Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sense and Sensibility: 31% Complete

I am very much enjoying Sense and Sensibility. Although I usually prefer to read books before watching movie adaptations, there's something fascinating about reading the original story behind a familiar movie. I also have to say that I am impressed with Emma Thompson's screen play (which apparently took her five years to write!). She held very true to the book, with only a few small changes that I've found so far.

Because the story itself is so familiar to me, I'm finding myself focusing on different aspects of the book. One thing I was interested in is the physical distances that separate the locations in the book. Towards the beginning of the book, Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters are forced to move from their home at Norland Park in the county of Sussex to Barton Cottage near the town of Exeter in Devonshire. Although both Norland Park and Barton Cottage are fictional, the distance here is approximately 130 miles. Throughout the book various characters go to "town" i.e. London, which is about two hundred miles from Barton Cottage.  The Jane Austen Society of North America has maps for each of Jane Austen's novels which show the locations of various estates and towns for each book. Those can be located here.

Another fascinating aspect of this book (and many others) is the money. Jane Austen in particular frequently discusses the amount of money various characters "have" (few of them actually earn their money) per year. I referenced this website when I read Pride and Prejudice, but I once again returned to Eric Nye's site with the University of Wyoming which converts from historical British Pounds (by year) to current American dollars. That site can be found here.

I used the previously-mentioned website to calculate how much money John Dashwood and his stingy wife were debating would fulfill their obligation to Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters (in the end they decide that non-monetary assistance is more than generous). Initially Mr. Dashwood plans to give each of the three girls one thousand pounds. In 1811 when this book was published, that would be the equivalent of about $80,000 a piece. After objections from his wife, he lowers the amount to 500 pounds ($40,000) a piece. Then, when she's still unhappy, he suggests one hundred pounds per year to their mother while she lives. This is about $8000 per year (in addition to the five hundred pounds ($40,000) per year that the Dashwood girls receive from their father's estate). Then his wife argues that if their mother lives more than fifteen years then they would end up paying out even more than they would if they gave 500 pounds to each girl all at once, and "people always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them."  So in the end he agrees that they will no doubt be very comfortable on their five hundred per year, and they would benefit more from small gifts and other assistance over the years.

Another thing that surprised me was the Marianne and Elinor are younger than I thought: Marianne is only sixteen (which makes me less judgmental of her dramatic "sensibility") and Elinor is nineteen (which makes her rather wise beyond her years).

And finally, a quote. In this scene Edward Ferrars has come to visit the family at Barton Cottage and seems melancholy and strange, which is perplexing and bewildering to Elinor.

"Elinor placed all that was astonishing in this way of acting to his mother's account; and it was happy for her that he had a mother whose character was so imperfectly known to her, as to be the general excuse for every thing strange on the part of her son."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sense and Sensibility: Beginning

Up next: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. This is one of two Jane Austen books on my list and I've already read the other one: Pride and Prejudice.

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen's first published work, originally published in 1811 using the pseudonym "A Lady." It's the story of two sisters, Elinor (steady, thoughtful and serious) and Marianne (frivolous, dramatic and passionate) and their adventures (and misadventures) in love.

Several film and television adaptations have been produced, including a movie (which is fantastic, in my humble opinion) starring Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman (RIP).

The version I'm reading for Kindle can be found here and has 242 pages.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Common Sense: Beginning and 100% Complete

Over the course of a few hours yesterday and today, I read Common Sense by Thomas Paine. This was published anonymously as a pamphlet in January 1776, prior to the Declaration of Independence and a few months into the War for Independence. In it, Thomas Paine makes the case for separation from Great Britain.

This pamphlet was widely circulated and, compared to the population of the thirteen colonies, remains the most widely printed and circulated book in American history. Although it was originally published anonymously, it was only three months before it was discovered that Thomas Paine, at the time a 39-year-old activist, had written it.

