Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Brothers Karamazov: Wrap-up

"It's all so strange, Karamazov, such grief, and then pancakes all of a sudden."

It is with great satisfaction that I have just clicked "read" for The Brothers Karamozov on my Goodreads account.  This book has been my faithful companion for the majority of April.  It has been with me to piano lessons, karate, the dentist's office, the hospital, Disneyland, Hometown Buffet, various parking lots, and even through the making of about 6,000 copies for my daughter's school.  I have read it while eating, biking (stationary, of course) and during those few minutes in bed at night when I inevitably fall asleep too quickly!  It has eaten up most of any leisure time I had this month (with the exception of watching some of Gilmore Girls Season 2 with one of my girls, but, hey--if your teenager actually deigns to engage in an activity with you, YOU DO IT.  Even if it involves setting aside some heavy-duty Russian Lit).

I looked into the audio version at one point, feeling the pressures of time as this was a group read, and discovered that this is 34 hours of reading material.  (War and Peace-56, Les Miserables-57.  So what am I complaining about?  BK is a novella by comparison).  Ultimately, I wasn't going to be able to get anything audio in a timely manner, so I scrapped that idea and resorted to reading in a manner that burns less calories.

Perhaps the hardest part was accepting this as almost the only book I read this month.  Yes, I had to give up my philandering ways, stop playing the field, and commit to a relationship with just one book.  Tiger, I think I get you now.  All is forgiven.

So it is with gratitude that I can now proclaim:

I loved it!

Thank goodness.  The story of three (or four) very different brothers, their detestable father who ends up murdered, a couple of histrionic women for them to fight over, and a dying priest all comes together like some sort of a high-brow soap opera from which you leave feeling like you've listened to a soul-stirring sermon.  Seriously, how often will you find a book like that?  Yes, I did come to fear the phenomenon of the four-page paragraph (Is there such a thing as post-traumatic stress from turning the page and seeing NO INDENTATIONS?)  But I did quickly get used to each character going by four or five different names.  I feel in some way I have kept Alzheimer's at bay with this novel brain exercise.  And whenever I was in danger of extreme boredom during the long religious discussions, I would come upon a thought that struck me, and this would happen again and again.  I feel like I need to make a little notebook just for quotes from this novel.  I could easily pull together my own sermon now, and it would be pretty darn good.

Because this was a group read, I feel as though I ought to discuss more of the details of the last portion of the book, but frankly I'm afraid to.  There is so much I don't think I would know where to stop.  At one point the narrator says, "I keep thinking that if one were to recall everything and explain everything as one ought, it would fill a whole book, even quite a large one."  Aside from the irony of that statement, that's how I feel right now.  Discussions could go on about this book indefinitely.  For now I will go check out what others from the readalong have to say.  Their thoughts, which are generally much more intellectual and in-depth than my own (I so appreciate them), should be found here. Thank you Dolce Bellezza for putting this together.  It made the reading even more enjoyable than it would have been on my own.

One last delightful quote from Mitya (or Dmitri, or Mitka, or Mitenka--take your pick):

"Rakitin says it's possible to love mankind even without God.  Well, only a snotty little shrimp can affirm such a thing, but I can't understand it."

The Brothers Karamazov
By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Originally published in 1880
Translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky 2002
776 pages
Personal Enjoyment Factor:  4.5/5

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Brothers Karamazov Part II

As part of a Readalong, this post will discuss details that might be considered spoilers if you haven't read this book yet.  However, I don't think anything here in Part II was even remotely spoiler-alert-worthy!  So read on, or (more likely), scroll right on past in your Reader. ;-).
I did not find Part II quite as captivating as Part I, as both the narrator and Fyodor Pavlovich move into the background and much of the comic element is on hold.  I'm wondering if there will be a return to the humor in the last two parts.  "The Grand Inquisitor" was an uphill climb for me--for some reason I felt very impatient with this part and wanted to move on.  When I hit the chapters about Zosima's history (I had to look twice to convince myself that the print wasn't actually smaller in this section!) I was a bit apprehensive, but ended up enjoying it and appreciating many of the quotes, like this thought about prayer:
"Each time you pray, if you do so sincerely, there will be a flash of new feeling in it, and a new thought as well, one you did not know before, which will give you fresh courage; and you will understand that prayer is education" (318).
And this one about materialism:
"They have succeeded in amassing more and more things, but have less and less joy" (314).
He did seem to get quite a bit more mystical towards the end of the things he shared with the other monks, and it was hard for me to read his optimism about mankind towards then end.  Perhaps I'm a cynic at heart.

