Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-33: Book Collections

Last year, I saw a movie, I think it was called Definitely, Maybe, that got me to thinking. In this movie, one of the girls was on a quest to find a particular copy of Jane Eyre, I forget now the specific reason why. But in the process of her search, she ended up with this massive collection of Jane Eyre books, from all sorts of places and years and styles. She had a shelf that went all the way around her room, filled with these wonderful Jane Eyre books.

It made me wish I had a collection like hers, a collection of one particular title, in all it's various versions.

So, Weekly Geeksters, tell us, do you have a collection, (or are you starting a collection,) of one particular book title? If so, what's your story? Why that book, and how many do you have, and what editions are they? Share pictures and give us all the details.

Or perhaps you dream about starting such a collection. What title would it be and what would it take for you to get motivated to start collecting?

Or maybe it's the works of a particular author you collect (or want to collect) instead a certain book title

Alright, so the idea of having shelves full of different versions of Jane Eyre sounds like heaven on earth to me, but unfortunately, I don't think I have the room for that as of now. Maybe one day.

Right now, I don't collect one specific title, but I do collect old books. I'm actually a sucker for them. I love going into antique stores and searching through their stacks of old books in order to find those little gems. My library has also been a great resource for finding older books for sale. Here is a glimpse at my collection:

  • 1930s-1940s Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • 1939 Captain Horatio Hornblower Books 1-3 by C. S. Forester (Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line, and Flying Colours)
  • 1923 The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • 1910-1920s The Crossing by Winston Churchill
  • 1911 Our Mutual Friend parts 1 & 2 by Charles Dickens
  • 1902 Aeneid by Virgil
  • 1896 Complete Works of Alfred Tennyson by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • 1888 Life of Mahomet by Washington Irving
What makes these books so interesting is that you know that each one has it's own story. I especially love it when there is a name inscribed on the inside, because it gives you a sense of history. It's as if that previous owner has entrusted you with a much loved book, and expects you to love and care for it as they did. It is just another example of how classic literature can connect people through generations.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remember These?

Unfortunately, we still have to wait about 4 more months until a new season of Masterpiece Classic begins. To hold us until then, here is an episode of another wonderful show, Monsterpiece Theatre hosted by the immortal Alistair Cookie. With such classic adaptations as "Me, Claudius", "The 39 Stairs", and "The Old Man and the C", who wouldn't love to spend the rest of the year immersed in these great stories. Here is one of my personal favorites: "1 Flew Over Cuckoo's Nest"

Friday, August 21, 2009

Gone with the Wind

"We bow to the inevitable. We’re not wheat, we’re buckwheat! When a storm comes along it flattens ripe wheat because it’s dry and can’t bend with the wind. But ripe buckwheat’s got sap in it and it bends. And when the wind has passed, it springs up almost as straight and strong as before. We aren’t a stiff-necked tribe. We’re mighty limber when a hard wind’s blowing, because we know it pays to be limber. When trouble comes we bow to the inevitable without any mouthing, and we work and we smile and we bide our time. And we play along with lesser folks and we take what we can get from them. And when we’re strong enough, we kick the folks whose necks we’ve climbed over. That, my child, is the secret of the survival.”

Gone with the Wind
may be Margaret Mitchell's only novel, but it also one of the most popular of all time and even finds itself on TIME magazine's TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 list. It is a story of the American South, of the harsh aftermath of the Civil War, and of four people and how they react to the great change that rocks their world to its core.

The Plot:

It is April of 1861 and Scarlett O'Hara is the belle of her Georgia county. She is high-spirited, flirty, and extremely spoiled. Her current goal is to get nearby Southern gentleman Ashley Wilkes to marry her, and not his cousin Melanie Hamilton, whom Scarlett sees as a weakling. At a barbecue, Scarlett gets Ashley to confess a love for her, but he refuses to break off his engagement to Melanie. After their encounter, Scarlett meets Rhett Butler, a Charleston man who is no longer accepted in "good society", and who has overheard her conversation. She is furious and embarrassed, but he laughs the situation off. News then comes that war has been declared and many of the men enlist, including Ashley, who is now married to Melanie.

The rest of the story follows Scarlett through the heartbreak and terror of the war, the sickness and starvation of its immediate aftermath, and the brutality and horror of reconstruction. From the burning of Atlanta to Sherman's "March to the Sea", the Old South begins to crumble all around Scarlett, and she begins a desperate quest for survival, both for herself and for Tara, the plantation home she loves.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Gone with the Wind is one of those stories that you think you know a lot about, even if you haven't read it. I mean, if you've seen the movie, there's no need to read the book right? Wrong! While the movie is good, it lacks the depth of character that the book has. By reading the book, you are not just seeing what the characters do, but also why they do it. This can change your perception of many of the characters, and that is exactly what it did for me. If it is nothing else, Gone with the Wind is a tribute to the South, both old and new. All of the beauties and flaws of the region are displayed and personified and each of the four main characters represents different aspects of the South.

