Thursday, September 29, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I’m a vampire book fan. One of my favorite Stephen King books is “Salem’s Lot,” I’ve read all of the Sookie Stackhouse books (the series “True Blood” on HBO is based on) and I even own and have read the “Twilight” series (which was ok. Not great, but ok.) So it made sense to me that in my desire to read classic novels, “Dracula” should be somewhere on that list.
And then I started to read it. About 35 pages in, I had to put it down and walk away… for 2 weeks. It wasn’t until I borrowed “Gone with the Wind” from my friend Beth that I firmly decided that before I could open the cover on that book, I had to finish “Dracula.”
Picking up where I left off was hard, but it turns out that if I had only read about 20 more pages initially, it would have drawn me in and taken hold. I finished the rest of the book in 2 days, to the sad neglect of my housework (but not my children. Let’s get that straight. They were both fed, dressed, and played with, despite my reading.)
“Dracula” is basically a story of assembled journals, letters, and telegrams—the whole story is told by several different people from different perspectives, but it’s not confusing to follow (as long as you take note to the name at the beginning of the chapter, so you know who is currently “speaking.”) It begins with the journal of Jonathan Harker, a solicitor (lawyer) from
Next, the story is picked up by Mina Murray’s journals and Lucy Westenra’s letters. Mina is Jonathan’s fiancé, and Lucy is Mina’s best friend—Mina is concerned about not hearing from Jonathan for so long, comforting herself by spending time with her friend Lucy. They are in
Lucy gets slowly worse; Dr. John Seward is called by her fiancé, Arthur (Seward had also previously proposed to Lucy, and was heartbroken at her rejection) to figure out what is wrong with her. Discovering her unwell but with no known cause, he calls on his mentor, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, who comes to see her and seems immediately to be suspicious of a cause. He makes no mention of his suspicions to Dr. Seward, but after receiving blood transfusions from Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, Arthur, and Quincey Morris (a friend of Arthur and Seward’s, and yet another man who once proposed to Lucy) she continues getting sicker and eventually dies. Van Helsing finally confides in Seward about his belief that she was killed by a vampire; he proves this theory by taking all 3 of the other men to the cemetery, where they see Lucy the Vampire in action. Arthur drives a stake through her heart, killing the vampire, and Dr. Seward and Dr. Van Helsing cut off her head and stuff her mouth with garlic. Van Helsing then travels to meet Mina, to find out more about the sleepwalking incident he read about in Lucy’s diary; in meeting her, and reading her diary and Jonathan’s (from his time in Transylvania), Van Helsing makes the connection and all of the people involved pledge to find Dracula and kill him.
Throughout all of this time, Dr. Seward’s diary periodically mentions a patient, Mr. Renfield, who believes that by consuming life, he prolongs his own life. He eats a lot of flies and spiders, and at one point consumes several birds… raw. (Ew.) When Mina and Jonathan assemble all of the diaries, letters, and telegrams and put them all in order, they realize there is a connection between Renfield’s fits and moods and the movements of Dracula. Therefore, he becomes kind of a “weathervane,” if you will, of what Dracula is up to.
They begin carefully planning, determining where Dracula has made “homes” in the
I thought a lot of the charm in this book came from the fact that it was told from all angles; I think it would have lost quite a bit in the telling if it only came from one person’s perspective, and would have lost the sense of being present with the characters had Stoker taken on the omnipresent-narrator perspective. It was all pretty easy to read; the only time I had trouble was when they were writing about conversations with people phonetically, because a really thick “peasant” English accent is difficult for me to understand when I hear it; to understand it written phonetically was almost impossible.
It was also fun to see all of the nuances from “modern” vampire books reflected in this early, and arguably primary, “invention” of vampire mythology. For example, the scene where Mina is forced to consume some of Dracula’s blood is directly reflected in “
So, though I’m still glad to be through it so that I can move onto “Gone with the Wind,” I am very glad that I finally read this book, and think that I will definitely read it again in the future.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Thursday, May 12, 2011
This is the second Nathaniel Hawthorne book on my list, and the second time I've read this particular book-- the first, not unexpectedly, was in high school. I really didn't enjoy it in high school and I thought that if I reread it as an adult, I would enjoy it more and gain more from reading it than I did the first time. I'm disappointed to admit that I have not found that to be the case.
My dislike of the book, however, has very little to do with the story itself-- the plot is engaging, it's very easy to be sympathetic to the protagonist, and I think the overall story teaches a good lesson (more related to the baby-daddy and to the husband's behaviors, not the main character, but more on that later); my problem with it lies in the fact that the Puritan religious structure, laws, and beliefs, which are an enormous part of the story, bother me to no end. It's like trying to watch a really good movie in a room where the light bulb is constantly buzzing and flickering-- something that can't be ignored and ultimately ruins a lot of the enjoyment that might have been.
