Middlemarch Book II – IV: Inkblot Test

We’ve come to the midpoint of our tentative reading plan. Hard to believe one month’s gone by already. Instead of a review of all the chapters, how about a Middlemarch inkblot test?

What word comes to your mind when you see the following:

 

  • Dorothea 
  • Casaubon 
  • Ladislaw 
  • Fred 
  • Rosamond 
  • Lydgate 
  • Celia 
  • Mr. Brooke 
  • Mary Garth

 

I’ll just stop with these ones. Have your views about these characters changed from first you met them?

Any surprises in the storylines?

Which characters do you click ‘Like’?

What to do with the ones we don’t? Is Eliot having fun with Austen’s idea of creating characters whom no one would much like?

Favorite Quotes?

Here are some of mine, for various reasons, but mostly for Eliot’s power of association in her descriptions.

Will Ladislaw’s thought about Dorothea:

“To ask her to be less simple and direct would be like breathing on the crystal that you want to see the light through.”

About Dorothea’s predicament:

“I suppose it was that in courtship everything is regarded as provisional and preliminary, and the smallest sample of virtue or accomplishment is taken to guarantee delightful stores which the broad leisure of marriage will reveal. But the door-sill of marriage once crossed, expectation is concentrated on the present. Having once embarked on your marital voyage, it is impossible not to be aware that you make no way and that the sea is not within sight –– that, in fact, you are exploring an enclosed basin.”

And if Eliot were among us today, she would likely be vocal in the #Metoo and #Timesup movements:

“Society never made the preposterous demand that a man should think as much about his own qualifications for making a charming girl happy as he thinks of hers for making himself happy.”

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Your two pebbles?

Wood Duck.jpg

 

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Other posts from our Read-Along participants:

Men of Middlemarch

Middlemarch –– Ladislaw’s Force of Unreason

Middlemarch by George Eliot –– Completed today

 

Middlemarch Book I: What are siblings for?

Dorothea and Celia Brooke remind me of the Dashwood sisters Elinor and MariAnne. Like MaryAnne, Celia, being the younger, holds much respect and love for her older sister. Unlike the sisters in Austen’s novel however, here in Middlemarch so far, I just wonder who is Sense and who is Sensibility.

What are siblings for if not to act as a sounding board to test one’s opinion? This is a scene fit for a prime time TV comedy. Celia, just learned that Mr. Casaubon is the only guest coming to dinner––the setup to that special dinner she is totally oblivious––thus allowing her to speak her mind freely to Dorothea:

_______

“I hope there is some one else. Then I shall not hear him eat his soup so.”
“What is there remarkable about his soup-eating?”
“Really, Dodo, can’t you hear how he scrapes his spoon? And he always blinks before he speaks. I don’t know whether Locke blinked, but I’m sure I am sorry for those who sat opposite to him if he did.”
“Celia,” said Dorothea, with emphatic gravity, “pray don’t make any more observations of that kind.”
“Why not? They are quite true,” returned Celia, who had her reasons for persevering, though she was beginning to be a little afraid.
“Many things are true which only the commonest minds observe.”
“Then I think the commonest minds must be rather useful. I think it is a pity Mr. Casaubon’s mother had not a commoner mind: she might have taught him better.” Celia was inwardly frightened, and ready to run away, now she had hurled this light javelin.

_______

What follows of course is the bombshell that shatters the sounding board for any sense or sensibility.

Sibling Waxwings
I’ll just throw in this pair of Waxwings, they look like they’re siblings.

 

Another pair of siblings that makes a lively scene is Fred Vincy and his sister Rosamund. Talking about using the word “superior” to denote certain young men, Fred says:

_______

“Oh, there are so many superior teas and sugars now. Superior is getting to be shopkeepers’ slang.”
“Are you beginning to dislike slang, then?” said Rosamond, with mild gravity.
“Only the wrong sort. All choice of words is slang. It marks a class.”
“There is correct English: that is not slang.”
“I beg your pardon: correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets.”
“You will say anything, Fred, to gain your point.”
“Well, tell me whether it is slang or poetry to call an ox a leg-plaiter.”
“Of course you can call it poetry if you like.”
“Aha, Miss Rosy, you don’t know Homer from slang. I shall invent a new game; I shall write bits of slang and poetry on slips, and give them to you to separate.”
“Dear me, how amusing it is to hear young people talk!” said Mrs. Vincy, with cheerful admiration.

_______

What are siblings for if not to act as target of javelin or indulgence for a doting mother.

How’s your reading coming along?

________

Some Middlemarch posts from our Read-Along participants:

Dolce Bellezza

Gladsome Lights 

 

‘Middlemarch in May’ Read-Along

In 2015, BBC Culture contributor Jane Ciabattari surveyed 82 book critics around the world outside UK, “from Australia to Zimbabwe”, and asked them to rate the greatest English novels of all time. Guess which book came up on top of the list? Guess right. Middlemarch by George Eliot. Why outside the UK?  To find out “What does the rest of the world see as the greatest British novels… for a collective critical assessment… a global perspective”.

For her 19th C. classic to appeal to critics today, George Eliot must have done something right. I must discover the mystery. Interesting that I’d read Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch a few years ago and enjoyed it even without reading the eponymous work. But I’ve been saying to myself, I need to put an end to this cultural deprivation. You’ll never know, there just might be a new movie adaptation brewing somewhere with a postmodern streak. I have to read the original first.

