Thursday, October 22, 2020

2020 Reading Challenges Wrap Up (Part I)

It's a rare moment when I have competed some of my reading challenges this early! Usually it finishes near December. It might have been because I'm less competitive this year, or maybe that this Covid-19 pandemic changes my priorities. Either way, I'm proud of myself that I have read AND blogged every book I have intended to read this year, and I still have more time to read whatever I want (mostly Christmas books! (^__^)

Right now I still have 2 books to read and blogged until December, so for now I will wrap up only the first three challenges that I have completed so far. The rest will follow around December.

2020 Victorian Reading Challenge

Host: Becky @ Becky's Book Reviews
Duration: January 2020 - December 2020
Goal: Quarterly Victorian Challenge - min. 4 books

Books read:

1. Agnes Grey (Anne Bronte)
2. The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)
3. Hard Times (Charles Dickens)
4. Silas Marner (George Eliot)

Back to the Classics Challenge 2020

Hosted by: Karen @ Books and Chocolate
Duration: January 2020 - December 2020
Goal: Nine categories
Twitter: @Fanda

Books read:

1. 19th Century ClassicHard Times (Charles Dickens)
2. 20th Century ClassicThis Side of Paradise (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
3. Classic by a Woman AuthorThe Song of the Lark (Willa Cather)
4. Classic in TranslationThe Fortune of the Rougons (Emile Zola)
5. A Genre ClassicThe Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)
6. Classic with Name in the TitleAgnes Grey (Anne Bronte)
7. Classic with a Place in the TitleThe Vicar of Wakefield (Oliver Goldsmith)
8.Classic About a FamilyOne Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
9. Classic AdaptationThe The Pearl (John Steinbeck)


The 2020 European Reading Challenge

Hosted by: Gilion @ Rose City Reader
Duration: January 2020 - January 2021
Goal: Four Star (Business Traveler) - 3 books

Books read:

1. Agnes Grey (Anne Bronte) - United Kingdom
2. Dubliners (James Joyce) - Ireland
3.  The Fortune of the Rougons (Emile Zola) – France


Sunday, October 18, 2020

6 Degree of Separation: from The Turn of the Screw to All the Pretty Horses

I've been meaning to post more of 6 Degree of Separation - a monthly meme hosted by Kathy - and only waiting for a book which I have actually read, and is interesting enough. The time has finally come, here it is...

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

In this gothic story, a young woman (a governess) is placed in a country house, where she experiences mysterious and supernatural things which threatens to shatter her sanity. A similar condition is experienced by another young woman in...

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Ratcliffe

Emily St. Aubert, a young heroine of this (another) gothic tale, also experiences mysterious apparitions, and even more than that, while staying in the Castle of Udolpho. These misfortunes befall her after the death of her father that made her an orphan. There is another (more) misfortunate young lady, who is left alone in the world after the death of her father. She is the heroine of...

The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper

Judith Hutter might be stronger and braver than Emily St. Aubert, but she lacks Emily's pure innocence. She is cocquetish and regarded as too liberal at that era (18th century). Notwithstanding her diligent efforts to redeem herself from her follies, the society stamped her fate as fallen woman. This particular aspect of The Deerslayer is too much in common with the main theme of...

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Lily Bart must have, perhaps, worked harder than any woman of her time to get a husband. Why? Because, after her family's ruin, she belongs to the working class. She hates poverty, so she desperately (though not too diligently) worked to belong to the higher class - the same case as in....

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Poor Jay Gatsby... For a man to love a girl from a class higher than himself, is almost an impossibility. You're not alone, old sport, in this struggle. Another hero shares your agony in this book:

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Grady Cole is a ranch worker who has the audacity to fall in love with the rancher's daughter. His fate is very similar to that of Jay Gatsby. This is the sixth book, and at this point I have to stop the chain.

Interestingly, Kathy has set a freebie theme for November, picking the last book on October chain to start next month's. See you then!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Author Birthday [October] : P.G. Wodehouse

#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 October, please welcome:

P.G. Wodehouse

Sir Pelham Greenville Wodehouse, who was born in 15 October 1881, might be by far my most difficult featured #AuthorBirthday. He lived such a fast-paced life as an English novelist, humorist, playwright, and lyricist, that it's impossible to write a proper mini-biography for him. But, I'd try my best to, at least, highlight his most accomplishments.

Wodehouse is a son of a magistrate who was posted in Hong Kong (as the British colony). He was born prematurely when his mother was visiting her sister in England - the rural village of Guildford in Surrey. He was baptized instantly, and named after his godafther: Pelham con Donop. It's from the name Pelham, that Wodehouse's been nicknamed 'Plum'.

