Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Book Floozy

I took a bit of a break from The Count of Monte Cristo to rereread The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society. I’ve done this before to Dickens, and now I’ve done it to Dumas. Le sigh.

Many people can read several books at once. I cannot. I must immerse myself in one book completely or I lose the thread of the story and become confused about character portraits. It’s sort of like when I see someone who looks familiar and then realize that the person I’m thinking of lived in the town I lived in years ago and that this person cannot possibly be him. The people are out of context. I reread Guernsey again because my book club is discussing it this week and because I needed it. It’s a comfort book. There is so much sadness going on in the world right now that I needed the comfort. I adore Guernsey’s story, people, epistolary form, and I learn something new each time I read it. One thing that jumped out at me on this reread is that in occupying Guernsey, the Germans imported their own prostitutes. The Italians did the same in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Quartermaster’s list: rations, arms, munitions, uniforms, medical supplies, soap, whores. Check. 

Speaking of my book club, I am responsible for the dessert for this week's meeting and wanted to find something authentic yet not too difficult. (I wound up buying the ingredients for trifle - not exactly innovative but at least it's English.) The kitchen and I aren't the best of friends. It isn't that I can't cook so much as I don't especially like to cook. If a recipe has more than five ingredients, I keep looking. So while I was Googling around I came upon an unknown book blog discussing Guernsey. One of the commenters said she especially liked the book because it isn't as much of a bummer as other WWII books. Bless her heart. She's young yet and I remember that naivety. I'm not sure she doesn't know that war by definition is a bummer, or that she doesn't want to focus on the despair of it all. But that despair is as much a part of life as the joy. One thing I wish someone had told me when I was 25 is that I would learn as much in the next ten years of my life as I had in the last ten. Or maybe someone did and I ignored it.

I finished the book quickly because I can scarcely put it down once I pick it up, and I’m back in the world of Monte Cristo and his intrigues. It is an intriguing world, that’s for certain.

Tolstoy: Dudes, she didn’t cheat on me with another book.

Dickens: It was all in the timing, Leo. I daresay if the wind had shifted a bit when she was reading one of your books, she would have taken a break then, too.

Dumas: We were on a break? Who am I, Ross Geller? Ma foi!

Tolstoy: *snickers*

Dickens: There are strings in the human heart that had better not be vibrated.

Dumas: He’s quoting himself again.

Tolstoy: *snickers*

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Twenty - The Count Of Monte Cristo - Part Five

But however the mind of the young man might be absorbed in these reflections, they were at once dispersed at the sight of the dark frowning ruins of the stupendous Colosseum, through the various openings of which the pale moonlight played and flickered like the unearthly gleam from the eyes of the wandering dead.
Dumas came this close to making the book a zombie story.

Albert... knowing full well that among the different states and kingdoms in which this festivity is celebrated, Rome is the spot where even the wisest and gravest throw off the usual rigidity of their lives, and deign to mingle in the follies of this time of liberty and relaxation.
So there’s this guy named Albert, right? And he’s quite the ladies’ man in Paris but in Italy no one will give him the time of day. The women are all faithful to their husbands and lovers. They don’t cheat on the men they’re cheating with. This distresses Albert, who was looking to hook up in Italy during the Carnival. Dumas' handling of Albert is hilarious.  

Most of my readers are aware that the second act of "Parisina" opens with the celebrated and effective duet in which Parisina, while sleeping, betrays to Azzo the secret of her love for Ugo.
Well, duh, of course we know that. I believe Hurley on LOST was named after Ugo. (The way his mama pronounces it, anyway.)

I got a bit confused about someone who, as it turns out, is not really dead but only mostly dead so I Wikipedia-ed the character. And I found this picture of Dumas --

He looks very familiar. Who does he resemble? At first I thought it was one of the Three Stooges, but now I'm not so sure.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Twenty - The Count Of Monte Cristo - Part Four

During his world travels, Edmond enjoys recreational use of:

1) Opium
2) Hashish
3) Mushrooms

I won’t tell you the answer because that would be a spoiler. I’ll say only that I didn’t even know the drug in question has hallucinogenic properties. (Clearly, I had a misspent youth. Too much time reading and watching TV, not enough drugs.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Twenty - The Count Of Monte Cristo - Part Three

Faria -

I had nearly five thousand volumes in my library at Rome; but after reading them over many times, I found out that with one hundred and fifty well-chosen books a man possesses, if not a complete summary of all human knowledge, at least all that a man need really know. I devoted three years of my life to reading and studying these one hundred and fifty volumes, till I knew them nearly by heart; so that since I have been in prison, a very slight effort of memory has enabled me to recall their contents as readily as though the pages were open before me.
Now, I pride myself on being a nerd and trying to know a little about many things and much about a few, but this guy may be the King of the Nerds. I can imagine choosing 150 books to read over three years, but to learn them by heart? Okay, well, I can repeat passages of Pride and Prejudice and stuff, but this guy is well out of my league.

