Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Girls Who Read

For all you reading girls out there (and all you reading guys who like reading girls) I hope someone has already shared this video with you. If not, I am now.


Your Bibliomaniac

Monday, December 2, 2013

Unpublished JD Salinger stories leaked online

(I know I'm a few days late on this story, but it's big enough that I wanted to have my facts straight before posting anything. Details are still sketchy and I'm having trouble researching while avoiding the leaked stories which would just be too tempting to read, so please let me know if you find any errors here.)

Last Wednesday, three stories by JD Salinger (none of which had never been published) were leaked online. They come from treasure troves of unpublished Salinger materials gifted to Princeton University and the University of Texas around the time of Salinger's death in 2010. Much of this material reportedly revolves around the characters and themes of The Catcher in the Rye and experiences Salinger had in the Armed Forces. The stories were not to be published, at Salinger's request, until 50 years after his death. Yet three have escaped their hallowed (and really heavily guarded) reading rooms and been anonymously published online.

Of these three short stories, the most interesting one to literature lovers might be "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls," which is about the death of Kenneth (who you probably know by his later name, Allie), Holden Caulfield's brother, and therefore elaborates on a lot of Holden's backstory in The Catcher in the Rye.

According to one Collier's editor, it "contains the greatest letter home from camp ever composed by man or boy." To further your desperation to break into the reading room it is held in and read every scrap of paper Salinger donated to Princeton, you should know that a lot of the short stories and brainstorming bits there are about Holden and Co. So new bucket list item: go to Princeton's library and read everything Salinger stored there... legally.

While "Bowling Balls" was stored at Princeton's Firestone Library, the other two leaked works ("Paula" and "Birthday Boy") were held at UT, Austin. No word yet on what these stories were about. All three were allegedly taken from a small, legal London run of the works in 1999, but it's more likely that they were just copied (longhand or by more tech-savvy means) by a heartless patron who doesn't respect dead authors.

Your Bibliomaniac

Works Cited:
  • Haggin, Patience. "Unpublished J.D. Salinger Story Kept in University Library Leaked Illegally Online." The Daily Princetonian. N.p., 1 Dec. 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
  • "J.D. Salinger." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
  • "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
  • RulerofNothing. "Holden Caulfield Thinks You're A Phony." Red Bubble. Redbubble Pty. Ltd., n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Catching Fire movie opens strong, some commentary.

Hey-hey Tributes! (Okay, not sure how I feel about that title for the Hunger Games fandom, but it'll do.)

As many of you know, this past weekend was the biggest November box office opening ever and it was for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

NOTE: This was a bigger November opening than any of the Twilight sequels. That is a lot of excitement.

Anyway, the movie had a ton of great reviews and everyone I know who saw it thought it was wonderful. This movie trilogy is becoming known for staying very true to the books, which we Bibliomaniacs love. And the film has sparked some interesting attention to the book series itself (see this NPR article as an example), which is always nice to see. I just hope the people who see this movie also get around to reading/have read the books 'cause they're sorta great.

I get excited when thought-provoking books (like those in this trilogy) make headlines for any reason. It reminds me just how powerful the written word by itself can be: like, powerful enough to inspire these incredibly successful movies. And when it is a movie or other adaptation that is giving a book hype, it makes me think particularly about how these spiffed-up versions of the original written story change that story (get excited for my upcoming article on this topic: "A Million and One Sherlocks").

For instance, there are two scenes from the Harry Potter series that I saw clearly in my head above and beyond any of the other beautiful images JKR helped me dream up while reading her books. One is the scene when Hermione sees Ron kiss Lavender and she runs off, only to have Harry find her in an empty classroom conjuring twittering birds above her head. In my head, I see her sitting cross-legged on a wooden teacher's desk at the front of a classroom, a dark stained-glass window characteristic of the magical castle she studies at set several feet above her head, deep in the vaulted classroom ceiling. The birds she has pulled from thin air are bluebirds and cardinals, flapping around her head as she bravely, resolutely looks up at them with halfhearted concentration, twirling her wand and leading them in a slow halo around her nest-like poof of brown hair. Her robes are slightly askance and her Gryffindor tie is wrinkled. She does not notice Harry enter the classroom. The second scene is the sequence in the green-glowing seaside cave Harry and Dumbledore brave in search of the locket Horcrux. The cave walls are jagged, vertically layered and crumbling slate. A green light seeps from the slime covering the walls and shines into its crevices. Even the sand leading to the water has a green sparkle to it. The water itself is ghoulishly discolored: it reminds me of an oil slick, or the River of the Dead in the Disney version of Hercules. The sand is wet and Dumbledore and Harry both walk unevenly on it, Dumbledore adjusting to the terrain like a man one-quarter his age, Harry slightly awkward in his movements. A thick mist lays over the water and shrouds the Stonehenge-like landscape of the island they must cross to. Neither of these visions is precisely the same in the Warner Brothers films, and I've had to work hard to preserve my pet images of these scenes since seeing the movies.

