January Reading Recap

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I am blatantly stealing this idea from The Perks of Being a Bookworm, but I’ve been negligent of my poor blog this week (in which nobody is surprised ever, I’m basically the less funny American version of Nat from communitychannel, who gets comments like, “Nat, you’re like an alcoholic father, as soon as we get used to you being around you leave us again”), and I want to regularly update y’all on the books I read this year. Also, one of my resolutions is to review books, which I haven’t properly done yet.

The Vicar of Wakefield

 The Vicar of Wakefield is a book about a vicar (obviously) and his family, and their various misfortunes. The Vicar is very self-assured in his own righteousness and that of his family, and ironically this confidence in virtue that they don’t actually have leads them into many pitfalls—some hilarious and some cringeworthy. The Vicar is sometimes compared with Job from the Bible, a concept at which I laughed probably too much. The Vicar is in no way like Job, patiently enduring the evils in his life for love of God. I’m sure the Vicar thinks of himself as a kind of Job, but most of the evils in his life are his own fault. That being said, he is well-meaning; once he actually attains humility and, after falling so far, finally has a firm grasp on the virtues he’s always thought himself to have, his life picks up. It’s also admirable how he wants the best for his family and loves them unconditionally, even if he is too foolish to do what’s best for them at times.

In all honesty, I did not enjoy this book. I had to read it for school and it reminded me excessively of Emma in so many respects, but almost worse in that its plot was dull for a good 70% of the book and every character was unbearable and unlikeable and impossible to empathize with. I just wanted to be done. At the same time, I can see the merits of the book, and the discussion that followed it was interesting. I rated it two stars, allowing myself to dislike it.

The Beautiful and Damned

Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, stars Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert, a couple who scorn nearly every other human being alive and yet are miserable themselves. Their romance is built completely upside-down and this book recounts the story of their explosive and disastrous marriage. Fitzgerald writes masterfully, somehow making two completely horrible and unlikeable people relatable and forcing you to care about them. I was stunned and how much I empathized with Gloria, even though I agreed with her on nothing and was often disgusted by her and how cruel she could be. Anthony doesn’t even have redeeming qualities of meaning well, but you somehow care an awful amount about him too (even though you also spend the whole book wanting to kill him). Unlike Gatsby, where the inevitable train wreck of a conclusion comes out of nowhere and takes you by surprise (even though you vaguely expected it), you can feel this train wreck building for the entirety of The Beautiful and Damned, but the unbelievably powerful conclusion still manages to completely slam you in the chest and knock you senseless.

Man. Fitzgerald. Flawless.

I loved this book, unsurprisingly. I love Fitzgerald, I would love him for his writing alone, as I’ve said before, but this story was so moving and such an absolute tragedy that I was blown away. Four stars.

Heaven to Betsy & Betsy in Spite of Herself

This definitely isn’t my usual speed of book—in fact, I was basically in the process of picking up The Brothers Karamazov when my friend Sophie ordered me to drop everything and read this series. Of course, I’ve only read the first two so far, but I am planning on finishing it this year. This book is actually two books in one, following Betsy Ray’s freshman and sophomore year in high school and her ensuing adventures. In Heaven to Betsy, Betsy starts high school and deals with the average teenage dramas (making and breaking friendships, balancing school and fun, and boys) without being trite or preachy or overdone. Betsy in Spite of Herself is a classic example of being true to oneself. It seems self-evident, but so many young girls still struggle with pressures to conform and are invariably unhappy with their inability to be comfortable in their own skin.

Although this book is set in the early 1900s, Betsy’s problems, dreams, and experiences are all incredibly relatable. She doesn’t feel stuffy and old-fashioned; she feels like your literary best friend, going through the same things you are and offering you companionship along the way. Sophie told me these books are an essential part of growing up, and I think they are—it makes me wish I had read them at the age of Betsy and Tacy, because reading them now just means I relate to Betsy’s older sister more than anyone else. (“I’m off to see the great world!”) I loved these books, I definitely recommend them to any girl in high school, even if you’re a senior, they’re honestly good for the soul.

