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

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

Shakespeare and Sparks

One of my favorite things in life to do is make up excuses to read Shakespeare. Such an opportunity has arisen in the form of my 11th grade history course. After spending entirely way too much time on the Government of Spanish Aragon and Castile-Leon (respectively) (also, snooze), we’re finally moving to a topic that I really, really like.

THE WAR OF THE ROSES! YORKS! LANCASTERS! PEOPLE GET KILLED! BETRAYAL! GOOD MEN IN ENGLAND WHO DO NO WORK TODAY! AND THE LIKE!

Also, Richard III. Yessssss.

Anyway, as I was doing my reading assignment last week and come across all these historical figures that are featured so prominently in Shakespeare’s plays, I got a really strong urge to read the corresponding plays to our history text.

I mentioned this idea in my class, and I got a couple of the other girls on board. So we’re going to do it. I am crazy excited, and making this post in case any of you wanted to read along with us!

Over the month of February, we’ll be reading the Henriad (Richard II, Henry IV [parts 1 & 2], and Henry V), and then concluding with Richard III, as he is going to be a main discussion point in our history class. We’ll be doing Skype calls while we have class off to read this beautiful beast and discussing the various plays, comparing Shakespeare’s portrayals of the characters to the versions in our history text, going over our favorite parts, theorizing about subtext…

EEP! Is it okay for me to fangirl a little? I’m crazy excited.

Of course, I have to do something silly to counteract my intellectual spree… Unintentionally, I assure, but I realized that there is something funny in the fact that I’m reading a plethora of Shakespeare at the same time as a… Nicholas… Sparks… novel…

Please don’t kill me. It’s A Walk to Remember and it was recommended to me by Frankie and Lauren so if it is terrible and brings shame upon me IT IS THEIR FAULT. 

As you may have guessed, I’m having to put aside Les Misérables until I get all this school reading done. The one reason I’m reading the Sparks novel is because I nabbed it from the library and have a deadline for that.

Speaking of, the stack of books is calling my name. If you want to read along with us, we’re reading a play a week, starting today with Richard II. 🙂

Happy reading!
Hero

A Change in the Weather

Okay, more like a change in the schedule. When I started this blog, I only had classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, leaving Wednesdays completely free.

Now I have classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, so it’s really hard for me to blog on Wednesdays. Do not fret, however! This is good news, because I’m now going to start blogging on Tuesdays AND Fridays, as well as my usual Sunday post. 🙂

Also, I apologize for all the Great Gatsby posts. I’ve been really lazy about blogging recently and as a result have been really boring. But never fear! Today is my last Gatsby post! 🙂 On Sunday I’m going to do another fashion post – I’ve been watching a lot of Once Upon a Time and I want to do a piece inspired by Mary Margaret (Snow White).

Anyway, here’s the last of the Gatsby. 🙂

Continuing the discussion of reliving the past:

I’d like to point out Daisy’s daughter here, in the scene at the Buchanan’s house before all the crap hits the fan. Daisy talks about how she doesn’t look like Tom, tries to convince herself that the child is solely hers – and then the girl asks, “Where’s Daddy?” This is where it really hit me – and I think Gatsby, too – that Tom Buchanan cannot be done away with just like that. Daisy’s daughter doesn’t want or care about Gatsby, she wants her father, and Gatsby will never be able to replace him – obliterate him and take his place. He can’t – it’s not possible – and I feel that in that moment, Gatsby starts to understand things. In that moment, things turn south.

There’s one last thing I’d like to mention before I finally close the book. I was watching John Green’s videos about the Great Gatsby (which I will link to at the end of this post), and he says, “You might have noticed that life isn’t fair and sometimes bad people don’t get what’s coming to them.” He goes on to say that wealth and social standing decrease the probability of getting what’s coming to you. I initially saw this video before I read the Great Gatsby, so that idea was in my head through the whole book. I was trying to figure out who and what John was talking about, and I was stumped until I looked over the final chapter again. I could be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure he’s talking about Tom Buchanan. I get this impression from the way Nick describes him at the end of it all.

Tom confesses to telling Wilson that the car that killed Myrtle belonged to Gatsby. He says, “What if I did tell him? He threw dust into your eyes just like he did in Daisy’s but he was a tough one. He ran over Myrtle like you’d run over a dog and never even stopped his car.” He goes on to talk about how he suffered, too, how it was all so awful for him… That’s the thing. Tom is always the victim. He screws over everyone else, but he’s still the victim here. Myrtle gets hit and killed – he’s the victim. Daisy’s life is an atrocity and she tries to escape it… Well, it certainly wasn’t his fault and gosh darn it if he’s not suffering too… How dare you think otherwise?

He feels completely justified in causing a man to be reduced to shambles and eventually commit suicide because of his and Daisy’s mistakes.

Myrtle ran out to the car because she thought it was Tom’s car – she thought she was running to him. Tom thinks Gatsby’s a monster for hitting her, when really it was his own wife who killed it was his own wife who killed Myrtle, and really, it’s Tom’s fault she’s dead. He knows Wilson is going to shoot Gatsby if he tells him that it’s Gatsby’s car and he doesn’t care: he tells him and says Gatsby had it coming.

What exactly did Gatsby do wrong? He loved a woman with too high of expectations and he dreamed impossible dreams that blew up in his face. I don’t think that’s something deserving of being shot over.

In a fair, eye-for-an-eye world, Wilson would have killed Tom. But no, Tom is the victim in all this – he’s the one in the most pain here, and it’s all everyone else’s fault.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…”

And with that, I cap my pen.

~Hero