The Future of Blogging and Some Free Books For You…

IMG_20130803_210346The twins have changed my life in many ways. One of those ways involves reading and this blog. I am still reading, but not nearly as much. I no longer have the luxury of staying up late to read. Sleep is a necessity for my survival. I am also reading more on my Nook because it is easier, but most of my classics are paperback books. So, my reading has become more varied. Finding time to blog has been difficult, but I would like to begin getting back in the blogging routine. I will continue to read and journal about the classics on my list, but you may also find some posts about more contemporary selections. Along with my TBR pile, I am growing and changing as a reader, in large part due to the network of other amazing readers I have found through Twitter. I recently participated in two read-alongs for Stephen King’s Under the Dome and John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany. Owen Meany was a re-read for me, but remains one of my favorite books of all time.  In fact, I have been having a hard time starting another book as Owen is still running around in my head. Under the Dome was my second experience with Stephen King…11/22/63 being the first. I had always avoided Stephen King in the past, but I ended up really liking both novels. I would have liked to have put up posts for both of these read-alongs, but I just didn’t get to it. In the future, I hope to be better at this read-along component.

 I recently updated my copy of The Scarlet Letter and Jane Eyre with Penguin Classic Deluxe Editions and my copy of The Great Gatsby with a Penguin Modern ClassicsIMG_20130804_114022 Edition. So, if anyone is interested, I would be happy to send you my original copies of these books. They have each been read once and then sat on my shelves. First come first serve…leave me your email address so I can get your mailing information.

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Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (Part II)

*Warning, this post may contain spoilers for those who have not read Vanity Fair.

Although the writing itself was still quite humorous at many times in the second half of Vanity Fair, the second portion seemed to take on a much darker tone than the first. I suppose it is the sign of a talented writer when one can be funny and create feelings of desperation and sadness at the same time. There is so much desperation amongst the characters of Thackeray’s story. Many of them are desperate for money, but beyond that they all seem to have an acute need for acceptance, validation from someone: Dobbin from Amelia, Amelia from her son, The Rawdon Crawley’s from the Pitt Crawley’s, Rawdon from Rebecca, Rawdon Jr. from his mother, and Becky from society. Perhaps the saddest story of all is Rebecca’s treatment of her son. Her utter lack of feeling for and attention to the boy broke my heart.

Rebecca is for sure “no angel”, but despite her often cold-hearted, scheming, manipulative ways I could not dislike her, even though I wanted to. I wonder if what Thackeray says is true: “that it was only a question of money and fortune that made the difference between her and an honest woman?” If Becky had been born into money and position maybe she would not have become the great manipulator that she was. But there is also the chance that this was simply a part of her personality that she could never have escaped. Either way, I certainly got a laugh out of her presentation to the King:

“If she did not wish to lead a virtuous life, at least she desired to enjoy a character of virtue, and we know that no lady in the genteel world can possess this desideratum, until she has put on a train and feathers, and has been presented to her Sovereign at Court. From that august interview they come out stamped as honest women. The Lord Chamberlain gives them a certificate of virtue.”

I am wondering if this ceremony and certification was really a rite of passage for certain women in this society … I need to research this further as I found the whole thing to be such an interesting concept.

In the same way that I could not dislike Rebecca, I could not feel sorry for Amelia, even though I wanted to. When Dobbin finally left her, I wanted to stand up and cheer. I was shocked when he took her back despite having lost most of his real passion for her. She simply did not deserve him.

At times, the story rambles. I am sure Thackeray could have accomplished his goals in a slightly shorter form; however, this issue is no doubt a product of the novel having originally been published in monthly installments. It appears that his outlook on society is a quite dreary one, that history is destined to repeat itself due to the unwavering foolishness of human nature. I thought this was evident in the fact that there was no real happy ending in the novel. Even the marriage of Dobbin and Amelia is tainted. And what about Rebecca and Jos Sedley? It appeared to me that Thackeray was hinting that Rebecca had somehow slowly poisoned Jos for his life insurance money. Do you think it was murder?