Similarly with the fantastical Hunger Games series, everyone who has read the books must have a few special scenes, locations, characters, or sounds they envisioned especially clearly when reading the books that the movies will necessarily change. For me, Effie has never been the same character since the first movie was released--she's more Lolita-styled in the movies than I ever pictured her to be while reading. There's a great quote passed around in the radio station I work at--"Radio: It's like TV, but the pictures are better." I think the same can be said of the written word as the spoken word. As gorgeous as the Hunger Games film franchise (and/or Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth and that new guy playing Finnick) may be, the book trilogy can be even more beautiful in my head. These integrations of multiple forms of the same story make for a dynamic, richly textured understanding of the core of the story at hand.

So whether you read or view first--have fun piecing together all of the little metaworld bits you can from all adaptations of The Hunger Games. You may just get closer to the fine details of the story than you ever expected. When I saw the movie, I was stunned by what a different take on Katniss I came out of the theater with--not one that the author would disapprove of either. Seeing Katniss from another dimension gave me a view that made me love her, sympathize with her which I didn't usually do in the books. Also, seeing the Capitol and the desperation in the arena afresh and in a new light is a powerful reminder of what a terrible thing absolute power can be. I saw the film with a friend who dozed off: she apparently didn't find the film as frightening as I did. We, after all, live in a world where governments and rebels and desperate organizations carry out awful crimes every day--whether against a few select "Tributes" or massive numbers of unfortunate, innocent people. This is a series to think about. That is why I like seeing it make headlines.

For some interesting info on how the final book of the trilogy, Mockingjay, might be difficult for filmmakers to stay true to, check out this Buzzfeed article!

Your Bibliomaniac

Works Cited:
  • Holmes, Linda. "What Really Makes Katniss Stand Out? Peeta, Her Movie Girlfriend." NPR. N.p., 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Advertisement. Free Fever. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
  • Smith, Grady. "'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Breaks November Record." EW. CNN Entertainment, 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
  • Vary, Adam B. "9 Moments from 'Mockingjay' That Could Be Very Depressing On Film." Buzzfeed. N.p., 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Some of the Most Delightful "Harry Potter" Commentary I've Seen in a While

For all you Potterheads out there, I warn you: do not read this post unless you are prepared to become obsessed with a new Harry Potter fan theory. Don't say I didn't give you adequate time to back away.

You can just close this page right now.

I mean, the theory's really good, but you can totally turn away: you have will power, right?

Just delete your browser history and finish your homework. Pet your dog. Call your mom.

Are you still here?

Good. Because this is literally literary genius.

If you are prepared to go a little crazy over HP and you have the time for some literary contemplation, please read this article: Why Neville Longbottom is the Most Important Person in Harry Potter.

I also would like to retract what I said about Neville in
all the attention JKR gave him.

Your Bibliomaniac

Works Cited:
  • Asher-Perrin, Emily. "Neville Longbottom Is the Most Important Person in Harry Potter—And Here’s Why." TOR.com. Macmillan, 19 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. .

Friday, November 8, 2013

Doing the Truth in Love: Conversations about God, Relationships, and Service

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Borrowed paperback book (Thanks, Andrew!), 165 pages. I did buy my own copy afterward though--it was worth it.
Dates of Reading: September 10, 2013-October 29, 2013
Author: Fr. Michael J. Himes, CSC (and friends)
Publication Year: 1995
Recommended to: Christians, especially Notre Dame/Boston College students. I'm sure anybody could learn from this, though.
Quotes: A gazoodle. Literally, nothing is not quote-worthy here.
Movie: No.

