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

In Which Antigone is Decidedly Not Hilarious

I’m gonna go ahead and just put forth that at times I can have a slightly morbid sense of humor. (Roald Dahl, anyone? The funniest parts of his books are the parts during which people die. I don’t even know.)

This having been said, in 10th grade when I first read Antigone, I thought I was the most hilarious thing ever. (If you’ve read Antigone, you’ll realize why this is odd.) If you haven’t read Antigone, spoiler alert, but there’s rather a lot of suicide. It’s Sophocles, what did you expect.

I’m not exactly sure what I missed at the age of fourteen, but as I was at one of my most cynical ages, I immediately dismissed the main heroine of the play as overdramatic and ridiculous. “Oh, I want to die; in fact, your method of dying is taking too long! I’m just going to hang myself on my veil instead.”

—note to self for later: does Antigone rob herself of her honor by committing suicide instead of being executed… Though she was going to be executed later? And is it notable that she kills herself in the same manner as her mother does? (Probably not, seeing as Oedipus Rex was actually written after Antigone.)

I see much more in my rereading; in setting aside my cynicism (and looking at the play from an angle of intellectualism instead of mockery as well as keeping in mind how much I loved Oedipus Rex) I finally understand Antigone – and I don’t know what to make of her! She is quite the character. I can’t decide if I like her or not. One sees her as a type of Achilles, aspiring after honor & nobility above all via the path of family loyalty. She makes a martyr of herself in an attempt to repair the family honor ruined by her traitorous brother (and perhaps her accidentally incestuous father? This puzzles me – does Antigone do what she does out of love for her family or does she really think she can restore honor? Given the actions of Oedipus I don’t really think that’s possible in any way). She wants to die and she wants her deeds proclaimed not because she’s the main character of a soap opera, but because she wants the honor that comes from her deeds. The question is begged: if a girl buries her brother contrary to the law and no one is around to see it, does it make an impact? By courageously proclaiming and defending her actions, Antigone wins for herself outrage and support of the people of Thebes. No one remembers that her brother was a traitor, just that Creon ordered him to decay ignobly and Antigone risked her life to honor him as was proper in the eyes of the gods. But… Does this make her likeable? Not that it’s necessary for a main character to be likeable (I feel like that’s an argument that people usually feel the need to make for The Catcher in the Rye, but I actually love Holden… I’m probably just weird), but I’m definitely my terms poorly – it’s more that I can’t decide if she’s morally correct in her actions/of good character. Her actions reek of selfishness to me… Perhaps it’s because of my modern mindset, but she does seem to be making rather a large fuss over something she said was for the sake of the dead and not those still living. Her family loyalty obviously doesn’t extend very far – or, actually, extends too far. She completely rejects Ismene as a sister when Ismene doesn’t assist her in burying her brother. (Will die for her brother when he turns traitor to the city but completely disavows her sister for not breaking the law, even though she is willing to face the consequences beside Antigone? How much of this complete lack of loyalty to country is due to the fact that she believes Thebes to have wronged her father and ruined her family?)  However, Isemene intrigues me probably the most of any character in the play… She’s not the Anti-Antigone, but… Almost the midpoint of the two extremes? The combination of the two loyalties and two moralities set opposite each other in the play.

But I don’t know. I wonder if I’ll ever figure it out; right now I’ll be content with the fact that I’m not treating it as a comedy anymore. 😉

If this post makes absolutely zero sense, I apologize, I wrote the vast majority of it at 3 AM last night. (I couldn’t sleep.) Rereading it, it’s almost an internal monologue of my sleep-deprived brain attempting to riddle out Greek tragedy. My life, ladies and gentlemen. 😛

Thanks for reading & best wishes,
Hero

As I Go Headfirst Down the Stairs

In this dimly lit study I drink my coffee and peer creepily at the cars rolling down the street, essentially ignoring all forms of  actual study. To my left are two papal encyclicals (that I’ve finished reading, thank goodness); to my right is another that is as of yet unread, but needs to be by Thursday… In front of me a book of Plato’s Dialogues, Greek Tragedies, and Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, along with my notebooks and my folders for Driver’s Ed.

