This was supposed to be Les Mis. Then it was supposed to be Charlotte’s Web. However, it is in fact The Lorax

Disclaimer:  I am currently attempting to watch the 2011 Jane Eyre since I’ve had the netflix dvd for 3 days now and would like to be able to get my next dvd, I will do my hardest to not confuse Jane Eyre with The Lorax.  If I suddenly wonder if the Once-ler is haunting Jane Eyre’s happiness, you will understand I am sure.

Now…the reason for my title.  Originally, I was attempting to read Les Miserables.  Then Saturday, Amelia woke with a cough.  No big deal.  Called the doctor’s office to be sure, but we all felt it was an upper resp infection.  4 hours later, my daughter is laying semi-conscious on the couch laboring to breath, panting in short breaths with a fever.  Another nurse call was made, this one telling me to get to the er after steaming Amelia in the bathroom first.  This was my first time in almost 5 years of needing to go to the ER for Amelia.  As you can imagine, this caused a great amount of fear and stress on Greg and I’s part.  We were sent home with an inhaler and super duty amoxicillin.   And we spent the next 3 days in a haze of medicine giving (ibuprofen alternated with tylenol for fever, amoxicillin twice a day, her inhaler every couple of hours and benadryl from time to time for relief of some of the symptoms) and random demands for a piece of toast.  Exhortations to eat, drink.  Getting her to rouse from the couch for a bath.  Basically my brain allowed me to the joy of watching tv as it was too tired to do anything else (I became oddly addicted to Gordon Ramsey’s Hotels from Hell and Hoarding during this time).  So, there went Les Mis finishing.  Then I decided, well I can do Charlotte’s Web, Amelia’s better enough for me to be able to read Charlotte’s Web.  I began it.  One chapter or two into it, Amelia in a burst of unforeseen energy ran it into her pit of do….um room and I have been unable to retrieve it.  There went Charlotte’s Web.  Luckily! I was able to track down her copy of The Lorax and read that for today.  Technically I have read it before, but not as a kid, only as a parent reading it to her child.  And I can assure you, there is an actual difference between reading a story to your child for their enjoyment and reading it to yourself for your own review.

The Lorax is a favorite of Lydia Millet.

I’ve heard that many state that Dr Seuss wrote The Lorax as an eco statement.  That might be the case.  The thing I love about Seuss is that he never talks down to kids.  I grew up reading ALL the time, and as such ran across more than one “morality” tale for kids.  The plot usually was “Little Jane is bad and doesn’t listen.  Little Jane gets sent to horrible orphan….oh wait sorry that’s Jane Eyre 😛 haha jk.  Honestly though, the plot usually was some kid be bops along and is generally a good kid.  But they don’t listen to the well meaning adults in their lives or the goody goody friends they have and DIRE CONSEQUENCES OCCUR.  But then some good grown up comes along and rescues them from themselves and they learn THE IMPORTANT LESSON OF LISTENING TO YOUR ELDERS.  Or some such crap.  Seuss never made me feel that way and still doesn’t as an adult.

The thing I look for in any story is _the story_.  I love any sort of narrative device, any sort of genre, IF THE STORY IS GOOD.  I don’t care about the fact that some author uses some fancy narrative trick, if there isn’t a good story behind that trick, the book is crap.  Seuss fulfills my good story love quite well.

The “nonsense” words he uses helps.  Thneeds are what the Truffula trees are used to make.  The Once-Ler comes and sees an idyllic place with beautiful Truffula trees and beautiful creatures cavorting around.  He manages to make a Thneed (the thing everyone needs!) from a Truffula tree and begins mass producing Thneeds, cutting down Truffula trees.  A little round mossy looking guy named the Lorax comes to warn him.  But the Once-Ler doesn’t listen.  Until the very last truffula tree falls.  Then the Lorax leaves a rock with the word Unless inscribed on it and disappears.  The way Seuss makes it a story that needs searched out by a young boy going to a house on the outskirts and paying with a variety of things including a nail, then the story itself with the nonsense words that end up being very lyrical when reading aloud.  When it comes off my tongue while reading to Amelia, it has a feel of a fairy  tale, not just a story book.  I loved having the experience of both reading this to a child for the first time and reading it individually as an adult.

I also am really happy that Dr Seuss ended up on these lists, even if it was just once with one book.  I think people forget about Dr. Seuss when listing favorite books.  I mean, they’re _kids’_ books right?  The literary devices and language that Seuss uses though, make him an author whose books shouldn’t be forgotten merely because one now can read War and Peace.

Happy New Year! And Lord of The Rings

For this week, I read Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I had dreaded attempting this one again, as I had already tried to read this several times and never made it past the first chapter.  It just seemed so…boring.  It actually made me a little sad, as I adore all three movies (though I’ve only seen them all like 3 times as watching them involves a major time commitment LOL).  This time though, since I was reading it to report back on it, I persevered.  And found past the first chapter, a treasure.

For all of you following along with what authors like what books when Dave and I write about them, Lord of the Rings was listed in the top ten for Chitra Divakaruni and Richard Powers.

As most people are familiar with the movies by now, I won’t go into too much plot recounting.

Basically, in The Hobbit (which I have yet to see the first one released in theaters), Bilbo Baggins lays hold of a ring.  He carries it back to the Shire, where all the Hobbits live (well most of them, LOTR goes into detail about where hobbits live, and let’s say that all the “normal” and “socially acceptable” ones live in the Shire).  Life is peaceful for oh, around 60 years or so.  Then it all begins to go dark.  Bilbo leaves the Shire and leaves the ring to his nephew Frodo.  And still things go on quietly for awhile longer.  Then all hell breaks loose.  It comes about that the ring is the one thing that can make Sauron victorious completely over the world again.  Frodo and others (The Fellowship) set off to attempt destruction of the ring.  Through it all, wars, battles, elves, Gollum, humans wanting the ring etc etc, Frodo carries on towards Mordor to destroy the ring.

