Saturday, November 29, 2014

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Entertainment Value – C Readability – D Overall Value – B-
As most people know, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is one of the works that one is expected to read if he or she wishes to be recognized as an individual well-versed in classic literature. Written in 1899, it begins with the Nellie, a yawl (first sentence and already a word that you don't know), and its crew parked along the River Thames near Gravesend, England. The entire novella is the retelling of one of the ship's members, Charles Marlow, as he recounts his expedition in Central Africa along the Congo River. There he travels along the river, and as he goes deeper and deeper along the current he is greets individuals that are increasingly savage and monstrous in nature. He desires greatly to meet Mr. Kurtz, the first-class agent that brings the Company the most ivory and thus he said to one day rise in rank to even the administration in Europe. Puzzled and attracted by the mystery, the adventure no longer becomes about finding ivory but it is meet Kurtz. As he goes down the river however, he is greeted by man's heart of darkness, and the division between civilized human and savage native becomes thin and hard to discern...

Now, if you decide to undertake reading this book, I would like to offer some advice:
1. Do not stress over understand every little detail in the first read, unlike books like Gravity's Rainbow or Ulysses, this book is a novella and thus can be easily read more than once. In fact, it is expected that you read it more than once.
2. I think for the most part you are reading this for a class, high school or college, and thus I would suggest jotting down notes on how your thoughts during the text. Though you are used to annotating at a leisurely pace, I would recommend focusing carefully on recurring motifs.

I wish you the best of luck in reading the novel, but for the most part I feel that its difficulty is slightly over-hyped, especially when compared with contemporary postmodern novels.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Let Calm on the Brain

Following is a poem I wrote specifically villanelle poetic form
More info at

Let the thoughts drip like drops on the chrome drain
Perfection implanted, a distant dream
Wait a minute and let calm on the brain

Approach her, let troubling nerves be slain
One slip up, an unknown stream
Let the thoughts drip like drops on the chrome drain

Slurring words like the high mind on cocaine
Night is young and free, a newborn light beam
Wait a minute and let calm on the brain

Hour passes under the dim lights
Will she hear over all of the loud screams?
Let the thoughts drip like drops on the chrome drain

Lock eyes for a mere second, meet disdain
Her cheeks with the blush of strawberry ice cream
Wait a minute and let calm on the brain

Sting of rejection is the sharpest pain
Walk away, to a trusted friend, blow off steam
Let the thoughts drip like drops on the chrome drain
Wait a minute and let calm on the brain

Friday, August 29, 2014

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Entertainment Value – B+ Readability – A Overall Value – A

When we think of Batman, we see the adventure and potential danger at every turn, as he uses his exuberant wealth to save the day. But in the bravery of Bruce Wayne, we can at times see the man behind the scenes, pulling the strings, humbly serving his duty: Alfred the butler. 

Now bare with me as I compare Alfred with the protagonist of The Remains of the Day. Stevens is the man behind the scenes, orchestrating the affairs of the household so they can run smoothly during the high stress times of diplomats discussing international affairs. There in his place of employment, Darlington Hall, he is utterly invested in becoming a butler of legendary qualities as his father had only told stories about. The story begins with Stevens decision to take a week's trip to Western England as his lordship, Mr. Farraday will be out of the house. Due to Stevens's utmost attention to professionalism, he convinces himself that the trip is not for leisure but rather to meet an old acquaintance: Miss Kenton. Miss Kenton has sent letters to Stevens which have led him to believe that her marriage has become tumultuous, and that she is seeking her old employment at Darlington Hall.

While reading this novel, it becomes impossible to not compare one's own actions with Stevens's fine and precise actions of professionalism. We begin to learn of all that Stevens has given up to become the master butler that he has, and we learn about his father's creation of this image of the butler that has an enigmatic quality that Stevens refers to as "dignity". Through the book, we see through Stevens's retrospection of his time as a butler while Miss Kenton was at the house, and slowly it becomes clear that the butler is largely considered to be part of the house as much as a lamp fixture or love seat is. As Stevens travels through Western England it becomes clear that his human emotions have been stripped in order for efficiency and servilness in action. Perhaps Ishiguro was attempting a social commentary on the classic English butler, the polished man that seems to be the role model for the perfect employee. Perhaps he is saying that, at least at some level, that there is no way to clearly define the upper echelon or the ideal employee for any profession, for it would be taking a human being which is beyond a mere set of statistics and converting their actions into a formulaic life. 

