Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: One-Word Reviews for the Last 10 Books I Read


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and this week's prompt is... Rewind (Pick a previous topic that you missed or would like to re-do/update). I picked the May 2022 topic I haven't done before but found very interesting and quite tricky:


One-Word Reviews for the Last 10 Books I Read

This year I've read nine books and three short stories, so here are one-word reviews of all the nine books plus one of the short stories - I tried to not double-use the words, but choose the most appropriate one to represent each book/story. Follow the links to read my original reviews.


The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy:
gloomy

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury:
summer

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie:
melancholy

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder:
cozy

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery:
jolly

bitter

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim:
blissful

Rural Hours by Susan Fenimore Cooper (not yet reviewed):
nature

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (not yet reviewed):
rustic

Jack-a-Boy by Willa Cather (short story):
affectionate


Have you read those books? What one-word would you use to describe them?

 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Jack-a-Boy by Willa Cather: A Short Story #WCSSP2023




๐Ÿ’™ For the past five years I’ve been living in an apartment building. And so, I have a certain interest in stories which are set in apartment or flat, just like this one. The name of the building is Windsor Terrace. I don't know what 'Terrace' alludes to in this case, but the narrator - a piano teacher called Miss Harris - says that "people who live in terraces are not usually those who have made the most brilliant success in life." Does it mean that the Terrace is the humbler type of flats?

๐Ÿ’™ Jack-a-Boy and his family just moved in to number 324. He's a six year old girlish boy with big violet eyes. At first nobody pays any attention to him. Children are usually boisterous, and in an apartment building especially, they are doubly annoying. We can hear their footsteps while running around along the corridor, or shouting excitedly to their parents inside the lift. Oh yes, little children aren't truly welcomed in apartment buildings. But Jack-Boy isn't just any boy.

๐Ÿ’™ He's a sweet little boy, unassuming, quiet and polite, affectionately warm to others. Right after the family's arrival, he visited his neighbors one by one, and they instantly succumbed to his pleasant habit of wanting to please everyone! At the Professor's, who study Ancient Greek, for instance, the boy would curl himself on the rug, quietly browsing at a picture book borrowed from the Professor, without disturbing him. And then he asks the Professor to tell a Greek story (Trojan war), to which he listened attentively. The boy kept reverently an ugly toy dog made by another neighbor, just because he "wouldn't like to hurt her feelings". How sweet!


๐Ÿ’™
Besides loving Ancient Greek stories and seemingly rather talented in playing piano, Jack-a-Boy doesn't like playing with other boys, because "they are such rough boys". But that doesn't mean he's a gentle coward either, for when a little girl was bullied by another boy, he bravely "flew at him like a wild cat, fists, teeth, feet and all the rest of him".



๐Ÿ’™ Approaching May Jack-a-Boy busied himself preparing for his May-basket hanging - a basket filled with colorful tissue papers and flowers to be hung on the neighbor's door. What a sweet little boy, this Jack-a-Boy is - an angelic one, almost. And I think I've guessed all along how this story would end - what usually happens in literature to these kind of children, so I prepared myself.

๐Ÿ’™ Reading this story, I could feel that Cather wrote it by heart; that this story is special for her. And I was right, searching on google, I learned that it's a reference to Cather's little brother whom she nursed through a serious disease.

๐Ÿ’™ One more thing, the day after that fatal day, Miss Harris is discussing with the Professor about how missing Jack-a-Boy meant to them. The Professor's lamenting what Jack-o-Boy would have been if he were still with them - an exceptional Greek scholar. While Miss Harris was only missing him as himself, "It was the little human boy that I loved". I am perhaps more with Miss Harris, and I guess Willa Cather was too. But maybe it's better that he leaves this corrupted world while still being innocent. One might never know what he would turn into while growing up.

๐Ÿ’™ A heartwarming little story about a little boy, that will leave you pondering more about human's frailty.

Rating: 5 / 5

 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (The Dancer) by Ahmad Tohari: An Indonesian Classic



๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป Srintil and Rasus, our protagonists, were born and grew up in a small village in Indonesia called Dukuh Paruk, which, geographically, is quite isolated. It can only be reached from the outside by traversing the network of dikes bordering the wet rice fields. This isolation, I believe, has contributed to the illiteracy, poverty, obscenity, and superstition of its people.

๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป Set in the year 1950s-60s, Dukuh Paruk's pride is in their Ronggeng. Here's my previous post where I talked about Ronggeng and its little similarity with Geisha. They believe that when a Ronggeng spirit inhabits a little girl, she is destined to grow up as a Ronggeng. Srintil is this little girl. She loves to sing Ronggeng songs while playing with a boy called Rasus, her best friend. Like her, he is also an orphan, due to a tragic poisoning case which took their parents' lives. Becoming a Ronggeng, thus, is Srintil's obsession, though without fully understanding of what it truly is.

๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป Rasus, on the other hand, longs for a mother's affection. He's often wondering how his mother looks like, and innocently he took Srintil as the perfect image of a mother he never knew. When Srintil is 11 years old, it's time to initiate her to be a Ronggeng. The initiation includes a rite called 'Bukak Klambu' (freely translated as opening the mosquito net, which is usually hung around the bed). In other words, it's when her virginity is sold to the highest bidder.

๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป This rite enraged Rasus - not so much because he cares about Srintil, but more because it shatters the image of his unknown mother, which he hitherto portrays in her head like Srintil. He left Dukuh Paruk - but not before having sex with Srintil, as she has rather offered her virginity to him than to the highest bidder of Bukak Klambu. Not a proper gentleman this Rasus man, I know.

The Ronggeng dance in the adaptation of Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk, 2011


๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป 1960s marked a dark turmoil in Indonesian politics, as I have slightly alluded in previous post. Rasus becomes a soldier, while Srintil becomes a famous Ronggeng of Dukuh Paruk. When she doesn't perform on stage, she receives men who wishes to have sex with her, all arranged by an old couple who serve as Srintil's agent slash pimp.

๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป Due to Dukuh Paruk people's ignorance, Srintil is unwittingly involved in the revolutionary's event. Srintil and her group were caught and imprisoned, accused of being supporters of communist party, while their village was burnt down. The imprisonment itself is already bad, but not as bad as the label then applied to ex-political prisoners after they were released. They were banished from society, and viewed as the main cause of the tragedy, though many of them, including Srintil, didn't even understand what it was all about.

๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป The imprisonment changed Srintil's view of life considerably. She refused to perform as Ronggeng, as well as serving men. Instead, she's inspired to be an ordinary but respectable house wife. Rasus' return to Dukuh Paruk (now a respectable soldier) provides a new hope in Srintil. Not only her, all Dukuh Paruk people fervently hope they will eventually marry, and thus help reviving their village. But no, marriage isn't Rasus' inclination, though there's no doubt that he loves her still.

๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป After Rasus, came Bajus, a polite handsome young man from Jakarta. He pays attention to Srintil, and gentlemanly paying court to her. Now he is Srintil's last hope. He will prove to be, either her great salvation, or the crushing blow to her already battered soul.

๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk quite surprised me. I didn't expect to love it, though had been rather intrigued by the Ronggeng theme (I have thought it's about dancer, never expected to be disgusted by prostitution!) Political tragedy is not appealing to me, nor the grossness of most of Dukuh Paruk people. The only thing that made me keep reading, though, is Tohari's poetic prose and his beautiful portrayal of the rustic village landscape. I was transported to the peaceful and calm life in the village, to the sounds of birds, the shady trees, or the melodious music of traditional instruments. It's a perfect portrayal of a humble small village, before the touch of modernization enters it.

๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป I officially crowned Ahmad Tohari as one of the best Indonesian writers I've read so far. Many people worship Pramoedya Ananta Toer perhaps, but I have read two books of him, and don't quite agree. He was a good story-teller, but rather melodramatic and sometimes exaggerating. While Tohari's prose is perfectly proportional; brutally realistic, not overwritten, but beautiful at the same time. Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk has been translated to English by Rene T.A. Lysloff, titled “The Dancer”, and published by Lontar Foundation in January 2013.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

 

Monday, March 13, 2023

Blogger-Inspired Wishlist Ep. 3: Very Random Selections



Blogger-Inspired Wishlist is a feature where I post recent additions to my wish list, which had been inspired by reviews from my fellow bloggers. It includes some synopsis, as well as some excerpts of the review which have intrigued me, complete with a link to the blogger's original post.