My personal plan is to read the hard copy and listen to the audiobook narrated by Juliet Stevenson whichever and whenever I like during the process. Read at home, listen while driving or doing something else. That usually works best for me. Feel free to use whatever reading format you prefer.

MiddlemarchMiddlemarch Audiobook

As the lovely month of May is approaching, you’re welcome to join me and Bellezza and others here and here to read Middlemarch. We will take it leisurely. While we start in May, I’ll leave the ending date tentatively at the end of June. But if by ‘leisurely’ it means July or even further, I’m totally fine with it. (Bellezza would know how flexible I am with our previous read-along) I always find reading with a deadline more a pressure than pleasure.

You might have read it before, so here’s a chance to dust off your copy from the shelf, as we read or reread together and connect online, no matter where you are, from Australia to Zimbabwe. You may like to share via a blog post, leave a comment, or send a tweet. How’s this for a hashtag: #MiddlemarchinMay on Twitter.

 

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Books to read in pairs

Often I find some books are better read together, back to back. They have similar settings or subject matter, and it’s always interesting to see the different perspectives and connections, intentional or not. A testimony to the six degree of separation.

Here are a few. Can you name some more from your reading experience?

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

Pachinko is a family saga set in a period of history that’s seldom told in North America, the first part of the 20th century in Korea and Japan. Annexation of Korea is to put it mildly, prelude to the Pacific War later when the Japanese army invaded her neighbouring countries during WWII. The sufferings of those in the frontline and those at home are vividly depicted in Sakamoto’s family memoir: his maternal grandfather as a prisoner of war in Hong Kong and later shipped to Japan as slave laborer, while his paternal grandmother and her family mistreated in internment right in their homeland of Canada. (detailed reviews coming up)

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Do not say we have nothing by Madeleine Thien and The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

Barne’s biographical vignettes of Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich during Stalin’s reign is like a compendium to Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which depicts the three choices one can make when confronting a ruthless, totalitarian Ruler. Thien’s fictional characters struggled to survive during Mao’s cultural revolution and the subsequent years. Speak truth to power, unfortunately, is not a viable alternative. Death and oblivion will be the certain and swift consequences.

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Nutshell by Ian McEwan and Hamlet by William Shakespeare

McEwan’s modern day, in utero version of the Bard’s incestuous mayhem. Very perceptive, considering its from the voice of a baby in the womb.

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Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, West With the Night by Beryl Markham, and Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

Don’t think of the accented Meryl Streep in the movie Out of Africa, just imagine the ‘real’ Karen Blixen, on her farm in Africa, a tough woman on her own most of the time, and then there’s an acquaintance (can’t say friend) Beryl Markham, a female aviator, equally pioneering, a Brit expat in Africa, doing more than the discovery of the land but also of the man in Karen’s life, no, not Robert Redford.

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Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Hours by Michael Cunningham

One day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway can have so much meaning under the pen of Virginia Woolf. The Hours are equally perceptive, internal depiction of three women in different periods of time. And throw in The Hours the movie after, an excellent adaptation and hauntingly worthy of Woolf’s literary style.

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The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Mrs. Osmond by John Banville, and Middlemarch by George Eliot. 

Mrs. Osmond is Banville’s imaginary sequel to Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. Seems it all point to bad choices when the protagonist naive and a little too idealistic. I’m exploring how George Eliot’s Middlemarch may be a precursor to these novels of the young and restless and marital mismatch.

And here’s an invite, Middlemarch in May (makes a nice hashtag) is a read-along I’ll be joining with Bellezza and other readers. It starts in May, and it’s our intention to finish before summer, hopefully. Feel free to join us and explore the Dorothea Brooke connection to Isabel Archer, and I’m sure other delights as well along the way.

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Reading the Season: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

For the tenth year, I’m sharing a Christmas read here at the Pond. For the first time, it’s a book written for young readers but is ever so relevant for us grown-ups. Herein lies the ingenuity of writer Madeleine L’Engle. Time to dig out that copy that you might have read when you were a youngster. If you haven’t read it, now’s a good time.

 

A Wrinkle in Time

 

Newbery Medal winner A Wrinkle in Time is the first book in the Time Quintet series of fantasy YA fiction about the Murray family, scientist parents and four children Meg, twins Dennys and Sandy, five year-old genius Charles Wallace, and that special friend of Meg’s, Calvin O’Keefe. The deceptively simple odyssey in time and space is packed with wonder and wisdom.

The book not only exudes insights but shows L’Engle’s remarkable foresights. Take this for an example, dematerializing and materializing  for easy transport. Published in 1962, the book came out four years before Scotty beamed Kirk up using the same method in the first season of Star Trek.

Or this fancy idea, ‘tesseracting’, that is, travelling through space and time via a wrinkle in time. The shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, but through a wrinkle when two points are folded. That’s fifty years before Christopher Nolan sends Matthew McConaughey interstellar travelling.

All concepts held in a simple plot. Meg, Charles Wallace, together with friend Calvin, go on an interstellar quest to look for Meg and Charles’ physicist father who had gone missing for almost a year while doing some classified scientific work for the government. This little, unequipped search party is initiated and aided by three celestial beings: Mrs. Whatsit, who’s much wiser than she appears, Mrs. Which, who doesn’t bother materializing but remains as a shimmering beam, and Mrs. Who, who speaks in quotes.