"The Scarlet Letter" is introduced with a rather lengthy essay, "The Custom-House." It is in this essay that the narrator talks about his life, his work as a custom house surveyor, and his discovery of a historical account of a woman named Hester Prynne, who was the wearer of a distinctly embroidered scarlet letter "A". Though the essay provides a solid, more "believable" base for the story, it also is much longer than I feel an introduction needs to be, and is a little boring to plod through.
The story itself begins with Hester Prynne, clutching a newborn to her chest, leaving prison. Prynne, a married woman whose husband did not yet accompany her to the colony, has been charged and convicted of adultery. The leaders decided that she would have to wear a bright red letter "A" on her chest, as a sign to everyone, the rest of her life, that she is an adulterer. She quietly endures hours of public scrutiny, criticism, and calls to repent; she is also repeatedly implored to reveal the name of the man with whom she sinned-- she refuses. Present in the audience, unbeknownst to the townspeople, is her newly-arrived husband; instead of acknowledging his wife publicly, he pretends to be a stranger seeking a new home. When Hester returns to the prison, he claims to be a doctor and asks to see her, at which point he tells her she must promise to never reveal his identity or her connection to him. Having never loved him in the first place, she agrees, though she does not really want to be pulled in to the lie. She and her baby move into a cottage on the outskirts of the town, shunned by the town's inhabitants.
As years pass, Hester makes a living for herself doing delicate and intricate embroidery for the wealthier and more distinguished townspeople; she uses as little of the money she makes and uses the rest for charity. She dresses her daughter, Pearl, in bright colors; thus, Pearl becomes the physical embodiment of the scarlet letter and the sin that resulted in her birth. Hester's husband, meanwhile, has sworn to uncover the secret of Pearl's father and indeed has, and resolves to make life miserable for the man, though without ever revealing who he is or why he's doing it. The husband's revenge-seeking turns him into a really ugly, unlikeable person, and Pearl's father is left as a shell of a man, due to his inability/unwillingness to confess his sin and ask forgiveness. Over the course of many years, Hester seems to redeem herself in the eyes of the townspeople, and there is even talk of allowing her to remove the letter "A"; Hester, however, has never forgiven herself and never will. The book doesn't end happily, but doesn't end unhappily either; the ending is appropriate to the story and its characters.
Because my own religious beliefs contrast so heavily with the Puritan beliefs of the time, it's very difficult for me to endure this story. I am a firm believer that if a person truly repents and asks forgiveness for their sins, their sins will be forgiven; Hester is a prime example of a woman who fully repents from what she has done and desires the forgiveness of the Lord, but kind of refuses to accept the forgiveness she seeks. Then there's the fact that the religious leaders have judged her and punished her by forcing her to wear the scarlet letter for the rest of her life, constantly stopping in the street when she is near to make her an example of evil to the townspeople, and shunning both her and her daughter (arguably an innocent victim) from the town. Instead of accepting her in the church, when she goes, they persecute her again and again with their sermons, making her the symbol not only of adultery, but of all sin in general. I realize that this is a historical fiction, and that Hawthorne (not a Puritan supporter himself) was just trying to base his story on the reality of Puritan society and make it believable, but it makes it a really distasteful bite to swallow. How can someone proclaiming to be a man of God insist on judging anyone, rather than leaving judgement to God? It would actually be easier for me to read the story if Hester never repents of her sin than it is for me to read about her punishing herself, and allowing herself to be punished, for the rest of her life. At least that would give me a reason to dislike her a little bit. Instead, I think Hester needs a hug, and perhaps a Gibbs-like slap on the back of the head (NCIS reference anyone?......anyone?... ok.)
I know a lot of people would disagree with my opinion of this book; it wouldn't be taught in schools and hailed as Hawthorne's greatest work if everyone thought the way that I do. But I think that's a part of this exercise for me; discovering what I like and what I don't like, giving my opinion as fairly but as honestly as possible, and letting everyone make of it what they will. I don't endeavor to speak for everyone; just myself.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
So I have to admit that the reason I jumped from "The Jungle Book" to "Jane Eyre" was twofold-- I felt like I didn't want to cop-out and read another short book to get "caught up" on my list, and I am interested in seeing the new movie adaptation of "Jane Eyre" starring Mia Wasikowska (who played Alice in the live action adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland.") I generally like to read a book before I see a movie based on the book (yeah, I'm one of those) so I chose this one next.
Jane is then transferred to the Lowood Institution, which is basically a boarding school/home for orphaned or abandoned girls. She lives there until she is 18, and after a rough start, learns to love the school, even teaching there for 2 years. When she is 18, though, she realizes that she wants to explore more of the outside world, and advertises for a position as a teacher. Her advertisement is answered by a woman looking for a governess for a 10 year old girl, and Jane is hired.