Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Freidrich Engels (3/5)

Manybooks.net says (I downloaded it from there – legally): "One of the world's most influential political manuscripts. Commissioned by the Communist League and written by communist theorists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, it laid out the League's purposes and program. It presents an analytical approach to the class struggle (historical and present) and the problems of capitalism, rather than a prediction of communism's potential future forms." – Wikipedia

I say: First of all, I just have to point out that because I don’t want to get too political on this blog, I’m not going to say that much about this. I read it because it was a part of my 100 Classics Challenge and one of those texts that I’ve said for years that I’m going to read, but never really got around to it.

It’s been a few years since I studied political science and, as a part of those studies, communism – mostly when I was studying insurgency/terrorism and Che Guevara – so my mind was a tad rusty. I’ll probably read this again at a point when my mind is more susceptible to politics, which it isn’t right now.

Having said all that, I did enjoy this.

Even if you’re not into politics this is an interesting read, if only to read what Marx and Engels have to say about the history of the class struggles, and of the bourgeoisie especially. This really made me snort:

“Our bourgeois, not content with having the wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other's wives.” – p. 16

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the reaction they had intended when they wrote that sentence, but I couldn’t help myself.

So yeah, this may be my shortest and review to date, but I find it impossible to talk about this without giving away my own personal views and I’m not at all inclined to do so on this blog.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (5/5)

The back says: Chief Bromden, half American-Indian, whom the authorities believe is deaf and dumb, tells the story of a mental institution ruled by Big Nurse on behalf of the all-powerful Combine.

Into this terrifying grey world comes McMurphy, a brawling gambling man, who wages total war on behalf of his cowed fellow-inmates. What follows is at once hilarious, tragic and ultimately liberating.

I say: I was a bit reluctant to start reading this because I had seen the film twice and I never understood what all the fuss was about. The first time was in school at the age of 10 (what they hell was our teacher thinking?) and the second sometime in my early twenties – I understood way more that time and Jack Nicholson is awesome. I am so glad that I had to read this as part of my 100 Classics Challenge because I loved it.

Just absolutely loved it.

First of all, I just have to say that this was an incredibly intense read for me; so intense that I took me a week to finish it, because I had to stop along the way when it got too much and too heavy.

I love that Kesey chose to set the novel from “Chief” Bromden’s perspective since he was the silent and invisible observer and therefore offered what in the beginning was a neutral point of view. As mentally damaged as he may have been, he still had enough clarity of mind (most of the time) to be able to assess the situations and describe them with staggering beauty. And this is coming from someone who usually can’t stand novels written in vernacular.

Yes, I did notice the bad grammar, but it didn’t bother me.

Having seen the movie I already knew what was going to happen but, as always, it was different reading about it. It wasn’t over in 1.5 hours and therefore it became a slower and more intense process – and less obvious. Even though I knew and could discern that McMurphy was liberating the men and fighting Nurse Ratched, the subtlety of his actions were far more profound when observed through the eyes of one of the very people he was trying to free. Chief Bromden was by no means a stupid man, but because he had moments of hallucinations it made me question his interpretation in the beginning.

I could truly go on for days about this novel, and I probably will, but I’m going to finish off by saying that the reason this gets 5/5, besides the moving storyline and the brilliantly quirky characters, is due to all the layers that Kesey laid forth. We are all free to take from a novel what we please, but sometimes there’s only so much you can grasp.

With this the possibilities are endless.

I mean, the critique of the mental healthcare wasn’t subtle, nor was it meant to be, but Chief Bromden’s paranoia about constantly being watched and manipulated by “the combine”, the way he described how Native Americans were being treated by the government, the reason why Nurse Ratched ran the place with an iron fist and hired the men she did, the meaning of the title… the list is endless.

And I am passing this on to everyone I know so that we can have merry heated discussions about it for hours.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Death Cure by James Dashner (4/5)

The back says: Thomas knows that WICKED can’t be trusted. They stole his memories and locked him inside the Maze. They forced him to the brink of death by dropping him in the wilds of the Scorch. And they took the Gladers, his only friends, from him.

