Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Karamazov Brothers

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Personally owned paperback novel, 870 pages
Dates of Reading: October 27, 2013-January 2, 2014
Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Publication Year: 1880
Recommended to: Crime and Punishment or Les Misérables fans.
   "As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too" (6).
   "Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sins of others" (53).
   "Dear little brother, I don't want to corrupt you or to turn you away from your stronghold, perhaps I want to be healed by you" (258).
   "Why are you always in such a funk for your life?" (296).
   "Life will bring you many misfortunes, but you will find your happiness in them, and will bless life and will make others bless it -- which is what matters most" (313).
   "The thing is so simple that sometimes one is even afraid to put it into words, for fear of being laughed at, and yet how true it is!" (323).
   "...act so that your servant may be freer in spirit than if he were not your servant" (351).
   "...prayer is an education" (352).
   "Always decide to use humble love (353).
   "It was not men's grief, but their joy Christ visited" (401).
   "One lajdak doesn't make a Poland" (494).
   "I'm not very beautiful, so I had no right to consider him repulsive" (519).
   "Ivan has no God. He has an idea" (665).
   "I am as much" (696).
   "I, too, shall walk my quadrillion" (728).
   "He talks about some hymn.... But that man in prison is incapable of suffering" (851).
Movie: Several, but I'd only want a very high-quality, lengthy, well-produced new one.

Wikipedia Link:

My View: From the introduction: "[Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Turgenev's] deep love of humanity and compassion for fellow-sufferers in the human condition led Oscar Wilde to exclaim, 'What makes their books so great is the pity they put into them'" (vii).
   Wilde surely had difficulty distilling Dostoevsky & Co. into such a concise review, so I can't expect to do this brilliant work by Fyodor Dostoevsky justice in a short blog review. I could talk about the book for ages. I could mention Dostoevsky's views on modernization and the possibility of an übermensch, the easy flow of his writing even after translation. I could discuss the emptiness of each character filled only by Alyosha and the interesting interaction of God and man through prayer/action/calculation/rebellion discussed in this book. I would love to go on about Fyodor Pavlovitch's buffoonish behavior and the interplay of "modern" psychology and optimism about the human spirit, both seen by Zossima and explained partially in his piercing, entrancing, moving speeches contained here. I could go on about rehabilitations attempted, failed, fledging, and successful, of boundless forgiveness by man, God, and a society unsure of how to handle reprieve. I could quote Dostoevsky on beauty turned to ash by sin, hatred, and immoderation, or his views on accomplishment, inadequacy, and prideful desire. I could chip at the faith, the doubt, and the reasons supporting both and neither that provide the frame of this book. I could look at Dostoevsky's ideas of invention and tradition and comfort, all sensuously described in a recalling of what is good in the world (similar to passages in The Secret Life of Bees). I could joke of an incompetent but endearing German physician, or remember the young and old men he pronounces ill or worse. I could discuss contempt and compassion, suffering for oneself and others and the whole world and nothing at all; cruelty and care, interdependence, reliance, trust, and betrayal. I could talk for hours about the mysteries of this world and of God above that Dostoevsky harps on, or explain his ideas on service to one another, truth in reason and reality, aberration, disorder and a Higher Order, trust, and predictable stupidity. I'd like to comment on the anecdotes Dostoevsky stole from his own Crime and Punishment about lame horses being flogged. If I tried describing any of this though, I'd get bogged down trying to unravel the spiritual arguments that this book is woven of, all of which are way over my head but pull at my mind and heart and spur my body to action. The raptures of freedom, free will, dictation, rebellion, and choice at the heart of this book could (and probably have) fill(ed) volumes of philosophy books that I cannot distill with any skill here, especially since I don't know anyone else who has read this and therefore I don't have anyone to discuss it with.
   I needed both SparkNotes and the introduction of this book (by ADP Briggs) to read it at all well. If you're not working with a think-tank book group or at least a class, I recommend using these types of resources extensively so you don't miss out on important thematic details. It is a true masterpiece and ought to be considered central to the Western canon: a book to really love amidst a lot of mediocrity. A book to move me and make me fall in love. Reading it is truly a religious experience and I think it would be so even for those who are not among the faithful. I find it very interesting that this work was completed near the very end of FD's life and was intended to be the start of a very long epic of novels, and can only imagine what else was in store for poor Alyosha, whose life was predicted time and again to bring joy through pain. I wish I could have read whatever it was he intended to write. I also wish I could have read it all in the original Russian, which must be really beautiful considering how pretty (although amazingly, astonishingly, painfully poorly edited) the mere translation is. A book for the ages.

Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliographic citation:
  • Doestoevsky, Fyodor. The Karamazov Brothers. Ware: Wordsworth, 2010. Print.

Friday, January 10, 2014


My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Personally owned hardback novel, 352 pages
Dates of Reading: January 3, 2014-January 9, 2014
Author: Jo Baker
Publication Year: 2013
Recommended to: Austenites
   "It was a thought, that... Not just to hitch a lift with the first fellow who looked as though he knew where he was going, but just to go" (145).
Movie: Nope, but I could see it becoming one.

Wikipedia Link: N/A

My View: The servantry in this book live in a manor called Longbourn in early 19th century England. The five daughters of the household flounce to parties, play piano, pine over suitors, giggle about militiamen, take visitors and tea, soothe their "nervous" mother, and fall in and out of love in the gardens and parlors and streets of Meryton. The oldest, Jane, is a sweet and lovely girl who ends in a sweet and lovely life with her sweet and lovely suitor, Mr. Bingley. Her next sister, Lizzy, struggles through multiple courtships before ending happily with the brooding Mr. Darcy, who owns half of Derbyshire. The overlooked intellectual, Mary, comes next, spending her days pounding away on her pianoforte and casting longing glances at the gawky Mr. Collins. The youngsters, Kitty and Lydia, are nearly indistinguishable in their joint laughter and pride until Lydia marries herself off to the slimy military man, Mr. Wickham, at age 15. And all the while, two maids, a butler, a cook, and a footman must be opening the girls' doors and washing their dresses and stitching their bonnets and lighting their fires and heating their hair irons. While Jo Baker's book tells of the men and women who could have been these servants, her story is decidedly outside of the Meryton metaverse.
   It's not just that several of the events Baker reports of "below-stairs" aren't really plausible in the course of Austen's story--like James hitting Wickham without anyone later noticing, or Mr. Bennet successfully hiding a secret son for 25 years and not claiming him just for the security of the entail, or that Mrs. Bennet fusses over the girls' inheritance constantly without going to bits over the son she lost each time she discusses it. The story seems a bit gratuitous, and though it may be more "realistic" than its source novel, the added grit takes it out of the Austen world.
   The ending is a great last triumph, although Sarah striking out in Elizabeth's darkest hour doesn't quite ring true, even if Sarah is in a depression. At no other point in the novel do I sense the compelling, unbearable, action-worthy wanderlust Baker introduces right here at the end, so this dramatic exit seems forced.
   At any rate, I really enjoyed it. I might have enjoyed it more if didn't try to connect to one of my very favorites (you shot yourself in the foot dragging P&P into my head while I read your book, Baker). The writing and research were very strong though, and I appreciated the hard work that went into this book.

Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliographic Citation:
  • Baker, Jo. Longbourn. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Print.
  • Mayer, Petra. "Austen Unvarnished: Q&A With Jo Baker, Author Of 'Longbourn.'" NPR. N.p., 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 11 Jan. 2014. .

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Casual Vacancy

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Hardcover library book and personally owned paperback novel, 503 pages in paperback
Dates of Reading: August 17, 2013-October 22, 2013
Author: JK Rowling
Publication Year: 2012
Recommended to: Older HP fans (those who outgrew the series and are still readers today), anyone who likes family dramas, and probably those who enjoy political dramas like Scandal.
   "You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it's whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God" (88).
   "Colin... never seemed to... appreciate that behind every nondescript face lay a wild and unique hinterland like his own" (99).
   "Nobody close to Krystal had ever died of old age" (199).
   "What's needed is a bit of common sense" (226).
   "I'll tell Mist' Fairbrother" (325).
   "What the f***?" (431). (My apologies to those offended by language requiring *s. It's just so necessary.)
   "...vaguely interested at last" (494).
Movie: It's going to be a BBC television miniseries beginning in 2014, which I think sounds like an excellent way to adapt this story.

