Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Awakening

Reading a seminal work often has drawbacks.  I might not "get it," just might not see the beauty and the purpose behind the work of supposed genius.  I might not feel the same passions as others.  I kind of feel that way about The Awakening by Kate Chopin.  I think I "got it" for the most part - feminism, freedom, blah, blah, blah.  And I think some of the paragraphs are quite captivating.  But there is just not that wow factor I was expecting.   Instead, I found myself attached to the mostly inanimate objects in this short novel.   I ended up noticing the "period-ness" (my word) of the piece instead of the emotional weight.  I enjoyed the discussions of fashions, food, culture, and living arrangments much more than the breaking free of a "repressed" woman. 

The Awakening (Dover Thrift Editions)
I am told The Awakening did wonders for the women's movement.  But swept away with that free-love, I-have-rights- too, I-am-not-anybody's-property, it's-my-body, my-choice-crusade were some of the things that made womanhood great back then. 

So what to do when the emotional interior (read: overt feminist tendencies) doesn't do anything for you, but the exterior catches your eye? Make a list of the things which we ought to have and don't because of this stinkin' book. Here's my list of the things we should have kept around:

1. Hot chocolate prepared on a stove.  My mom used to make this for me on cold winter mornings and it is nothing like the packet kind.   There is a scene imprinted upon my mind of our main character and another extraneous woman having hot chocolate that bubbled up on the stove.  That sounds so good!  If only it weren't 100 degrees outside.

2. Referring to a meteorologist as a "weather prophet."  I know, I know, the science of meteorology has come a long way in the 100+ years since this book was written, but wouldn't it be a much more popular profession if it was called "prophecy?"

3.  Having a reputation for actual accomplishments.  Sadly, this is not true of the protaganist unless you count painting and swimming.  She is like yesteryear's Paris Hilton, if Paris had children she ignored.  It is more true of her husband Mr. Pontellier.  He actually went out and made money in that evil stock market and he put up with lack-luster attention on the home front.  New hero of the novel, anyone?

4. Sun hats with long white gloves and wearing all white in the summer.  I love the picture from the front of my edition.  It just speaks to that era so well.  I was going to say we should keep around veils, but those are more closely associated with Sharia law lately and that is not a thing we should keep around (Kate Chopin taught me that).

5. Throwing dinner parties without lifting a finger.  Now this is something I can really get behind!  As one who likes a good party as much as the next gal, I also realize all the planning and preparation that goes into one.  Not so for Edna, she has help for just that sort of thing and she sits, laughing and smiling with her guests while the courses are brought out.  Then, she gets all the credit for being the perfect hostess. 

There you  have it, the reason the women's lib movement has destroyed the fabric of society in 5 short points.  Any questions?

Note: I am not usually as sarcastic and snarky as I was in this post, please excuse the flippant tone.

Rating: 3.5 out of 7



Friday, July 23, 2010

Metro 2033: In A.D. 2033 War Was Beginning..

Metro 2033Man oh man, you sometimes go into a book believing that it's going to be one story, and at the end of the book you have to check the cover to make sure it was the same book you picked up. That's how I felt about Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky. It all started when I saw information for a video game under the same name: Metro 2033. It's a first-person shooter that they've based off of Dmitry's post-apocalyptic novel. The game has mutant killing and darkness as it's main selling points.... well, next to the fact that it's based off a novel. So, I based my purchase of the book on the fairly good reviews of gamers. At the time, I was very excited. By the end, not so much.

Metro 2033 starts with a great, if not unique, premise. World War 3 has happened. The United States attacked first through biological and nuclear means. Some of Russia's remaining military, in intact missile silos and submarines, take out their own prejudices and retaliate regardless of the fact that the world will be decimated beyond repair. The remaining civilization lives in the metro stations under Moscow. Enter Artyom, our protagonist, who's lived in the metro for all but three years of his life(give or take). He lives in a station/depot on the far end of the populated sections of the metro. They've started to be attacked by an unknown group of mutants from topside. Through a few different circumstances, Artyom is sent on a task that is the salvation of VDKnH(the station) and possibly the entire metro.

