The Book of Ruth & The Book of Esther—Old Testament Bible

As those of you following this blog know, one of the books listed in the Top Ten Books, was the Bible.  Now as many of you probably know, the Bible isn’t a short read.  It makes Les Miserables look like The Lorax.  So, I am covering the Bible in sections.

For who listed the Bible as their favorite book, see my original post here.

I read the two books in the Old Testament that are named after women and whose main characters are women.

The Book of Ruth comes first in the order of Old Testament books, so I’ll discuss that one first.

Ruth is about a woman (oddly enough, named Ruth) who marries an Israelite who is living in Moab (a neighboring country) with his mother, father and other brother.  Over the years, his father dies, then he and his brother die.  This leaves only Naomi, his mother.  She tells Ruth and the other daughter-in-law that they should return home to their families, that she is returning to hers.  When they protest (they have been with her for ten years after all) Naomi says;

“Turn back my daughters; why will you go with me?  Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?  Tuyrn back my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband.  If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown?  Would you therefore refrain from marrying?  No my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord as gone out against me”.

Orpah leaves then to return to her Moabite family.

Ruth states;

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you.  For where you go I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you”.

Naomi accepts Ruth’s insistence and they return to Naomi’s people.  There they are reliant upon others for sustenance.  Naomi sends Ruth to the fields of a kinsman, Boaz.  Boaz views Ruth with kindness and allows her to do even more gleaning than is typical.  In these times, people could follow threshers and glean leftovers that had fallen for sustenance.  Naomi tells Ruth to go lay at Boaz’s feet.  She does.  Naomi has her husband’s property for sale.  Boaz goes to a man, who (even though not identified as such) is a relative of Naomi closer in genealogical terms than Boaz and offers the property to him first.  Then when the man says yes, craftily informs him that it includes Ruth, the widow.  The man demurs, not wanting to mess up his own inheritance line.  Boaz then agrees to buy it and take Ruth as wife.  The bargain concludes (as they did in this time) with the man handing Boaz his sandal.  (Yes, I know.  Next time you strike a bargain with someone, a sock might be a nice touch! 😀 ).

The literary standpoint:  This is actually a story that could easily be fleshed out into an entire novel.  There are all sorts of plot devices, and as evidenced by the fact that you still hear it in all sorts of literature etc, the whole “For where you go I will go” speech is obviously a very well written statement.

My Christian standpoint:  I believe that the book of Ruth gives us instruction on how we should be with our inlaws.  Many of us do not like them.  However, as our spouse’s family that raised him, they deserve respect.  We should treat them as Ruth treats Naomi, by refusing to leave her and like Boaz treats Ruth before he falls in love with her (I assume this is what happened after she laid at his feet).  I can’t articulate better what I mean, but all those petty things that make us want to slap our in-laws?  We have to stop that shite.

Interesting side note:  It just hit me how Ruth’s behavior also parallels Chinese culture.  A woman in historical China (I assume not today but I could be horribly wrong) would leave her ancestral home and when she did, she became a full part of her husband’s family, with her allegiance to her mother in law.

Second interesting side note:  Most of you that aren’t familiar with the Bible have heard of David (of David and Goliath fame).  David was part of the ancestral lineage of Christ.  Per the genealogical end of Ruth, Ruth & Boaz were David’s grandparents, making Ruth also an ancestor of Christ.

The Book of Esther:

The book of Esther never mentions God.  In fact, Esther is a story (however, one based in history) about a woman who was Jewish and living among exiles in Persia.  The Queen at that time, refuses to *cough* entertain the King.  And he is told by an advisor; “…let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus.  And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she”.  This advice pleased the King.

The King’s young men who attend him let out a cry; “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the King!  And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the capital, under custody of Hegai, the King’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women”.

Well no wonder King Ahaseurus was so pleased with the idea of deposing Vashti, that upstart queen.

Anyway, Esther is one of the beautiful virgins.  She is an Israelite, whose cousin is a man named Mordecai, who is raising her.  He tells her to keep the fact that she is Hebrew a secret.  So she does.  Of course the King picks her (I doubt the book would be named for her or the story told if this didn’t happen).

Now the King had a bad  man serving as his very top right hand man, Haman.  Haman hates the Jews.  Mordecai won’t bow or pay homage to Haman.  So Haman vows to destroy all the Jews.

So Haman gets an edict sent out with instructions “…to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods”.

Mordecai contacts Esther in the palace when he finds out about this.  He asks her to intercede.  She replies.

