Sunday, September 29, 2013

Happy Birthday Cervantes!

Today, Miguel Cervantes, the creator of the idealistic, chivalrous knight Don Quixote, celebrates his 466th birthday.

Actually, I have never read Don Quixote, but I played Sancho Panza's mule in the musical based off of it (Man of La Mancha), and danced in excerpts from the ballet. Does that count?

Don Quixote is, however, on my TBR list, so I will get to it hopefully this summer.

Don Quixote, along with his trusty squire Sancho, are superficially laughable, but ultimately symbolize true goodness - Quixote has a heart that believes that all humankind is good and honorable, and that the only villains are ogre shape-shifters (aka windmills) and wizards that are made of pure evil.

The Mad Knight teaches us to enjoy the simpler, purer things in life, and never to take things for granted. We would do well to heed his words:

"Call nothing thine own except thy soul. Love not what thou art, but only what thou may become. Do not pursue pleasure, for thou may have the misfortune to overtake it. Look always forward: in last year's net there are no birds this year. Be just to all men. Be courteous to all women." 
 ~Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha

A sketch by Picasso

Thank you to Cervantes for giving us such a character. And Happy Birthday!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin // A Fantastical History Book

I've been putting off writing this review for a while - I actually finished the book about a week ago. I have so many conflicting emotions about A Game of Thrones that I needed some time to sort them out. It's been an interesting ride, reading this book, and at one point I thought that I wasn't going to continue with the rest of the series. As you can see from my "What I'm Reading" widget on the left sidebar, I ultimately decided to read the rest, but ....

The truth is, A Game of Thrones just wasn't as good as I'd expected it to be. For a person like myself, that absolutely adores high fantasy and everything associated with it, this is a strange conclusion. Because when I was in the middle of the book, and realized something just wasn't clicking for me, I just couldn't figure out what the heck it was. I mean, George R. R. Martin is just a fantabulous writer. You couldn't ask for better characters or a more intriguing plot, and his writing style doesn't have too much or too little detail. In fact, I'd say it's all quite the recipe for an Excellent book. (And that's saying a lot. Remember what I said in this review?) But...

Something just wasn't right. I didn't feel drawn to pick up the book after I finished my homework and was looking for something to read. I pondered and pondered what it could be, 'cause really, A Game of Thrones seemed to be entirely "my kind of book."

Finally, I told my mother my dilemma. As I was describing it, I finally realized what it was about A Game of Thrones that was bugging me so much.

The interesting thing about the book is that, though written in third person, it is in third person limited, and every chapter the point of view changes, so we're continually seeing the story from a different character's eyes. That's a very cool concept, because the reader naturally sympathizes with the character who is narrating the story. Also, it lets the author show each character personally and then the reader can appreciate their depth.

A Song of Ice and Fire (which is the name of the entire series, if you didn't know) is, in every sense of the word, an epic. It's big, and needs a big setup. Since I'm only partway into the series, I don't know if the following is true, but it seems to me that the plot elements (buildup, climax, resolution) are in the series as a whole, not in the individual books. To me, it looks like the first book is all setup and exposition. It is where we are introduced to the characters and the problem is defined. This might just be a way to get us to keep reading (it certainly worked for me!) - we need to find out the rest of the story.

So here are my main complaints:

Because there are multiple points of view, and because we are sympathizing with multiple characters, I cannot determine who the main character is! And this bugs me a lot. The person I thought was the main character ended up DYING - so clearly, I was wrong. And if there is no main character, I can't tell who's good and who's evil. In my opinion, a high fantasy ultimately needs to define the villain. And though you may think that the Lannisters are the villains - suddenly, when Tyrion Lannister narrates, you feel some doubt. I really, really like Tyrion! But I also really, really like Robb and Lady Stark. And what about Dany? You can't forget her. She is just awesome. But ultimately: all these people are vying for power. They can't all win - two of them have to lose.

Now this is a very interesting setup. We have the conflict defined, and wonder how the heck Martin is going to get his characters out of it. Someone's going to have to lose - fail - die. But it's hard to get the reader's interest when they aren't rooting on a particular character. Sure, I'm against Cersei and Joffrey. But if they fail - so does Tyrion. You see my dilemma? There is no "bad side."

I think this ultimately comes from Martin's desire to create a realistic world. In the real world, sometimes there are no "bad guys." There are long, drawn out buildups. Sometimes the result isn't the best. Sometimes the result is the worst one that could happen.

Martin's world is very much like that. It is up to us - the readers - to determine who's side we're on. And I think that it shouldn't be.