The Lord of the Rings has so many things in it.  I think that explains it’s constant appeal throughout the decades.  There are heroes.  There are clear cut villains.  There are people who are neither good or bad.  There are people that are mostly good but do bad things and mostly bad but do good things.  It’s a tale not only about good triumphing evil, but about redemption.  There are battles, which Tolkien manages to suffuse with adrenaline, so that people don’t feel they are just reading a history account of some long ago battle.  There are elves, oh the elves, with their endless fascination not only for men in the series but for all of us that aren’t in the series.

I’m really not going into this very much, because Jackson’s movies have made the stories of LOTR so universal and so many others have commented countless times on the stories in the last decade that I don’t find much left to say.

HOWEVER!

I find it endlessly fascinating that the stories sprung out of Tolkien’s just wanting to make up a language, and writing stories about this world he just created.  It took him years and years to finish the book, and while people repeatedly attempted to find parallels between it and World War II which had just recently ended, Tolkien repeatedly denied that any one character represented any figure from the War (i.e. Saruman or Sauron representing Hitler).  Parts of it were written before the war, parts were written during the war.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Dave & I started this blog in May.  In May, we both each read one book, making 2.  In June, we both read 2 books each, so 4.  In July, Dave read 2 books and I read one, so 3.  In August, I read 3, and Dave 2, so 5.  In September, I read 1, Dave 3.  In October, I read 3 and Dave 1, so 4.  In November, Dave read 3 and I read Genesis, the beginning of the Bible, so um..we’ll say 3 🙂  In December, Dave read 2 and I finished Genesis and wrote about non book stuff, so 2.  We’ve read 27 books so far (which I might have gotten the math wrong so Dave can correct haha).  I remain very happy to have begun this project and can’t wait to see which books I discover that I really should have read before in my life in 2013.

Genesis–Part 3

So.  I finished Genesis.  There is a _lot_ to Genesis, which is why it took me 3 blogs to get it all the way done.  Imagine like 5 of your favorite novels condensed into a few paragraphs and mushed together and that’s what makes Genesis so hard.  There are all these different stories, but all of them go under the larger story arc.

In the final part of Genesis, Joseph is chronicled.  His father is that liar Jacob, he of the smooth skin and brother blessing stealing.  Jacob loves Joseph most of all and gives him a finely brocaded coat to prove it.  He then sends him out to check on his older brothers, whom Joseph has tormented with two dreams he had where it appeared they were bowing to him.  They see him and decide to throw him into an empty cistern.  The eldest, Reuben, in the hopes of saving him tells them to throw him in but to do nothing else.  (Reuben previously laid with his father’s concubine, costing him the elder’s rights of inheritance, so maybe he was hoping to get back into dad’s graces).  Reuben then leaves.  A traveling band of slavers passes by, and the 11 other brothers, led by Judah (who, oddly, contributes to the line of David, that contributes to the line that Jesus comes from, thereby disproving the whole “sins of the fathers” thing 😀 ), sell Joseph as a slave.  Joseph is taken to Egypt and finds favor in his master’s house.  But apparently Joseph is good looking, so the wife wants him.  Bad.  He tells her no, that it would be a sin against God to take her, as she is the one thing his master has not given him control or use of.  The wife attempts kissing him anyway.  He runs off, leaving his robe in her hand.  She then cries “Rape!”.  His master has him thrown in jail for no reason.  But he is kind enough to throw him into the prison that the high ranking prisoners are held in.   Joseph quickly gets in good with the jailer, always because of God’s favor.  He ends up interpreting two dreams, one for the Pharaoh’s cup bearer and one for the Pharaoh’s baker.  He asks the cup bearer to remember him and help him out of prison where he is unjustly held.   The cupbearer forgot him.  The baker might have remembered him, but as he lost his head about 24 hours later, it probably did Joseph no good.  Years pass, where Joseph still remains in prison.  Then the Pharaoh has two very strange dreams that he consults with a variety of supposed soothsayers, and dream interpreters, none of whom can interpret the dream.  The cup bearer FINALLY remembers Joseph and the Pharaoh calls him.  Asks him if he can interpret his dreams.  Joseph says he cannot, but that God can.  He then interprets the dreams as meaning 7 years of bounty were to be followed by 7 years of famine and that Pharaoh should start storing wheat etc against the eventual 7 years.  He listens and elevates Joseph up into the high position, the one in charge of doing all this.  Joseph does his job and does it well.  When the famine hits, Egypt is good, in fact Egypt is better, because Egypt is able to sell grain to other countries.  Suddenly, who at Joseph’s door should appear?  Why Reuben and 10 other brothers a-begging.   They don’t recognize Joseph.  He forces them into leaving one of the brothers behind and says to not return until they bring Jacob with them.  They end up coming back, Joseph reveals himself, after fighting with his anger for awhile and realizing that he needed to treat his family well.

I didn’t read the Count of Monte Cristo yet, Dave read it.  However, I did recently see the adaptation with Guy Pierce.  And all through reading this story in Genesis again, all I could think of was the Count of Monte Cristo.  Man gets framed and sold by brothers.  (Genesis).  Man gets framed and imprisoned by best friend he grew up with (Count).  Man spends years in servitude and jail (Genesis).  Man spends years in prison.  (Count).  Man becomes powerful and wealthy (Genesis).  Man finds treasure and becomes powerful and wealthy (Count).  Man is bitter and wants revenge against brothers (Genesis).  Man is bitter and wants revenge against friends and others who wrongly treated him.  (Count).  The movie ended differently than the book I think, so my comparison stops there.  However, as you can see, my original section holds true.  We keep hearing some of the same stories retold and retold in different ways.  How many stories depend on a woman wronged accusing a man of violating her?  (I know, I know, it adds to the whole “she asked for it” mindset, which is not my intention here as I think that’s disgusting.  But, it is a common literary device).

Genesis is definitely worth a read, as there were side stories in here included in the larger stories that I didn’t really go into.  Give it a read 🙂  It is worth it, whether you believe in God/Christ or are just interested in the literary side of things.  My one recommendation?  Read it in a study bible.  It gives all sorts of historical notes and cross references that, for me, enhance the story a TON.