Some of the characters were explored in greater depth in this section.  While I liked Alyosha in the beginning, I have more respect for him now.  He shows an innate understanding of human nature when he interacts with the boys who are throwing stones, and at times in his "relationship" with Liza, with the exception of the awkward betrothal scene.  I  admired his faith in the face of Ivan's atheistic ramblings.  Ivan seemed a little stand-offish to me in the beginning, so his warmth towards Alyosha surprised me.  His view of the world is pretty bleak, and his doubt in the existence of God seems to stem from the often asked question of how God could allow such suffering, especially when it comes to children.  He has arrived at the conclusion that there is no God, because it makes more sense to him. 

One idea that keeps popping up is the idea that as an individual, we should take upon us the guilt of all of mankind:
"There is only one salvation for you:  take yourself up, and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. . .The moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all"(page 320)
This idea is just not sinking in for me.  I closest I can get to comprehending it is Jesus' teachings:  "Judge that ye be not judged" and "He that is without sin cast the first stone."  I'm going to have to think about this more, although the whole idea sounds like something that would send me right into therapy!

Stay tuned for more ramblings about Part III of this hefty specimen of Russian Literature.  

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Brothers Karamazov Part I

I was pretty excited to join in on the read-along of The Brothers Karamozov, but I've only had a little bit of time to read each day so I'm already over a week behind.  Because I'm anxious to read the discussions of the other participants, I'm going to try to be good and set the timer on myself so I don't spend too much time writing here.  Therefore, here are some probably very random thoughts about Part 1, in 15 minutes (if I'm good!):
  • Having read Crime and Punishment (dark and serious, loved it) and most of The Idiot (was bored, but that may have been because it was not a very good audio production), I was not expecting to find so much humor.  I loved the author's note at the beginning, almost apologizing for certain aspects of the story, and telling us, "I am even glad that my novel broke itself into two stories . . . having acquainted himself with the first story, the reader can decide for himself whether it is worth his while to begin the second.  Of course, no one is bound by anything; he can also drop the book after two pages of the first story and never pick it up again."  Sorry, Fyodor--you had me hooked by paragraph one.  Upon reading the word "muddleheaded" four times in the first paragraph alone (reminds me of the repetition of Dickens), I knew I was in for a treat.
  • I'm a little slow, but I just now noticed that Dostoevsky has named what is so far his most despicable character after himself:  Fyodor.  Is this some form of self-deprecation?  
  • It's very clear from the beginning that one of the main themes is truth/honesty, particularly when it comes to lying to yourself.  I agree with Zosima that if you can't even believe yourself because you are always lying, you will assume that everyone else is lying, and therefore not be able to believe in anything.  This seems to apply especially to Fyodor, but I haven't thought enough about the other characters enough, like Ivan.   Is he still struggling/deciding even though he avows to be an atheist?  It's hard to say, because so many characters are lying about everything!
  • I like the narrator, even though I know this kind of narrator is often annoying to some people.  He is very present and at times acts like a guide:  Like when he notes that Yefim Petrovich Polenov especially loved Alexei.  "I should like the reader to remember that from the very beginning." And also, "I am ashamed to distract my reader's attention for such a long time to such ordinary lackeys, and therefore I shall go back to my narrative, hoping that with regard to Smerdyakov things will somehow work themselves out in the further course of the story."  He presents himself as a writer/narrator of a story that he doesn't have much control over the telling of.
  • Love the sarcasm in the title of Book One:  "A Nice Little Family"
  • Of course there are some deep discussions about the existence of God and immortality.  It seems that there are some who agonize about their faith (or lack of, or motivations for) like Madame Khokhlakov, and others who really just don't care--they love pleasure (those sensualists!) so much that it supersedes any sense of morality. 
  • Speaking of the sensualists, I haven't been able to figure out what is so great about Grushenka that father and son would commit some of the acts they do for her.  The shape of her foot?  The curve of her ear?  At first I thought she was older, and was surprised to find out she was only 22. 
  • The discussion about the ecclesiastical courts was a little hard to get through, but what seems to stand out is the irony that Ivan is arguing for more involvement of the church when he doesn't believe in God.   It seems like he holds the notion that a belief in God is beneficial to society whether or not there actually is a God.  I think there are many today who have this practical rather than spiritual approach to religion. 
  • A question floating in my head while reading was "What motivates us to do good?"  A better afterlife, a better life here, avoidance of punishment?  What are Alexei's motivations?  It seems like it is just in his nature to be kind and good.  Will that change during the course of the story?  His friend (can't remember his name) seems to think it's in his genes to eventually fall and become like his father and brothers.
  • I was very entertained by the whole scene at the monastery.  Fyodor, horrible that he is, provides a lot of laughs.  All of his "buffoonery" is so well written.  I could really see it acted out on a stage.  In fact I was picturing a certain actor playing him.  (I'll mention it in a footnote (*) at the end of this, so I don't inadvertently ruin anyone's own vision of Fyodor).  The best part was when he showed up at the dinner after he said he wouldn't be there, because you just knew he would.  I don't really get what Kalganov has to do with the story.  Why was he there?  And Miusov is for me the most irritating character so far.
  • There's obviously so much more that can be discussed, which I think is what make a great book.  I had some notes in the margins about paradoxical situations, irony, constant judgment of what characters are saying, emotions on steroids (these characters have some really passionate feelings!), absolving guilt, etc., etc. And lots of underlining and stars that I will leave alone for now.
On to reading the other posts, and reading Part II, which in all likelihood will also be a week late.