My elbow rests on my orchestra paperwork, reminding me that I still have four études, a scale, and half a solo (it should be the whole solo, but I’m hopeless) to practice on my cello, who waits patiently upstairs completely surrounded with sheet music.

Amid all this, I write a blog post and blink sullenly with the Beatles blaring in the background. It seems that when I have only a little bit of work to do, I view it as less important and so I put it off. But then when it piles up I stress to the point where I am just drowning in it so I banish it from my mind and don’t do it either.

It’s kind of a lose-lose situation.

[Enter many hours later.]

Oh. Also. I procrastinate on my methods of procrastination. For instance, this blog post! Yeah, I’m basically the worst. I also can’t remember what my original purpose in writing was.

*thinks*

Right. I’m stressed. My mom also does this uncanny thing where she walks in and starts scolding me for not working on something that I’ve actually been working on and freaking out about already. The thing is, I’m very self-regulated, and chances are that by the time you have to nag me to do something, I’ve been guilt-tripping myself over it for hours. I seem to live my life in constant panic mode.

This is something I’ve noticed recently, specifically with cello: I am a hugely tense person. I got a new cello teacher and he frequently does this thing where he looks over and goes, “Just relax your arms! No – no! Relax!” or “You remind me of how I used to be, you keep all your tension right in your jaw… Let it go.” “But I have to tense somewhere!” “No. You don’t.”

*insert feeble excuse here*

Physically, I am tense. I wake up every morning with an aching back because I clench my muscles while I sleep. I can’t just sit still; I’m jittery. I fiddle with everything – I was on a Skype call with my friend Sarah and I realized that within the space of ten minutes I’d pressed all the buttons on my calculator, turned my phone on and off six times, played with my watch, flipped through a book, spun all the buttons on my shirt around both clockwise and counterclockwise, pulled my purity ring off my finger and put it back on more times than I could count… I am physically incapable of relaxing.

I’m the same way emotionally, too. I worry incessantly – about me, what I’m doing, my life, my decisions, my failures, the amount of work I have to do… worry worry worry. I worry about other people – I have a friend who every single time he goes to a party or out at all, really, I spend the entire time wringing my hands and thinking he’s going to end up dead in a ditch or something. I’m serious! It’s constant. If I can worry about it, I will worry about it. It eats me up, my heart basically gets completely wrung out every time someone takes longer than usual to respond to a text message or I have to say something awkward to them or I think they’re upset. I’m basically a mother hen who kind of just herds all her chicks and has a complete aneurysm every time one of them is even vaguely sort of possibly out of sorts. (At art camp they called me Dorm Mom because I immediately fell into the mother position and started snapping at everyone and keeping them in line. I’m “Mumsy” to a number of my friends because I’m such a Mom about EVERYTHING.)

Overall in my life, I am happy. I stress about the work I’m doing, but ultimately I’m doing the work because I love it. Greek philosophy and drama? I’m in love with it. Cello? Same. I worry about myself and my life because I want to make sure I’m doing things that are good and true and beautiful. I worry about my friends because I love them more than life – and surely that’s a good thing?

And my restless leg syndrome is probably due to the excessive amounts of coffee I consume daily and my failure to have a normal sleep schedule. 😉 No one to blame but myself.

Even though sometimes I feel like I’m flailing and falling headfirst down the stairs, ultimately I am having one of the best summers I have ever had, with the best friends I could possibly ask for, doing everything I love, and crossing off item after item on my summer bucket list.

I realized basically two seconds ago while kind of aimlessly staring at my dresser at my favorite photo of me and Essie that failing does not make me a failure; that just because I don’t accomplish every impossible task I set down for myself, I am doing everything I can to the best of my ability, having fun, seeking wisdom, and hopefully growing a bit in the process.

After all, isn’t that what being young is all about? I may be an old biddy at heart, with my affinity for cats and sweaters and completely ancient music, and my tendency to fret endlessly about the people I care about most, and my everpresent grumpiness, but I am me and I am young and because of that I am learning and laughing and loving… and that desire to always seek wisdom, to always be able to laugh at myself and enjoy my life, and my unbridled and unabashed love for my friends and family… that is what’s going to keep me as the most youthful, hip hop & happenin’ old biddy there is for every day of my life.

