Sunday, August 5, 2012

100 Books Every Woman Should Read - The Sorrows of Young Werther***

"This is an epistolary and loosely autobiographical novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, first published in 1774; very dramatic and even overwrought it is nonetheless very moving."

I loved the first three quarters of this book!  The writing is simply exquisite; it is one of those books in which I would read a paragraph, or a whole page, over and over again because it's beauty so touched my heart!  However, towards the end of the book the main character becomes kind of ridiculous and then the whole thing just gets depressing.  So I highly recommend most of this book and leave the rest to your judgment.

Some snippets of beauty from this work:

  • "misunderstandings and lethargy perhaps lead to more complications in the affairs of the world than trickery and wickedness"
  • "In the same way, the most restless of travelers ends up pining for his homeland once again, and discovers in his cottage, in the arms of his wife and amidst his children, and in the labours that are necessary to support them, that joy he sought in vain in the wide world."
  • "If you could but see me, my dear friend, amidst that whirl of trivial amusements!  My senses are quite dried out!  There is not a single instant when the heart is full, not one single hour of bliss!  nothing!  nothing!"
  • "I am also disturbed to find he values my mind and abilities more highly than my heart, which is my only source of pride, and indeed of everything, all my strength and happiness and misery.  The things I know, anyone can know - my heart is mine and mine alone."
  • "the reason why those times whose recollection so torments me now were so blissful was that I awaited His spirit with patience, and received the joys he bestowed upon me with a full and deeply grateful heart."
  • "Think of you! - I do not think of you; you are always before my soul."

Saturday, August 4, 2012

100 Books Every Woman Should Read - The Life of Samuel Johnson***

This is an astonishingly good, fun read despite the fact that it weighs in at about 5 pounds.  We love that a 1200 page book can be so immensely readable.

Immense, yes.  Readable, eh.  That's up for debate.  I appreciate Boswell's effort to make this biography not a mere recitation of facts about a person but rather an opportunity to really get to know the person Samuel Johnson.  He even makes the point that a biography should have a moral, a biography should be penned because there is something to be learned from this person's life.  However, this book is absurdly long.  It can be rather dry and certainly gets tedious after the first hundred pages.  In order to help us get to know Johnson, Boswell seems to feel the need to include every letter Johnson ever wrote and record every miniscule action he ever performed.  Heaven forbid we should not know that Johnson sneezed.  That being said, this work does contain many tidbits of wisdom, some of which I have included below.

Possibly another reason I was rather down on this book was because Johnson and I would not have gotten along.  Boswell was his biggest fan and definitely tried to paint him in the best light possible and yet I could not bring myself to like the man.  I found him to be an argumentative know-it-all and I have enough of those to deal with in real life without also having to read about them.  As Boswell says, "there is no disputing with him.  He will not hear you, and having a louder voice than you, must roar you down."

  • "In a man whom religious education has secured from licentious indulgences, the passion of love, when once it has seized him, is exceedingly strong; being unimpaired by dissipation, and totally concentrated on one object."
  • "Though no comets or prodigies foretold the ruin of Greece, signs which heaven must by another miracle enable us to understand, yet might it be foreshewn, by tokens no less certain, by the vices which always bring it on."
  • "he would not be accessory to the propagation of falsehood"
  • "Distant praise, from whatever quarter, is not so delightful as that of a wife whom a man loves and esteems.  Her approbation may be said to 'come home to his bosom'; and being so near, its effect is most sensible and permanent."
  • "I who have no sisters nor brothers, look with some degree of innocent envy on those who may be said to be born to friends; and cannot see, without wonder, how rarely that native union is afterwards regarded.  It sometimes, indeed, happens, that some supervenient cause of discord may overpower this original amity; but it seems to me more frequently thrown away with levity, or lost by negligence, than destroyed by injury or violence."
  • "Madness frequently discovers itself merely by unnecessary deviation from the usual modes of the world.  My poor friend Smart shewed the disturbance of his mind, by falling upon his knees, and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place.  Now although, rationally speaking, it is greater madness not to pray at all, than to pray as Smart did, I am afraid there are so many who do not pray, that their understanding is not called in question."
  • "A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see."
  •  "we live in a critical, though not a learned age" 
  • "without truth there must be a dissolution of society"

Sunday, May 27, 2012

100 Books Every Woman Should Read - 1984**

The next book on the list was actually Brave New World by Aldous Huxley but as I had already read that and had not read Orwell's classic 1984 I decided to substitute in the later. 