    *Steve Carell. I must admit I find myself channeling him a few characters in other books as well (Amory in This Side of Paradise, Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream). Just give a him a good Russian accent and some Michael Scott-isms, and he's perfect for the part. 

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010


    By Gary D. Schmidt
    Published by Clarion Books, 2008
    288 Pages
    Young Adult Fiction
    Personal Enjoyment Factor:  4/5

    First of all, let me just get it off my chest that I kept singing "That's right you got trouble/ right here in River City/With a capital "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for pool,"  from The Music Man while reading this.  I sincerely hope if you happen to pick up this wonderful book and read it, you will not be plagued with the same problem.  Especially if it's during the 24-Hour Readathon, and you're a little loopy already.  

    Trouble finds Henry Smith and his family even though his father has tried to avoid it.  The death of Henry's rugby-star brother ignites racial tensions with the neighboring Cambodian town and the upper-class community of the Smith family.  Fourteen-year-old Henry is determined to climb Mt. Katahdin in Maine to prove some things to himself and the memory of his brother, but he discovers some unexpected truth along the way.  And lots more Trouble.

    I loved this book, although it didn't inspire the fantasies of driving to Michigan for a book signing/boy-band worthy screamfest that The Wednesday Wars did.  Schmidt's writing and characterization is something I truly relish.  There are some plot elements in Trouble that have the potential to be Troublesome:  predictability, coincidence, unrealistic situations.  But his ability to get the reader to connect with the characters overshadows any of these issues, as well as they way he combines humor and tragedy in such a powerful way. It probably doesn't hurt that Schmidt obviously has a love of literature, history and the outdoors, all things I can appreciate, that he seamlessly weaves into his stories.  Trouble is one more "I laughed, I cried, it moved me" hit from one of my favorite authors.  I am anxiously awaiting another.

