Saturday, November 30, 2013

Classic Book Recommendations

Currently Reading: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

So I’ve really struggled with this last post for Nine New November Novel ‘Ntries. It’s not that I don’t have books that I’ve finished and need to write about. In fact, I still have two to write about in order to be caught up. The problem is that the next book I completed after Death of a Salesman was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was an incredible book and I just don’t feel like I’ve had enough time to digest all my thoughts about it and thus be able to do it justice in a post. So I’ve decided to hold off on that post until I can properly put all of my thoughts in order.

Plus, my best friend from college is coming to visit me today and, therefore, I have a limited amount of time to complete this post and with it my goal for the month.

So I’m slightly copping out and doing another book recommendations post. But with a twist.

As of today, I’ve read 27 of the books on my list of classics. I’m sure that I’ve been pretty clear about which ones I did and didn’t enjoy, but I’m not sure it’s been clear which ones I have enjoyed the most and believe you should read. So today, I’m going to give you book recommendations from my Reading List. As always, descriptions come from the backs of the covers when available.

WARNING: My blog posts about these novels most likely contain spoilers. I would love to know your opinions of the books once you’ve finished, but if you intend to read them, it’s probably better to save my posts for after.

“He’s a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the ward of a mental hospital and takes over …

He’s a lusty, profane, life-loving fighter who rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Big Nurse. He promotes gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women. At every turn, he openly defies her rule.

The contest starts as sport (with McMurphy taking bets on the outcome) but soon it develops into a grim struggle for the minds and hearts of the men, into an all-out war between two relentless opponents: Big Nurse, backed by the full power of authority … McMurphy, who has only his own indomitable will.”

“Seconds before Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
            Together, this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by a galaxyful of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian (formerly Tricia McMillan), Zaphod’s girlfriend, whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; and Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he’s bought over the years.
            Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? For all the answers, stick your thumb to the stars!”

“At once naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the most American of American classics. Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation during the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. From their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of this new America, Steinbeck creates a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and morale vision, tragic but ultimately stirring in its insistence on human dignity.”

And now I've technically completed this goal for November!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Wait – There Are Playwrights Other Than William Shakespeare?

Currently Reading: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

I don’t have a lot of experience reading plays.

The last play I read – which I honestly didn’t even get through in its entirety – was Doctor Faustus for my British literature class. Before that, it was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in my senior year of high school. Not only has it been a while, but I’m pretty sure this is close to the extent of my list. The only other plays I can remember reading are The Importance of Being Earnest and Streetcar Named Desire. Again, my experience is pretty limited.

Well, there’s one rather significant clause to that statement.

I don’t have a lot of experience reading non-Shakespearean plays.

When it came to Shakespeare, I just couldn’t seem to get enough. Although I had been exposed to his work in high school, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I became addicted. My professor for my Introduction to Shakespeare class was amazing and she ignited a passion in me for the Bard’s work that has ultimately led to me where I am today (it’s pretty unusual to work at the Folger Shakespeare Library and not be a fan). I took every Shakespeare course offered regularly, a senior seminar just on Othello, and when this didn’t satiate my appetite, I designed an independent study for myself in which I was allowed the opportunity to read every play I hadn’t read in his body of work and discuss them in weekly, one-on-one sessions with my professor. Best class ever? I think yes!

My point is my exposure to reading plays has been almost exclusively Shakespearean.

I didn’t realize it, but this has very much affected my expectations for what the text of a play will include. However, this became instantly clear to me when I picked up Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.

To be clear, I never expected every play to have the same language found in Shakespeare plays; I understand that aren’t written in the Early Modern era are not going to have early modern language (give me some credit). Instead, what took me aback from the first lines of Death of Salesman is the complexity, not of the lines, but of what comes in between the lines.

I’ve gotten so used to reading plays with Shakespeare’s famous minimalist approach to stage directions and setting descriptions that I forgot that isn’t the standard. Frankly, I was pretty annoyed with the detail in Miller’s directions and descriptions. While I’m sure the details made it easier to make Miller’s imagined world a reality, his writing felt much more restrictive. By limiting his stage directions and scene settings to things like “exits” or “Street in Verona,” Shakespeare allows his actors and directors much more freedom and opportunity for creativity; they aren’t limited with who they can cast or how the set must be designed or how a line must be said.

