Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells

Author: H.G. Wells
Origianlly Published: 1897
Length: 208 pages
Source: Library
Challenge(s): 1001+, Classics Club

Personal Enjoyment Factor:3/5

Ambition--what is the good of pride of place when you cannot appear there?  What is the good of the love of a woman when her name must needs be Delilah?  I have no taste for politics, for the blackguardisms of fame, for philanthropy, for sport. What was I to do?  And for this I had become a wrapped-up mystery, a swathed and bandaged caricature of a man.

When it comes to the magical objects of the Harry Potter world, the Time-Turner tops my list for most coveted items.  The Pensieve is high on the list as well--my brain could use a thorough decluttering.  But I have to admit that the Invisibility Cloak would be pretty cool.  I have no nefarious purposes for it in mind--I don't want to steal or cheat, I have no authority figures I need to hide or run from, and I do NOT want to know what people are saying about me behind my back. No, I just want to use it to go on errands with messy hair and pajamas without fear of ending up in a People of Walmart video.

Why does Griffin, our brilliant scientist who discovers a formula to make himself invisible, want to be unseen by the world?  In current movies and books, we have gotten used to sympathizing with the villain,  trying to figure out how he got to be the way he is, finding excuses for him, hating his behavior but wanting to give him a big hug.  In The Invisible Man, you just want to give the guy a good slap in the face.  Sure, he is an albino when visible, which might cause the reader to try to make some sort of psychological analysis about how he may have been ignored by his associates for being different, and his obsession with his experiments was a way to prove himself and be valued by society.  But this sliver of sympathy is grossly overshadowed by the fact that the guy is a textbook psychopath.  He never takes responsibility for his actions, cares nothing for the feelings of others, and has no feelings of guilt for the crimes he commits.  So what does he actually gain from being invisible?  Well, he gets a cold, and the side effects of the drugs are remarkably similar to a bad case of PMS. 

I'll admit, I would have been cranky too.  Griffin may have unlocked the secrets of invisibility, but he has no clue how to make himself visible again.   He either has to wrap himself up with bandages and don a curious outfit, or walk naked in the cold.  I'm sure he would have appreciated a good invisibility cloak!  But the world Wells creates is not magic, it's scientific.  He gives such a detailed and believable description of how Griffin's formula works, that the reader is able to suspend disbelief.  Now I just need to suspend my mental image of a naked albino.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Taking a Break (And picture of Dan Stevens. Your welcome.)

Yes, it's come to that point once again in which I need to ban myself from the blog in order to finish some non-book related projects.  I'm thinking maybe around 2-3 months.  As usual, I'm making it official with a post for my own sake so that I will stick to it.  But I wanted to tie up a few loose ends first for the sake of peace of mind, and express my agony over a few things I'll be missing.

1.  The Foundation Trilogy Readalong hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings has now ended, and what a great experience it has been.  I loved the books, and the discussion has been wonderful.  I had to take the book back to the library, and my memory has been especially bad lately, so my plan is just to read other posts but not do one of my own.  I realized that I forgot what happened in two complete (and significant) chapters for the last group of questions, so who knows what I've wiped from my mind this time!

2.  I will continue reading Clarissa as part of a year-long group read.  I hope to jump back into the discussion  by summer.

3.  If I've been a good girl and have gotten enough done, I plan to join in on the Bloggiesta fun, March 30-April 1, hosted by Suey of It's All About Books and Danielle of There's a Book.  I'm pretty behind in updating my book directories and sidebars, and I MUST figure out why Disqus is not showing a link to comments for each post on my home page.  (I switched to Disqus for threaded comments, and now Blogger has them too, but from what I can tell, if I switch back to Blogger, all of the comments I've gotten through Disqus are gone.  I need to decide if I'm okay with that or not.  Right now that idea horrifies me!)  I also usually try to learn one new technological-ish  thing each time there's a Bloggiesta.  That's a great weakness of mine.  Baby steps...

4.  There are couple of readalongs I'm sad about missing.  I know there were others that were quite tempting, but these are the ones I put on my calendar, which means serious business.  Check them out if you're interested:

5.  I've been tagged!  It's been a few years since I've uttered that phrase.  How fun! I'm sure you've seen this going around, and these questions are from Melissa at Avid Reader's Musings.

1. What's your favorite souvenir you've bought on a trip?
I bought a world globe ornament when I was in Seattle last year that I love.  I love globes and maps, and it's just cool looking.

2. How many times have you moved?
Nine times.  All in Southern California.

3. What movie should win the Best Picture Oscar this year?
I'm really out of it when it comes to the Academy Awards.  I usually have only seen like one movie that is nominated for Best Picture.  And this year I'm not even sure what was nominated.  But I think I know which one won.  The Actor, or something like that.  Am I right?  Something about a silent film. 

4. Do you have a dream job? What is it?
Making movie previews/trailers.  (Wow, I just realized how wrong that sounds after just saying I don't know anything about the big movies this last year.)

5. Favorite Girl Scout cookie?
Samoas (or whatever they're called now.)

6. Guilty pleasure TV show you watch?
I'm going to have to go with Downton Abbey.  Total high-brow soap.  Especially Season 2 (which I'm not done with, so don't say anything about the end of the season!!!) It's uber-dramatic, all over the place with the writing, but just give me a quick shot of Dan Stevens, and all becomes magic.

