Thursday, May 5, 2022

Zoladdiction 2022 & April Wrap Up, Reading Plans for May


For me personally, April seems to come and go in one swing. I got quite a severe mental exhaustion during the first half of the month. I didn't know what it was at first, but lately I had been easily irritated, which then grew into cynicism and violent thoughts. I was pretty scared for my health, so I googled it, and found that they are symptoms of mental exhaustion.

While removing the cause (as suggested by some articles) is impossible, I have resolved to make some changes to make my current life more balanced. The long and short of it is that I decided to pick only cozy readings and losen my reading challenges for a while. First step is to discard Zola's L'Assommoir (I know the ending too well, and it's not good for me at this moment) which I've intended for #Zoladdiction2022, and replace it with some light and comfort books; books that I really want to read.

Second step, I'm reducing my blogging time, and only focusing on what matters most: my fulltime work, caring for my Parkinson's father, and the never-ending household stuffs. I thank you all who have joined me in #Zoladdiction2022. I have done my best to retweet or tweet your posts, but I might not be able to read them, let alone leaving comments. Please don't feel me rude if I don't respond to some of your comments on this blog. I would love to keep reading your comments, though (I'd feel less stressful to know that there're people out there who still care for me 😊), but I also understand that some of you might feel unproductive to comment on inactive blog. It's perfectly understandable, don't worry about me. I wish I could say how long this will happen, but I can't, and so, for the time being I'll just read for leisure, and blog about it whenever I feel like it. (Painting: Woman Reading on Couch by Michael Shane Neal, 1968)


πŸ“š What I've Read in April

For a Night of Love is my first (and only) book for #Zoladdiction2022. I read it right before the mental exhaustion took over me. It's so-so, but short story has never been my cup of tea anyway.

While cancelling off L'Assommoir, I've been thinking what book should I read next, when I stumbled upon this book on Twitter: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. I googled it, and the premises of an elderly club in a senior house investigating murder, intrigued me right away, that I immediately bought an e-copy, and read it. It was entertaining - a little humorous, but a little sentimental too.

Next I picked a newly arrived book order - another warm and cozy read which I enjoyed very much: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (review will follow soon). And it is perfect to replace Bhagavad Gita, which I've picked earlier for Non Fiction entry for Back to the Classics 2022. Splendid!

My last April read is: Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (review will also follow). It's my third of fourth read, so there's not much I can add, other than Christie's neat and genius plot (which, I'm sure, many of you have realized too).

What about you? How's your April reading? Were you having fun?


Statistics

πŸ“Š Total books read: 11
πŸ“Š Challenge progress:
2022 TBR Pile Challenge5
Back to the Classics Challenge 20227
2022 Chunkster Challenge1

And so, I am now ready to face the new month!


πŸ“š What's happening in May


I've decided to keep my seasonal reading of Willa Cather or #CatherInMay on. A Lost Lady is my pick.

I will also keep my original plan of 18th century reading for 2022, and am now reading: Frances Burney's Evelina, or, A Young Lady's Entrance into the World. I love it so far, a comical satire of inexperienced young girl among the English society.

I think both books will be enough to amuse me during the whole month.

Do you have plans for May reading?

Monday, May 2, 2022

For a Night of Love by Γ‰mile Zola


πŸ’œ For a Night of Love is a collection of three stories with one similar theme: love. But, this is from Zola, so don't expect anything romantic - it's far from it! πŸ˜„

πŸ’œ Title of this collection is lent by the first story, which is also the longest - it might have been between short story and novella: For a Night of Love (Pour une nuit d’amour). It tells a story of a shy and unattractive young post office clerk, Julien, who lives in a small flat, and loves to play tunes in his flute. Opposite his flat is a large building occupied by a wealthy family with a beautiful daughter. Julien often watches her from his window, plays his flute for her, and eventually falls in love with the girl. But the girl, ThΓ©rΓ¨se, usually ignores him. One day she throws him kisses from her window, and summons him to come; not out of love, apparently, but to help her getting rid of the dead body of her lover.

πŸ’œ This first story sets the tone of the whole book - or at least the first two stories - which is the excessive crave to be loved.

πŸ’œ Nantas is the title of the second story, but also the name of its protagonist. He's a poor but intelligent young man with huge ambition, who comes to Paris to reach his dream, but desperately unsuccessful. On the brink of committing suicide, someone offers him a huge sum of money to marry a prominent young girl who is pregnant from a married man. He accepts the "business proposal", makes himself the most powerful man in France, but is unhappy because his wife doesn't return the love he eventually comes to feel for her. This one is my favorite from the the three stories. It is written superbly, and the ending is quite unpredictable.