The one school subject that I don't have any interest in whatsoever is history. And I think its because of this sort of long resolutionlessness. There's no plot in history. And though in A Song of Ice and Fire there may be a plot, it only starts manifesting itself at the end of the first book! This is why I almost decided not to read the rest of the series. In the middle, I was getting that history textbook vibe - it was a history written in an interesting way, from various perspectives of the chief powers involved. Definately not my thing. Thankfully, I am a persistent and committed reader - when I start a book, it takes a lot to get me to stop. So I eventually finished and realized that yes, there was a hint of a plot.

Now, you may say that Lord of the Rings is similar in that there are various perspectives and that it's more like one big book split up into a couple volumes. So why do I ADORE Lord of the Rings and not Game of Thrones? Well, Lord of the Rings has a plot. You know it from the beginning. It's all about Frodo destroying the ring. Even after the breaking of the Fellowship, when the focus occasionally switches to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli; Gandalf; or Merry and Pippin, its is still ultimately about Frodo destroying the ring and thus defeating Sauron. And Sauron is clearly the evil power. OBVIOUSLY.

If, in A Song of Ice and Fire, an evil Sauron-like power manifest itself (maybe from North of the Wall?) and the three competing powers end up having to overcome their previous grievances and fight together - that would be cool. But what would happen once the evil was defeated? Maybe one of the good guys gets wounded defending his former enemy and dies an honorable death. And then the other two split up the land between them.
Ok, now I'm just making stuff up. The only person willing to not take the entire land would be Robb, so that wouldn't work.

But that's just ramblings. Now you have the reasons why Game of Thrones is not on my Excellent list. Hopefully the rest of the books will be able to redeem the series.
Though I am truly going to take a break from the intensity after A Clash of Kings and read some Jane Austen. Because, wonderfully, my Kindle recently resurrected from it's near-drowning, and I have a nice Austen collection on there. But that's another story.


Have you read any of the Song of Ice and Fire books? What did you think? Please, no spoilers without warnings in the comments. :-)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Swear Words in Literature

As I'm in the middle of Game of Thrones, this topic is at the forefront of my mind right now. A few years ago, I considered myself against all profanities in literature, because I thought it brought down the entire quality of the book. Though I am still somewhat of that opinion, I now realize that I never truly believed that 100%. Because I seriously had nothing wrong with "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn," and that's a profanity, right? So I've revised my opinion a bit, though I truly have no hard-and-fast rules regarding this. When I decide whether I think a profanity is right in the book, I think about the book as a whole, not whether the word is a "bad word."

Probably the most important thing about profanities is that if an author uses them in his or her book, that doesn't mean that's how they would speak in everyday life. It might just be how their character speaks. For example, the characters in some of the stories I've written say "hell," and "damn," but I don't use those words. (For the record, the strongest word I use is probably "crap.") So that is an important point to be taken in consideration. Using the previous example, Rhett Butler is exactly the kind of guy to use words like "damn." (As a matter of fact, so is Scarlett.)

Now, the following opinion I have is completely illogical, if you think about it, but I seem to have a greater tolerance in literature for "older" swear words, such as "hell" and "damn" than I do for more contemporary ones such as "sh*t" and the F-bomb. (See, I won't even write them!) As I said, this is completely illogical if you look at the literal meanings of these words because it's much meaner to condemn someone to tortures in the pit of Hell forever than to say a crude word for poop. However, my justification for this is that the more contemporary words are slang, and very crude slang at that - I don't like crudeness. The "older" swears have a more classic ring to them because they've been in use for centuries. (This logic is terrible, I know, but it's my brain, and it's weird that way.) I think it all boils down to the "elegance" versus the crudeness of the profanity - but seriously, can profanities really be elegant?

A few paragraphs ago, we talked about how the word has to match the character. I also think the word has to match the time period. In Game of Thrones, there are people saying "sh*t" and "f---" and somehow I don't think it fits. "Hell," "damn," "bastard," and other words like that seem fine, but the more contemporary slang doesn't. Game of Thrones is set in a fictional time and place that is not unlike our middle ages. The argument for the modern swears would be that Game of Thrones characters don't speak Old English - they speak contemporary English, and therefore can expand their vocabulary to a few contemporary profanities. Still, I think that the dialogue in this sense is a little inconsistant, because the characters use some archaic words and older sentence structure sometimes - flipping the verb and the noun from what sounds normal for us. Somehow, when they use "sh*t" and "f---," it feels out of place.

I'm pretty sure that it's this inconsistency of the language with the setting that bugs me with the Game of Thrones profanities, because the same words don't irk me half as much in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books. I mean, there's a fellow called Mr. Schitt, and that is joked about many times.
"Oh sh*t."
"That's Mr. Schitt to you!"
It's no big deal here because it's set in an alternate version of contemporary London, so you'd expect language like that. (And the f-bomb doesn't show up half as much as in Game of Thrones.)