7. What question do you hate it when people ask you?
This is a common one among book bloggers I think:  "How do you have all that time to read all those books?"  These days, I get in about an hour of reading a day, plus whatever audio book I'm listening to while I do various tasks.  That doesn't sounds too excessive, does it?  I know some people who don't even have time for that, but I also know people who watch a few hours of TV a day.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  But for some reason I never hear people asking each other, "How do you have all that time to watch all those TV shows?"

8. Your favorite pet you've ever owned?
My German Shepherd Rootbeer that I had growing up.  

9. What's the first book you remember reading?
Did anyone else learn to read from the I See Sam series?   I read through those when I was 3, so I guess those are the first.  A picture book that stands out to me from a young age is Millions of Cats.  First obsessive series--Chronicles of Narnia

10. What's your favorite drink?
Right now, Diet Coke Lime.  I also love Sparkling Apple Grape Juice.  

11. What's one thing on your Bucket List?
I still have yet to make an official one, but I do have a chance to be in a Zumba flash mob, and I thought that sounded like a Bucket List item, but I wondered if it counted if I didn't really have it on my list first?  I also don't know if I'll do it because I hate crowds.  Which is kind of the whole thing of a flash mob.
One of the reasons I haven't made a list yet is because when I think of things to put on the list, I just think, "Oh, I'd be okay if I didn't do that before I die." And so I never get anything down on the list.  Wow, I'm boring!  I guess I'd like to get my Bachelor's Degree, and maybe a Masters.  And I'd like to serve in a soup kitchen. There. Three things on my list.

I'm trying to not let it bug me that I have numbers within numbers here on this random post.  There's just something very wrong about that, but it is what it is.  And I'm sure I've forgotten something important.

Have a great Spring everyone, and if I'm missing anything exciting, don't tell me about it!!! I have no willpower.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

Author: Margot Livesey
Published: 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Length: 464 pages
Source: From Publisher via TLC Book Tours

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

A modern retelling of the beloved Jane Eyre? I was both intrigued and nervous when I began this novel. There's a certain audacity in such an attempt that prompts the reader to mentally dare the author to prove that they are somehow worthy of such task.  "Have you got what it takes, Ms. Livesey?  Can you justify this reincarnation of the irreplaceable Jane into the 20th century?"  There was, of course, only one way to find out.

The story begins with an air a familiarity for those who have read Jane Eyre--an orphan unloved and mistreated by her aunt and cousins, the transition to an austere boarding school, the death of her only friend, employment taking care of a lively young girl.   It's so familiar, that it's almost hard to remember that we're in Scotland in the Sixties rather than 19th century England.  But once Gemma makes her way to the Orkney Islands, the setting becomes distinct (and breathtaking), as the story becomes something all its own.

Gemma Hardy also becomes a distinct character from her Victorian counterpart.  The power of Jane Eyre lies in a heroine that takes control of her life on her own terms, in contrast with the prevailing attitudes towards women at the time.  While the contrast isn't as strong in our modern-day heroine, Gemma also becomes a woman directing her own course in life.  Her own personal code of morality is formed throughout the novel, as secrets are revealed and questions about her origins are answered.  In this moral code she sets herself apart from Jane, with a more modern viewpoint, of course, resulting in a somewhat different outcome.

This outcome and the events leading up to it lack the deliciously Gothic intensity of the original Jane Eyre, but they were suspenseful in their own right, and warranted some vigorous page-turning.  If I could ask for something more from the novel, it would be a stronger presence from Mr. Sinclair, Gemma's employer-turned-love interest.  I also would have liked for the author to have delved more into the mysterious, supernatural aspects of the story.  I expected something more. But perhaps she meant for them to remain ambiguous.  

In the end, do I feel that Ms. Livesey proved that she could accomplish the feat of reinventing one of my favorite novels of all time?  Well, the book entertained me, swept me away to a different place and time, and made me think about my own moral compass.  I would call that a success.  Although I've tried really hard to keep this review serious, I can't help but end with an apt food comparison.  (What can I say?  Food and books.  Is there anything else to life?)  I love both store-bought Chips Ahoy cookies and homemade chocolate chip cookies.  When I want to enjoy a satisfying crunch with minimal effort, I'll grab the Chips Ahoy.  If I want warm, gooey, right-out-of the oven cookies, I'll take some time to gather the ingredients, mix up a batch, and wait that ten minutes for them to bake.  The Flight of Gemma Hardy is like those fabulous Chips Ahoy cookies, and Jane Eyre is more like homemade.   Very different, but delicious.  And no calories.

For more reviews of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, check here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Second Foundation Group Read Part 1

No pre-question rambling--I'll just jump into this week's questions from host Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings.  And be forewarned--SPOILERS!

1.  How have your perceptions of the Mule and his form of governing grown or changed, or not, after spending more time with him in this novel?

First of all, I was so happy that we were not done with The Mule.  I'm still somewhat in that protective mode where I don't get too attached to characters for fear that Asimov will jump ahead in time with a whole new cast.  My conflicting feelings about The Mule make him absolutely intriguing, and I wanted more.
I still have the same aversion to his mode of power.  I still feel empathy for him and the hardships and insecurities he faces being a mutant. I liked seeing his strength in strategy, and enjoyed being the spectator of another mental chess match. We got a glimpse into his mind--his doubts about his power.  I appreciated his recognition of the weakness in his control of others--that it takes away their initiative and drive and they end up weaker as a result.

2.  Having finally gotten a glimpse into the mysterious Second Foundation, what are your feelings/thoughts about this group and their methods (as revealed thus far)?