Happy Reading!!

In two weeks, we shall discuss Luke.  Or possibly Matthew.  Whichever Gospel I decide I feel like talking about as we go into the Christmas holiday 🙂

Genesis–Part 2

I have divided Genesis into 3 parts.  Though not as long as some books, it does take awhile for me to read sections of the Bible.

I apologize for the lateness of this post.  I present the reasons of Thanksgiving and all night Black Friday shopping.

For a list of which authors listed the Bible as one of their top ten, and why it’s important in the realm of literature, see my original post.  In this blog post I’ll talk about the following:  the story of Abraham and Sarah,  the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the story of Lot and his family, Isaac and Rebecca, and Esau and Jacob.

Abraham was originally called Abram.  Sarah was originally Sarai.  Sarai was barren.  She made Abraham take her maidservant Hagar.    Sarai was very cruel to Hagar, so she ran away.   An angel of God came to Hagar and asked why she was running away, she replied that she was running from Sarai.  The angel told her to return to Sarai and serve her.  He promised her  “I will increase your descendants that they will become too numerous to count.  You are now with child and you will have a son.  You shall name him Ishmael.  for the Lord has heard of your miser.  He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.  And so Islam was born.  Then God came to him “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you.  The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God”.  Then the covenant of circumcision was born, as God required that as Abram’s end of the covenant.  He pronounced that Abram (99 years old) was to get circumcised, as well as all of the males of his household.  He said any male at eight days old was to be circumcised.  At this point, Ishmael was thirteen.  Arabs, those of Islam faith, consider themselves descendants of Ishmael, so circumcise when the boy is thirteen.  He promised Abram that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky.  At this, Abram wondered, as his wife, Sarai was quite old.  They were both nearing 100.  God promised him though, renaming Sarai, Sarah.  Time passed.  Sarah was still barren.  God told him he would have a son, and name him Isaac.  Sarah laughed upon hearing the repeat of God’s promise by God outside of their tent.  God replied “Why did Sarah laugh and say ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?  Is anything too hard for the Lord?  I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son”.  Then the angels and God were to go to Sodom, to destroy it, as it was completely infested with sin.  Abraham pleaded for Sodom asking if God was to find x amount (he started at fifty and worked down to ten, possibly in an attempt to save his nephew Lot and his household) would he save those people even as he destroyed Sodom.  God replied He would.  He and his angels came into Sodom and the men captured the angels and wanted to do very very bad things to them, the things that often happen in all male prisons nowadays.  Lot pleaded that the men of Sodom (as he had recognized the visitors as God’s angels) to take his (Lot’s) daughters instead, virgins, and that the men could do what they wanted with his daughters.  They then told Lot that they would treat him worse than the angels, as he was an outsider who had moved to Sodom.  The angels told Lot to take his family and flee.  He told his family, but his sons-in-laws (which confuses me and my self study Bible doesn’t explain, if Lot’s daughters were virgins, how did they have husbands?  My only thought can be that they were fiancees who were already called sons-in-laws, or else Lot’s daughters were very special virgins indeed), laughed at him.  The angels grabbed Lot’s hands, those of his wife, and those of his daughters and led them out of the city.  The city was then destroyed.  Lot’s wife, disobeying the angels of the Lord, looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.  Apparently, the southern end of the  Dead Sea, even today, salt formations exist that are reminders of her fate.  Lot and his daughters end up hiding in a cave.  The daughers are scared that their line will die out, so get their father drunk and force him into sexual intercourse.  (Note; this is where the promised incest in the last entry is).  The older bore Moab, the younger Ben-Ammi.  The narrative then goes back to Abraham and Sarah, who are in a foreign land.  Now, Abraham liked to lie and say that his 90 year old attractive wife was his sister.  The ruler became upset with Abraham as Sarah was very desirable and men wanted her, but to lay with Sarah would have been a great offense, since she was Abraham’s wife and not his sister.  (Abraham would say this out of fear for his own life, that she would be desired and he would be killed in order for a man to have her).

Skipping ahead to Isaac and Rebekah.  Abraham on his deathbed, makes his servant promise to go back to his homeland to find Isaac a wife (the Lord had told him to not find one for Isaac in the land they currently lived).  The servant prayed that when he got to the town, the woman meant for Isaac would offer him and his camels water.  Rebekah did.  They went back to her home, and when her father heard, he willingly gave Rebekah.  She was Abraham’s great niece.  She wed Isaac in Sarah’s tent.  Abraham died and left everything to Isaac, but gave the sons of his wives after Sarah died, gifts.  Ishmael’s sons are also named, and the last part of that section says “And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers”.  Rebekah became pregnant with twins, who began fighting even in her womb “The babies jostled each other within her”.  She asks the Lord why is this happening?  This was the response; “Two nations are in your womb and two peoples from within you will be separated;  one people will be stronger than the other and the older will serve the younger”  (in direct contradiction of the rules of the time that said the eldest inherits and the younger serves the elder).  The boys come from the womb and Esau is hairy and redhaired from birth.  Jacob, smooth and not redhaired from birth.  When the boys grew, Esau became a skillful hunter, Jacob a quiet man, staying among the tents.  Esau was Isaac’s favorite, Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite.  When Isaac was on his deathbed, he told Esau to go hunt two animals down, fine specimens, and to bring them back for Isaac, and he would bestow his blessing on him.  Rebekah heard this, and conniving little liar that she was, called Jacob to her.  Isaac had gone blind.  She told Jacob to go find two young goats and to slaughter them.  He wondered how Jacob would mistake them as Esau was so hairy and he so smooth.  Rebekah attached goat hides to Jacob’s hands.  Isaac was suspicious when Jacob went to him, but bestowed the blessing anyway; “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.  May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness–an abundance of grain and new wine.  May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers and may the soons of your mother bow down to you.  May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed”.  Jacob leaves.  Esau comes and Isaac is upset, saying that he already gave his blessing to Jacob.  Esau begs for a blessing, even one, from his father.  He gets “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above.  You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.  But when you grow restless you will throw his yoke from off your neck”.  Jacob flees to Laban, out of fear of what Esau will do, having been warned by his mother.  Before he goes, Isaac Isaac tells him to not marry a Canaanite woman, but to return to where Rebekah lived, and to take a wife there from the daughers of Laban, Rebekah’s brother.