The more a man knows, the less he talks.

Their odyssey brings them finally to the planet Camazotz, where they find Mr. Murray confined by the evil Dark Thing, or IT (Surprise! 24 years before Stephen King’s book and now movie) The smart alecky Charles Wallace is easy prey and quickly influenced by IT. (And for Luddites, what better parallel to address our technology now, the evil IT) Ultimately, it’s Meg, our reluctant and timid heroine, who has to be the one to go fight IT to rescue her little brother.

The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men… God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.

Meg knows Charles Wallace is not himself but trapped and deceived, and must be snatched from the evil force IT. She has just one weapon as her ammunition, given to her by Mrs. Whatsit, that one thing IT doesn’t have: LOVE. With her single act of bravery, she brings the family together again.

When I was a child, I read like a child, I thought like a child. When I became an adult, I can read like a child and like an adult too. That’s the joy of reading A Wrinkle in Time. One can find pleasure in the adventure and feel the vulnerability of the children, as well delve deeper into its symbolism and parallels, and ponder its layers of meaning.

L’Engle writes to the child and the adult in us. She can convey scientific and spiritual concepts at the same time and in a way that both young and old (and those in between) can enjoy. There’s no conflict between the cerebral and the spiritual; they co-exist comfortably in L’Engle’s work. Not only that, they fuse together and from that alchemy rises a whole new, inexplicable entity: Faith.

That first Christmas day when a baby was born in a lowly manger, the war against IT had started to win. Although the last, painful battle on the hill of Calvary had not been waged, the outcome was cast, just because LOVE came.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

The Movie

‘Tis the Season to read or reread A Wrinkle In Time before the movie adaptation comes out in 2018. Helmed by Selma (2014) director Ava DuVernay, screenplay by Frozen (2013) scriptwriter Jennifer Lee, with some stellar beings including Rees Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine et al.

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Past Reading the Season Selections:

2016:  Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

2010: A Widening Light, Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season 

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos

I return to The Diary of A Country Priest by French author Georges Bernanos, (Journal d’un curé de campagne, 1936) perennially at Easter time. Like Endo’s Silence, it reveals candidly a priest’s suffering and struggles in the midst of a harsh and unwelcome world. Unlike Silence though, light shines through the cracks more warmly. Power through weakness, life conquering death, the essence of Easter.

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The Diary of a Country Priest Book Cover

A young priest comes to his first parish, the rural town of Ambricourt, filled with humble hopes. All he wants is to serve the people, to give of himself, to bring God’s love. But as soon as he sets foot in the village, he is engulfed by hatred and rejection. There are dark secrets too sinister to be exposed. The young priest is an unwelcome alien. In a town afflicted by hypocrisy, pride, anger and bitterness, he is despised, taunted and ridiculed. His own inexperience is no match even for the children in his catechism class, especially the precocious Seraphitas, a girl ‘with a hardness far beyond her years.’

Ambricourt is a world afflicted by the ‘leprosy of boredom’, a microcosm of the human condition. Bernanos uses diseases to illustrate his point well. The young priest himself is being slowly consumed by terminal illness. The pain in his stomach ultimately defeats his body, cancer. His diet consists mainly of bread dipped in wine which he makes for himself, and some potato soup. Poverty in materials parallels the frailty of his body to take in solid food. None of these though can compare to the sufferings in his spirit. Many a times we see him in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading for strength in anguish. But he faithfully presses on, using his diary to confide his deepest thoughts, a means to commune with his God.

On the outskirt of Ambricourt is the Château of the powerful M. le Comte. The Count needs no priest to know about his adulterous affairs, this time, with the governess Mlle Louise. His wife Mme la Comtesse is totally absorbed by her long-held bitterness and grief from the loss of her young son. And his daughter Mlle Chantal is a deeply disturbed girl eaten up by anger and jealousy. Soon, she will be sent away to England, a most convenient plan devised by her father.

It is with this deep mess of a family that the young priest finds himself entangled. The most intense scene of the whole book, the climatic moment, comes when the priest goes to the Château to meet with Mme la Comtesse. She lost her beloved son when he was only eighteen months old, a child hated by his jealous older sister Chantal.

On his last day they went out for a walk together. When they came back my boy was dead.

Mme la Comtesse is fully engulfed by hatred for her daughter, grief for her lost son, and bitterness towards God.

Hearing her speak, a tear flows down the face of the young priest. “Hell is not to love any more, madame.” The young priest responds. And with miraculous strength, he delivers the following words.

… But you know that our God came to be among us. Shake your fist at Him, spit in His face, scourge Him, and finally crucify Him: what does it matter? It’s already been done to Him.

Towards the end of some soul piercing exchanges, Mme la Comtesse kneels down, releases her pain, and receives blessings from the young priest. Afterwards, she writes to him in a letter:

… I have lived in the most horrible solitude, alone with the desperate memory of a child. And it seems to me that another child has brought me to life again…

And this young child, a priest, consumed by illness, wreaked by frailty of spirit, can only marvel at the power through weakness:

Oh miracle — thus to be able to give what we ourselves do not possess, sweet miracle of our empty hands!

Not long after this, he succumbs to his illness. A life too short, a mission seems unaccomplished. But his last words faintly uttered on his deathbed are as powerful as the God who sends him:

Does it matter? Grace is everywhere…

And in the film, these three words leave me with one of the most poignant endings of all the films that I’ve seen:

“All is grace.”