“All the king’s servants and the people of the King’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law–to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live.  But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days”.

(My theory is that he was out enjoying the hundreds of other virgins that probably got shoved into his harem).

Esther finally sucks it up (sorry to those of you that find this blasphemous, but I’m just summarizing in my own words) and on the third day approaches the king in her royal robes.  He holds out the scepter to Esther.  Then asks her what is it, what is her request.  He tells her he will give her anything, even to the half of his kingdom.

“If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.”

So the King summons Haman, and they both are at the feast.  After, when they are drinking wine the king asks Esther what her wish is, and what’s her request?

“My wish and my request is:  If I have found favor in the sight of the King, and if it please the king to grant my wish and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come to the feast that I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said”.

Haman leaves all full of joy thinking that Esther loves him (not in that way! yeesh folks!) and that he is making even more inroads with the King.  And as a reward, he decides he will hang Mordecai.  He builds a gallows even (apparently, hanging Mordecai will be a great stimulant for his appetite for the feast in the morning).

The king can’t sleep that night, so asks for the book of memorable deeds.  They were read to him.  (I always enjoy a good chronicle of memorable deeds before bed myself).  Well he discovered where Mordecai had told about two eunuchs who had plotted to kill the King.  The King asks what distinction had Mordecai been awarded.  He is told that nothing has.  The King asks Haman when he comes in what should be done to a man whom the King wants to honor.  Haman of course thinks the King is speaking of him.

“For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set.  And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials.  Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city proclaiming before him:  ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor”.

So the King turns to Haman and gives him his robe and tells him to take it to Mordecai and to do all that he said should be done.  With nothing left out.

Mordecai goes to the King.  Haman goes home crying (well…”mourning and with his head covered”).  His wife Zeresh and his wise men state “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him”.

He goes to the feast with Esther and the King.  On the second day of the feast, again while drinking wine, the King asks what is it that Esther wants.

“If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request.  For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.  If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction Is not to be compared with the loss to the king.”

The King asked who dared do such a thing and where are they.

“A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!”.

The King angrily strides off (well…”the king arose in his wrath”) and Haman begs for his life to Esther.  The king returns and sees Haman falling to the couch where Esther is.  And the king thinks he is assaulting Esther.

A helpful eunuch, Harbona, in attendance on the king (I think maybe Haman was a bit rude to Harbona at some point)

“Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.”

Of course, we all know where this is going.  Haman is hanged on the very gallows that he built.  Then the King’s wrath was abated.

Esther still has to beg to the King to reverse the decree that went out, by writing a new order to revoke the letters devised by Haman.  The King basically gives Mordecai carte blanche;

“Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he intended to lay hands on the Jews.  But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked”.

So, Mordecai sent out decrees stating that the king allowed the Jews to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them…and to plunder their goods.

So in the 12th month, the month of Adar, on the 13th day when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, the Jews gained the upper hand over all the masters that had hoped and dreamed of their destruction.

And, so they did.  They took their own revenge, and plundered and annihilated etc. etc.

And so Purim was born (per the Biblical text of Esther).

Literary note:  If you can’t see how amazing a story this would make, or a movie or a play…well then I would assume you had no sense of imagination at all.  This has all the notes of a great drama.  Beaten down people, one man in power bent on revenge against another, beautiful virgins, the powerful man being hung on the gallows he himself built.  Wow.

Biblical note:  Even though God is never mentioned, due to the other books of the Old Testament, it is known that nothing happens to the Israelites that God doesn’t know about.  And that in the past God has given others the means to rescue his people (Moses.  David.).  So, I believe God is in fact all over the book of Esther.

The end.  Thanks for tuning in.  Sorry for the length.

 

 

Advertisements

The Stand by Stephen King.

I have a confession.  I _didn’t_ read the Stand in the last week.

However, I feel eminently qualified to talk about it here, as I have read it at least 12 times in my lifetime.  You tend to remember a lot about a book when you read it that many times.  Yes, it is a favorite.  I read it for the first time at 12 years old and probably read it last a year or two ago.

Apparently David Foster Wallace and Jennifer Weiner also felt it was worth it.  They listed it in their top ten.  They might have read it 12 or more times too but maybe not.

I was ecstatic that at least one of King’s books made it in this book.  I personally think The Shining should have also been in here, but eh, I wasn’t asked for my top ten.