πŸ’œ The last story is rather anticlimactic and rather out of theme. Fasting is about religion hypocrisies. In a church, a baroness seems to be fascinated while listening to her favorite priest's sermon about fasting - except that she is struggling to stay awake. The priest, on the other hand, seems to be preaching earnestly about fasting - except that all he's thinking all the while is going to a concert and having dinner with a countess. It's rather a funny satire, which talks nothing of love. Or, maybe, this whole thing is not meant to be about romantic love after all, but more about unsatiable desire, Zola's main topic in most of his other books.

πŸ’œ I am never a fan of short stories, as I always find them lacking of depth. They are usually sharp, yes, but it's like when a thorn is pricking your finger - you definitely feel the pain, but an hour later you won't feel anything, and would completely forget the incident. Though I appreciate Zola's brilliant writing in this collection, I still think his novels are much better.

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie


πŸ’š I've said this a couple of times before: reading Agatha Christie for the 1st time when I was a teenager has changed forever my perception on good vs evil. It's also struck me that it's so easy to commit a murder - so easy that what one need is, apparently, only the decision itself. Most of Christie's novels proved this. But this one: Murder is Easy, seems to highlight it.

πŸ’š There have been some "incidents" that led to deaths in the village of Wychwood for the last several months. Everyone took them as natural - everyone except Lavinia Pinkerton, an old intelligent spinster, who'd remind you to Miss Marple.

πŸ’š Miss Pinkerton had noticed a peculiar look everytime the murderer (a respectable personage in the village) looks at someone. Then that someone will be found death from some sorts of accident not long after that. She can't report it to the local police because no one would believe her, so she decided to go to the Scotland Yard.

πŸ’š On the train to London, Miss Pinkerton confided her purpose to a symphatetic retired police officer: Luke Fitzwilliam, who first took it as an old woman's babbling. But when he read in the newspaper the death of a doctor, whom Miss Pinkerton said would be killed next, and followed by the spinster's own deadly accident, he smell something fishy, and decided to investigate it.

πŸ’š So, is murder that easy? Yes, if you are a respectable person with blameless character whom no one suspects you; clever and lucky enough to make it look like accidents; and mad enough that conscience won't get you! That's the murderer in this book. Unfortunately, the madness aspect isn't revealed until the last chapter, and that provides a nice plot twist in the end.

πŸ’š This book is categorized under "amateur detective", though Luke Fitzwilliam isn't that good, considering he's a retired police officer. Superintendent Battle made his appearance too, but only as an insignificant cameo.

πŸ’š Overall, as a crime novel, this  is an okay one. It won't ranked on the top list of my favorites, but I still loved it for the English rural village vibe, and a pinch of straightforward romance between the main characters.

Rating: 4 / 5

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

March Wrap Up & Zoladdiction in April


While March is rolling on towards the end, my life in general is a little bit calmer than before. This month I have managed to read three books (which is a bit productive for me), and one of them was a solid five star! (Painting: credit to centuriespast.tumblr.com)


πŸ“š What I've Read in March

I originally picked Go Tell It on the Mountain for March, but changed my mind after reading the synopsis. I thought it's too depressing for my mood, and so opted for something more 'colorful and spicy' - if you know what I mean. Scanning my bookshelves, my eyes finally rested on Wharton's The Custom of the Country. That would be perfect, thought I. And it was!! I loved it immensely. I think it's the best book to read right before the upcoming Zoladdiction. Why? You'll find the answer in my review.

The buddy read of Orang-Orang Bloomington was rather fun (reading with others is always fun), though the book was too gloomy for my present mood. Nevertheless, I'm quite happy for having read it at last.

Last book I've just finished is another Agatha Christie - the second of this year - Murder is Easy. It's a reread, though I remembered nothing from the 1st read. It's another story in the 'amateur detective' line, and although I won't classify it with Christie's great novels, I enjoyed the little village atmosphere with the usual mixture of local doctor, major or colonel, and a spinster. Its end twist also adds another nice element to make it a perfect round up reading experience. (Review will follow).

What about you? How's your March reading? Were you having fun?


Statistics

πŸ“Š Total books read: 7
πŸ“Š Challenge progress:
* 2022 TBR Pile Challenge: 4
* Back to the Classics Challenge 2022: 3
* 2022 Chunkster Challenge: 1

And so, I am now ready to face the new month!