Scarlett is a mixture of both the old and the new South, and is probably the one who best personifies the region's transition from leisurely, to desperate, to opportunistic. She just might be one of literature's most complicated protagonists. On the one hand, there are times when you absolutely HATE her. She is more than willing to back-stab absolutely anybody in order to gain what she wants, and she makes her decisions without regard to either honor or kindness. On the other hand, you have to her admire her strength, her determination, and her ability to adapt. By the end of the story, you neither hate or nor love her, you simply pity her. Like Rhett, you really "don't give a d**n."

Rhett is also a mixture of old and new. He aligns himself with the "Old Guard", the speculators, the Yankees...whoever suits his immediate purpose. Unlike Scarlett, however, he still has a healthy respect for the Old South. He realizes that those days are gone and so adapts himself, but he still loves their beauties and traditions and both times that he leaves Scarlett, it is to go in search of them.

Ashley is purely of the Old South. He is the quintessential Southern gentleman. He is a great rider, a lover of the arts, and a member of an old and established family. But just as the war shatters the existence of the Old south, so does it shatter Ashley's. Like Rhett he is nostalgic over the past, but unlike Rhett, he cannot thrive in the New South. He refers to the end of the war as a Gotterdammerung ("twilight of the gods") and is unable to adapt to his new position in the world. By he end of the novel, his weakness and incompetency is obvious even to Scarlett, who realizes that it was not Ashley himself that she loved, but the comfort and glory of the Old South he represented.

Melanie represents the quiet strength and kindness of the real Southern woman. She is the strength behind everyone she meets. She is the one who keeps Ashley going after the war, she is the one who comforts Rhett after Scarlett's accident and Bonnie's death, and she is the one who protects Scarlett from the attacks of the "Old Guard". The most telling portrait of who she is is when Scarlett kills the Yankee soldier and turns to see the frail Melanie carrying her father's old sword, ready to defend her family even in her weakness. Her death causes the final breaking up of the other three characters. "She was seeing through Rhett's eyes the passing not of a woman, but a legend - the gentle, self-effacing but steel-spined woman on whom the South had builded its house in war and to whose proud and loving arms it had returned in defeat."

I guess that I should now address the subject that always pops up when this book is discussed. Racism and class distinction. Yes, it is there, but there are two things that take the sting out of it. First off, you have to remember that this book was written in the 1930s when racism was still an accepted way of life. It is also set in the south during the Civil War, so it would be ridiculous to give modern sensibilities to a society that would not have possessed them. Secondly, for every character that is generalized according to race or station, there is at least one who defies it. There is Mammy who, though "only" a slave, possess the ability to clearly see the motives of those around her and is a support to Scarlett throughout the novel. There is also Will who, though a "Cracker" (a lower-class white), is the one person who is able to help Scarlett get Tara back on its feet. He also, like Rhett, understands Scarlett and why she does what she does and neither praises nor judges her.

Gone with the Wind is definitely a classic of 20th century literature. With complicated characters, a sweeping plot, and a love for the South, it is no wonder that this story is loved by so many. It is a stunning tribute to the beauty and vitality of the American South. I'd like to dedicate this review to both my mom and my grandma, both of whom love this novel. I think that the tradition has continued.

The Movie:

Chances are that more of you have seen the movie version of Gone with the Wind than have actually read the book. It was made in 1939 and stars Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, and Olivia de Havilland. As far as movie making goes, it is a wonderful production that makes you forget that it was made so long ago as 1939. The acting is flawless, the costumes are beautiful, and the burning of Atlanta is spectacular. The only problem is that you are not really allowed to delve into the characters, many of whom are only surface copies of their novel counterparts. It is definitely worth watching and provides some of the most memorable lines and scenes in movie history.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Books For Our Times

A few weeks ago, Newsweek published an article entitled "What to Read Now. And Why." It is a list of fifty books that the people at the magazine feel everyone should read in order to gain a comprehensive view of the times we are living in. So what book was deemed to be the most important book in understanding our times? Well, it wasn't the latest Obama biography. It wasn't a book by Warren Buffett. It wasn't even written in this century. It was Anthony Trollope's classic novel The Way We Live Now.

"We know it's insane. We know people will ask why on earth we think that an 1875 British satirical novel is the book you need to read right now—or, for that matter, why it even made the cut."

To me, this a perfect example of what a classic is. It is a book that is as relevant and inspiring today as when it was first written, be it a decade ago or a millennium ago. There are quite a few classics that pop up on Newsweek's list. Here they are along with the reason they were chosen:

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope:
The title says it all. Trollope's satire of financial (and moral) crisis in Victorian England even has a Madoff-before-Madoff, a tragic swindler named Augustus Melmotte.