Because their mental powers were similar to The Mule's, I was a little wary that we would have yet another instance of an individual/group attempting to take away free will in order to reach its aims. I was happy to find out that although Channis' mind was altered, it was his own choice to undergo the surgery.  That was significant.  On the other hand, The Mule didn't have a choice when they changed his mind to eliminate his inferiority complex and other psychological baggage.  Yes, this did a lot of good for him and the galaxy. And he is getting a taste of his own medicine. But it still irks me a bit from an ethical standpoint.

3.  Has your understanding of the Seldon Plan changed at all with the revelations about the plan and the Second Foundationers near the end of this first part of our reading? Looking back does it alter any ideas you had about Seldon and his predictions?

From the reader's perspective, the whole aura of the plan seems to have been set aside during this part. Instead it has become a very pragmatic "Well, Seldon knew everything wouldn't go according to plan, so let's just do what we can to fix it." This quote struck me:
So [Seldon] created his Foundations according to the laws of psychohistory, but who knew better than he that even those laws were relative. He never created a finished product. Finished products are for decadent minds. His was an evolving mechanism and the Second Foundation was the instrument of that evolution (p. 65).
I'm guessing a lot of us are more comfortable with this view, as opposed to the almost religious fixation in the past with the Plan going down an unchanging route. The idea of an "evolving mechanism" meshes better with reality. It's much easier to accept.

4.  A simple one: How did you feel the first part of Second Foundation held up in comparison to the sections we've previously read?

It's among my favorite so far.  All of the mini twists and turns were intense, and it was great getting a different perspective about Seldon's Plan.  I've been curious about the Second Foundation from the beginning, so learning a little bit about it has been satisfying.  I hope there's more in the final part. 

5.  It is perhaps not surprising that Asimov's second important female character in the trilogy would be a direct descendent of the first. What do you think of young Arcadia "Arkady" Darell?

She's smart and resourceful, and yet Asimov doesn't let us forget that she's still a fourteen-year-old girl.  

More discussion on this first part of Second Foundation can be found here.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop

I signed up to participate once again in the fun Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, but things have been so busy around here that I am putting up my post late.  The good news is that I'm rushing even writing this post, so I will make it very simple and offer your choice of a $15 dollar e-gift card from Amazon OR a book of your choice up to $15 from Book Depository if Book Depository delivers free to your country.

All you need to do for a chance to win is to comment and leave an email address so I can contact you if you win.  I will close the giveaway on Wednesday, February 22 around midnight PST.

Hopefully in my haste I haven't forgotten any important bits of information.  Let me know if you see something missing.

Thanks for participating! Be sure to visit other Hop Participants for more chances to win:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. Curiosity Killed The Bookworm
  3. Lit Endeavors (US)
  4. The Book Whisperer
  5. Rikki's Teleidoscope
  6. 2606 Books and Counting
  7. The Parrish Lantern
  8. Sam Still Reading
  9. Bookworm with a view
  10. Breieninpeking (Dutch readers)
  11. Seaside Book Nook
  12. Elle Lit (US)
  13. Nishita's Rants and Raves
  14. Tell Me A Story
  15. Living, Learning, and Loving Life (US)
  16. Book'd Out
  17. Uniflame Creates
  18. Tiny Library (UK)
  19. An Armchair by the Sea (UK)
  20. bibliosue
  21. Lena Sledge's Blog (US)
  22. Roof Beam Reader
  23. Misprinted Pages
  24. Mevrouw Kinderboek (Dutch readers)
  25. Under My Apple Tree (US)
  26. Indie Reader Houston
  27. Book Clutter
  28. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (US)
  29. Lizzy's Literary Life
  30. Sweeping Me

  1. Caribousmom (US)
  2. Minding Spot (US)
  3. Curled Up With a Good Book and a Cup of Tea
  4. The Book Diva's Reads
  5. The Blue Bookcase
  6. Thinking About Loud!
  7. write meg! (US)
  8. Devouring Texts
  9. Thirty Creative Studio (US)
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Dolce Bellezza (US)
  12. Simple Clockwork
  13. Chocolate and Croissants
  14. The Scarlet Letter (US)
  15. Reflections from the Hinterland (N. America)
  16. De Boekblogger (Europe, Dutch readers)
  17. Readerbuzz (US)
  18. Must Read Faster (N. America)
  19. Burgandy Ice @ Colorimetry
  20. carolinareti
  21. MaeGal
  22. Ephemeral Digest
  23. Scattered Figments (UK)
  24. Bibliophile By the Sea
  25. The Blog of Litwits (US)
  26. Kate Austin
  27. Alice Anderson (US)
  28. Always Cooking up Something

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens!

I love this picture, but it reminds me how much a hate beards.  Yuck!

My children got me a beautiful biography of Dickens for my birthday.  I'm hoping to read a little bit of it today to celebrate.  Or at least look at some of the pictures.  It's supposed to rain today.  Perfect!

Books I've read by Dickens:  David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit, Bleak House, Oliver Twist
Dickens on my shelf:  Pickwick Papers, Our Mutual Friend
Favorites:  David Copperfield and Great Expectations
Books I want to read:  All of them!
Screen Adaptations I've seen:  David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit, Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist
Favorite:  David Copperfield (1999).  Bleak House and Little Dorrit are close behind.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Foundation and Empire Group Read: Conclusion

It seems like a lifetime ago since reading and discussing the first half of Foundation and Empire because in between the two sections I had to finish up Moby-Dick for another readalong and read Rebecca in two days for a book club.  So if I start talking about whales or a psycho housekeeper, you'll understand why.

Here are the questions for the week from host Carl, with SPOILERS!