I’m currently reading a couple books right now (check my Goodreads widget in the sidebar), and I hope to have them all finished by the end of February. I have two flights in the next week, so that should give me plenty of reading time.

Thanks for reading, and best wishes!
Hero

Ordinary Heroisms: January 20-26

DSCN1041Just a few things I’m proud of from last week as this is late.

I was accepted into the Honors Program of my future college!

I made third chair in my orchestra (by some complete and total miracle).

I took a bus trip to my state capitol to support life and respect for the dignity of human beings.

I told a friend who I hadn’t spoken to in a while how much I cared about him.

I exercised when I didn’t want to.

I had an amazing cello lesson and stuck through the annoying stuff.

I managed to stay positive despite the fact that most of my friends were in Washington D.C. for the March for Life.

I finished Heaven to Betsy and Betsy In Spite of Herself.

I read 102 pages of The Brothers Karamazov.

I made dinner once, at least.

I kept up good bedtimes (something at which I’m failing so far this week).

Best wishes,
Hero

P.S. So Liverpool are playing and ugh Gerrard <3

Tofu Stir Fry Attempt of Sorts

Disclaimer: I am not super great at cooking but I TRY and that has to count for something. I had a meeting this evening, but as I’d done weights earlier today, I wanted to make a proteiny dinner when I got home. I’d just bought all the stuff for tofu stir fry, and since that generally turns out okay, I rolled up my sleeves and set to it.

I went through my fridge and grabbed all the vegetables I thought would work. (Please forgive the iPod photos, they were faster.)

IMG_3318I looked through some instructions for draining tofu, but then I realized before I did anything…

IMG_3319…I needed to do the dishes. So I did the dishes. (So far, this endeavor was taking a lot longer than I’d anticipated.)

IMG_3321I set the tofu to fry (and totally overdid the oil) and set the rice noodles to cook, then chopped all my veggies.

IMG_3322In the process, I ended up overestimated the amount of veggies I needed—which I had previously though impossible—and ended up having to cook more pasta to compensating, resulting in just far too much of everything, which was ridiculous.

IMG_3323I drained my tofu and cooked my veggies, dropping boiling olive oil on my foot in the process (A+ kitchen safety) in addition to making a massive amount of mess…

IMG_3324I almost burned the veggies, then ended up having to pull out a separate pan for the noodles, which had been in a colander so long that they were all stuck together, so I poured an excessive amount of sauce on them in an attempt to fix the problem, then dumped the veggies and tofu in the pasta.

The veggies didn’t cook down enough and as I’d put the sauce in before them, it all soaked into the noodles and didn’t get on the veggies or the tofu, and nothing really mixed—the result looked like this.

IMG_3325I claim no points for presentation. But it tasted alright; not my best work, but hey, it was good for me.

Speaking of good for me, I’m determined to get back on my bedtime schedule after bending it slightly over the past couple days to read and watch Sherlock (I’m so glad it’s back!), so I’m going to head off and get ready for that.

Best wishes,
Hero

I Do Go Outside, I Promise: the Roughness of Real Life

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This morning Mom and I got up and drove downtown for an open rehearsal of my local symphony. I love downtown, and I love the symphony, and I love Dvorak. (And I love my mom.) I’d never seen professional musicians rehearse, only perform, and I was excited to see the sort of rough version of the polished symphonies I always go to see. Of course I know that massive amounts of work go into performing, but seeing the orchestra work together and handle critiques and tackle problems as a whole was something I was really looking forward to.

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It was so cool to see. I’m used to going to the symphony in fancy-dress, with a million other people (who have an average age of eighty-three), and all the musicians are wearing black and white tie and the lights are low, and there’s an air of excitement and togetherness and evening. At rehearsal, all the musicians are in normal day clothes, chatting, drinking coffee on stage, and making funny faces at each other during pieces. You can see (if not hear) when they mess up because of their scowls and their hasty comments to their stand partners. The conductor shouts over the music and you see the object of his critique nodding and setting aside his instrument to mark his part while the rest of the orchestra plays on.

