Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: World's I'd Never Want to Live In

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish!
Today's topic is World's I'd Never Want to Live In (or Characters I'd Never Want To Trade Places With). I'll do a bit of both.

Firstly, fictional worlds:

1. Panem. Ugh. Who would? Hunger Games themselves are freaky - not to mention all the other horrors.

2. Divergent's Chicago. Though this isn't half as bad as Panem, I still don't like the idea of having to commit yourself to one character trait. Isn't everyone technically divergent, one way or another? I'm probably somewhere between Abnegation and Erudite, with some Amity as well.
I like my (real) Chicago much better. :-)

3. Calormen from The Chronicles of Narnia. (The countries are Ettinsmoor, Narnia, Archenland, Calormen - from North to South - if you didn't know.) The society in Calormen is extremely male-dominated, with slaves and harems. The government just isn't very nice. I'd probably end up as the wife of some old fellow, and live an unfulfilled life. Not cool.

And now, characters:

4. Fantine from Les Miserables. I think Fantine has one of the most heartbreaking stories in all of literature. Her guy left her pregnant, she has to become a prostitute to support her child (who's caretakers are using Fantine's money for themselves, and not for the child) - it's all so depressing. Thankfully, she has a gleam of happiness at the end before she dies, but still...

5. Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo. Sure, he gets a humongous treasure and all. But what's the price? He is arrested on his wedding day for a crime he didn't do, and then his best friend marries his fiance. He is in prison for YEARS and then has his heart burning up with revenge for even longer, until he learns that he isn't God. And he was such a successful and happy young 19 year old in the beginning of the book! I think he definitely got the short end of the stick.

6. Juliet from Romeo and Juliet. Of course, she just has to fall in love with that ONE guy at the party that just HAPPENS to be a Capulet.

7. Ezra Jennings from The Moonstone. He's ugly and has a reputation connected to him for a crime he didn't commit. But the poor guy is just trying to be a good doctor!

8. The Two Women in White in The Woman in White. Both Anne Catherick and Laura Fairlie definitely don't have happy lives. To live with that kind of a husband! Poor Laura. (I'm glad they both have their (sort of) happy endings, though.)

9. Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The poor fellow, living under the burden of revenge and wanting to escape society. I feel so bad for him!

10. The Entire Tuck Family from Tuck Everlasting. I would never want to live forever. It would become such a meaningless existence, growing old while everyone you love dies. You.... just... keep.... living....

(As a matter of fact, I wouldn't want to be an elf from LOTR either for the same reason, but at least the elves can die in battle - which isn't exactly my preferred way to die either...)

What about you? Which characters would you NEVER want to trade places with? Or what worlds would you never want to live in?


Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Bible Project: Week 4 (Ex 1-24)

(Chapters 1-24)

The stories just keep getting longer and longer!

The story of the Exodus from Egypt is one that I have heard over and over and over again since my childhood. When my sister and I were little, we would go to the Chicago Botanical Gardens a lot, and visit this bridge to the Japanese Garden (trust me, this does have something to do with Exodus):

Here, my mother, my sister, and I would act out (numerous times) the story of Moses crossing the Red Sea.
One person would be Moses himself, stretching his arms out over the (rather placid) water; another would be the Israelites, grumbling about how they were about to get killed; and the third person would be (who else?) the Pharaoh, leading an invisible army of Egyptians from further down the path.
"Run!" the person playing Moses would scream, and the Israelite(s) would run across the bridge, with the Pharaoh in hot pursuit. Then came the dramatic moment - Moses would drop his (her?) arms, and the Pharaoh would execute an excellent performance of a drowning Egyptian right in the middle of the bridge.
It was pretty fantastic. :-)

My point (yes, there is a point here, outside of entertaining you with my family's crazy theatrical endeavors) - my point is that Moses has sort of become a Biblical hero, along with Abraham, Joseph, Solomon, David, and even Jesus. Moses is the mouthpiece of God, through which God works amazing miracles like the Parting of the Red Sea and the Ten Plagues of Egypt. Heck, he even stars in a movie! Moses has been Hollywood-ified. Enough said.

As I was reading the chapters this week, I noticed that, in reality, Moses is one of the most reluctant and unexpected heroes. He's not a war hero (like he is in The Ten Commandments). He's not a high official. For heaven's sake, he's not even eloquent! He stutters, and clearly hates even the thought of public speaking. And here's God (in the burning bush), saying that he's got to go talk to Pharaoh. That in itself is scary, let alone that God adds that Moses is going to lead the Israelites out of slavery. Moses is very much so not ready.

Though Moses may not be a heroic hero, he is the literary hero of this story, and he does succeed, with the help of Aaron's slightly better public speaking skills. But he still is continually unsure of what God is planning.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that as I read more and more of the Bible, I'm starting to realize how human all these characters are. The kiddy Bibles that I read at 8 years old make it sound like Abraham, Joseph, and Moses are some sort of perfect heroes - but they're not! They are fantastically well-rounded Characters.

That's it for this week. I sense the beginning of LOTS and LOTS of Rules! I suppose I'll just somehow have to stick it out through Leviticus and Numbers... don't expect too much content for the next few weeks. I'm not too great when readings lack a story line.

