Wednesday, December 11, 2013
So after my poll ended in a three-way tie, I decided to read The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux next. This book was originally published as a serial in 1909 and originally sold very poorly. It tells the story of the famed "ghost" of the Paris Opera House and the ghost's relationship with the beautiful soprano Christine Daae.
There is a 1986 musical version of this book with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber which is the longest running show in the history of Broadway. There is also a film version of this musical that was released in 2005 starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum which I have actually never seen (I'll have to watch it after I finish the book). In addition there is a silent film version of the book from 1925 with Lon Chaney which I watched as a child and a 1943 film version with Claude Rains.
This book was originally written in French and the version I have, (which is free for Kindle here) appears to have been translated by Kate McMullan, Lowell Bair and Peter Neumeyer. On my Kindle the version has 500 pages and will probably take me longer to get through than the last book!
One last thing: you will notice on the right side of the page there is a HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY for an illustrated copy of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale: A Christmas Carol! This is very exciting and the first of what I hope will be many giveaways that I will be able to host. There are multiple ways to enter and if you follow me on Twitter or are a fan on Facebook then you are already eligible for one or more entries! So throw your hat in the ring and good luck!
Monday, December 9, 2013
I raced through A Farewell to Arms in about 36 hours. I really enjoyed it, even though it has a sad ending (I'm actually kind of glad I knew the ending before I started it because I was prepared!). Be warned, however, this blog post contains some spoilers, so if you haven't read it and spoilers bother you, don't read ahead!
About halfway through the book, Catherine becomes pregnant. Then she proceeds to drink alcohol throughout the rest of the pregnancy. Now I realize they didn't know as much about fetal alcohol syndrome and I also realize that in some parts of the world the admonition of women not to drink when pregnant is not so strictly maintained as it is in the US, but it still made me cringe every time. Case in point:
"'Don't we have a fine time?' Catherine asked. 'Look. Let's go some place and have beer instead of tea. It's very good for young Catherine [the baby]. It keeps her small.'
'Young Catherine,' I said. 'That loafer.'
'She's been very good,' Catherine said. 'She makes very little trouble. The doctor said beer is good for her and keeps her small.'"
The nurse in me was thinking, "It keeps her small, alright. They call that low birth weight and it's NOT a good thing!"
The vocabulary word for the day is "puttee" which means "a long strip of cloth wound spirally around the leg from ankle to knee for protection and support" (definition from the New Oxford American Dictionary).
So now I have to decide what book I want to read next. For today, you can vote for the book you think I should read next on poll on the right hand side of the page. I'll let you know how the poll turns out in a couple of days!
Sunday, December 8, 2013
I'm really enjoying A Farewell to Arms so far. Hemingway's writing is so raw and terse and real. The fact that he was an ambulance driver himself during the first world war means that his descriptions of the front are realistic and detailed. I'm racing through it and I expect to be done in the next day or two. After Faust, it almost feels like reading children's literature.
I chose the quote for today because I think it is representative of Hemingway's writing; the way he chooses words and phrases that show how the characters feels. In this piece, Lt. Henry is getting to know Catherine Barkley.
"I held her close against me and could feel her heart beating and her lips opened and her head went back against my hand and then she was crying on my shoulder.
'Oh, darling,' she said. 'You will be good to me, won't you?'
What the hell, I thought. I stroked her hair and patted her shoulder. She was crying."
The way he says he thought "What the hell" and the way he says, twice, that she was crying, brings to mind that combination of frustration and confusion that many men feel when women display unexpected emotions.
Because this is so much easier to read than Faust, I know most of the vocabulary words, but there are a few words borrowed from Italian that I had to look up. So today's word is "carabiniere" which means "a member of the Italian paramilitary police."
I expect that I will be finished with this very soon, so now I just have to decide what I want to read next. Suggestions?
Saturday, December 7, 2013
The next book I will be reading is A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. This book was written in 1929 and was Hemingway's first best-seller.
It is a love story between Lt. Henry, an American ambulance driver serving in the Italian army during World War I and a British nurse: Catherine Barkley.
