Friday, December 22, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges Wrap-Up

Finally! I have completed all my challenges this year right on time! I still have Dickens at Christmas to read for Dickens in December 2017, but it does not count as challenge. I will just enjoy my Christmas holiday with Mr. Dickens. What makes me proud of myself is that I successfully wrote reviews for ALL books for these challenges—even if it’s only mini reviews—which I failed last year. Here is the complete list, and I thank all the hosts for encouraging me to read many inspiring books this year!

Books read: 4/4

Books read: 6/6

A new-to-you book by a FAVORITE author: The Earth by Émile Zola
A book published between 1871-1880: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A book by Charles Dickens: Bleak House
A book by Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White
A book translated into English: The Conquest of Plassans by Émile Zola
Book with a name as the title: Claude’s Confession by Émile Zola

Books read: 9/9

A classic by a woman author: Death Comes for the Archbishop by WillaCather
A classic in translation: Max Havelaar by Multatuli
A classic published before 1800: The Iliad by Homer
A Gothic or horror classic: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Book read: 12/12

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Jarndyce and Jarndyce was a legal case with a long history in the Chancery court. It's about a conflicting wills which affected many people of several generations and ruined many of its suitors’ lives because of the corrupted law system. Of the many victims are John Jarndyce, the owner of Bleak House, the two orphaned cousins Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, and Lady Honoria Dedlock. Together with another orphan girl which became John Jarndyce's ward: Esther Summerson, they become the leading characters of this book.

Dickens wove the story using voices of two narrators with different character: Esther Summerson's—calm and reserved, and the omniscient—rather cold and severe. This makes Bleak House less dull, but still I missed Dickens' warm and affectionate voice he used in several books I have read so far.

Unlike his other books, Bleak House was built by several plots or subplots which are often unrelated to each other, but for the (abundant) characters. The Jellybys and the Turveydrops, for example, are not really related to the others, except Caddy Jellyby who are so fond of Esther Summerson. Is it only Dickens's way to highlight Esther's amiable and unselfish character? But what about the Dedlocks? Lady Dedlock is another prominent character here, but although she was also suitor in the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, her part is not related to the law suit; which made me thinking what purpose does she really bring to us, reader?

Speaking of Lady Dedlock, she has become my favorite character of this book. From the moment she went to the burial ground, disguised, guided by poor Jo, I have said to myself: here is a brave, strong, smart woman with a steely determination underneath her elegant bearing. Compared to Esther Summerson or John Jarndyce, Lady Dedlock seems more humane, and thus more prominent. For a distinguished lady who had a dark past, how she could bear it bravely alone… that’s the real heroine to me. Esther and, especially, John Jarndyce are almost like fairytale’s character. Can one be THAT unselfish and always perfectly kind like Jarndyce? I would have loved him to be selfish, at least when his love was concerned, but for his lover’s happiness, he’d reluctantly give way to the man she really loves. That would be much acceptable. But, it’s Dickens anyway, and despite all that, Bleak House was loveable and memorable.

Oh, I forgot to mention Harold Skimpole, who, to me, was the WORST antagonist of all time! How can that kind of person ever exists in the world, I can’t imagine. Well, enough for the rants... I would have given Bleak House five stars just for Lady Dedlock’s sub-plot. The search by Inspector Bucket and Esther is so thrilling. And I could see whence Hercule Poirot’s investigating style was inspired—his casual talking to extract facts innocently, his systematic pattern of search (and his cool way to do it), and the way he confront the accused by shaking his/her emotion in front of others. Now, that part deserves five stars, but Esther’s narrative and the Jarndyce and Jarndyce are rather dull and unreal. 4,5 of 5 is my best compromise.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dickens in December 2017: Link-up Post

Hello Dickensian… we are almost midway through #DickensInDecember2017! This is where you can link-up your posts or reviews. The linky will be open until January 12th, in case you could not post your reviews in time because of the Christmas buzz or even New Year’s hangover.

Now, tell me how have you been with your Dickens? Are you in the middle of it? What book are you reading? Have you watched or do you plan to watch any Dickensian movie/series? Right now I am about 60% through Bleak House, and really enjoying it. Hopefully I can finish it this weekend, so that I can welcome the festive season by reading Dickens at Christmas. I also plan to watch Dickensian series during holiday. What about you?

Monday, December 11, 2017

My 2018 Reading Challenges

The most exciting month has come! December is always full of fun; from Christmas, holiday, and arranging for next year’s reading challenge! Besides Goodreads challenge (I will challenge myself to read 28 books—two books more than this year) and The Classics Club Challenge (I am doing my second round—2018 is the second year), I will be participating in three cool challenges:

Host: Books and Chocolate
Duration: January – December 2018
Goal: Read 12 books

A 19th century classicDombey and Son by Charles Dickens
A 20th century classicEast of Eden by John Steinbeck
A classic by a woman authorThe Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte
A classic in translationThe Sin of Abbe Mouret by Émile Zola
A children's classicFive Go to Billycock Hill (Famous Five)  by Enid Blyton
A classic crime story, fiction or non-fictionTowards Zero by Agatha Christie
A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fictionJourney to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
A classic with a single-word titleResurrection by Leo Tolstoy
A classic with a color in the titleThe Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
A classic by an author that's new to youWalden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
A classic that scares youThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkiens
Re-read a favorite classicThe Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Host: Roof Beam Reader
Duration: January – December 2018
Goal: Read 12 books (with 2 alternatives)