Wodehouse spent most of his childhood in various houses with various adults. In the first two years he was raised by a nurse in Hong Kong. Then he was brought to England and raised by an English nanny, while his parents returned to Hong Kong, remained estranged to Wodehouse as he grew up. His biographer, Robert McCrum, said that this circumstance left psychological mark in Wodehouse, that he avoided emotional engagement both in life and works. Maybe that's why he wrote so many humorous stories?...

His father planned a naval career for Wodehouse, but his poor eyesight failed him. Nevertheless, his unhappy days in the naval prep school inspired him later to be parodied in Bertie Wooster's 'penitentiary prep school'. During holidays he spent hurly burly times with his numerous uncles and aunts, which also played important part on his early life and influenced his later characters. It was after he was placed at the Dulwich College in 1894 that Wodehouse felt at home for the first time, happily spent his time for 6 years. It also marked his first literary career, by editing the school magazine.

As his father's financial was declining, Wodehouse was forced to worked as junior officer at a bank from 1900 to 1902. As you can imagine, he didn't enjoy his work, but compensate it with writing serious articles about school sports for Public School Magazine at afterword hours. In November 1901 his first comic work: "Men Who Missed Their Own Wedding" got published in a magazine. In the next two years Wodehouse wrote not less than eighty pieces on nine magazines. Wodehouse finally resigned from the bank in 1902 to write full-time. At the same year his first novel was published: a school story titled: The Pothunters".

However, novel was not his only work, Wodehouse began to write musical comedy for the stage in 1904, the same year he visited America for the first time - he returned often to the US after that. But he would be widely recognized through his comic stories. It's in the year 1908 that his first original comic character was born: Psmith. But it is the duet of young bachelor Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves that made him most famous. The first story was published in September 1915, titled: "Extricating Young Gussie" in the Strand Magazine, where he has been contributing regularly from 1910.

When WW1 broke, Wodehouse was staying in New York. He later married an English widow, Ethel May Wayman, in September 1914. Sadly, the couple was not blessed by any children; however, Wodehouse eventually legally adopted Ethel's daughter from her first marriage: Leonora. His next adventure was scriptwriting. His first work was for a movie in 1915: "A Gentleman of Leisure". He even joined MGM (Metro Goldwyn Mayer) - though only for one year - in 1930. Wodehouse then tried his fortune in theater by collaborating on a musical comedy on Broadway in 1920.

In 1934 the Wodehouses decided to move to France due to tax reasons (since he has been living in US and UK). Most unfortunate for him, during World War II, the Germans captured Wodehouse and imprisoned him for about one year. In 1941 he was interviewed by a radio, which was broadcasted to the USA, where he humorously described his imprisonment and ridiculing the Germans. This angered the Britains since he'd done it in Germany, which was their enemy during that time.

Wodehouse finally moved permanently to America in 1947, and received American citizenship in 1955. The British government, however, announced that Wodehouse is saved to return to England in 1965, and in 1974 Wodehouse was granted a knighthood. The year next, he was brought to the Southampton Hospital on Long Island for a skin complaint. While still staying at the hospital, Wodehouse suffered a heart attach, which took his life in 14 February 1975.

Nowadays P.G. Wodehouse is widely regarded as the greatest comic author of the 20th century with a quite outstanding achievement: he has writen more than 90 books, more than 20 film scripts, and collaborated on more than 30 plays and musical comedies in his life - mostly takes the social atmosphere of late Edwardian era.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper

The Deerslayer is the first book of Cooper's Leatherstocking Tale series, although it was the last he had written. The Leatherstocking chronicles an American frontiersman called Nathaniel "Natty" Bumppo in the 18th century. Leatherstocking, if you weren't familiar with the word, means a man who develops survival skill in order to live in the wild, away from civilization. My first acquaintance with Natty is from The Last of the Mohicans, which I loved. Now I intend to read through all the "tale in five acts" as Cooper had called his masterpiece.

Natty "Deerslayer" Bumppo is on his journey to a rendezvous with a Delaware young chief: Chingachgook, who has become like a brother to him. The rendezvous spot is within the Ostego Lake, and the mission is to save Chingachgook's betrothed Wah-ta-Wah (Hist), who was kidnapped by the Hurons tribe. On the way to the Ostego Lake, Natty bumped into Henry "Hurry Harry" March, another frontiersman - a tall, handsome, ruthless young man. Harry himself is on the way to visit his longtime friend, Thomas "Floating Tom" Hutter, an ex pirate who has built a log "castle" in the center of the lake to house his two daughters: the "feeble minded" Hetty Hutter and Judith Hutter. The latter is actually Harry's main object, as he's keen to marry this girl with exceptional beauty.