Although one of the claims made about this pamphlet is that it was written in "common language" I found it to be less than light reading. I wouldn't say difficult to read, but I did find it a bit hard to grasp the arguments being made occasionally. Paine certainly pulled out all persuasive stops when it came to arguing the case for American independence, including arguing that it is unnatural for an island to govern and entire continent and that if God had intended for Britain to rule the colonies, he wouldn't have situated them so far apart geographically. Of course he made better, sounder, arguments as well and all in all I found it interesting to read what was in the minds of one of our Founding Fathers.

A few of what I found to be the more inspiring or at least interesting quotes:

"It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies." (He may be a bit perturbed at the current state of affairs regarding unity in Washington D.C.)

"For myself, I fully and conscientiously believe, that it is the will of the Almighty, that there should be diversity of religious opinions among us: it affords a larger field for our Christian kindness. Were we all of one way of thinking, our religious dispositions would want matter for probation; and on this liberal principle, I look on the various denominations among us, to be like children of the same family, differing only, in what is called, their Christian names."

And finally, a vocabulary word: sycophant, meaning "a person who acts obsequiously toward someone I order to gain advantage."  (I can think of a few less-refined synonyms for this, can you?)

I'll be delve into something a bit longer now. There's something exhausting about reading a bunch of short works. Up next: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Murders in the Rue Morgue: Beginning and 100% Complete

In just over an hour I knocked another "book" off the list: Edgar Allen Poe's short story: The Murders in the Rue Morgue. The version I have for Kindle can be found here and comes out to 38 pages.

Edgar Allen Poe (of "The Raven" fame, among other classics) wrote this for Graham's Magazine in 1841, for which he was paid $56.  It is a classic detective story in which an amateur detective solves the brutal murder of two women in Paris. According to Wikipedia, some consider this to be the first fiction detective story.

It's clear that the framework set forward in this story served as some inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. There is the brilliant, if slightly eccentric, detective who pieces together tiny clues missed by everyone else, and then explains them to his friend/narrator.

Here is one quote I particularly liked. I have a weakness for quotes which make me smile and feel like I know exactly what the author is talking about, often without knowing that others had the same experience. This was one of those moments:

"There are few persons who have not, at some point of their lives, amused themselves in retracing the steps by which particular conclusions of their own minds have been attained. The occupation is often of full interest; and he who attempts it for the first time is astonished by the apparently illimitable distance and incoherence between the starting point and the goal."

I learned a pair of vocabulary words: first, "egress" which means "the action of going out of or leaving a place," and "ingress" which is "the action or fact of going in or entering."

Rip Van Winkle: Beginning and 100% Complete

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I've decided to read a few of the shorter works on my list; looking at the spreadsheet I have with book lengths I noticed that I have at least half a dozen under a hundred pages.  Because these are so short, I'm going to combine my "introductory" post with my "100% complete" post, since writing two blog post on a book that takes me an hour to read seems excessive.

The first one I tackled is Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irvine (also the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow). The Kindle copy I read can be found here and clocks in at 36 pages. The story was written in 1819 and tells the story of the kindly but lazy Rip Van Winkle, a villager in the Catskill mountains in the years prior to the American Revolution, who, while escaping from his nagging wife into the hills, falls asleep and wakes up twenty years later.

The story took me less than an hour to read, rather gratifying after some of the lengthier ones I've done! It was a cute story, easy to read, light-hearted, set down as a written version of an oral legend. I found it funny when I looked it up online to find details about it to run across the Spark Notes version. To me, it's one thing to read the Spark Notes for War and Peace or something and another to read them for a simple, easy-to-read, 36-page short story. But to each his own, I suppose.

A quick funny quote:

"I have observed that he was a simple, good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor and an obedient henpecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstance might be owing that meekness of spirit which gained him such universal popularity; for those men are apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline of shrews at home."

I also learned a few new words, along the vein of the quote, which were used to describe Dame Van Winkle: virago, which means "a domineering, violent or bad-tempered woman," and termagant, which means "a harsh-tempered or overbearing woman."

All Quiet on the Western Front: 100% Complete

I read through this whole book in one and a half days, so no time for an intermediate blog post between beginning and 100%. I very much enjoyed it, certainly feel it deserves a spot on the list. There are two primary themes through the book: the emotional strength that, for better or worse, the soldiers develop in order to cope with the horror they are exposed to every day, and the difficult adjustment they make going from civilian life to military life, then back to civilian when on leave and back to military when leave is over. A sub-theme would be the companionship and comradery shared by the men; on more than one occasion, the narrator, Paul Braumer, compares this relationship to that of lovers.