Any thoughts on Exodus? Let me know in the comments!


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Little Free Library

As I said, I have had very little time lately to devote to this blog, but I thought I'd share some pictures of something awesome I saw on our ski trip.

Outside of a bakery there was this little box on the wall:

It was filled with books!

I googled "Little Free Library," and THIS came up. Apparently, there are Little Free Libraries EVERYWHERE! The idea is that you take a book, and you donate a book. 

Spectacular! I'm going to find one near my house.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Exciting Things in the Mail

So this post is going to be about a little bit of everything.

Firstly, this came in the mail a few days ago:

Lifeline Theatre, as I have mentioned THOUSANDS of times before is my absolute favorite theatre company. They write their own (most excellent and loyal) adaptations, and have the most fantastic - yet simple - sets. You may remember my post on their adaptation of The Three Musketeers.

And so, how perfect is it that they are doing A Tale of Two Cities, so conveniently close to our December readalong of that exact book!

I am looking forward to seeing the play with GREAT ANTICIPATION. It's running from Mid-February to Mid-April. (And then Monstrous Regiment is their production in June!)

If anyone is in the Chicago area, I highly recommend you check out Lifeline.

Continuing on with what came in the mail, this little book came just a few hours ago:

My wonderful aunt has, for the past three years, bought me a subscription to the wonderful magazine Writers' Forum. As an aspiring author, I have found its advice invaluable, and though I have yet to submit a story to its monthly competition, I have written in with a question for their advice columnist. This question surprisingly won that month's "best question" prize, which was the above book (though it HAS taken a good many months to get here... I wrote in sometime in the summer). I am super excited to read this book, because short stories are quite a challenge for me (novels come easier). I have trouble conveying scenes and ideas in a few poignant words, so hopefully it'll help me out.

Thirdly, and finally, I have a bit of sad news to convey to you all. (Don't worry, it's not too sad.) Because I have a LOAD of scholarship essays due in early February (gotta pay for college somehow), and because writing those obviously takes higher priority over writing this blog, I won't be updating nearly as often as I have been. :-(
Yes, I still have to write my post on The Night Circus (which might have to wait until February), and I will continue to do Top Ten Tuesdays and The Bible Project on Sundays. But that's probably all you're going to get for the next few weeks. I was thinking of doing some Shakespeare in honor of The Classics Club's monthly topic, but that might not happen. 

So there you go. That's the end of tonight's update!


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: My Reading Wishlist

I'm ba-ack! I haven't done a TTT in weeks!
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish
Today's topic is: Things I'd Make Authors Write About More.
Considering that I am myself an aspiring author, these things will almost definitely pop up in my own writing! 

1. Non-Western-Europe Fantasy. Almost all fantasy is set in a pseudo-Medieval-Western-Europe type culture. Now, I love Medieval Western Europe, but wouldn't it be awesome to see a Slavic fantasy? An African fantasy? A Middle Eastern fantasy? An East-Asian fantasy? The author Lloyd Alexander has a few books of this nature - but I want to see MORE! :-)

2. No Romantic Component. Yes, yes, we all love a little romance. But it would be refreshing to have a book where the romance either ended really early on, or barely existed at all. And continuing on a similar strain...

3. A Guy-Girl-Girl Love Triangle. This DOES happen in real life! But you wouldn't know from reading books nowadays. It's just because men traditionally "chase" the girl, and if a girl "chases" a boy, she's perceived as desperate. Also, when a Guy-girl-girl love triangle is (rarely) used, its a bratty, claw-scratching fight between the girls. Why is a Guy-guy-girl love triangle such a romantic thing, and the flip side just so middle-school-ey? A good author (not me) could probably make an awesome guy-girl-girl triangle which felt sincere.

4. Real Nerds (particularly girls). By this I mean girls who really enjoy some subject in school. REALLY ENJOY. For me, it's chemistry, literature, calculus, and even a bit of physics. The only real nerd girl that I have come upon in literature is Hermione. Seriously? There should be more.

5. Happy Families. One of my favorite blogs (The Thousand Lives) just had a post on this, and it's something I really agree with. There are SOOO many disfunctional families in literature. I know this is because all books need conflict, and it's easier to sympathize with the MC if he/she is in a bad situation. But come ON. Show us some supportive - yet disciplining - parents. Some awesome sibling relationships. Happy marriages. I know that life isn't always fine and dandy, and divorces DO happen, but it seems like almost all books have dysfunctional families.

Okay, I'm running out of things... this one is difficult!

Any thoughts? What would you like to see more of in books?


Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Bible Project: Week 3 (Gen 35-50)

(Chapters 35 - 50)


I really enjoyed reading the Joseph story. I mean, I've known it ever since I was little, but I just found it pleasant to actually read. Maybe it's because it's our first real story (development, rising action, climax, conclusion) that's spans at least five chapters. The rest have all been more like little snippets.

This line made me laugh:
"Now Joseph was strikingly handsome in countenance and body." (39:6b)
I read the above to my sister and she said, "Oh my gawd, I met this TOE-tally CUTE guy - he is so strikingly handsome in countenance and body!" in her best stereotypical teenage girl voice.

