Justified

May 11, 2015 at 8:33 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Ape and Essence

6638053-MAuthor: Aldous Huxley

Genre: Fiction/ Literature/ Allegory

Length: 152 pages

Of the four Aldous Huxley books included on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list,  is not one of them.

With good reason.

While I was reading I kept thinking, I like the concept, but I am aghast that this is the man famous for a book that millions are required to read for school.  Not because there is anything bad about it… it’s just… really? This is the kind of stuff we want to force teenagers to read?  It’s disjointed, surly, and… dare I say… a little boring.

The best moment, by far, was when I read:

‘Give back that ring.’

‘Which ring?’ the man falters.

At which point my nerdy self said to my book: “The one that will rule them all, duh!”

To be fair, the book that is typically required reading for students is Brave New World, not Ape and Essence.  So, naturally, I had to do a bit of research before considering reading Brave New World, giving Huxley a chance to prove himself in my eyes.  If I can’t stomach 152 pages of the man, why would I submit myself to more?

I feel justified in my disappointment, because as my kid sat and worked through a literacy program on the computer at the library, I consulted the Concise Dictionary of Literary Biography: Volume 6: Modern Writers 1914-1945, and read up on Huxley and this piece of drivel I had just plowed through.

There I read, “Aldous strained to pile horror upon cross horror… the book, it always seemed to me, achieves a high degree of unbearableness.”

There I also read, “most the characters and ideas come from a discount Huxley warehouse.”

Deep sigh of exasperated relief.  I don’t have to like this book.  Thank God.

Mikhaul Bakhtin described Huxley’s work as the “Canivalesque Novel.”  Others in this category would be Rabelais’ Gargantua and Cervantes Don Quixote.  These novels are known for “emphasizing inclusion rather than selection” and are “structured like a ‘plate of mixed fruit.’”  They are known as the anti-novel.

Sheldon Sacks, on the other hand, considered Huxley’s work as apolgoues, like More’s Utopia, Voltaire’s Candide, and Johnson’s Rasselas… fictions structured as persuasive arguments.  (For the record, I am basically paraphrasing – and point blank quoting – the CDBLB!)

The title for Ape and Essence was taken from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, when Isabella says:

Could great men thunder

As Jove himself does, Jove would ne’er be quiet,

A sFor every pelting, petty officer

Would use his heaven for thunder;

Nothing but thunder! Merciful Heaven,

Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt

Split’st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak

Than the soft myrtle: but man, proud man,

Drest in a little brief authority,

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,

His glassy essence, like an angry ape,

Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven

As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,

Would all themselves laugh mortal.

Again, I have not read Brave New World, but I come away with the overpowering sense that perhaps it is easier to digest because, like the CDBLB says, Brave New World is about what could happen; Ape and Essence is presented as something that probably will.  Ape and Essence leaves you with nothing to hope for, and in a world full of agony – hope is vital.  The whole book is about how “faith in progress has led to outright regression,” and the book ends with an egg being cracked over a gravestone.

A society so driven by perfection and stamping out rebellion and evil that they have destroyed everything.  They do not have the hope and insight of Steinbeck when he wrote in East of Eden, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”  Instead, everyone strives for perfection until they’ve essentially destroyed themselves and everything around them.  They’ve destroyed the world’s ability to think and grow.

Ape and Essence is the most depressing piece of near-satire I’ve ever encountered.

The man himself, however, had some awesome things to say on the nature of writing.  Many people read his novels and were irritated by finding mirror images within some of his characters.  After a few lost friends he responded,

“Of course I base my characters partly on people I know – one can’t escape it – but fictional characters are oversimplified; they’re much less complex than the people one knows.  There is something of (John Middleton) Murry in several of my characters, but I wouldn’t say I’d put Murry in a book.”

I could not say it better myself.  Characters may seem a bit like this person or that, but never, never is any fiction that I write in any way biographical.  So even though I did not care for Ape and Essence, I came away from researching Huxley fulfilled – and justified.