Jacob goes to Laban.  Laban has two daughters.  Jacob falls in love with Rachel, but she has an older sister, Leah.  After a month there, Laban asks Jacob what he would like his wages to be.  Jacob states that he would work for Laban for seven years, and then would like to marry Rebekah.  Laban tricks Jacob and gives him Leah instead.  The day after the wedding night, Jacob is understandably upset and goes to Laban “What is this you have done to me?  I served you for Rachel, didn’t I?  Why have you deceived me?”.  Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.  Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work”.  Jacob agrees, loving Rebekah like he does.  Laban gives him Rachel right away, after Leah’s wedding week is over.  Leah bears Jacob sons, including Levi, whom the future priests, or Levites descended from.  As well as Judah, who was the ancestor of David and ultimately of Jesus.  Rachel becomes jealous of Leah’s fertility, as she is barren at that point.  She tells Jacob “Give me children, or I’ll die!”  Jacob asks her “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”.  She then gives him Bilhah, her servant, so he can sleep with her to bear children that Rachel can claim.  Leah stops having children so has Jacob lie with Zilpah, her servant.  Leah keeps having children.  Then finally God remembers Rachel; He listens to her and opens her womb.  She names her son Joseph.  Jacob works a deal with Laban to build a herd by taking the spotted and marked goats from his flocks.  Laban, showing his brotherhood to Rebekah, takes all those animals out of his herd and spirits them away.  Jacob begins to have the herd drink from water with branches from poplar, almond and plane trees that he marked with stripes.  The flock that drank from these became spotted.  Jacob eventually flees from Laban, having had his wages changed ten times and having served Laban for twenty years.  Rachel steals Laban’s idols before leaving, showing that she hasn’t quite given up her pagan ways.  Laban chases down Jacob, demanding why he felt the need to steal from him.  Jacob is confused and tells Laban to search the tents, and if he finds the idols, Jacob will kill the person that has them.  Rachel, showing that family’s deceptive streak (Jacob does too), puts them under her saddle.  She tells her father she has her period so cannot climb down.  He believes her and idols are never found.  And this is where I leave you in the narrative.

Faith standpoint:  For me, all these stories are important.  Even before Jesus comes and saves us, all these people in Genesis were making big mistakes.  The Ten Commandments weren’t around yet, but they lied, mated with their daughters (though the daughters were more to blame than the father in this endeavour), they did not trust in God (Sarai and Hagar).  Oh!  Forgot the story of Abraham and Isaac.  God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham, though of course he didn’t want to murder his promised descendant for a sacrifice, obeys.  God intervenes at the last moment, telling Abraham that because of his faithfulness, He is sparing Isaac.  This isn’t something done wrong, but rather right, but since I forgot that story wanted to get it in there.  This sacrifice, this instant, predicts the future sacrifice of God’s own son, Jesus.  Also, back after Adam & Eve are cast from Eden, God makes it pretty clear that He intends for women to become of one flesh with their husbands, thereby dictating that a man should have only one wife.  Obviously, from above, you can see that they didn’t exactly listen to that.  They were fornicating everywhere.  Also, there is doubt of God’s promise, when Sarah laughs at God’s promise.  Anyway, it’s a hopeful thing to me, that all throughout the Bible, there are people messing up, and God still considering them as His.  There are times when it hits me, how much of a sinner I am.  I think this is important to understanding the grace of God and Jesus’s death.  It always bugs me when I go to a church where there is no confession of your sins (in Protestant churches, this takes place as a group confession, with the belief that you can go directly to God with your personal sins instead of the confessional).  I don’t like churches that only focus on grace, that make you believe and feel that you are perfect once you are “born again”, as the death of Christ only promises that you will continue to be forgiven, but that you still want to endeavour to lead a godly life.  I dislike churches that _only_ focus on God’s love.  I believe that one can’t truly appreciate the complete grace and understand it, without understanding the complete miserableness that sin makes us.  /end rant.  Also, for me, there is the beginnings of the promise of Christ that help me to understand the eventual events leading up to that sacrifice.

Literary standpoint:  The stories are fascinating to me.  I mean, you have conflict everywhere, you have people fighting, lying, fornicating.  It’s a very engaging read, even with the brevity of each story and the lack of detail as to how the sand got in their eyes and their hair, etc etc.  Also, I think it was Wally Lamb, in “This Much I know is True” (if I have misnamed the title, forgive me) who reference Jacob and Esau.  I find references all the time to the above stories in both classic and current literature.   With the amount I read, I see it all a lot.  I’m sure Dave can also attest to the recurrent themes that began from day 1.  There is a story coming up in the last part of Genesis that I can directly correlate to a classic novel, but I will leave you in suspense until next time to find that out.

Tune in next time to hear about sibling rivalry, selling your siblings into slavery, dream prophecies, and of course the famed multi colored coat.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

Happy Banned Books Week to y’all!

I was originally going to talk about Clockwork Orange today, but for reasons I will save for a future entry, it wasn’t the easiest thing to read.

So I grabbed Huckleberry Finn, since I was one of the only Americans to not at least pretend to read this book at some point.

I think this was probably my favorite book to read so far from the Top Ten.  This book was listed by the following authors:

Lee K. Abbott

Kate Atkinson

Russell Banks

Madison Smart Bell

Chris Bohjalian

Fred Chappell

Clyde Edgerton

Percival Everett

Arthur Golden

Barry Hannah

Kent Haruf

Carl Hiassen

Haven Kimmel

Stephen King

Walter Kirn

Wally Lamb

Bobbie Ann Mason

Joyce Carol Oates

Robert B Parker

Jonathan Raban

Louis D. Rubin Jr

George Saunders

Cathleen Schine

Scott Spencer

Susan Vreeland.