Admittedly, the minimalist approach may not have always been a choice. Shakespeare was much more limited in what he could do given the technological parameters of the stage for which he wrote. It was kind of fun to see the things Miller could do with the numerous lighting and sound options available to him, like creating simultaneous scenes in the past and present or using a particular song to associate with a character in his youth versus in adulthood. All these complex time shifts in and out of the past are probably only possible with detailed stage directions and perhaps if Shakespeare had access to the lights and sounds to do it, he would have also made his directions more specific.

Aside from these Shakespeare-lover biases, the play itself was rather interesting. It’s a sad look at the life of a poor salesman, Willy Loman, who has worked himself to the bone his whole life only to be screwed over by his company in the end. It shows how he’s become estranged from his sons and is a bleak look at what happens when he can’t let go of his delusional hopes from them. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the story would be sad, given that the title tells you that the main character will die, but what did surprise me was that I actually felt sad. For most of the play, I was thoroughly irritated with Willy Loman. I was frustrated with how stupidly he lived his life, how he wouldn’t listen to his sons, and how he was literally living in the past – through flashbacks. Yet, in the end, when he was gone, I found myself moved in spite of my dislike for him.

I’d very much like to see a performance of this now that I’ve read it as I’m sure it’s much easier to understand the time shifts when they are acted out and I would hope that an actor would be able to evoke the sympathetic qualities in Willy Loman that I couldn’t find until the end.

But let’s be honest, I’m going to see a Shakespeare play instead.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Round of Applause for Reading Plays

Currently Reading: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

(Yes, I’m giving Invisible Man another shot as I feel invincible after Moby Dick and I’d really like to finish this book before the end of the year.)

Cliché as it may sound, there’s something magical about seeing a live performance of a play. The lights, the costumes, the makeup, the sets – everything and everyone has been transformed to transport you to another world; to sweep you away from whatever is occurring in your life and suck you into the fictitious world of the actors. The scene is set, the lights dim, the curtain rises…

… and you’re sitting in your comfy chair at  home, snuggled in your bathrobe with a good book to begin?

Even though we’ve all done it – most likely in a Shakespeare unit in school – there’s something slightly incongruous about reading a play. Although there are plays that fall into the genre of “closet dramas” (which are plays that are intended to be read and give little to no consideration of the actual staging of the story), most plays are meant to be performed; they were written to be turned into a production that others could watch rather than read.

For this reason, a play is often enjoyed more when it’s acted out. Case and point: I took my roommate to see the Folger’s production of Romeo and Juliet this past Friday. It was his first time seeing Shakespeare performed live and at the end he asked, “Why don’t they teach Shakespeare this way? It makes so much more sense!”

For my roommate – and I’m sure for many others – seeing a production of a Shakespeare play actually makes the language much more accessible and therefore the story more enjoyable. He was simply astonished that Shakespeare was so often read like a novel when it’s not one; it’s writing that’s meant to be spoken and heard, not read.

So why is it that we consistently read plays? How on earth does this benefit us?

After giving it some thought, I’ve decided that there are several reasons we shouldn’t just stop reading plays entirely.

First, a play can still be considered a work of literature even if it’s a slightly different format from other works. Plays can be just as richly infused with themes, symbols, plot structures, and character developments as novels. Thus reading a play affords one the opportunity to dissect the literary devices used and to deeply analyze the story and characters that watching a play just doesn’t allow for as the action in a production is continuous. The audience can’t take time to ponder a particularly insightful monologue or sort through a confusing exchange of dialogue at a live performance as the actors will move on with the story whether you’re ready to move on or not.

Second, reading a play without seeing any performance of it means you’re working with a blank slate; you won’t have any preconceived notions of how a line should be said or how a character should look. A performance can very much color the way you view a play. This is especially true if a director or actor has decided to highlight certain aspects that you may not have thought were important. Perhaps he believes one theme is the main message of the play, but in reality, it’s just his perception of it. Maybe an actor decides to play to extreme subtext. Now you will be much more likely to only notice that theme or to read that subtext, which may or not be there. In much the same way that a movie version of a book can ruin the way you read that book afterwards – I’m looking at you Harry Potter films – seeing a play can also ruin your opportunity to let your imagination do what it will with the text provided.