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor: Stories of the New South, Christ-haunted and out of control, are as scary as they were when published in 1955. "Shut up, Bobby Lee, it's no real pleasure in life."

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: There's no better season to read the Great American Poem than summer, and no better place than the outdoors for savoring its charms, both contemplative ("I lean and loafe at my ease") and ecstatic ("Mad naked summer night!").

The Mississippi Books by Mark Twain:
When Twain turned his attention to the river that ran by his hometown, what was just run-of-the-mill genius in his other books took on a special Krypton-proof dazzle. Think of these as one book, or three ways of telling the same, very American, very tragicomic story.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: In an age of bioengineering, Shelley's novel about a scientist and his creation is especially unsettling-and its message about the necessity of companionship and sympathy is especially urgent.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie: "To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world," says the protagonist of Rushdie's freewheeling, fanciful allegory of modern India. Published in 1981, Midnight's Children delivers just the opposite: the world through the life of a young man.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling: A boy orphaned in war becomes a junior spy for the English in Pakistan and Central Asia. Kipling's portrait of a quagmire is eerily contemporary.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Moviegoer

"It is impossible to say why he is here. Is it part and parcel of the complex business of coming up in the world? Or is it because he believes that God himself is present here at the corner of Elysian Fields and Bons Enfants? Or is he here for both reasons: through some dim dazzling trick of grace: coming for the one and receiving the other as God's own importunate bonus? It is impossible to say."

Published in 1961, Southern writer Walker Percy's first novel is also his most famous and widely praised work. The Moviegoer plays out many of the existentialist themes of writers like Soren Kierkegaard, and focuses on man and his quest to find meaning in a seemingly boring and empty life.

The Plot:

Binx Bolling is a young stock-broker in post-war New Orleans. Though he is successful in his career, other circumstances, such as his traumatic experience in the Korean War, have left him feeling disconnected from his own life. He has a hard time connecting with those around him and finds more meaning in short flings with his secretaries and watching movies than in anything else.

In the days following Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on an undefined search, wandering around New Orleans, Chicago, and the Gulf Coast at once desiring to define himself, and also to remain open and anonymous.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Walker Percy is a name that had been popping up in my world of reading a lot in the last year or so, and I found his novel to be at once intriguing and frustrating. This is not a work that is for everyone. If you are someone who thrives on plot and action, don't even bother to pick this one up. Even the climax is so laid back that I pretty much missed it. This is a novel of reflection, of searching, and of definition.

The thing that Percy seems to focus on the most throughout this story is the idea of defining oneself. It is the one thing that Binx is afraid of, as if by defining himself he is forever regulating himself to a boring and one-dimensional existence. Instead, he chooses to lose himself in movies, living many different lives vicariously through the characters on the screen. He also is apathetic about his work, his religion, his culture, and his relationships (especially with women). It is in these four areas and how they define us that Percy particularly explores.

First, there is the area of work. Binx gave up his medical and research studies because he did not want to be defined as a "researcher". Then there is religion, which Binx barely gives lip-service to because he hates being defined as a Catholic. Then we have culture. Binx is constantly trying to distance himself from the upper-class society of New Orleans as personified by Aunt Emily (indeed, Percy puts quite a bit of emphasis on the defining powers of place and society). Finally, we have relationships which Binx shirks with a vengeance. The idea of being defined as a son, a brother, a nephew and a lover almost horrifies him.

So, here we have a man who is on a search for meaning and purpose in life. He sees all of these defining elements ("everyday life") to be chains that will hold him back from discovering these things. And yet, these very elements are the things that will help him find what he is looking for. Binx is a researcher, a Catholic, a Southerner, a son, a brother, and a lover. These things are what give him purpose. And that seems to be Percy's point. Our identities, rather than holding us back, push us forward in life. We are not left aimlessly wandering through this world because the things that define us also give us direction. We will know which way to go because we know who we are.

The Moviegoer itself is light and poetic reading and clocking in at only 200 or so pages, it is a very easy to get through. But as I said, it is not for everyone. I found it to be an interesting read, but I'm not going crazy over it. I can see as how people can claim that this novel changed their life, but I'm not one of them. Is it a must-read? No, but I'm still glad that I did.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Weekly Geek 2009-29: Literary Soundtracks

This week we have a guest post by Ashley of Complete and Unabridged.

Music is a pretty amazing thing. It can take us back to the past, make us want to dance, put us in a romantic mood, or simply lift our spirits. But sometimes, music does something a little different for me: it reminds me of a book.

Yes, there is nothing more geeky than to be riding down the road listening to the radio and suddenly thinking "That song matches [book title] perfectly!". But that is exactly what happens to me sometimes. For example, whenever I hear Phil Collins' song 'Can't Stop Loving You,' I immediately think of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South. To me, it is exactly the kind of song that describes the two main characters' relationship.

