Monday 10 November 2014

We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth - John Lubbock

It's five months since I was last present on this blog. I have since popped by. Glanced briefly across at it before clicking elsewhere. Looked longingly to it from a distance and hurriedly moved away. The source of my malaise? Shame. Doleful, inexcusable shame.

I dislike neglect of any description. It smacks of a lack of control on the one hand and a lack of thought on the other. I am here guilty of both.

I knew there was a risk. Read my two previous posts and you know that I knew that I knew. And still I went ahead. Still I chose to continue irrespective. There are no excuses.

So I joined a reading group challenge. So I tried to set a deadline on finishing a book. It didn't work for me. It sent me backwards instead of urging me forwards. Can I say never mind? Put a line under it all? Onwards and upwards?

If it helps, I lost the group after the second check in. (Where did you go, group? Was it me??). And then, through my dismay at missing my deadline, I forced myself to finish MB. Even when the thrill of whales and their hunters had long gone. Which was fairly soon, if I'm honest.

But finish it, I did. Last week. Only four months short of the given deadline. It has been a busy summer. But enough of my excuses.

My reaction to the book: intermittently gripping, informative and exciting with long periods of incredibly intense descriptive passages. That frankly I could have done without. I was a tad dismayed that of 470 pages, Moby Dick only featured in the flesh for around 20 pages. At the very end. And then mainly in a frenzy. 

Still the pervading gloom which Melville hangs over the tale was enough to hint at the outcome. And I was so joyous at closing the book for the last time that I could not really bring myself to sympathise with the fate of any of the characters. And most especially the hunters.

I have now found for myself some (much) shorter stories. To break me back into a regular rhythm of reading and writing. And to help ease away the shame of my months of neglect. If anyone's still out there to notice...

Sunday 8 June 2014

Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world! - Neil Gaiman

I'm not really one for updates on my progress through a book. I don't like the pressure. The interruptions. And I don't really like commenting on anything when I don't have a full overview of it.

Still, I'm going to make an exception with Moby Dick as I'm taking part in this readalong. Which I'm actually enjoying. Thinking about everyone reading the same book at the same time. Somewhere in the world. It's ever so motivating.

And anyway it's quite a hefty book. Meaning if I waited till the end you wouldn't be hearing from me for another month. Or maybe two.

I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised by my initial experience of MD. It's been a fairly easy and enjoyable read thus far. Interesting. Quirky. Descriptive. Zippy.

The chapters are short which make the reading easy. You feel like you're moving along quite speedily. And this echoes the observations of our narrator, Ishmael, looking around, taking everything in.
His descriptions are stunning. "A gable-ended old house, one side palsied as it were, and leaning over sadly." "Humming to himself in his heathenish way." "I sat there in that now lonely room."

This suggests not only an observant man. But a sensitive, perceptive man. Open to be educated by the world around him instead of relying on his education to mould his view of the world.

And so begins my list of themes running through it: acceptance versus prejudice. Perception versus reality. Friendship and intimacy versus scorn and rejection. Tradition versus humanity.

Of course you can't escape the constant biblical references that litter this work. These may indeed be the point of the work? I will learn that in good time.

They begin with the names of the characters:
Ishmael = God hears. Abraham's son by Hagar. Sent away for disrespecting Isaac, the promised seed and Abraham's son by Sarah.
Peleg = Division. In the line from Shem to Abraham.
Bildad = One of Job's three companions. A descendant of Shuah, the son of Abraham by Keturah.
Ahab = King of the northern kingdom of Israel. Married to a pagan wife, Jezebel.
Elijah = One of the foremost prophets of Israel. 

The fiery sermon by Father Mapple Rose about Jonah and the whale then sets the tone: Jonah disobeys God. God’s reacts. "And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah."

The woes pronounced by MP will, I feel, be significant for the rest of the tale. But to what extent, I cannot say. 

All I can say is that it would appear that Melville is lamenting the state of mankind. "It's a wicked world in all meridians." "Bildad... had come to the sage and sensible conclusion that a man's religion is one thing and this practical world quite another." "We good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things and not think ourselves so superior to other mortals, pagans and what not…. Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked and sadly need mending."

