally, I think I see a plausible reason for his narrator's use of descriptions for these monsters by reference to gorillas, octopuses, fungi, insects, starfish, barrels, beetles, and rotting cadavers in multiple combinations. All his monsters are absolutely unique, and no other combination of descriptions can otherwise work to describe them. And the core science in his narration of this horror-fest is biology, with all the meticulously reported anatomy lessons you would expect, all to give us a clear itemization of these impossible monsters. The narrator here is a scientist with no choice but to provide hideous detail to his report to the reader, whether it makes sense or is rational or not.

All in all, a very good read. It is a good introduction to the weird, and the frightening, and the terrifying, and the horrendous.


message 19: by Jon (last edited Dec 14, 2016 09:01PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Here are some comments for To Kill a Mockingbird for my Catch Up Challenge:

This is such a heavily reviewed book that I do not intend to go to any depths of analysis. For now, I will focus on merely the Southern small-town Depression-era environment captured by Harper Lee, and on the journey the children take in following Atticus' advice never to judge someone until you have walked in his shoes.

As Atticus himself explains to Scout after her first challenging day at school, the farmers are dirt poor (having to deal with entailment and mortgages), and so are the professionals like Atticus because the small town culture is such a co-dependent society. So the fact that the Cunninghams cannot pay their lawyers' or doctors' fees is the norm, and they take pride in payment in kind (or trade, if you prefer). Worthless people like the Ewells have a place as well, and it is appropriate that they live right next to the dump in order to salvage what little they can use. These themes of co-dependency are evident upon every page, and they matter to the identity of the town.

Given that background/environment, it is little wonder that a black man subjected to "white man's justice" will never get a fair trial. The town's identity cannot contemplate such a thing. Just read through the parlay of what is fair and not fair within the women's ministry groups to get a proper feel for the supposed "audacity" of any black man who dares to walk by the Ewells' house on the only way home to the Negro section of town. In many ways, this parlay reminds me distinctly of exactly the same thing today when black protesters rally against what they perceive as police brutality.

So if there is one thing from this book that gives us a call to look at our current situation, I think it is that "black man's justice" can never be as good as "white man's justice." It has a kind of tribal feeling to it. And I suspect that inherent social acts of racism stem directly from what we perceive to be tribal loyalties. Whites can never understand what black men endure, simply because they only know the rules that bind together their own families and friends. And the converse is also true of course, for black men and women.

There is nothing new in this book from what we already know about the world from Faulkner and other great southern writers. But it captures that small-town environment brilliantly, and speaks to many people through the constantly questioning eyes of Scout, Jem, and Dill.


message 20: by Jon (last edited Dec 14, 2016 09:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Candide is also part of my catch up challenge. My comments start from my conviction as a religious non-believer, so this story by Voltaire (a dedicated deist with major issues about the pollution of government by religion) is right in my wheelhouse. His primary target seems to be what I will call Leibnizian optimism, which states in effect that all is for the best because this is the best of all possible worlds and further that God is a benevolent deity which would not bother with creating any other kind of world. A secondary premise is that in such a world the calamities and disasters Voltaire describes in the story should not occur. But there is also a more philosophical point that Voltaire seems to address, namely the nonstop theological problem of the existence of evil, as well as the metaphysical problem of cause and effect.

I understand the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami and the bloody Seven Years War both likely prompted Voltaire to write this story, all to express his complete outrage at the incompetence of the current mores and political structures and religious ideologies of his day to account for and redress those hideous calamities.

This was a major work from the heart of the Age of Enlightenment, when many sweeping advances in philosophy (such as the monadology of Leibniz), politics (with the founding fathers with the Constitution), science, etc. But it is not an artifact of just its time, because it posits the same ethical quandary that any theory of a beneficent, all-knowing God puts all of us into when we try to account for the horrible consequences of disasters we do not cause. This question is just as relevant today as it was after the Lisbon earthquake and tsunami. And we get the same nonsense now as before, such as Pat Robertson's comment that the Haiti earthquake occurred because the leaders of the old slave revolt made some kind of deal with the devil in the 1800's. Later on Robertson changed that bizarre explanation to say it was our adoption of gay marriage that caused God to wreak this damage to Haiti. Of course. That makes as much sense as Pangloss' explanation in Chapter 1 that noses were created by God to support spectacles. I am sure Voltaire chuckled when he conceived that bizarre explanation.