Tangent – my friend Mike suggested that I “translate” a portion of the original French into English. You see, we have a friend from Montreal whose English is a bit spotty, but at least she knows two languages. Having never taken a French class, occasionally I try to “translate” her written messages into English. So here goes –
Oui, certainement, reprit Monte-Cristo; mais Lord Wilmore ne m'a pas laissé ignorer, cher monsieur Andrea, que vous aviez eu une jeunesse quelque peu orageuse. Oh! dit le comte en voyant le mouvement que faisait Andrea, je ne vous demande pas de confession; d'ailleurs, c'est pour que vous n'ayez besoin de personne que l'on a fait venir de Lucques M. le marquis Cavalcanti, votre père.
Translation -

Yes, certainly, repeats Monte-Cristo; mad Lord Wilmore is not a lazy ignorer, like Mr. Andrea, and I bring you the special June orange juice. Oh! And let’s go on a voyage to move the fair Andrea, and demand the confession; dilly dally around and he’ll act besotted with a person from Venice, Lucquest, Monsieur the Marquis Cavalcanti, who voted for his father.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Twenty - The Count Of Monte Cristo - Part Two

If Twitter tech existed in the early 19th century -

CountMCristo EdmondDantes

Nothing better than sea air!

@Mercedes See you soon, my love.

@M.Morrel Will meet you at the dock in half an hour, Monsieur. Got good news and bad news.

@M.Morrel @CountMCristo The cargo is fine, successful journey. The captain is not so fine.

Am engaged to @Mercedes and will be the new captain of the Pharaon!

@Mercedes and I are at our Marriage-Feast. Will be married in less than two hours! #bliss

WTF? Hope to be out of this mess soon thanks to the kindness of @deVillefort.

@Mercedes @Father Call my attorney! They can’t do this to me! This is a free country -- #ohcrapimsoscrewed

If it weren’t for @Faria I would have gone mad.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Top Ten Characters I'd Name My Children After

Tuesday meme from The Broke and the Bookish. I’m modifying this to Characters I’d Name My Pets After. That’s legit, right?

1. Caspar – any friendly white animal
2. Toto – small dog that fits in the basket of a bike
3. Scooby – Great Dane
4. Jacob – Wolfhound (even though I’m Team Edward all the way)
5. Churchill – Bulldog
6. Baskerville – any breed of hound
7. Captain Flint – parrot
8. Yeller – mixed breed dog likely to break my heart
9. DeFoe - any breed of spaniel
10. Cheezburger – LOLcat

Book Twenty - The Count Of Monte Cristo - Part One

Napoleon fascinates many people. I am not one of them.

He was a brilliant tactician and all, but I’m not terribly interested in military tactics except in terms of how they relate to the people involved, and most everyone agrees Napoleon was a tyrant. Well, he’s got, like, a complex named after him and stuff. I know the guy went to Egypt and found the Rosetta Stone and did some other great things, but he tended to destroy anyone in his way. Of course, dictators do that or they aren’t dictators for very long. However, it seems I am unable to escape this man. I read all about him in War And Peace, naturally, and here he is again. So, Napoleon's rule in a nutshell –

Strong centralized government (see propaganda), spies, no freedom of expression or the press.

Freedom of religion, but the church was under state control. He granted this freedom as a way to manipulate both the people and the church. Quite shrewd, actually.

The Napoleonic Code with its vast influence contains the following examples: an individual’s career should be determined by his ability and not his birth; protection of private property; workers had no collective bargaining; women declared inferior by law. (Because, you know, the way they treated us didn’t get through our poor little heads and we needed to see it in writing.)

Public, secular education for men.

He developed infrastructure. He helped business leaders with tariffs and loans while helping the poor by keeping the cost of bread low. Popular with both industry and the populace? My, my, how many politicians throughout history have envied him?

He sold us “Louisiana” for a terrific price. Ostensibly, he sold it to thwart England - as you know, the enmity between the English and the French goes way back - but I think he also just needed the money.