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~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

English Edition of The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos, translated by Pamela Morris, Perseus Books Group, Philadelphia, PA, 1965, 298 pages.

Journal d’un curé de campagne, 1936, was winner of the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie française.

Upcoming Post:

The Film Review of Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951).

Related Post:

Silence the Movie Arrives in the Most Unwelcome Time

Silence by Shusaku Endo

 

Summer Reading

The remaining summer month isn’t going to be long enough for a slow reader like me to finish all the books I’ve started. There are 7 titles on Goodreads that I’m ‘currently reading’, one of them has been there since the Jurassic Period. Ok, maybe not that long, but I haven’t given up The Guermantes Way just yet, so I won’t delete it. I’m sure Proust understands, for there are more pressing matters.

First off, the horrific terror attack and mass murder in Nice sparked off an urge in me to, somehow, in whatever way, connect with France. It’s a bit late to participate in the blog event ‘Paris in July’. But since Nice, I’d started two France related books. And then there’s Germany, and now a priest inside a church while conducting mass…

Here are two titles I’m reading with European connection:

The Angel of the Left Bank: The Secrets of Delacroix’s Parisian Masterpiece by Jean-Paul Kauffmann

Angel of the Left BankThis enticingly thin paperback has been sitting on the shelf quietly for years. I’ve long wanted to read it although I’d no idea what it was about, one of the hand-me-downs from my son’s college reads. Now that I’ve started it, I know this one’s going to be a slow cook. Even though just 217 pages, I know I can’t rush it. Exactly as the title denotes, the book is about one painting, Eugène Delacroix’s (1798-1863) ‘Jacob Wrestling with the Angel’, a wall mural in the Chapel of the Holy Angels inside The Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris. Why did Kauffmann write about this particular painting? Why did Delacroix choose to paint this enigmatic episode of the Bible? Who is the ‘Angel’? I want to find out the hidden story behind the creation of this masterpiece. Apparently there are secrets to be told.  I’m most curious to see the epiphany that both the painter and the writer must have experienced relating to it. Simply put, for us who feel there are days wrestling means nothing close to a TV pseudo sports program, maybe this book could be an enlightenment.

 

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Paris bookshopFirst published in Germany, now an international bestseller, The Little Paris Bookshop is a barge floating on the Seine River in Paris. Monsieur Perdu, the ‘Literary Apothecary’, is the owner. Now this is an interesting concept. M. Perdu prescribes books for any ailment his customers happen to be afflicted with. Bibliotherapy if you will. Not a bad idea. He has a book suggestion for everyone he encounters, so a clever way for German author Nina George to weave in her views on various literary works, her salutation to literature and reading. But of course, George isn’t just leading a book club discussion but telling a story. So she deftly brings us to learn more about M. Perdu’s past. While well-versed in bibliotherapy, M. Perdu has a wound that’s deep and sore, for he’s a victim of a lost love. Can the Apothecary heal himself? All signs point to a heartening, summer read.

 

Here’s one that I think I’ll finish first:

Words Without Music by Philip Glass

words-without-music-a-memoirThis one beats all my current reads in capturing my attention and interest. The contemporary composer Philip Glass (born 1937) is renowned as a ‘minimalist’ in his musical style, a label he frowns upon. Now about a quarter into Glass’s memoir, so mainly about his early life and the start of a career, I find what’s minimal is only the physical materials of life, the lack of money to pursue his dream. As for passion and talents, Glass is endowed with abundance, and the artistic milieu in which he immersed himself is astoundingly rich and fertile. Above all, the Bohemian living during his early days is idyllic. That’s why I’m mesmerized by his story, the pursuit of a dream driven by pure passion and inner drive.

Born in Baltimore to a middle-class, secular Jewish family, Glass left home at just 15 to enter the University of Chicago, majoring in philosophy and mathematics. After that, he knew he wanted a career, no, a life, in music, against the wishes of his mother and uncles, who ran a family building supplies business in his hometown and wanted him to take over some day. But Glass was determined to march to a different drummer. After Chicago, he went to NYC mainly to get into Juilliard, not knowing he wasn’t even qualified. So he started with an extension course to work his way in. Later as a full-fledged Juilliard student, he devoured every learning opportunity. He had earned his living doing all sorts of jobs, laborer, steel mill worker, taxi driver. Later to Paris, India, Glass shows us a life journey full of gratifying struggles and interesting encounters. What more, the memoir is a social history of the Beat Generation. Deeply immersed in the zeitgeist of the time, Glass’s personal connections with other musicians, artists, poets, writers, theatre actors and producers, and filmmakers make a fascinating insider’s story. His contact list a who’s who of the Beat Generation. Lots of ripples stirred up in me and definitely a future post coming.

 

This one patiently waits:

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

The MoviegoerI had listened to the audio book a few years back, and wanted to reread it right away, but didn’t. After that, I forgot about it. By chance I saw it in the Bookstore at Regent College on UBC campus a couple months ago, I quickly took that single copy out from the shelf. There are few books I buy at regular price, this is one of them. I want to revisit it; with my own copy, I can write on the margin, and I know I will with this one. Despite the title, it has nothing to do with the glamour of Hollywood movies, or the pop entertainment culture of the day. Rather, this National Book Award winner (1961) is internal, reminiscent of European writers like Camus or today’s Tom McCarthy.