This is a picaresque story, with an intentionally choppy plot line that carries Candide from Germany to Lisbon to the Americas (including the mythical El Dorado) to England and France and finally to Constantinople. I think he intended to address his basic premise of the problem of evil around the world. But I think he started from a well established literary tradition that included Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and it is possible that Gulliver's Travels was a basic premise from which Voltaire wrote his story. It is also a perfect vehicle to expose Voltaire's inquiry into evil and skeptical reasoning by using Candide's credulous naivete to ask those questions.

Don't forget that this story was widely banned after its secretive publication due to the perception of its religious blasphemy, political sedition, and intellectual hostility to many types of political and religious governance.

I will mention a couple of scenes that caught my attention and that I enjoyed. First in Chapter 12, the old woman, badly abused, raped and beaten over the years by many people, says "A hundred times I wanted to kill myself but always I loved life more. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our worst instincts; is anything more stupid than choosing....to fondle the serpent which devours us till it has eaten out our heart?" That is a key question: why don't more unfortunate people kill themselves? Given the brutal world presented in this story, that question is quite rational. The easiest but insufficient answer is that the Christian and other religions forbid suicide and that those who do so will be consigned to spend eternity in Hell. But the woman never considers this, since her existence as an illegitimate child of a Pope makes it moot. But it seems to me that her endurance and need to embrace what little good there is must fortify her. In short, God does not matter, I think.

In Chapter 20 comes the sinking of the ship with the captain that stole the El Dorado riches from Candide. "You see," said Candide to Martin, "crime is punished sometimes; this scoundrel of a Dutch merchant has met the fate he deserved. "Yes," said Martin, "but did the passengers aboard the ship have to perish, too?....God punished the scoundrel, the devil drowned the others." Candide tries to find support for Pangloss' optimistic faith and sees that justice is served by disasters like shipwrecks and thus these disasters somehow serve a higher purpose. Martin's pessimistic philosophy leads him to posit that there is no just reason for those other deaths and that the shipwreck is a product of both God's justice and the devil's cruelty. It is a very subversive idea because it suggests that God and the devil cooperate in determining human affairs.

Of course, our current religious orthodoxy is that actions of good will, acted by choice, will give us the grace to survive bad consequences. This is a variation of original sin, because we are somehow doomed to make bad choices in our fallen state. But I, for one, do not see a cause and effect in such events any more than Voltaire did.

If optimism is a ridiculous philosophy, what does Voltaire recommend? The ending seems to leave the question unanswered. Does the group's seclusion at the end mean they lose all hope for the rest of the human race? Or maybe Voltaire advocates a bettering philosophy that commits them to improving the world through a kind of metaphorical gardening. That is unclear to me, but I tend to think that Voltaire would have been happier if religious dogma no longer infested political decisions, and that would make "cultivating our garden" a much more satisfactory activity.


message 21: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Common Sense is also part of my Catch Up Challenge, and it was a great and very stirring read. I recommend it to anyone who needs to know the deep divisions that kept the colonists' open revolt in abeyance for as long as it did.

This is a brilliant political call to arms at a very tenuous time in the colonies' march to the Revolutionary War. These are my comments.

1. Timing is everything. For context, remember that it was published anonymously as a pamphlet early in 1776, after Concord and Lexington and before the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Furthermore, it was timed to come out at the time that the "King's Speech" was issued as to the crown's policy toward the colonies. The King's Speech inspired both a need to find some kind of rapprochement with an increasingly remote monarchy and also patriotic outrage against the Crown. So it was aimed to solicit support for the revolution in response to the non-stop strong arming of the colonies in both the Crown's action and its disregard for the interests of colonial residents, business owners, merchants, and tradespeople. Common Sense was a forceful argument to declare independence once and for all, and that any delay was equivalent to submitting to permanent oppression.