Napoleon is known by his first name. You have to have an unusual name and be really famous for that to happen, like Cher.

I'm intrigued by the book so far, and I especially like Edmond. I fear this doesn’t bode well for him, as Dumas must have a reason for ingratiating Edmond to the reader so early in the novel.

Able was I ere I saw Elba.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pre-The Count Of Monte Cristo

I considered reading this book in French because it would go much faster that way. I only know about six words in French. Then I decided perhaps I would miss some of the flavor of the book, so I'm planning to read it in English. But I've heard so many people say they dislike this book that I wonder how I will feel about it. I'll give it 100 pages and see where I stand.

One thing I know - I'm back in 1815!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Nineteen - The Catcher In The Rye

JD Salinger
 Stuff Holden Caulfield Probably Learned As He Matured

1. Curse words tend to have more cachet when used sparingly.

2. When I thought adults around me were full of it, many other adults agreed. But they couldn't mention it at the time because of the Code of Adults (which has been around since Hammurabi’s time).

3. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: hyperbole can be overused.

4. It’s redundant to keep repeating yourself. It really is.

5. There is a difference between jumping through hoops and conforming.

6. Loving is worth the risk. Just choose wisely.

I didn’t know what to expect from The Catcher In The Rye. I’ve heard it hyped for years, mostly by those of the male persuasion. I suppose I expected angst, out of control hormones, rebellion and confrontation. I got those things but so much more. The Catcher In The Rye is also introspective, sensitive and honest. Holden is a real person, able to admit his flaws. How many sixteen year olds can do that? Of course, there is some of the self-loathing typical with teenagers, too. They expect no less from themselves than they do from everyone else, and that’s a whole bunch of expectation.

I don’t know why this book is so controversial - unless the controversy is caused by people who don’t spend much time around adolescents and/or don’t remember much of their own adolescence. Isn’t one of the tasks of that season of life to question authority? Don’t we need to learn to think for ourselves? And for that matter, why do some of us stop? Even when questioning authority, Holden is respectful. He understands the rules but resents being forced to fit into a box not of his choosing.

Holden goes on so much about others being phony because he’s afraid that he is phony. He continually asserts that he hates movies but discusses in detail the many movies he sees and imagines himself in scenes in movies. Brief tangent - a friend of mine talks about people and their own personal “movies,” the drama of their lives. Some people seem discontent unless some sort of chaos is brewing; they enjoy stirring up that pot and spouting off about it to anyone who will listen. I don’t get that. I really don’t. (Fine, I’ll stop now. It was endearing when Holden did it, though. A bit annoying, yes, but still endearing. It really was.)

Why does Holden push people away? So he won’t lose them. Does that seem contradictory? Um, yeah, do you remember being a teenager? Also, the parents in the book are like the parents in Charlie Brown, rarely present and babbling when they are. They aren't a significant part of Holden's life, nor is Holden a significant part of theirs. Coincidence?

Holden is a master of the understated, making wisdom seem accidental. Sarcasm is his tool. He tells the truth as he sees it. He’s perceptive. I like him. I really do. (I’m stopping now. I really am.)

Quotes -
I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot.
I’m always saying, “Glad to’ve met you” to somebody I’m not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.
I get it. But the social niceties are, well, nice. And they bind a society together.
… I’m sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible.
This may be offensive to some, but like everything else it needs to be examined in context. Holden neither liked nor respected the disciples. He thought they let Jesus down. And seriously, when you read about the cock crowing after Peter denied Christ that third time…

Holden didn’t respect the disciples’ humanness. He didn’t understand that Jesus loved them despite their flaws. He knew that Jesus was all about love but the disciples, like Holden himself, were not. They were mortal. That whole unconditional love thing is difficult to understand unless it’s been experienced from both sides. And how many sixteen year olds are capable of loving unconditionally? They’re inherently selfish. I certainly was, and I was even trying not to be. 
I didn’t cut any classes. You weren’t allowed to cut any. There were a couple of them I didn’t attend once in a while…
Sometimes I sorta miss the semantics of adolescence. Remember when you thought you might be able to get away with that sort of thing?
Every time I’d ask her something, she said “What?” That can get on your nerves after a while.
I’m sayin’.

Comin’ Thro’ The Rye
By Robert Burns

O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,
Jenny's seldom dry:
She draigl't a' her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye!

Comin thro' the rye, poor body,
Comin thro' the rye,
She draigl't a' her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye!

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need the warl' ken?

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the grain;
Gin a body kiss a body,
The thing's a body's ain.