Whatcha reading?

Whatcha reading?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Princess of Mars: Edgar Rice Burroughs

I know this is a classic, so maybe I missed something...something huge. I thought this book was awful, the only thing it had going for it was that it was short. There were a few things that didn't make sense, but I got to the point where I didn't care anymore. A lot of the frustration came from the writing. The author would have the characters talk about something and give answers, but yet the idea didn't exist on Mars... so how could then have talked about something they have no knowledge of. There was also a scene where the hero helps a Martian, who is 10 feet tall and has more gravitational pull out of a window... he would have been smashed to smithereens. The story is about a man who is being chased by Native Americans and hides in a cave, somehow the cave transports him to Mars where he falls in love with a beautiful Martian who resembles a human, he fights for her, she is kidnapped, he frees her, they fall in love, he dies and comes back to earth never seeing his Martian baby.

Herland: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This was an interesting, yet humorous account of what woman could do in a world without men. Three learned men seek out a society they've heard of from natives, where there are only women. Once they find this place, Herland they are taken back by how advanced and peaceful the woman are in living. The entire book deals with the men and woman comparing their homes and Herland and Herland looking better. In the end the men are banished from one of the men trying to take advantage of a woman, and one of the women leave with them. Gilman furthers her feminist agenda by the use of a male narrator, Vandyck Jennings. Van is characterized as the most reasonable and objective of the three men. He is the male character that men and women readers alike find agreeable. He serves as the middle man where Jeff and Terry are completely different. Throughout the book Van's interest in Herland is presented as educational and distant, instead of personal. Towards the middle of the book two long conversations occur from Van’s disbelief that woman, without men, are neither vain nor competitive. He is surprised that women wouldn't want to wear feathers in their hats to enhance their beauty. He doesn't understand the communal raising of children as this takes the ownership and competitiveness out of parenting. The men, Van included, think of these qualities of vanity and competitiveness as feminine characteristics. Van does not grasp the idea Gillman is presenting that characteristics are neither manly nor feminine, but rather human qualities. Van has an example of vanity right in front of him. "Terry, in particular, was fussy to a degree about the cut of his beard". All of the men were vain in their dress "Being offered a wide selection of garments, we had chosen according to our personal taste, and were surprised to find...that we were the most highly decorated, especially Terry." Although Van is presented as the man who understands Herland, he may not be a reliable narrator because he does not address the idea that gender does not dictate behavior. As a reader we are left wondering Van’s actual agenda and if he believes the message that women can embrace the whole of life just as men. After the two conversations above Van shows his own vanity in how he flaunts to the reader his acceptance of the Herland community more than either of his friends as though his need for our acceptance drives the story's end.

The Invisable Man: H G Wells

This was a science-fiction book that made you question the benefits of a special power. A man shows up at a hotel looking for a room to let. The owner thinks the man has just had surgery as he is all wrapped up and wants to be left alone. Through some humorous happens we learn the man is invisible. He was a scientist who, after making himself invisible, realizes there are only 2 benefits to being invisible; sneaking up on people, and sneaking away. This means he can murder people, but not steal, since whatever he steals is still visible. Anything he eats is also visible for a short time. This predicament makes the invisible man even nastier than he originally was when visible and an albino, who never fit in. After attempting to kill an old coworker a manhunt is organized and the invisible man is killed, he then becomes visible again. The book leaves off noting that the scientist's notes on how to become invisible are still out there... as though to ask what we would do with it.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Country of the Blind: H G Wells

This was in incredible clever story about a man who falls off a cliff into a valley and the "Country of the blind" There he goes through many ordeals trying to convince the people there that he is better than them since he has sight. this was an amusing line "It seemed they knew nothing of sight. Well, all in good time he would teach them". As if he could teach them how to see or what it meant to see. He learns to live among them finally agreeing that he must have just been born from the mountains and that is why he is so ignorant. He falls in love with his master's daughter and the only way he can have her is if he agrees to have his eyes removed. He agrees, but on the day of the surgery he decided to climb the mountain. We aare left believing at the end that he would rather die seeing beauty than lose his sight for love.

Alice I Have Been: Melanie Benjamin

WOW. This book really captured the narrator's voice and feeling, which made me very emotional reading it. Possibly because Alice Liddell's life seemed similar to a grandmothers, who just passed away last week. Both had great expectations for life, but it was full or heartbreak and disappointment. Back to the book... The novel was about the life of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. The author notes that the book is more fiction than biography because though she did a lot of research into Alice's life, she had to do a lot of piecing together herself. The book largely centered on Alice and her buddy, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the author Lewis Carroll. As a child she was in love with him, but then for reasons she didn't understand, her mother didn't allow him to visit abruptly. She lives the rest of her life wondering why. She knows her relationship with Dodson is strained, but is uncertain why and feels guilty for some reason. The novel has Alice falling in love with Prince Leopold, whose mother won't let him marry a commoner. She loses her favorite sister, Edith, to illness around the same time. Eventually she marries Reginald Hargreaves when she is 28 and has three sons. The two eldest are killed in WWI. At the end of her life once everyone she loves, except her youngest son, are dead she remembers kissing Dodson and it being seen by her oldest sister who turns it into something filthy. I enjoyed the book and was glad it didn't discredit Dodson's name, it still left a lot to speculation and reader interpretation.

