Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Classics Club Project: Progress #1

Following up my last attempt to complete The Classics Clubs Project by March 2017, here is my first progress, together with mini reviews of what I have finished reading:

May 2016:

Books read = 2 of 20 (I’m on track! J )
Books currently on progress = 1


Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald


I’m not quite a fan of short stories, but this one is just amazing. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the champion, of course. It was much deeper and more tragic than its adaptation (Brad Pitt as BB). I also liked Head and Shoulders, The Cut-Glass Bowl, and The Lees of Happiness. The last one is actually rather sad and sweet.

Interestingly, the stories tasted a bit like Zola and a bit Dickens. Fitzgerald’s descriptive narration reminded me of Zola, while his sense of humor was to me, a little Dickenish. In short, it does not have any similarity to The Great Gatsby or Tender is the Night. Tales of the Jazz Age is light, flowing, sweet, funny, but also sad and sometimes shocking.

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The Dreyfus Affair: J’Accuse & Other Writings by Émile Zola


Being a non-fiction and chronologically compiled letters, writings, and even speeches, I thought The Dreyfus Affair would bore me. Well, it was for the first half, for it was compilation of Zola’s plea in letters and publication, pointing out Dreyfus’ innocence. The repetition was almost unbearable, until the open letter was up: J’Accuse! (action time!); then it became interesting. The most powerful piece was Zola’s speech in his statement to the Jury about Dreyfus Affair. But his personal letters to his wife Alexandrine, his mistress Jeanne, and his friends were all really interesting; in that it reveals a bit of Zola’s personalities—his anxiety, his loneliness, and his ability to keep his focus in writing during the hard times. If you are Zola’s fan, or intrigued by his works, you are going to enjoy this book!

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Right now I am reading Proust’s Swann’s Way, but my progress is very slowly…. It’s not really enjoyable, but I must admire Proust’s beautiful prose.

That’s all for now, see you next month! ;)


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Belle Époque Artists: Jean Béraud

Outside the Vaudeville Theatre, Paris





Jean Béraud (January 12, 1849 – October 4, 1935) was a French painter, noted for his paintings of Parisian life during the Belle Époque. He was born in Saint Petersburg. His father (also called Jean) was a sculptor and was likely working on the site of St. Isaac's Cathedral at the time of his son's birth. Béraud's mother was one Geneviève Eugénie Jacquin; following the death of Béraud's father, the family moved to Paris. Béraud was in the process of being educated as a lawyer until the occupation of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870.

Le Pont Neuf

Béraud became a student of Léon Bonnat, and exhibited his paintings at the Salon for the first time in 1872. However, he did not gain recognition until 1876, with his On the Way Back from the Funeral. He exhibited with the Society of French Watercolorists at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. He painted many scenes of Parisian daily life during the Belle Époque in a style that stands somewhere between the academic art of the Salon and that of the Impressionists. He received the Légion d'honneur in 1894.

Children With a Toy Seller on the Quai du Louvre

Béraud's paintings often included truth-based humour and mockery of late 19th-century Parisian life, along with frequent appearances of biblical characters in then contemporary situations. Paintings such as Mary Magdalene in the House of the Pharisees aroused controversy when exhibited, because of these themes.

Cottage cyclists in the Bois de Boulogne (1900)

 Towards the end of the 19th century, Béraud dedicated less time to his own painting but worked on numerous exhibition committees, including the Salon de la Société Nationale.

I posted this for my Belle Époque Event 2016, You will find more artists along the year.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fighting to Complete My Classics Club Project by Next Year!

Okay, time flies, indeed, too fast! When I started The Classics Club Project in March 2012, five years seemed so far away, I believed this project would be quite an easy one. I was wrong! Yes, the first two years my progress was quite fast. Since then I have updated and added a lot of books to my original list of 100. But today I realized for the first time, that my deadline would be 8th March 2017—only 10 months from now! If I still want to complete this project, I must work out very diligently…starting today.

So, after reviewing my list, here’s the statistic: 

Books I have read so far (reviewed or not) = 105
- Novels =    79
- Plays =       21
- Non-fiction = 5

My current list is 165 (I know… I was too ambitious then!), which is impossible to complete all in 10 months. With my current speed, 2 books a month, I think, is the most realistic. So, I trimmed down my list to 125, which means I have 20 classics to read by March 2017. It would not be an easy conquest—not with my current activities, plus I am selling our old family house and buying a new apartment this year. No, it would be very tight, but I’m prepared to push myself to the limit. Then, let’s see what I can achieve by March next year!