Third, and probably the most important, reading a play allows for quality control. Again, a production of a play is subject to so many variables – like the director’s or the actors’ choices – and sometimes those variables don’t just affect the interpretation, they affect the quality. Ever see a production of Guys and Dolls in which Sky Masterson is going through puberty? Ever go to a play and the main actress has an extremely annoying habit of flapping her arms a certain way or maybe she just has a voice that sounds like nails on a chalkboard? Ever see a performance of Jekyll and Hyde in which the title character(s) has a lisp? I have. It’s not pleasant. If a play is a really good play, the text can stand alone. Reading it saves it from a potential mauling and therefore can save your opinion of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I do mostly agree that a play should be seen. I’m just arguing that maybe there’s some logic to the idea of introducing a play as text rather than performance. Perhaps the best option is to do both.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Recommendations Round Three

Currently Reading: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Disclaimer: My brain is rather sluggish at the moment as I’m fighting a rather nasty chest cold so it’s possible this post won’t make sense… I’m hoping that won’t be the case, but, considering how hard it was for me write an email earlier today, I’m not too optimistic. However, I’m behind on my goal with four more posts to write and a deadline rapidly approaching at the end of this week so I’m giving this my best shot.

With this in mind, I’m taking a somewhat easy way out on this post since the topics I want to discuss for Death of a Salesman are too juicy to dive into now and I’d hate to not do them justice. So, with the holiday season coming up when it’s the perfect time snuggle up with a good book, I give you a third round of book recommendations:

Again, the descriptions for these books come from the back covers when available.

1. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

“Reeling from the brain-altering effects of oxygen depletion, Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest in the early afternoon of May 10, 1996. He hadn’t slept in fifty-seven hours. As he turned to begin the perilous descent from 29,028 feet (roughly the cruising altitude of an Airbus jetliner), twenty other climbers were still pushing doggedly to the top, unaware that the sky had begun to roil with clouds…
This is the terrifying story of what really happened that fateful day at the top of the world, during what would be the deadliest season in the history of Everest. In this harrowing yet breathtaking narrative, Krakauer takes the reader along with his ill-fated expedition, step by precarious step, from Kathmandu to the mountain’s pinnacle where, plagued by a combination of hubris, greed, poor judgment, and plain bad luck, they would fall prey to the mountain’s unpredictable fury.
With more than three million copies in print in all editions, this sensational book virtually defines excellence in the genre of narrative nonfiction. Brilliantly written and supported by unimpeachable reporting, Into Thin Air will by turns thrill and terrify.”

Seriously love this book! It’s not a particularly cheerful story by any means and it’s all the grimmer because it’s true. However, this author is such a fantastic storyteller that he makes me rethink how I view the whole genre of nonfiction. I borrowed a copy from one of the girls on my study abroad trip to Sicily and I was riveted from start to finish. I actually found myself getting mad that I’d have to get off the bus and see the incredible sites of Sicily because it meant I had to stop reading. That’s how good this book is! Again, beware that you may need tissues while you read.

2. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

“They mustn’t harm a human being, they must obey human orders, and they must protect their own existence… but only so long as that doesn’t violate rules one and two. With these Three Laws of Robotics, humanity embarked on a bold new era of evolution that would open up enormous possibilities – and unforeseen risks. For the scientists who invented the earliest robots weren’t content that their creations should remain programmed helpers, companions, and semisentient worker-machines. And soon the robots themselves, aware of their own intelligence, power, and humanity, aren’t either.

As humans and robots struggle to survive together – and sometimes against each other – on earth and in space, the future of both hangs in the balance. Here human men and women confront robots gone mad, telepathic robots, robot politicians, and vast robotic intelligences that may already secretly control the world. And both are asking the same questions: What is human? And is humanity obsolete?”

First of all, let me say that the movie I, Robot with Will Smith took a lot of license with this book so don’t expect the same story. In fact, this is actually a series of vignettes about various issues of robotics and exploring the limits of the Three Laws as well as – like the back of the book says – the issues of humanity raised with the rise of robots. Isaac Asimov is one of my all-time favorite authors. I’ve actually been saving his Foundation Trilogy as a reward for myself when I get through a particularly challenging book or set of books on my list. He’s a genius. In reading some of his other short stories and this novel, I’ve discovered that he’s scarily accurate about predicting what technology will look like in the future (i.e. today since he was writing in the 1950s). I would absolutely love to have him at one of my fantasy dinner parties so I could pick his brain.

