Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weekly Geek 2009-24: Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Though I'm really not very good at it, I love trivia. Put books and trivia together and you've got a perfect match. So I thought it would be a fun Weekly Geek activity for us to come up with some book trivia questions to ask each other.

So take a moment, don't stress about it all, and write down five to ten questions that pop into your mind. You could center all your questions around a particular theme or genre, maybe something in which you specialize. Or ask questions about one certain book. Or teach us about your favorite author through your questions.

You could do really easy ones that you know we'll all get or really hard ones that will challenge even the best of us.
Once you post your questions and add your link here, be sure to go around and answer the questions posted by everyone else. Remember, no fair Googling! At the end of the week, don't forget to do another post with the answers to your questions.

Okay, so let's play a little game of "Whose Line Is It Anyway". I'm going to give you a quote, and your job is to give me the name of the character who uttered it as well as the book that it came from. They are all classics (naturally), but they come from children's books as well as from adult books. Here they are:

  1. "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."
  2. "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
  3. "And you must always remember there's one good thing about being trapped down here: it'll save on funeral expenses."
  4. 'Terrible place--dangerous work--other day--five children--mother--tall lady, eating sandwiches--forgot the arch--crash--knock--children look round--mother's head off--sandwich in her hand--no mouth to put it in--head of a family off--shocking, shocking!"
  5. "Oh, yes, yes, in there...I'd have said anything in there. You're so eloquent, dear Badger, and so moving, and so convincing, and put all your points so frightfully well-you can do what you like with me in there, and you know it. But I've been searching my mind since, and going over things in it, and I find that I'm not a bit sorry or repentant really, so it's no earthly good saying I am; now, is it?"
  6. "I can't get over my disappointment in not being a boy; and it's worse than ever now, for I'm dying to go and fight with Papa, and I can only stay home and knit, like a poky old woman!"
  7. "Young people...if your studying science and the elements has ever led you to feel that things just happen, kind of evolve by chance, as it were, this sight will be good for you. Maybe earth and air accumulate, but it takes the wisdom of the Almighty God to devise the wing of a moth."
  8. "There-there, in the very middle,and I will punish him and escape from everyone and from myself."
  9. "Good night, Mister Sherlock Holmes."
  10. "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!-I have as much soul as you-and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is for me to leave you."
So here is how it works: leave me a comment with your answers; these comments will be moderated, but I will update the post showing you how many you got correct. Complete answers will be posted on Friday. Good luck!

Maree: 3 correct out of 3 attempts
Suey: 4 correct out of 4 attempts
Jodie: 4 correct out of 6 attempts
Rikki: 3 correct out of 3 attempts
Lahni: 2 correct out of 2 attempts
Jason Gignac: 4 correct out of 5 attempts

Friday, June 26, 2009

Happy Birthday To:

Pearl S. Buck
June 26, 1892

There was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods . . . Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house, some time, return into the earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together—together—producing the fruit of this earth.

-from The Good Earth

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Claudius the God

The hairy fifth to enslave the State,
To enslave the State, though against his will,
Shall be that idiot whom all despised.
He shall have hair in a generous mop.
He shall give Rome water and winter bread
And die at the hand of his wife, no wife,
To the gain of his son, no son.

In is his 1935 sequel to I, Claudius, Robert Graves continues to explore the life of the Roman Emperor, Claudius. Points of view are changed, old stories are rehashed, and characters we thought we knew are corrupted by circumstances.

The Plot:

Claudius the God begins where I, Claudius ends. The "idiot" Claudius is now ruler of the mightiest empire on the planet, and he soon begins to bring about the reforms that he feels Rome so desperately needs. The first part of the novel also gives us the backstory of Herod Agrippa, a fascinating character who will play a significant role throughout the story.

As the years pass, Claudius is forced to make decision after decision and often relies on the advice of his many advisers, especially his young wife, Messalina. Only when it is too late, does Claudius realize the truth behind Herod Agrippa's warning to "Trust no one."