πŸ“š What's happening in April




Zoladdiction 2022 is coming!! I feel awful, though, that I didn't work much to arrange or promote the event. But nowadays I'm constantly feeling exhausted and need more and more time to recover, and reading is my only solace. Maybe reading quietly is the best approach at present.

For Zoladdiction I will reread my second favorite of Zola's Rougon-Macquart series: L'Assommoir. After about ten years, it's exciting to see my impression on this second read.

Zola's short story collection will be my second entry for Zoladdiction. I picked For a Night of Love, rather than

The Attack on the Mill
 which was my original choice, as the latter I've found too dark for my present mood (the first is much shorter too! :P )

If you are interested to read Zola next month, you are welcomed to join us in Zoladdiction 2022. Here's the announcement post for more info and details.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton


πŸ”Ά️ I always believe that Edith Wharton is the female Γ‰mile Zola, in terms of the Naturalism movement in her writing. This remarkable novel, The Custom of the Country, is the perfect proof of it. Not that Wharton is less in writing quality compared to Zola, but because she applied the naturalism theme in a more subtle way, while Zola was more ferocious.

πŸ”Ά️ Why makes me think that The Custom of the Country is the perfect proof? How about Wharton's other famous novels, like The House of Mirth or the one that gave her a Pullitzer prize - The Age of Innocence? It's because the significance of human's inability to resist their circumstances is portrayed in almost every character in this book. More significant than in The House of Mirth (which is relying almost solely on Lily Bart's character). How about The Age of Innocence? Well, to be honest, I've completely forgotten its story. And to this day I'm still puzzled over how that book could win Pulitzer, instead of The House of Mirth or, even, The Custom of the Country.

πŸ”Ά️ Undine Spragg is a selfish spoilt girl from middle class background, but with an upper class taste. Her sole desire is always having the "best" in life. By the best, it means the most luxurious and glorious lifestyle. However, her perception of the 'best' keeps changing.

πŸ”Ά️ Undine Spragg reminds me of a little girl who longs for a beautiful doll she plays with at her friend's. She'd do anything in the world to have that beautiful doll, and it's a happy day when she finally gets it and plays with it. Then, her other richer friend brings a Barbie doll with the most magnificent dress she'd ever seen. Now she thinks her present doll is ugly, and that having that Barbie doll would be her next sole purpose in life. And it's repeating again and again. Undine Spragg could be the grown up version of that little girl, but instead of dolls, her 'commodity' is social fortunes, and her means of procuring it is... a husband-no, husbands.

πŸ”Ά️ Undine's first husband is Ralph Marvell, a pleasant young man from an old money family. She presumed at first, that this set of family is the highest in the society ladder. Soon, however, she found that the Marvells are too conventional, neither wealthy nor fashionable, and she began to despise her husband.

πŸ”Ά️ From this first stage of her career we witness our anti-heroine's egoistic, heartless and ruthlessness. She never cares for anyone else, not even her own son. Undine whole universe is herself. And that would certainly bring ruins to people around her.

πŸ”Ά️ Ironically, other characters in this book (particularly Undine's husbands) show the determinism in their inability to think or respond beyond the principle values in which they have been brought up. While in Undine's case, her determinism is in herself; while her values kept re-shaping.

πŸ”Ά️ Edith Wharton had written this story brilliantly. The irony, the tragedy, and of course, her portrayal of the New York society in the turn of the century are poignantly beautiful.

πŸ”Ά️ I am, probably, more captivated by the character of Paul (Undine's son with Ralph Marvell). Following the hereditary doctrine of Naturalism, Paul should inherit both parents' characters (flaws). But fortunately, Paul seems to disinherit Undine's, and is more like his father. His politeness, reserved manner, and fondness of books are all of Ralph's. Her mother might have left him the evasive and uprooted feelings in him, as a result of her ever changing world. I wished Wharton wrote another book about Paul Marvell - what becomes of him when he's grown up - it would certainly be an interesting book.

Rating: 5 of 5

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Orang-Orang Bloomington (People from Bloomington) by Budi Darma


πŸ”·️ Budi Darma is one of Indonesia's prominent modern writers. He graduated with an MA from Indiana University Bloomington in 1976. His experience and observation during his college days are the inspiration of this collection of seven short stories, titled Orang-Orang Bloomington, or People from Bloomington in English. Now Penguin Classics is translating this book in English, and it is due to publication in April.