For some reason I really don't have much else to say.
Perhaps it is because it was more of a story - there's not much to analyze.
Perhaps it is just because I am not up to making any profound statements today.
Most likely it is because I have somewhere to be in fifteen minutes - profound statements don't come quickly.

On to Exodus!

Do you have anything (profound or otherwise) to contribute regarding the Joseph story? Comment!!


Friday, January 17, 2014

Monstrous Regment by Terry Pratchett // Funny Fantasy

Okay, gonna keep this nice and short, because I'm rather swamped with schoolwork and other responsibilities.

I read Monstrous Regiment in two days while on vacation. I'd almost forgotten how good it felt to read a book in less than a week. The past few months have been filled with squeezing in reading time in between schoolwork, and it was good to just - read. (Though I have a sad feeling that I'm about to go back to that limited-reading-time sort of life now.)

Anyway, you may remember that my introduction to Pratchett occurred some months ago, and I really enjoyed it. Monstrous Regiment was equally spectacular.

It's really hard not to give spoilers, but I really enjoyed how the story kept giving me more and more surprises as it went along. Just marvelous.

Pratchett's worldbuilding is also marvelous. It's a fantasy world - with overtones of the real world. Somehow, there are a thousand comments on our society and rules. Consider Nuggan's Abominations in Monstrous Regiment. Nuggan is a god who is just a creation to suppress the people. Rocks are an Abomination unto Nuggan? Now, I am a Christian, and I believe in God (and don't think God is at all like Nuggan), but it is an interesting view in religion in general, and how religion can be used to oppress and suppress the people. It makes me think of the Church in the Middle Ages.
It also makes me wonder if Pratchett was at all religious. 

Update: If anyone else was wondering, after some slight research I have discovered that Pratchett is an atheist.

Continuing on, Pratchett is always astounding me with his amazing insights into life. His little comments on life veiled in humor prove that Pratchett spends a lot of time watching people. Everyone talks about how George R. R. Martin is so excellent at writing female characters. Personally, I don't completely agree. But Pratchett? His women are pretty spot-on, I'd say. Monstrous Regiment is a fantastic example of that, and there are a variety of different female characters portrayed.

This is getting to be a longer post that I thought it would! I'd like to end it with this note:
Lifeline Theater (my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE theater company) is doing an adaptation of Monstrous Regiment. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the book is going to transfer to the stage. Shows are in June and July, so I'll have to wait a bit, but it's worth waiting for!

Have you read Monstrous Regiment or any other Terry Pratchett? Did you like it? If you've read Pratchett before - which of his books do you recommend I read next?


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Austen Dudes: Captain Frederick Wentworth

Okay, I know I said last time that Mr. Knightly was my favorite (and he is and has been since I first read Emma years ago), but Captain Wentworth has been gradually catching up over the last few years. Whether or not he will surpass Mr. Knightly is yet to be seen, though there is a definite possibility of a tie...

Persuasion is interesting because the first bloom of love is gone, and the story is all about the rekindling after a long separation. None of the other Austen books look into this side of the story - the closest one gets is with Sense and Sensibility, I suppose, and that's not even that close. It makes sense that Persuasion deals with a more mature heroine and a less "first-love" plot - Austen wrote it later in her own life. However, it seems to me that there is the most "first-love" awkwardness on both sides in Persuasion than there is in any other of her books.

Okay, on to Wentworth.

The big word with Wentworth throughout the book is constancy. Even though Anne refuses him the first time, he still loves her, and will always love her, forever, no matter what. Luckily, it all turns out happily. But seriously, that's a pretty awesome love.

One thing I want to talk about are the "Cancelled Chapters." Austen's original ending to persuasion was different from what was ultimately published.
(If you want to read the "Cancelled Chapters" click HERE. And HERE for the published penultimate chapter.)

It is the second to last chapter that most differs. In the original version, there was no conversation with Harville about love and constancy, no hastily written letter from Wentworth in all desperation.
The original chapter is a little less romantic and a little more - cute? awkward? I'm not quite sure how to put it.

If you haven't read the link, it involves a direct conversation between Wentworth and Anne, one in which Wentworth (rather flustered) addresses Anne as the definite bride of Mr. Elliot. Anne denies this, of course (equally flustered) and an adorable reconciliation follows.

Though I agree with Austen that the new chapter has more flair and appeal than the old one, there is something rather nice about the first version. I went to see a musical of Persuasion a few years ago and they somehow managed to include in the adaptation BOTH scenes. I don't remember how they did it, but it was awesome. (By the way, I'd like to note that the show was three hours long...)

Even though I do like the "Cancelled Chapters," there are two reasons why I like the revised ending more.
Firstly, the whole letter thing is so romantic and cute.
But secondly, I really appreciate that Austen added the conversation with Harville. It really emphasizes constancy in love, an important theme throughout the books. If persuasion provided the conflict, constancy provided the resolution.

If you've read Persuasion, what did you think of Wentworth? Since this is our last Austen hero, which is your favorite?