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Like most people, I did not find Claudius the God to be quite as good as I, Claudius, though it is still a very good sequel. Graves' wonderful writing style does not diminish and Rome is as intriguing a place as ever. I especially enjoyed the story of Herod Agrippa as well as the different takes on early Christianity. Christians will recognize Agrippa as the Herod found in Acts who beheads James and imprisons Peter. The overall tone of the story, however, has changed for a couple of reasons.

First, it is that there is a lot less happening in the sequel (that we see). We are only really focusing on Claudius' 13 year reign, so we tend to see a lot more in the way of war, reforms in the legal sphere, and public works than we do of behind the scenes political wrangling and backstabbing. This made the novel seem rather long at times.

The other thing that changed the tone of the story was the change in point of view. We still see things from Claudius' point of view, but his point of view has changed. We used to see things from the eyes of an outsider looking in on the goings-on of the Imperial Palace. We laughed at the cluelessness of Augustus, shook our heads at the ambitiousness of Livia, and shuttered at the insanity of Caligula. Now we are seeing things from the eyes of an emperor with unlimited power. Graves gives a sympathetic skew to Claudius, who struggles to come to terms with his new found power. He always feels that he his doing his best and what any reasonable man in his position would do. This can be rather hard for us, as the readers, to swallow. There are many times when you want to yell "Open up your eyes! You're being used." and the ending leaves us with a rather cold feeling of defeat. But though it is painful to watch the downfall of a hero we loved, it really opens our eyes to what Graves' message is: that anyone, no matter how intelligent, moral, and kind, is likely to corrupt when given unlimited power.

Like I, Claudius, this is not a book that everyone will enjoy. Many of the same "moral" issues are present, though again, they are not given any unnecessary details. It is, however, a fitting sequel, and one that anyone who reads the original must read. The story must be continued, if only to complete the lessons that Robert Graves was trying to teach: namely the corrupting influence that unlimited power has over mankind.

The Movie:

The 1976 BBC mini-series I, Claudius combines both of Graves' novels into one telling.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Weekly Geek 2009-22: Cathcing Up Part 2

First off, I'd like to thank everyone who stopped by to participate in this week's Weekly Geek. These are some great questions and I look forward to answering them. I decided to answer the questions in a single post rather than in separate reviews, mainly because I don't have the time right now to squeeze in that many reviews. Anyway, here are the questions with my answers:

Pussreboots asked: Have you read "The Woman in White"? If so, how does it compare to "Moonstone"? What's your general impression of the book and do you think you'll read more of the author's books?

I have yet to read The Woman in White, but most of the reviews that I have read have said that it is good, but that it tends to unwind at the end. If that is indeed the case, then I would say that The Moonstone is a much tighter story that keeps a good pace. I enjoyed the story overall with its various characters and its early detective story elements. Wilkie Collins tends to be overshadowed by Dickens, but I think that he deserves to be read and taught more than he is. The Woman in White is definitely in my TBR pile.

Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness asked: What did you think of all the food descriptions in Redwall? Did they get tedious, or did you enjoy them? Are you planning to read the next book in the series?

The food descriptions remind me of the poems and songs in The Lord of the Rings. Though they can be tedious at times, I think that they add to the overall richness of the story. To me, the descriptions of the food and feasts really added to the warm and homey atmosphere of Redwall Abbey. I have read other stories in the series, but the original Redwall is still the best IMO (with its prequel Mossflower running a close second). I usually recommend these tales to any young teen reader that I meet.

Jodie asked: How much did you notice the Christian warrior theme in Redwall while you were reading it? Did you think Cluny was a dastardly enough villain? I think Jacques animal characters always fall into traditional stereotypes (carnivores and rats evil, mice and hares good etc) do you think his books would work as well if they reversed this idea would work as well?

As a Christian, the "Christian Warrior" feeling of Redwall was pretty apparent, but I'm not sure that that was what Jacques intended. As in Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, any symbolism will probably be lost on most non-Christian readers. I did find Cluny to be a pretty evil villain (though perhaps a little one-dimensional). From the minute he appears on the page, it is known that he will threaten the peace of Redwall Abbey.

