Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Matters with which this book is only indirectly concerned

Last week's Wednesday Quiz will be marked in about 24 hours, and it's got a lot more love than the week before. If you'd like to get in on the love-in, this is your last chance.

A fortnight ago we began to read the greatest books of all time. We're only 200-odd pages in so far, so it's not too late to catch up, or you could just start where we are. This was a bit of a shaky week in terms to getting the reading actually done, for the twofold reasons of constantly misplacing my copies of the various books and having to read Lolita. Why, literature, why? Anyway, spoilers await below.

Week in Review

Last week: 109 pages
So far: 206 pages

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Part One, Ch. 10  -  Ch. 13
 We've met Lolita. You can tell, because chapter 11, in which she is introduced, is a monster 18 pages all by itself, in contrast to the three or four page chapters leading up to this point. Once she is introduced, nothing else in the story really matters, the narrator's obsession is impossible to escape or overlook. Everything and everyone else in the novel becomes background and incidental, as if the author disdains to spend any words on them, preferring to devote the pages to long descriptions of the curves of shoulder-blades, sunlight dappling on bare skin, and casual touches turned into something sensual and so illicit that it makes my skin crawl. Good writing, really emotive, descriptive and flowing and beautiful, but creepy as hell.

Taking the book in small bites, Lolita seems like quite the conniving little witch, to be perfectly honest, but it's hard to tell how much of that is actually her character and how much is our unreliable narrator, writing presumably to clear himself from conviction but unable to repress his true emotions. I really hope that she has no idea what she's getting herself into. Humbert the arch-manipulator wants us to think that she's getting herself into it, anyway, when I think it's pretty clear that he's leading her and her family down the garden path.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Volume i, Book First, Ch. 10 - 14.
 Yep, bishop Mary-Sue of Digne sure is a dude. He is not perfect, though, as he... wait for it... He doesn't like Napoleon! Going so far as to... (gasp)... not go to meet him when he was in town! Cold, man, cold. For hipster Hugo, not liking Napoleon is a grave sin indeed, but you can redeem yourself if you didn't like Napoleon before it was cool. The reader will forgive him this one big sin, though, since he is, after all, a dude.

Hugo really gets rolling here, with some half-page-long sentences and pretty turns of phrase. Sometimes I think he wrote by coming up with a good line and then writing a chapter just so that he could finish on it. It smacks of sensationalism, but when you write lines like 'A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in - what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars' and  'All this is what men call genius, just as they call a painted face beauty and a richly attired figure majesty. They confound the brilliance of the firmament with the star-shaped footprints of a duck in the mud', I can forgive that too.

In an amusing note, there's a bit where Hugo says he can't reach further into a topic 'without going into matters with which this book is only indirectly concerned...' . Given that this in the middle of yet another completely superfluous chapter introducing a minor character, I find it ironical to the extreme.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Book the First, Ch. 8 - 11
No real fun and games to be had with Sissy yet, just some discussions with Louisa about how each of them is so very wretched. We're also introduced to Mr. Bounderby's fallen-from-gentility housekeeper Mrs. Sparsit, about whom I haven't yet made up my mind, but who seems to be the sort of lady that is perfectly civil until she snaps and pours a tub of boiling fat over your head; and Mr. Blackpool, one of Mr. Bounderby's staff who pursuing the lovely Rachael, fleeing his dreadful wife, and getting aboslutely no sympathy from his employer. 

Plenty of stuff waiting to happen, but Mr. Dickens undoubtedly has more things to stack up. That is generally his way. And yes, just in case we weren't sure before, there's more confirmation that Mr. Bounderby is, well, a bit of a bounder.

Of Truth by Francis Bacon
 To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely convinced I've got where Bacon was trying to go with this. These two pages were hard work for me, and basically boil down to "Lies have their place, but the truth is better; also lying is a sin". Glad I'm not studying this, 'cause I don't know where I'd start or end.