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The music was still great—I adore Dvorak (as I’ve said a million times), and it still sounded wonderful to my ears—but something about the fact that it was a rehearsal made it so much better. It felt more intimate, somehow. Maybe it was the fact that I was one of very few people watching. Maybe it was because I got to see their mistakes. Maybe because it all felt so very human, I felt connected with the symphony on a personal level. The clothes, the critiques, the conversation, the coffee, all of these things just drove home the fact that no matter how skilled, how amazing these musicians are, they are people. They make mistakes, they still have to practice, they’re far from perfect, but they come together and they make this mindblowingly spectacular music that just comes alive, that finds your soul and holds it in its hands and says we are all humanwe all feel things so deeply, we can all relate to each other in our emotions, in our passions, in our longings, in that which we strive for. We all love and are loved, we all have things we care about, things we miss, things that move us, things we can’t stand—we all feel, and in this music, in this joint effort of everyday, imperfect people, in this expression of the massive, incredible masterpiece of human emotion, I can see that so clearly.

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After the rehearsal, I had the opportunity to speak with the maestro, and I asked what he thought the greatest thing about Dvorak is. He looked over the stage as he spoke, like the spirit of Dvorak still lingered in the air where his music had just been played with such fervor. He told me that he thinks the greatest thing about Dvorak is that he never lost his folk influences. Even after coming to America, even with his work being shaped by masters and becoming more and more sophisticated, even in his fame and high circles of society, he never lost the earthiness, the realness of the folk, bohemian songs of his home in Prague. Maestro joked, “You know Czechoslovakians, they go ten miles outside of Prague and they’re homesick!” The incredible thing about Dvorak is the same thing I loved about seeing the symphony rehearse: he preserves in all his music the feeling of humanity, the roughness of real life. The simple, unassuming folk music that pervades and influences his work reminds you of his home, his people, and that the most longed for things in life aren’t the most sophisticated or the most urbane, but the most real, the things that make us feel loved and alive and human.

What I love the most about Dvorak is his ability to relate to you on a deeply, personal, intimate level—and that if you can break from your trance, you realize that his music touches the hearts of everyone who really cares and really listens, and it reminds you that at our core, we are all but men, longing to be loved and to belong. Despite our differences, every person deserves respect and kindness, to be accepted and treated as one would treat oneself, because all people share a bond of humanity, the brotherhood of being a member of mankind; crazy, beautiful, wonderful, individual, but still deeply, deeply familial mankind.

Also, I really loved this sign.

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Best wishes,
Hero

 

 

My Shelf, My Stand, & My Spotify

I hate to dump you guys with a lazy post, but I was awful today and my planning was poor. On the upshot, I got to spend a good half an hour talking to one of my best friends’ little brother, whom I love desperately and miss almost as much. It was really great and I was so happy afterwards. I’ve felt strangely exhausted all day for some reason, though, even though I’ve been getting plenty of sleep—hence why this post is a lazy one, I want to get to bed in less than an hour.

My Shelf

I just finished The Beautiful and Damned (sort-of review on my 40 books page), and I’ve decided to just read through the rest of a book of short stories we were assigned for school (which is amazing, I mean… Chekhov). Ward No. 6 was our assignment and I geeked out because I actually bought this book ages ago because I wanted to read it on my own, so I’m super excited over it. Man, it makes me feel like an idiot, though. I’ve had to reread a bunch of them because I didn’t get the story the first time around (and still only vaguely get it on the second time through.)

I’m currently waffling between reading The Brothers Karamazov and The Aeneid as well—I’d planned on the former after my Fitzgerald, but I didn’t realize that a) it’s 900 pages and b) now I’m reading another Russian author, and I don’t know whether it’d be better to read Virgil first or what. Anyway. Let me know what you think. :)

My Stand

Something simple. Everything else I’m playing is giving me high levels of stress, but it’s hard to be stressed over Bach.

My Spotify

For some reason one of my favorite Lorde songs. I don’t know why. But it’s great.

And with that, my laptop is actually yelling at me that it’s running on reserve power, while my body is telling me I’m beyond the reserve power point and am basically just dead. I need sleep.

Best wishes,
Hero