Now WICKED says that the time for lies is over. That they’ve collected all the data they can from the Trials and will rely on the Gladers, with full memories restored, to help them with their ultimate mission: to complete the blueprint for the cure for the Flare. But Thomas must undergo one final test.

What WICKED doesn’t know, however, is that Thomas has already remembered far more than they think. And it’s enough to prove that he can’t believe a word of what WICKED says.

The time for lies is over. And the truth is more dangerous than Thomas could ever have imagined.

I say: I was excited to finally read the last part of the trilogy, but I wish I had curbed my enthusiasm because this was somewhat disappointing. 

Dashner is very good at keeping me at the edge of my seat. All of the novels have been fast paced and full of action, but the one issue I’ve had previously is that Dashner has taken some elements too far, and that’s what he did in The Death Cure. There were so many twist and turns and backs and forths and ups and downs and who are we going to trust and why and

it

made

my

head

hurt.

And not because I was trying to figure it all out, but because it got tedious towards the end. Dashner could easily have rounded up this novel in half the pages. The advantage the other books had was that it was ok, in my opinion, to present new problems because the purpose of the final installment is to tie up all the loose ends, so I allow and forgive more. Don’t get me wrong, all in all it was a nice ending – albeit somewhat disappointing because it didn’t go the way I wanted it to –

but that’ll learn me to have expectations.

What I did love about this was that the characters remained true to themselves, and although it's been a few months since I read book two, it was easy to ease back into Thomas’ head and world. Dashner gives such detailed and vivid descriptions of everything it feels positively tangible, and I really admire that. This is the only book that I haven’t read in one sitting (I read this in two sittings) but that was only because I had to go to work. And even with all the curveballs I was continuously desperate to find out what was going to happen –

though I did sigh and let out frustrated “oh you’ve got to be kidding me” quite frequently towards the end.

All in all it was a good end, but it could have been better. I would definitely recommend this trilogy and may even read it again a few years’ time when I’ve completely repressed the details of the third book.

I do tip my hat to Mr Dashner for creating this impossibly insane and yet very plausible dystopia.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (4/5)

The back says: Set against the lush backdrop of 1830s Jamaica, Jean Rhys’s powerful, haunting story was inspired by her fascination with the first Mrs Rochester, the mad wife of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

If Antoinette Cosway, a spirited Creole heiress, could have foreseen the terrible future that awaited her, she would not have married the young Englishman. Initially drawn to her beauty and sensuality, he becomes increasingly frustrated by his inability to reach into her soul. He forces Antoinette to conform to his rigid Victorian ideas, unaware that in taking away her identity he is destroying of himself as well as pushing her towards madness.

I say: More than anything I fell for the language and atmosphere in this. There was this underlying feeling of menace that drew me in, even though it sometimes faded into that level of obvious foreboding that I generally dislike. The prose was frequently beautiful and it somehow felt like moving around in a haze, like I was standing right next to these characters and silently observing them.

That’s what I loved.

What I didn’t love so much was being left with the feeling of not really getting a gist of who the characters were. They felt like faint sketches, and I’m not sure if this is what Rhys intended, but they felt sort of flat. I was so intrigued by their present that I wanted more of their history – or at least enough to make me understand their choices properly. Maybe this is my not so subtle way of saying that I didn’t buy the reasons given and otherwise implied, but it just felt like there had to be more to Antoinette’s mother and I wish that had been explored.

The same goes for the marriage between Rochester and Antoinette. Nothing about it made any type of sense. Well, actually it did make sense, so I guess I just didn’t like the sense it made.

Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and maybe that aspect of the novel enriches it, but since I read Jane Eyre in my teens and don’t remember a jot about it, I’ll have to pick it again to see.

I have to say that I kept swaying between greatly disliking Rochester and pitying him, so it’ll be interesting to see what Brontë did with him and where she took him. The same goes for Antoinette; she went from having my sympathies and even admiration to just being pathetic. In a way I suppose that was her destiny, or so everyone in the novel would have one believe, but there was something about her state of mind at the end of the novel that was unconvincing.