πŸ”·️ Orang-Orang Bloomington is a realist book, tinged with absurdism in several of the stories. Though all of the stories are told from an anonymous narrator's point of view, it is clear that each has its own narrator (or at least there are more than one narrator). Nevertheless, they seem to have some similarities in personal character; they are all inquisitive and lonely. Indeed, loneliness seems to be the single theme that connect all the stories.



πŸ”·️ First story: The Anonymous Old Man (Pak Tua Tanpa Nama) sets this tone for all the rest. Residents in the houses and apartments are mostly individualists who lack touch of human compassion; they mind (too much) their own businesses, full of cold suspicion and prejudice, and some, even, have violent temperament.

πŸ”·️ The narrators aren't perfect either. The one in Joshua Karabish, for example, shamefully claimed his dead friend's poems as his. Another in Keluarga M (M Family) cowardly attacked a small boy in burst of rage after his car was scratched at the parking lot. But the worst is probably the narrator in Orez - it's way too cruel for me, though the one in Ny Eberhart (Mrs. Elberhart) is no less heartless either - bullying an old woman?! Though in the end they realized their mistakes and perhaps felt sorry, it's only a silent proof that the society of Bloomington (which represent our own modern society) aren't okay - there's a latent hatred and evil hidden beneath our struggles in life.

πŸ”·️ My favorite of all is the first story. The last two or three stories are too absurd for my taste, and the last one - I felt it inconclusive. I really admire the crude beauty and poignancy in Budi Darma's writing (he reminds me of John Steinbeck - but Steinbeck's is way more eloquent), but not his absurdism side.

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens

πŸ’° If I have to categorize Dickens' novels into favorites and non favorites, then Martin Chuzzlewit would definitely go to the non favorite (along with Hard Times and Dombey and Son). Not only that Its humour is dry - exaggerated sarcasm rather than comical - its plot is also weak and felt weird. There're abundant characters but lack of development, and the story is dragging on in the first two third; only started building pace in the last third. I honestly thought of DNF-ing it, but decided in the end to plough on - which is quite paid off, for at least I can check it off from my Dickens-unread list. Only one Dickens novel left now to read!

πŸ’° Tired of his greedy and selfish family, wealthy old Martin Chuzzlewit lived a secluded life with only a companion - a pretty young girl called Mary Graham - to whom he said quite frankly that he will pay her wages generously, but she will not be left anything in his will. By this arrangement the old man hoped that she will serve him best without wishing him dead (in the hope of inheriting something).

πŸ’° His grandson, young Martin Chuzzlewit fell in love with Mary (the feeling is reciprocated), but when he uttered this to his grandfather, the old man was enraged, and grandfather and grandson separated ways in anger.

πŸ’° Then young Martin was apprenticed to a gentleman by the name of Seth Pecksniff. He calls himself a surveyor and architect, but all he ever produces are the works of his pupils which he claimed as his own. Yes, Pecksniff is what you call a sanctimonious person - a hypocritical swindler in a gentleman disguise. He accepted Martin because of his rich grandpa, but then banished him when the fact of their separation was known to him.

πŸ’° Humiliated and poor, young Martin left for America with the jolliest young man on earth as his servant-slash-companion: Mark Tapley. Here is a chance for Dickens to reflect upon his own visit to America. And boy, didn't he smash those Americans with ugly picture of mean, selfish, greedy, hypocrite and opportunist people! Martin Chuzzlewit might be considered as Dickens' personal favorite, but I doubt if it would be an enjoyable read for American people. Is that one of the reasons why this book becomes one of Dickens' least favorite? Hmm...

πŸ’° Anyway, the America period in young Martin Chuzzlewit's adventure changed him considerably when he touched English land months later. And meanwhile, we were introduced to another villain-even more evil than Mr. Pecksniff: the coward heartless scoundrel: Jonas Chuzzlewit, nephew of old Martin Chuzzlewit. The cruellest villain in Dickens' novel so far.

πŸ’° Martin Chuzzlewit is a story about greediness, excessice pride, and selfishness. It is also the first appearance of a detective in Dickens' novel. It could have been a promising story, but like I said before, the first two third is rather flat, and only the last third is really enjoyable. It has some memorable secondary characters: Tom Pinch - the naive and tenderhearted pupil of Pecksniff who failed to see his hypocrisy; Ruth Pinch - Tom's little energetic sister; and John Westlock - another alumni of Pecksniff academy, and a kind-hearted young man. Unfortunately Dickens included too many characters in this story that he hadn't had enough space to develop them further.

In the end, while the story is conclusive enough to be satisfying, it's far from making it memorable. I have even forgotten some of the plots while writing it!

Final rating: 3 of 5