1.  While it didn't break new ground, Asimov did have a female character who played a major role in this second half of the book.  What are your thoughts on how Asimov portrayed Bayta?

I'm pretty satisfied with the way Bayta is portrayed.  Both her brains and her heart saved them in the end.  And apparently she could whip up a yummy pie.

2.  Now that you know the Mule's identity, were you surprised or had  you figured it out along the way?  If you did figure it out, how did that affect your reading of the book?

I was reasonably sure of his true identity, but there was enough room for another possibility that it wasn't completely devoid of suspense.  The biggest clue for me was the Visi-Sonor and the concerts.  It was still enjoyable to find out at the end because there were many instances pointed out where he was influencing others and it answered a lot of questions.  In some cases I actually thought that Asimov was just being careless in his characterization, but in the end I realized he knew just what he was doing.  Oh, me of little faith!

3.  In previous posts we discussed the role individuals seemed to have in the unfolding of Seldon's plan.  How do you feel about the issue now that we've seen an individual derail Seldon's plans?

It's really kind of relief to me, even though ironically the individual is one seeking to take away personal choice through his control of emotions.  I need to know that one person can make a change, or else why would I try to do anything?  I've read Horton Hears a Who too many times to give up this ideal!

At the same time, though, did he derail Seldon's plans?  It sounds like the Second Foundation was set up to make up for any aberrations in the plan, so doesn't that make it part of the plan?  

4.  Did it surprise you in the end that the Mule was allowed to get away?  Did Asimov make you feel any pity or empathy for the Mule, either as the clown and/or when you discovered he was the Mule?

I loved the mixed emotions of the ending.  I was both horrified by his actions and felt pity for him.  Just like Darth Vader!!

5.  How do you feel this story compared to all the other stories that have made up the two Foundation novels we've read?

"The Mule" was my favorite by far.  Admittedly, it has the comfort of a conventional structure, unlike the stories of Foundation.  But it was also in and of itself an excellent story.

6.  What final thoughts do you have about Foundation and Empire?

Loved it!  Five stars.  I'm ready to read the next installment--I've heard it's the best.

For more discussion and links, visit here. Thanks, Carl!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Moby Dick: There She Blows!!! Finally.

Author: Herman Melville
Originally Published: 1851
Length: 648 pages
Source: Library
Event: Moby-Dick Readalong at The Blue Bookcase

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3.5/5

(No major spoilers in the post.  I let it slip that we meet MD, but I think most readers will expect that, right?  I do however talk about myself too much, so if you want to avoid that...)

"Hast seen the White Whale?"

I did! I did! I did see the white whale, Ahab!  I'm just as excited as you are, Oh, Captain, my Captain, since I had to wait until page 600 of a 634 page book...

For those of you who have read this as part of the readalong or not, don't you feel like you could talk about Moby-Dick for hours and hours and only scratch the surface?  I am filled with so many thoughts and possible directions to take this wrap-up post, I've had trouble figuring out a way to organize them or focus on any one idea in a neat and tidy way. But I decided that Melville didn't even try to do this, so why should I?  Permission granted to myself to ramble.

After all, I suspect that Melville consciously gave himself this same license.  He says at the beginning of Chapter 63, "Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them the twigs.  So in productive subjects, grow the chapters."  Obviously he feels whaling is an extremely productive subject, one that deserves an in-depth and detailed discussion.  No need to do any "pruning."  I went along with it, learning the ins and outs of hunting whales, always remembering the frequent reminders that knowing all of these facts will help us to better understand the BIG EVENT at the end.  But now that I'm done, the action in the last chapters seemed so detached from the rest of the book, that I don't think I made the connection that was intended.  Can you believe I was actually bored at the end?  It turns out that I  liked the exposition/philosophy much more than the action.

I thought about Melville a lot while I read.  What I imagined of him kind of reminded me of myself.  I could see him on a long voyage, passing his time by musing on how so many things in nature and the world around us can be compared to life.  I do this all the time!  So much that it almost drives me mad!  Does everyone do this?  I've always wondered.  At the very least, I'm sure that Melville did, because I feel like he was purging it all out into this book.

Also, he likes to take a subject and run with it.  Obsess over it.  Drown in it.  I have this tendency too.  I have a hard time getting through my history textbook because I will latch on to a certain event, and I will want to stop and explore more--read another book, find a fiction book about it, find a documentary, a movie, find artwork, maps, biographies, etc.  But I usually squelch these desires because I do need to finish the course.  Melville, on the other hand, was free to explore his subject intensively, and shared it ALL with us.  Lucky, him, lucky us.  Sadly, whales aren't really my thing, but I have to respect his tastes.

I also imagined him to be drunk while writing parts of this.  And I think he may have been on something when he was writing about the squeezing of the sperm(aceti).  He was getting a little too excited about that for my comfort.  I don't drink or do drugs myself, although I probably come across as a bit tipsy with some of my posts...

Unlike Melville, I need to put the brakes on my ramble at some point.  After all, to go all Shakespearean as he likes to do: "Brevity is the soul of wit."  Neither Polonius nor Melville, or myself for that matter seem to take that to heart, but I will try.

I guess the big questions is, "What does it all mean?"   What was Melville trying to say?  What does Moby Dick symbolize?  I myself don't know.  I have several possible ideas, and I seriously think they all could be supported.  I'm reminded of the scene where different characters look at the gold piece and it means something different to each of them.  Maybe Moby-Dick is the same way.  Take from it what you will.  We are all different, and so we will all come out of it with a different perspective.  Like life.  Whatever we personally believe,  there will always be people out there who see things differently.  There are Ahabs, and Starbucks, and Stubbs, and Queequegs and Ishmaels.  We're all different, but like it or not, we're all in the same boat.  And Moby Dick is waiting.  [Insert Jaws music here.  I know he's not a sperm whale, but go with me here.]