Wikipedia Link: N/A
Link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/407417.Doing_the_Truth_in_Love

My View: This book has a lot of incredibly meaningful stuff in it. I do not feel equal to the task of interpreting it all, as I will not do it justice. I am beginning to incorporate it into my life though, slowly. It takes a while to really take in. Some parts of this, of course, can be distilled down and I could tell you what it is about, but I think that the full-on experience everyone deserves is by reading it cover to cover themselves or doing it in a large discussion format with friends. I was blown away by the sophistication of the advice and language in this book, and especially by Fr. Himes's perfect blending of the gentle and the firm in Christian teaching. As a theology student, I found this an academically groundbreaking experience. As a Christian, I found it spiritually fulfilling. As a person, I found it intriguing. As a student, I found it a helpful guide. As a friend/daughter/sister, I found it encouraging. Very many good things to say about this book, so many that my notes while I read it were flying everywhere (I had to get my own copy to reread so I can mark it up however I want). Something I would love to discuss with anyone who reads it.

Your Bibliomaniac

Works Cited:
  • "Doing the Truth in Love: Conversations about God, Relationships and Service [NOOK Book]." Barnes & Noble. Barnesandnoble.com LLC, n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Personally owned paperback novel
Dates of Reading: October 23, 2013-October 25, 2013
Author: Mindy Kaling
Publication Year: 2012
Recommended to: Comedy fans. If you like Steve Carrell, The Office, SNL, Catch-22, Tina Fey, or ABC Family Wednesday nights; this is your book.
Quotes: Too many....
Movie: No ma'am.

Wikipedia Link: N/A
Link: http://theconcernsofmindykaling.com/the-book

My View: Extremely hilarious, funny at all costs (AKA I really hope certain people mentioned herein never get their hands on this). At times, I really hope she's exaggerating, but a lot of the time... I don't think she is. Very very funny collection of writings including memoirs, rumination, lists, and anecdotes told by a comedienne who knows her art. I would like her to get a blog or weekly newspaper column. 

Your Bibliomaniac

Works Cited:
  • Kaling, Mindy. "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?" The Concerns of Mindy Kaling. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2013.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On the Road

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Public library hardcover novel, 256 pages
Dates of Reading: August 13, 2013-August 17, 2013
Author: Jack Kerouac
Publication Year: 1955
Recommended to: Fans of Catcher in the Rye, hipsters... I will warn you that it is a dense book that demands careful consideration (I don't think I can do it true justice, especially reading it unguided). The experience actually reminded me a lot of watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower last fall, when I needed about 48 hours to really process it and even just decide whether or not I had liked it! I needed a LOT of time with this one.
   "And the point was that Sam didn't have to go and look to know this" (40).
   "'I just won't sleep,' I decided. There are so many other interesting things to do" (47).
   "...they were very amazing maniacs" (50).
   "They were like the man with the dungeon stone and the gloom, rising from the underground, the sordid hipsters of America, a new beat generation that I was slowly joining" (54).
   "This is the story of America. Everybody's doing what they think they're supposed to do" (68).
   "...mixing up our souls ever more and ever more till it would be terribly hard to say good-by" (91).
   "My aunt once said the world would never find peace until men fell at their women's feet and asked for forgiveness" (122).
   "...Lucille would never understand me because I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop" (125).
   "But why think about that when all the golden land's ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you're alive to see?" (135).
   "They didn't know that a bomb had come that could crack all our bridges and roads and reduce them to jumbles, and we would be as poor as they someday, and stretching out our hands in the same, same way" (298).
Movie: From 2012, one that looks really good although it didn't get the hottest reviews. I wonder how closely it follows the actual book though, because a lot of this could get dry and I feel like filmmakers would feel a strong need to drench this thing in meaning and impose a false framework onto it. 

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Road
Link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/70401.On_the_Road

My View: As I started this book, I strongly felt that Kerouac's genius was generally overhyped. I have a reverence for writing in almost any form, but the book felt bland, lacking in style and devoid of creativity. I particularly found his over-use of the word "damn" empty and so omnipresent it reminded me of Holden Caulfield's "phony" tagline except without much meaning. Learning about how this book was written was very useful in helping me come to appreciate the style being used and I had to accept that this was not a book I could read alone. So during my reading, I had to simultaneously do a little Beat Generation research, especially about "Dean" and "Sal." Previously, I had never studied this era of authors and there were two passages in my research that stood out to me. 

"Everywhere the Beat Generation seems occupied with the feverish production of answers—some of them frightening, some of them foolish—to a single question: how are we to live?... How to live seems much more crucial than why" 

("On the Road." Wikipedia). (Quotation attributed to John Clellon Hughes.)

 "Not content with the uniformity promoted by government and consumer culture, the Beats yearned for a deeper, more sensational experience" 

("On the Road." Wikipedia).