 

These two will take a while to get to:

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to UsBarrows’ previous book is the wildly popular The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society published eight years ago. I’d enjoyed the lively characters in Guernsey amidst the troublesome setting of WWII, with the island occupied by German soldiers. Just curious to read children’s author Barrows’ first solo publication for adults. The Truth brings Barrows back to the home state of her aunt and primary writer of Guernsey, Mary Ann Shaffer, who died before completing the book. Family saga in small town West Virginia in 1938. If you’ve read this one, how is it compared with Guernsey? Should I even start it?

 

 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The+Nest+-+book+coverIf I want a breezy summer beach read, maybe I should start with this one. But this too can wait. I got it mainly because of the future film adaptation. Sweeney’s debut work reportedly fetched a 7-figure advance from Ecco; not surprisingly, film rights were snatched up soon after. What should be noted is: by whom? Well, as evidence of the booming book/movie enterprise, Amazon Film it is, and Jill Soloway (Transparent) will direct. Note also, just saying, here’s a book with Amy Poehler’s endorsement on the cover. Have you read it? Are you looking forward to its movie adaptation?

 

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Related Review Posts on Ripple Effects:

Inside Llewyn Davis: A Serious Man in Greenwich Village

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

August: Osage County

 

Books Before Films 2016

There are several books on my shelf and in my TBR box that will be turning into films coming out in 2016. I must get to them soon. How time flies, one day’s gone already.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Light bet OceansOften it’s the cast of an upcoming movie that prods me to read a book. This one has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for years since its publication. No matter how popular it is, I’m motivated only now mainly because of the first rate cast: Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz, directed by Derek Cianfrance. Instead of a place beyond the pines (his last work) we have an island off the Australian coast, with the story about a lighthouse keeper and his wife bringing up a baby they found in a boat washed up onshore.

 

Silence by Shûsaku Endô

SilenceThis one is just the opposite. I want to read it regardless of whether it will be made into a film or not. But what a bonus it is to know the adaptation is a Martin Scorsese’s work with Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield, and Ciarán Hinds. I highly anticipate this film, albeit I expect the viewing experience won’t be pleasant. I’ve read it before but want to reread it before watching. The book is heart-wrenching as Endô describes the persecutions and tortures Christians and Jesuit missionaries suffered in 17th century Japan. How Scorsese, a Catholic himself, handles the subject matter – the choice between apostasy vs. martyrdom – and have these character actors interpret the internal and physical torments will be intriguing to see. Scorsese wrote the forward of this edition of the book (image here).

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's WifeThis is a worthy, true story to be made into film. Jan and Antonina Zabinski were keepers of the reputable Warsaw Zoo. During the Holocaust, Jan smuggled Jews out of the Warsaw Ghetto into their facility, saving hundreds. Antonina did the day-to-day chores of protecting them, hiding them in the cages, feeding them and keeping their spirits up. The parallel and irony of men and beasts are obvious. Acclaimed nature writer Diane Ackerman drew from Antonina’s diary to write her non-fiction work, a historical account of a heroic rescue mission. Screenplay by Angela Workerman, a scribe to note. Jessica Chastain and Daniel Brühl play the altruistic Zabinski couple.

 

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Lady Susan Book CoverThis has been in my iBooks for a long while, so long that I’d deleted it and now reloaded it again as the film adaptation is coming out. Entitled Love and Friendship, screenplay is based on Austen’s early novella Lady Susan, with Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan Vernon. It will be interesting to see how the epistle form is translated onto screen. It will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 23. Whether we will actually see it in our movie theatres is another matter. I hope it will be screened in the not too distant future.

 

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

RemainderI bought this book at Harvard Book Store – the independent book store in Harvard Square since 1932 – during my New England Road Trip last fall. I’d read McCarthy’s 2015 Booker shortlisted Satin Island and knew Remainder had been adapted into film before I went on the trip. So it was a title I’d intended to get at that bookstore. Remainder is McCarthy’s debut work (2006). An unnamed Londoner is struck by a falling object and lapse into a coma. As he awakes, he has lost all memory and needs to re-enact his past to find his identity and authenticity of being. The Telegraph had called McCarthy “a Kafka for the Google Age”. Interesting to see how that translates onto screen. The film premiered at the BFI London Film Festival last October. Will screen at Berlin International Film Festival in February, 2016.

 

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

the_secret_scripture_bookcover The film adaptation of Booker short-listed and multiple award winning novel by Irish writer Sebastian Barry has already been completed, but has yet come up with a release date. So, I’ve plenty of time to read the book. The narrator is a 100 year-old mental hospital patient recalling her life. The old and the young are played by Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara respectively. Directed by Jim Sheridan, the Oscar nominated director who introduced us to Daniel Day-Lewis in the excellent productions first in My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown and later In the Name of the Father.

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Reading the Season: The Book of Ruth

For the past seven years, I’ve a special post at Christmas which I’d named Reading the Season, just to help me dwell on the Reason behind all the festivities. Some past authors I’d read include Marilynne Robinson, C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Luci Shaw. This year I’m going back to the source material, The Bible, for my Christmas read. And no, my selection isn’t from Luke 2, which Linus so eloquently delivers every year in the delightful A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I reread the little love story in The Book of Ruth, one of the earliest parallels pointing to the Christmas story. This time I found it particularly relevant. So here it goes…

moonrise

 

A long time ago in a land far, far away a man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi, together with their two sons Mahlon and Chilion, had to pack up and leave their hometown of Bethlehem in Judah to escape from a famine in the land. As migrants, they travelled to a foreign country called Moab.