It's a good thing this isn't an English class because that all sounds like a cop-out to me!  But I'm wondering, who do you think you are most like?  The tortured but resolute Ahab, the religious Starbuck, or the jolly Stubb?  As for me,

Call me Ishmael.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Clarissa Year-Long Group Read

I will confess that I was testing the waters a bit before committing to a readalong of Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, considered to be the longest book written in the English language.  If it looked to be as torturous a read as the never-ending Tale of Genji,  I would surely have to pass.  But so far, so good. (Although The Tale of Genji had a promising start as well, followed by 1,000 pages of repetitive blah.)

There are a few things making this a positive experience thus far:

1.  This is a year-long project.  Hostesses JoAnn of Lakeside Musings and Terri of Tip of the Iceberg have come up with the wonderful plan to read the letters that the book is comprised of around their corresponding dates.  So in January, we have read six letters that Clarissa Harlowe has written to her dear friend Anna in January, explaining the current family drama, which so far includes a handsome rake, a jealous sister, a vengeful brother, and several other horrid people.  Clarissa (at least as she presents herself in her letters) seems to be the only one you don't want to slap.  In tackling this letter by letter throughout the year, I think I just may be able to get through this book.

2.  I'm reading this on my phone.  I lift weights (and groceries) all week long.  I don't need a big hunk of a book to haul around everywhere too.  Thanks to Overdrive and Project Gutenburg, I've downloaded the e-version and can take it with me everywhere I go (even to the orthodontist's office where I fell asleep today while reading it.  Twice.  This has nothing to do with the book and everything to do with the fact that I'm old I don't get enough sleep at night.)

3. Richardson is transparent.  He comes right out and tells us in the Preface that this story is meant to instruct us--or at least his contemporaries--in correct behavior.  No hidden agenda.  No tricking us into thinking it's "just" an amusing story.  Entertainment is okay, as long as it is accompanied by a strong moral message, which he makes very clear.  In this case he has two messages for us.  Parents, don't force your kids to marry.  Young ladies, don't fall for the bad boys.  Got it. Got it.  Do I even need to read the book if I've learned the lesson?  Ah, but I do want to learn more about the already irresistible rake Richard Lovelace.  Oh, crap!  I guess I don't have the second lesson down just yet.  I guess I'll have to keep reading.

4.  There are built-in Cliffs Notes!  I don't know if all editions are this way, but mine has a section in the beginning that summarizes each letter.  I skipped them for obvious reasons, but what an interesting concept!  Was Richardson trying to be helpful, or did he think his readers were idiots?  Or did he think that his words were so wise people would want to go back and find specific letters?  Maybe I'll have an inkling by the time the book is done.

So it's going good so far, and hopefully it will continue to be entertaining and, er, instructive.  For more thoughts on January's letters, check out a list of links here.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Foundation and Empire Group Read, Part 1

Find more details and discussion on this group read at Stainless Steel Droppings.

So how about this cover, huh?  If I lived during Foundation times I would put it in some slot to be atomized.
Yesterday was my birthday (the last acceptable one), and along with doing Zumba, going out to lunch, seeing Wicked, going out to dinner, and opening presents, I finished reading the first half of Foundation and Empire.  A perfect day!

Here are this weeks questions, with Spoilers. 
1. In the opening chapters of Foundation and Empire we get to see things from the Imperial side. What are your thoughts on this part of the book? Were you surprised to find parts of the Galactic Empire that still seemed to be thriving? 

In the last book I didn't spend much time thinking about the Empire at all.  These first chapters were more eye-opening than surprising.  So much to think about in such a large galaxy!  I'm enjoying "zooming in" a bit.  
In the case of the Roman Empire, the east outlasted the west for many years, so I guess what's left of the Empire is like that.  It was also interesting to see how unaware Riose is of the Foundation and Hari Seldon and all of that, since we have been so engrossed in it.

2. The examination of psychohistory continues in this book. What are your thoughts about the statement that was made: "Seldon's laws help those who help themselves" in light of our previous discussions about Seldon, his predictions, and the interaction of the individuals that we are exposed to in the story?

I feel like Asimov is pretty repetitive in going over the aspects and predictions of psycho-history, and yet I still feel like it needs to sink in a little bit more for me.  This idea of individuals helping themselves is a good one to counter the feeling of being merely a pawn in the whole scheme of things.  But is it true, or just a comforting saying?  I think I would have more insight if I could pin down where this comes up in conversations, and apply it to some of the characters.  My brain is not up for such investigations today.

3. How do you feel about Devers, Barr and Bel Riose? Did you like this section of the book and/or these characters? Was there anything about their stories that stood out to you, entertained you, annoyed you?

I liked them all as rebels in their own realms.  I sometimes feel as though we're getting the same type of character repeated quite a bit between the books, but maybe that's by design.  Part of the pattern of psycho-history.  I have loved this part of the book, but the end of Part 1 was so abrupt.  All of a sudden the war was over in the blink of an eye.

4. Perhaps continuing from Question 2, do you agree or disagree, and what are your thoughts on, Barr's devotion to Seldon and his belief that the "dead hand of Seldon" was guiding the events that led up to Riose's undoing.

Well, my main thought on this was the the idea of the dead hand idea was creepy!  If I revered a guy, I would pick a more positive mental image.  I felt or sort of satisfaction for Barr that his faith was well-founded.

