Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Birthday To:

Elizabeth Gaskell
September 29, 1810

"I say Gibson, we're old friends, and you're a fool if you take anything I say as an offense. Madam your wife and I didn't hit it off the only time I ever saw her. I won't say she was silly, but I think one of us was silly, and it wasn't me!"

-from Wives and Daughters

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books Week 2010

September 25-October 2 are the dates of this year's Banned Books Week sponsored by the American Library Association. This week is meant to bring awareness to the many books that are challenged throughout the world. Most of the time, these challenges involve parents wanting certain books removed from school libraries. In 2009 there were 460 attempts to have a book withdrawn from a US classroom or library. While our neighbors across the pond don't seem to have this problem, it has become very common here in the US. Most of the time, the reasons given for the desire to ban a book are centered around a child's well-being. The parent wishes to shield their child from sexually explicit, racially charged, or extremely violent content. This is understandable and in many ways commendable, but it is not exactly possible. Here are some of my thoughts on banned books:

  • Ultimately, it all comes down to free speech. We, as Americans and humans, have the right to read (or write) whatever we wish, and we have the right to NOT read whatever we wish. If you don't agree with the content found in the book, put it down. I have stopped reading numerous books because I found the content distasteful.
  • Your idea offensive and my idea of offensive are not always the same. While I'm not surprised to see certain books on the list of often banned books (The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, or anything by D. H. Lawrence), there were others that caught me off guard and left me scratching my head in wonder (To Kill a Mockingbird? Gone With the Wind? The Lord of the Rings?). I would hate for someone to come up to me and tell me that I can't read a certain book because they find it offensive.
  • You are the parent. If you are concerned about what your children are reading, monitor it, talk to them about it, or discuss it with their teachers. There may be a way to work out your differences of opinion on what should and should not be read in the classroom...
  • ...or maybe not. If you can't work any of that out with the school, you can always do what my parents decided to do. Homeschool. By sending your kids to public school, you are giving up some of your basic parental rights (schools can't cater to each parent's beliefs and standards), so if you want all of those rights back, you may have no other choice but to take your child's education into your own hands.
Ultimately, banning books does nothing to solve a problem. If anything it makes the problem worse. If people cannot read, learn, and decide for themselves, then a nation is sure to fall under tyranny (Nazis or Communism, anyone?). How about you? What are your thoughts on banned books? Is there ever a circumstnace when a book should be banned?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First Love

Over in the book section of Guardian's website, they have a short video of writers for Guardian and Observer reminiscing about the book that first sparked the passion for literature:

This got me to thinking about the book that started my love affair with great literature. I had been reading all of my life, but one of my earliest steps into the world of "literature" happened when I was about 12 or 13. I was spending a week at my grandparent's house, and I rented the 1949 version of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I was immediately captivated by the story, so my grandmother went out and bought me all three of the books involving the March girls.

I'm still not exactly sure what it was about this story that grabbed my attention. Perhaps it was because I saw so many parallels between the story of the March family and my own life. Like the Marchs my family at the time consisted of my parents and four girls, and I often compared each of my sisters and myself to the girls in the story (except we had two Jos and no Beths). I always saw myself as Meg, the oldest child with a sense of responsibility and a desire for the good things in life. My sisters K. and M. were each Jo, wild and untamed yet tender-hearted as well. And my other sister T. was Amy, the artist. There were so many portions of this story that I loved dearly. I smiled when Jo and Laurie had their arguments. I laughed when poor Meg tried to make jam and John brought home a visitor. And I cried as Jo experienced the loneliness of being the last of the sisters at home. The simplicity, the warmth, and the love found inside this book opened my eyes to the way literature can impact your life.

Today, ten years after first reading it, Little Women continues to be one of my favorite books. The poor paperback copy my grandmother bought for me is worn, dog-eared, and slightly torn, but I don't think I would trade it for any other copy. Jut seeing it on the shelf brings back so many delightful memories of the time I spent growing up with the March girls.

If you have a memory of a book that got you started in literature, please feel free to share it in the comments.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Trial

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.

You and I were never meant to read The Trial. Franz Kafka died with the intention of having it and many other works destroyed. But his friend and executor, Max Brod, disregarded his wishes and published them. Now, Kafka's world is a source of debate, wonder, horror, and the unfathomable. Once you step in, there is no getting out...until the story ends.

The Plot:

Life is going pretty well for Joseph K. He is rising in his job at the bank, he has a nice room with a nice landlady, and he is never in want of female companionship. But his life is suddenly turned upside down. He is woken up one morning by two men who are there to arrest him. What they are arresting him for they do not say, but arrest him they must. K. must appear before the court to plea his case. Slowly, this trial begins to consume K.'s life, ruining relationships and slowing his promotion chances. How can he defend himself if he has no idea what he has done?

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

I could give a really cheap review and simply define The Trial as "Kafkaesque" and be done with it, but that is hardly a worthy review for this piece of fiction. One of the reasons this novel is so hard to review is that it is unfinished and lacks the coherence and polish of a traditional novel. But this also adds to the charm and the feel of the novel and does not hinder us from enjoying the story.

In actuality, it is not so much the story that sucks us in but the world that Kafka creates. It looks like our world and for the most part operates like our world, but at the same time it is off balance, twisted, and distorted. To me, this is what makes this work so haunting. It is a place that we recognize and yet we do not understand.

Readers and scholars have been debating the point of The Trial ever since its publication, but the one thing they agree on is its view of the bureaucratic side of the law. Think Dickens having a nightmare. Like Bleak House (and to a lesser extent Little Dorrit), the courts are depicted as unfathomable and unending processes that care not for those who are caught in their wheels. The part where K. is wandering through the winding and suffocating halls of the court offices is perhaps the best picture of Kafka's version of the law.

I wish I could go into a lot more detail about this novel, but Kafka is someone that you really have to read for yourself. I don't think there is really any way to effectively sum up his creation. I can only say that it is haunting, mesmerizing, horrifying, thought-provoking....and I want more!

The Movie:

Perhaps the most famous version of this story is the 1962 version directed by Orson Welles and starring Anthony Perkins. You know that any film combining the director who freaked America out by reading War of the Worlds and the actor who freaked America out by killing Janet Leigh in Psycho has to be pretty unnerving.

There is also a more recent 1993 version starring Kyle MacLachlan and Anthony Hopkins.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Caution: Spoilers Ahead!

50 famous novels summed up in only 4 minutes. Very funny, especially if you have read the books!

Friday, September 3, 2010

"Look at that sea, girls--all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn't enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds."

-from Anne of Green Gables
by L. M. Montgomery