From the sound of my synopsis, it sounds like it would be passing out awesome to everyone it had the chance of meeting. It certainly didn't end up that way. The first twenty or so pages gave you a good feeling of the oppressiveness of living underground. It was dark, dirty, and without a lot of hope. I could pass by some of the odd sentence structure and dialogue. It didn't last though. The middle part of the book had a common theme through the protagonists journey from one side of the metro to the other. He would get in trouble somehow and be saved at the last moment through chance encounters. Every scene played out in a very similar way, and when you add the difficulty of the writing you're just drudging along waiting for some action. That didn't come around till the last 50 pages of the book. So he bookended his philosophical thoughts on just about everything between two action oriented short stories. And by everything, I mean everything. Here's a sampling of some of the ideas: The Great Worm(creating new religious thought), fascists, communists, Christianity(doesn't think too highly of it), mutants, zombies, Indians, hypnotism, hope for humanity, and great loss. It was disappointing.

I wouldn't say that all was lost. The last few pages before the ending were exciting enough to force myself to finish an incredibly tedious and difficult reading book. I had a feeling that's where it was leading when the book came to it's conclusion. I really can't recommend this book unless you're looking to finish up your "All Things Post-Apocalyptic" collection. Supposedly, a Metro 2034 is being written b/c the video game was a decent success.

Rating: 4 CBs - I'm being friendly to the first and the last portions of the book. You really have to be dedicated to sorting out all the conversation and endless plot elements. <-- In some authors that's a good thing, but in this one. meh. But, I did find a tie-in that I posted on my other blog: The Reliquiarium


P.S. - We just got done watching the The Book of Eli. Now that's a post-apocalyptic story that I can recommend. It's not perfect, but it's entertaining. ;-) Next up? Perhaps The Stand; maybe Same Kind of Different As Me; tempted by The Princess Bride.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This Week in our Year

We are seriously considering changing the name of this semi-weekly post to: This Fortnight in Our Year - we shall see.  Again, we didn't get around to doing this post last week so we have a little bit more to catch up on. If you are stopping by through the Book Blog Hop: WELCOME!  We are always glad to meet more people who enjoy reading!  This week's question is: What book are you reading right now?  Our answers:

-L: The Awakening by Kate Chopin
-D: The Magic of Recluse by L.E. Modesitt Jr.; The Stand by Stephen King

In the last couple of weeks, we have slowed down a little bit on the reading, so we don't have a ton to recap.  Here's the rundown of our activities:

Review: Unashamed (quite the discussion of Christian fiction, where do you stand?)
Review: Saki (this is not so much a review, as a strange haiku, but not really that either)
Review: The Grapes of Wrath

Book Talk: the Tim Burton collection (add it to the wishlist)
Book Talk: a Soundtrack for The Grapes of Wrath

A Soundtrack The Grapes of Wrath

Often, whilst devouring the latest read, songs rolled through my head.   They might have matched the tone of the passage or the language of the writer.  They crept into my brain and imprinted the scenes like pictures in a movie.   My dream job would be Music Supervisor.  Short of that, I humbly put forward the soundtrack to The Grapes of Wrath, as I hear it:

1.  "The Worrisome Years" - Greg Brown.  Minus the anachronistic mention of television, this song fits the beginning of the book, as they prepare for their journey.  I like the feel of the music for this section.

2.  "All That You Need" - Joe Ely.  This was the first song that came to mind reading of the plight of a farmer.  This Texas songwriter exemplifies the hard-work and stone-faced determination of the entire generation.

3. "I've Seen That Old Highway" - Ray Wylie Hubbard.  After Granpa passes.

4. "Poor Man" - Old Crow Medicine Show.  This one speaks for itself.  Refrain: "And there ain't a thing for a poor man in this world."

5. "Lungs" - Townes Van Zandt.  A reference to one of my favorite lines from Ma.

6.  "All the Rain" - Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez.  For the dance scene at the government camp.

7.  "Pa" - Ryan Adams & The Cardinals.  Captures the sense of loss the Joad's experienced along the way.  Favorite pertinent line: "Like a joining of hands." 

8.  "Broken Plow" - Chris Knight.  Texas songwriter inspired by The Grapes of Wrath.  A recap of the story.

9.  "Shelter Me" - Buddy Miller.  For the flood.

10.  "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" - Woody Guthrie.  Speaks specifically to the dust bowl experience.  Guthrie actually wrote a bunch of songs about the dust bowl, including two specifically about Tom Joad.

11.  "To the Harvest Look Ahead" - Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch, Fats Kaplin.   Closing song of hope.

12.  Bonus track: "This Land is Your Land" - Woodie Guthrie.  Touches on the "red" undertones of the novel.  Bet you never thought about one of the "great" patriotic songs being socialist?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Six Degrees of Tim Burton

My wife decided to share a hilarious video of Tim Burton(or is it... I can't tell!!) over on our other shared blog. If you want to catch it go over at The Reliquiarium. I recommend clicking the link since I went with one of the hardest words to spell that no one truly knows! Yay for Latin! We'll also put a couple buttons up for our other blogs - The Reli and SeldomMade so it's easier to run over there if you're interested in other happenings in our household.