2. Forceful scriptural and religious analogies abound in Common Sense, all to solicit a profound sense of fair play and equal treatment under the law. Here are just a few: A. government of any kind is an acknowledgment that "moral virtue" by itself is insufficient to govern the world, and that for good reason government has the design and end of securing both freedom and security; B. monarchy is "ranked in scripture as one of the sins of the Jews" and "For monarchy in every instance is the Popery of government". This clearly reflects Paine's education in the Church of England, which was King Henry XVIII's device to violate the Catholic prohibition against divorce. C. his argument against hereditary succession is scriptural: "For as in Adam all sinned, and as in the first electors all men obeyed; as in the one all mankind is subjected to Satan, and in the other to Sovereignty; as our innocence was lost in the first and our authority in the last; and as both disable us from re-assuming some former state and privilege, it unanswerably follows that original sin and hereditary succession are parallels." D. "...of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived."

3. His ideas about the formation of the Continental government-to-be are remarkably close to the structure of the government that eventually emerged. A. an initial Congress of at least 30 delegates from each colony, totaling 390 or more to elect the first President by the delegates of a colony selected by lot; B. In subsequent years, another colony is to be selected by lot (excluding the colony or colonies that were first picked by lot), until a delegate from each colony had been elected President, over the course of 13 terms of office; C. a 60% cloture vote was needed on all votes, to be "satisfactorily just". D. a Continental Conference was to be set solely to adopt a Continental Charter (or what would become the Constitution). The Conference would have a slightly broader popular vote capacity than the original Congress because it would include delegates approved by popular vote from each colony, meaning there was no popular vote directly upon the Charter,
but only a delegate approval. All of these various ideas took form in one way or another over time to form the current organization of the Senate, the House, and the Presidency. The biggest difference, of course, is his idea of the selection of the President by delegates rather than by direct popular vote.

4. Many tremendous exhortations for freedom abound. My two favorites are these: A. "O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her--Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! Receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind."
B. "When William the Conqueror subdued England, he gave them law at the point of a sword; and until we consent that the seat of government, in America, be legally and authoritatively occupied, we shall be in danger of having it filled by some fortunate ruffian who may treat us in the same manner, and then, , where will be our freedom? where our property? As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government, to protect our conscientious professors thereof, and I now of no other business which government hath to do therewith."


message 22: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments The Taming of the Shrew is also part of my Catch Up Challenge. Apologies for the somewhat lengthy review, but my mind was busy with all the role-playing and gender politics in it. A very fun read, once you get past the brutal life that women were forced to live in Elizabethan times.

I am amazed at the number of readers who despair at this play, by looking from today's seeming gender equality back to the misogyny of Elizabethan times. First, gender equality is still a pipe dream until women corporate executives have the numbers to be equivalent to men. More importantly, I think Shakespeare has written as sophisticated a play here as any of his tragedies. I also think the two sisters do quite well for themselves by the end, and are hardly the down-trodden women that so many current female readers see.

This play is all about role-playing and how gender and cultural roles are used to demean others for personal gain. I say this because you only need to look at those characters who are one-dimensional and those who learn and recognize the role boundaries, and how to navigate around them.

Petruchio is a clearly one-dimensional character, as is Baptista. Petruchio is good at manipulating both the men and the women for an advantage. He has a clear cut goal and he attains it, by playing mind games upon everyone who may be either a rival or a "shrew" with a dowry worth his efforts. He is a clear type of Donald Trump personality, who sees that his only role is to be No. 1 and that anything less is a failure.

But Baptista is eager to parlay his daughters into a game he will enjoy, while never recognizing who they are as persons. He is pleased to let Bianca's suitors pursue Kate, because he thinks of Kate as a "stale" or whore to be manipulated for his gain. Baptista is fooled easily by appearances, and he never figures out the transformations occurring in them. He is happy just to play the wagers in Act V, relating to the fate of his daughters, because marriage is simply a money game to him.