Today, I will be covering three areas.  My prior debate partners will be thrilled I’m sure at the three areas and my forecasting of them.  First, I will cover The Stand itself and a couple of brief notes on the mini series made from the book.  Secondly, I will cover why I personally feel this is some of the best apocalypse literature out there.  Finally, I will cover people’s misconceptions about Stephen King and people’s close minded views on him and his career.

First thing about The Stand.  It is long.  I don’t think it’s quite as long as Les Miserables, but it might be.  However, it is infinitely easier to read.  There are no sections on The Battle of Waterloo for the sole purpose of using the last two lines to introduce characters.  There are no sections on argot.  King isn’t interested in making long, involved meanderings from the narrative to make comments on poverty.

King covers a few different main characters from start to finish.  King describes the characters, not by description per se, but by narrative involving them.  For instance, Stu, one of the main characters is in a gas station in a small Texas town in the beginning.  King manages to give you more about his character by showing his reaction to a car plowing into a pump than by the description of him.  Larry, another main character, has a hit that climbs the charts (he’s a musician).  King shows his downward spiral as he throws the longest and hugest party in a long time.  King shows his character by describing his walk onto a beach with an acquaintance who wants to give him the hard truth, then his resulting actions, and his arrival back in New York City and his mother.  He describes Fran, by showing her reaction to a pregnancy and a confrontation with her mother.  He describes Harold, a neighbor of Fran’s by the clothes he wears, the language he uses, his actions of resourcefulness.  He describes Nick, a deaf-mute by the beating and resultant jailing and resultant friendship with the sheriff, more than by his descriptive words of him.  This is one of the things I love about King, he may use a lot of words, but in the end you feel you know the characters almost or better than you know yourself.    The story is about what happens when the government accidentally releases a “super-flu” with a 99% transmission rate and a 100% fatality rate.  The flu works by constantly shifting.  Like if you have the influenza virus, your body creates antibodies to fight it.  The super-flu works by constantly shifting antigens, basically the type of flu you have.  King describes the trail of the beginning of transmission, which I always have felt is neat.  He describes different people as they contract it and die from it.   The main characters (of which I only listed a few) all are immune, as you might have guessed.  At the beginning, before they too are infected, the government does try to find a vaccine (because apparently they weren’t smart enough to have developed it to keep themselves safe) by taking people from Stu’s town to isolate them, then figure out why Stu doesn’t have it.  Eventually, all of the people are dead except those that were immune.  King then takes a few pages to describe the people that die from a second wave of events, like a child falling in a well, a woman firing an old gun that backfires and kills her, a man jogging himself to death due to grief.  The next section of the book describes them making their way across the country (the survivors).  They have been having two dreams, one of an old black woman in Nebraska and one of the “dark man” or Randall Flagg.  The black woman represents security, goodness.  The dark man, terror.  They eventually find Abigail Freemantle, a prophet and seer, who says she has dreams to go to Boulder Colorado.  In the panicked days, a rumor had started that the flu was originating from a source in the city.  There was a mass exodus, leaving the city strangely empty.  They settle there, survivors keep trickling in.  They implement a government of sorts.  Then the battle of good versus evil (side of Abigail vs. the side of Flagg) begins.  This is where I will end, in order not to spoil the ending.

I believe this to be one of the great apocalypse stories for a couple of different reasons.  Unlike a nuclear apocalypse, King derived a way to keep the world intact, if empty of people.  King also describes in great detail the things that the survivors do, like canned food, siphoning gas, etc. etc.  I love how he describes both during and after.  I always think apocalypse stories leave too much out.  It’s probably why I like The Walking Dead so much too.  He does have characters die during the story, but it fits in perfectly into the story he weaves.  I can’t think of any other concrete reasons I can put down here.  I have read a lot of apocalypse stories and this one remains my favorite.

Finally, I get tired of people’s misconceptions and refusal of Stephen King.  There are those that refuse to read him since he got away from the bloody horror stuff.  I know, I know, there are probably straight genre readers of horror and King’s genre readers didn’t like where he has gone.  However, if they bothered to read, they would find many of his stories still carry a tone of horror, a tone of the supernatural.  Many people like this stopped reading way before Bag of Bones, one of King’s greatest horror stories in my opinion.  And they refuse to read it.