 

I listed them this way, to highlight how _many_ of the authors picked The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  Obviously, I am in good company with loving this book.

Huck Finn has been banned countless times due to the use of the word “nigger”.  They (the ignoramuses who ban it) obviously are unable to critically read a book and to see past the usage of the word “nigger”.  They say it’s racist.  However, anyone who has read Huck Finn with half a brain can see it’s actually the opposite of racist, and is actually a criticism of slavery.

It reminds me of a time in college (a conservative school) where the literary magazine published a poem about and against suicide that had the word fuck at the end.  They banned the literary magazine as “offensive”.  It was a case where the poet had used the curse word to underscore his point as to why someone shouldn’t commit suicide, and the poem was about God’s love for us as creatures etc.

Much like that, Huck Finn is the story of a “pre-teen” boy who runs off to get away from his drunkard dad who is attempting to get 6000.00 that Huck Finn received as a result of the happenings in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  He runs across his benefactress’s slave Jim in the process, who has run away as he overheard talk that he was to be sold “down river”.  Jim and Huck Finn go on the run together, rafting down the Mississipi.  They have a variety of adventures and throughout the book, Huck has attacks on his conscience about aiding and abetting a runaway slave, but then he remembers how Jim helped him, how Jim would take his watch at night and let Huck sleep, how he tells Huck that he’s his only friend.  So he keeps deciding to not turn in his friend, that maybe Jim is more man than slave (Huck doesn’t actually say this, this is my own analysis).  Twain spends time fleshing Jim out into a full character, instead of a caricature.  The following is just one example of how Twain does that.  Jim is telling Huck about an experience with his little girl who had just recovered from scarlet fever and was 4 years old.  Jim told her to close the door and she just stood staring at him and smiling at him.  He tells her again.  And she still just stands there.

“En wid dat I fetch’ her a slap side de head dat sont her a-sprawlin’.  Den I went into de yuther room, en uz gone ’bout ten minutes; en when I come back dah was dat do’ a-stannin’ open yit, en dat chile stannin’ mos’ right in it, a-lookin’ down and mournin’, en de tears runnin’ down.  My, but I wuz mad!  I was a-gwyne for de chile, but jis’ den-it was a do’ dat open innerds-jis’ den, ‘long come de wind en slam it to, behine de chile, ker-blam! en my lan’, de chile never move!  My breff mos’ hop outer me; en I feel so-so- I doan’ know how I feel.  I crope out, all a-tremblin, en crope aroun en open de do’ easy en slow, en poke my head in behine de chile, sof’en still, en all uv a sudden I says pow! jis as loud as I could yell.  She never budge! Oh, Huck, I bust out a-cryin’ en grab her up in my arms, en says ‘Oh, de po’ little thing!  De Lord God Amighty fo’give po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fo’give hisseff as long’s he live!’  Oh she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plum deef en dumb-en I’d ben a-treat’n’ her so!”.

Admittedly, much like Gone with the Wind, there are characterizations of Jim as being a good “nigger” and how slaves liked their masters and were a little simple-minded.  However, Twain does show that Jim has brains, even if he’s not book smart or even smart in the way Huckleberry is.  The thing to remember when you run across things like this is when the book was written.  Even if someone was against slavery, certain ideas prevailed about how a black person would act or behave, just as it does today about different ethnic groups.  How many times has someone cracked a joke around you about “Mexicans all living in a one bedroom, ten of them”?  I’ve heard it at least a dozen times in the last decade.  Twain does a great job in my opinion of making Jim into a character to love and a character to respect.  His comments by other characters in regards to the general temperament of Jim shows the attitude of the day, not a purposeful attempt to be racist.  If the same book was written today, yes, the author would be going for the shock value of racism.  However, Twain’s era meant that he actually wrote quite an enlightened book for the time.

Another thing I loved about this book is that I spent most of a chapter giggling and laughing outright.  Tom Sawyer and Huck are going to rescue Jim from captivity (he was recaptured).  Tom has all kinds of grandiose ideas about how to rescue Jim.  The following exchange happens during this chapter:

Tom is asking Jim to allow some rattlesnakes to stay in there with him while he and Huck are digging the hole to get Jim out.  Jim has an obvious issue with this.

Tom: “Blame it, can’t you try?  I only want you to try-you needn’t keep it up if it don’t work.”

Jim: “But de trouble all done ef de snake bite me while I’s a-tryin’ him.  Mars Tom, I’s willin’ to tackle mos’ anything’at ain’t onreasonable, but ef you en Huck fetches a rattlesnake in heah for me to tame, I’s gwyne to leave, dat’s shore”

Tom:  “Well then, let it go, let it go, if you’re so bullheaded about it.  We can get you some garter-snakes, and you can tie some buttons on their tails and let on they’re rattle snakes and I’ll reckon that will have to do”.

JIm:  “I k’n stan’ dem, Mars Tom, but blame’ ‘f I couldn’ git along widout um, I tell you dat.  I never knowed b’fo’ twas so much bother and trouble to be a prisoner”

Tom: Well, it always is when it’s done right.  You got any rats around here?”

Jim: “No, sah, I hain’t seed none.”

Tom:  “Wll, we’ll get you some rats.”

Jim:  “Why, Mars Tom, I doan’ want no rats.  Dey’s de dad-blamedest creatures to ‘sturb a body, en rustle roun’ over ‘im, en bite his feet, when he’s trying to sleep, I ever see.  No, sah, gimme g’yarter snakes, ‘if I’s got to have ‘m, but doan’ gimme no rats; I hain’ got no use f’r um”.

Tom:  “But Jim, you got to have them-they all do.  So don’t make no more fuss about it.  Prisoners ain’t ever without rats.  There ain’t no instance of it.  And they train them, and pet them and learn them tricks and they get to be sociable as flies.  But you got to play music to them.  You got anything to play music on?”.

 

And Jim is good tempered and allows Tom to try out all his ideal prison escape ideas on him.