And, as I would soon need a lot of money to furnish the new apartment, my trimmed-list consists only of books on my TBR pile. Here they are in random order:

Novels:
  1. The Pickwick Paper, Dickens – currently reading, originally for o’s read along, but I decided not to follow the timeline, as I found it difficult to reconnect with the characters after leaving them for a month.
  2. Our Mutual Friend, Dickens
  3. The Age of Innocence, Wharton
  4. The Belly of Paris, Zola
  5. The Conquest of Plassans, Zola
  6. The Earth, Zola
  7. The War of the Worlds, Wells
  8. The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck
  9. Ben Hur, Wallace
  10. Defense Speeches, Cicero
  11. The Swann’s Way, Proust
  12. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Hardy
  13. The Hobbit, Tolkien
  14. Tales of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald
  15. On the Origin of Species, Darwin
  16. The Trial, Kafka

Plays:
3 plays, each from Marlowe, Ibsen, and (perhaps) Wilde

Non-Fiction:
  1. The Dreyfus Affair: J’Accuse & other Writtings, Zola – currently reading 

So, 20 classics in 10 months. Read read read! And minimize the social media! Wish me luck!...


Friday, April 15, 2016

Belle Époque Artists: Victor Gabriel Gilbert

Victor Gabriel Gilbert (1847-1935) was a French painter of genre scenes. Gilbert was born in Paris on 13th February 1847. His natural ability for drawing was acknowledged at an early age but due to financial circumstances he was required to work as an artisan. He received his formal training from L. Em. Adan, Levasseur and Ch. Busson.

In 1873 he had his debut at the Paris Salon and continued to be a faithful exhibitor at the Salon des Artist Francais where he obtained a silver medal in 1889, received the Bonnet Prize in 1926 and the Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1897. He was highly respected for his fine detailed work and was considered an inspiration to many artists. His views of the colourful Parisian life, the boulevards, cafés and flower stalls became well known. At the same time he turned his effect on the portrayal of adorable children, accomplishing a sensibility and great harmony towards his subject.


The Square in front of Les Halles, 1880

Any Zola's fans must have remembered that this paintings was used by Oxford World's Classics as The Belly of Paris' cover. Such a nice idea too to pick a painting from one of Belle Epoque's artists. I imagined... maybe Gilbert was one of Zola's Impressionist friends...

The Fish Hall at the Central Market, 1881


Flower Seller in front of the Madeleine Church

It was during the mid 1870s that Gilbert became a close friend to Pierre Martin, one of the principal supporters of the impressionist movement and Victor Gilbert’s paintings secured a place amongst his collection of Impressionists like Monet, van Gogh, Cezanne and Gauguin. Victor Gilbert’s paintings were not only well sought after in France, he also exhibited in 1883 in Munich, 1894 in Vienna and he was a great success in London in 1908. Today his work can be viewed in the Museums of Bayeux, Besançon, Bordeaux, Dieppe, le Havre, Lille, Liége, Nice and Strassbourg.


The Children's Dance Recital

Place dAnvers Et Le Sacre Coeur

I posted this for my Belle Époque Event 2016, You will find more artists along the year; the next one will be up (hopefully) very soon!



Thursday, February 25, 2016

If I were Old Bourras in The Ladies’ Paradise

Le Bon Marche by Felix Valloton
Parisian store which inspired Ladies' Paradise
Reading Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise gives me certain excitement which I have never encountered before from Rougon-Macquart series that I have read so far—it is the business aspect. The growing expansion of Octave Mouret’s first modern department store in Paris has awakened my own business instinct which has grown from my more-than-twenty-years of working in trading business.

This is not a proper review of the book (for I am still half through it at the moment), but I was intrigued to give my personal advice to one of the shop owners whose business is threaten to be ruined by the Ladies’ Paradise.

Old Bourras owns an umbrella shop. He used to have employees worked for him, and his specialty is carving the handle-knob with artistic subjects, which, I believe, gives his umbrellas a personal touch. But then Ladies’ Paradise opened its umbrella and sunshade department, selling umbrellas in much cheaper prices, and stealing Bourras’ loyal customers away. It gave old Bourras a terrible blow, but, does it really have to end that way? I personally do not think so.

If I were in Bourras’ place—instead of spending my passion and energy by condemning the department store, or by wasting my capital to compete with it—I would offer an attractive scheme of partnership to Mouret. I would persuade Mouret to sell my umbrellas IN his department store. Oh, Mouret would certainly laugh at me:

Mouret: “What? Buying umbrellas from you, while I could buy from other manufacturers in larger quantity and with much cheaper price? How do you think your umbrellas could compete with ours?”

But I would calmly smile to him, and say: “Of course not, sir. I know I won’t be able to compete with your big store, if I sell the SAME umbrellas as yours.”

Mouret (still chuckles): “What do you mean? Umbrella is umbrella; people buy it to shade them from sunlight or rain. If they could get ours cheaper, why on earth would they pick yours?”

Me: “But what I am offering you now, sir, is not the same product that you are selling in one of your departments.”

Mouret (his business instinct being awaken): “Go on...”

Me: “You see, sir, I am more an artist than a businessman. You might say that I sell umbrellas, but for me, these umbrellas are my artworks. I love carving, and it gives me utmost happiness to sit in my quiet shop, carving the handles with beautiful subjects: flowers, animals, fruits, etc. I’m happy to see that my customers love them, and it gives them satisfaction, knowing that their umbrellas were carved specially for them. And, of course, in the end it gives me money to buy my bread and lodging.”