Thanks for reading & best wishes!
Hero

In Which I Finally Read 1984

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To preface this: I’m not sure, having read 1984 now, that there really are any similarities between Big Brother and Sauron… However, I still am going to read LOTR (in full) and at least take a stab at pulling the two together; though it may not happen soon, as I have a boatload of Greek tragedies/dialogues to get through before the middle of July and I have a craving for Charles Dickens in the inbetween.

That being said, I finally finished 1984 the other day, and I wanted to give you my thoughts, since it’s been so long since I’ve done a proper literature post. (It goes without saying but: spoilers. Serious spoilers.)

I wrote this immediately after finishing it while brushing my teeth at some point past finishing it on the 19th of June:

“Ugh, 1984… I can’t even think…

The worst thing is: I hate it now. But tomorrow I’m going to wake up and be hit with the sudden and violent realization that I’m supposed to hate it and that’s the genius thing about it… So I’ll think it’s amazing.

In a sense 1984 as a novel is like the Party… It is terrible but it is in its terribleness that it convinces us of its goodness. 1984 is forcing me to feel this… Slavery… Is… Freedom…

*chokes*

This won’t make any sense if you haven’t read 1984 but when I closed it I wanted to throw it against a wall but it hasn’t even been ten minutes and I’m just overwhelmed by its sheer brilliance……… I hate myself.”

From my journal on the 20th:

“So 1984. Okay. Wow.

Now this is difficult to write about, because I sort of hated this book… but in a contradictory fashion, I think it’s fantastic. When I finished it, I wanted to throw it up against a wall and/or set it on fire (unfortunately it isn’t my copy, so I couldn’t do that). I felt completely crushed. Good had lost and evil had triumphed… everything that had been up was now down; black was now white; evil was now good. The level of despair and anger one feels at 1984′s conclusion is huge. It’s not just that evil won, it’s that evil obliterated good… That those who had been fighting it had been won over. There was no secret victory in the hearts of the characters. The good character, the last real representative of true mankind has been converted into that which he once despised and fought against. Evil is triumphant and no one in the novel cares or is fighting it come “The End.”

So that basically sucks.

But after I wanted to set the book on fire, I got up to brush my teeth and I kind of stood there leaning against the sink and thinking about it and I slowly started to realized that I was supposed  to hate 1984. I was supposed to want to burn it and hate all the characters for betraying humanity and that which is good. Orwell as the writer operates the same way as “the Party” in the novel does… He takes away everyone who is good. The Party does not want martyrs and they do not want people to inspire faith (and beyond that – rebellion). Every character in the novel who gave you hope or made you believe that there was change on the horizon either turned out to have been evil the whole time or was corrupted by the time the novel ended. He gave hope and then took it away, ripping your morale to shreds. When Winston finally embraces Big Brother, I died a bit inside. It’s soul crushing.

Post 1984 texts I sent:

‘Oh this novel. It’s brilliant. It’s like psychologically manipulative. THE BOOK IS IN AND OF ITSELF THE CORE OF THAT WHICH IT PRESENTS.’

(The response to this was, “Go to bed, you sound drunk.”)

‘BUT LOOK. So I texted you the second I finished this book and I was furious and crushed that Big Brother had won and Winston had collapsed ad then I put it down and went to brush my teeth and GOSH that’s the whole point! 1984 is a novel trying to show everyone why totalitarian regimes are the worst thing ever so naturally you’re supposed to get out of it and hate the world and realize that Big Brother crushed Winston and this book crushed you and you realize that you cannot let what happened in the book happen IRL because Winston who in the book represents the last real human with a soul and his own thought…. He has been torn down and finally defeated and you’ve lost hope in humanity and… Now you feel like you have to stop that. He let humanity down, but you won’t. I am enraged at this ending, but that’s brilliant… This book is awful but it’s supposed to be awful to make you feel how I feel right now and think what I’m thinking… The book is written specifically to evoke an emotional response just like Big Brother emotionally warps… Oh, this is genius.’