Another thing I loved about Huck Finn is I felt Mark Twain was giving us a glimpse into the actual society during this time.  The characters that Huck and Jim run into all seem to come from types of people that were really around at that time.  Not Twain thinly fictionalizing people he knew, but more instances, tales and people he met around over the years.  I felt like that was another theme of the book actually.

Really, people that want to ban this book should listen to what the author himself has to say as the very first part of the edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn says;

“NOTICE

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.  By ORDER OF THE AUTHOR, Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance”

That more than anything suggests to me that Twain might have been just mainly telling a story in his head and not trying to write an allegorical tale about the evils of society at his time.

 

Grimms Fairy Tales Continued

I know, technically today is supposed to be Dave’s book, but as I was unable to complete my task of reading the fairy tales last week, I am continuing for this week.

So, last week, I know I promised to tell you the tales that Disney didn’t want you to know, but there were really no other Disney tales left, only Rapunzel was left.  As some of you may know, a few years ago the movie Tangled came out, which was a retelling of the Rapunzel story.  The woman that kept Rapunzel locked up was painted as a  selfish, vain woman who wickedly keeps Rapunzel to herself, lying etc etc.  In the original, Rapunzel’s parents are not kings and queens as in Tangled, but just simple folk.  They live next door to a witch, who grows a garden behind her wall.  The pregnant woman, gazing into the garden, sees rapunzel (a type of plant) and desires and craves it so much and will die without it.  Her husband sneaks in and steals some.  The wife eats it and then craves it again.  When the husband sneaks back in to steal more, the witch catches him.  She agrees to give him the rapunzel but only if she can have the child if it’s a girl.  It is a girl, the witch takes her, and to keep her safe from the world puts her in the tower.  Years pass, and a prince going by hears her singing (Rapunzel not the witch) and figures out how to climb her hair.  They fall in love and he comes in the night since the witch comes during the day.  Here’s where the story has a couple of different versions before Disney changed it more…in one, Rapunzel complains about her dress getting tight and the witch realizes she is pregnant.  In the other, she says something one day about how the prince gets up there so quick and the witch so slow.  The witch then casts her out to wander the world, and cuts her hair.  She lures the prince up and shoves him out the window, where he pokes out his eyes with brambles and is blind.  Then Rapunzel & he find one another and her tears give his sight back and she had twins during the interim.  Cue the happily live ever after.

I think it is interesting how stories do change over the years, as evidenced by the cleaning up of the too tight dress to the remark about climbing speed.  In Grimms, many stories have same elements, some having the same character with similiar events, but still fairly different.  I assume it’s because over the years different regions developed the same story different.  I like to imagine someone moving from one village or town to another, then telling the tale and as the decades pass the tale changes, thereby creating two very different tales.
Three of the major types I found as I read through them were the animal ones, where animals were all the main characters or where the animals are the ones that save the hero or heroine (the human is often kind to an animal and then later given a heroic quest that must be achieved to either win the princess or to keep their life) and the animal returns to assist.  These ones also follow into the next subset, the hero quest stories, which the hero, usually some young guy who doesn’t want to be at home anymore, wanders off, and hearing of a task a king has set for anyone to achieve and marry his daughter, goes and takes the task.  They complete the task, but the king actually doesn’t want said commoner to marry his precious daughter so continues to give tasks.  The clever lad completes all and wins the girl.  There are also the ones where the girl is the clever one.  Another set is the one where one girl or one boy is unselfish and giving and because of that gains untold riches and gifts.   Their sister, friend, brother, father or mother are not unselfish and attempt to obtain the same riches, only to be killed, forced to have frogs fall out of their mouth every word they say or their eyes pecked out (the Germans must have been very afraid of eyes being pecked out).  There was also the religious category where tales sprang up around the apostles, God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.  They were often morality tales.

As I was reading through, I often felt like I was listening to someone tell a tale.  Like getting a whiff of old campfire smoke or old fireplace smoke, I seemed to get a whiff of the old times, where there was no tv and these tales were the tv of the night.  Or the tv of the day while people did their work.  That right there made it worth my time to read them all, I felt a sense of history.  However, they are also entertaining.

I read my two favorites from when I was little, that I had forgotten until I read them again.  One is Rose Red and Snow White, in which two beautiful daughters of a simple woman are close as close can be.  There is such a playful humor to the tale that I think that is partly what captivated me as a child.  I still loved it when I reread it.  The other one was Six Swans (which I could find nowhere to link to for it), which shows a youngest sister of 6 brothers sacrificing her voice and her ability to defend herself for six years, until such a time as she was about to be burnt alive and the years ended and she was able to defend herself.  It is a lyrical almost haunting tale to me.  I recommend if you have a copy of them look this one up.

I would definitely recommend to anyone reading this, irregardless of whether they have children or not.  But these also would make a great gift for a young child, girl or boy above the age of 6 (it’s not illustrated so with whatever reading skill they are at).

Fahrenheit 451’s predictions…influence on literature today…Part 3

So.  We started out talking about Ray Bradbury.  Then yesterday I took you through the plot of 451 and my opinion of it.  I forgot one thing during that time.  Until the last part of the novel, I LOVED Bradbury’s way of setting a pace in the story.  He could and did speed up the narrative using shorter sentences or even fragments, sometimes there was a staccato beat to the words almost.  Loved it.  Then we got to the long expositories at the end and that changed.  The tempo went just all sorts of out of whack and never got back the same feel.  Dave told me earlier today that Bradbury typed it on a pay by the hour typewriter, so possibly he was running out of money to finish it.

But separate from that was the eerieness of some of Bradbury’s qualities of his dystopian universe.  The statements I am about to share, seem more apt for society today than they did even ten years ago.  I’m going to share the ones that really hit me, discuss and then will briefly touch on the influence 451 has had on some other books I’ve read.  (I assume they did, and if not it was just a weird parallel lol).