Back to what I really wanted to talk about, Tim Burton was posted on our blog. It reminded me that Tim Burton published a book that I had really been desiring for a while. At the time, we weren't doing a blog and didn't think to tell the earth about a cornucopia of Burton greatness.

If you haven't seen any of Tim Burton's movies then you are missing out on some of the best quirky Gothic stuff out there. Let me recommend a few of my favourites:

1. Batman
2. Batman Returns
3. The Nightmare Before Christmas
4. Edward Scissorhands
5. Beetlejuice
6. Mars Attacks!
7. Corpse Bride
8. Big Fish
9. Coraline

You can miss out on:

1. Sweeney Todd
2. Planet of the Apes

I can say that he does have a specific look to about 90% of his films. That was one of the sore parts of Planet of the Apes. Not only was the story awful, but the look of the film didn't look like anything Tim Burton would do. But, the book takes you back to what makes Tim Burton so interesting. His art reminds me of what I would expect The Cure to sing about. In the picture below, you'd have a tough time figuring out if that's Burton or Robert Smith on the sleeve. It's Gothic, but you haven't lost any of the fun or whimsy of it.

I do have to say I would love to have this book. It's not on our shelves yet, and I'm not sure if it's worth holding out to magically have $300.00 to spend on the signed version. Go check it out at Steeles Publishing and see what you think. It's a cool conversation book.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Grapes of Wrath

And here's a story you can hardly believe, but it's true and it's funny, and it's beautiful.
The Grapes of Wrath (Centennial Edition)For the past week, I have been sneaking reading time to get through The Grapes of Wrath.  Unlike many high school and college students, I passed through every school (and there were many) without reading a single Steinbeck work.  It would be wrong to say I missed out.  I think the works of John Steinbeck are not meant for teenage consumption.  They are not easily understood without the context, understanding of history, and general maturation adulthood provides.   Just think about the phenomenon of Twilight sweeping the globe for the uniformed and sadly behind on their reading-level masses.  The entirety of Stephanie Meyer's work could not rival one single sentence from Steinbeck.  And his work is chock full of sentences sturdy enough to carry the full weight of his stories.  I am glad I didn't read any of his works before a couple years ago.  I needed context - Biblical and practical.  I needed empathy.  I needed patience.  Steinbeck's prose is like the gold in the hills of California, just laying in a river waiting to be discovered.  It need not be mined to be understood, it is evident upon one single read.  But it's beauty brings you back, causes you to reread passages time and again. 

There are so many great things about this book and I am sure many people have already written exhaustive volumes about each of them; but my favorites are the characterization and the structure (I have to leave out the quotes because I can't choose just a few, I could quote entire chapters!).  

On the characterization side, Steinbeck created his characters early.  He spends little time on character development before diving into plot development.  He introduces most of the characters in Chapter 8.  The reader meets the Joad family as one would meet characters in a short story:  briefly but meaty.  He fleshes out these characters through the struggles of their journey; but we feel we know exactly who they are in a mere paragraph.    My favorites are Ma and Tom.  Bound by fierce loyalty and hope, these two keep the Joad clan together.  Ma becomes the de-facto head of household through the story, while offering sage advice I feel my grandmother would have heard from her mom.  My favorite: "Don't worry yourself, Rosasharn.  Take you breath in when you need it, and let it go when you need to." 

The other great thing about Steinbeck's writing is the big picture saga forcing the main story forward.  He switches between chapters from telling the tale of the Joad's, gone to California, to a sort of prophetic chapter where he tells the reader the events that will shape the Joad's story.  The interspersed chapters are harbingers of good and of doom for the Joad's.  In them we have forewarning of impending problems and future successes.   In this way, they help the story along while being completely outside the story.   The alternate chapters shed light on the juxtaposition of the inevitability of the hard times facing the Joad's and the intense hope they have in the future.  They have "prophets" who tell them what to expect along the way, but they are not deterred from their course, bent on survival, at least and a white house, at best. 

The quote at the top of the page describes this story very well.  Steinbeck knew he had written something great by the time he was 100 pages in (he had me at the end of chapter 1).  It is at times unbelievable, funny, and beautiful; and at other times it is unbelievably funny beautiful.  No more is this shown than in the last two pages.  I will not ruin it for anybody, but are you kidding me - craziest ending ever!

Rating; 6.5 out of 7