A 4/5 because of the prose, the setting, the element of voodoo, and the emotions it invoked.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Mmm… Monday: Robert Frost, Part the Second

I’m so tired, so it’ll be a short one by Robert Frost for today.

A Question

A voice said, Look me in the stars
And tell me truly, men of earth,
If all the soul-and-body scars
Were not too much to pay for birth.


I still get chills every time I read this, and I doubt that I’ll ever get over how utterly brilliant this man was.

It just doesn’t get more emo real than this.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Quote of the Week

"No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance."

- Confucius

Thursday, 17 November 2011

BTT: Category


Of the books you own, what’s the biggest category/genre?
Is this also the category that you actually read the most?
I haven’t done a BTT in ages (I kind of fell out of the whole routine), and after a long weekend in Berlin and no updates, I thought I’d answer this week’s questions just to ease myself back into it.

I own more classics than anything else, and that is probably the genre I read the most. At least the genre I buy the most.

I think.

It’s either that or contemporary fiction that I have a tendency to rescue from the bargain bins and thrift stores of the world.

I read a lot of YA as well, but because I find that to be such a hit and miss genre, I tend to borrow them from library.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Pojkarna av Jessica Schiefauer (3.5/5)

Baksidan säger: En originell och magisk tonårsskildring.

Vi fyllde fjorton år den våren, Bella, Momo och jag.

Vi höll oss för oss själva.

Om vintereftermiddagarna var vi oftast i Momos rum, men under den varma delen av året satt vi i Bellas trädgård, eller inne i växthuset om det regnade.


Vi levde mitt i allt detta sprakande och det fick mig att glömma att jag var Kim, att jag hade en kropp som växte och sprängde. Växthuset var en frizon, ett rum att gå till där andra lagar gällde.

På dagarna utstår Kim tillsammans med sina tjejkompisar Bella och Momo killarnas kränkningar, men på nätterna dricker de av nektarn från en fantastisk blomma som förvandlar dem till pojkar.

Kim kan inte få nog av friheten i en annan kropp och blir som pojke också kär i Tony. Tillsammans upplever de både spänning och attraktion, men som tjej är inte Kim intressant för Tony.

Jag säger: Jag vet inte riktigt hur jag kan förmedla mina känslor om den här boken. Å ena sidan så tycke jag att den var otroligt fint skriven, men å andra sidan så var det vissa element av berättelsen som jag inte tyckte om –

som kändes nästan lite överdrivna.

Det första jag inte förstår är varför tjejerna låter killarna ta på dem. Visst, vi får höra att de är rädda och det är bättre att vara tyst, men det är ju övergrepp som pågår och det kändes obehagligt. Jag förstod inte heller hur dessa tre tjejer som var så starka ihop bara lät det ske, och det ringar lite falskt i mina öron.

Detsamma känner jag inför slutet; det hela var så forcerat. Allt gick så fort, och visst förstår jag att Schiefauer ville komma till slutet för att knyta samman alltihop på ett fint sätt, men jag köpte det inte alls.

Det som jag verkligen tyckte om var sättet som Schiefauer skriver på. De är många metaforer och liknelser och stundom känns det som ren poesi; atmosfären hon skapar är en balansgång mellan det hårda livet som flicka och det euforiska livet som pojke. Men ibland gick jag vilse i hennes språk och det kändes som att hon spenderat mer tid på det än att forma sina karaktärer. Jag fick aldrig lära känna Kim ordentligt nog att förstå hennes beslut och kunde därför inte riktigt sympatisera med henne.

Pojkarna är en vacker historia som sakta byggs upp mot ett mäktigt crescendo som sedan verkligen exploderar, men tyvärr så tycker jag inte att Schiefauer lyckades plocka upp alla bitar på ett tillräckligt tillfredsställande sätt.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (3/5)

The back says: A masterpiece of poetic realism, Fathers and Sons received an unusually stormy reception upon its publication in 1861. Radicals perceived the novel as a crude caricature of progressivism, while the right saw it as distasteful, even dangerous glorification of nihilism. For in Bazarov, the novel’s protagonist, Turgenev creates one of the first, and one of the finest, in a long literary line of angry young men. The interaction with Bazarov with his parents, his friends and the woman he loves is fast, furious and fascinating for the psychological truths it unveils.