To be honest, I was somewhat disappointed with 1984.  The power of post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels lies in the fact that they are believable, that it is possible that this kind of society could come to exist.  I found that Orwell's novel went rather outside this realm of believability.  I must say that I have never encountered a better description of hell and if that were what Orwell had set out to describe in this novel I would say that he had done a masterful job.  However, what he set out to do was describe the ultimate end of socialism.  I felt that the novel lost much of its power because it was unrealistic, because it is very hard to imagine society ever coming to the point described in 1984. 

Much of the reason that 1984 was a good description of hell, but also utterly unbelievable as an earthly society, was the complete hopelessness of the situation.  Hopelessness or despair is antithetical to Christianity and to true humanity.  An earthly situation could never be entirely without hope as the situation in 1984 is.  There is also a disturbing absence of forgiveness, not in that it is rejected but in that it does not even exist, there is not one mention of it throughout the book.  If one were to mention the term to a citizen of the country of Oceania it is presumed that the word would be alien to them.  Furthermore, there is frequent reference to human beings behaving like animals or beasts.  The more one sins the less human one becomes and so what has been revealed in private revelation is logical, that persons in hell no longer appear to be persons but horrible beasts, creatures that C.S. Lewis said we could not imagine in the darkest nightmare.  The masses in Orwell's novel often give the appearance of being such creatures.

That being said, Orwell is a fantastic writer.  Despite the book's overall lack of believability it is chock full of nuggets of truth.  Here are a few:
  • "He wondered, as he had many times wondered before, whether he himself was a lunatic.  Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.  At one time it had been a sign of madness to believe that the earth goes round the sun; today, to believe that the past is unalterable.  He might be alone in holding that belief, and if alone, then a lunatic.  But the thought of being a lunatic did not greatly trouble him; the horror was that he might also be wrong."
  • "The heresy of heresies was common sense."
  • "His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer.  And yet he was in the right!  They were wrong and he was right.  The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended.  Truisms are true, hold on to that!  The solid world exists, its laws do not change.  Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth's center."
  • "Anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, was always vaguely suspect."
  • "A curious emotion stirred in Winston's heart.  In front of him was an enemy who was trying to kill him; in front of him, also, was a human creature, in pain and perhaps with a broken bone.  Already he had instinctively started forward to help her.  In the moment when he had seen her fall on the bandaged arm, it had been as though he felt the pain in his own body."
  • "In a way the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it.  They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening."
  • "Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad.  There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad . . . He fell asleep murmuring 'Sanity is not statistical,' with the feeling that this remark contained in it a profound wisdom."
  • "What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?"

Monday, January 9, 2012

100 Books Every Woman Should Read - Fahrenheit 451***

"Wonder why we're recommending so many books? Read this and feel the urgency, the necessity of literacy and education. Also it is just a great read!"

This book is incredibly well-written. I can not even adequately describe the way Ray Bradbury strings together words into a beautiful masterpiece of a literary work. It absolutely must be read, if only to appreciate the verbal jewel which Bradbury has constructed. Indeed, Bradbury's writing is so superb that I was not satisfied just to read the book but also eagerly devoured the Afterword and Coda. As a sidenote, I highly recommend reading the Coda at the end of the book.

In addition, this book's message is spot-on. It forces one to see the importance of the written word and the dangers of technology. In some ways this book reminded me of the Disney/Pixar movie Wall-E, except that it was better and made more sense. It is a particularly fascinating read at the present time, as our society steadily transitions to a technological society, a "culture of the image," if you will, with increasing dependence on electronic devices.