Some last gems from Thackeray:

“Many a glass of wine have we all drunk, I have very little doubt, hob-nobbing with the hospitable giver, and wondering how the deuce he paid for it!”

“And let us, my brethren, who have not our names in the Red Book, console ourselves by thinking comfortably how miserable our betters may be, and that Damocles, who sits on satin cushions, and is served on gold plate, has an awful sword hanging over his head in the shape of a bailiff, or an hereditary disease, or a family secret …”

“To know nothing, or little, is in the nature of some husbands. To hide, in the nature of many women? O ladies! How many of you have surreptitious milliner’s bills? How many of you have gowns and bracelets, which you daren’t show, or which you wear trembling?”

“As they say the persons who hate Irishmen most are Irishmen: so, assuredly, the greatest tyrants over women are women.”

“Did we know what our intimates and dear relations thought of us, we should live in a world that we should be glad to quit, and in a frame of mind and a constant terror, that would be perfectly unbearable.”

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (Part I)

Vanity: lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness: the vanity of a selfish life (dictionary.com)

When I decided to join Allie’s read-along of Vanity Fair, it was really on a whim as I actually had no idea what the novel was about. Right away, I was pleasantly surprised by the humor I encountered. I should not have been surprised as this work is a satirical piece; Thackeray’s commentary on 1800s English society. Gad! I like this guy! He is giving voice to what I have alluded to in other posts regarding novels set in this period: the ridiculous nature of a certain class of this society, how they amble idly through life, often living in the clouds and above their means to disastrous ends.

William Makepeace Thackeray ... is it odd that he reminds me a little of Newt Gingrich?

I admire the narration of this novel because the characters are puppets on Thackeray’s string. It reminds me of the Shakespeare quote from As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” I am quite fond of Becky Sharp, although not all readers are. In truth, I am not sure why she is singled out as having the worst reputation since all of the principle players in Vanity Fair are flawed and hallow in some way, even Amelia and Dobbin. It is only a matter of to what degree.

This is a such society of contradictions. For example, the rich Miss Crawley prides herself on her liberal behavior. She tells Rebecca the following: “That was the most beautiful part of Lord Nelson’s character … he went to the deuce for a woman. There must be good in a man who will do that. I adore all imprudent matches … what I like best, is for a nobleman to marry a miller’s daughter … I wish some great man would run away with you, my dear.” But, when her favorite nephew, Rawdon, makes that exact imprudent match and marries Becky, Miss Crawley turns her back on them both!

It is interesting reading this novel after War and Peace. Although two very different works, there are uncanny correlations between the characters of these two books. Jos Sedley and Pierre, Amelia and Marya, Rebecca and both Natasha and Helene, etc. Vanity Fair was originally published in monthly installments in 1848 while War and Peace was not published until 1869. Was Tolstoy influenced by Thackeray in some way?

Some favorite Thackeray quotes so far:

“… they hated each other cordially …”

“What a charming reconciler and peacemaker money is.”

“Yes, if a man’s character is to be abused, say what you will, there’s nobody like a relation to do the business.”

“I wonder is it because men are cowards in heart that they admire bravery so much, and place military valour so far beyond every other quality for reward and worship?”

“Her mamma ordered her dresses, her books, her bonnets, and her ideas for her.”

Liar, Liar…

I don’t ever participate in the memes floating around the neighborhood, but this week’s Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and Bookish was a classic that I just couldn’t resist: Top Ten Books I Have Lied About!

1. I lived with my grandmother growing up and she was a little on the … umm … let’s say conservative side. When I brought home Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret in elementary school and she asked me what it was about, instead of divulging any bust increasing, puberty related content I immediately replied … GOD!

2. Admitting to having read AND liked the Twilight series seems to be a major party foul around the blogosphere … but here it is: I read and LOVED ’em!!! Oh, God … did I just say that out loud???