I must say that in the long run, swears turn me off from a book, if only slightly. Movies are rated so that viewers can decide whether it is too gory, sexy, or swear-y for themselves and their kids. But there is no such thing as official book ratings. Yes, some books are more in the PG range, some are clearly only G, and some are definitely R. But this is only up to the readers opinion and there is no notice on the book cover announcing this. It all boils down to our personal freedoms, I think, but I know that I wouldn't let my kids read Game of Thrones until I knew they were mature enough to handle the content.

What about the word "bloody?" I was reading Pygmalion (by Shaw; it's the play My Fair Lady was based on), and Henry Higgins gets scoffed at by his mother for saying "bloody." "Henry! Really!" So I guess it really was a bad word at that time - I think it actually was unprintable. (In My Fair Lady, he also says "damn" four times in a row.)
Here's something I found on Wikipedia:
On the opening night of George Bernard Shaw's comedy Pygmalion in 1914, Mrs. Patrick Campbell in the role of Eliza Doolittle, created a sensation with the line "Walk! Not bloody likely!" and this led to a fad for using "Pygmalion" itself as a pseudo-oath, as in "Not Pygmalion likely."

 What do you think about profanities in literature? Yes? No? Maybe? Let me know in the comments!

(This post is linked up at The Fiction Conniption's Let's Discuss)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


As you may remember, a few of my first posts were on the topic of Sherlock Holmes:

Sherlock Holmes on the Stage! on a production of A Study in Scarlet that I went to. It's also a bit of a character commentary on Watson.


Holmes vs. Dupin: The Ultimate Detective Face-Off, a pretty long post, but one of my best. :-)

So now we will return to the topic of Holmes. Specifically, the interpretation of Holmes in BBC's Sherlock

I recently saw all six episodes of the first two seasons in a space of about two weeks (and am enthusiastically waiting for Season 3 to come out, and searching amongst my friends for someone with cable TV who doesn't mind me descending on them to watch Sherlock whenever it's on). As you can probably tell from that parenthesis, I did think quite highly of the show, for a few particular reasons.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes have been done so many times in film and TV - and actually a couple times well - that you almost expect a bit of deviation from the story. Also, there are 60 stories original stories about him, so it's easy to pick a few elements from a couple different stories and come up with a completely new one. 
Sherlock is set currently, which automatically gives the adapters the challenge of putting a modern spin on the original stories. I thought that they did it well, giving us a Sherlock for the 21st century that was not old-fashioned, and yet still embodied the essence of Holmes. Holmes of the 19th century sends telegrams, whereas Sherlock prefers to text. However, the message is the same: "Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come anyway. -SH"
Sherlock also gave me a bit of hope for the modern detective. Every time after reading some of the stories, I would try to figure stuff out about people sitting across from me on the train. I couldn't deduce a single thing, and chalked it up to an assumption that people show less nowadays than they did in the 1800's. In the 19th century, they wore things like top hats with bands that could show hair grease, or used walking sticks that could be worn away in certain places. Well, Sherlock made me think about this again, and I now realize that deductions of this kind are completely possible in a modern day society. My lack of abilities has nothing do to with the changing times. I'm just stupid, that's all. (So is almost everyone else, compared to Holmes, actually.)

In a portrayal of Sherlock for a modern audience, it's almost necessary to repeat over and over that no, Sherlock and John are not a couple. John is straight (he ends up getting married in the books) and Sherlock is - well... Sherlock is just a sort of neutral entity, I suppose, in the world of love. Love is truly "not his area," as he says in the first episode. In the books, when Watson remarks on the beauty of a client, Holmes tells him he just sees her as a client - that's all - he only noticed her beauty as it pertained to the case. 
I was a little nervous during the episode with Irene Adler, because I didn't want the filmmakers to go too far with the romance just to show that Irene Adler was "The Woman" for Holmes. Yes, he respected her abilities. Yes, he might have had a teeny crush on her. But no, he did not love her. He cannot love romantically - it is not in his nature. He loves Watson, as a friend. He loves Mrs. Hudson, almost as a son. But he will never love in the romantic sense. He is incapable of it.
I got even more nervous when I saw him fondling her hand in front of his fireplace, but then it all worked out - wonderfully! (No spoilers here! You should watch it.)

As we're on the topic of crushes and romance, let's talk a little about Molly, the lady at St. Bart's Hospital where Sherlock does his research - beating up cadavers to see how long bruises can be produced after death and the like. I think she's adorable and awesome and she makes me feel bad that Sherlock has no idea of romantic love because they would be the best couple. (But no, they shouldn't get together because that would defeat the purpose of Holmes.) And talking about them coupling, I don't think that at the end when Molly asks, "What do you need?" and Sherlock says, "You," he means her in the physical sense. He means he needs her to help him get out of his predicament, because she's the only one that still believes in him (other than Watson, but he can't do much at the moment). Sherlock realizes that she's always been on his side, helping him - not just being a neutral player in the game, but actually on his side. She's just as important as Watson, in a sense, and can help him in different ways than Watson can. I believe that Molly will be a main player in the resolution of the climax that ended Season 2. (Again, no spoilers. I'm trying super hard because I really want to just spill it all out there. Go watch it, and then we can talk.)
Molly isn't really in the books; however, I really like her character, as you can tell. If Irene Adler was "The Woman," to Holmes, Molly is sort of a kinder, calmer, less aggressive version of that in Sherlock's world. It's cool that they added a character like that.