As for the stereotypes, there are two ways of looking at it. One is that Jacques is being stereotypical and telling his readers that evil only comes in certain forms. Or you can look at it in the sense that unlike humans, animals have natural enemies. All weasels and rats are the enemies of all mice and rabbits. They are also the enemies of humans in some cases (most people would rather see a mouse than a rat). If you look at it this way, Jacques could be teaching his readers to simply recognize evil. This seemingly stereotypical element is also a part of the British literary tradition (see The Wind in the Willows and Chronicles of Narnia).

Jodie also asked: Do you agree with Atticus Finch’s optimism that progress is being made in the south because it takes the jury such a long time to convict Tom? Did you feel any negative reaction towards the book’s portrayal of black characters?

In some ways, I do agree with Atticus. As a lifelong southerner, I have seen the strong prejudices of the region (though this has mellowed considerably since the time of TKAM), and I believe that even a second spent in seeing someone not as black or white, male or female, but simply as a person, is a step in the right direction. Neither did I feel any negative portrayal of black people in the novel. We have examples of blacks who respect people regardless of color (Calpurnia and Tom Robinson) and blacks who also have a hard time seeing beyond color (the lady at Calpurnia's church). Lee seems to treat her black characters the same as she does her white characters.

Sherrie asked: I have wanted to read Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, but have put it off for years. Is this book hard to read and hold your attention?

It isn't easy for me to say whether or not a book is hard to read or will hold your attention. Every reader is different and just because I enjoy a book doesn't mean that you will. I will say, however, that Madame Bovary was an enjoyable read for me. It isn't a horribly long novel (300-400 pages), and the characters, though not always likable, are very human. Most people will identify at least a piece of themselves in the tragic Emma Bovary. I think that you should at least give it a shot.

Trisha asked: What is most memorable to you about Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone? If you were to teach this book, what activities would you do?

One of the things that I liked about The Moonstone was Collins' use of "multi-narration". It was great to see the story from so many different points of view with each narrator giving it their own distinctive touch. Those written by Gabriel Betteredge are especially good. I also enjoyed the pathetic side story of Rosanna. Her tragic end was so touching.

As far as teaching the story, I'm not sure exactly what activities I would do, but they would definitely involve learning more about the Hindu beliefs, especially those centering around sacred jewels. It also calls for look at Britain's treatment of the native Indians as well as the use of drugs in Victorian England.

Eva asked: Have you read Anna Karenina? If so, do you think the comparisons between it and Madame Bovary are justified?

I have read Anna Karenina and it is also a great book. I found there to be many similarities between the two novels from the strong females looking for love and identity outside of their seemingly mundane lives to their lovers who, though initially mesmerized by the women, soon find them distasteful and empty. If their is one major difference between the two, it is that Tolstoy lends a more spiritual quality to Anna Karenina than Flaubert does to Madame Bovary. This gives Anna Karenina a bit more balance than the stark realism of Madame Bovary.

Again, thank you to everyone who left questions. If you have more questions related to my answers, please feel free to leave me comment. Great topic Weekly Geeks!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Now That's My Kind of Vacation

Everybody's got their idea of what a dream vacation is. For some, it means getting out and experiencing something new; for others it means hiding away from the world in the middle of nowhere. For the owners of the Sylvia Beach Hotel, it means losing oneself in a book or two. Located on the Oregon coast, this hotel is the dream hotel of booklovers. There are no t.v.'s, no radios, and no phones. Just lots and lots of books.

Their 20 guest rooms are dedicated to different authors, including Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Dr. Seuss, Jane Austen, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Robert Louis Stevenson. There is also a common library and game room overlooking the sea. Breakfast and dinners are served in the Table of Contents restaurant, and mulled wine is served in the library every evening.

Probably not the fanciest place, but certainly the place to leave it all behind and enjoy the Pacific, a cup of tea, and a great book. It makes me sleepy just thinking about it. Boy, could I use that right about now.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-22: Catching Up

This week, I'm going back to a classic Dewey topic--#12 to be exact. I chose this for several reasons--one, it's one of my favorite weekly geeks topics--but more importantly I saw it would work well with two very important bloggy events going on this week.