Here are my previous posts on Austen dudes:
George Knightly from Emma
Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park
Charles Bingley from Pride and Prejudice
Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey
Edward Ferrars (and Colonel Brandon) from Sense and Sensibility
Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice

Monday, January 13, 2014

Traveling Books: Second Honeymoon by James Patterson // How do Co-Authors Work?

I've returned to the snows of Chicago... and am actually going skiing tomorrow! :-)
But my trip was excellent and I read both Persuasion and Monstrous Regiment by the third day. 

So what the heck was I going to read on the three hour plane ride home?

Guess what my mother found on a beach chair by the pool:

The note reads "Free to good home :-) Read it and pass it on."

I've never read any James Patterson, but I've heard a heck of a lot of good things about him, so I thought I'd provide the book with a good home and read it on the airplane.

Well, it was definitely entertaining. Patterson's (and Roughan's? I don't know how to deal with co-authors. How much did Roughan actually do?) - anyway, Patterson's characters are fantastic and the plot twists and turns in such a way that left me trying to figure out the connections. The story is basically two different detectives each working on a different mystery. The cases are not at all connected - but somehow they are. I love it when an author does that.
Also, the characters are just so real. Especially the two agents - they are both such decent, average people (with really good observational skills). 

The writing style wasn't absolutely my favorite, as the vocabulary was rather simplistic and there were moments of choppy sentences, but overall wasn't too bad. And Patterson really has a tendency to allude to major cultural figures today. Open any page - and there will probably be the name of a famous person (or company). 

So in summary:
  • Plot - excellent
  • Characters - fantastic
  • Writing - just okay
I will definitely read more Patterson at some point. And I think I will take Second Honeymoon and "pass it on" in the cafe of the ski lodge tomorrow! 


(Posts on Persuasion and Monstrous Regiment coming later this week.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Bible Project: Week 2 (Gen 16-34)

(Chapters 16 - 34)

Lots and lots of descendants!


I noticed that there are lots of stories about someone saying that their wife is their sister to avoid getting killed. (Two involving Abraham, and one involving Isaac.) Apparently this is because they are taken from three different sources. (See my first Bible Project post on the various sources of Genesis.) 


I think it's cool how close Abraham and God were. It seems like Abraham could say, "Hey God? Let's chat," and they'd chat. They were like best friends.
So when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, that was double surprise. Firstly, He's asking Abraham to KILL HIS SON. Secondly, He's putting in jeopardy His promise that through Isaac's descendants all the nations of the earth would find blessing. But gosh, Abraham had some serious faith! It gives me shivers. 


For some reason I think that Isaac and Rebekah are an adorable couple. Maybe it's because of 24:67... "Then Isaac took Rebekah into his tent; he married her, and thus she became his wife. In his love for her Isaac found solace after the death of his mother, Sarah." Those two sentences conjure up such loving scenes in my mind, somehow... Maybe I also like Isaac/Rebekah because Isaac is the only guy so far who's had kids by only one lady. I know that it was common practice in that time to have more than one wife (the world must be peopled, after all), but my modern sense of love and loyalty is drawn to the monogamy of Isaac.

I DON'T like Rebekah for the fact that she had a favored child and helped Jacob supersede his elder brother. Not cool.  (I have strong Esau sympathies. Maybe it's because I'm the older sibling myself...)

On a similar topic, my favorite Esau quote is this one (25:30): "Let me gulp down some of that red stuff; I'm starving!" He's such a teenage boy: Who cares about the birthright - give me some FOOD!


I feel bad for Leah, who obviously knew she wasn't the favored wife. And imagine knowing that the favored wife was your SISTER. Goodness.
And then Leah and Rachel had a nice sisterly rivalry, to see who could give Jacob more kids. They even each gave him their maidservants to sleep with, to indirectly have kids through them! Goodness, Jacob was having a fine time...

But now I see, in the story of Joseph and his brothers (which is coming up next time), why Joseph and Benjamin are the favored children of Jacob. They were Rachel's kids!

Okay, enough for now...

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - what do you think? What did I miss? Let me know in the comments!


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Throwback Thursday: War and Peace

I read War and Peace a few years ago for a class and consider it too major a part of my literary life not to post something about it. Tolstoy has such spectacular characters, and you know how much I value a well-developed Character...

And so, here is an essay I wrote on Natasha as I was reading War and Peace. I think that this essay is better than anything I could write on the book at the moment, because it was written as I was immersed in the story.



Throughout War and Peace many characters undergo changes - Andrei, when he sees Natasha at the ball and is influenced by her vivacity and joyfulness; Pierre, when he becomes a Mason; Sonya and Nicholas, when they go as mummers to the Melukovs for Christmas. These changes are sudden and abrupt turns in the character’s lives.  But, more often, change is gradual, so that it is not noticeable at first, and this is what happens to Natasha Rostov.  We see her grow from a girl to a young woman and from a young woman to a wife and mother. Many experiences and outside forces, both significant and trivial, are involved in the continual shaping and refashioning of Natasha’s personality. One of these changes occurs at the opera during the Rostovs’ visit to Moscow. By comparing Natasha in the country, to Natasha in Moscow, we can see this change.