3. I have some kind of weird aversion to Harry Potter fans. I am always saying how much I hate the series, but that can’t really be possible when I have never read the books!!! Well, I tried to read the first one once a long time ago, but never finished it. I have no idea why the mere mention of this series makes me want to gag. Maybe it has something to do with the giant spiders in one of the movies I happened upon once on late night cable … who knows.

4. I once did a HUGE term paper in highschool on Edith Wharton, got an A, but never read one ounce of her work … still haven’t.

5. Allie, plug your ears! I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace for a read along back in January over at  A Literary Odyssey … well, all except the last 220 pages! For some reason, I just never finished it. I meant to, but as more and more time went on, I just slipped it back on the shelf. I have to get it over with soon. That way when I tell people I have read War and Peace, the last 220 pages aren’t haunting me … as if the first 1000 pages weren’t enough …

6. I say I really like the stream of consciousness writing style … and I do … at least the idea of it. But, reading Joyce and Faulkner is PAINFUL … ugly painful!

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Vol 3)

Of the three volumes of War and Peace that we have read so far, Volume 3 has been the hardest for me to get through.  I felt really bogged down at times, but there was certainly value to be found here, namely in possibly figuring out part of Tolstoy’s intention in writing this mammoth novel.
“Now all the active figures of the year 1812 have long left their places, their personal interests have vanished without a trace, and only the historical results of that time stand before us.”
Tolstoy apparently went to great lengths to ensure the historical accuracy of the parts of this novel that deal with real people, places, and events from the period in which it is set…historical fiction at its finest. However, it is important to remember how Tolstoy contrasts this with his detailed forays into the lives of his fictional characters. It becomes apparent in Volume 3, through the narrator, that Tolstoy is perhaps displeased with the way history is often remembered:  with emphasis on the big names and events. He appears to feel that the millions of little people and moments (that must have come together exactly as they did for the bigger picture to exist as it did) are sorely overlooked in history. At one point the narrator says: “therefore, all these causes-billions of causes-coincided so as to bring about what happened” and then this: “an action once committed is irrevocable, and its effect, coinciding in time with millions of actions of other people, acquires historical significance.” This is why the stories of the Rostovs, etc. are so important to War and Peace. We get to see the lives of those who were NOT Napoleon or Alexander hypothetically “coinciding in time with millions of actions of other people” to create Russian history. I think Tolstoy may be trying to teach that history must be examined from many viewpoints in order to come closest to the real truth of our past. Consider Pierre in Volume II: “[he] was struck for the first time at this meeting by the infinite diversity of human minds, which makes it so that no truth presents itself to two people in the same way.” I think that this is such an important point. We think there is a universal reality, but in fact there can’t be because each person’s reality is slightly skewed by individual perception. What I can’t decide is if Tolstoy believes in free will or providence. Does he think that there is a greater power ensuring that these millions of actions happen to coincide in time to create history as we know it?
I am also beginning to see the discontent among the characters (that I complained about in the post for Volume II) as a necessary device that allows the reader to feel, more acutely, the discontent of Russia as a whole during this time of war and unrest in Europe and beyond. These characters are just a mirror to the greater whole.
I am wondering if it may be beneficial to watch the movie adaptation of this novel. Has anyone seen it? I am thinking this may allow me to connect even further to the characters. What do you think?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Vol 2)