1. In your blog, list any books you’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet. If you’re all caught up on reviews, maybe you could try this with whatever book(s) you hope to finish this week. (Be sure to leave a link to this post either in the comments of this post, or in the Mister Linky below.)

2. Ask your readers to ask you questions about any of the books they want. In your comments, not in their blogs. (Most likely, people who will ask you questions will be people who have read one of the books or know something about it because they want to read it.)

3. Later, take whichever questions you like from your comments and use them in a post about each book. Link to each blogger next to that blogger’s question(s).

4. Visit other Weekly Geeks and ask them some questions!

It's rather amazing, but I'm not really too far behind in my reviewing. There are only two books that I have read recently that I have yet to review:

Claudius the God by Robert Graves
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

There are, however, quite a few books from my pre-blogging days that I have yet to review. Here are some of my favorites:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
Redwall by Brian Jacques
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

So go ahead and ask me any questions you might have on any of these books (or even past reviews). I'll answer them later this week.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I, Claudius

Ten years, fifty days and three,
Clau--Clau--Clau--shall given be
A gift that all desire but he.

To a fawning fellowship
He shall stammer, cluck and trip,
Dribbling always with his lip.

But when he's dumb and no more here,
Nineteen hundred years or near,
Clau--clau--Claudius shall speak clear.

In 1934, British author Robert Graves published a novel that would soon be regarded as a pioneering masterpiece of historical fiction. Today, I, Claudius is Graves' most enduring work, and has a spot on the TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 list. It is the story of Imperial Rome as seen through the eyes of an idiot, who is perhaps more clear-sighted than anyone else around him.

The Plot:

The novel is written as if it were the long lost memoir of Claudius, Roman Emperor from AD 41-AD 54. Because of his severe disabilities (a stammer, a limp, nervous tics, etc.), Claudius is considered to be an idiot and is therefore regulated to the background by his family.

Through Claudius, we have a front row seat to the behind-the-scenes antics of the Julio-Claudian family. From the evil Livia, to the mis-guided Augustus, to the crazy Caligula, many characters dance in and out of the spotlight drawing our sympathy, our laughter, and our hatred. Through it all, Claudius remains the voice of sanity in this insane world. As everyone else fails in remaining on the winning side, Claudius walks that tightrope deftly and keeps his head: literally.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

I was captivated by this novel pretty much from the beginning. I love stories of political intrigue and that is exactly what this novel is chock full of. Someone who is enjoying immense power at the beginning of a paragraph might be dead by the end of it. It certainly keeps the reader on his toes, wondering just who the next person to fall might be. And no one is immune to this fate. Even Livia, who is basically ruling Rome from behind the scenes, finds that at the end of her life, the one thing that she really desires is the one thing that she does not have the power to do.

The novel touches on many subjects overall, but the most prominent one is the clash between the old Republic and the new Empire. Throughout the story, some characters like Augustus, Drusus (Claudius' father), and Claudius all desire to see a return to the Republic; while others, such as Livia, prefer the stability of the Empire. Graves seems to be asking the question of how to balance the freedom of a Republic with the stability of an Empire, or if that is even possible.

The real heart and soul of the story is Claudius himself. From birth he has been hated, ridiculed, and despised by almost everyone in his life, yet he never shows them any hatred. He is happier tucked away in his villa with his writing than living before the eyes of the world in the palace. It is clear that his mind is sound, even if his body is not, and he overflows with interesting and promising ideas. His love for the Republic and his desire to see it restored are wonderful qualities as well. All in all, he is the kind of underdog that everyone loves to cheer for.

As much as I liked the novel, I must admit that it will not be to everyone's taste. There is very little in the way of traditional romance and adventure and Imperial Rome was not the most, uh, moral place to be. There is murder, violence, and sex sprinkled throughout the story. I will say, however, that the situations are given with historian matter-of-factness and only when the plot or characterization requires it. None of that is really dwelt upon. Also, it can be very hard to keep up with the many characters and how they are related to the story. Have a Julio-Claudian family tree handy!

Though it may not be for everyone, I really enjoyed this novel. It has many great moments, my personal favorite being when Caligula literally scares his father, Germanicus, to death. Chilling! It was a great change from what I normally read, and introduced me to a world that I haven't ever really studied.