Natasha dances at Uncle's
(Artist: Valentin Serov)
In the country, Natasha is sincere, real, and natural. She watches the wolf hunt with excitement, and then accompanies the hunters to “Uncle’s” house. The house “with its bare, unplastered log walls, was not overclean - it did not seem that those living in it aimed at keeping it spotless - but neither was it noticeably neglected. In the entry there was a smell of fresh apples, and wolf and fox skins hung about” (Tolstoy 450). Uncle comes in wearing a “Cossack coat, blue trousers, and small top boots” (Tolstoy 450). He plays the guitar, and Natasha dances a Russian folk dance.  “Where, how, and when had this young countess, educated by an émigrée French governess, imbibed from the Russian air she breathed that spirit and obtained that manner which the pas de châle would. . . long ago have effaced? But the spirit and the movement were those inimitable and unteachable Russian ones that ‘Uncle’ had expected of her” (Tolstoy 453). Afterwards, “Uncle” sings “as peasants sing” (Tolstoy 454), accompanying himself on his guitar. The whole atmosphere of the party is earthy and peasant-like, heartfelt and frank.  Russian culture comes from the peasants, and in this scene, Natasha feels a connection to her culture.

Natasha's First Ball (Artist: Dementy Shmarinov)
The Natasha in the beginning of the opera scene is much the same as the Natasha who danced for “Uncle.” Fresh from the countryside, she does not understand why everyone enjoys the opera so much. “She knew what it was all meant to represent, but it was so pretentiously false and unnatural that she. . . looked at the faces of the audience seeking in them the same sense of ridicule and perplexity she herself experienced, but they all seemed attentive to what was happening on the stage, and expressed delight which to Natasha seemed feigned” ( Tolstoy 499). She does not fit into this society, as her personality is unique, or, as Prince Andrei put it, after meeting Natasha at the grand ball, “There’s something, fresh, original, un-Petersburg-like about her that distinguishes her”(Tolstoy 407)
           Steadily and gradually, this “something” begins to fade as the opera continues. Natasha watches Helene Bezukhova, who is in the next box, along with her brother, Anatole Kuragin. Helene is the prima donna of this artificial city world, and Natasha suddenly feels drawn to her. To Natasha, Helene is “wonderful,” and “a woman one could easily fall in love with”(Tolstoy 498), and it is obvious why Napoleon called her “un superbe animal”(Tolstoy 386).  Helene “could say what she did not think—especially what was flattering—quite simply and naturally” (Tolstoy 501). But there is no warmth in her, as there is in Natasha, as is shown in the grand ball scene. “Helene seemed, as it were, hardened by a varnish left by the thousands of looks that had scanned her person, while Natasha was like a girl exposed for the first time, who would have felt very much ashamed had she not been assured that this was absolutely necessary” (Tolstoy 405).  Helene “is a consumer of admiration: every glance serves as fuel to feed her vanity and to brighten the glow of her enticing body” (Benson 60). But Natasha looks up to Helene and wishes she could be like her. And slowly, as the evening progresses, Natasha does become a little like Helene. When Boris visits Natasha’s box, between acts, Tolstoy points out that, “the scantily clad Helene smiled at everyone in the same way, and Natasha gave Boris a similar smile” (500). During the second act, Natasha notices that Anatole Kuragin is watching her. “She was pleased to see that he was captivated by her and it did not occur to her that there was anything wrong in it” (Tolstoy 500).

A painting of Helene by Konstantin Rudakov
           Near the end of the opera, the dancer Duport performs, and “in the stalls, everyone clapped and shouted ‘bravo!’” After he has left the stage, “once more there was a terrible noise and clatter among the audience, and with rapturous faces everyone began shouting ‘Duport! Duport! Duport!’ Natasha no longer thought this strange. She looked about with pleasure, smiling joyfully. ‘Isn’t Duport delightful?’ Helene asked her. ‘Oh, yes,’ replied Natasha” (Tolstoy 501). Natasha is now merged with the crowd; she is no longer a unique personality.

But some parts of Natasha have not changed. She has always wanted to be loved, to love, and “to embrace the man she loved, and to speak and hear from him words of love such as filled her heart” (Tolstoy 496). But Andrei is not there, however, and these pressures influence Natasha’s mood before she goes to the opera. She is very impatient, as is shown before, when she rushes to her mother saying, “Him… I want him. . . now, this minute! I want him!” (Tolstoy 458). She is afraid that what he loved in her will be gone by the time he returns, and asks, “Why should I be wasted like this, Mamma?” (Tolstoy 458). So, even though she does not realize it, Natasha looks for someone to take his place. During the opera, Anatole “never removed his smiling eyes from her face, her neck, and her bare arms. Natasha knew for certain he was enraptured by her. This pleased her, yet his presence made her feel constrained and oppressed. When she was not looking at him she felt that he was looking at her shoulders, and she involuntarily caught his eye so that he should look into hers rather than this. . . she[realized] that there was not that barrier of modesty she had always felt between herself and other men. She did not know how it was that within five minutes she had come to feel herself terribly near to this man. . . She feared he might seize her from behind by her bare arm and kiss her… she felt that they were closer to one another than she had ever been to any man” (Tolstoy 502). Even though she has only known him for a short while, she is completely intoxicated with him, as Pierre was with Helene. She wants someone to love her now, and Anatole seems like the perfect someone.