Wikipedia Link:

My View: I'm sure some people think that HP had too happy an ending. If you were among those disappointed by the "rosiness" of the Potter universe, read The Casual Vacancy. You will find that JKR's mind isn't really the most lovely place. While I might see a little Harry in Andrew and some Dudley in Fats, I see them equally reflective of Sal and Dean (respectively). Big lesson: this is not the JKR you were expecting. But if her classic characters seem to be absent, JKR's signature style is still there. Her attention to detail, overwhelming character choices, delicately interlocking plot pieces, and powerful understanding of nuance are extraordinary. I missed her genius presence for much of the book, feeling her style but not her brilliance. And even 100 pages in felt the story wasn't quite "there" yet. Though the writing and characters are patently compelling, there is no plot put forth until very late, and it feels like page after page of stalling, like a fractured TV show pilot headed for a nasty cancellation. But when the second SQL hack hits on page 319, the book finally feels like a novel instead of a birds-eye narration of a randomly corrupted small town.
   A word about the characters: they are marvelous. Some of their quirks are so peculiar (i.e. Shirley's omnipresent "favorite medical website") and specific and harped upon that they could not have been pulled from thin air, but must have been the result of JKR's interpersonal studies (like Gilderoy Lockhart). Many of the characters are dreadfully repellant (and the story has no designated hero). Every person has an attitude problem or abuse issues. They *all* love drama (which is almost never the answer to anything). But every single one is so true, honest-feeling. It's one of those marvelous stories where you look up from your reading and are shocked to realize no one you just read about exists. I begged to know what Krystal had of Barry's. I am contemptuous of the town's universal cowardice.  I am compelled by each person's individual strength and complexity, especially Parminder and Andrew (I was inwardly shouting to save them both). I tear up for Colin, who always "suffered twice" (230). I thank Goodness for Sukhvinder, an intelligent character I can respect. I feel like marching straight up to Gavin and demanding an account of his true feelings. I hate Shirley's petty, cruel, needless worries as they destruct the town around her, shallowly corrupting a 3D world with 2D wrinkles. I feel for Kay, hoping that her genuine intellect won't be overwhelmed by her devastatingly low EQ and fly-away temper (both fueled by her dependency issues). Each of the many characters here is exactly 1/2 sympathetic, unavoidably touching. The many beautiful characters' interconnecting storylines force readers to examine the question of who has responsibility for whom in a community and the immense power of each individual. They affect true emotion in me, the strongest empathy (fortunately not sympathy) being when Andrew's father beats his family. It prompted me to write rather a lot of swear words in the margins of the book. Terri's "pathetic dignity" (321) was also moving, constantly redoubling my desire for her daughter's redemption, Barry's proclamation that "You [Krystal] don't have to go the same way" (327) always ringing in my ears.
   For a while, I found this book terribly confusing. This is possibly because it had a rather incoherent plot for a few hundred pages. British literary style standards and slang also put me out, causing me to search for a British Urban Dictionary. Beyond just the language and styling, British culture is clearly beyond me... I was especially unsure of British attitudes toward marriage and family life, and determined that some of their views must be a little more lax than ours or else the questions some of the women ask at tipsier moments are not just rude, but absolutely unallowable. Of course, the amazing awkwardness of some moments are the product of perfectly blended character, scene, and plot descriptions (a JKR specialty). In awkward, triumphant, depressing, or exciting moments, the scene becomes overwhelmingly real, visible, and tangible by her prowess.
   One note... this book was much easier to review than most books of about the same size. I don't know anyone else that has read this and it's not very widely written-on yet... so I haven't been able to tell if I missed something or if it was as easy to distill down as I thought. Anyway...
   On page 288, the author professes that her town is filled with "Things denied, things untold, things hidden and disguised." This is the perfect tagline for her story. When this tragedy of selfishness, isolation, unconcern, and near-sociopathic behavior all pulls together into a plot about responsibility, public involvement, and interpersonal concern... you might lose it (not as much as when Dumbley-dore died, but...). Look out, because this is not the JKR you know.

Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliographic Citation:
  • Han, Angie. "J.K. Rowling's 'The Casual Vacancy' Being Adapted for the BBC." Slash Film. N.p., 3 Dec. 2012. Web. 2 Jan. 2014. .
  • "The Casual Vacancy." J.K. Rowling. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2014. .
  • "The Casual Vacancy." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2014. .
  • Rowling, J.K. The Casual Vacancy. New York: Little, Brown, 2012. Print.

A Very Happy New Year, All!

Happy 2014, friends! I hope 2013 has been excellent for you, your family, and your friends and that the new year will bless you even more. Here's my annual summation of popular literary awards if you're interested. Enjoy!

National Book Awards:
•I have not read or heard of any of this year's winners, runners-up, or longlist nominees. Sad :(

National Book Critics Circle Award nominees:
•The fiction award here was presented to Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Deemed "the Catch-22 of the Iraq War," I'm really excited to look further into this. It also made the finals for the NBA (that first award up there, not the basketball league) which is promising.