I think what impressed me the most was how well Orwell did in not only showing the totalitarian regime at its utmost height, but by employing the same principles and methods of said regime subtly in his writing, he puts the bad taste of it directly into your mouth… It’s simultaneously terrible and stellar.

So all I can say is that this book should be read. It’s not entertaining or enjoyable, but it’s definitely a classic for very good and well thought out reasons.”

Some things I have to add: this book is kind of dull and there are some parts that are actually painful to read… the characters are flat and just make you irritated. I would argue that that’s the point – that you should hate them and everything about the society. I think the only character I actually liked come the end was the prole woman who kept singing that song and folding laundry – and I even didn’t like her at the beginning. It’s not a fun read. It’s like when you eat something and it doesn’t really taste good, but somehow the aftertaste is delicious. That’s this book. I also definitely feel that Brave New World is a more accurate reflection of where society is headed today – 1984 was probably more relevant in a communism saturated era, but nowadays we kind of all realize how terrible communism is without much help.

I definitely recommend it, but I can’t promise you’ll enjoy it. 4 stars. 🙂

I’m really hoping to start posting more frequently – VBS starts tomorrow, so maybe I’ll have something to write about. Thanks for reading, and I appreciate y’all sticking with me even though I’m so negligent of this poor little blog.

~Hero

Chums for the Dumps

I’m feeling slightly out of sorts today, but I’m cheering myself up with a big cup of coffee, a week old soft pretzel, the 10th Doctor, and the thought that if I so asked, my friend Josie would pop out of the woodwork and sing the Gaston song for me to make me feel better. (She is the Le Fou to my Gaston and it’s awesome.)

And though I am almost identical to Gaston in every way possible (ha), I do have a penchant for reading that he rather lacks…

This is a rather silly lead-in to a post one of my and Josie’s most gorgeous friends tagged me to do, all about books and reading habits. So without further ado, here we go!

Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack: Yes; I snack while doing everything. Usually potato chips because they’re easy, or oranges. I love oranges. (I have an unhealthy addiction to oranges. Well, I guess it’s a healthy addiction… Guess who won’t be getting scurvy anytime soon?)
What is your favorite drink while reading? Coffee. During Lent it was tea. But usually it is coffee.
Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the thought of writing in books horrify you? It depends. I mark up & take notes in some of my spiritual books, but usually if something strikes me I write it down elsewhere.
How do you keep your place while reading a book? I actually have a tendency to just shut the book and search for my place when I come back. I’m properly good at it. (Sometimes.)
Fiction, non-fiction, or both? Fiction, generally. Non-fiction can be good, too, but I generally read fiction.
Are you the type of person who tends to read to the end of the chapter, or can you stop anywhere? I usually have to stop anywhere, because I don’t have time to read a chapter to its conclusion. (I read in bits and pieces because of my lack of free time.) I’ve been on chapter 17 of Out of the Silent Planet for about a week now.
Are the type of person to throw a book across the room or onto the floor if the author irritates you? Yes. Cue me at the end of Inheritance.
If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you look it up right away? If I’m on my nook, yes, because then I don’t really have to put the book down. Otherwise I just get around it by context and move on.
What are you currently reading? Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis. I’m almost finished – debating whether I should move on directly to the next book in the series or leave it alone.
What is the last book you bought? I bought a bunch of books at Goodwill, including The Pilgrim’s Progress and Murder on the Orient Express. My mom just bought me The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena, if that counts.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read? Basically whenever I have time!

Do you prefer series books or stand alones? If it’s well written, I don’t care. I prefer to write stand alones because I’m lazy, but I’ll read whichever with no preference.

Is there a specific book you find yourself recommending over and over? The Great Gatsby, lol. I recommend the Books of Bayern a lot, and the Leviathan series. I love that series.

How do you organize your books? My books are organized on my shelf by the last name of the author. 🙂

I guess the overarching point of this post was for me to say that the ultimate chums when you’re down in the dumps is a good book. And Doctor Who. If any of you want to do this, feel free! You don’t have to link back to me or anything. As for being tag-errifically annoying, I’m going to dramatically point at Raewyn from My Spare Oom!

Thanks for reading!
Hero