An interesting fact: in the first editions of the work, certain swear words (I'm too much of a lady to name them here!) were replaced with dashes. This book has been adapted for stage, screen and radio, including a 1932 screen adaptation which was nominated for an Academy Award.
I have read one piece of Hemingway's before: The Old Man and the Sea. I was in high school and any ironic symbolism was completely lost on me and I hated it. I thought it was the stupidest story and for a long time I used that and Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath as proof that most American literature was horrid. However, having said that, I am much older (and I hope, wiser) now and with a little relevant life experience and appreciation for hidden messages in literature, I think I have a decent chance of enjoying this one.
I'm reading a hard-copy version of this, specifically the 2003 paperback version published by Scribner. The copy is a little worn around the edges, but since I bought it for two dollars at a book sale, I don't really mind. This merely allows me to feel more comfortable folding down page corners and leaving it splayed open on the coffee table while I get another cup of tea. This copy has 332 pages, and because it's much easier to read than Faust, I'm anticipating that I'll get through it pretty quickly.
Well, I whizzed through the last bit of Faust and finished it up late night. Overall, I'm glad I read it, although I won't say it was my favorite book on the list. I did find the second half easier to read and understand than the first, although I'm still sure I missed a lot. If I were going to read it again, I would try to find a version that had more footnotes (mine had a few here and there, but not much), because frequently there were references that I didn't understand.
The final quote for Faust is rather a long one, but I thought it was both funny and philosophical (if that is possible). In this quote, Faust is speaking with Margaret, the innocent young girl he woos and whose life he basically destroys. She has asked him if he believes in God, and he has hemmed and hawed around the question, and here he tries to explain that perhaps he believes in God but by other names.
"Faust: Then call it what thou wilt,
Joy! Heart! Love! God!
I have no name to give it!
All comes at last to feeling;
Name is but sound and smoke,
Beclouding Heaven's warm glow.
Margaret: That is all fine and good, I know,
And just as the priest has often spoke,
Only with somewhat different phrases."
Of course this question of whether the principle of a rose by any other name smelling as sweet applies to God, is a theological and philosophical question that goes far beyond the scope of this project, but I mostly found Margaret's response funny; that the priest says basically the same thing, but the phrases he uses are a little different.
Our final vocabulary word for Faust is "expiate" which means "to atone for (guilt or sin)." (definition from The New Oxford American Dictionary).
Up next I'm tackling: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
I had a chance to get a lot of reading done at work today, so I'm over two-thirds of the way through Faust. I can't tell if the story is getting easier to understand or if I'm just getting better at reading it, but it seems like I'm getting more of the story now than I once was. One of my clients at work (I'm a caregiver for elderly people) is very well-read and of German ancestry, so I mentioned to him today that I was reading Faust and he said, "Wow, I read that. It's kind of hard to understand, though, isn't it?" so I felt a little better about my lack of comprehension!
I have two quotes for you today. The first one is by Mephistopheles, in which he is upset about something and he says,
"Oh, to the devil I'd give myself instanter, if I were not already he!"
In the second, Mephistopheles says,
"Such love-sick fools will puff away sun, moon and stars and all in the azure,
To please a maiden's whimsies, any day."
The vocabulary word of the day is "ennui" which means "a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement" (definition from The New Oxford American Dictionary).
Before I go, I had to tell you about a great bargain I got on books yesterday. I work at a retirement home, and they had a book sale, so of course I couldn't resist going to check it out. I ended up spending only six dollars and I got an anthology of humor pieces from The New Yorker, a copy of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (which is on the list!) and a copy of The Scarlet Letter with a copyright date of 1919! All in all, a pretty successful book-shopping trip, I think!
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Now that Faust has sold his soul to the devil, he and Mephistopheles are cavorting around the countryside with Faust getting his wishes granted, more or less.
In this scene, Faust has asked to be younger (interesting to note that people's top wishes haven't changed a whole lot). Mephistopheles tells Faust he has a way to do that, and his instructions are:
"Out to the fields without delay,
And take to hacking, digging, planting;
Run the same round from day to day,
A treadmill-life, contented, leading,
With simple fare both mind and body feeding,
Life with the beast as beast, nor count it robbery
Shouldst thou manure, thyself, the field thou reapest;
Follow this course and, trust to me,
For eighty years thy youth thou keepest!"