Then there are those that stopped reading after Gerald’s Game or some other book that they didn’t like.  Um, the man has written around 68 books as of 2013.  I’m sure that anyone that had written that many  (that wasn’t a franchise writer such as Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts who like to put the same character types in a different setting while trying to tell the same story) would have a dud or two.  I’m sure most of those that stopped reading have never written a thing on their own, so a judgment based on one book they didn’t like is asinine.  I personally disliked The Tommyknockers when I read it, and it was published in the mid 80s.  I still disliked it when I reread it in 2012.  However, there are many of those 68 books written since then that I have adored.  Bag of Bones and Duma Key to name just two.  So I urge those of you that gave up on King after one book you disliked to try again.  You might rediscover an author you previously loved.

I also want to address those “literary” types.  King has been criticized his entire career by critics, by other authors and by those readers that read a book because it makes them look intelligent.  Again, the man has written 68 original books (each story is different and unique, not formulaic at all), have any of those people done that?  I think a little bit of it is jealousy.  There seems to be a prejudice against an author that makes a ton of money and sells a lot of books.  Maybe they believe that only books that sell limited copies and make limited amounts are good, as your average reader doesn’t like great works of literary fiction.  King has won a medal for Distinguished Contribution to American letters.  Here is a list of the number of awards King has won since his career began.  It might be time for people to suck it up and read one of his books.

King tells a good story.  That is his main goal.  And that is what he achieves in most of those 68 books.  If you dislike horror, guts and gruesomeness, read his later works.  Some of them are almost not even close to horror.  If you like blood and guts, read the earlier books, then read the rest.

If you want to read what King himself thinks of “literary” types,  read the introduction of Full Dark, No Stars.  Which by the way has some very non horror fiction in it.

Thanks for listening to my rant 🙂  As you can tell, King ranks up there on favorite authors for me.  I grew up with him.  Well he was already an adult of course.  I read my first King novel, Firestarter at 10.  I’ve been reading him since.  I have re-read a lot of his books.  I read them so fast the first time that I want to find the things I missed.  And they are just as good as the first time.  Also, another note, King always, always makes sure his novels are unabridged when put on audio format.  He also reads Bag of Bones himself, which is amazing.  He finds the best audio book narrators.  If you don’t feel like reading one of his books, pick one up and listen.

Ok.  The end.

Les Miserables! Finally!

Ok, so I finally finished Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.

I know some of you have probably been looking askance at my posts about the length and how long it has taken me to read it.  However, I have one thing to say that sums up how I feel about this book.

Wow.

While reading the book, you will have moments when you wonder what Hugo was really doing.  Was he telling a story?  Or explaining French history to us?  Was he detailing and painting characters with a fine nuance?  Or was he using fiction to deplore social conditions in France in the mid 1800s?

I think he was doing both.  I think Hugo had a lot to say and poured most of it into Les Miserables.  He had published prior books, but the length of time it took him to write this shows how much heart he put into it.  I can’t imagine having to write it all by hand!  Which he had to.

Chris Bohjalian was the author that picked Les Miserables as one of his top ten.  And thinking of the books I’ve read by him, he also uses fiction to make a social statement.  He’s a bit less obvious about it than Hugo, but almost two hundred years can make a big difference in narrative styles and techniques.

I cursed parts of this book to Dave over the last few weeks.  Sometimes, I felt a little cheated.  I’d be reading this great story and be really into what was happening.  Suddenly I’m in a forever long section about Waterloo and Napoleon.  Now, I do enjoy histories, however I don’t enjoy them when they’re slammed down in the middle of a book, with the sole purpose seeming to be the introduction of two characters who then really don’t become relevant for another 500 pages.

But, the thing that saved this book for me, and that makes me extremely happy that I’ve read it, is simply the story that Hugo tells.  How he builds his characters and how invested you get in them.

Hugo follows these characters for years.  Jean Valjean is a released prisoner, who simply can’t find anyone that will accept him.  A bishop (whom Hugo spent chapters describing him, for the sole purpose of his role for Jean Valjean) accepts him.  And through that Valjean finds religion, finds peace in Christ.  He goes on to change his identity and basically save a town from complete ruin, in the process becoming very rich even though he has the tendency to give away large amounts of money.

The book details the beginning and descent of Fantine, a young woman who gets pregnant with a rich nobleman’s child, a rich nobleman who thought it would be funny to take her out on an outing, then just walk away and have a waiter deliver a note awhile later with the essence of “Been fun, gotta run”.  She has the child, but can’t find work.  As she leaves to go to a town, she finds a woman outside an inn with two of her own children.  Fantine asks if they will watch her daughter, named Cosette, that she will send money for the upkeep.  The woman agrees.  And in comes the Thenardier family, Thenardier ending up being the reprehensible evil character.  The story then goes on to describe Fantine’s descent all the way into prostitution and Valjean’s saving her.  She makes him promise to get her daughter.