And so I continue. I've yet to meet Ahab. And methinks there are many adventures awaiting me as the Pequod sets sail...

Sunday 1 June 2014

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new after all - Abraham Lincoln

I've decided that I'm going to join a read-along. A whole new concept for me. And a whole new experience.

Being a somewhat solitary sort, I'm not sure how it'll all pan out. But I feel the need to jolt my reading into life after a few months of meandering. And stalling.

Roof Beam Reader has mounted the challenge to join him in reading Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Which is on my Classics Club Challenge. Something I've well and truly neglected over the past few months.

So I've signed up to join him. And quite a few others. To try and keep up. To start and finish MB between today and 15 July.

I know little about the book. Apart from the fact that it features a whale pursued by a man. And "Call me Ishmael". The opening words.

I will try to post my progress. Or lack of it. Regularly. Or just intermittently. I don't know how this will work. Or not.

But stay with me. The adventure begins here...

Monday 26 May 2014

There is no friend as loyal as a book - Ernest Hemingway

And so to Sense & Sensibility. What can be said? That has not already been said a thousand times?

It was a good book on which to end my revisiting of Austen's novels. It is somehow so familiar, so endearing.

There is the steady Elinor to take us through. The long-suffering, stoic Elinor. So put-upon, so faithful. There is so much to admire in this respectful, diligent young lady. And yet few would admire her alongside the prettier, livelier Marianne.

She is abused by so many: a mother most puerile in her wants and actions; a sister almost indifferent to the world around her; the Jennings, the Ferrars; her brother, her lover, her lover's lover. And often the reader.

But I think we can all only rejoice at the vision of her happiness and emotional fulfilment at the close of the curtains.

This is a story we love to see on the screen. And although generally faithful, I often wonder at the need to embellish an already richly dramatic tale. Love and loss. Money and poverty. The intricacies and snobberies of class and social standing. Marianne's hysteria; Lucy's uncouthness. Willoughby's selfishness; the Jennings' crassness; the Dashwood's pomposity. Elinor and Colonel Brandon's selflessness. What more could you possibly ask for?

And so, that's all the Austen novels done. This time round. Read but not forgotten. There is a reason Jane Austen is hailed as one of the great novelists and held in such high esteem. And it's not just the tales she tells. Her inimitable way of seeing the world leaves a mark. Her quirky study of human nature. The beauty of her word use and composition. It all marks and stays with you like a warm mug of hot chocolate on an icy cold day. It is truly delightful and the ultimate feeling you would hope to get from the best hours of reading.

Friday 16 May 2014

Books are like mirrors: if a fool looks in, you cannot expect a genius to look out - J. K. Rowling

Since my last post, many things have happened. Good and mediocre. But thankfully nothing bad. One of the more exciting things was watching a foal being born. But that's another story and another blog...

On the literary front, I have now finished Sense & Sensibility, and thus have completed my return journey through the Austen novels. And it has been truly delightful.

Even more exciting is that my blog has reached and passed 10,000 page views. Yey!

But back to Austen. And in particular, Mansfield Park. Following such an enjoyable read, I allowed myself to indulge in some light refreshment and took out the DVD interpretations. On a whim. And against my better judgement.

Now I won't dwell on this too much as I inflicted both productions on myself. And in fairness, although Billie Piper didn't strike me as Fanny Price material, at least the ITV version attempted to respect the novel. Dialogue came from the pages of Austen's work, even if it was not attributed to the characters she penned it from. And the overall story was conveyed. In general.

The 1999 film of the same name conveys the overall story even more generally. And from quite a distance may vaguely be associated with Austen's text. If you look really hard.

Call me a purist but I expect to see the book if I watch a film of the same name. Or at least elements of the book. And certainly the main protagonists. Fanny Price was conspicuously absent from the film. Replaced by a feisty young writer who was uncannily like Ms Austen herself in character...

But I will say no more. Each to their own. And this was not close to mine. It will be my endeavour to one day pen a script of my own of Mansfield Park. Just for the pure delight. And to see just how difficult it really is.