Alas, Elimelech died soon after and left behind Naomi and their two sons. Years passed, the sons married two Moabite gals, Orpah and Ruth. Could it be the food there, for not long after Naomi’s two sons also died. Bitter and despondent, Naomi sent her two daughters-in-law back to their own family and began her lone journey to return to Bethlehem.

But Ruth was adamant to follow Naomi back to where she came from with this moving vow:

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.

Touched by her loyalty, Naomi let Ruth travel with her back to Bethlehem. She was like a migrant all over again. To the people there Naomi, if anyone still recognized her, was now widowed, sonless, bitter and destitute. The two women didn’t even have a refugee camp to take shelter.

To survive, Ruth went out to the fields to glean the grains left by the harvesters. It happened that they were in the fields of a kind landowner Boaz, who after noticing Ruth and hearing of her love for her mother-in-law, told his workers to leave more grains in the fields for her to glean. Yes, it just happened that she’d come to the right field.

When Naomi learned of Boaz, she saw a glimpse of hope. Definitely this was more than the food bank; this generous landowner actually was a relative belonging to her late husband’s clan. Out of desperation, she sent Ruth on a risky mission: to go to Boaz at night and approach him tactfully, letting him know of their ties in kinship.

Lo and behold, Boaz, an honourable and compassionate man, was harbouring a deep and ardent love for Ruth. That night, though surprised to see Ruth, he received her readily and with respect, restraining and keeping his torrid passion well under wraps, umm like… Mr. Darcy.

According to the law of the land, the closest relative had the first right to redeem the lands that Naomi’s late husband Elimelech had sold and to marry Ruth to carry on the family line. But lo, Boaz wasn’t that person; instead, he did the honourable thing, extending the first right of redemption to the closest relative, yes, like umm… Mr. Collins.

And it happened that Mr. Collins was willing to buy back the land but wait a minute, he couldn’t take Ruth as a wife. There could be reverberations, for Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabite. Further, the land was for her to continue with Naomi’s family ownership, and would not be under his name. “I pass,” he said in the sight of ten elder witnesses. Phew!

So only then did Boaz declare not only his willingness to redeem the land once owned by Elimelech, but also his desire to take Ruth as his wife to save her from destitute, poverty, and childlessness. How marvellous it was that Boaz, a legit kinsman redeemer according to the laws, was also truly, madly, and deeply in love with his redeemed.

And we are definitely indebted to the two lovers for producing the line of descendants, for Ruth later became the great grandmother of David, from whose ancestral line generations later came Jesus.

With this beautiful ending I come back to Christmas 2015, and ponder on the lowly birth of Christ at the manger, to become our Kinsman for the ultimate purpose as Redeemer.

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth.”  – John 1:14

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The Risk of Birth

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

                              – Madeleine L’Engle

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Previous ‘Reading The Season’ Posts:

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

2010: A Widening Light, Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season 

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

Go Set A Watchman: Sequel or Prequel?

 

Go Set A Watchman Book Cover

 

Background

Go Set A Watchman is Harper Lee’s first draft of a novel (See links at the end of the post). In 1957, Lee’s agent submitted it to Tay Hohoff, an editor at the now defunct publishing house J. B. Lippincott. Hohoff did not see it adequate to be published; however, she did see promising elements in it, “the spark of the true writer flashed in every line,” she later recounted.

The draft’s protagonist, 26 year-old Jean Louise Finch, Scout, now a New Yorker, goes back to visit her childhood home in fictional Maycomb County, Alabama, and finds discrepancies about her father Atticus now from the man she thought she had known all the years growing up. To her alarm and disillusionment, Atticus, while a good father and a good man to all the rest in Maycomb, holds racist views and is firmly a segregationist.

Hohoff advised Lee to rewrite the draft but this time, instead of writing Jean Louise Finch as an adult, focus on her reminiscence of her childhood growing up in Maycomb with her brother Jem, living under the roof of her father Atticus, and summer days spent with a boy next door called Dill. After more than two years of editing and rewriting, To Kill A Mockingbird was born. And the rest is history.

So here’s the query I have: If your novel, after two years of editing and re-inventing, had developed into a final form and published in 1960, some 50 plus years ago, had gained high acclaims, won the Pulitzer, become a beloved American classic, been adapted into an Oscar winning movie, and achieved international recognition, why would you want your very first draft as a novice be published to the world now?

At 89 years old, Harper Lee now lives in a nursing home, a stroke survivor who has lost most of her hearing and eyesight, and just months after her sister Alice Lee – guardian of her privacy and legal advisor – had passed, and suddenly a ‘newly discovered’ Harper Lee novel appeared.

In a recent New York Times Op Ed article entitled “The Harper Lee ‘Go Set A Watchman’ Fraud”, columnist Joe Nocera vehemently argues that the Rupert Murdoch-owned HarperCollins had “manufactured a phoney literary event.” The publishing house had sold more than 1.1 million copies of the book in a week, the ‘fastest-selling book in company history’ according to the publisher, to which Nocera decries “Go Set A Watchman constitutes one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.”

The above is the major challenge surrounding this phenomenal ‘literary event’. So how should one read the book? Controversy aside, what can we reap from reading Go Set A Watchman?