There is a detective in the story, Javert, who believes the mayor is Valjean (it is), which would make him a criminal of the worst sort.  Now, you think Javert is a bad guy.  However, he is just built in a very uncompromising manner.  In the end, this manner takes him to his demise.  Javert comes to arrest Valjean while he’s at the hospital with Fantine.  Valjean goes.  Fantine dies.

Time passes.  One day, into the Thenardier inn comes a shabby looking old guy.  Cosette has been mistreated by Mrs. Thenardier for years, and Mr. Thenardier has used the money he did receive before Fantine’s descent into poverty and death for his own purposes.  Cosette is a scared little girl.

Then lots of time passes.  Marius and his grandfather are introduced.  They become estranged, as Marius discovers his father was a Napoleon guy and becomes utterly devoted to his father, after his father dies.  His grandfather is a man who believes in the sanctity of royalty.  Marius goes off on his own.

He & Cosette fall in love.  They are parted.

A revolution, a street one, of 1831 occurs.  Marius’s friends lead a movement, where they block off a tavern and fight.  It all ends horribly wrong.

I don’t want to give the ending, as it will ruin the experience of reading it for yourself.

However, Jean Valjean is a pitiful hero.  And I don’t mean that in the usage of pathetic that many do.  I mean, you really have to pity the man.  He has so little happiness in his life, and everytime he does, it gets ripped away.  In the end, he only has the faith that the Bishop inspired and the love that Cosette showed him he had (oh yes, he rescues her from the Thenardiers).

The Thenardiers remain evil through and through, and the only surprise with Mr & Mrs is the depravity they have.  Their daughter Eponine though?  She surprises you.  She starts out as someone you think of as definitely a Thenardier to the core.  However, love changes her.  In the end she makes a huge sacrifice that she knows will come to the worst possible outcome.

Javert…well he is a man of unbending principles.  He has prided himself all his life on this, and has lived his life by these principles.  Hugo shows the effects that life events can sometimes have on people like this.

Cosette, she is flighty.  But her love for Valjean and for Marius is inspiring.

Marius, is noble in a way.  During the whole time he was estranged from his grandfather, he lived in poverty.  He very rarely borrowed money.  He is the one who almost comes out as the “hero” in this, as he is the opposite of Valjean.  For most of his life, he has good happen to him.  When bad does happen to him, and he is miserable, good suddenly occurs.  I like how he is almost opposite of Valjean, like almost mirror like.

These are the main characters.  However, Hugo has filled in chinks of the story with more minor characters that sneak into the chinks of the story and cement the whole.  The urchin, Gavroche, (who is the unloved son of the Thenardiers so he lives on the streets) is one.  Marius’s friends who stage the revolution in the inn are others.  He paints even the most minor characters in huge detail.  For instance, Cosette & Valjean’s serving woman, has very little said about her.  However, Hugo brings her to life.  She stutters.

I can definitely see how this would make a great show.  I have never seen the Broadway play…but want to.  I also really want to see the movie but made myself wait until after reading the book.  I think that is best in this instance.  Otherwise, you’d expect the book to move like the show or the movie, which considering it’s over 1500 pages, it simply cannot.

Please, don’t let the size of this daunt you.  It would be a great book to read a few pages of in a night.

However, just skim the pages about Argot.  It’s hideously boring and I think Dave agrees with me, if anything could have been cut from Les Miserables and not have it hurt the story line…it’s this section.

Please be sure to check out Sage Magazine, where I talk about Peony In Love by Lisa See.  It’s an amazing book, and I’d definitely put it up there in my favorites.  It’s also a much shorter book haha.

 

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.

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.

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude-Gabriel Garcia Marquez

So, I’m pretty sure with this book, Dave and I have wrapped up Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s contributions to  The Top Ten.   And, I have to say that I am _extremely_ happy that I had the opportunity to read this book for our experiment/project.

The following authors listed this book in their top ten:

Lee K. Abbott, Russell Banks, Pearl Cleage, Edwidge Danticat (and I’ve never heard of them before but LOVE the name!), Chitra Divrakuni, Karen Joy Foyler, Michael Griffith, Alice Hoffman, Jim Harrison, John Irving, Wally Lamb, Ann Patchett, Francine Prose, Jim Shepard and Alexander McCall Smith.