Excerpt from Anabasis by Xenophon
Book IV
Part history, part autobiography, all very Greek and all a lot of fun. Very accessible, and it's interesting how similar to ourselves and how relatable these ancient Greek warriors are. I wasn't moved to tears or anything, which doesn't speak much for my ability to enjoy Thucydides or some of the 'heavier' histories later in the project, but my heart raced a little at appropriate moments and I enjoyed a little chuckle at the few humourous parts.
Still, it compares favourably to other autobiographies that I've read in recent times, despite the age.

I don't think much of the military thinkers involved, as Xenophon had to suggest variations on theme of 'Let's not fight them on the good ground, let's just go around instead' a significant number of times, but it was a good read, and if I ever learn ancient Greek, I think I will come back and read it again.

Particularly of note are the different ways that various local tribes greet the Greeks as they travel through, from feeding and housing them, to saying they'll do so while actually massing armies nearby, to directing them through their enemies lands, to throwing their children and women off of a cliff. The famous scene in which the Greeks finally reach the sea was not quite (but almost) everything that I hoped it would be; more significant to me were the closing pages, in which the weary roadworn warriors throw themselves body and soul into staging victory games to Hercules. No flat soft ground for wrestling? Better not get thrown, then! Hard men, methinks.

My First Play by Charles Lamb
 Cute, lovable, so packed with literary allusions that I struggled a little, though like all good inside jokes they added to the text without detracting from it in the eyes of the uninitiated. Lamb has a way with words, and his love of the theatre is obvious, but I think I'll need to try something a little longer to get a better sense of the man. Noting to write home about in this little memoir, though, methinks.

Week 3 Readings

Time for picking and choosing based on flights on fancy from Doctor J's selections from the plagued books for this week. I see why he wanted to include a lot of this stuff after all, but since I'm not reading in the US I think I'll skip the US history stuff. Except Lincoln. Ooh, and we'll keep the Hemingway short story. And some stoic philosophy, just because we've all been having too much fun.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#not_gbww #copyrighted #fiction #english
Part One, Ch. 14 - 19 (23 pages)
 One assumes that the dear old Mother is going to realise that something is going on sooner or later. Or possibly she has romantic aspirations of her own towards Mr. Humbert...I can see that going wrong fast.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Volume i, Book Second, Ch. 1 - 8 (33 pages)
We're primed, let's get this story moving! Short of an essay on the nature of the French penal system, I'm hopeful that we'll at least meet Valjean and maybe even see him get released this week. I'm not sure it will move fast enough to have him meet with the apparent main character, the bishop, but you never know.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
#not_gbww #fiction #english
Book the First, Ch. 12 - 16 (? pages)
Guessing hopelessly...despite his advice to Blackpool, Bounderby's mysterious and never-before-mentioned estranged wife turns up, and he refuses to do right by her, in order to continue to pursue young Louisa. Also, Mrs Sparsit falls in love with a chimney-sweep.

Letter to Horace Greeley by Abraham Lincoln
#new #oneshot #ggb #letter #english
(2 pages)
It's two pages, apparently describing the complexity of reasons for and competing philosophies behind the US civil war, written by the man that led the winning side. I don't know if this is an important document, but it might be interesting.

The Enchiridion by Epictetus
#new #ggb #oneshot #philosophy #greek
(19 pages)
We're going to read Epictetus' discourses at some point, but I figure we might as well start weaning ourselves onto philosophical texts anyway, since they're going to make up a large portion of the syllabus. I have my doubts that this will be much fun at all, but we'll try. Googling the thing got a lot harder since Adventure Time put out an episode with the title.

The Killers by Ernest Hemingway
#new #oneshot #ggb #short_story #english #copyrighted
(9 pages)
The problem with any list of books is the focus on those books that are popular at the time and place of writing. English lists place too much emphasis on Kipling, publishers lists focus too much on recent best-sellers, and American lists generally hit Twain pretty hard. There's rarely love in these lists for Hemingway, though, despite him being a favourite of many writers and critics, so I figure I'd throw him (and my friend Peter, a big Midnight in Paris fanboy) a bone and read this.

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