I especially appreciated how Montag was totally lost until Clarisse's simple love came into his life. All it took was for someone to pay attention to him, to look "straight at me as if I counted." Our simple acts of love can do so much, they can prove to others that they do matter, that they are worth something, and they can change hearts.

Oh and I love that the book ends with a quote from the Bible!

This book is an absolute must-read!

Some quotes:

  • "Well, after all, this is the age of the disposable tissue. Blow your nose on a person, wad them, flush them away, reach for another, blow, wad, flush. Everyone using everyone else's coattails."

  • "I like to watch people. Sometimes I ride the subway all day and look at them and listen to them. I just want to figure out who they are and what they want and where they're going."

  • "We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?"

  • "The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That's why we've lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we're almost snatching them from the cradle."

  • "But Clarisse's favorite subject wasn't herself. It was everyone else, and me. She was the first person in a good many years I've really liked. She was the first person I can remember who looked straight at me as if I counted."

  • "I often wonder if God recognizes His own Son the way we've dressed Him up, or is it dressed Him down? He's a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when He isn't making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshipper absolutely needs."

  • "The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies."

  • "In the silence our stage whisper might carry."

  • "Mistakes can be profited by."

  • "remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh the terrible tyranny of the majority."

  • "you can't make people listen. They have to come 'round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up under them. It can't last."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

100 Books Every Woman Should Read - The Divine Comedy**

This work is toweringly beautiful and surprisingly deep. The punishments meted out in the inferno are shocking to modern ears but truly fascinating.

Well, first of all, since the library doesn't seem to understand this, I just want to clarify for everyone that this book is FICTION. Which, somewhat surprisingly, is actually something that I frequently had to remind myself of as I read it. This epic poem depicts Dante's symbolic representations of hell, purgatory, and heaven. The real things are probably nothing like what Dante describes.

If you are going to read this book I would suggest that you get a copy which includes an introduction to each Canto, so you know what's going on, and copious footnotes. I also suggest thtat you read these introductions and footnotes. For myself, I usually skip over such things and get right into the story. The problem with The Divine Comedy, however, is that you really can't understand it without these helpful additions.

T.S. Eliot once said "Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them, there is no third." In other words, these are the greatest writers of all time. After reading both Shakespeare and Dante I have come to the conclusion that they are so, not because their stories are particularly good (though Shakespeare does have an occasional gem), but because their poetry is superb. Undoubtedly, Dante's writing is exquisite. However, his story is a chore to get through. Frankly, I don't think it's very good. Which is a little ridiculous since he is writing about the afterlife, I mean who would've thought that could be boring? The one thing I can say for his story is that the symbolism is superb. However, you'll never even know it's there if you don't read the footnotes. And interrupting the story every two lines to see what he's talking about makes the experience quite tedious. So if you're about to pick up this book be prepared for a long journey through the labyrinth of Dante's poetry.

In addition, I take theological issue with Dante on several points. Now, as I said before, this is fiction, so I have to give Dante a certain amount of artistic license. But there are certain points in which I think he went too far. For starters, I'm really not a fan of Dante putting actual people in hell. When it comes down to it, it really seems like his entire purpose in writing The Inferno was so that he could put people he didn't like there. Furthermore, I was very annoyed with a particular scenario in which Dante puts the soul of a still living person in hell. This completely contradicts God's mercy and reinforces the theory that Dante is simply writing this poem as revenge.

A few good quotes:

  • Speaking of Purgatory - "Next you shall see upon a burning mountain souls in fire and yet content in fire, knowing that whensoever it may be they yet will mount into the blessed choir."

  • "O Christians be more careful as ye move! And be not like a feather to the wind, Nor think that every water will absolve you! Ye have the Testament, both New and Old, The Shepherd of the Church to guide your steps: Let these suffice to lead you to salvation!"

  • "Christ did not say to His first company: 'Go forth, to preach vain stories to the world,' But for sure foundation gave them truth. So mighty did this truth sound from their mouths That in their battle to enkindle faith They made their shields and lances of the Gospel."