Thursday, September 24, 2020

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? is the most intriguing title of Agatha Christie's crime detective novels, and incidentally the one I'm sure I haven't read before. Actually, I didn't even realized Christie ever wrote it until about ten years ago. That's why I have expected eagerly to read it for the first time. The result? Not disappointing, and definitely fun!

This is one of Christie's amateur detectives collection. Bobby Jones and Lady Frances "Frankie" Derwent remind me so much of Tommy and Tuppence, but they are more amateurish, more foolish than T&T, which make the story much lighter and more entertaining than thrilling. Bobby Jones is the fourth son of a conservative Vicar - by fourth means least expectation has ever been put on him by his father, who thinks he's lazy and good-for-nothing.

One misty afternoon, Bobby was playing golf - and he sucks at it too! - when the ball flew over the edge of a cliff. While trying to retrieve it, he finds a dying man's body on the rock below. He stayed by the crumpled body while his friend goes for help, and found a photograph of a beautiful woman inside the man's pocket. Then the man suddenly opened his eyes, and utter "Why didn't they ask Evans?" before collapsed and breathed his last breath. Bobby was in dilemma, he didn't want to leave the corpse alone, but he must went home to play organ for his father at the church. Luckily another golfer appeared at the scene, and agreed to replace Bobby.

Bobby was thinking no further of the accident when he met his childhood playmate: Lady Frances Derwent aka Frankie, a rich but bored girl, eager to seek adventure. At the inquest, a Mrs. Cayman witnessed that she is the woman in the photograph, and the deceased is her missing brother: Alex Pritchard. It struck Bobby how the beautiful girl in the photograph could grow old as the coarse Mrs. Cayman. Not long after the inquest, strange things happened. Bobby suddenly got a great job offer from Argentine with huge salary - which he refused. Then he was poisoned when he fell asleep in a solitary picnic - which he miraculously survived. These last events are so suspicious, that Frankie thought Bobby has been targeted for murder. The local newspaper then published the photograph which supposedly found in the dead man's pocket, which Bobby realized is NOT what he'd actually found. They realized the only possibility is that the other golfer who replaced Bobby is the one who had swapped the photographs, a man called Roger Bassington-ffrench from Merroway Court. Thither then, the investigation must be performed first.

Like I said earlier, this story has some similarities with Tommy and Tuppence's. Both couples are amateurs-turn-detectives; they are all restless or even jobless, because post-war job opportunities were scarce; the girls dominate the guys and more brainy; they trust their friends too easily, while detectives must always distrust others; and they both witty and humorous.

Compared to T&T, though, this story feels more believable; what Bobby and Frankie did is what you would imagine you and your friend would do if you want to play detective - you would do some foolish things, you'd misjudged people, a lot! The villain would lure you into the trap oh-so-easily, that even the inexperienced reader would shout: NO! But maybe, that's what Christie wanted to accomplished: an amateurish detective story that is light, fun, and sometimes sweet. Just a nice change from the serious murders or political crimes.

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Positive Things 2020 Has Brought Me So Far

I see almost everyday in twitter how people hate 2020; how they wish it to be over, or even cancelled. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I felt the same thing. It had promised great many things, but it was all smashed down by the virus. Everything was restricted, every plan was cancelled. I was terrified and tired all the time. But after about three or four months, I began to get used to it. New habits formed, and life began to make sense again - for me, at least.

And now, six month after the first Covod-16 case was confirmed in Indonesia (and you know how bad our government handle it), I begin to notice things I haven't realized before. It is my belief that there's always positive thing(s) that emerge from every ordeal. The current Covid-19 pandemic is no exception.

Hygiene and healthy habits

Before Covid-19 (when did you realize that your world would always be divided between before and after Covid-16?) - well before Covid-19, I said, I thought I'm a quite hygiene person. Apparently not. I have used to change clothes after coming home from work (I take online public transportation), but then just laid down and relaxing on my bed without taking shower first! I realized now how wrong that was.

Another thing, how often do you wash your hands during the day? I used to arrive at office in the morning without washing hands, and just sat down and work. Since I love snacking, I'd touch my cookies or fruits every now and then with my apparently dirty hands! I only washed hands before lunch (crazy, isn't it?). Since Covid-19 I have felt much healthier than ever. My allergy kept coming back, but it didn't turn to more severe illness like I used to have before.

