Monday, September 23, 2019

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

This was my first Cormac McCarthy. Years ago I have meant to try The Road, but after reading about his poor-punctuation style, I cancelled it. All the Pretty Horses is the first of his Border Trilogy, and since I'm always interested in similar theme, I thought this would be my entrance - and who knows, I might enjoy it!

I was wrong. The theme is great, but it's far from what I've expected. The story is dark, and at times it's even quite bloody, despite of "all the pretty horses".

John Grady Cole is a 17 y.o. boy grew up in a ranch. The ranch has become his life, so when his mother decided to sell it after all the family died, Grady decided to leave the ranch altogether. Together with his friend, Lacey Rawlins, he travelled to Mexico to become a cowboy - a romantic dream of boys their age.

Before crossing Mexican border, they met a skinny and shaggy young boy called Jimmy Blevins, who insisted that he was 16 y.o., and that the (too fine) horse he is riding is really his. Out of compassion, the two boys (Grady in particular; Rawlins distrusted Blevins from the first) let the skinny boy rode with them along the way. Blevins' horse run away one night after a terrible thunderstorm, bringing with it Blevins' vintage pistol (again, they doubted it really belongs to the boy). Blevins convinced Grady and Rawlins to steal the horse back after they found it in a nearby village. It turned into a chaos; Blevins was caught, and the boys ran away.

Eventually they found a big ranch, and were hired as workers. Impressed with Grady's great skill with horses, the owner brought him to stay near the big house. Grady fell in love with the boss' daughter Alejandra. At around this time a group of rangers came to the ranch, caught Grady and Rawlins, and put them into jail, where they had hard times, and almost got killed.

Enough with the summary, now let me bring out my scale to weigh the whole story:

Positive things:
* the cowboy things, both during the journey, but especially at the ranch (the horse trainings are fabulous!)
* bildungsroman - it's marvelous to witness how their journey matured Grady and Rawlins. When you are close with the nature, you'll think a lot about life, God, and all spiritual and philosophical stuffs.

Negative things:
* lack of punctuation - how annoying it is to follow a long dialog without proper punctuation; you'll get lost of who's talking right now, and it lacks the emotion too.
* polysyndetic syntax - okay, I confess I have had no idea that Hemingway's style has a name! Yep, it feels like reading Hemingway, you know... with a lot of "and" serves as the only conjunction on a passage. I guess it's half the reason I'd stopped reading Hemingway! So polysyndetic is something about "conveying a flow and continuity of experience in a passage" using certain conjunctions.

So, what's the final verdict? I guess 3 / 5 is the max. Another writer to be deleted from my list.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Classics Club Spin #21, and a Tough Decision!

The next Classics Club Spin has come at the perfect time when I really needed it! The second semester of the year has been very hectic for me - and it will be until the end of the year; it might even stretch to early next year. I am very exhausted right now - more emotionally than physically, and my reading mood has kept altering between calm-and-soothing ones and light-fast ones. It means I always need to have two books to read simultaneously; and I can shift between books two or three times in a day. Really crazy, I know! And that's why, I was very excited to have the 21st Classics Club Spin!

Here's my list:

5 Random Classics

01. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
02. The Glass Menagerie - Tennessee Williams
03. The Crucible - Arthur Miller
04. The Deerslayer - James Fennimore Cooper
05. Tarzan of the Apes - Edgar Rice Burroughs

5 Victorian Classics

06. Agnes Grey - Anne Bronte
07. Hard Times - Charles Dickens
08. Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy
09. Silas Marner - George Eliot
10. The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane

5 Gothic Classics

11. The Man Who Was Thursday - G.K. Chesterton
12. The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
13. We Have Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
14. The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe
15. Othello - William Shakespeare

5 Modern Classics

16. Under the Net - Iris Murdoch
17. The Pearl - John Steinbeck
18. The Beautiful and Damned - F. Scott Fitzgerald
19. This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald
20. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

Which one I look forward the most? I don't know - I say, I'm quite excited to read any number the spin would get me. Maybe, I'd rather having something gothic to read for #RIPXIV. But, I will read from no. 11-15 anyway, so.... anything is welcomed.

Now it comes to the hard decision I have mentioned in the title.

I have made the toughest decision in my reading life, to sign out from Moby Dick Readalong. The thing is, I don't have the right mood for deep reading right now - what with my hectic life, and also with menopausal-depressions I have to cope with. It's not a regular thing - thank God! - but still, it comes now and then.

Actually I have been doing quite well with the readalong so far - I have even managed to post weekly updates, and was generally having fun with the other participants. But entering chapter 26 or 27, I began to lose interest - I don't know why; I believe it has nothing to do with the book - it's just me. And I was thinking that we are approaching the end of year, which is usually the busiest days at work. Then I realized that I wouldn't have the energy to cope with it. I have choices, of course, I can just have a light reading through it. But I have done that years ago (this was my second read). If it doesn't give me joy anymore, why should I continue? 