3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein was Mary Shelley’s immensely powerful contribution to the ghost stories which she, Percy Shelley, and Byron devised one wet summer in Switzerland. Its protagonist is a young student of natural philosophy, who learns the secret of imparting life to a creature constructed from relics of the dead, with horrific consequences.

Frankenstein confronts some of the most feared innovations of evolutionism: topics such as degeneracy, hereditary disease, and mankind’s status as a species of animal. The text used here is from the 1818 edition, which is a mocking expose of leaders and achievers who leave desolation in their wake, showing humanity its choice – to live co-operatively or to die of selfishness. It is also a black comedy, and harder and wittier than the 1831 version with which we are more familiar.”

Okay, so I don’t know much about the editions half of this description, but…

This is another instance when you should ignore your Hollywood preconceived notions of this story. As a big fan of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, which mocks the Frankenstein movies, I was expecting all the typical Frankenstein nonsense with a slow-walking Creature with bolts in his neck, the creepy assistant Igor, and the rest of the now iconic Frankenstein bits. Instead, I was surprised and delighted to discover that this story is much creepier, much sadder, and much deeper than any of the groaning, green monsters give it credit for. It’s beautiful, touching, and disturbing all at once and I absolutely love it.

And now I’m going to take some cough medicine and sleep some more.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dog-Ear: Cute as a Noun, Not so Much as a Verb

Currently Reading: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

For the sake of clarity:

Dog-Ear the Noun:

Floppy or perked, fluffy or frayed, hanging low or stubby, dog-ears are pretty much lovely as a noun.

We agree kitten. A dog’s ear is wonderful when it’s attached to something so absolutely adorable.

Dog-Ear the Verb:

This image actually makes me involuntarily cringe; just clench my whole body in a desperate attempt to ward off the discomfort of it all. I believe it’s deeply ingrained as my grandmother was a librarian and drilled into my mother who drilled it into me that this was a capital offense in the book world.

I know plenty of people who have no issue with dog-earring a book and to an extent, I get it. It’s a convenient way to save your place in a book especially since it doesn’t require any additional materials like a bookmark or a bookmark substitute.

But really? How hard is it to find any random piece of paper to stick in a book and therefore preserve the integrity of the page? Ransack your purses ladies! Search your wallets for receipts guys! Do what you can do stop the book violence! Because that’s how I view dog-earring: it’s an act of book violence.

Full disclosure, though, I’ll admit that I’m guilty of the occasional act of book violence. My sister can attest to this as I accidentally ripped half the cover off one of her books in elementary school when I put my binder into my desk without checking that its path was clear. I’m not as careful with the way I hold my books open as I should, slightly pulling the bindings apart at the bottom; I make the effort to never crush a book in my purse, but I’m not always successful; and who hasn’t spilled a drink over a book they’re reading on their lunch break?

I once heard or read in an interview that an author actually enjoys seeing abused copies of his books. To him, it was a sign that the book was well loved as the wear and tear only occurs with books that have been read and re-read. He took it as a compliment. It’s embarrassing that I can’t remember any more details about this since it has informed the way I think about my books for most of my life. I have viewed this opinion as a pardon from the book jury on my acts of book violence, believing that the stains and rips on my books are signs of my affection rather than my hatred.

What distinguishes dog-earring in my mind is the deliberateness of the act. Tearing the cover off my sister’s book or spilling my drink was unintentional; I would never have consciously treated a book in such a manner. To dog-ear a book is exactly the opposite. It’s a purposeful action that damages the book irreparably; no matter how hard you try, you will never get rid of the imprint of the fold in the corner. Ever.

For this reason, I hate it.

So if I lend you a book, please don’t ever dog-ear the pages!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Dissertation on Whaling Practices and Their Moral Implications That Will Bore You to Tears

Currently Reading: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Whoever labeled Moby Dick as a novel clearly didn’t recognize that Herman Melville was actually attempting to complete his PhD in whaling and that in reality this was his completed dissertation. Unfortunately for him, most of his conclusions about whales have since been disproved. Unfortunately for readers everywhere, we have been viciously fooled into believing we would get a story when we picked up Melville’s classic.

Given that Moby Dick almost lasted as long as the voyage Ahab takes to find that damn whale (which – spoiler alert – happens, I kid you not, about 30 pages from the end of the 586-page book), I’m going to keep this blog post short and sweet.