Monday, July 6, 2015

An Unpardonable Crime: Andrew Taylor

This book impressed me with the voice, it was very reminiscent of a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery. The narrator, Thomas Shield, and "detective" is a teacher and one of his wards was Edgar Allen Poe. Throughout the book the profession of a professor was characterized as in the servant class and Shield is constantly told what to do. He meets Poe's absent father and solves three murders, one of whom was Edgar's father. The characterization of Edgar Allan Poe was fasinating. I didn't realize "Allan" was actually the last name of the family who adopted him. In this story Edgar and his friend Charlie, who is remarkably similar to him, seem to carry Shield to the right place at the right time to solve the mysteries. There is also a little love story that fizzles out at the end only to be rekindled.

The Island of Dr Moreau : H.G.Wells

A Sci-fi story about a man reading his uncle's (Edward) diary. Edward is shipwrecked and picked up by a passing vessel which is filled with animals and a bizarre man with Dr Moreau. They depart the boat for an island and Edward is sent off the vessel and winds up with the Dr on the island. He fids the island is filled with more strange beings. Once he realizes the beings are part human part man he tries to escape and nearly drowns because he thinks Moreau is turning men into monsters and he may be the next experiment. Moreau then explains that he is turning animals into men, but he needs strong willed animals (which typically end up being carnivores)because the weak ones can't cope once they become men. He also notes that the "human-ness" seems to be temporary. The leopard-man is accused of eating a rabbit (which was brought onto the island because there was a lack of meat for Montgomery, Moreau's aid) and attacks Moreau and Edward shoots the Leopard. Then Puma man and Moreau fight and they both die. Montgomery then also dies from a beast attack as the animals revert back to their natural instincts. Edward finds a boat and is able to escape the island, but doesn't tell his rescuers about the island knowing it is too fantastic to believe. He becomes a hermit once back in civilization because around people he is constantly reminded of their beastliness.

Frankenstein: Mary Shelley

Reading this as an adult was much different than in high school. I had missed the idea that the monster was the foil for Dr. Frankenstein, who could be seen as the evil character. A Dr. decides to see if he can in essence play god and create human life. Using parts gathered from the cemetery he makes a man. As soon as he creates the life he regrets it and cowers away from his creation, who runs off and learns to live in the woods. By watching a family teach a woman to read he becomes literate in record breaking time. He realizes he need companionship and seeks out Dr. Frankenstein with the request for a wife. The Doctor refuses, the makes the wife, then destroys her before bringing her to life. The monster ends up killing everyone Frankenstein loves so then he is alone like his monster. While trying to destroy his creation, he dies. The monster is found crying over his creator that he didn't mean to be evil and says he will die, then disappears into the dark.

The Star: H.G. Wells

This was a very short story about Earth's near miss of natural destruction. A star is noticed hurling toward the Earth. The common class remarks on how it gets brighter and brighter, while the educated comment on how it is getting nearer and nearer. A mathematician notes that it is on course to hit the earth and were he to trade in his knowledge to not be destroyed, he would still choose knowledge. There is a small stir, but then 9 out of 10 people go back about their lives. The glaciers melt and flood cities, many die and the end of mankind seems inevitable. Then the moon eclipses around the earth and saves the Earth from being struck by the star that vears to the sun. Mankind survives and rebuilds much to the surprise of those aliens watching on Mars. Wells used the narrative style and word choice of "The Star" to further the idea that nature has its own plan and man is insignificant in that scheme. The narrative style of the work is third-person omniscient, where the narrator is all-knowing. We are lead to believe the narrator is God from the first sentence “It was on the first day of the new year that the announcement was made”. According to the seven days of creation, it was on the first day that God created night and day. It was deliberate that Wells chose the Star, instead of an asteroid, which will illuminate night into day. The narrative unemotionally states that most humans do not understand the impact this star could have on life and after a few days the panic fades. Earth seems destined to be destroyed until in India “men cried to God”. Only then does the story shift as if in answer. “Out of the East with a strange inexplicable swiftness sprang the sun…star, sun and moon rushed together across the heavens.” The word choice here creates the idea of a supernatural intervention; instant, unexplainable, and heavenly. God created the sun, moon, and stars on the same day, it is proper they would come together again at the end. Earth is spared and the Martians exclaim “Considering the mass and temperature of the missile that was flung through our solar system…it is astonishing what a little damage the earth, which it missed so narrowly, has sustained.” Wells chose the words “missile” and “flung” to create the idea that Nature/God is capable of waging war, which man cannot win. Only the Martians, foils for the humans, seem capable of understanding. Wells points out that we are egocentric by nature, observing natural phenomena through our limited perspective. This may be the first story of its kind warning about what nature could do to us rather than the reverse.