Overall, I would say that if you are one to annotate and dissect texts thoroughly, this book has plenty to sort through. With a constantly clashing symbols such as light and dark, mist and smoke, it takes much critical thinking to see the true use of each of these symbols in the construction of Ishiguro's argument in the text. For those that are looking for an enjoyable read, I would still recommend this book though I would warn that you may become discouraged and quit reading if you do not reach at least page 70. This is due to Stevens's highly authentic and impersonal introspection into his past hiding much of the sensitive details that make the book interesting. When the plot thickens and Stevens reveals more traumatic and joyful events in his past, involving his father and Miss Kenton, the book also becomes a page turner.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

To Be Read - August

Book — Author

Very Likely to Be Done by End of August:

The Remains of the Day — Kazuo Ishiguro
The Crying of Lot 49 — Thomas Ruggles Pynchon Jr.
Fight Club — Chuck Palahniuk
The Maltese Falcon — Dashiell Hammett

Optimistic List: 

Good Omens — Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Different Seasons — Stephen King
It's Kind of a Funny Story — Ned Vizzini

Please Comment if you have read any of these novels and enjoyed it, it would really motivate me to read it sooner. 

The Sun Also Rises By Ernest Hemingway

Entertainment Value – D/F (this is generous but read on) Readability – A+ Overall Value – A+
Interesting. You're probably scratching your head wondering, how can a novel with such a low entertainment value, have such a large overall value. It is simple, some books are there to keep us on the edge of seats, making us turn the pages endlessly and never stopping. But The Sun Also Rises makes you want to put it down at almost every instant, to close the door on a disillusioned cast that on the surface it seems you can not relate to. But then you'd be mistaken. Perhaps it will hit you at page 1 or maybe at page 250, but at one point in this novel even if just for an instant, you will find yourself in the shoes of a character, and you will feel how they feel. A lost generation is not caused solely by war, and it is said best in a quote by Gertrude Stein, "you are all a lost generation" (Hemingway 1).  

I think it is important to mention before I give any commentary on this novel that this is my second exposure to Hemingway's longer works. The first was A Farewell to Arms, which like this read was required for school. I have come to realize with Hemingway novels that when rated the novel, you must separate it into two categories, the conventionally well-written book (engaging, descriptive, plot-driven) and Hemingway well-written book. What does it mean to be a good Hemingway book? The characters must be memorable, for their faults and their efforts, and we become interested in their small subtleties that make them who they are. By the end of a Hemingway novel we realize that in the story little was said directly about each character, and in the moments that they finally open slightly in a matter of pages, they seem to quickly return back to a suppressed state. If someone tries to read The Sun Also Rises in the same way that someone tries to read Stephen King or Dan Brown, then he or she will feel duped or tricked by the novel, wondering how the novel got raised to such a high esteem to become a modernist classic. But that's just what this novel is at its core, a modernist classic. In the same illusion vs reality that Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby demonstrates, Hemingway creates a gang of characters that on the surface appear cheerful and connected, but that are concealed their damaged insides, which are the result of World War I. Jake Barnes is a man that bears the psychological scars of war, along with physical injury that makes him impotent. Lady Brett Ashley is a woman that was a nurse during the Great War, and lost her love to dysentery, she then got married to man that physically threatened her until the day he died. Robert Cohn is a Jew, previously the champion heavyweight boxer at Princeton University, and is plagued by deep insecurity. These characters and others join together to explore Spain and the spectacle of Bullfighting. In conventional sense, this book is detestable. This book spawns readers that will claim that they found it very engaging and brilliant in a conventional sense, and condemn those that do not agree with them to be "uncultured" or not able to sense "literary brilliance". To that I say, I am not ashamed that I struggled to turn the pages many times while reading this novel, and had to put it down several times, but in the end it was valuable all the same. Hemingway does Hemingway-style books best, he is the greatest Hemingway author of all time. The way he shows the disillusionment of a lost generation, as a motley group of expatriates, can not be matched.
This is as good a novel as any to become exposed to Hemingway, though perhaps it would be best to read some of his short stories first, such as "A Very Short Story" or "Hills like White Elephants", not only is Hemingway the master of the short story (or at least in the top 5 of all time, I have not forgotten the likes of Chekhov, Poe, Kafka or O'Connor), but these short stories will introduce you to Hemingway's iceberg style. Please read the Wikipedia article for more info - I would say do not become discouraged by the slow plot, or the lack of action in the novel, and challenge yourself to think in the role of the characters. Sure, Jake Barnes may only be saying short phrases like "I agree" and "That is a good idea", but below the surface is a real human being, steaming with emotions and thoughts that he conceals from the rest of the world. This novel taught me the valuable lesson that more often than not, the people that hurt you are not bad people, but are scarred by past pains and have still not recovered. They lack the ability to forge trust with anyone now, due to a past where many of those closest to them broke that trust that they held dearly. Perhaps those that are hardest to love, are the ones that need it the most. But how far should we go to help someone that finds our help abhorrent?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Entertainment Value – A+ Readability – A+ Overall Value – A+