5. Did you think I was lying to you when I said in previous conversations that there are more female characters in books 2 and 3, LOL, since we didn't get to Bayta until near the end of this portion of the read?

Ha, ha!  I had faith.  I liked her portrayal overall, but since we've put this issue under a microscope, I will say that I was a little weirded out when her husband put his hand over her mouth to get her to stop talking.  I can see why he did it, but if someone did that to me I would surely bite them!

6. We haven't spent much time with them yet, but talk about your initial impressions of Toran and Bayta.

So far I like them, and I like seeing the events unfolding from the perspective of a married couple, especially as they have settled in a place where it doesn't sound like marriage is that common.  I'm jealous of their honeymoon!  At least until the clown shows up.  I like that we get to see some of Toran's insecurities, and how hard the confrontation was for him.

So nothing profound going on in this head, but I am enjoying this book even more than the first. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Moby-Dick Group Read: Discussion 3 (Chapters 56-93)

I am soooo ready for a Whale category on Jeopardy. Bring it on, Alex!  Step aside Ken Jennings!

Thanks to Melville, I never knew so much about whales, nor did I know there was so much to know about whales.  Alas, we are still primarily in non-fiction mode, and things have taken a turn for the technical and anatomical. A couple of things helped me get through this section.

First of all, I cast Ishmael aside for a bit, and Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs took his place in grossing me out with the details of whale hunting and whale anatomy.

Yes, I know how to spice my classics up a bit.  But it's not that far-fetched, right?  Ishmael and Rowe take on similar tasks in giving us glimpse into icky jobs that we don't think about much, and yet we usually reap the benefits from.  In my mind, the Pequod had a few extra passengers--a camera crew and a hunky host showing me all of the blood and guts of whaling.  (Rest assured, in my little "mind movie", Rowe IS wearing pants, unlike Queequeg who seems to prefer the shirt-and-socks-only option.  What is up with that?!?!)

Also, when doing image searches last week, I discovered a children's book about whaling in the 19th-Century:

ISBN 0-531-12356-1

I was in luck--my library actually had it.  I highly recommend this book to anyone reading Moby Dick.  In just 30 illustrated pages (hint, hint, Melville...), I learned about the different whales, the tools used to catch them, how they are cut up and the wreck of the whaling ship Essex, which inspired the writing of Moby Dick.  (One thing I learned that I didn't want to know was how Moby Dick ends.  Ooops!  Watch out for that if you read this.  It's on page 28.)  I actually read this book before reading this section, so it was very easy for me to picture what was happening.  And with Mike Rowe explaining it as well, all was good.

But don't think that I'm saying one should skip or skim Melville's detailed descriptions.  He somehow makes it all worthwhile by tacking on to the end of a chapter something philosophical/metaphorical about life.  It reminds me of a Shakespearean couplet, only it often sounds biblical.  And like Shakespeare, sometimes I know what he's saying, and sometimes I don't. Many times I'm not sure if he's being earnest or sarcastic.  I'm still loving the occasional injections of ticklish humor.  I'll have to make a collection of them when I'm done reading.

But for now I must confess that I haven't finished this section.  I have about 15 more pages.  I've hit some legal stuff, and my mind is blocking it.  I've got no survival mechanism for this.  I don't watch any law shows with hot lawyers.  HELP!!!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Moby-Dick Group Read: Discussion 2 (Chapters 27-55)

I'm behind schedule already on my posting and reading, which is actually not that unusual for me.  This time my excuse is that I had limited time to read, and when I had a couple of hours here and there, I had to choose between working out and reading Moby Dick.  As enticing as Moby Dick is (and I'm not being sarcastic for once), I chose to exercise.  I just kept telling myself, "My health is more important than Moby Dick.  My health is more important then Moby Dick.  My health is more important than Moby Dick," and off to the gym I went.  

Likewise, I needed to employ a mantra to get through this section of the reading: "Pretend it's non-fiction.  Pretend it's non-fiction.  Pretend it's non-fiction."  Because, really, that's what a good portion of this section is.  I had to switch from a high level of fun quirkiness in the first part to textbook mode in this second part.  The good things is, I rather like reading textbooks, so my feelings are still rather positive towards Melville's "draught of a draught" that is Moby Dick.  But the cetology chapter signaled that it was time to shift into learning mode.

Aside from learning about different members of the whale family, the hierarchy of power on a whale boat, and historical accounts of whale hunting within the novel, I did a little outside research to be able to find my way around a boat.  Quarter deck, mast-head, starboard, poop, etc. were all vague in my mind, so I found a couple of diagrams that were helpful:

I also found myself wishing I had some sort of illustrated version of the book.  I know that Ishmael tells us the only way to really know what a sperm whale looks like is to see it for ourselves, and risk death in doing so, but I don't foresee whale-hunting in my future, so instead I searched the sea of Google images:

How bad can he be?  He kind of looks like he's smiling.  Maybe this is what Moby Dick looked like after he munched on Radney.

It wouldn't be quite accurate if I only focused on the inundation of information in these chapters.  Melville does thrown in some peculiarly dramatic stuff here.  Much of it reminded me of Shakespeare, which in turn reminded me a bit of Ulysses.  I had earlier been thinking that Melville's writing seemed to me an unlikely combination of Dickens and Joyce, but I wanted to wait and see how the rest of the book played out.  That Joyce vibe is coming in pretty strong now, albeit without the stream-of-consciousness mumbo-jumbo.  But when it comes to the number of allusions and purges of random knowledge, I see similarities.  But I'm not ready to write a paper on it or anything.  I wonder if Joyce read Moby Dick?  It's the wit in the writing that reminds me of Dickens.  And some of the humor.