Ok, so looking at my notes, the first thing isn’t a straight quotation from the book.  But, Montag’s wife, Mildred is addicted to wearing ear buds.  Montag describes them as having wave sounds, or sometimes people sounds.  It just made me think so much of Ipods.  Mildred wears them to block out the real world, the outside world.  So many people I see today do the same thing.  Earlier today, I was cleaning my kitchen listening to my Ipod with my ear buds in.  That’s why I keep saying, even more eerie than ten years ago as ten years ago Ipods were just coming out.

Clarisse tells Montag this about her peers; “I’m afraid of children my own age, they kill each other.  Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone.  Ten of them died in car wrecks”.  Earlier today, I read an article that a friend reposted to facebook about another young teen, who tormented at school about being a homosexual, killed himself.  And while his death isn’t a direct murder from another peer, in a sense they contributed to his death.  Also, last week, I watched a documentary on Pruitt-Igoe, a St Louis projects area from the 60s…go here to read more.   There’s of course, the shootings, the car accidents etc, just like Clarisse says.  But I think the suicides from bullying could be added into it.

Montag’s boss, Beatty, tells him “School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosphies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored.  Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work.  Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?”  I don’t remember the exact educational models that were running around being implemented in the fifties.  But a lot of these things _have_ happened in the last 30 years as we attempt to mold our children into more self confident, well rounded individuals (and fail miserably most of the time haha), through the “everyone’s a winner” movement, also, philosphies that say children will naturally gravitate towards learning all of that.  Some items I am a strong believer on children being able to teach themselves.  (For example:  I don’t ever tell my daughter, no it’s said like this…I just mirror the statement back at her with the correct pronunciation.  She’s smart enough to get it eventually).  I don’t know, the statement just seemed fitting for schools today.  We pretend that we are teaching them more than how to push a button etc, but in reality, in today’s world?  They can’t just get by anymore with a liberal arts college degree, now everything has to be specialized.  They’re in essence, learning how to push buttons.

This next one from Beatty (I feel like it might be Beattie, not Beatty but I wrote in my notes Beatty, so Beatty it is) is really relevant with it being election year! “…If the government is inefficient, top heavy and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry about it”.  Really, in today’s world, people “worry” but for the most part their “worry” is whatever a 5 minute sound bite on their news channel of choice has told them what to worry about.  Very few people actually go and read about their candidates and their government.  There’s another section where Mildred and her friends are discussing the last presidential race and how the President won, and they were glad as he was so much better looking than the other candidate.  And isn’t that true of today?  Last election, there were two strong females…Clinton and Palin.  People were RABID about Clinton’s style, her looks etc.  Some seemed to hate her based solely on her pants suits.  Palin though, now some people LIKED her merely because of her pant suits.

Those were the things that really stuck with me.

Another character from the book, Faber, a retired professor, had the following things to say about books and why Bradbury’s dystopian society grew to hate them.  I just loved the statements so much I had to share them.

“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us”

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared?  They show the pores in the face of life.”

“the books are to remind us what asses and fools we are”.

Just liked those!

So, unless you’ve lived under a rock or maybe in a third world country, you’ve probably heard of The Hunger Games, our latest dystopian wonder of a trilogy (and it is amazingly good, trust me).  I’m not going to talk about The Hunger Games, as I don’t see as much of a connection between it and a different Young Adult series I picked up last year and began.  Ally Condie (oddly, another person in Salt Lake City, Utah…maybe I should move there and then write a YA series…something in the water.  I am of course referring to this famous author) began a trilogy in 2010.  The first one, called Matched, begins a trilogy about a society where at 17, the government matches you with another person, very rarely from the same community, for marriage.  Everything like this is decided for you.  Now, the thing that struck me as the same, the thing that was completely influenced by Bradbury…in this society only 100 songs, 100 poems etc were chosen as okay for people to read…they were ones that kept dissension down.  The main character finds two poems that her grandfather passes to her.  She shares them with a boy.  One is a Dylan poem.  There’s a scene, where her father, who archives prior caches of this type of stuff is at a site, and she goes and they’re burning books.  Then, later, they come across people living outside of the society, and she is absolutely amazed at all the books.  Books and literary information is on black market trade in this trilogy.  It’s what I kept thinking about reading 451.

I’ve always been a huge reader.  And maybe Dave can address this in a future post, but for me personally, books have always provided a touchstone to my life.  They’re a stability and sometimes a way for me to process an emotion or an event in my life.  Reading books provides me with a depth of understanding on the human condition.  I have never been able to understand people that don’t read at all.  I feel like your view on the world has to be a bit limited if you’re not willing to pick up a book.  TV and movies and the internet can take you so far…but books can take you all the way.  Books give you a peace inside that other media has never done for me.  And that’s I think one of the major things Fahrenheit 451 says to me, that if we lose that…then our society crumbles.

Happy Reading!

Fahrenheit 451–Review–Part 2

So, today, I am actually going to be talking about 451, not Bradbury himself or my backstory on how I came to read 451 etc etc.  I don’t think I gave away any ruining plot points below, but if I did, you can feel free to kick me in the virtual shins.

451:

The only thing, literally, that I went into knowing about 451 was that it was a dystopian novel.  Which, also led me to give myself an internal wtf look, as most people that know me know, I love me a good dystopian tale.  And 451 really was the father of dystopian literature that has come since (see my next section of this post for further information on this opinion).  So, everything could hit me fresh.  It did.  Hit me.

I read this on my kindle, so if I misquote something or anything, it’s because I either wrote it down wrong or am relying on a faulty memory.

451 is divided into three sections.  They’re numbered.  They’re also titled.  The Hearth and the Salamander=Part 1, The Sieve and the Sand=Part 2 and Burning Bright=Part 3.  I am going to generalize a lot here, as I don’t want to spoil the plot too much.  The main character is Guy Montag, and the book centers around him.

