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.