   I enjoy how these quotes characterize the movement and how well they apply to the Beat Gen excerpts I've read recently. One problem I have with how this generation and particularly Kerouac portray all of these "grand life truths" is how centered they are on America. I love America, but any universal truth has to be universal and Kerouac seems to apply his mantras and philosophies specifically to his country. For such intelligent individuals as he and his friends clearly were, this way of seeing the world seems to be limiting. I came to see, however, that Kerouac's self-imposed limits were not merely patriotic. He also has a habit of throwing out perfectly good information gained through a lifetime of experience because he doesn't find his own life "authentic" enough to trust. More on this in a moment.
   The book took a while to get into (it seems that Kerouac found the journeys he was describing too grand and meaningful to distill into a cohesive storyline, so he just copied years of diary entries onto his famous scroll). But once I got past "Sal" observing one of Dean and Carlo's excessively honest nightly talks, the book started to pick up. It was if watching these two be honest about how they experience things, not just what they experience, allowed Sal to open up to readers in the same way, necessitating less dulling play-by-play and allowing a look at his inner experience, motivations, and reactions. However, when I turned a page and cracked open his mind... his mind infuriated me. I thought his apparent lack of direction and usefulness was just a front. Inside his brain however, it seems that he really was stumbling blindly with only a hazy and disjointed motivation to do anything. And here lies the annoying habit of discrediting personal experience to which I just referred. By getting to the basics of things, looking for the very root of the human experience, he ignored a lot of the truly important, big things that he already knew. Not only does this frustrate me as a reader today, it frustrated his mission way-back-when! He ignores the things he knows for the sake of education and it hurts his cause. A symptom of this is his refusal to acknowledge morality of any sort, except to discount it. He seems devoid of any "Catholic guilt," his Christian background rarely showing until Mexico brings it out in him a little. When he discusses the innocent young girls' ancient eyes there, comparing them to those of the Blessed Virgin, he likens his own eyes to Christ's, which I find very interesting. He does not want to acknowledge any morality that he has not proven to himself is valid, and yet he chooses himself to play the founder of a religion based on faith in his mental story?
   Overall, Kerouac spends a lot of time and energy "looking beyond" the obvious, and never seeing the obvious itself. This is especially true in his hero-worship of Dean, whom he eventually calls a rat. The lack of responsibility "Sal and Dean" take for their lives and the unconcern they display for people they affect is torturous and it leads them to a life pursuing answers so eagerly, they never stop to learn. Perhaps, of course, these memoirs record two young men's trapped expressions of freedom. They have a car, sure--a real sign of maturity--but they have no money, gas, food, destinations, or aid to make something of that car... they don't even really have many people to rely on. Maybe it would help if they could show the people who are in their lives a little more respect or consideration, but that ship sailed early on. The boys' disturbing lack of direction makes them difficult to stick with, but someone might stick around if they were treated with common courtesy. (This lack of direction and integrity is most clearly seen in their unwillingness to flatly dislike/disapprove of much of anything... they simply hate whatever happens to be blocking their path at any given time.)