So, my fellow Weekly Geeks, your challenge this week is to come up with at least one song-book match. It could remind you of a theme from the book, a specific part of the plot, or even one of the characters (a sort of theme song, if you will). Be sure to include samples of the lyrics and the reason why that song reminds you of that book. If you can provide a link to a recording of the song so that other geeks can hear it that would be great as well. (One good place to look for links is, there are others, too).

Rock n' Roll!!

First off, I'd like to thank the Weekly Geeks Admin for using my suggestion. I'd also like to go ahead and thank all of the other weekly geeks who participate this week. It's going to be a lot of fun seeing what you guys come up with. Here are three of my matches.

Can't Stop Loving You by Phil Collins-North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

So you're leaving
In the morning
On the early train
But I could say everything's alright
And I could pretend and say goodbye

Got your ticket
Got your suitcase
Got your leaving smile
Oh, I could say that's the way it goes
And I could pretend and you won't know
That I was lying

Because I can't stop loving you
No, I can't stop loving you
No, I won't stop loving you
Why should I

The relationship between North and South's main characters, John Thornton and Margaret Hale, has a lot of ups and downs. After Margaret's initial rejection, John must decide whether to keep on loving her or to simply move on and become indifferent to her. In the end, he continues to love her, because it is the only thing he can do. He really can't stop loving her, so he doesn't even try. Everything about this song reminds me of Gaskell's wonderful story.

You Belong With Me
by Taylor Swift-Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

But she wears short skirts
I wear T-shirts
She’s cheer captain
And I’m in the bleachers
Dreaming about the day when you wake up
And find what you’re looking for has been here the whole time

If you could see that I’m the one who understands you
Been here all along so why can’t you see,
You belong with me, you belong with me

Country music and Jane Austen. What a combo! But in this case it works. In Mansfield Park, Edmund Bertram is given the choice of two women: the stylish and witty Mary Crawford and the shy yet understanding Fanny Price. Though he is blinded by Mary's superficial charms, it is Fanny who really understands him, his hopes, and his desires. And Fanny is all too happy to wait for Edmund to wake up.

An Innocent Man by Billy Joel-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

...But I'm not above making up all the love
You've been denying you can ever feel...

...You know you'll only hurt yourself out of spite
I guess you'd rather be a martyr tonight...

...I'm not willing to lay down and die
Because I am an innocent man

I am an innocent man
Oh yes I am an innocent man

You knew that I had to get a Jane Eyre reference in here somewhere. This one is probably a bit more of a stretch than the other two, but this song (these lyrics in particular) reminds me of the scene in the novel after Jane has learned the truth about Mr. Rochester and Thornfield Hall and he is trying to convince her to remain with him. Despite the waywardness of his life, Mr. Rochester sees himself as an innocent man, blaming all of it on the trickery of his father and brother. Jane, of course, sees through this and her leaving reveals to him that he is not as innocent as he had thought.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Coming Attractions

I am now on my final book in my summer "Southern Lit Challenge". It has been an interesting group of literature that has really kicked me out of my comfort zone. I hope to have reviews for The Moviegoer and Gone With the Wind up soon. In the meantime, here is a glimpse at some of the books I have coming up for September-December (hopefully). I'm really excited about them:

  • Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter- I have had this one on the list for a long time but have been bumping it around in order to read other things. It is the preceding novel to Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost, which I love. Here's hoping that Freckles is just as good.
  • Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini-When Irish doctor Peter Blood is accused of treason, he is sold into slavery in the Caribbean. He then escapes and becomes one of the most successful pirates of the West Indies.
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte- This is Charlotte Bronte's third novel and the only one considered to rank with the more popular Jane Eyre. It follows the character of Lucy Snowe as she teaches at a school in the fictional country of Labassecour (representing Belgium), and her budding romance with the fiery schoolmaster M. Paul Emmanuel.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker- The ultimate in Gothic literature, this novel has inspired some of today's most popular stories. From Count Dracula to Abraham Van Helsing, this novel is full of characters that are ingrained in popular culture. This is a BIG departure from what I normally read, but I'm looking forward to it.
  • Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore- This novel was received with acclaim by the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson and Thomas Hardy and was even voted by Yale's male students as their favorite novel in 1906. Set in the West Country of England in the 17th century, this story follows the romance of John Ridd and Lorna Doone as they are caught up in the political turmoil of the time.
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys- This is the story of Bertha Mason, the mad-woman in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. It centers on her life in the Caribbean, her marriage to Edward Rochester, and her descent into madness. Though it is a prequel to an already popular classic, it is considered a classic of modern literature in its own right.
So, that is what is coming up in my reading future. It will probably take me through the end of the year. What are you reading now? What are you planning on reading? Please feel free to offer suggestions as to books I should add to my already long reading list!