I remember once, years ago, picking up One Hundred Years of Solitude and attempting to read it.  I made it maybe ten pages in and gave up.  I’m not sure why, though most likely I was in the midst of reading Dean Koontz novels or something and the writing style is definitely different from that.   So, when I picked it up again, I did so without fully knowing what to expect.  I had a little trepidation, one might say.  Halfway through the first chapter, my trepidation disappeared and the story consumed me.  The language is beautiful.  I liked this one better than Love in the Time of Cholera, this one had a bit more magic to it than Cholera did.

The story follows a family and intertwined with the family, a town, Macondo.  In fact, the state of the town usually reflects the state of the family and vice versa.  The founders of the family, Ursula and Jose Arcadio Buendia are the first characters we meet.  Marquez is genius at painting characters in a few strokes.  He then spends the rest of the story coloring them in, but even if he didn’t, you would feel that you knew the character completely from the beginning.  The following is one of the beginning things said about Ursula.  Her and Jose are arguing, he wants to explore and abandon the city that he founded.  She doesn’t want to leave.  He tells her that no one has died yet in the city, so you know it’s not a real city until someone does.

“Ursula replied with soft firmness ‘If I have to die for the rest of you to stay here, I will die'”.

The story follows the Buendia family from this time until a hundred years later.  Jose & Ursula’s two sons are Jose Arcadio and Aureliano.  Jose ends up having a child who is named Jose Arcadio, but called Arcadio, and then Jose runs off to not be seen for a few more years of narrative.  Aureliano stays and becomes a Colonel in a Liberal revolution.  Jose is…very well endowed.

“…the willful first-born who had always been too big for his age, had become a monumental adolescent.  One night, as Ursula went into the room where he was undressing to go to bed, she felt a mingled sense of shame and pity:  he was the first man she had seen naked after her husband and he was so well equipped for life that he seemed abnormal”.  Ursula speaks to a woman who knows how to read the future in cards and Ursula confides in her that she thinks it’s unnatural and the woman responds it doesn’t mean that at all, just that he’ll be very lucky.

Aureliano is a bit…psychic.  When he is born, he is born with his eyes wide open, and then examined everything with a “fearless curiousity”, then concentrated on the palm roof.

“Ursula did not remember the intensity of that look again until one day when little Aureliano, at the age of three, went into the kitchen at the moment she was taking a pot of boiling soup from the stove and putting it on the table.  The child, preplexed, said from the doorway, “It’s going to spill.”.  The pot was firmly placed in the center of the table, but just as soon as the child made his announcement, it began an unmistakable movement toward the edge, as if impelled by some innter dynamism and it fell and broke on the floor”.

I highlighted both sons’ traits here, because throughout the following generations, their names are used numerous times and a lot of their descendants carry either the huge genital size or the psychic intensity.

However, the trait that ties all of the generations together, is the solitude in which they live.  I’m not talking about the family as a unit living in reclusive solitude as a family.  I’m also not talking about someone who walls themselves in a room in solitude and never comes out (though some of the Buendias do just that either for parts of their lives or their whole lives).  I’m talking about each of them having distance from everyone else.  Marquez begins referencing it (that I noticed) in the second half of the book when he would talk about this descendant or that and would talk about them as solitary.  That they experienced this even in the midst of being solitary.  That they were able to not do this because of being in the midst of being solitary.

One Hundred Years of Solitude has a more fantastical feel to it than Love in The Time of Cholera.  Time doesn’t pass the same sometimes.  One of Jose Sr’s mentors, an old gypsy, dies and comes back.  Another character lives to be beyond 150 years old.  One character ascends to heaven just in the middle of a normal afternoon.  Things will happen that others say never existed.

There is so much more to this book than I have explained above, and it would take ten blog entries to go into detail into every nuance of Marquez’s story.

I loved it.  That sums up pretty much how I feel about this book.  When I started writing this blog entry, and was flipping through for the parts I quoted above, I had the temptation to begin reading it again.  Within 24 hours of finishing it.  I felt like I had gotten so sucked into it that I was missing major portions of the language and the descriptions etc.

I was really excited to see John Irving had picked it.  One of my favorite books of all time is Widow For One Year by him.  He had a new one come out this year, In One Person, that I finished reading the day before I picked up this book.  I thought it was beautiful, it sucked me in and when it spit me back out, it lingered for a couple of days, and still tugs at my conscience sometimes.

If you read no other book that I’ve talked about in here since May, read this one.  It’s a different pace than a lot of novels, but it’s a translation.  Find that pace, get into the book, and enjoy.