Advertisements

Permalink Leave a Comment

Unexpected Odes to Literature

June 10, 2014 at 11:19 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

City of Lost Souls 2Title: City of Lost Souls

Author: Cassandra Clare

Genre: Young Adult/ Fantasy

Length: 534 pages

For me, what makes the writings of Cassandra Clare so captivating isn’t the fairy tale romance, the paranormal elements, or the bad ass fight sequences… at the heart of it all, it’s the way Clare manages to make a young adult fantasy saga an sequence of unexpected odes to her favorite pieces of literature.

“No man chooses evil because it is evil.  He only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.” – Mary Wollstonecraft

“Love is familiar.  Love is a devil.  There is no evil angel but Love.” – William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

“I love you as one loves certain dark things.” – Pablo Neruda, “Sonnet XVII”

“All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” – William Butler Yeats, “Easter, 1916”

Whether the story was constructed around these quotes, or the quotes City of Lost Souls 1were slipped into the story, the two halves were beautifully married together.  Just as Clare always manages to do.

If you recall my review of The Book of Secrets you should be well aware of how much I cherish this particular aspect of storytelling.  I love peeping into the mind of the author and what they’ve read before – what work we may have both cherished.  I love to see how others acknowledge how literature builds a soul.  Even if that soul is an imagined character in another book.

A reviewer on Goodreads mentioned they thought it was silly that all these Shadowhunter kids were completely oblivious of what went on in the mundane world half the time – Jace completely misses references to Madonna or Dungeons & Dragons games – but are well versed in William Shakespeare and Dante.

As a classical book geek it makes perfect sense to me.  I was raised on Charles Dickens and the Brontes, not the latest boy band or pop culture trends.  Poetry is timeless.  New Kids on the Block obviously not so much.

One doesn’t expect these odes and references in a paranormal teen romance.  I suppose that’s what makes them so stunningly lovely.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Finally, Part Three

February 13, 2014 at 6:55 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Committed

Yep, still talking about this.

I finished Committed last night just before bed.  I let it settle in my mind.  I avoided circular obsessive thoughts about it – circular, obsessive thoughts are usually how I handle most things from something someone said that day to mortgage payments to the last few sentences of whatever book I have just read (thank you, Codependent No More).

Amazing how I was able to sleep when I took some deep breaths and let it go.  I’ll think about it tomorrow.  I never tell myself I’ll think about it tomorrow.  I always just think about it until tomorrow.  This typically evolves into some kind of extreme emotion by morning – what Gilbert quotes the Gottman’s as calling “flooding.”

That being said, I don’t have any stunning perspective or revelation now that I have finished the book.  I merely have some quotes that struck me as notable.  So notable that I didn’t just underline them in the book like a maniac, I actually copied them down into my journal.

“My mother herself had probably given up long ago trying to draw tidy ultimate conclusions about her own existence, having abandoned (as so many of us must do, after a certain age) the luxuriously innocent fantasy that one is entitled to have unmixed feelings about one’s own life.” – pg. 201, Committed

Me of excessive and obsessive thought who feels passionately one way or another on almost EVERY topic found this relieving.  Lately, I have felt passionately about opposing thoughts – as in I feel BOTH sides passionately and have felt that this means there is something wrong with me.  Apparently what I have seen as the ultimate sin – a conflict of beliefs and ideas and feelings – are just the growing pains of adulthood.

“If there is one indignity I shall never endure gracefully, it is watching people mess around with my most cherished personal narratives about them.” – pg. 206, Committed

Yes! This enrages me! And that is ridiculous.  Gilbert may profess to never endure it gracefully, but that is definitely an aspect of my character I want to learn to change.  It was roughly around this point of my reading that Annie Lennox started singing “Fool on the Hill” with Paul McCartney in the front row of the audience on TV and I decided that there will be sins I can’t kick, feelings I can’t change, that I will take to my grave.  But enduring other people being themselves, even if it is not how I view them, gracefully is something I would like to be able to do sometime.  The thoughts and the song and Annie Lennox may be unrelated, but forever in my mind they will be synonymously seared into my brain… don’t be a fool, summon your grace.