I feel that Part 1 could really be called “Montag’s Awakening”.  Montag is a fireman, and in this future, firemen burn books.  All houses have a fireproof covering so there is no fear of a house burning anymore.  Firemen have been converted into book burners.  He meets a neighbor girl one day who is different than others.  She’s 17, her name is Clarisse, and she doesn’t race about getting the newest thrill.  She wanders.  She strolls.  She observes leaves in the wind, holds dandelions under chins to see if someone’s in love, and really looks at people.  Her uncle tells her a lot about the past, a time when people had front porches, that they’d sit on, that they have stopped making front porches because it might encourage people to slow down a moment and actually reflect on stuff.  The tendrils she places in Montag slowly expand and creep past his awesome love for the flame on the books, for his feeling of excitement.  The tendrils light up and Montag is able to fully see just how dark and ashy and gray his life really is.  He’s married to a woman named Mildred, and I think his life could be summed up by the fact that he asks her one night how they met.  Neither of them can remember.  He feels that if she died, he wouldn’t even mourn.  Mildred always is in the parlor, watching a 3 walled tv, and calls the people on it “family”.  She is pestering Montag to get the 4th wall put in, even though they just put in the 3rd 2 months prior.  Basically, Montag starts to see in himself what Clarisse tells him “It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not”.  During this time, he has to burn a house down and the woman refuses to leave her books.  She even pulls out a match to do the job herself when Montag hesitates and attempts to get her to leave.  He begins to wonder.  And he steals a book while there.  During this section, two things are hinted at but not revealed.  Montag looks up at his vent a few times with vague thoughts of what’s up there, and he also thinks occasionally of an incident involving a conversation with a gentleman at a park the prior year.  Bradbury never tells us though during this section what is behind the vent and what was the conversation all about.

Part 2, The Sieve and the Sand, is titled because Montag eventually begins attempting to stuff information from books into his brain in the hopes that something might stick but feels it’s like pouring sand into a sieve and hoping some stays.  And here’s where discussing might get a little tricky as this is where the spoiling might happen if I don’t walk the fine line.  This part could be called “Montag’s Transformation”.  This is where we discover that maybe Clarisse didn’t _cause_ the explosions beginning to happen in Montag’s mind and his life, but might have just teased out something that was already slowly formenting in Montag.  In the first section, towards the beginning of the book, Montag comes home to discover that Mildred has taken all her sleeping pills.  There are men that come out to clean out her stomach and then pump new blood into her.  They basically tell Montag they get a lot of these calls, and it’s not worth it to send real doctors out on them anymore.  Montag ends up thinking that his wife is two people.  There is the happy, watch the parlor walls all day Mildred, and the nighttime Mildred who is depressed and suicidal.  Mildred also likes to take out the “beetle” (their mode of transportation in 451) and drive reallllyy fast.  I felt like Bradbury might have used the discussion of Mildred’s dichotomous self to highlight that Montag himself had a dichotomy hidden until Clarisse.  There was the have fun, find it exciting fireman, and the confused, apathetic, depressed other Montag.  Montag’s boss comes and talks to him and tells him that they basically know he’s stolen the book and that every fireman eventually does something similiar.  Beatty (boss) tells him that they allow the fireman 24 hours to turn it in before coming to burn it.  Beatty says that it’s good for them to take a look to understand further why they’re doing it.  The plot furthers from here, brilliantly carrying it towards Montag’s complete rebirth through flame.

Part 3, Burning Bright, is basically the conclusion.  My choice to say Montag is reborn through the flame, also came because one of the characters at the end talks about the phoenix.  It ends up that between the cities, old retired professors and educated people have been memorizing books and figuring out how to recall even something they’ve read once so that eventually all the books can be written back down.  They all have specific ones memorized and all know which ones others know.  I didn’t like Part 3.  I felt that the dialogue became way too expository.  I didn’t feel that a person would talk the way one of the end characters does, or at that length.  It was probably the only part of the book that I didn’t like the writing on.  I also did not like the speedy way Bradbury tied everything up.  It was like this beautiful book, beautiful story of a man’s self awakening amidst a world that no longer allowed slow thought and reading was suddenly just finished.  I felt like a publisher told Bradbury “Hey Ray, you got 2 days to finish that book before we’re not gonna take it anymore” and Bradbury slapped the ending all together quick.

I am a person that sometimes rereads books.  As I think I said in my blog about Wuthering Heights.  I honestly don’t think I’d read 451 again, or if I did, I’d probably just read the first 2 sections and skip the last.  I loved it, and will be buying an actual bound copy to keep on my shelf (so that it can be burned one day if necessary I guess), but can’t see myself yearning to pick it up again and re read it.  However, I would recommend it to most anyone, as we will discuss tomorrow, just for the eerie “predictions” in the book.  It makes me wonder what Bradbury thought in the last 20 years of his life about technology advancements, since the book was written in 1953.  Which makes it the same age as my parents.  Weird.

Starting in on eleven and a half years of books…

My friend Kim was talking to me the other day. She had picked up The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books edited by J. Peder Zane and she had an idea.

Apparently, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books compiles lists of what a ton of various authors (Barry Hannah, Francine Prose, Ben Marcus, Emma Donoghue, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and many others) consider to be the ten best books of all time. They even compile various lists out of the lists. Books and books and books.

So, Kim came up with the idea that it would be fun to start a book blog (this) and go through book by book, reviewing each as we went. I was game, so that’s what we are doing.

Now, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books lists a total of 544 total books. The intro claims that if you read one a week it would take you eleven and a half years to finish. Seeing as that was about the rate we were planning (trading off), we suddenly had a clever name for the blog.

I should mention, we may not do each and every book. We might not keep this up for eleven and a half years, and may not stick to our planned schedule exactly. Some of the books on the lists aren’t even books (such as references to the entire work of an author or an entire form of their work). As it is right now, I’ve already read about 167 of these (not counting partials for the vague references mentioned a second ago) and may not want to always revisit. I also currently refuse to read any more Henry James.

We also might wander around a bit. We might talk about some of the authors who gave their opinions and how their work has influenced us as opposed to the books they talk about. We might even talk about totally different books. Really, we might do just about anything we want. However, it will likely all be (or mostly be) book related.

As such, feel free to follow along. Our opinions are just our opinions, but we have some great books to talk about.