I say: I was unexpectedly underwhelmed by this. Somehow I thought that I was going to love it because it has all the elements that I adore; Russia, nihilism, philosophy, psychology and angry young men, but it merely left me with a sense of meh, and I fear that the main reason was that all the characters bored me.

Apart from maybe Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov.

I have this habit of never reading the back of Penguin Classics because they are usually full of spoilers, so I had no idea that Bazarov was to fall in love when I started reading this, however it became apparent disappointingly soon in the novel. A small part of me was hoping that it wouldn't go the way that I was predicting, but alas, it did. It's such a cliché; a man, who doesn't believe in anything and mocks everything, falls in love and blah blah blah.

I'm being unfair, I know.

But I don't care.

There were some interesting conversations and opinions in this novel and I quite enjoyed those bits. A lot of references to people that I may or may not research in the future, and I must say that I very much appreciated the footnotes – which they could have, as per usual, extended to all the French sentences as well.

Why doesn’t Penguin ever translate the French!?

I suppose that, more than anything, this is the type of novel that I enjoy more because of the discussions that may arise from it rather than the writing and the story, because I really don’t have anything to say about either - I've seen and heard it all before. What I have found sometimes happens when I read the classics this late in life (I’m not yet thirty but I feel ancient) is that because few of the ideas are new to me, in order for me to be impressed by something that I’ve already read a refined and distilled version of, it has to be spectacular.

And this was not spectacular.

However, it’s the first novel I’ve read by Turgenev and I will probably give him another chance because I have, quite honestly, hardly even managed to form an opinion of his writing.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (4.5/5)

The back says: Will Grayson meets Will Grayson. One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers are about to cross paths. From that moment on, their worlds will collide and lives intertwine.

Inside dust jacket: It’s not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old – including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theatre auteur extraordinaire – Will and Will begin building towards respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most awesome high school musical.

I say: I somehow expected this to be some sort of science fiction, probably because of the name factor and an imagined alternative universe that would collide on this fateful night. But it was nothing of the sort. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, in fact;

I loved it.

We get to follow the two Will Graysons’ lives in alternating chapters and, according to Wikipedia, the way the authors set this up was that they each wrote the first three chapters separately and then got together and decided on how they would meet. I rarely mind novels that interchange between characters, as long as there is a reason for it.

I fell in love with the second will grayson – the one whose text had no capitalisation. There was so much about him that reminded me of myself, and when the betrayal emerged I was absolutely seething.

I sort of liked the first Will Grayson – the one who did capitalise – in the beginning; he was somewhat whiny and somewhat the archetypal nerd, and there was something about his life that was a bit meh. As the story progressed, and he grew as a person, I came to like him more and more.

I have to say this though, as stereotypical a flamboyantly homosexual as Tiny was, he won my heart over and over again. His character was definitely needed in the first Will Grayson’s life in order to bring some light heartedness and comedy to this novel. Otherwise we would have been stuck with two melancholy Will Graysons, which would have been a tad too much, even for me.

And yes, I have to type out their full name every time I mention them.

Weird.

This is a perfect coming of age novel and the reason why I keep returning to young adult fiction. It was laugh out loud funny at times, sad and heartbreaking at others, and then uplifting and just plain perfection at others. I never saw the end coming and I think I may have teared up a little lot.

It was a happy ending, which even cynics like me need every now and then.

I’ve never read anything by either author before, and I need to find out which one of them wrote which part, because I really want to read more from whoever wrote the second will grayson’s chapters, because some of it was pure perfection.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Mmm... Monday: Zbigniew Herbert, Part the First

Earlier in the year I read Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo, mainly because it was being turned into a movie and I was intrigued by the prospect of a story about a guy riding around in his limo over the course of one day.

I mean, seriously.