There was also a bit about porcupines that intrigued me.  It’s a blurb Gilbert writes about another author’s work, Deborah Luepnitz’s Schopenhauer’s Porcupines:

“[…] Arthur Schopenhauer told about the essential dilemma of modern human intimacy.  Schopenhauer believed that humans, in their love relationships, were like porcupines out on a cold winter night.  In order to keep from freezing, the animals huddle close together.  But as soon as they are near enough to provide critical warmth, they get poked by each other’s quills.  Reflexively, to stop the pain and irritation of too much closeness, the porcupines separate.  But once they separate, they become cold again. The chill sends them back toward each other once more, only to be impaled all over again by each other’s quills.  So they retreat again.  And then approach again.  Endlessly.  ‘And the cycle repeats,’ Deborah wrote, ‘as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing.’ ” – pg. 223, Committed

I read that and immediately thought of heroine and addiction.  No, I’m not a heroine addict.  But I’ve seen them in action.  And if I’m to be honest I have a tendency to feel like one in regards to the people I care about the most – all of whom I can count on fewer fingers than I have on one hand.

Gilbert’s book is lovely.  I’m sorry I sharked her memoir and made it all about me.  I hope if she ever stumbles across this blog, she will take it with a grain of salt and not see me as a pirate of some kind.  I recommend reading this book, regardless of what you thought about the more famous Eat, Pray, Love.

If I’m to get one over all message from ALL of my reading this weekend/ week, it is this:

be gentle

I really needed to get this message.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Little Tiny Novels

January 30, 2014 at 5:17 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Newton LetterTitle: The Newton Letter

Author: John Banville

Publisher: David R. Godine

Genre: Fiction

Length: 81 pages

After publishing my novella (roughly 130 pages long), my editor and I decided to make the sequel to my novella much longer.  The publisher wants a full length novel, but in our attempt for length we started to believe that length would equate higher quality.

Reading through drafts we found that for the sake of propelling the story and actually achieving the higher quality work we were looking for, large chunks of filler might have to be scrapped.  So I set out to read some great short work, to make myself feel better about not being Kate Morton.  And though I am no where near ever going to have the talent of John Banville, Panlo De Santis, John Steinbeck, or William Kennedy, there’s something to be said about reading these and knowing that a finished product is all about quality over quantity.

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” – Stephen King, “The Horror Writer Market and the Ten Bears,” November 1973 WD

 

John Banville makes me crazy jealous.  I want his brain in my brain ever so briefly… just long enough to write something amazing.  Because everything he touches is amazing.  Even just an 80 page bit of story written before I was born reads like his full length prize winners.

The lesson in this for me (because almost every book I read teaches me something) is that while doing these edits for the second edition of my novella, I also need to edit in some breaks between paragraphs.  Visually there are some things that don’t flow.  I can thank my first edition readers for pointing this out.  Even if I pout a little bit, I am so grateful for all the criticism on my first work.  I’m pouting that I wasn’t more diligent about catching these things before you read it, not that you caught these things.  Anything any reader of mine tells me is something I truly do ponder in great detail.

“The worst advice? ‘Don’t listen to the critics.’ I think that you really ought to listen to the critics, because sometimes they’re telling you something is broken that you can fix.” – Stephen King

I want even my first work to be better.  I want my second work to be even better than the first.  Whether I achieve the length of a traditional novel or not, I hope the second book achieves the complete story arch of a traditional novel.  Hopefully, one day, when I’m old and gray, I can write something I’m happy with.  It won’t be John Banville, because I’m not him, but in the meantime I can adore him a lot and work a lot harder.