I feel sorry to Brona - I have been waiting for this for a long time, and even half encouraged her to do it, perhaps, but now I must put it down. I am disappointed too, but... yeah, I have no choice. Another thing, I have mentioned earlier that I'm planning to have an ambitious project of reading Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle in 4-5 years, starting next year. Right now I'm very excited! I have prepared the materials, and can hardly wait till January. I might begin earlier with my Cambridge Companion to Zola, just to get the outline of what I must focus on next year!

Meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy my readings as much as I can - no ambitious task for the moment. Good luck with your readalongs, events, or spins! :)

Monday, September 2, 2019

Moby Dick Ch. 20-22: Aboard at Last!

Ch. 20: All Astir

= Aunt Charity, Bildad's sister, is the very opposite of her beloved brother. She is the embodiment of pure Christianity! - attended to all crews' needs with loving care. You gotta love her!

= I have just realised on this chapter, why Captain Bildad's name was quite familiar. Why, it's one of Job's friends from the Bible (Book of Job)! Bildad is the one who accuses Job of having done something bad to deserve God's wrath. An appropriate name for Bildad the Captain, whose main job description seems to be christening the savages, or his own crews.

Ch. 21: Going Aboard

= The mysterious Elijah: prophetic or lunatic?

= What was it that he'd wanted to warn Ishmael & Queequeg? Captain Ahab, or the dangerous voyage ahead?

= Were the shadows of some sailors, which Ishmael saw but not Queequeg, real or hallucinatory?

= Elijah, as is the Bible's Prophet Elijah, prophesied doom. Is his function in the story merely to portray the dangerous voyage of whaling (in the 19th century's superstitious style), or something else?

= Colonial mentality. I might have gone too far here, from the book's theme, but the comical scene where Queequeg innocently sat on a sleeping sailor on board Pequod has nevertheless prompted me to think about inferior mentality caused by colonialism. [From Wikipedia] "A colonial mentality is the internalized attitude of ethnic or cultural inferiority felt by people as a result of colonization, i.e. them being colonized by another group. It corresponds with the belief that the cultural values of the colonizer are inherently superior to one's own." Remember how Queequeg told Ishmael that "in his land, owing to the absence of settees and sofas of all sorts, the king, chiefs, and great people generally, were in custom of fattening some of the lower orders for ottomans." They'd buy "eight or ten lazy fellows" for that purpose. How, do you think, can these lower orders give themselves to be degraded like this? I think it's because they believe they were inferior to their kings or chiefs. Yes, it's not colonialism in this case, but the idea popped up in my head, because Indonesia have inherited the same mentality from our centuries of colonialism, and it affects us, sadly, even today.

= Another train of thoughts of mine on this subject: Queequeg, whose mind is noble in almost every other subjects, felt nothing is wrong with the degraded practice of his natives. It proves that one cannot fairly judge other's behavior as ethically or morally right or wrong, without first perceiving his or her background. In John Grisham's The Chamber, for example, the main character is a prominent KKK member who bombed a building and killed some innocent Jewish kids. He insisted he was not guilty at first, because it was what his family always taught him from childhood. Later on, after contemplating his action while in jail, he realized that what he's done was wrong. I won't open argument of whether it's possible or not here; my point is that, quoting the valuable advice of Nick Carraway's father (The Great Gatsby): "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." In that light, Queequeg’s queer humor is quite acceptable.

Ch. 22: Merry Christmas

We were introduced to Pequod's chief mate, one of my favorite characters: Starbuck. You know, it never struck me, on my first reading, that his name was similar to that of the worldwide coffee chain: Starbucks! Later on I searched its history, and found that it's actually half-named after Starbuck the chief mate. Pequod has also been suggested, but they finally picked Starbuck, but ending it with an 's'. Interesting, right? The more you dig, the more Moby-Dickish bits you'd find!

I will end this weekend's update with another interesting finding: a superb 34 minutes video of whaling around the world:

The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage 'Round the World by New Bedford Whaling Museum

It also mentions the one whaling voyage which a decade later has inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. In 1820, a whaling boat from Nantucket called Essex was rammed by a huge whale, and sank in Pacific oceans. From 20 crews, 8 survived, after resorted to cannibalism. The story was later told, in 1821, by its first mate, Owen Chases.

I have wanted to write three more chapters for this post, but I have wasted the last valuable 34 minutes I could spare yesterday by watching above video... so... it's all I could squeeze at the moment. Next weekend I'll be travelling, so no update is possible till the week after. See ye again, shipmates!