The Movie:

So far, there has only been one adaptation of this novel. However, that adaptation is just as famous (if not more so) as the original. The 1976 BBC production of I, Claudius is considered to be one of the greatest BBC productions ever. It was ranked #3 in the Masterpiece Theatre "The Best of Masterpiece" list of viewers' favorite productions. I have seen various episodes of it and it is pretty good, though the sets often seem much more British than Roman. It stars many great British actors including Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, and Patrick Stewart (with hair!). The biggest problem is that some of the "improper" things that are hinted at in the novel are shown on camera.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

-from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Returning to Cranford

The BBC press office has finally announced the details of the upcoming Cranford Christmas special. Judi Dench will be reprising her role as the lovable Matty Jenkins and filming begins this month.

Kate Harwood, BBC Controller of Series and Serials, and Cranford executive producer, says: "BBC One viewers are in for a treat with the return of Cranford this Christmas. Old favourites return as well as exciting new characters in a richly moving story that will once again delight, enthral and entertain our audience."

I absolutely adore the original series and I am looking forward to returning to Cranford. Here's hoping that the special makes it to PBS the same time it does in the UK!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Under the Greenwood Tree

Thomas Hardy is often considered to be the last of the great Victorian writers. His novels often depict rural life for England's working classes and the overwhelming role that fate plays in their lives. Under the Greenwood Tree is one of his earliest novels, first published in 1872, and though it is a simple story, it is nevertheless a sort of foreshadowing of the great novels yet to come.

The Plot:

The novel begins on Christmas Eve in the tiny village of Mellstock. The local quire (choir) is making their yearly rounds singing Christmas carols to the villagers. One of these is the new schoolteacher, Fancy Day. One of the singers, Dick Dewey, is immediately smitten by the young, pretty teacher and sets on a quest to win her heart.

But he is not alone in his pursuit. Local farmer Mr. Shiner and Parson Maybold are also interested in Fancy, and her father prefers both of them to Dick. On top of that, the Parson plans to do away with the quire's presence in the church in favor of a new organ. As Mellstock's way of life begins to change, Dick seeks a way to raise himself in the eyes of Mr. Day and to secure the woman of his dreams.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

On the whole, Under the Greenwood Tree is an easy, gentle story and I found it to be a nice introduction to the Hardy's world. It is not gut wrenching and depressing like most of his other works and it is the only one of his novels in which no one dies. Many people see it as a "happy and optimistic Hardy", but that is something that I question for two reasons.

First off Dick and Fancy's relationship, while ending in marriage, is far from perfect. Fancy can be rather shallow at times and her final deceit does not bode well for their future relationship. Also, Hardy compares Dick and Fancy with other married couples such as Mr. & Mrs. Dewey and Mr. & Mrs. Day, both of whom seem to tolerate each other rather than genuinely love each other. We can certainly hope for better things for Dick and Fancy, but Hardy seems to suggest that it may not be quite what Dick had envisioned.

Secondly, though the story seems to center on Dick and Fancy's relationship, it is the Mellstock Quire that provides the true backdrop for this novel. They are a West Gallery Quire which were popular from 1700-1850. They provided the music at churches all over England and often tended to sing in more of a folk style rather than the modern hymn style. Towards the middle of the 19th century, they began to be replaced by organs which were cheaper to maintain and gave the parsons more control over the music. The folk-style was lost and modern hymns began to appear. That is the bitter part of this novel, the fact that many traditions and ways of life must give way to "progress".

Though it may be more of a bitter-sweet story than a sunshine and roses romance, it is still a delightful little read. It has such wonderful moments like the way Fancy convinces her father to let her marry Dick, or Dick standing in the frosty December air staring at Fancy's window. All in all, it is a funny, touching and nostalgic look at pastoral life in 19th century England.

The Movie:

In 2005, the BBC produced a version of this story starring Keeley Hawes and James Murray. It keeps most of the plot of the novel while adding a bit more strength and depth to Fancy as well as focusing a bit more on the class aspect of the story. Like the novel, it is not a very deep story, but it is still a pretty, romantic, and fun film to watch.