What matters most

For the last six months I stay at home, except for work and grocery shopping. The church was closed, and we were forced to celebrate mass from home, through live streaming. I was devastated at first, but then I realized how online services could effectively eliminate distractions of regular mass, such as: too friendly parishioners who love to talk to you when you actually want to pray alone (we go to mass to pray to God, anyway, not to meet neighbors, right?) Some people even talk to me when I was praying! Then there's the fashionable people (sight distraction), or too loud a choir, or even the market stall outside the church who was roasting satay when the mass is still on, letting us to feel hungry by the smell!

I realized now how many distractions could occur in just one hour of mass, when we should have focused solely to God. No wonder I always felt so exhausted, bodily, after mass, but felt nothing in my soul. And these distractions are now completely eliminated by online mass. Nowadays I can attend the mass peacefully, wholly involved in the prayer and worship, feeling refreshed after each mass, and realize what matters most: my relationship with God.

Reading and blogging

You might have perhaps noticed how productive I have been, blogging-wise, since April. It's because suddenly I found time to do it. Staying at home, no visits to mall, no hangout with friends, no church events (which in the end don't really help my soul) - I thought I would be bored after a few months. But no, I spent hours every weekend for blog posts writing (usually two posts) and reading. And you know what, I've never felt satisfied and happier since long time ago. Hanging out with friends is fun, but at the end of the day, it's more exhausting than fulfilling. Not mentioning the quality time I can spend for... doing nothing!

I know that not everyone enjoys the same condition, many of you are probably struggling with either health or financial issue. The pandemic sucks, but please don't think about annihilating 2020. You'd never know what'd happen next. Being alive right now, and doing your best to keep your loved ones healthy and happy, isn't it nice and gratifying? And don't forget, Chrismast is only three months away (and I miss it very much!) Pandemic or not, you can always celebrate Christmas, if not with friends, artleast celebrate it with your self. Remember, there's always hope and positive things in every ordeal!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Dubliners by James Joyce

James Joyce is one of the authors I've been reluctant to read because I doubt I'd love them. So, before I plunge myself into a monumental read of Ulysses, I thought it better to sample the much lighter work of him: Dubliners.

Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories. The longest one is the last: The Dead, which is also the most beautifully written and I think, the best of all. I have always been insecured about writing thoughts on short stories collection - I tend to forget all the earlier stories, and so, often fail to find the real connection or the general idea. Maybe that's why short stories collection is never my favorite! But at least, I'm going to try with this one; and thanks to google, I've been able to find summary of all the stories to refresh my mind.

My method is finding the most striking themes of each story, and in the end producing some sort of clouds of ideas. These are what I had gathered from the fifteen stories:
- Death
- Religion (or Catholicism) and moral ambiguity
- Feeling of entrapped or trying to escape
- Loneliness
- Confused identity
- Unsatisfaction or envy
- Purposelessness
- Confused past and future

And so, from these themes, I think Dubliners is Joyce's media to capture the cultural changes of the Dubliners in the turn of 20th century - in particular for the youths. There are often these confusion of values, between their religious tradition and attraction of the modern capitalism; the typical problem of the turn of the century's generation, especially in Ireland, which was strong in their Catholicism. 

The stories also reflect the youths' longing to break the rigid tradition and old moral value. The college students' playing truant to seek adventure in "An Encounter" is one example. And then in "Eveline", the heroine is torn between running away with her lover or staying at home taking care of her demanding father. There is also in "A Little Cloud" this working class man who live modestly with his family, suddenly feeling revolted at his mediocrity existence. The most revolting one is "A Mother", where a mother defended her daughter who didn't get paid as promised in a show. While she is rightfully threatening the director, others (actors and management) condemned her. The more obvious example of the moral declining is in "Two Gallants", a story of two young men who lure maids to steal for them, money from their ladies. Although Dubliners was written before WWI, I sensed the same confusion and purposelessness in the Lost Generation - the lost of old values they have been brought up with, and the awkward effort to embrace the modernity.

Apart from the theme, Dubliners is also Joyce's way to express his affection of Dublin. I loved to read about the cultural interests within the stories. I learned, for example, about Barmbrack, Ireland's traditional cake, which closely resembles what we call in Indonesia: Ontbijtkoek, the Dutch spiced cake.

The goloshes is another thing that had interested me. I thought it means just boots, but apparently it functions as shoecover, protecting the shoes from mud or snow. It looks fashionable too!