Basically, my feelings about this book can be summed up through the following series of comics from the strip Zits by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman:

 In case it hasn’t been made clear yet, my experience reading Moby Dick was far from pleasurable. It was actually the first time in a long time that I considered picking up my book a chore; an obligatory task that I had taken on and refused to give up on. While it had some lovely moments of prose and has oddly sparked my interest in the zoological study of whales, the book was exceptionally tedious. For every sentence of plot, there was about twenty pages of tangential, detailed descriptions of all aspects of whaling: the technical, the mechanical, the philosophical. He would describe the equipment necessary, the various types of whales hunted, the difference in the oil they produced, the dimensions of the boats, and pretty much every other mundane detail about whaling imaginable. Hilariously, he would often introduce these completely irrelevant-to-the-story bits of information with phrases like, “This begs the question what is…” or “Of course, it is now necessary to explain…” when I can’t imagine a single person reading this book has had the burning desire to know whatever it was he then explained.

I must admit that I think that Moby Dick is one of those rare breeds of books that’s actually better to read in smaller chunks over a long period of time. Because it is so dense and information-packed, every chapter is so full it’s practically impossible to absorb more than one chapter at a time. Bear in mind, most chapters averaged about three pages. I’m talking mercury-levels of density here. If you have a year to casually, slowly make your way through this book, it might be worth the effort. There’s no fear of ruining the pace of the plot because it already moves at a glacial speed so taking your time is probably preferable.

I’m both glad and proud that I have officially read this well-known classic. And I’m even gladder that I’m done with it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

You Can't Always Trust a First Impression

Currently Reading: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One of the reasons I’ve really enjoyed this reading project is that it’s not only introduced me to novels and authors that I’ve fallen in love with and that I might otherwise never have sought out on my own (i.e. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), but it’s also given me the opportunity to revisit books and authors of which I’ve formed unfair opinions during my formative years (i.e. George Orwell, The Hobbit). The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck gave me just such an opportunity.

I owe John Steinbeck one serious apology for all the name bashing I've done over the years.

Like Orwell, I had a bad English class experience with Steinbeck. (Actually, both of those bad experiences and my bad experience with The Hobbit all were in the same class... that can't be a coincidence...) In 8th grade, my English teacher assigned us The Pearl and I distinctly remember it as the most painful reading experience I had had to that point in my life. I remember The Pearl as having a very unbalanced ratio of plot to description and that the description was excruciatingly detailed. It felt like Steinbeck would depict every ring and bump on a log in a swamp even when both log and swamp were irrelevant to the plot. Admittedly, I have zero memory of the plot beyond that some guy finds a pearl. Even that summary I'm only 10% confident is accurate.

I would like to say, though, that I would imagine my early, negative impressions of Animal Farm and The Pearl would radically change if I read them again now, much as was the case when I re-read The Hobbit. So these anecdotes should not dissuade you from reading either.

Unfortunately, the damage had been done for Steinbeck and he could not redeem himself, even with the dialogue-heavy and thoroughly enjoyable Of Mice and Men that I read the following year.

So it was with a hint of trepidation that I began The Grapes of Wrath. The first two chapters were tainted with my deeply-ingrained, 8th-grade opinion and I internally groaned for most of them. Then, horror of horror!, the book included dialect writing, a pet peeve of mine. Strike two. The third seemed inevitable and I dreaded the trudge through the rest of the novel.

Then something amazing happened. I can't even really pinpoint when it happened, but at some point I started to loosen my grip on my long held belief that Steinbeck was the worst writer ever. Once that happened, I actually realized that the opposite is true.

I loved this book!! It was beautiful, sad, and eye-opening. It revealed a somber chapter of America's history to me that had only been a fact in textbooks before. I had never fully grasped the awful exploitation that occurred during this migration. It made me appreciate and truly understand the rise of unions and labor laws.

Despite initial prejudices against the characters (especially Tom Joad who had the extreme misfortune of being the first to appear and therefore the most heavily subjected to my irrational anti-Steinbeck thoughts), I came to deeply care and hurt for these characters. They are tough and go through misfortune after misfortune (it really hit a point when every time there's a moment of happiness, I internally flinched and thought, Oh God, now what's going to happen?? Can't they catch a break??) and still they retain their sense of compassion, humanity, and dignity. 