Natasha painted by Dementy Shmarinov
Another way that Anatole and Natasha connect is that they both ignore conventions and do not care about what other people think of them. They both live in the present. After the “affair,” Pierre meets Anatole, who is out riding in a sleigh. Anatole is perfectly content: “His face was fresh and rosy, his white-plumed hat, tilted to one side, disclosed his curled and pomaded hair besprinkled with powdery snow” (Tolstoy 524). Pierre envies him, thinking, “He sees nothing beyond the pleasure of the moment, nothing troubles him. . . “(Tolstoy 524). The fact that he has almost had an affair with an engaged woman, and that his attempt to run away with Natasha has just failed, does not discourage Anatole.

Examples of Natasha living in the moment are numerous throughout War and Peace. One, as mentioned before, is when Natasha cannot wait for Andrei’s return, prompting her to the affair with Anatole. Another example is earlier in the book, when Andrei first arrives in Otradnoe and sees Natasha running and laughing outside. He, “depressed and preoccupied with. . . business,” is amazed at her complete contentment in life as it is (Tolstoy 389). “The day was so beautiful, the sun so bright, everything around so gay, but [Natasha] did not know, or wish to know, of his existence and was contented and cheerful in her own separate – probably foolish – but bright and happy life” (Tolstoy 389). This is the Natasha that spontaneously dances to “Uncle’s” guitar, and that is enraptured by the sound of the balalaika.

A sketch of Natasha by Nadya Rusheva
Comparing Natasha in the country with Natasha in Moscow at the opera, we can see some significant changes, and some similarities. In the country, she is vibrant, full of life, and very natural. At the opera, she is still vivacious, but in an artificial way. She does what others do, and loses some of the inner independence that prompted her to dance for “Uncle.” However, it is her own personality that causes her to be attracted to Anatole. Tolstoy wrote about real life, and this is the reason his characters are continually changing, being influenced by a multitude of outside forces. This altering of character happens in every one of us, and it is the way of life and reality.

  1. Benson, R.C. Women in Tolstoy: The Ideal and the Erotic. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1973.
  2. Knowles, A.V. Tolstoy: The Critical Heritage. London, England: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.
  3. Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Maude ed. New York: Norton & Company, 1996.

Natasha and Prince Andrei dance
(Artist: Andrei Nikolaev)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Austen Dudes: Mr. Knightly

We have finally come to my absolute favorite Jane Austen hero.
(Mr. Knightly in Emma 1996)
There's a lot of talk at the end of Emma about who is the more lucky in various relationships, and I will always, always, always agree with Emma when she says that the good fortune's all on her end.
Someday - maybe - Emma may grow to deserve Mr. Knightly. He is sweet, sensible, caring, organized, kind, and witty. He is quite the gentleman; he has a fine sense of humor; he is one of the people vital to Mr. Woodhouse's well-being; he respects people's feelings and is sympathetic; he really wants to help Emma overcome her flaws and become the best person she can be. 
What more can you ask for?
Okay fine, he's also handsome and has a big house and a lot of money. And did I mention he's a really good dancer? But all that's just icing on the cake, really. 
Seriously, Mr. Knightly is just perfect. 

The fact that he did watch Emma grow up, and was almost a big brother to her, made me question their relationship the first time I read Emma, a few years ago, but now I realize that he's very much so a best friend and the only person that truly understands her - except for Mrs. Weston, maybe, but she, like everyone else, spoils Emma. He is the supreme voice of reason in Emma's life, the one and only person close to her who does NOT think her the definition of perfection. 
"Mr. Knightly, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them..."
Emma needs Mr. Knightly for her psychological and emotional well-being. He keeps her on the right path.

In conclusion, my favorite quote from Emma:
"He [Mr. Knightly] had found her agitated and low. --Frank Churchill was a villain.-- He heard her declare that she had never loved him [Churchill]. Frank Churchill 's character was not desperate. --She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house; and if he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow."
I would also like to mention in passing that Frank Churchill, though truly "a very good sort of fellow," with the best of intentions, seemed not as grounded or sensible as Mr. Knightly. Frank Churchill was rather irrational sometimes, and in his marital situation, he clearly has all the good fortune. Emma was right when she said that she and Frank Churchill are alike in their destiny: "The destiny which bids fair to connect us with two characters so much superior to our own." Jane Fairfax is a marvelous, steady, and sensible young lady. She will clearly be the voice of reason in that household.


Here are previous Jane Austen dude posts:
Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park
Charles Bingley from Pride and Prejudice
Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey
Edward Ferrars (and some Colonel Brandon) from Sense and Sensibility
Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Bible Project: Week 1 (Gen 1-15)

(Chapters 1 - 15)

And thus it begins...