Last but not least, I was amazed by Dublin's Pigeon House Fort, an Ireland national heritage I've found from "An Encounter". I'm grateful that the two boys have decided to take a one day vacation along the Canal Bridge and Wharf Road, then taking the ferryboat. It's a pity they didn't get to the Pigeon House - which fortunately, I have found this coverage of Pigeon House in YouTube:

All in all, this has not been a simple reading, there's death theme everywhere (which I didn't understand till now what it represents), and I didn't finish one story: "Ivy Day in the Committee Room", which I didn't understand at all. But on top of these difficulties, I have found a poignant beauty in the last story: "The Dead". So, I guess 3,5 / 5 is a fair rating, but maybe... no more Joyce for the time being!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Physical or E-book? My Final Answer

Physical book or ebook? It has been one of the hottest bookish debates for years. Some still love physical books, but some start opting for more practical ebooks. I have been mostly neutral these years, still loving physical books, but also enjoying ebooks. I owned a Kindle e-reader years ago, but nowadays I prefer Google Playbooks, as it's more eficient: only one gadget for all. In short, I was not fanatical when it comes to book shape, just so I can read. But the other day I saw one tweet that asked: "are you a physical copy or ebook person?" And all of a sudden, it has all settled for me!

You see, my reading range has lately been narrowed down to classics. About ten years ago I still maintained not less than three book blogs (what I was thinking back then?!): one for classics, one for hisfics, and the other for popular genres. Years later, I abandoned my popular genre one, and focused more on the classics (this blog), and the hisfic one. But in the last five years I've been more and more attracted to classics - and so now I focus mostly on Fanda Classiclit. This year, for instance, all of my read books are classics.

Even my book shelves are nowadays dominated by classics; the non-classics area has been largely invaded by the classics (sorry, NC guys!). I now see my future self as a classics reader, who at times would pick non classics if they interest me. I think this preference has helped me to settle my personal debate on physical copy vs ebook once for all:


= I feel more connected to a story when reading it from physical book. It's like the sentences become alive - something I rarely feel with ebooks. Do you feel it too?

= I can freely annotate, highlight, underline, or dog-ear physical copy whenever I find something interesting, touching, or important. It's like when you exclaim: hear, hear! to something that really excites or defines you while listening to a speech, like: That's It! Well, you can still tap highlight in your e-reader and bookmark a page, but somehow it feels different. It's like you're reading a speech from newspaper, instead of listening to the live version.

I love to write in my book. My copy of Moby Dick, for instance, is full of penciled annotations (words I don't understand or subjects I'd like to google later on). And I also write summary below each chapter-end, because I'd soon forget what it's about after months later (and Moby Dick is a book you won't read in just a week or two, right?). These things, you can't do with ebooks. I read somewhere that handwriting is very different to typing, it's a multisensory activity that makes you understand and memorize better. Do you think so? However, I don't make annotation as a must. I write down on my book whenever I need to express or emphasize something. It can be just in once in a page, but sometimes all over the pages. :))

= Physical book promotes slow reading, better digesting, and deeper reflecting on a book, much better (for me, at least) compared to ebook. I tend to read fast with ebook. That's why I love reading mysteries or thrillers in ebooks, but for classics... it doesn't work as good as physical book.

= I often hear readers saying how they love the smell of a book... Well, I'm not that kind of reader. I'm also allergic to dust mites and molds, which can often be found in old books. No, I prefer new books really, and I never pay much attention to the fresh ink smell, or whatever, either. However, I love colors and paintings on physical books covers, something I can cherish as my own. I love my books, the substance as well as the contents. I don't feel the same with ebooks. And that's why I keep forgeting books that I keep in my Playbooks library - I feel that they don't really belong to me. Does that make sense?

= It's not fair to not mentioning positive points of ebook. Well, I like ebooks for the cheaper prices (even free for classics), space saving, and adjustable font sizes. Google Playbooks, on particular, giving samples for each ebooks. It's very helpful when I can't make my mind whether to like a book or not. I can always download the sample and browse a chapter or two. It's especially useful to get cheaper price for shorter or less famous books.

So that's it, it's settled now, I will focus more on paperbacks! What about you? Do you prefer reading classics from physical or ebook? Or both?

Friday, September 4, 2020

Author Birthday [September] : Richard Wright

#AuthorBirthday is a monthly feature, in which I highlight one author each month, mostly the ones I have not yet read. Part of the aim is to get familiar with the author and (hopefully) encourage me to start reading his/her work.

