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)

📚 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?


📊 Total books read: 7
📊 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!

📚 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

🔶️ I always believe that Edith Wharton is the female Émile 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.

🔶️ 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.

🔶️ 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.

🔶️ 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.

🔶️ 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.

🔶️ 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.

🔶️ 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.

🔶️ 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.

🔶️ 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

🔷️ 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.

🔷️ 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.

🔷️ 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.

🔷️ 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.

🔷️ 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

💰 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!

💰 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).

💰 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.

💰 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.

💰 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...

💰 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.

💰 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

Saturday, March 5, 2022

1st Story from "Orang-Orang Bloomington" by Budi Darma

I was so impressed by the 1st story from Budi Darma's Orang-Orang Bloomington (People from Bloomington - the English translation will be available in April - published by Penguin Classics) that I need to post exclusively about it.

The seven stories in this short story collection are told from the narrator's point of view. We know not his name; he's just mentioned as 'young man', an Indonesian student lives in Bloomington in the 1970s.

In this first story, titled "Laki-Laki Tua Tanpa Nama" (The Anonymous Old Man), the narrator rented an upstair room from an old widow Mrs. McMillan, in a lonesome street called Fess, with only two other houses along the street, owned by two other widows. These women prefer to live seclusively; always minding their own businesses. That's their way of living peacefully.

A strange old man, veteran of World War 2, rented the upstair room nextdoor (Mrs. Nolan's). He's always carrying and pointing a gun, and, sometimes, threatening to shoot people. On the other hand, his landlady, Mrs. Nolan, owns also a gun, with which she often shoots birds or other small animals that annoys her.

The narrator, whose habit seems to be curiously watching his neighbors, is a little concerned with the old veteran's alarming behaviours. However, his neighbors take it all easy. One day, the mounting tension finally broke, and something bad happened.

🔫 The center theme of this story is, first, that appearance can be deceiving. When the incident occurred, who was an easy blame? An nervous old war veteran and a total stranger, or a respectable widow whom everyone knows? Then there's the second theme - the psychological background. Whoever pulled the trigger, he/she could have had a dark secret no one knows. It's easy to judge a person as mean, but we never know that person deep down, beyond his/her appearance and our own perception of him/her - which is often very far from the truth.

🔫 Privacy or indifference?

Being born and live in Asia, one of my biggest pet peeves is curious people who like to know private things about you (shamelessly asking your age or marital status, while you never know them before, jeez!). Maybe that's why I chose to live in an apartment. At least I can get various neighbors all the time without really knowing intimately each other, and just having enough courtesy to share polite nods when we pass each other at the lobby or in the lift.

So I can relate to and quite agree with the three widows' policy to not interfering with other people's business. But I think there's a certain limit between privacy and indifference. We can still maintain privacy while at the same time being warm and friendly to others. We just need to set a certain barrier between things we can afford to share with others and things that we want to keep to ourselves (or family). Living alone is often the best choice - especially for introverted people like me - but that doesn't mean we should stop being a kind and loving human being that God has intended us to be.

Will the remain six stories be as intriguing as this? Let's hope so. So far, I'm quite enjoying it. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Zoladdiction 2022: Announcement | #Zoladdiction2022


Zoladdiction will be back next month! This would be the 9th Zoladdiction I've hosted in this blog. For you who are not familiar with it, Zoladdiction is a reading event on April, to celebrate the birthday of Émile Zola. It is mainly because we love Zola's writings, and also to get more and more people to appreciate his works. For the whole month we will read, post, and talk about Zola - his life, his works, and his influence.

What's in Zoladdiction 2022?

  • I encourage you to go beyond reading.
  • Yes, we will still read Zola, but during April we can also share/post/tweet/talk about just any thing that is related to Zola. A book you're reading reminds you of Zola? Share it! Found Zola's quote/picture on Pinterest? Share it! Watched movie about Zola? Share it! Anything.
  • If you chose to read quietly, it's OK. You can pick one of Zola's works, or Zola's biography, or any books about Zola by other writers.
  • Don’t have time to read one book? Fine, a short story or essay is equally good.
  • To participate, simply leave comment, or mention me on Twitter, using hashtag #Zoladdiction2022, and tell me your plan for Zoladdiction (it might inspire others).
  • If you blog about your participation, leave the link in comment box.

So, are you in? What's your plan?

Mine is to re-read L’Assommoir and The Attack on the Mill (Zola’s short story collection).