In the introduction of my Bible, it says that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible - the Jewish Torah) weren't written by any particular person, but instead were the product of oral tradition, and taken from four different sources: Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly, Deuteronomical. There are differences between these and they were all merged to form the current Pentateuch. For example, the Elohist tends to be sober and moralistic, and the Priestly are more theological.

So this is the reason why there are two stories of creation. The first (the Seven Day one) is from the Yahwist source, and the second (Adam from dust; Eve from his rib) is from the Priestly.

I started thinking about this whole oral tradition thing, and wondering - how much of the Pentateuch is real historical fact, and how much is symbolic? For example, Seven is the number of perfection. God might not have created the world in seven days - the Yahwist storytellers might just have put it neatly into such a structure to emphasize that the world that he made is perfect. Or, what about the ten antediluvian patriarchs? They all lived for hundreds of years! My edition of the bible has a footnote that says that the long lifespans are less historical than they are symbolic, and that the Babylonian culture also had a list of ten antediluvian kings with really long lives. (And then, what was their definition of a year? The whole 365 day thing hadn't been determined. What if they actually lived as long as we did, and they just counted it differently?)

This whole oral history thing gets confusing, particularly when it is mixed from various sources. I'm guessing the audiences of that time would have been able to differentiate the symbols from the history, but I'm having trouble with it.

On another topic, there seem to be a lot of play-on-words in the Bible (except we need footnotes to understand them, because they're in Hebrew...). I think that's pretty cool.
This one, at last, is bone of my bones
     and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called 'woman,'
     for out of 'her man' this one has been taken.
This is what Adam says when Eve is created. According to my footnotes: "There is a play on the similar sounding Hebrew words ishsha (woman) and ishah (her man, her husband)."

There are tons of examples like this.

And finally, I'll leave with the thought: there are SO many cool names. Tubal, Javan, Ashkenaz, Togarman, Chedorlaomer... :-)

Any comments on the first fifteen chapters of Genesis? What did I miss? Let me know below!


Friday, January 3, 2014

Things I Take on Vacation...

Tomorrow I'm heading off on a family vacation to the Carribbean!

Here's what I'm taking (other than clothes and bathing suits and things like that):

From top to bottom:

  • My Kindle (which has Persuasion on it).
  • Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, just in case I finish Persuasion.
  • My journal.
  • Papers of speeches for a scholarship competition that I have to memorize. (I'm never completely free.)
  • Notebooks and pens for writing stories.

I probably won't get to all of that, but I tend to take an excess of notebooks and books on trips. Hey - I never get bored!

Meanwhile, I have scheduled this blog to get a few updates while I'm away. Here's what you can look forward to in the coming week.
  • Week 1 post of the The Bible Project! (Click here for a full description.)
  • A post on Mr. Knightly from Emma.
  • A throwback post on a book I read before I began blogging: War and Peace.
Wishing you all a Healthy and Happy New Year!


Post Script: Today is J. R. R. Tolkien's birthday! (January 3, 1892 - September 2, 1973)
Happy birthday to one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Shakespeare's Language

(This is a post for the Classics Club's Twelve Months of Literature Event... January's theme is Shakespeare!)

So I meant to write this post yesterday, but got a little busy. Anyway, reading Shakespeare (and other Elizabethan period lit) can be difficult and daunting, so I thought I'd give some tips to anyone struggling with it (or nervous about it).

I've been reading Shakespeare since I was nine or ten, when I started a homeschool class lead by an awesome young lady. When she went to college the class ended, but we had a good four years or so of reading Shakespeare's works in depth. :-) It's been a good introduction, and I credit that class for all the following knowledge.

Okay, here we go!

Common Problems

1. Words don't always mean what you think they mean. In Shakespeare's time, many words had different meanings than they do today. Cousin just means family, not necessarily a cousin. Soft means wait! Hold! as in: "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" from Romeo and Juliet. The list goes on and on.

Tip: Use context clues to determine what the word would mean. If the sentence doesn't make sense with the current definition of a word, try to think what else it could mean. Look up the word, and see if there's an archaic definition. (Also, see my final tip on Folger Editions.)

2. Sentences are twisted. Generally, we speak with the subject coming before the predicate: "He said...", "I go...", etc. Shakespeare flips it around. "Said he...", "Go I..." But this isn't the biggest twist. Shakespeare also might put the object in the beginning of a sentence, instead of at the end. For example, we say, "I tapped him on the shoulder." Shakespeare might say, "On the shoulder tapped I him." Huh? But wait, there's more! Shakespeare also likes to disconnect the subject and predicate. Not just with one adverb or something, but really throw them MILES away from each other. Take this bit from Hamlet:
Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
Th' imperial jointress to this warlike state,
Have we (as 'twere with a defeated joy,
With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole)
Taken to wife... 
Now, look at it this way:

 Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
Th' imperial jointress to this warlike state,
Have we (as 'twere with a defeated joy,
With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole)
Taken to wife... 
The italics show the vital parts of the sentence: Our sometime sister have we taken to wife.
Or, flipping it around, and getting rid of the royal we: I have taken to wife my sometime sister (i.e. my former sister-in-law).
We finally get to the meat-and-potatoes: He's married his sister-in-law.
Shakespeare might also delay the main bit of the sentence, to add suspense and tention, as in this line, also from Hamlet: "Within a month,/ Ere yet the salt of most unrightious tears / Had left the flushing in her galled eyes, / She married."
This can be simplified down to: She married within a month. But Shakespeare held back the "She married" part for emphasis.