This post is getting really long, but I'd like to talk a little bit about John Watson. Here's a quote from a previous post:
 I highly dislike the bumbling portrayals of Watson in the Basil Rathbone films. Watson is not an idiot. He's a highly trained doctor. Watson is not clumsy. And Watson is not old. At all. Both Holmes and Watson are actually in their twenties in the first book. 
John Watson in Sherlock is a legitimate portrayal of Conan Doyle's Watson. He is young-ish and decently smart (not on the Sherlockian scale, though. No one except for Moriarity, Microft, and Sherlock himself are smart on the Sherlockian scale. Irene Adler gets a B+, maybe). He also is a true Character - not just the sidekick that shows of the awesomeness of the superhero. He's a real person, with flaws and talents, just as Sherlock is a real person with his own flaws.
Sherlock is not a superhero. He's an unsympathetic, occasionally deprecatory addict who is very ADD. Maybe it's lucky that love is not his area. It would be hard to be his girlfriend, and probably harder to be his wife.


Have you seen Sherlock? Did you like it? Have you read the books - how do you think they compare? Let me know in the comments - I would be happy to discuss "resurrection" theories with you! :-)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Brace Yourselves...

Hullo folks!

Just thought I'd advertise that I'm finally starting Game of Thrones.

I've read the first couple chapters and am utterly loving it so far - it's totally epic fantasy, so how could I not love it? And, per a friend's suggestions, I am already making a names list, including even minor characters.

I can tell why people are so confused by it all... I'm already flipping to the back every so often just to check who's related to whom, and who is in which house. (There's a quick timeline of each family in the back of the book - thank you George R.R. Martin!)

Because this is such a long and heavy undertaking, I'm not going to be done with it for a while. It's not that I couldn't read it in a few days, but when you factor in the crazy number of characters and plot lines to keep track of, added to the fact that somehow my schoolwork seems to be getting harder and more plentiful (don't you just hate how it does that?), this book/series is going to take some time.

Therefore, there's going to be a wide variety on post topics for a while until I finish this book - random things that I pull out of my head, not necessarily reviews. For example, I think next I'll write about Sherlock (the BBC show) and how it compares to the books. We'll return to the Holmes theme that this blog started with.

Also, 2013 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, so I'll have a nice Theme Week coming as an homage to Jane Austen.

So you'll see a nice array of topics (and a rather profound lack of reviews) in the coming weeks. Probably a lot of Top Ten Lists, or lists of a different variety.


Monday, September 2, 2013

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom // What's Heaven Like?

Have you ever wondered what Heaven is like?

For one thing, I have a very strong feeling it won't just be this:

That's too boring. And Heaven can't be boring - we're going to spend eternity there.
There's more to Heaven than just cherubs and clouds. I expect it will be more like the version of Heaven described in The Last Battle, the final book of The Chronicles of Narnia:

...that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world.... And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.
Now that's an awesome Heaven. A Heaven that's like Earth - except perfect. (And you can get to Heaven-Narnia from Heaven-Earth in a matter of seconds - awesome.)

In Mich Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, he gives us a different version.

When you die, you meet five people who died in your lifetime and who were somehow - even remotely - connected with you. Each one has a lesson to teach you, and once you have spoken to all five, you take your place as one of five people for someone else. It's a really interesting idea, because you see how your actions might have affected someone you didn't even know.
"That is what heaven is for. For understanding your life on earth."
Eddie, the main character in The Five People You Meet in Heaven, is the caretaker of an amusement park who dies trying to save a girl from a malfunctioning ride. Throughout the book, he cannot find out if the girl lived or died - until he meets the fifth person.

One thing about this book that is really interesting is the way that Albom ties it all together. In various points through the book flashbacks occur, always written in italics, with the title Today is Eddie's Birthday, detailing another one of his birthdays. The theme of birthdays comes up often, as Eddie got killed on his 83rd birthday. Somehow it ties it all up nicely.

I'm not going to give any spoilers, because I highly recommend that you read this book. Mitch Albom is one of the only authors who can make me cry - and not because of sadness, but because of the beauty, joy, and sweetness of life. He has a way of writing that is simple, and yet somehow reveals deep truths about life and emotions. I am going to read a lot more of his books. They are excellent when you are feeling down and need a bit of sincere joy to lift you up.