A lot happens in Volume 2 of War and Peace, which spans about six years (from 1806-1812). *SPOILER ALERT* Count Pierre Bezukhov survives a duel with Dolokhov (who was rumored to be having an affair with Pierre’s wife), consequently becomes estranged from Helene, joins the Masons, eventually decides to live with Helene again (who by this time has gained quite a standing in Petersburg society), and basically continues to bumble through life until finally appearing to fall in love with Natasha Rostov. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky suffers an injury while serving in the military, returns from the dead, loses his wife during the birth of their son (thank God there will be no more references from Tolstoy to her “little moustache”!), and eventually also falls in love with and proposes to Natasha Rostov. His father does not approve of this engagement. His sister, Princess Marya, refuses the proposal of Prince Anatole Kuragin, as she apparently realizes that he is only interested in her money and is actually keen on her companion Mlle. Bourienne. Count Nikolai Rostov finds a home in military service. However, he is called home to deal with the family’s increasingly dire financial state. He is horribly inept at this task, so his mother tries to convince him to take a rich bride to help the situation, but he insists that he will only marry Sonya. Andrei runs off abroad and Natasha spends almost a year waiting for the return of her beloved. Unfortunately, she meets Anatole Kuragin in Moscow and suddenly falls madly in love with him. She hastily refuses Prince Andrei and agrees to elope with Kuragin, who is actually already married. The elopement is thwarted and Natasha tries to commit suicide. And, of course, the French and Russians reached a truce that now seems to be on rocky grounds. Drama, Drama, Drama…I love it!

I continue to be struck by the absurdity of the courtships and relationships in this novel. All these individuals keep speaking of love, yet I do not find love in any of these associations. Attraction, sure…lust, sometimes, but how can they really love someone they barely even know? It all seems so childish to me in many ways, but I suppose that is a reflection of living in our current times where ideas about relationships and marriage have changed. Although my opinions may change as I read on, I find that Natasha is the only character that I am really fond of. In my mind, there lingers this faint resemblance between her and Scarlett from Gone with the Wind. I also kind of like Dolokhov, but everyone else sort of bores me at this point. Marya’s piousness and insistence on playing the role of martyr really annoys me. I expected so much more from Nikolai’s character and remain disappointed in that regard so far. The man pays absolutely no attention to Sonya when he is around, but still plans to marry her?? And Pierre, for all his attempts at finding himself, still remains lost and a bumbling fool. Andrei reminds me too much of Pierre in some ways, although he plays the role with much more class. Everyone just seems so needlessly restless and lost all the time. Is this a reflection of the times, the social class, their youth, or what? Despite these feelings, I still find myself wanting to know how the story ends for all of these characters…

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (21- )

I think that Wilkie Collins is an admirable mystery writer. I am glad that I read Collins’ The Woman in White. I really liked The Woman in White! And yet, at the end I was a little disappointed. I was swept up by the first ¾ of the book, but then found that the last ¼ dragged on for me. I feel like Collins went to great pains to tie up every lose end possible in the story which I felt was somehow detrimental to the novel as a whole. Nothing was left to the reader’s imagination. There was no lurking shadow of suspense like I still felt at the end of Rebecca. Collins purposely uses the various narrators to bring the reader very close to the mystery and yet doesn’t seem to give the reader enough credit for being able to use that technique to solve some things on their own. I was also not fond of the story line at the end that revealed Count Fosco, as I understand it, to be some sort of a mole inside a secret European society. Perhaps this is because I was unpleasantly reminded of certain contemporary authors’ more recent obsessions with these sorts of societies in their writing.
Another observation about English novels from the 1800s: I am bothered by the gentlemen of a certain title or class in this society, like Sir Percival – who appeared to rely on the earnings of his family estate to survive financially, as they frolic aimlessly through life. Why did society not require these men to have a real occupation, especially when they were sometimes facing financial ruin? How could these people occupy themselves day in and day out, year after year? No wonder they designed intricate plots of conspiracy and matchmaking and such…they were no doubt bored out of their minds half of the time.
Favorite Character: Marian!! Her section of narration was also my favorite. She was certainly a woman before her time. I can understand why Count Fosco was so attracted to her. And, I have to say that Mr. Fairlie also entertained me despite his nervous condition having gotten on my nerves.

Wilkie Collins 1824-1889

Favorite Quote: “I left yesterday to decide … and yesterday has decided. It is too late to go back.” Miss Laura Fairlie