I loved Ahab's little pep talk to get the sailors all pumped about finding The Whale.  I did not realize he was capable of saying so much at once, so it was a little shocking.  The chapter about the whiteness of the whale was interesting and beautifully written.  I for one have always been afraid of white--the stains show!

I keep looking for some deeper meaning in Ahab's hunt for the whale that ate his leg off.  But Ishmael says specifically that this tale is NOT a fable or an allegory.  Shucks!  But I don't entirely believe him yet.  I'm still looking.  I have a monomania of my own.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Foundation Group Read: Part 2

Yikes!  I'm a whole day late.  This was due to the three day weekend in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day.  No school for the kids and my husband took the day off of work, and so we celebrated by doing . . . yard work.  I'm sure I've missed the prime discussion period, but I throw my thoughts into the ring nonetheless.

Last week it seems I won the award for picking the ugliest of Foundation covers to display:

It's pretty bad, but then most of them are.  Thank goodness you can't judge a book by it's cover.  Although, I do love a good one. (Michael Whelan actually accomplishes this, thank goodness.) I guess the next best thing is a weird one.  This one interested me because I wondered what the "KSP" stamped on the hand meant.  Now I know, and I don't think it was a big enough of a deal to make the cover art.  But on with the questions from host Carl:

Spoilers follow.

Salvor Hardin was the first character in the book that we got to spend any significant time with.  What are your thoughts on the grande finale of his plotting, scheming and maneuvering to get the Foundation through to the next Seldon crisis?

I continue to be impressed by his shrewdness, but at the same time disturbed by manipulation of the people through the religion.  But that conflict is one of the things that makes the book so interesting to me.  I'm continually questioning which is the greater "evil" in my mind, violence or manipulation and never really come to an answer.  And pondering the possibility that I am a pawn in someone's big scheme for power. All in all, the overriding issue in this situation is expediency--doing whatever it takes to reduce the fallout from the breakdown of civilization by trusting in Seldon's predictions.  Hardin certainly has the brains and the resolve to make that happen.

What are your thoughts on the way in which control/manipulation to achieve Foundation ends began to shift with The Traders?

I anxious to hear other thoughts on this one.  It just reminded me of similarities to history where society shifted from a religion-based society to one dominated by trade.  In the book, The Foundation initially uses trade to sneak in the religion in order to gain power over the masses.  In the end, it ends up being the goods that have the most influence over the people.  Will the next change be the trade of information and services?

One of the interesting things about Seldon's psychohistory is how much one man can actually affect it.  In Foundation we see characters like Hardin and Mallow as key figures for positioning things just right to work towards Seldon's later predictions.   Do you see this as a contradiction to what Seldon said about psychohistory at the beginning of our story or part of an overall plan? Discuss.

I did see this as a contradiction.  The only thing I can think to explain it is that Seldon could predict that certain individuals would inevitably rise to the task and be a necessary agent for producing the desired outcome, although he wouldn't know exactly who those persons would be.  That somehow as a crisis develops, someone with the right abilities will move to the forefront and pull the right strings.  Or recognize the need to stand back and let things happen.

Did you see similarities or differences between the way in which Salvor Hardin and Hober Mallow operated and what are your thoughts about this final section of Foundation?  Would you have been content as a reader back then with how everything played out?  

They both had a knack for anticipating events and being one step ahead of the other guy.  The also both significantly changed the societies of that area of the galaxy.  I'm curious to see if and what the next shift may be. 

Has your concept/thoughts of what Seldon was trying to do changed at all since the book began?

I don't know that it's changed, but at first it wasn't clear that certain "crises" would be the pivotal events. It's not clear to me how all of that is going to help, so maybe I've missed the big picture.  I do keep wondering about the other colony on the other side of the galaxy.  What's up with that?  

Any final thoughts on the story as a whole, its structure, what it did or did not accomplish, how it worked for you, etc?

I did not realize going into the book that it was structured as short stories, but it worked fine for me.  I'm definitely seeing the need to continue--I'm curious about a lot of things.

Looking forward the the next in the trilogy, and will again be participating in the group read:

An inviting cover, but I am curious about the choice of wardrobe there.  Some sort of a court jester uprising?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Moby-Dick Group Read: Discussion 1 (Chapters 1-28)

I never formally declared my intentions for this group read, so here you go:

Maybe it's because of the suggestive "conquering" in the readalong title, or maybe it's because I only made it through fifty pages when I picked it up in another lifetime, but I really expected reading Moby-Dick to be a TASK.  I thought the group read format would be perfect, because what is more fun than poking fun at a stuffy classic, especially one with a title just asking for it?  

But so far there will be no poking fun (and I'll shelve any immature jokes), because I am really and truly enjoying it.  So far it's weird, and funny, and a bit over-the-top but in a tantalizing way.  For instance, Melville's not subtle when it comes to his whale/ocean imagery.  It pops up everywhere:  the painting at the Spouter Inn, Queequeg shaving with his harpoon, the pulpit that's like the bow of a ship, the codfish vertebrae necklace, and much, much more.  You cannot get away from it!  If I were to take a stab as to why Melville does this, I would say that maybe he's trying to establish a connection between the upcoming face-off with a monster whale and how it applies to everyday, landlubber life.  Or maybe he's just trying to set the mood.  Or maybe he just really, really likes whale stuff.