    Sunday, April 11, 2010

    Readathon End of Event Survey

    1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
    Really none of them, because this time around if anything got daunting, I would just do something else.
    2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
    Some that I saw people reading that I thought were good choices:  Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Unwind, The Know-it All, Chronicles of Narnia, any graphic novel.
    3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
    No, I thought it was great.
    4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
    As usual, the level of organization was high.  I love that.
    5. How many books did you read?
    I only finished one, and read some of two others.
    6. What were the names of the books you read?
    Brothers Karamozov, Anne's House of Dreams, TroubleOne of my daughters read Harry Potter, and the other read Magic Tree House books.
    7. Which book did you enjoy most?
    Brothers Karamozov.  I like it when books are not what I expect, and I was pleasantly surprised to find this book was very funny.  I had some laugh-out-loud moments!
    8. Which did you enjoy least?
    Anne's House of Dreams was good just because it's Anne and I love the setting, but it's not the same as the earlier books.
    9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
    Expect your Google Reader (or whatever you use) to double in size.
    10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
    I'll do it again, and I'll cheerlead again! 

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Readathon Mid-Event Survey

    1. What are you reading right now?
    I'm still reading The Brothers Karamozov (86 pages) and Anne's House of Dreams (120 pages).  I got in a little of the audio of The Clan of the Cave Bear.
    2. How many books have you read so far?
    Just working on those two at a snail's pace.  I'm underlining, taking notes and checking footnotes on BK, so it's not super quick.
    3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
    I would love to be able to start either Trouble by Schmidt or Cranford by Gaskell. But Brothers Karamozov is quite entertaining, so I may just keep reading it.
    4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
    This was a good day as far as not having any commitments.  I even have a couple of my kids away for a youth activity, so things are quieter than usual.
    5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
    I've had some short interruptions here and there, and I just took a nap.  I don't react well to naps.  Hopefully the grogginess will pass.
    6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? 
    Almost 400 participants!  I guess it's not surprising, but it's exciting.
    7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
    Send me free Coke?
    8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
    Get more sleep the night before!  Clean the house better.
    9. Are you getting tired yet?
    Heck, yeah!  See above.
    10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
    Just read whatever you're in the mood for, long or short.  Post as much or as little as you want.  Circus animal cookies are a good addition.  

    Readathon "Feed Me Seymour" Mini-Challenge

    Nicole of Linus' Blanket is hosting this challenge about food in your reading. Here's one food-related passage I have come across:

    Anne's House of Dreams
    L.M. Montgomery
    "Mrs. Rachel had make and brought with her an enormous plum pudding. Nothing could have convinced Mrs. Rachel that a college graduate of the younger generation could make a Christmas plum pudding properly..." Pg.89

    Here is what I presume to be a proper plum pudding:

    Readathon Update Fourth Hour

    So far I have been reading these two books that are polar opposites--one is dripping with cynicism, and the other syrupy sweet.  But I'm enjoying them both. 

    Readathon Hour 2 Mini Challenge

    For this mini challenge, Miss Remmers wants to know what we've surrounded ourselves with to kick off the readathon:

    " In this challenge we would like you to write a post on your blogs about your kick off strategy.  What have you surrounded yourself with for these early hours of the challenge besides your books?  Is there a coffee thermos, lucky book mark, snacks, pillow....  We want to know how you have prepared so you do not have to leave your cozy reading space (by the way - we'd like to know what is too.... (are you still in bed, a chair, the couch.....)"

    Since I'm up at 5 a.m., I've got a comfy spot on the couch with one of the kids' blankets.  I do have a special book mark that I reserve for books that are actually new, not used/library books.  It's a little fabric bookmark with an embroidered rose on it.  I have not had anything to eat or drink yet.  I do wish I had cleaned up more last night, because I don't like reading when there's a mess.  Book clutter is okay, but not real clutter!!

    Readathon Hour 1 Meme

    Where are you reading from today?
    So Cal

    3 facts about me …
    This one is really hard at five in the morning, but I'll try to just spit three things out:
    1.  I like to make things, anything, from scratch.
    2.  I watch documentaries when I'm stressed.
    3.  I like to watch exercise videos while eating.

    How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?

    Four main ones:
    The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
    Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt
    Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

    Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
    I have no goals!  Just trying to have a good time.

    If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time?
    Do it your way--whether it be intense or easy-going.  Both can be fun.  I'm already expecting to nap (after only five hours of sleep last night!)

    Sunday, April 4, 2010

    Dewey's Readathon

    Count me in!  I may not be able to do all 24 hours, but any time at all should be fun.  I have yet to plan reading material, although I think I will just stick with one or two books and see if that makes me go totally bonkers.   I will have two partners in crime, lots of snacks, and toothpicks to prop my eyes open.  Five days and counting...