There were many wonderful quotes in the book: I highlighted so many that I'm disappointed I don't have more blog posts about this book to share them. But I will have to choose a few.

This first one demonstrates the attitude which Paul maintains, sometimes with difficulty, throughout the book:

"I soon found out this much--terror can be endured so long as a man simply ducks;--but it kills if a man thinks about it."

Midway through the book Paul goes home on leave for two weeks to visit his parents. Both his parents want to know how it is, out there, at the front, and his responses and their reactions are fascinating. First, his mother,

"Suddenly my mother seizes hold of my hand and asks falteringly: 'Was it very bad out there, Paul?' Mother, what should I answer to that! You would not understand, you could never realize it. And you shall never realize it. And you shall never realize it. Was it bad, you ask.--You, Mother.--I shake my head and say, 'No Mother, not so very. There are always a lot of us together so it isn't so bad.'"

And his father:

"There is nothing he likes more than hearing about it. I realize he does not know that a man cannot talk of such things; I would do it willingly, but it is too dangerous for me to put these things into words. I'm afraid they might then become gigantic and I be no longer able t master them. What would become of us if everything that happens out there were quite clear to us?"

And finally, this quote made me feel lucky to have such a wealth of literature literally at my fingertips. I purchased a new Kindle this week: the Kindle Paperwhite, and having so many books in my hand at one time, access to far more than I could ever read in a lifetime, makes me feel so lucky compared with how it was only a hundred years ago or so.

"I used to live in this room before I was a soldier. The books I bought gradually with the money I earned by coaching. Many of them are secondhand, all the classics for example, one volume in blue cloth boards cost one mark twenty pfenning. I bought them complete because it was thorough-going. I did not trust the editors of selections to choose all the best. So I purchased only 'collected works.' I read most of them with laudable zeal , but few of them really appealed to me. I preferred the other books. The moderns, which were of course much dearer. A few I came by not quite honestly, I borrowed and did not return them because I did not want to part with them."

My plan next is to read a few of the shorter books/short stories on my list, just so I can check a few more off my list (since I've only read TWELVE out of a hundred).

Saturday, February 13, 2016

All Quiet on the Western Front: Beginning

The next book I'll be tackling is All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. It is the story of German soldiers in France in World War I, focusing on the physical and emotional stress they go through as well as their difficult transition from civilian to military life.

This book was published in 1928 in German and the author, Erich Maria Remarque was a German veteran of World War I so he knew what he was talking about. The version I'm reading was translated from the German by A.W. Wheen in 1929.

In the first year after the book was published, it sold 1.5 million copies. It was banned and burned by the Nazi's during World War II. The book was adapted into a film in 1930.

When I was a child I saw the film version of this book, but I feel it's high time I read the original: regarded by some to be the greatest war novel ever written.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Into Thin Air: 100% Complete

I finished Into Thin Air. Although it certainly is a fascinating and harrowing story, I still felt the writing left something to be desired. When the survivors finally emerged from Everest, when the deaths were counted and the living had survived, I felt as though this were a story of bad luck, of a storm which hit at the worst possible time and claimed the lives of several climbers despite the best efforts of many.

It seems, however, that Jon Krakauer thought his readership would have a different reaction. He ends the book first with a chapter detailing how hard he has taken the events, complete with difficulty sleeping, inability to go more than "two or three hours" without thinking about Everest and heavy survivor's guilt. I kept thinking throughout this section that he should probably seek treatment for
PTSD. Then he finishes with a chapter explaining over and over that Everest is inherently dangerous, that even under the best of circumstances things go wrong, that, while the number of deaths in 1996 was the largest to date, the death rate (both deaths compared to number of people who climbed higher than Base Camp and deaths compared to people who summited the mountain) was actually slightly lower than over the course of Everest history.

Since I didn't get the impression that this tragedy was due (at least primarily) to human error, these long defensive sections struck me as unnecessary.