Whatever the case, I'm ready to take the voyage, get to know and fear Ahab, and enjoy all that cheese and butter that Captain Bildad was so worried about:  "Be careful with the butter--twenty cents the pound it was..."  Hopefully it won't just fatten me up as a tasty whale treat.

Yojo (the idol) tells me I should stop here, even though there are diverse topics that can be discussed. I wouldn't want to outdo Melville in rambling and digressions.  For more discussion and links to other posts, visit here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Foundation Group Read: Part 1 (of 2)

Another group read led by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings is going on right now and it's probably not too late to join in if you're interested.  This is a short, interesting, and easy book to read.  What more could you ask for in January? (Especially if you've over-committed on readalongs this month as I have.)
Here are the questions posed for the first half of the book:

For the purpose of satisfying curiosity, is this your first time reading Foundation or have you read it before?
This is my first time reading.  I've checked it out from the library before without getting to it.

For those reading Foundation for the first time, what expectations did you have going in and has it met them or surprised you in any way?

I came into this with a pretty blank state.  I know that Asimov is a renowned sci-fi writer, so I do have high expectations because of that.

What are your thoughts about the structure of the novel thus far? (I am referring to the brief glimpses of different parts of the history of the Foundation with big time gaps between events in the novel)

For those who have read Dune, I'm just finding it refreshing that the excerpts from the Encyclopedia Galactica are much less ambiguous than Princess Irulan's work that begins each chapter.  I'm usually not a fan of books that cover huge spans of time--I prefer works where the author delves really deep into a shorter time period--but it's not bothering me in a major way.  I don't really feel like I know any of the characters, but then I don't think that's the purpose of the book, thus far anyway.  I feel like we're getting to know mankind as a whole in a broad sociological sense.

What are your initial thoughts on the field of psychohistory?

I find it interesting as a form of prophecy based on mathematical science, inevitably coupled with questions that the people will have:  What if he was wrong or made a mistake in his calculations?  Did he have any hidden agenda in sharing this information?  Even if it is true, what do we care what happens to the empire after we're dead?

What, if anything, is holding your interest thus far, what are you enjoying about Foundation?

The story is interesting, and the ease of reading it is admittedly a bonus!

What, if anything, are you not enjoying about Foundation?

I had a hard time with the guy who didn't pronounce his "r"s.  It's not Asimov's fault that I'm reading this post Princess Bride, but I couldn't keep  myself from hearing the priest who performs the "mahwage" and talks about "twu wuv."

You may have covered this in answering the other questions, but if not, what are your thoughts/feelings about the Galactic Empire.  Is it a practical thing to have a galaxy spanning government? Can you imagine such a thing and do  you think it would work?

I just think it would be impossible.  It's mind-boggling to think of the size of the galaxy and how the government could keep tabs on everyone and prevent some sort of secession or rebellion. You just can't keep that many people happy.  Which of course is what is slated to occur and we are seeing the beginning of that unraveling. 

What are your thoughts on Hardin's creation of a religious system in which to house scientific ideas and technology while keeping the users of that science and technology in the dark?
I hate the idea of manipulating the people even though I see his purpose in doing so.  I'm also kind of disappointed in the people for not seeing through it, or for not being capable of accepting the scientific ideas disguised as mysticism.  There's got to be at least one freethinker among them!   Also, the whole concept kind of twists our modern way of thinking--these days you more often see religion being explained in scientific ways, like the science of prayer, or trying to prove ways that the Red Sea could have been parted, etc. in order for religion to be more accepted.  All very thought-provoking stuff.  I can't wait to see where he goes with it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Daniel Defoe: Classics Challenge January Prompt

I'm nearing the end of Robinson Crusoe, and finally there's a bit of action.  But it involves the discovery of cannibals who are having a little European "feast."  This seems like a good place to stop, take control of my gag reflex, and respond to the first prompt for the Classics Challenge found over at November's Autumn.  The focus this month is on the author of the classic we are reading.

I don't know much about Daniel Defoe (ca. 1659-1661 to 1731), but if there's one thing I've learned about him by reading the book, it's his fondness for the term "viz.", a rather hoity-toity way of saying "that is to say" or "namely."   Luckily he mixes it up every now and again by actually saying "that is to say."  He also LOVES capital letters.  

So let's Find out Some Slightly more substantial Facts about Defoe.  First, Check him Out:

And I thought my hair was big in the 80's.  Perhaps when it came to wigs back then, size did matter.  As someone who changed his last name from Foe to Defoe to sound more aristocratic, I think he may be trying to compensate for something.

He wrote several books, (viz.) Robinson Crusoe, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Serious reflections during the life and surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe: with his Vision of the angelick world, Captain Singleton, Journal of the Plague Year, Captain Jack, Moll Flanders, and Roxana.

In all he published over 370 (or 500 according to Wikipedia) works, including pamphlets and journals.  From hosiery businessman to government spy, he did just about everything and wrote on just about every topic imaginable.  He even spent some time in jail.  He lived through the Great Plague of London, the Great Fire of London, and later on, the Great Storm of 1703. I don't get the idea that he was very well liked or respected during much of his life.  Maybe that's a why a novel about being shipwrecked on an island alone for several years was appealing to him.  Or maybe he just thought it would be a good way to pay off all of his debts.

Whatever the case, I am enjoying Robinson Crusoe.  I feel like I'm learning how to survive on a deserted island and going to church all at the same time.  But more about that when (and if) I write up a review on it.  Defoe was much more prolific in his writings than I.  How he would have thrived in the blogging age!  And he could have ditched the wig.