Permalink Leave a Comment

When Bookish Ones Get Engaged…

August 12, 2013 at 7:57 pm (Guest Blogger) (, , , , , , , )

It looks something like this:

When the Bookish Ones Get Engaged...

Matt & Nicole, Incandescently Happy

Permalink 2 Comments

Homeschooling Agendas

April 18, 2013 at 10:11 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Lessons LearnedTitle: Lessons Learned

Author: Andrea Schwartz

Genre: Homeschooling, Education, Christianity

I have mixed feelings about this book.  On one hand everything she said I agree with.  On the other hand, the way she said it often made me cringe and think of severely right-winged “Jesus-freaks.”  The DC Talk fan in me thinks Andrea Schwartz shouldn’t and wouldn’t mind being called that.  The fellow Christian in me tells me it’s a little unfair to call her that when I agree with her points and conclusions.  The public-school educated child wants to scratch my eyes out and scream, “Really!? Did you have to use the phrase God-hater that way?”

Homeschooling for many is merely an educational choice… the public school system is broken and parents no longer feel comfortable counting on the state to properly equip their child with the realities of the world.  Children are being herded from class to class like cattle.  Fine teachers are being stretched too thin and don’t have the time, energy, or resources to give each student the educational nurturing they deserve.  Everything has become about teaching a test, obeying dress codes, and keeping everyone happy and supposedly safe, rather than about creating an environment of true scholarship.

For others, and possibly what it is misguidedly known for… it’s for freaks who don’t get along with the rest of society.  Potential crazies, kids that don’t groom properly, weirdos… I hope that stigma can be put to rest as I found just as many people who fit this description in public school as I did outside of it.  If your parents are socially awkward you will probably have a lot of socially awkward tendencies whether you spend 8 hours a day with them or without them.  I went to public school my whole life and I will totally admit to being a little bit strange.  I live inside my head a lot, and there are plenty of social cues that I completely miss.  Some kids I’ve seen were far more socially awkward under the pressures of a school environment where they are forced to try to fit in with a thousand people their own age, when in the real world they get along better in a more diverse setting where they are not expected to be like everyone else.

Then, there’s the other group, the Religious group… For many parents, choosing to homeschool your child is a calling from God.  We have been given this precious child to train up in the ways they should go and we want to ensure that we do that the best we can every step of the way.  Submitting them to 8 hours of frustration, government indoctrination, and poor education is not high on the list of things we believe God wants for our children.

In our household, we’re one and three.  Yes, I believe passionately about being good stewards of our minds.  I desire to eagerly pursue all the most riveting aspects of educating my daughter that I can.  I am completely caught up in the idea of combining a classical styled education with a tiny twinge of unschooling so that my kid gets the most thorough and engaging education available… custom tailored to her little brain and the way it works.  I want to give her the education I didn’t get.  I want her start out ahead in life, prepared for anything!  But I also believe this passion for education was given to me by God.  I believe that it is God who calls us to be good stewards of our minds.  I believe that having the freedom to not be politically correct in our studies and studying from the Bible throughout our day will only prepare her more, provide her with a firmer foundation.

Andrea Schwartz comes off as believing God first and education second.  I believe that to be an honorable and good philosophy.  But I believe that by putting God first, your education will be enhanced, not placed on the back burner as some would suppose.  How fascinating will it be to read the Bible, Augustine’s Confessions, and Homer during our Ancient History studies… I can’t wait.

Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer explain this all best in The Well Trained Mind:

“People of faith have influenced history at every turn. Until the student is willing to examine honestly and soberly the claims of relivion in the history of mankind, this study will be incomplete.

In the effort to offend none, the public schools have managed to offend practically everyone – either by leaving religion and ethics out of curricula altogether or by teaching them in a way that satisfies neither believers nor skeptics.  In sympathy, we’ll say that the public schools are in an impossible situation.  They are legally bound to avoid the appearance of promoting one religion over another.  And in a mixed classroom, how can you take one religion seriously without antagonizing those who don’t share it? […]

When you’re instructing your own child, you have two tasks with regard to religion: to teach your own convictions with honesty and diligence, and to study the ways in which other faiths have changed the human landscape.”