For this 3rd episode I've collected five interesting books from a wide range of genres, from fiction to non fiction, contemporary to classic.

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer



Synopsis:
The Art of Stillness considers the unexpected adventure of staying put and reveals a counterintuitive truth: The more ways we have to connect, the more we seem desperate to unplug. Iyer also draws on his own experiences as a travel writer to explore why advances in technology are making us more likely to retreat.

From Robin's review:
"This little volume on “going nowhere,” really spoke to me right now. The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, caught my eye and turned out to be a real treasure for me because it is about being present in the NOW of our lives. I found that it was packed with wisdom and much needed perspective on what is really important in life."

๐Ÿ”น️It seems a perfect book I might need right now!



The Lilies of the Field by William E Barrett
Inspired by: Hamlette @ The Edge of the Precipice



Synopsis:
One of the most beloved of modern classics returns with a beautiful new cover. The enchanting story of two unlikely friends, a black ex-GI and the head of a group of German nuns, The Lilies of the Field tells the story of their impossible dream--to build a chapel in the desert.

From Hamlette's review:
"Wow.  I mean, wow.  This book is going to end up on my top favorite new reads of 2023 list. book is warm and sweet and good-humored and funny."

๐Ÿ”น️ It sounds like a good-humored but touching at the same time – can’t wait to read it!



The Willows in Winter by Duncton Wood
Inspired by: Cath @ Read-warbler



Synopsis:
Now, in an act of homage and celebration, William Horwood has brought to life once more the four most-loved characters in English literature: the loyal Mole, the resourceful Water Rat, the stern but wise Badger, and, of course, the exasperating, irresistible Toad. The result is an enchanting, unforgettable new novel, enlivened by delightful illustrations, in which William Horwood has recaptured all the joy, magic, and good humor of Grahame's great work - and Toad is still as exasperatingly lovable as he ever was.

From Cath's review:
"William Horwood is the author of the Duncton Wood series of books but he also wrote four sequels to The Wind in the Willows. This is the first of them, The Willows in Winter"

๐Ÿ”น️I didn't know there are sequels to The Wind in the Willows, it's a pleasant surprise!



Mrs Van Gogh by Caroline Cauchi

Synopsis:
She’s been painted out of history…until now. In 1890, Vincent Van Gogh dies penniless, unknown, a man tortured by his own mind. Eleven years later his work is exhibited in Paris and his unparalleled talent finally recognised. The tireless efforts of one woman gave the world one of its greatest creative minds. But twenty-eight year old Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, Vincent’s sister-in-law and the keeper of his immense collection of paintings, sketches and letters, has, until now, been written out of history. This beautiful, moving novel finally gives this extraordinary woman a voice…

From Stephanie's review:
"Mrs Van Gogh is a beautifully written historical fiction novel which allowed me to really feel as though I were immersed in Montmartre life in the 1880s and 1890s. The Parisian streets, cafรฉs and clubs leap vividly from the page and I loved spending time with Johanna, her brother, and the Van Gogh brothers too. As historical fiction I found it to be an entertaining read."

๐Ÿ”น️ It's been a while since my last read of a proper historical fiction. And this one is about Van Gogh's universe too - irresistible!



The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

Synopsis:
Natsuki Books was a tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town. Rintaro Natsuki loved this space that his grandfather had created. He spent many happy hours there, reading whatever he liked. It was the perfect refuge for a boy who tended to be something of a recluse. After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. This odd couple will go on three magical adventures to save books from people who have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them.

From Lark's review:
"This is a quirky and enchanting little book. But what's at the heart of this bookish novel is the idea that books truly are more than mere words on paper and are therefore very much worth saving. And I completely agree."

๐Ÿ”น️This looks like a charming Japanese novel; books and cat are never be wrong! ๐Ÿ˜‰


That's all for this episode, have you read any of those?
See you on next episode! (I have gathered quite a few interesting books... so, hopefully it won't be long!)

 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Classic Character: Lotty Wilkins of The Enchanted April



Lotty Wilkins is the most influential character in The Enchanted April. Without her, there will never be a holiday of four women at San Salvatore to begin with. She is also the one with biggest transformation by the end of the story.