I may be wrong, but I think that Kate's so-called "transformation" in Act IV, Scene 5 is when Petruchio and Kate "transform" an old man into a "blushing virgin". This is a variation of what happens in the Induction with Sly, the poor tinker. I think she learns that she can play a different role from the only one she knew (dealing with her own father), and can manipulate people to her own purposes. She learns this, of course, from Petruchio, the master manipulator. And she realizes, I think, that she is being tamed by him, too.

Why do I think Kate has matured into a capable woman who can learn to manipulate others? Look at the end of Act V, with Kate's longest speech in which she praises Petruchio, plays obedient wife, and puts her hands under his feet in abject submission. Does this speech not smack of being "over the top" or just too submissive? It does to me. Furthermore, Petruchio's declaration at the end is likewise a bit over the top, as though he is beginning to think he has found someone who is his match, but does not dare to think that out loud.

Of course, Elizabethan customs were horrible for women. Once they were married off, they lost all rights to property, to ownership of anything, and to legal status of any sort equal to men. They were very much commodities used for trading of wealth for land and other acquisitions. Petruchio's declaration in Act III, Scene 2 is a perfect statement of that status: "She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house, my household stuff, my field, my barn, my horse, my ox, my ass, my anything...."

This comedy ends as all comedies end, with the appropriate partners going to bed after a rousing bit of role-playing, wagering, bragging, and mind games. I think it is a very deep play for the way Shakespeare projects the characters as just play actors in part of a pageant that gives the audience a way to escape the brutality of Elizabethan customs. I enjoyed it immensely.

I also hope more modern women can appreciate the role- swapping that occurs in the play, and they may realize that Shakespeare created much more sophisticated parts for the sisters as complex women. They both seem very fully empowered women by the end.


message 23: by Jon (last edited Dec 14, 2016 09:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Just A Clockwork Orange, The Cask, and For Whom the Bell Tolls left to read this month. Not sure I can do it.


message 24: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments As before, this is part of my 2016 Catch Up Challenge. I already knew what a great writer Hemingway was, from The Old Man and the Sea and The Nick Adams Stories. But as I read this, I realized I had read only 6 books on war: Red Badge of Courage, The Killer Angels, Slaughterhouse Five, All Quiet on the Western Front, Catch-22, and this book.

For overall impact, I must rate The Killer Angels at the top of my list. And while FWTBT is not as strong, it has some superb features shared by all of them: immediacy of action, the utter dullness and terror of inaction, communal if not tribal instincts of survival, and a near lyrical courage to deal with all of these conflicting emotions.

I think Pilar's strength is as graphic a statement of survival as any other I have seen. She knows everything from the "smell of death" (Chapter 19) to how many times one is granted the power to "feel the earth move" (Chapter 13) to what it takes to warn all of them about Pablo's brutal treachery to the horrible butchery of civil wars when people kill their own neighbors (I am thinking of the deaths of the fascists in her town, all at the hands of Pablo).

There is also tremendous lyrical language that Hemingway uses, mainly to describe how fleeting is the time we have to accomplish anything. For example, there is poetry just in the way Robert thinks about the approach of his bridge explosion mission as he lies next to Maria (Chapter 37): "....he watched time passing on his wrist. It went slowly, almost imperceptibly, for it was a small watch and he could not see the second hand. But as he watched the minute hand he found he could almost check its motion with his concentration......This that they were not to have they were having. They were having now and before and always and now and now and now. Oh now, now, now, the only now and above all now and there is no other now but thou now and now is thy prophet. Now and forever now....." I find that passage to be a beautiful blending of the formal language of the Catalan region of northeastern Spain. Of course, Hemingway anglicizes Catalan into a kind of Elizabethan dialect used by Shakespeare, and that device works well to produce the sonority you hear in that passage.

This passage reminds me that I will need to look into Hemingway's poetry.


message 25: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Down to The Cask now, so it is looking good to finish my target of 10 this year. Not 11, though.


message 26: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments This is part of my 2016 Catch Up Challenge. And just under the wire, too, before the end of 2016. I see several dominant themes from this short story, and those themes are heightened by the brevity of the story.