For September, please welcome:


Richard Nathaniel Wright is an American writer. His most notable novel is Native Son, but besides novels, he also wrote short stories, poems, and non-fictions, mostly on racial injustice theme.

Born at Rucker's Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi in 4 September 1908, Wright is the son of Nathan Wright, a sharecroppers, and Ella Wilson, a school teacher. Both parents were born free after Civil War, though Wright's grandparents had both been born into slavery, and had only been freed after the war.

Nathan Wright left the family when Richard was six years old, so his mother moved Richard and his younger brother to their grandparents' house. Richard accidentally put the house on fire, for which his mother beat him until he's unconscious. His childhood was quite hurly burly with a lot of moving, and never enough time to get a proper education. The Wrights moved in next to Richard's Uncle Silas' house in the Mississippi Delta. However, not long after, they were forced to move out again after Uncle Silas "dissapeared", reportedly being killed by a white man who envied his successful salon business. :(

Richard then lived briefly with his other uncle after his mother got stroke, but the family eventually returned to Natchez, to the grandparents' house, who were, by the way, still mad at Richard for burning their house, and often beat him. On the positive side, however, here Richard had chance at last to attend proper schooling after twelve years. He excelled at school, though lived quite miserably under control of his pious aunt and grandma who forced him to pray to God. This treatment made him grew with hatred against Christianity in his entire life.

Richard's literary career began when he wrote his first short story at fifteen years old and got it published in the local Black newspaper. As the class valedictorian of his high school, Richard was assigned a paper to be delivered in the graduation in 1925. However, the principal later asked him instead to read a prepared speech, as "to avoid offending the white school district officials". Richard insisted to read his own paper, which he did, despite the school's threat to deny his graduation. Bravo, Richard!

Richard must ended his education, however, to support his mother and brother. And so, his childhood in Mississippi has wrought a bitter impressions of American racial, which later on influenced his writing. The family then moved to Chicago in the Great Migration. He worked as postal clerk, but then fired during the Great Depression in 1931. Richard completed his first novel: Cesspool in 1935, after joining the Communist Party in 1933. But the novel wasn't published until 1963, posthumously, and retitled: Lawd Today. He also wrote critical essays and poetry, and became editor for Communis Party magazine.

In 1938, in the same year that Richard developed a friendship with writer Ralph Ellison, Harper publishing company publised his first short stories collection: Uncle Tom's Children, which finally brought him his first national attention. Ralph Ellison became his best man when Richard married a Russian-Jewish modern dance teacher named Dhimah Rose Meidman. Unfortunately, the marriage only lasted one year. He married the second time with Ellen Poplar, a Communist organizer in Brooklyn - a marriage which was blessed with two daughters: Julia and Rachel.

With growing status and financial condition after Uncle Tom's Children, the Wrights moved to Harlem, where Richard wrote Native Son (published in 1940). It was a huge success, and was actually selected by Book of the Month Club, making it the first book by African-American author ever been selected. Native Son was also staged in Broadway in March 1941 with favorable reviews, as the result of Richard's collaboration with a playwright named Paul Green. Richard's memoir: Black Boy was published in 1945, a year before he moved to Paris, which instantly became a best-seller. In Paris he befriended Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, under whose influences, Richard became an existentialist, which inspired his second novel: The Outsider.

In 1955 Richard attended the Asian-African Conference (Bandung Conference) held in Bandung, Indonesia, as reporter. His observations on the conference and Indonesian cultural condition was published under title: The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference. During this visit, he was also invited by Mocthar Lubis, an Indonesian prominent writer, to give two lectures to a Indonesian cultural group: Pen Club Indonesia. Richard later depicted all this in his travelogue.

Near the end of his life, Richard has become an important figure in literary and politics with worldwide reputation. But he still had energy left to publish a collection of lectures: White Man, Listen! in 1957 and The Long Dream, a novel (1958). He died from heart attack in Paris on 28 November 1960, but Julia, his daughter, claimed it was murder. He died without ever finishing his last novel: A Father's Law, which was published posthumously later on by Julia in January 2008. Richard was buried in La Père Lachaise Cemetery. Today his novel Native Son is generally agreed as "a force in the social and intellectual history of the United States in the last half of 20th century".

Have you read anything by Richard Wright? Native Son  perhaps? What do you think of his writing?