Definitely not as a sequel and not a prequel either, but take it as it is: A first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird.

Only when comparing the two books as a ‘Before and After’ transformation can we see how the writing process had taken place. By reading Watchman as a first draft, we come to appreciate how a seasoned editor had helped a novice and an aspiring writer to achieve her goal to become a respectable, published author. And this we know Hohoff had done most successfully.

To Kill A Mockingbird Book Cover

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Reading Go Set A Watchman

First off, to all readers, a major reminder: Harper Lee is a real person, and Atticus Finch is a fictional character. In Lee’s first draft, Go Set A Watchman, Atticus is a good father, but a racist. Yes, he had successfully defended Tom Robinson and gained him an acquittal, that was a court appointed case. This is anecdotally mentioned in Watchman. But Atticus is a self-professed Jeffersonian Democrat, one who subscribes to Jefferson’s view that: “A man couldn’t vote simply because he was a man… He had to be a responsible man.”

Lee spends a climatic chapter towards the end describing the arguments between father and daughter on the issue of race. While both are polar extremes, and I don’t want to quote the words from Atticus pouring forth his arguments about how “white is white and black’s black”, I must point out that it is Scout who loses her cool during the debate. She is the one who blows right out, foul-mouthed and accusing her father with hurtful, derogatory terms. Throughout the verbal confrontation, Atticus remains a gentleman. “I’m seventy-two years old, but I’m still open to suggestions.”

And I’m quite impressed by the next episode, and that’s when Scout cools down and goes back to her father, seeking reconciliation. It’s not just a simple case of ‘agree to disagree’, but somewhat laying out a more complex relationship with the ambivalent stance of ‘I can’t beat you, I can’t join you,’ but love can still triumph over all. That is the spark of an inspiring writer I can see in the conclusion of Lee’s Watchman. As Scout apologizes for her foul-mouthed diatribe aimed at her father the day before, this line from Atticus will remain with me: “I can take anything anybody calls me as long as it’s not true.”

Hohoff might just have seen this character trait in Atticus that she advised Lee to expand on in her rewrite. I see this admirable element as I read. Let the fictional character Atticus be created as an ideal type of a man, open to others’ opinions, upholding his ground with firmness but with no malicious hostility. And yes, we can all appreciate this change of heart in Lee’s rewriting in Mockingbird. Let Atticus be the ideal father and friend, a deserving, honourable man.

Further, in Watchman, the racist turn in Atticus has not been well accounted for. Since Jean Louise has come back to Maycomb annually to see her father, why the sudden discovery of his racist stance? And why had she not known about his views considering her close relationship with her father all her growing years and only in recent years in her adult life had she moved to NYC. But most important point of all Lee had not explained in Watchman, why had Atticus changed his view? These could be flaws in the plot line that Hohoff had Lee re-think.

As recounted, Lee based her Atticus character on her own father, the lawyer Amasa Coleman Lee who had actually defended two black men but failed to have them acquitted. According to reports, the elder Lee had been a segregationist but later changed his views to support integration. The real life parallel is obvious. The details we could only speculate, was it the man that had influenced the change in the book, or maybe vice versa?

In the rewriting process, there is the elimination of two significant characters in Watchman, Hank, Jean Louise’s suitor, and Uncle Jack, holder of family secrets. Once a clear storyline is established, with the equally moving minor plot of Boo Radley, a parallel Mockingbird theme with Tom Robinson as both being vulnerable victims, Hank and Uncle Jack would not be needed to uphold the story lines. So, no matter how much a writer had invested in a character, cuts and alterations could be the outcome, quite like the deleted scenes we see on DVDs, the rational choices we have to make in the long creative process. On the other hand, a character that exists only in memory, Jem, who had died in Watchman, is revived to his lively self, and we are all grateful for that revision.

One of the main reasons Hohoff had rejected the first draft was that it was episodic, lacking a unified story arc as a novel. Readers of Watchman will find this so, especially when Jean Louise switches back and forth from the present to the past. As I read, the past holds much more attractions as Scout describes her growing up days in Maycomb. We see the children in a different perspective, something like a ‘behind the scene’, a ‘making-of’ featurette. Thanks to Hohoff, such episodes are restrung into the gem of a book called To Kill A Mockingbird. Indeed, Hohoff had grasped the social psyche well, there was a need for a noble, heroic character in her time then, and maybe even more so in our time now.

 

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LA Times (With video)

The Telegraph

New Republic

The New York Times (Jonathan Mahler)

The New York Times (Serge F. Kovaleski and

The Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post

The Washington Free Beacon

Wikipedia

 

Listening for Lent

In the old days, say, six years ago, reading for me was, simply, reading. Holding a book in my hands, read through the printed words, turned the pages manually, feeling the paper at my fingertips. But today, I have several ways to ‘experience’ a book. I can still read in the old traditional way, or download the eBook to my iPad using the app ‘OverDrive’, or, listen to an audiobook, on CD’s or MP3.

As a slow reader, I find listening to audiobooks a time-saving way, albeit I still prefer to hold a book in my hands and see prints on paper. But in this day of multi-tasking, I sometimes listen to audiobooks while driving as I can fit in my reading time. I confess, I could be distracted by the story, or the traffic. But overall, listening to audiobooks while driving is a perfect alternative for me, in lieu of time and space for ‘actual’ reading.