Mouret: “So, you were saying that…”

Me: “Yes. I am offering you a new concept of umbrella. It’s not just means of shading one from sun and rain. Umbrella can be a fashionable item. Just imagine a luxury umbrella with finely carved ivory handle and elegant design, in the hand of a charming lady on a rainy day outside The Opera. The lady’s friends would have adored it, and the lady would answer proudly: ‘Oh, I have ordered it at The Ladies’ Paradise the other day. They allow us to choose our own design, you know, and pick our own subject to be carved on the handle!’ And soon enough, these ladies will queue up to order such elegant personalized umbrellas at your store, sir!”

Mouret (now quite bought up by the idea): “But how can I be sure that you won’t sell it with cheaper price to other stores, or even worse, directly to my customers?”

Me: “I am ready to grant you an exclusive right to sell my umbrellas at whatever price you believe is most profitable, if you consent to appoint me as your sole supplier, and buy my products at reasonable price. I put my trust on your lawyer, sir, to issue the contract which I would be proud to sign to bind our partnership.”

Mouret (amazed and curious): “Do you realize, M. Bourras, that if we had this partnership as your idea, your income will not significantly improve? Because producing personalized goods is different from mass production. In the end, your business will not profit much more than it is now. It would certainly profit me, but what will it do for you?”

Me: “Dear M. Mouret, I have told you earlier, that I am no businessman. With this partnership, I will earn enough money for my business to keep going, and a humble living for myself. But mostly I will have pleasures from making beautiful umbrellas. It’s all what I need in this world.

So…. do we have a deal?”

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In a new turbulence era, we better face the changes with open mind. It is good to keep our principles, but do not let it bar our judgment. Creativity is the key, and always find a win-win solution! When a huge power dominates our society (in this case capitalism), don’t fight back! Or else it will crush you mercilessly. Open mind and creativity will give us better bargaining position.

If only I can get into the story, and give my advice to old Bourras! But then…. It will alter the story. And considering what Zola wanted to say with his Rougon-Macquart series, I think I’d better return to my book and enjoy it. Sorry Monsieur Zola, for indulging my imagination for a moment in this post! J


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

It’s a Very Outdated Post!

I know it’s very-very outdated. 2015 was already far away… but I won’t ever forgive myself if I don’t, somehow, wrap up my last year Literary Movement Reading Challenge. You know, of course, that I failed my own challenge, but there are others who took efforts to read all, or at least most of, the movements. In the middle of my spare time during office hours—yayy… J--Ihave managed to count all participant’s posts (though I’m really sorry if I couldn’t read nor comment them one by one). From 22 who signed up, just a few managed to ‘survive’ to the last. And from the few, only ONE person completed the whole challenge, by reading at least one book for all movements; and I’m proud to announce that the winner of this challenge is…..


Congratz to Ruth—a very good job! I’m proud of you and your dedication for this challenge. I will contact you soon to arrange the prize.

And now…. Allow me to retreat to my quiet corner of bookish life again. I’ll keep posting every now and then, especially for Belle Époque Event, but I’ll dedicate most of my limited spare time with… reading, of course! ;)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Belle Époque Artists: Gustave Caillebotte

Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877


Gustave Caillebotte (19 August 1848 – 21 February 1894) was a French painter, member and patron of the group of artists known as Impressionists, though he painted in a much more realistic manner than many other artists in the group. Caillebotte was noted for his early interest in photography as an art form. Caillebotte's style belongs to the School of Realism but was strongly influenced by his Impressionist associates.

Caillebotte is best known for his paintings of urban Paris, such as The Europe Bridge (Le Pont de l'Europe) (1876), and Paris Street; Rainy Day (Rue de Paris; temps de pluie, also known as La Place de l'Europe, temps de pluie) (1877). The latter is almost unique among his works for its particularly flat colors and photo-realistic effect which gives the painting its distinctive and modern look, almost akin to American Realists. Showing little allegiance to any one style, many of Caillebotte's other urban paintings produced in the same period, such as The Place Saint-Augustin (1877), are considerably more impressionistic.


Le Pont de l'Europe, 1876

My Note:
Gustave Caillebotte's paintings are not new to me... well, several of them, at least. Apparently, Oxford World's Classics used at least three of them as covers for Emile Zola's books. The "Paris Street, Rainy Day" was used for The Kill's cover, while "Le Pont de l'Europe" was actually picked by OWC as the cover of La Bête Humaine. And if you own the latest edition of The Money from OWC, you will not  be surprised to see that its cover was borrowed from Caillebotte's "Man on a Balcony". To me it's really nice of OWC to pick French Impressionist's paintings as Zola's book cover. Zola was one of the supporters of Impressionism on his era anyway.


Man on a Balcony, Boulevard Haussmann, 1880

A Balcony, Boulevard Haussmann, 1880

I posted this for my Belle Époque Event 2016, You will find more artists along the year; the next one will be up in March!