   Despite his unconcern for the emotional, financial, and temporal resources of others, I must say that I appreciate Dean's intense interest in people. He loves studying them, interacting with them, comparing them. Yet even when he gives a young Mexican girl a wristwatch in apparent charity, it feels more like an experiment than an act of generosity or human affection. Kerouac frequently calls him an Angel or Prophet, but I don't feel either description is apt. Dean has the makings of a great and benevolent man but is too stuck in his own selfish "metaworld" to use his good qualities for anyone else's aid, the exact opposite of what Kerouac seems to find in him for much of the book. Dean certainly brings something to the table, but he never shares it around. Perhaps this has something to do with a fear of growing up. Every time that something meaningful is discovered in either young man's life, be it a skill, passion, calling, friendship, creed, or goal, they discount it by saying that their information was incomplete, assumed, "inauthentic," or wrongly given. They go so far as to abandon the beliefs and basic social mores and conventions they were raised on, searching for proof of the definite, in order to claim insufficient assurance that they should move forward and grow up and continue on with life in any real direction. They discount anything that was learned at any "unenlightened" time (an indefinite, ever-growing period of youth that can conveniently expand to swallow anything which might guide the immature men to take action) so they can never be told they have a "complete" enough foundation of knowledge to take action in their own lives. 
   One easily sees how these vicious cycles can grow enormously and I think Dean and Sal allow them to, unwisely, abnormally, and unhealthily. They have rather common social problems as well, though. One social habit these boys have that of course annoys me to no end is their constant objectification of women. The only strong female character introduced with minimal patronization, upon whom the characters rely without grudge and treat with respect and long-term love/responsibility is Sal's aunt. Every other girl introduced is sickly used. For the most part, "Sal" ignores women-as-people entirely and gives only fleeting, though intense concern to women-as-bodies/accessories. The book starts off with mention of his divorce, an event which allows him to meet Dean in the first place... interestingly, the book also ends with Dean happily leaving Sal with a new girl (who the real "Dean" would struggle with the rest of his life). I stumbled on an article at one point about On the Road painting women as a detriment to men's maturity, and perhaps this shift in perspective from the first to the last line would support this theory. More likely, I think, "Dean" was trying to experience life too intensely by engaging in extreme sexual behavior and Sal came to assume that this was the norm. They did not necessarily view women as roadblocks in their exploits because the women they use mean so incredibly little to them most of the time. They don't spend enough time thinking about the individual women themselves to justify saying that they were problems to overcome. If anything, they have a problem finding enough women.
   In other news, I did like many things about the style of this book. One of my favorite points is when  Kerouac writes, "...the great dry West was accomplished and done" (236). I feel this scene more than I see it, which is lovely. The mix of poetic, prosaic, and indeterminate styles surrounding this bit are really interesting as well. Sometimes, the style is very Catcher; other times, it feels almost Heart of Darkness. There are some times, like page 181, where he does very fun and random stylistic things (so much random stylistic stuff that I don't doubt he wrote this all in one sitting) and I wish I could read entire books in the styles he is slipping through. I also particularly enjoy his many delightful similes (i.e. "It was as hot as the inside of a baker's oven on a June night in New Orleans" [293].). In all, the way his style mimics and wraps into the story, and the way that the story itself shapes and molds the ever-changing style that is used in the diary-like writing and the signature Kerouac style eventually draped over it when the book was transcribed, is a really neat interplay that helps you enjoy both the plot and the writer more.

Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliographic info:
  • On the Road cover. Digital image. Voices of East Anglia. Newmarket Website Design, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2013.
  • "On the Road (film)." Wikipedia. WikiMedia, Inc., n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2013.
  • "On the Road." Good Reads. Goodreads, Inc., n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2013.
  • "On the Road." Wikipedia. WikiMedia, Inc. n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2013.
  • Shea, Andrea. "Jack Kerouac's Famous Scroll, 'On the Road' Again." NPR. N.p., 5 July 2007. Web. 5 Sept. 2013.

Monday, October 7, 2013


If there is one website you visit today (besides your very favorite, yourbibliomaniac.blogspot.com), let it be litographs.com. Why? Because this is a website that makes seriously awesome posters, T-shirts, and tote bags for seriously awesome readers. The company hires artists to draw a simple (but really cool) design representative of a classic book like The Great Gatsby, the Bible, Pride and Prejudice, Leonardo DaVinci's notebooks, etc. This image is then created using text from the book it was designed for.
1) Yes, that was difficult to explain.
2) So here's an example:
One of the Jungle Book Ts:
And a close-up so you can see the text the design is made from:

With over 30 books represented, and more coming out all the time, you are sure to find one of your favorite classics available on this site! GO. THERE.

Your Bibliomaniac

Monday, August 19, 2013

Les Misérables

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Personally owned paperback novel, 1,201 pages and endnotes (HEADS UP—This thing is really really long and my review is going to match it)
Dates of Reading: March 31, 2013-August 8, 2013
Author: Victor Hugo
Publication Year: 1862
Recommended to: Jane Austen fans, those who enjoyed Dostoyevsky's work, Christian readers, and anyone who enjoys the movie/musical and has a strong passion for reading.
Quotes: WARNINGthe length and beauty of this book make me feel absolutely entitled to compile this lengthy (and shockingly, really abridged) list. There are many other selections of beautiful, meaningful, and entertaining writing I could have included here, but this is the absolute shortest list I could make.
   "...you are looking at a plain man and I am looking at a great man. Each of us may benefit'" (20).
   "The soul in darkness sins, but the real sinner is he who causes the darkness" (30).
   "Our society is governed by the precepts of Jesus Christ but is not yet imbued with them" (180).
   "He had, it seems, concluded, after the manner of saints and sages, that his first duty was not to himself" (209).
   "White is the ferocious enemy of white; if the lily could speak, how it would tear the dove to shreds.... Every virtue flows over into vice" (572).
   "...he blesses God for having bestowed on him those two riches which the rich so often lack  work, which makes a man free, and thought, which makes him worthy of freedom" (591).
   "...simply a book-ist" (592).
   "...for he was living now from tomorrow, and 'today' could be said scarcely to exist for him" (617).
   "Nothing is more dangerous than to stop working" (741).
   "To die for lack of love is terrible  it is the stifling of the soul" (804).
   "There are six of you, and I'm the public" (857).
   "The events to be related [here] belong to that order of vivid and dramatic happenings which historians sometimes pass over for lack of time and space. But it is here, we must insist, that the reality of life is to be found, the stir and tremor of human beings" (891).
   "Whether it's men or events, the run-of-the-mill is not enough; you need geniuses in terms of men, and revolutions in terms of events" (922).
   "This is a bad moment for speaking the word 'love'; nevertheless, I do speak it, and glory in it. Love is the future" (942).
   "Was there any such thing as 'foreign war'?" (950).
   "You're aiming at that sergeant, Enjolras, but you're not looking at him" (1013).
   "There are people who observe the rules of honour as we do the stars, from a very long way off" (1050).
   "The pupil dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God" (1078).
   "To love is an accomplishment" (1140).
   "Predestination does not always offer a straight road to the predestined" (1142).
   "Until some deeper comprehension throws a new light upon our understanding of these things, human society away will always be divided into two types of men, Abel and Cain" (1159).
   "To die is nothing; but it is terrible not to live" (1197).
Movie: One that is brand new (A very good, (mostly) live-filmed version of the highly successful 1980 musical), plus a smattering of old ones.

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Misérables

Link: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/135

My View: Les Misérables and I were virtually fighting a war for a while there... my mom gave me the book for Easter and I started reading it immediately, not remembering that as soon as a I went back to school two days later reading for pleasure would effectively end until summer. When I came back for summer vacation I was dead-set on finishing it as quickly as possible... and then spent a lot of time reading To Kill A Mockingbird and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close instead. Anyway, it took several very long months to conquer this beast of a book, but I finally finished it.

   This means I am now WAY less like this:
And WAY more like this:

Because I don't have to be thinking about this anymore:
Instead, I can be thinking cool jazz like this:

After all… “I’d far sooner have [Maruis] in love with a wench than with revolution” (873). ;)