So, I read it and it confused the hell out of me, which is probably why I fell in love with it. This was before the blog so there’s no review (luckily). I tricked a friend into reading it by telling her that it was an awesome read (which it truly is), but really I just wanted someone to discuss it with. She didn’t get it either and it has now turned into this big joke between us; the core of which is the mention of the rat becoming/eating the currency. When we were discussing the novel we talked about the fact that it derived from a poem by Zbigniew Herbert, but for some inexplicable reason I never actually read it.

Colour me an idiot.

Bla bla bla, last night we were having one of our marathon conversations (they’ve been known to last up to 8 hours – really) and of course that damn rat was mentioned again and so I decided to finally read the poem and I just have to say that I am ridiculously blown away by this.


Report from the Besieged City

Too old to carry arms and fight like the others -

they graciously gave me the inferior role of chronicler
I record - I don't know for whom - the history of the siege

I am supposed to be exact but I don't know when the invasion began
two hundred years ago in December in September perhaps yesterday at dawn
everyone here suffers from a loss of the sense of time

all we have left is the place the attachment to the place
we still rule over the ruins of temples spectres of gardens and houses
if we lose the ruins nothing will be left

I write as I can in the rhythm of interminable weeks
monday: empty storehouses a rat became the unit of currency
tuesday: the mayor murdered by unknown assailants
wednesday: negotiations for a cease-fire the enemy has imprisoned our messengers
we don't know where they are held that is the place of torture
thursday: after a stormy meeting a majority of voices rejected
the motion of the spice merchants for unconditional surrender
friday: the beginning of the plague saturday: our invincible
defender
N.N. committed suicide sunday: no more water we drove back
an attack at the eastern gate called the Gate of the Alliance

all of this is monotonous I know it can't move anyone

I avoid any commentary I keep a tight hold on my emotions I write about the facts
only they it seems are appreciated in foreign markets
yet with a certain pride I would like to inform the world
that thanks to the war we have raised a new species of children
our children don’t like fairy tales they play at killing
awake and asleep they dream of soup of bread and bones
just like dogs and cats


in the evening I like to wander near the outposts of the city
along the frontier of our uncertain freedom.
I look at the swarms of soldiers below their lights
I listen to the noise of drums barbarian shrieks
truly it is inconceivable the City is still defending itself
the siege has lasted a long time the enemies must take turns
nothing unites them except the desire for our extermination
Goths the Tartars Swedes troops of the Emperor regiments of the Transfiguration
who can count them
the colours of their banners change like the forest on the horizon
from delicate bird's yellow in spring through green through red to winter's black

and so in the evening released from facts I can think
about distant ancient matters for example our
friends beyond the sea I know they sincerely sympathize
they send us flour lard sacks of comfort and good advice
they don’t even know their fathers betrayed us
our former allies at the time of the second Apocalypse
their sons are blameless they deserve our gratitude therefore we are grateful
they have not experienced a siege as long as eternity
those struck by misfortune are always alone
the defenders of the Dalai Lama the Kurds the Afghan mountaineers

now as I write these words the advocates of conciliation
have won the upper hand over the party of inflexibles
a normal hesitation of moods fate still hangs in the balance

cemeteries grow larger the number of defenders is smaller
yet the defence continues it will continue to the end
and if the City falls but a single man escapes
he will carry the City within himself on the roads of exile
he will be the City

we look in the face of hunger the face of fire face of death
worst of all - the face of betrayal
and only our dreams have not been humiliated
 

I actually got chills when reading this the first time. And an open jaw.

How can I not have read this before?

One of the things that I love is the lack of punctuation which allows us to interpret the composition of words in different ways.

all of this is monotonous, I know. it can't move anyone

all of this is monotonous. I know it can't move anyone

The way the narrator distances himself from the goings-on by first letting us know that he was not allowed to take part, and then by diminishing his role as a chronicler is, to me, probably the most poignant part of this poem.

Apart from the rat becoming the unit of currency.

Jokes aside, I’ve now read this three times and still get the same feeling of complete awe when I get to that last sentence. It’s just absolute perfection.

And yes, Cosmopolis makes so much more sense now.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Quote of the Week

"Look upon good books; they are true friends, that will neither flatter nor dissemble: be you but true to yourself...and you shall need no other comfort nor counsel."

- Francis Bacon