All in all my impression of the book is that it is a tragic and harrowing adventure story which was written too soon after the event by someone who hadn't yet sorted out how he felt about what had happened. Mr. Krakauer admittedly wrote this hoping for a cathartic experience and, whether he achieved that or not, it clouded up what could have been a more objective and better written story. I didn't feel like this deserved a spot beside many of the other books I've read on this project.

Up next: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Into Thin Air: 35% Complete

Into Thin Air has proven to be an interesting book so far for a number of reasons. I was skeptical with the book after the first chapter or so, due to the defensive nature of the opening portion. As I said in my introduction to the book, there is some controversy regarding who was responsible for the deaths on the mountain in 1996, whether bad judgement was involved and, if so, whose. However, as someone previously unfamiliar with the story, I felt like the opening parts of the book were raw and defensive and not in a good way. I felt like Jon Krakauer was responding to attacks which I was completely unfamiliar with. He admits, in the introduction, that the writing of this book so soon after the traumatic events of 1996 (the book was published in 1997) was a cathartic experience for him and, it seems, a chance to respond to what he felt were unfair attacks on persons involved in the expedition. I'm still unclear as to what these attacks were, although I suspect it will become more clear later in the book. This defensiveness and anxiousness to respond to unexplained criticisms comes across as almost paranoid.

However, once past the opening section (the book starts on Everest, just prior to the storm, and then backtracks to lay down some history on the people involved), it is interesting, if light, reading.
One thing I've enjoyed, rather unexpectedly, is reading about people who were household names when I was growing up, climbers such as Willi Unsoeld, Ed Viesturs and Pete Schoening. My father talked about them enough that I know their names like I know those of distant relatives or long-lost friends of my parents; they are familiar to me, although I was always a bit unclear on who they were, exactly, until now.

The writing in this book is as unexceptional as the story is interesting. It's not bad enough to be distracting, but it certainly pales compared to the one I just finished: Cry, the Beloved Country with it's beautiful prose. The story may be a classic, but so far the book is not one I'd add back on the list. So finding quotes I want to share with you has been difficult. This one was simply astounding to me:

"By 1996 Hall was charging $65,000 a head to guide clients to the top of the world. By any measure this is a lot of money-it equals the mortgage on my Seattle home-and the quoted price did not include airfare to Napal or personal equipment."

Not only was this astonishing because of the cost of climbing Everest (20 years ago) but the fact that his mortgage in Seattle was $65,000! Assuming he means the price of his house when he purchased it, not what he has left to pay on his mortgage, this is mind-boggling to me. For reference, the median home price right now in Seattle according to Zillow is $530, 100 (one of the reasons I moved out of the city!)

Finally, today's vocabulary word is "peripatetic" which means "traveling from place to place, esp. working or based in various places for relatively short periods."

Friday, February 5, 2016

Into Thin Air: Beginning

The next book I'm going to read is also the most-recently-written book on my list (I think): Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

This is a non-fiction work, one of only a few on my list, and was published in 1997. It has been adapted into a TV movie by the same title and the story it covers is also the basis for the 2015 movie Everest. This book is a true story about a storm which hit Mt. Everest in 1996 and resulted in the deaths of eight climbers and the injuries of several others. Jon Krakauer was present on the mountain at the time of the storm as part of a writing assignment for Outdoor magazine, and wrote the book about his own experiences.

I chose this book because I was familiar with it but had never read it. My father was interested in mountain climbing and climbed Mt. Rainier twice when I was a child and my grandparents were mountaineers as well. So while I have a passing familiarity with the challenges of climbing Everest (I did a report on George Mallory and Andrew Irvine when I was in junior high), I am looking forward to reading this true story of a harrowing climb of the world's tallest mountain.

I am also vaguely aware that there is some controversy surrounding Krakauer's account of what happened on the mountain, however, I have intentionally not researched the topic, preferring instead to approach the book with an open mind. When I have finished it, I do intend to read more about this aspect of the story, and I will let you know what I find.

I purchased this book for my Kindle, the version I am reading can be found here, and it has 405 pages.