The Newbery and Caldecott Awards, both for young fiction:
•All interesting winners and nominees, but none that are calling my name.

The Pulitzer Prize:
•The multiple literature and writing award winners all look interesting, but The Black Count (drama winner) looks by far the most promising. 4000 Miles also looks intriguing (history winner).

The PEN/Faulkner award nominees:
•Again, nothing I've heard of.

The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the contemporary writer Alice Munro, whose page on the Nobel Prize website can be found here:
•She has been acclaimed for her short stories (which aren't really my thing), which is a little unusual.

*The Bibliomaniac Book of the Year Award this year goes to Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.* It ran a hard race against The Karamazov Brothers by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Doing the Truth in Love by Fr. Michael J. Himes, CSC but ultimately came out on top (maybe because I can sing along to this book). All are excellent books: find their reviews here, here, and here.

God Bless Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

A Million and One Sherlocks (a really abbreviated version of my thoughts on the subject of intermodal storytelling)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes series in the late nineteenth century.

A quick IMDB search reveals that at least 11 movies, TV series, and video games have been made from Doyle's concept since the 1930s.

Among these, there are two "modern" TV series that have made a big splash in the past few years: Elementary on CBS and Sherlock, imported to PBS from the BBC.

There have been tons of non-canonical Sherlock Holmes books and stories and whatnot by people who aren't Arthur Conan Doyle as well as works loosely based on the Doyle characters written since the original stories' publications.

Sherlock Holmes, detective extraordinaire, is recognizable in every one of these stories. But as he jumps from London to New York, from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, from book to movie, from Nicol Williamson to Robert Downey Jr., what remains the same in every adaptation that makes each story the "Sherlock" story?

How can a story be told and retold in many mediums, formats, cultures, and languages, sometimes without an original canon version to pull from, and still be the same story (think Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice, Charlie Brown, and of course Sherlock Holmes)? Many stories have undergone these transformations and always been the same stories no matter how they were told. It's something very magical about storytelling that can take an idea, lesson, structure, or character and communicate it in many different ways without compromising the integrity of that basic, beginning concept.

Something that has always intrigued me about stories is how each exists in a metaverse all its own. For instance, Harry Potter takes place in a particular "parallel universe" in which magic exists and Hogwarts educates young magical folk and a creature whose name must not be spoken is determined to enslave non-magical humans. Other parallel universes are much closer to reality, like that of Because of Winn-Dixie or The Casual Vacancy. These parallel metaverses, the realms in which each story takes place, might be seen as the calling card, the main identifier, the barcode of a story. But when you remove these stories from their home medium, language, or time period, often immensely altering the metaverse they exist in, how are they still recognizable? These changes that alter the metaverse in which a story takes place are perhaps the most interesting changes to analyze. Some stories, such as the Cinderella story, don't even have a primary canon version that all others can be measured against to find the "real" backdrop to which the story belongs. 

Perhaps these changes are what really bring out the power of a timeless story. The place, characters, time, clothing, and other details are often able to be changed without making it unidentifiable. Each varied retelling of the story without a primary source contributes to the intangible creation that is the entire story, never contradicting a "real" narrative. In other words: the stories have rather little to do with the places, fringe characters, and other considerations included. These never-ending, ever-present stories have everything to do with something a little less visible, a little less replicable, and immensely more powerful. In stories without primary canons, the story has a life of its own that is only made more complete with every change in its re-telling.

Is the same true for adaptations that do have canons? Do the original Sherlock Holmes stories, my favorite example, benefit from the creation of "spin-offs?" I would argue that they do. A story that can have changes made to its metaverse without altering the basic story itself proves its worth. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people." A book that can rely on its ideas to be ever-expanded and more or less infinitely squeezed and prodded has the greatest power of all.

(For more complicated references, think about stories where the canon is conflicting. In the first National Treasure movie, Jon Voight's character pretty clearly indicates at one point that his wife is dead--yet in the sequel, Helen Mirren appears as his estranged wife with whom he does not see eye-to-eye. Rachel has like nine different birth dates mentioned on Friends. Several of the books JKR references in the Harry Potter series have name or author changes between books.)

This is something I'd really love input on! Please write me ( or comment below! I think it's very common to disregard or besmirch adaptations of one's favorite literature, and I've certainly done that. But maybe there's more power to an adaptation than we think….

Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliographic Citation:
  • IMDb. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2014. .
  • "Non-canonical Sherlock Holmes Works." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2014. .