When the story begins, Mrs. Wilkins appears to be an unassuming young wife of a dingy lawyer. Shy and insecure, Lotty is always socially awkward. Her brutal honesty and impulse even make her misunderstood by the society. On the other hand, Mr. Wilkins always depends on his charm to be successful in his law business. Having an awkward wife doesn't help him; and maybe that's why he ignores her because she disappointed him.

Lotty is a genuinely amiable person, but ignored by her husband, and bored of always trying to do what's expected from her, made her unhappy. She's burdened by a sense of failure, and the distress makes her more confused than ever, which makes everything worse in the long run.

Lotty's instinctive nature made her jump to the idea of a holiday alone, without her husband. She deserves it after all, after her efforts to please her husband (and Lotty loves to please others!) She even conquers her shyness by approaching Mrs. Arbuthnot, whom she noticed was interested by the same advertisement which had captured her attention earlier.

Josie Lawrence as Lotty Wilkins in 1991 adaptation


After experiencing freedom and being embraced by the beauty of nature, Lotty Wilkins seems to suddenly transform into another person: positive thinking, affectionate, and confident. Or does she?

I have reflected much on this transformation. And it occurred to me that the holiday was made possible in the first place because Lotty knows what's best for her (the more logical Mrs. Arbuthnot rejected the idea at first). But once an idea captures Lotty, she'd do everything to make it happen, and finally successful in persuading Rose Arbuthnot. That has struck me as one of Lotty's genuine characters: positive thinking. Her affectionate nature is always there, too, from the beginning. Hence, her continual efforts to please Mellersh, her husband (what a name though - Mellersh!)

Then, Lotty's biggest seemingly transformation: her confidence. Where goes the shy, awkward, irresolute young woman that we saw at first chapter? Those qualities appeared as the result of the cold, snobbish nature of London society, who dictated what or how a respectable wife should or should not be! It's this harsh expectation that has strained and stifled Lotty's genuine warm qualities.

After the rejuvenating atmosphere in San Salvatore, Lotty's original qualities flows, even bursts, out because she experiences love - loved and embraced by nature; and by its Creator. And with that, she, in her turn, inspires and infects others.

Lotty Wilkins is officially my new favorite heroine. Do you know one thing that's often asked on book tags or surveys: which book character you would like to hang out with? Now I have a certain answer: Lotty Wilkins! Imagine, how fun and refreshed my day would become!

 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim: A Review



๐ŸŒบ
What would you do if you happened to see, one day in your newspaper, an advertisement that says: "To Those Who Appreciate Wisteria and Sunshine. Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let Furnished for the month of April." ? I would have sighed contentedly and imagined what it'd be like for a while, but more likely would have soon dismissed it from my mind.

๐ŸŒบ For Lotty Wilkins, though, it becomes her only way to escape the struggle of unhappy marriage with a stingy lawyer she's always afraid of. Usually shy and awkward in social life, this young woman impulsively persuaded a woman in the club she didn't know before, a Mrs. Arbuthnot, to join their little nest-eggs and spend a holiday - alone, without their husbands - they rightly deserve for having been a good housewives in their dull marriage lives.

๐ŸŒบ Rose Arbuthnot is a reserved, pious young housewife, whose husband is a writer of scandalous books she disapproves of. She plunges herself in charities, serving the poors in order to expiate, what she feels as, her husband's sins. After a struggle, she is eventually persuaded to realise their plan. But, as they need two more women to afford the rent, they published an advertisement.

๐ŸŒบ Thus, two other most dissimilar women finally joined them to the little castle of San Salvatore, Italy. Lady Caroline Dester is a young, very pretty girl who's sick of continually being worshipped, both by women, and especially, by men. Mrs. Fisher, on the other hand, is an elderly, pompous woman, who still clings to her Victorian ideals.

๐ŸŒบ San Salvatore proved to be the enchanting, beautiful place it has been advertised for. These four ladies of very different backgrounds, with their own reasons to escape, found delicious peace and freedom amidst the rustic beauty of mother nature.

๐ŸŒบ However, when four dissimilar persons gathered, there were more likely frictions. Lady Caroline aka Scrap disliked Lotty Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot, whom she thought were 'originals' (boring). Mrs. Fischer was even more extreme, she's rude to Lotty all the time, disgusted by her impulsive and awkward nature.