Recently I read an article by T. M. Luhrmann in the New York Times entitled Audiobooks and the Return of Storytelling. This insightful piece introduced me to a different reason for listening to audiobooks.

First off, Luhrmann takes down the generally accepted view that reading with our eyes as ‘more serious, more highbrow’ than listening to a story being told orally. She points to the early childhood experience when way before we could read, we were introduced to stories through listening to them. So maybe such a notion extends to our adult life making us feel that listening to stories is a childlike activity than reading the text on our own.

Many great books were actually oral legends, Luhrmann points out, “… for most of human history literature has been spoken out loud. The Iliad and the Odyssey were sung.” Noted. Can’t say listening to audiobooks is child’s play.

Luhrmann then comes to the crux of her idea. While we listen to an audiobook, we can do something else with our eyes and hands. That’s just obvious, isn’t it? Exactly what I said at the beginning of this post, the benefit of multitasking. But I was too rash to have thought I knew it so. What I read after this was nothing short of an epiphany for me.

No, not while driving, but when Luhrmann is gardening, she listens. Often, she would listen to the Bible. I love what she has to say next (emphasis mine):

Listening to a book is a different sensory experience than reading it. The inner imagining of the story becomes commingled with the outer senses — my hands on the trowel, the scent of tansy in the breeze. The creation of this sensory richness was in fact an explicit goal of the oral reading of the Bible in the medieval European cloister, so that daily tasks would be infused with Scripture, and Scripture would be remembered through ordinary tasks.

Whenever she looks at the “50 polypodium californicas and 50 festuca idahoensis in the dappled light beneath [her] oaks” she would think of “Gatsby’s extraordinary gift for hope.” Why, Luhrmann was listening to Fitzgerald’s novel while planting those the year before. Now looking at the plants would flash upon that inward eye what she had heard.

Of course, that sounds so simple and natural, a kind of classical conditioning, if you will. We fuse our senses and experience. All the more that we should listen to good books or we’ll have bad memories looking at the tasks we’d performed.

And what a wonderful idea Luhrmann had left me with: Scripture-infused daily tasks. That can’t be more apt for Lent.

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Tanya Marie Luhrmann teaches Anthropology at Stanford.

Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

No Texting for Lent and the End of Solitude

The Dinner by Herman Koch: A Timely Read, for Lent?

Dances With Words

What Makes a Good Audiobook Narrator?

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The Dinner by Herman Koch: A Timely Read, for Lent?

Why is this book compared to Gone Girl? It’s nothing like it. The Dinner belongs to a totally different calibre. If I have to compare it to something, then I’d say, reading it conjures up Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Are there really some in our society who think themselves so superior that they ought to be above the law? The law, after all, is a human construct. Can we not bend it to serve our own interest, when the interest is out of love for our son, or wife, or husband?

The Dinner

The Dinner is Dutch writer Herman Koch’s sixth novel. It has sold over a million copies and translated into twenty-one languages. The book deals with subjects that are soul-searching: The dichotomy between nature and nurture; how much of our being and psyche is hereditary? What portions of our actions are a result of our own waywardness as lost souls? As I was reading, the movie “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2011) came to mind. However, what is not present at least in the Kevin movie is the accessory after the fact component.

The Dinner starts off with quite an original concept. The author parallels the story development with a gourmet dinner two couples are having in an upscale restaurant. The Apéritif and the Appetizer are the foretaste of what we will get for the Main Course. What appears to be petty, disgruntled complaints and personal biases of the narrator’s in the early chapters turn out to be only a light appetizer, for the main course is when a horrific crime is revealed. The ‘horror’, though, isn’t limited to the crime per se, for it is chilling to read how everyone involved deals with the aftermath.

The main course is a gripping thriller based on a real-life crime. After reading the novel, I googled and did find the report on it. Koch tells the story effectively with his straight-forward descriptions written with journalistic detachment, and incisive observation as the notes of a perceptive psychoanalyst. Further, he informs us with the detailed thought process of his narrator. Here is a disturbing look at someone who is capable to love his wife and son deeply but hates everyone else that crosses his path. This is more than a thriller though, for the moral dilemma or rather, its characters’ lack of sensitivity to it, is what makes the book provocative.

I don’t think we are expected to ‘like’ or even ‘identify’ with any of the characters. The book is effective in that we are left as observers. And with that, hopefully, we just might think a little deeper into issues concerning our humanity, and in the next generation of humans we bring up. How much are our children a result of our parenting and examples, how much are they a result of their own choosing and decisions? Can nature or nurture excuse us from our errors? If Freud were around today, The Dinner just might be on his reading list. But, would he be able to offer a remedy to save us from ourselves?

The ending shares a similar thought with the Woody Allen movie Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989). Now, as soon as I said this, some of you familiar with the movie might think I’ve dropped a spoiler in here. So, that’s the farthest I’ll go in describing the plot and details of The Dinner. The aftertaste may be haunting, but it is something that we should face as a human society.

Today is the beginning of Lent. I always feel such is an opportune time not so much about refraining from pleasure like abstaining from going to fancy restaurants for gourmet dinners, but in dwelling on the meaning of Easter. The Dinner may just have, inadvertently, reinforced the notion that we as individuals in a human society do need some form of saving grace after all.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

The Dinner by Herman Koch, translated by Sam Garrett, published by Hogarth, 2012, 320 pages.