   As the introduction and length of my quotations section indicate, it will be incredibly difficult to distill my thoughts on this book into some bite-sized discussion-starters here. But I will do my best and just record some very basic commentary about my thoughts. Keep in mind that I come to this book with strong biasesI love theater and the Les Misérables musical and movie, and I also enjoy the French language. On top of all of this I love a good story of redemption (not revenge... redemption). These, among other personal slants, fated me to really like this book. 
   No matter how rudely it treated me.
   SO: Thought #1 is about the excellent wordplay throughout this book. I am reading a translation of course (sorry, my French is NOT that good), but the translation is beautifully done and I think preserves much of the author’s intended rhythm and mood. Norman Denny, the translator, included a lovely introduction in this copy describing his tireless work to this end. With a rudimentary understanding of French and a good grasp of English, any reader can sense Hugo’s voice in this writing. I especially loved his play on words about the "Friends of the ABC" and in his frequent play with the informal French "you," tu and the more formal "you," vous.
   Perhaps the reason there is so much creative input is because Hugo writes what he is passionate about. Very noticeably, he spends a lot of time focusing on the history and people of a city he adores: Paris. This provides a compelling study of humanity by looking into the petri dish of nineteenth-century France (and gives history nerds like myself some great historical soil to dig through).  Clearly proud of the boldness and intricacies of Parisian life, he even asserts that, “It would be a mistake to suppose that one can wander [through] Paris without ever meeting an adventure” (790). He even finds exquisite beauty in the haunting statue carcass Gavroche lives in as well as in the plight and culture of the usually disdained urchin child.
   Or maybe the real reason Hugo’s writing is so passionate is because he writes about whatever interests him even when it has absolutely no place whatsoever in the plot (and really I don’t feel like that is overstatement). Hugo includes a lot of personal commentary and opinion, which he often tries to disguise as absolutely necessary and relevant sidebars. While some of this is very interesting and does advance one’s understanding of the story, some of it really does bore and frustrate me as a reader eager to hear what is happening to my characters. In my copy, actually, the translator chose to take some tangents (like twenty pages about the workings and virtues of a convent and the development of thieves’ slang-language) out of the brick itself and staple it into the back. I feel like he could have done the same for much of Hugo’s Waterloo commentary and detailing of the Paris sewer system. These tangents are surprisingly beautiful… but they’re still tangents. Basically, this book would never have been published this way today, but it’s fun seeing inside a writer’s unedited head. It also allows for a lot of hilarity.
   Next, into some character discussion! The book has a more cohesive storyline, like an epic, than adaptations. More time and space is spent on developing themes than characters, but that’s okay because there’s enough space in this giant of a book to discuss a thousand themes in great depth and also allow for strong character development. The characters are winners, written very realistically with even the best having flaws. An excellent example of this is Jean Valjean. Although he lives a fantastic life, it isn’t implausible and he has as many personal shortcomings as anyone else. In adaptations, I feel he is overly perfect, bordering on being unbelievably unswerving in his goodness (depending on whose portrayal you see).  I also like that adaptation Valjean is an endearingly unwitting martyr in contrast to the book Valjean who is totally aware of his own virtue, annoyingly so. That the canonical version of this character struggles so much with moral decisions and still makes the right ones, though, is more impressive than that the pure-to-the-core movie version, for instance, makes good choices. I like both of these presentations of Valjean, but have difficulty reconciling them.
   Then there’s Marius. Ah, dear Marius, what will we do with you? I found Marius too wishy-washy for my taste. He and Cosette seem infatuated, not in love. In the popular fandom debate about Marius as a revolutionary versus Marius as a lover (there’s clearly negligible textual support for the former from a purely book-supported stance), I’d have to say I feel he is unsuited for either in the long term because he’s so hot-headed and impulsive. I adore how much he adores Cosette (the heart-pound-inducing reflections on love in Book V Chapter IV… swoon) but find his general immaturity distracting. It even makes me call into doubt the veracity of his feelings for the Lark (Oops, have I struck some nerves?). No matter which version of him you study—film, stage, book—he’s not the brightest guy around. But in this version, the inclusion of his mixed devotion to Thénardier makes him seem especially foolish, given that his father clearly would not have wanted him to run around chasing a man such as that scoundrel to “repay” him. I had been told, prior to reading, that Marius was smarter in this original form than in adaptations and for me this simply wasn’t true. The most paining example I can think of is his habit of becoming stuck in his own head at pivotal moments when his withdrawal seems more like cowardice than thoughtfulness, prime instances being in the tenement when he cannot pull the trigger to summon Javert and in the barricade when he withdraws to sit on the curb. I know we’re all prone to getting pulled into our own minds like this, but usually I feel it’s because a character/person is being excessively thoughtful. He seems locked in without really filling that time with thought.
   Now don’t hate me, because I do think there is some redemption for Marius. He grows up at the very end, in his confrontation with Thénardier. There, he clearly sees the scourge of a man found in this crook, takes a stand for himself, and makes a decision I find wise, virtuous, and final. This single scene makes up for a lot of stupid leading up to it.
   There are, of course, several other characters who I love throughout the book: Marius’s dedicated grandfather, the little urchin Gavroche in his kind devilishness, and so on. However, I think perhaps my favorite character is Éponine. She surpasses Cosette in goodness because she is sweet and innocent, despite a situation that should breed a character entirely to the contrary. The inclusion of her person carries one of the book’s greatest motifs: the innate goodness Hugo believes is found in everyone. She even advances several other favorite themes of mine that I haven’t the space to explain in great depth, such as the values of courage, perseverance, forgiveness, gratitude, and family. Above all, she captures the natural virtue in all love. The love she gives, so absent in what she receives from others, is the most touching in this entire story, in my opinion. She’s like what Rosaline would have done had she really loved Romeo when he scampered off with Juliet (imagine how much Shakespeare could’ve made off of that plot twist), and that pitiful, unrequited but unfettered, unknowing love of total devotion is what is so beautiful about her. To wrap her up in a Biblical passage I’m sure Hugo knew and loved, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, New Living Translation).
   There are oodles of characters I’d like to talk about, but how about we just skip to the ones whose names were most frequently doodled with hearts and smileys in my copy of the book: the Barricade Boys. How can you not love them? Hugo clearly does, and according to at least one adaptation, they look like this:
And this is their best little buddy/errand boy:

So clearly, I love them. As a Tumblr user once wrote, “how do you explain to your parents that you want to marry dead fictional French revolutionaries without first names?” (Les Misérables Confessions). I feel your pain, Tumblr person. Never have I seen an author care to lovingly flesh out so many characters in what he had to know would usually be seen as one solid bloc. It makes each man important when he is lost, and provides many small triumphs and victories that truly matter in a place of so much sacrifice. In short, the cost of this barricade is felt because of Hugo's writing. It makes me wonder which man Hugo most related to, which revolutionaries were based on real men he knew, whether the ABC Society was based on anyone real, and whether he would more respect a man like Marius who stayed out of the fray or a man like Enjolras who created it. If only Hugo were still around to be interviewed on this.
   Hard as it may be to believe, this book contains humor, adorable sidebars, anxiety-inducing cliffhangers, and adventure. And amidst all of this, Hugo found room to incorporate meaning. Briefly, my favorite "messages" are:
  1. The value of moderation (Hugo none too subtly argues that every value can be a stain if found alone and in excess. Everything good or bad, this work proposes, must be judiciously balanced by an opposing force. In the book's own words about this balance of extremes, "Conscience is the highest justice" (188), "[Valjean's] conscience: that is to say God" (210), "Gradualness is the whole policy of God" (734). So justice/rightness = conscience = God = gradualness/moderation.)
  2. Love is the ultimate good (This is the final message Jean Valjean imparts to his adopted, most beloved daughter and her worthy husband. It is also how his own journey toward greatness begins. The Bishop who turns Valjean's life around shows him the greatest love possible. He never asks the distressed ex-convict for his hidden name, but insists that this man, like any other, ought to be called brother. These and many other passages make love out to be the most incredible of all personal definitions, a beauty one should seek to embody.)
  3. The great wonder of redemption can come from worry, tragedy, and mistreatment (The glory, strength, and power of a converted heart are on full display here. A changed, new heart, "blinded by the radiance of virtue" is lifted above all else in Hugo's writing (116). This is beautifully displayed in the parallel tracks Valjean literally and Marius figuratively take in their grandest rebirths: Valjean is put in a coffin, buried, and removed from his tomb in a Christlike, covert ceremony. Years after, Marius feels as if he passed through a tomb of his own and emerged unscathed when he escaped the barricade with Valjean's saving aid. Redemption by suffering in the place of others is held above all other forms of rebirth, because "the most godlike of human bounties [is] expiation on behalf of others" (490).)   (PS. Another parallel that really floored me is that between Valjean and Thénardier. Marius spends a good chunk of his time searching for the "angelic" crook who dragged his father from a battlefield. Only a few chapters later, he takes up the cause of exiling Jean Valjean from his home on the understanding that this angel is really crooked... not knowing that Valjean was the one who dragged Marius himself from his own battlefield. How's that for large-scale chiastic structuring?)
   Now a short note about my opinion concerning differences between adaptations. Some book things that are cut for adaptions hurt to see missing (i.e. Le Cabuc, the gorgeous exposition about the bishop before Valjean arrives, leaving out some details surrounding Enjolras and Grantaire's death scene). There are some changes made between the book and the musical or movie, though, that I really like. For instance, I adore the change of scenery for Valjean's last days. In the movie, we hear his final breaths in the silent, contemplative arena of the convent/chapel, surrounded by utter poverty and simplicity. In the book, he is at home in his simple apartment, writing a last-minute letter at his desk. The movie version, I feel, is a far more fitting place for a man like Valjean to choose to spend the end of his life (I don't recall where he dies in the stage musical, or if the location is very directly communicated in this version at all). Your thoughts?
   Also, a question for y’all (fans of the book, musical, movie, whatever): Why is Javert so satisfied with the idea of Jean Valjean killing him with a knife in basically every Les Mis incarnation? In the movie/musical, when Valjean appears to be on the verge of slaying his tormenter with a knife, the inspector says, “How right you should kill with a knife." Also in the book he makes a comment about the appropriateness of this weapon. Why does he feel that using a knife is the most appropriate way for an ex-con to kill? Is it simply more base/brutal/painful than a gun? I almost feel like Javert would find killing with a knife to be more honorable than killing with a gun because it makes the job more personal (like how a lot of people have trouble accepting the use of drone weapons because they don't force anyone to deal with the emotional realities of killing... there are few ways to make that shock more real for the killer than to make him use a knife in his work) and so he would find a convict like Valjean incapable of having the valor to use one. Anyway, this is a line of Javert's that has always bothered me and I’d love some input on it.
   Overall, this book is truly a masterpiece and a rewarding read.
So grab that brick...
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliographic info:
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