Thus Natty and Harry journeyed together. Along which we soon learned that Natty is of a truthful and dignified Christian nature, while Harry is rough, arrogant, and selfish human being, who believes that the "Injins" are just one level higher than animals, whose scalps he'd be happy to take for money. Natty, on the contrary, is against taking scalps.

On arriving at the Hutters' Ark - a sturdy construction Hutter has built to float on the lake during wars (thus keep the family safe from bullets or tomahawks range) - the Hurons attacked them. Enraged by this incident, Hutter and Harry decided to take a canoe to the Hurons encampment to take scalps, but they were captured instead. Chingachgook soon joined Deerslayer and the girls inside the Ark, and they found way to ransom Hutter and Harry.

This mission accomplished, Deerslayer then kept his promise to help Chingachgook to free Hist. However, in the process, Deerslayer was caught by the Hurons, who're enraged because he has killed two of their best warriors, who have actually wanted to kill him in the first place. At the same time, the Hurons attacked the Castle for the second time when Hutter and Harry were alone, after their recent freedom. Harry was saved by the others in the Ark, but Hutter was scalped (alive!) by one of the Hurons. It was the most horrifying scene throughout the book, though it came as sort of karma for his ruthlessness! He's dead, of course, soon after, but not before telling his daughters that he is not their biological father.

After being orphaned, Judith is thinking about becoming Deerslayer's wife, as it would be impossible for the girls to live alone in the wilderness. Hitherto she is famous of being coquettish, too liberal with young men; she went to the soldiers' place too often to give her bad reputation. But after knowing Deerslayer, she gradually transformed into a different person. The question that remains, after they were saved from the Hurons, is whether Deerslayer would accept Judith's proposal, and what happen to her next.

The Deerslayer is not just about life and adventures in the wilderness. It talks a lot about death and after life; about God and religions, viewed from both the whites and the Indians. From these different views, I concluded that Cooper wanted to convey that, embracing the diversity is what God teaches us. It's impossible to own one's Chistianity while at the same time regards other religions and/races as one's inferiors. That to leave peacefully is to respect others who is different from us - their cultures, their believes, their ways of thinking. How beautiful is a friendship between two human beings, born totally different from each other, but can embrace their differences to create a perfect harmony based on equality, such as Deerslayer's and Chingachgook's.

Other theme which interested me is how society (in the voice of Cooper) treated women. I'm so disappointed on Cooper's decision on Judith Hutter's fate in the end of the novel. Yes, she is cocquetish and much into herself in the beginning of the novel (from Hurry March and Natty's conversation). But after that she reveals more and more qualities of a good woman: intelligence, bravery, independence, humility, and unselfishness. While Copper talked much about morality and Christianity in this book, couldn't he "forgive" Judith from her past follies and give her redemption? Why did Hurry Harry "escaped" from the scene unharmed (while his sins are greater than Judith's)? So, a man can kill others recklessly, and he's only been rebuked, but when a woman gets bad reputation (though it might just be rumors by the men), she is damned with nothing to have saved her. Hawthorne is, at least, more lenient to Hester Prynne in The Scarlett Letter, by giving her a second chance (though far from ideal). I don't know whether this "damnation" is really Cooper's view of women's role in society, or it is in accordance with his criticism of moral corruption of most of the settlers/frontiersmen. Hopefully it is of the latter; what do you think?

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Classic Club Meme 2.0: September

Think about some of your favorite classics.

I picked three from my Personal Canon:
- Germinal
- The House of Mirth
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

How do their stories, characters, or themes still resonate with you today?

Germinal by Émile Zola

The struggle of the poor is always relevant no matter in which century we live in. The capitalism, in particular, is even more relevant today, than in 19th century. The gap between the owner and the lowest worker is bigger - the owner becomes richer, but the worker is still living from hand to mouth, often in worst and inhumane condition.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

To commit murder is a choice, which makes this book always relevant, as long as we live. The choice, I mean, not the murder committing. Most of us will never come to that stage perhaps, but all the same, we could harm others with thousands of ways other than murder.

What can a modern day reader learn from these books written in very different times? This could be a positive or negative message, given constantly changing social modes. If a classic book no longer meets the social standards of our day, how do we best engage with its story or its themes in our modern world?

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Unlike back then in 19th century, nowadays marriage isn't the only way to choose a fulfilled life for women. Nonetheless, we learn from this book the machinations of society's (bad) influence against individuals, and how we should find courage to fight them, to protect the innocence.