*The year is publication year of my copy*
1. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier (2002)
2. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene – Indonesian translation (2003)
3. March by Geraldine Brooks – Indonesian translation (2007)
4. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy – Indonesian translation (2005)
5. Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau (2009)
6. Cleopatra: A Life by Tracy Schiff - Indonesian translation (2012)
7. The Siege by Helen Dunmore (2002)
8. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (2014)
9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2001)
10. The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton – Indonesian translation (2013)
11. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens (1995)
12. The Origin: A Biographical Novel of Charles Darwin by Irving Stone (1982)

1. World Without End by Ken Follett (2012)
2. A Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross

Host: Becky's Book Reviews
Duration: January - December 2018
Personal Goal: Read 6 Victorian books

_ Book published between 1841-1850: The Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte
_ Character name in the title: The Sin of Abbe Mouret by Émile Zola
_ Gothic, suspense, mystery: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
_ Translated into English from another language: A Love Story by Émile Zola
_ British author: Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
_ American author: Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Host: The Classics Club
Duration: January – December 2018 (second year of originally five years)
Personal Goal: Read 13 books

1. The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
3. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
4. The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder
5. The Sin of Abbe Mouret by Émile Zola
6. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy
7. The Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte
8. Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
9. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkiens
10. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
11. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
12. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
13. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Now, let’s hope nothing huge and unexpected will happen next year, so that I can read and blog calmly throughout the year!

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

If God does not exist, then everything is permitted—this seemed to be the central point of argument Fyodor Dostoyevsky brought up in The Brothers Karamazov. Originally intended to be a trilogy, he wrote this amazing book to follow the life of a notorious family, the Karamazovs; from the father: Fyodor Pavlovich, to the three (legitimate) sons: Dmitri, Ivan, Alyosha, and (most probably) illegitimate son: Smerdyakov. They are entangled into an intricate love-suspicion-jealousy-hatred relationship throughout the story, which lead to destruction both to (most of) themselves and to people around them.

So, how did Dostoyevsky put the above argument into this nicely-woven story? From the beginning the doubt and rejection of God and immortality scattered throughout the chapters. But the most serious one is in these two famous chapters: “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor”. In “Rebellion” Ivan poured out his disappointment of God for letting injustice and suffering happened to innocent people, apparently, for nothing. While “The Grand Inquisitor” is a poem Ivan wrote to question about free will God had imposed upon man. He believed that free will is impossible burden for mankind, because we will always have to answer to our consciences; that we will never be happy whichever path of life we choose, good or evil. If that was the case, then why wasting your energy by doing good? Is that true? Dostoyevsky let us readers judge the case by following the faith of the Karamazov brothers.

Of the three (plus one—the illegitimate) sons, Alyosha was the only one who chose “good” from the beginning. However, he too had doubt—albeit small—when his beloved Father Zosima’s corpse decomposed shortly after his death, while everyone was almost sure a miracle would happen to the saintly monk. But Alyosha soon got through his doubt. Dmitri, on the other hand, started as a scoundrel and sensualist; have plunge to the lowest, but finally managed to crawl up to the light. In the crucial moment, “something inside” ripped him from the fatal act—that is conscience.

But the most interesting case is Ivan. His “conversation” with the Devils shows how strenuous the battle of his conscience was; how bad his soul has been contaminated by evil power. Ivan was not atheist; he just did not accept God’s “interference” in human life; hence his belief of if God does not exist, then everything is permitted. That way, so he believed, man could do whatever he likes without weighing his conscience, and that would make him happy. This ideology eventually provoked a murder, and Ivan did suffer from his conscience. I’m glad though that in the end his good conscience won the battle at the end.

Moral value of this book is, that man must try first to understand God’s plan for humankind; and this must not be done with mind only, but much more with reflective soul. To logical mind, conscience did make one suffer; either when he tries to be good or, even more, when he does evil. And to be good is arduous, especially when one is born from a bad family like Karamazovs. What then? Dostoyevsky answered this by writing quite lengthy passages of Father Zosima’s speeches in the early chapters—which, I confess, seemed not to be related to the story when I read it, but made sense in the end. These passages contain some aspects that were missing from Ivan’s ideology: humility, and “all responsible for one another”—the later applied not only in evil, but also in love or good deeds. Young Zosima’s turning point moment was marked by his humility to his servant whom he has beaten the night before his planned duel. The same worked for Alyosha. Remember how Alyosha, when he was disappointed at Father Zosima’s humiliation, went to Grushenka’s, and what has made him turning toward “light” again then? Is it not after Grushenka pitied him; that Alyosha was astonished that she had pity on him—he who was nobody? Is it not a remark of humility too? Lastly, the remark of all responsible for one another appeared in Ilusha and the children story. Ilusha’s sorrow was caused by Dmitri is an example of how one evil deed to one person might cause suffer to a lot of people. The same also applies to love and good deeds.

So, Ivan’s ideology might partly be right; that free will could cause suffering. But on the other hand, it is also true that from freewill too love, charity, affection, and in the end happiness, was born.

5/5 stars for this great book; I would like to reread it someday!