First, the symbolism is very impressive. For example, the coat of arms and motto that Montresor shows to Fortunato is quite complex, at least to me. It is a complete hoax, because the motto he gives him ("Nemo me impune lacessit" meaning "no one attacks me with impunity") is the motto of the coat of arms from Scotland, and also the first battalion, 24th Marines in the US Marine Corps ! Now, I do not read much significance into that particular choice, because Poe was adopted by a Scottish merchant when Poe's parents died early in his life. Nevertheless, it makes it clear that Montresor is a liar because that coat of arms is fabricated, or at least "borrowed" from other sources. But consider also that the color "azure" means sky blue, and is an obvious symbol of freedom, which is far from the poisonous prison-like conditions of the catacombs. However, it may also mean the color of the blue poppies used to produce laudanum, a drug to which Poe was addicted for much of his life. Maybe the image of the blue field is ironic, since addiction is often just one other kind of confinement.

And the entire story is a gruesome allegory for addiction. Fortunato seems quite addicted to his wine fetish, and the enticement of amontillado gives Montresor an easy bait to put him in a permanent cell of his own choosing. What seems to be a beautiful opening to new tastes is also an oppressive choice to be fettered forever. For what this is worth, his death will be quick, once he uses up the oxygen in that confined space and breathes only his own carbon dioxide.

Second, the use of irony is intense. The ultimate irony, at least to me, is that Montresor thinks he can only enjoy his own life by taking Fortunato's. Nothing less will do. Do we know if he has really enjoyed his life afterward? Not really. We know only that he has lived 50 years beyond that point and only then chosen to declare what he has done. So he has lived 50 years with this knowledge. I would only ask what kind of freedom is that, to live so long to think about it, knowing he must keep it a secret against any number of possible occurrences. More on this later.

Third, the ending is confusing to me. Monresor says simply: "For the half of a century, no mortal has disturbed them." Meaning the bones he piled up outside Fortunato's crypt have not been disturbed by anyone. But this statement clearly suggests other agencies are capable of moving them: seepage, settling (due to being below the river level), earthquake, flood, or something else. Maybe ghosts too? If so, then maybe Montresor is only now confessing for some reason. Has the inexorable pattern of retribution now been flipped back upon him? We do not know. But the revenge has to be permanent, as Montresor himself states in the opening lines, to make things right.

Finally, my favorite passage is the words exchanged by them once Fortunato realizes the full impact of what Montresor's plan is. "For the love of God, Montresor!" "Yes," I said, "for the love of God." It is as though Montresor is not afraid of God, or even worse, he thinks he is somehow an instrument to carry out God's vengeance. One of the most chilling exchanges I know of in all literature.


message 27: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Well, I got my 10 books done. Barely! I could not quite squeeze in Clockwork.


Marta (gezemice) | 214 comments Congratulations, you have done it! Amazing! You also wrote long reviews which I might read one day, lol. Great accomplishment!


message 29: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Marta wrote: "Congratulations, you have done it! Amazing! You also wrote long reviews which I might read one day, lol. Great accomplishment!"

Yeah, I get that a lot. In my own defense, I grew up in a family loaded with teachers/professors. So I come by that wordiness honestly. And half the time (or more), the great books give me so much to digest that I sometimes feel the need to work out my assorted confusions in writing.

And no, it does not always work. By far, the most confusing one for me was Hamlet. And then Candide had me going mentally for awhile too.

I will wager you had one or two confusions too, from your own reading list.


message 30: by Michelle (new)

Michelle (mich2689) | 225 comments Congratulations!

I wish I could write long reviews like you. I have difficulty putting my jumbled up thoughts into writing.


message 31: by Jon (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jon | 397 comments Michelle wrote: "Congratulations!

I wish I could write long reviews like you. I have difficulty putting my jumbled up thoughts into writing."


I have a B.A. in English literature, so that background gives me some fire power in thinking how well a story is written.

But that does not equip me to answer some basic questions. Is it a good story? Does it tell us something we can relate to? Do we care what happens to the hero/heroine? Those questions raise the same concerns we all have as readers. So your input is critical in important questions like that.


back to top