My absolute favorite part of the book - which has sold me on Steinbeck's writing genius - is the way he narrows and widens the scope of the story. While the focus is on the Joad family and their particular sad saga, Steinbeck includes alternating chapters that tell the generalized story of nameless, faceless families, only referring to them as "Pa," "Ma," etc. It was a brilliant way to drive home how universal these experiences of suffering were at this time in American history; the Joads were not just exceptionally unlucky. Hundreds of families were all subjected to these horrors and abuses. By weaving in the faceless, nameless anecdotes, Steinbeck almost seems to imply that this very easily could have happened to the reader or his family. It's just such a clever way to really get the reader to understand the scale and yet to evoke his empathy for this specific family.

So, Mr. Steinbeck, I hereby solemnly and profusely apologize.

And if you haven't read The Grapes of Wrath, go do so immediately!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Stepping Through the Looking Glass is Quite the Challenge

Currently Reading: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Continuing my easy reading trend of the summer, I picked up yet another children’s book after I finished The Call of the Wild: Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. However, I’m not sure there’s anything particularly easy about Lewis Carroll’s slightly crazed worlds.

The sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass features the same heroine, the imaginative, curious Alice, who begins to wonder what life must be like on the other side of the mirror in her family’s living room. Naturally, being a fantasy story for children, Alice successfully enters the backwards mirror-world and once again meets a cast of characters who all make you feel like you’re losing your mind when you interact with them.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that this book would have several somewhat unhinged characters with impossible to follow thought processes. I’ve read Alice in Wonderland, been slightly scarred by the Disney version of the movie, and hey, where did I think the expression “through the looking glass” came from? I shouldn’t have expected a particularly logical story. Everyone seems to talk in riddles and oftentimes their actions seem backwards, fitting given it’s a world that exists in a mirror. Not exactly the easy reading I had anticipated.

However, the genius behind Carroll’s work and probably the reason that he’s so well known is that behind all the madness, there actually is logic. I honestly didn’t take the time to figure it out in every instance, but I did notice that the plot of the story followed the patterns of a chess match. Like the chess pieces she meets, Alice is limited in her movements, as she has become a chess piece herself, only allowed to move certain ways according to the rules.

In the end, once again, the whole bizarre adventure turns out to be a dream and Alice escapes climatic levels of chaos by simply waking up. This always seemed like a cop out ending to me growing up and frustrated me immensely. It felt like Carroll had simply written Alice – and himself – into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to get out of the impossible situation he created so he just makes the whole thing a dream. How lame! I used to think. After all that, that’s the best you can do?

Now, I see that this choice was more intentional than I ever gave Carroll credit for, especially since he uses it twice. Perhaps it’s a commentary on how the real world can be just as strange as the dream world. Or maybe Carroll is proposing that it’s impossible to really tell what is a dream and what is real? Again, I didn’t take the time to think all the implications of the ending out.

But give me a break! I was on vacation. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Return of Nine New November Novel 'Ntries!

Currently Reading: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

That’s right! It’s November once again and I’m ready to take on another monthly challenge:

Nine New November Novel ‘Ntries 2013

For those who don’t know, this personal writing challenge stems from another national writing challenge. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing,” according to its website (created by the non-profit of the same name). Since apparently all writers suffer from procrastination-itis, aspiring authors are encouraged to treat this 11th month as their 11th hour, writing 50,000 words of their own novels by the month’s end. NaNoWriMo further motivates participants with a guarantee of a “Winner” badge for all who achieve the target word count in the allotted time. As the site says, “Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.” You can find out more about NaNoWriMo through the link above.

When I discovered NaNoWriMo last year, I was inspired and decided to channel my writing energies into this blog instead of a novel. I considered it a wildly successful experiment as I not only completed the goal of writing nine new blog posts by the end of November, but I didn’t post them all during that last week! Take that procrastination! Plus it was a good way to catch up my blog with my reading, as I tend to fall behind with my corresponding posts and I refuse to skip over any book that’s on my reading list.

So I’ve decided to start the race again and will attempt to write nine new entries (including this one) by month’s end!

Admittedly, I’m much more nervous about this project this year as I have significantly less free time. With a full time job, two weekend trips out of state, Thanksgiving, and a scuba diving trip, my November is pretty spoken for. However, I’m determined to keep this blog – and writing – a priority.