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Irish Reading in March

    Cabbage from my garden.  Yay!

    St. Patrick's Day was celebrated in our home with green macaroni and cheese, green Jello with pears, and roasted asparagus (some of which ended up sucked up in the vacuum after I accidentally dumped about two cups of salt over them--but that's another story.)  We don't drink alcohol, so we did our best by having some frothy rootbeer to guzzle down.  We threw in some Irish soda bread to the spread, but it was store-bought and as hard as the Blarney Stone.

    This very unauthentic celebration of Irish culture needed to be rectified somehow, so I thought I would read a couple of books about Ireland, and stir up my Irish blood in a way that did not involve listening to The Cranberries or Snow Patrol, or watching reruns of Ballykissangel.  My first selection was Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, a Costa Book Award winner, and Man Booker Prize Nominee.  I used to have high expectations of prestigious award-winning novels only to come away less-than-awed in many instances.  As a result, this was a satisfying surprise. 

    Set in the 1950's, Brooklyn is the story of an intelligent but otherwise ordinary young girl, Eilis, who emigrates from Ireland to Brooklyn for a better job, with a strong nudge from both her mother and sister.  She experiences homesickness and depression but gradually adjusts to her new life.  She almost reluctantly falls in love with a persistent Italian-American man, but eventually has to return to Ireland because of a tragedy in the family.  It is then that she is really faced with deciding who she is, and who she will become.  
    It is this theme of identity that resonated the most for me.  At this point in her life, Eilis' identity seems very vague and incomplete.  She is very much defined by others--allowing them to direct her decisions in life and almost get swallowed up in their desires without thought for her own.   As she prepares to sail to America, she is reluctant to leave:
    "The arrangements being made, all the bustle and talk, would be better if they were for someone else, she thought, someone like her, someone the same age and size, who maybe even looked the same as she did, as long as she, the person who was thinking now, could wake in this bed every morning and move as the day went on in these familiar  streets and come home to the kitchen, to her mother and Rose."
    And yet she tells no one of her feelings, doing what is expected of her because she does not have the strength to be her own person.  This happens repeatedly throughout the book in different situations, and tends to get frustrating.

    Consequently, I keep asking myself the question, "What drives this novel? What keeps the reader going to the end?"  The events of Eilis' life are fairly mundane, and if you're looking for action, you will end up throwing this book against the wall in exasperation.  What kept me hanging on was the subtly mesmerizing prose--the detached and unsentimental narration that nonetheless depicted the main character with such precise psychological insight.  The tension created by the contrasts between one's innermost thoughts and what is presented to others.  A somewhat unlikeable but believable protagonist.  In other words, excellent writing. 

    I wish I could say the same about 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion.  To be fair, I'm sure author Morgan Llewellyn did not set out to write a literary masterpiece.  It's an average work of historical fiction with a few corny sex scenes thrown in for good measure.  I did learn quite a bit more about Ireland's Easter Rising, enjoying the sense of being in the middle of the action, but I felt very little connection to the characters.  Ned, the main character, survives the sinking of the Titanic, attends Saint Enda's school in Dublin, and becomes involved in the rebellion under the influence his headmaster, the soon-to-be rebel leader Pádraic Pearse.  Ned's sister marries a man she met in America, but ends up falling in love with her local priest, who also has feelings for her.  Throw in Ned's conflicting feelings for the prostitute Sile, and you've got a mediocre soap opera in the works.  But having said all of that, I think I may go on to read some of the sequels, which chronicle the continuing fight for Independence.  I'd like to learn more of the history, and of course I have to find out if Ned's sister and the priest get together . . .

    There are so many other Irish-themed books I would like to get to, as well, but I will probably wait until next March to read them.  Any recommendations?

    Book information:
    Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
    Published 2009 by Scribner
    262 pages
    Personal Enjoyment Factor 4/5

    1916:  A Novel of the Irish Rebellion
    by Morgan Llywelyn
    First published 1998
    521 pages
    Personal Enjoyment Factor 3/5