๐ŸŒบ However, and here's the beauty of this book, Lotty Wilkins' warmth and positivity gradually infected these other women. She's the only one who, from her first arrival at San Salvatore, has found... love! Her first act when entering the castle (after a hilarious 'adventure' of arriving in the darkness of the night) was warmly kissing Rose!

๐ŸŒบ The beauty of mother nature seems to change everybody there. The first one to be affected is Lotty. In place of that awkward, dubious woman, there stood a cheerful, self-esteemed woman, burst with love and longing to please others. What a change! Scrap is now fond of her; even Mrs. Fisher in the end finds her bearable, and calls her 'my dear'!

๐ŸŒบ Then came complications. Lotty felt she must invite Mellersh Wilkins, her husband, to enjoy their holiday together. She even persuaded Rose to also invite her husband Frederick to join them. Scrap was aghast, since she came to San Salvatore precisely to avoid men, and now there will be men around them. Even the castle's owner, Mr. Briggs, came uninvited because he's attracted to Rose. How would they avoid the coming 'storm'? These parts proved to be the most hilarious passages of the book, you'll see!

๐ŸŒบ To conclude, I love everything about this book. The beautiful scenery (wisterias, periwinkle, and all), the theme (nature compels love), the hilarious scenes, and the intriguing women's characters (of whom we get to know through their continuing self-dialog). Lotty Wilkins is my favorite, she is an amazing character. I will write a character analysis on her very soon! In short, such a perfect book!

Favorite quote:
"Beauty made you love, and love made you beautiful."

More interesting facts about the flowers and from where von Arnim had drawn inspiration to write this book could be found in my 1st Impression of this book.


Rating: 5 / 5

Read from: combo of printed and audio book (narrated by B.J. Harrison - my new favorite narrator)

 

Monday, March 6, 2023

Announcing Zoladdiction 2023 #Zoladdiction2023


Zoladdiction turns TEN this year! Who would’ve thought I will host this event for ten years? For you who are not familiar with it, Zoladdiction is a reading event on April, to celebrate the birthday of ร‰mile Zola. It is mainly because we love Zola's writings, and also to get more and more people to appreciate his works.

For you who haven't read Zola, it is the perfect time to get started! This is my personal guide to read Zola if you don't have idea where to start.

For the whole month, then, we will read, post, and talk about ร‰mile Zola - his life, his works, and his influences.



How It Works

  • Pick any of Zola's works, or Zola's biography, and read them. Any books about Zola by other writers are acceptable too.
  • Post your review/thoughts on your blog/social media (you can use hashtag #Zoladdiction2023).
  • But I also encourage you to go beyond reading… Yes, we will still read Zola, but during April we can also share/post/tweet/talk about just any thing related to Zola. A book you're reading reminds you of Zola? Share it! Found Zola's quote on Twitter? Retweet it! Or Zola-ish picture/caricature on Instagram? Make a story of it! Watched movie about Zola? Share it! Anything.
  • Don’t have time to read one book? Worry not, a short story or an essay is equally good.
  • To participate, simply leave comment on this post, or mention me on Twitter, using hashtag #Zoladdiction2023, and tell us your plans for Zoladdiction (it might inspire others).
  • If you want, you may grab and put Zoladdiction 2023 banner on your blog, so that others might aware about this event.
  • If you blog about your participation, leave the link in comment box.
  • Linky will be provided in the Master Post (will be published on April 2nd). You can submit links to your Zola posts (either on blog or social media) there.
  • To celebrate Zola’s birthday on April 2nd, there will also be an ร‰mile Zola Tag, which we can share and have fun (I will post about this around mid March, so you can prepare your posts beforehand).

So, would you join me? What's your plan?


LIST OF PARTICIPANTS (so far)

1. Fanda - will read The Ladies' Paradise (re-read) & Doctor Pascal
2. Gypsi @ Gypsi Reads - will read Germinal
3. JaneGS @ Reading, Writing, Working, Playing - will read ?
4. Mallika @ Literary Potpourri - will read ?
5. Brona @ Brona's Book - will read L'Assommoir
6. Alok @alokranj - will read biography/critical study
7. You!