Perhaps there are times when we wish to divulge into the magical realm of fantasy with dragons, magic, etc. Sometimes, you need a change of pace. In this YA masterpiece, the main character Charlie is starting his first year of high school. Charlie, the wallflower, struggles to make friends at the school and also has to deal with his family: a popular older sister, a football star of an older brother, and his quiet but loving parents. He befriends seniors Sam and Patrick, brother and sister, at the annual homecoming football game. With them, he discovers the social scene of parties and begins to feel a strong connection with his new friends. The novel is structured as a series of letters written by Charlie to an anonymous other, who Charlie admires and thinks will listen. Through these letters, the novel explores the life of the modern teen, trying to fit in with the crowd and moving forward from the mistakes of the past...

With this book I did something I hardly ever do: I read it in a day. Sure, this has to do largely with the book's straightforward readability but it is also because the prose is engaging with a constantly changing and adapting plot line. The style of the writing accurately reflects the mindset of a teenage boy, and does not try to implant adult thoughts into a boy's mind. This might be a deterrent for older readers in enjoying this novel, as the style and structure is simplistic. But do not let this stop you, I recommend this book completely to anyone that wishes to re-experience the disillusioning days of high school and live through the eyes of a wallflower. Even if you have seen the movie adaption of this novel, which I have not seen, I would recommend that you still read this book. I am not one to say that books are always better than movies, because I feel that it is impossible to create the magic of a book entirely in a movie. It would not work the other way either, a book simply would not be able to adapt the cinematic genius of movies like The Graduate or The Godfather. Back to this novel, I enjoyed it thoroughly for the reason that I have seen that many current YA novels are either science fiction of a dystopian variety or tries to enhance the thought process of the characters beyond that which is reasonable for a teenager. In simple terms, I feel that this is the most authentic piece of fiction that encapsulates the thought process of the teenage boy, and handles topics that are realistically ones that most boys face.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Shining by Stephen King

Entertainment Value – A Readability – B Overall Value – A 

Last month, I entered the universe of the horror novel. More specifically, I entered a universe created by the horror lord himself. Well, I guess that would be Edgar Allan Poe, but I am referring to the master storyteller Stephen King. In the Shining, we are introduced to Jack Torrance, a man with a dark past plagued by alcoholism, but this is merely the tip of the iceberg, along with his wife, Wendy Torrance. His son, Danny Torrance, possesses the Shining, the ability to read emotions from others, and see dead spirits lurking. The story has layers and layers of build up with the inclusion of ample flashbacks and we come to learn much about each member of the Torrance clan. As Jack is hired as the winter caretaker for the Overlook hotel, a place haunted by a dark past, his family moves to the Colorado resort and the fright fest begins...
I must admit, when I finished the 660th page of this book, I was just relieved to be finished. I hated all the build up and flashbacks, as I felt that it did not add any value to the climax of the novel. It was days later that I realized that this was a reflection of how I disliked how long the novel had taken me to finish and not the novel itself. I do not have a vast vocabulary, and I was slowed down as a result. Though most people would try to hide this, I'd like to be open about it. That being said, I was still about to read at a decently brisk pace, 100 pages a day. The characters will stay with you long after you read this book, and now as I reflect over the plot of this novel, I am amazed by the mere creative capacity to imagine much a intricate setting with its workings, both inside and outside the Overlook. I did not particularly find The Shining frightening, but now I have started reading IT by Stephen King, and I have to put it down being of the impending moment of terror that any reader can anticipate. Whereas the Shining's merit is in its build up of its characters and its strict focus on their mindset as the hotel's spirits awaken.
It took a while to appreciate the vast imagination to create this novel. First off, King does not create a novel, he has created a separate plane of existence. The Overlook hotel described in all its inner workings to such a degree, that it is almost like the book provided you with a map of the location (which I am not a fan of). Kubrick's adaptation is not an adaptation, it is his own creation, borrowing only minor details from King's original. Kubrick created an incredibly terrifying movie. But King has created an equally suspenseful novel. In my opinion, a movie and book should be put in separate spheres, and be judged by different standards. Why should a movie try to replicate a book, the only thing that is capable of replicating the novel is a second copy of the novel. Instead, Kubrick did what a brilliant director would do, he adapted it, transformed it, into an entirely new creation. One with different plot points, with a different ending, but one that is a good movie by the standards that movies are measured by.