Of course Faust doesn't much like his suggestion, but Mephistophales's description of the "simple," idyllic life of a farmer reminded me of Leo Tolstoy's depiction of Konstantin Levin's life on the farm in Anna Karenina (I confess, after I read that book I wanted to move to a farm, even though I grew up on one). It also points out the human desire to get things without working for them.
The word/phrase of the day is "as lief" which means "as happily or as gladly" (definition from The New Oxford American Dictionary).
Before I sign off for now, I want to suggest a holiday gift idea for new parents/grandparents or anyone who has care of small children. I am convinced that my love for reading, and indeed the ease with which I communicate can be traced back to the fact that my parents faithfully read to me from the day I was born. The Read-Aloud Handbook outlines research that demonstrates how beneficial reading to kids can be and is a wonderful gift for anyone who has influence over children!
Happy Holidays to one and all!
Sunday, December 1, 2013
First of all, I want to thank all of you for checking in on my blog! In November I had a six month high in terms of page views, so thank you!
I have finally reached the point in the play where Faust sells his soul to the devil. I think this story is meant to parallel the story of The Fall from Genesis. Faust's motivation to sell his soul is his own boredom with life and with his limited knowledge, coupled with his own pride. At one point Mephistopheles is talking, under the guise of Faust, to a student scholar who comes seeking advice from Faust and he writes in his book: Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum. Now I took Latin for a number of years in school but it's gotten pretty rusty, so I had to look this one up. It seems this line is actually from Genesis 3:5 and means "You will be like God, knowing good and evil."
I have flagged so many good quotes, but I think I'm going to give you this one, which sums up the essence of Faust's deal with the devil. Mephistopheles says,
"I to thy service here agree to bind me,
To run and never rest at call of thee;
When over yonder though shalt find me
Then thou shalt do as much for me."
I have also run into a large number of vocabulary words, including "ennui" which is "a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation of excitement" and "soporific" which is "tending to induce drowsiness or sleep" (definitions from the New Oxford American Dictionary).
Friday, November 29, 2013
I'm still enjoying Faust. One of the things I like best about it so far is how Goethe (I'm assuming this is a product of the original German, not something added into the translation) mixes different styles of poetry and prose depending on the mood or the character. Some of the characters use very short, clipped rhymes and meter and some use longer, more sonnet-like poetry when they speak. It adds a whole other dimension to an already complex fabric of words and emotion which I'm really enjoying.
This quote I just like because of the images it conjures up, and because it talks about reading classic literature, obviously a soft spot for me!
"Excuse me! in these olden pages
We catch the spirit of the by-gone ages,
We see what wisest men before our day have thought,
And to what glorious heights we their bequests have brought."
The word of the day is "famulus" which is "an assistant or servant, esp. one working for a magician or scholar." (definition from The New Oxford American Dictionary).
I hope all my American readers had a happy Thanksgiving. Let the Christmas festivities begin!
Monday, November 25, 2013
I'm slowly but surely working through Faust which I'm thoroughly enjoying. It's actually a little bit more difficult to read than I was expecting, but I find if I slow down and really pay attention to the words and the rhymes and the lyrics, it's really enjoyable.
As far as a quote goes, I could pretty much quote the whole piece as I've read so far; it's that poetic and lyrical. But I managed to select one. This quote is God talking to Mephistopheles (the demon). Mephistopheles points out that Faust is not the most loyal follower that God has, and God says,
"He serves me somewhat darkly, now, I grant. Yet will he soon attain the light of reason. Sees not the gardener, in the green young plant, that bloom and fruit shall deck its coming season."
The word of the day is "stager" which is an archaic term for an actor.
This Thanksgiving I'm grateful for the access, the education and the time (however scarce) that allows me to read these wonderful works of literature. At no time in history has wonderful literature been so available to us at our fingertips, and this is a wondrous thing.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!