Susan Wise Bauer and her mother then spell out very elegantly how to do this: including religious works in the study of primary sources, researching the beliefs of all the major faiths, seek out biographies of those who have changed others’ belief systems, and keep a watchful eye for any logical fallacies, chronological snobbery, and so on.

I am a huge Susan Wise Bauer fan, her books are what I am using to map my own child’s education.  I recommend Susan Wise Bauer for any homeschooling parent of any religion.

As for Andrea Schwartz… her stuff is really great if you are a Christian parent who homeschools or is thinking of homeschooling.  I have a huge problem with her description of her son’s experiences in community college, they seem unusually extreme.  But then again, I live in Texas and they are in California, a lot changes culturally from state to state.  Regardless of the fact that her complaints about public school differ from my own, Schwartz reminds you to stay the course and remember the number one goal of making a disciple of your child, a well-educated disciple, but a disciple none-the-less.  We are not just teaching our children their math, science, and history.  We are not just teaching our children the pleasure of research and reading.  We are not just teaching our children how to learn.  We are teaching our children how to live, how to walk wisely, and how to make logical choices while still keeping the faith.

Permalink 2 Comments

Book Love Art for I Was Told There’d Be Cake

January 6, 2013 at 2:20 am (In So Many Words, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , )

Quoting I Was Told There’d Be Cake

College

Photograph by AK Klemm

Permalink Leave a Comment

A Book Club Possessed…

November 6, 2012 at 6:06 am (Events, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

… by the power of the words of A.S. Byatt.

    

I already shared with you my thoughts on A.S. Byatt’s Possession, how the novel leaves me overwhelmed with inadequacy.  But tonight, at the Half Price Books Humble monthly Book Club meeting, I got to discuss with others how it made them feel.

Over a strawberry cream cheese coffee cake, we talked a lot about French mythology, feminism, the Victorian era, the roaring twenties (a discussion that branched out of our feminism discussion), human nature, and more.

There is so much to talk about in this book, so much material, so many memorable quotes, I found it exhilarating that the things I wanted to discuss were things someone else wanted to discuss too.  When I asked about favorite quotes from the book, a typical book clubbish question, it was exciting to see that Henry had underlined the same quote on page 39 that I had.  What are the odds?

“It’s an odd affair – tragedy and romance and symbolism rampant all over it […]”

The quote is about the fabricated poet Christabel LaMotte and her poem about Melusina, and in hindsight it doesn’t necessarily stand out that much from the other wonderful quotes to be found in the book.  However, it is so close to the beginning that you wouldn’t know that so many amazing bits of prose are to come.  I think I had initially underlined it, supposing (correctly) that it would equally describe Christabel’s poem and Byatt’s work as a whole.  There is tragedy.  There is romance.  And the symbolism is rampant all over it.

The idea of cleanliness, purity, and the color white intermingle with Victorian era ideology while also contrasting against the deviance of feminism in bold greens, crimsons, plums, and blues.

What is so interesting about all this symbolism with color, is that like it’s themes, that the white and the color overlap so effortlessly, so surprisingly, when the final work is complete it is hard to decide where you would want to end up – with the pure white? or the passionate color?  It seems as though to be complete, there would need to be both.

There’s an essay floating about in cyberspace written by a Stephen Dondershine titled Color and Identity in A.S. Byatt’s Possession.  In it, he talks of the book being just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting and quotes Raymond Watkinson”s Pre-Raphaelite Art and Design:

One of the marks of the finest Pre-Raphaelite work was, and still is, the exciting and disturbing power of its colour — very much the least naturalistic aspect of the new painting. The painters of the Brotherhood, and their associates, went beyond the frank record of the green trees and grasses, the bright pure hues of flowers, and reintroduced into painting ranges and relations of colour unused in European art since the Middle Ages — an alarming array of blues, greens, violets, purples, used not simply because they were there to be painted, but chosen for their powerful emotional effect. It was not of course simply the colours, but their combination, that compelled and provoked these effects.