Tip: Read it out loud. Personally, the first time I read any Shakespeare play, I read it out loud to myself. When you read it - or more importantly, hear it - out loud, you get a sense of where things should go. And you can try it a couple times to see which emphasis sounds right.
Also, if you can, go see a play. The actors have already figured out the emphases and structure of the sentences, and it might help you to get a better idea of what Shakespeare's trying to say. If you can't go see a play, you'll have to do what the actors do, and read it out loud a couple times.

3. Shakespeare likes puns. And some of them don't make sense because they use archaic words (see #1). Anyway, Shakespeare's puns are less of a problem than they are a deeper layer that you will miss if you don't look closely. One of my favorite plays for puns is Twelfth Night, because the Fool speaks practically entirely in them. But also other characters in the play speak in puns, even Orsino:
That instant was I turned into a hart,
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
Ere since pursue me.
The pun here is on hart (a dear) and on his actual heart. Puns in Shakespeare aren't always funny.

Also, there are lots of puns dealing with dirty inappropriate stuff. Elizabethans were a rather rowdy bunch, and enjoyed having an abundance of that sort of stuff in their entertainment. (Twelfth Night is full of it.) But it's not obvious at all (which is why Shakespeare is fine for kids).

Other Wordplay that Shakespeare Uses:
  • Metaphors (comparing two things without using "like" or "as.") The pun above regarding hart/heart is also a metaphor, because Orsino really wasn't turned into a deer. Another example is from Romeo and Juliet: "It is the East and Juliet is the sun." Obviously Juliet isn't really the sun. 
  • Similes. These are like metaphors, except they compare two things using "like" or "as." The one that always comes to mind for me is from King Lear: "Thou art damned, like an ill-roasted egg, all on one side."
  • Malapropisms: See This Post
  • Echophonesis: See This Post

4. These are plays, not novels, but there are still no stage directions. Usually, in a script, it says when to sit, stand, fight, etc. Well, Shakespeare doesn't. He expects you to know by the dialogue what to do, if you are an actor. For example, in Twelfth Night, Toby says to Sir Andrew: "Let me see thee caper. Ha, higher! Ha, ha, excellent!" Though there is no direction to that effect, you'd expect Sir Andrew to be dancing.

Tip: Be on the lookout for action words: "Draw and fight!" etc.

Folger's Editions

What I have found invaluable in reading Shakespeare is the Folger editions:

(here's my Twelfth Night)
I don't have a Folger for every single one of Shakespeare's plays (that's where my Complete Works of William Shakespeare comes in), but when reading one of his plays, I naturally gravitate towards the Folger, if I have it. Here's why:

The Folger editions are written in such a way that the play is on the right page, and the definitions of weird words, the explanations of puns, as well as some pictures to help you better visualize outdated objects and dress are on the left. This is SOOO useful, and will diminish many of the problems that I outlined above. I'm sure that there are a few other versions out there like the Folgers. However, I don't recommend the No Fear Shakespeare. These are in a similar format to the Folgers, but instead of having just definitions and explanations on one side, they have the entire play written out in modern language. I think that just takes out all the fun! Also, there's a certain temptation to just read the modern side and completely skip the Shakespearean side. So are you really reading Shakespeare's play, then?

Folger's also has a bunch of introductions that explain basically more in depth what I said here, regarding Shakespeare's language (and from which I took many of my examples). There's also a nice biography of Shakespeare, as well as a bit on the particular play. 

Good luck on your Shakespearean reading! Let me know which play(s) you are tackling this month. I think I'm going to be reading either Othello  or Henry V  later on in January (maybe both!), since I've never read either. 

Happy New Year, and happy reading!


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 - Goals, Anticipations, and Resolutions

Woot! It's 2014! :-)

Here's a short list of what I'm looking forward to in the new year, as well as some resolutions.

Adulthood! In two months (and a few days) I will be 18 years old - and thus, an official adult. This doesn't really mean anything to me in terms of privileges, but it means so much in terms of responsibilities. The obvious one is that I'll be old enough to vote (which I guess is a privelege, as well as a responsibility), which I am super excited for. But I know that there will be other responsibilities that I haven't even considered.

College! Yup. In September, I will be going to some school (as yet, undecided) to get a college degree. Almost as exciting as becoming an adult. Actually, it's possibly more so.

Rome! (Hopefully.) There are tentative plans for our family to take a trip to Rome - which I have longed to do for quite some time. It'll be possibly in late May, hopefully before the main of the tourist season hits.

Sherlock! New season! Woot!

Writing! I'm really going to try to write at least 400-500 words a day. Let's see how this goes - and if I actually stick to this resolution. :-)

Reading Challenges! Here are the one's I've signed up for:

Happy New Year!


What are you looking forward to in 2014? What are some of your goals and resolutions?