Dondershine stresses the word combination with good reason.  Would any of these paintings speak to us visually and emotionally even half as well if the lights and darks were not so opposite and vibrant?  If the color was not so colorful and rich, if the white was not so stark?

     

Would Maude be so fascinating if she wasn’t so broken by Fergus? Would Christabel’s story be quite so passionately romantic if she hadn’t been a virgin before Ash? Would the story have meant so much if their love hadn’t been somewhat forbidden?  At the same time, doesn’t her fate make you think twice about her rash haste to be independent?  Doesn’t the idea of freedom being found within the safety and confines of a marriage, a partnership become solidified when viewed in the severe contrast of Christabel’s dependency on her cousin later in life… when seen how famously Roland and Maude get along?

Then there is Melusina.  Melusina, the story actually being described in that oh so telling page 39 quote.  I had never heard of Melusina until this book.  I am now completely captivated by the French version of the Scots selkies, the Ondines/Undines of the world; except instead of being a beautiful and gentle seal-woman, Melusina is a serpent of the water-sprite variety.  Now, of course, I am dying to get my hands on a compilation of French myths, equipped with illustrations throughout history, of course!

All in all, it was an exciting meeting, and left me much to ponder. I cannot wait until next month’s gathering when we will discuss Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shoppe.

Permalink 4 Comments

Book Love Art – Honoring Styron’s Quote

June 30, 2012 at 7:56 pm (The Whim) (, , , , )

“A good book should leave you….slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.” – William Styron

I love a fantastic book, I love a fantastic quote, but I also love the way people choose to honor their favorites with their art.  If you know the original artists of any of the pieces I include, please comment and let me know who they are, its been a tough time finding their names in the land of cyberspace.  Along the same vein, Styron is sometimes quoted as saying ” a good book” and “a great book.”  Which is it?

Visit: http://thelensoflife.blogspot.com/2012/04/quotes-of-bookmarks.html

Permalink 4 Comments

“I can always live by my pen.”

May 11, 2012 at 11:21 pm (In So Many Words, The Whim) (, , , , )

The above quote is from the infamous Jane Austen.  And although I don’t get paid for my writing (yet!), I’d like to think that I too live by my pen.

Journaling has always been such a huge part of my reading experience.  So I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it before, but I was reading through the blogs I follow this morning and discovered a new one: The Journal Keepers.  Immediately, I thought that it was about time I had a post about journaling.

Journaling is a crucial part of the learning experience.  When you read, listen, or are shown anything its so important to take note of new information.  After your notes, discuss how it affects you, and make plans for its use in the future.

Journaling keeps your brain active, keeps you on your toes.  Its also good for documentation – keeping tabs on all you’ve discovered and how you’ve changed over the years.  Its how you avoid repeating history and all the bad things of your past, see your progress, revel in your accomplishments.

There are so many different ways to journal.  Some people keep strict notes or outlines.  Some people make lists, tell stories, or merely share their day.  I’ve seen journals full of poetry, and journals full of nothing but sketches and other art work.  I’ve heard of people who only journal using prompts either from websites, magazines, books, or sometimes simply from the journal.

Mine? A combination of all of the above, but the prompts I usually come up with myself or get from close friends.

There are so many different ways to partake in this enriching activity, and it doesn’t really matter how you do it, the important thing is the doing itself.  I can’t imagine writing a useful review with out sitting down with my journal at some point while reading the book, or at least immediately after finishing the book.  I don’t know how I would effectively sort through my TBR pile without my beloved notebooks.  My entire life is chronicled, book after book, with messy, sprawling ink from my pen – years and years of thoughts, events, emotions, lists, notes, quotes, and more.

Do you journal while you read? How do you journal?

Permalink 1 Comment

Next page »