Friday, April 30, 2010

Reading the Classics with Paul- Jane Eyre Part 5

I always cry at weddings, don't you?

Well, we've certainly had an eventful week in our narrative!  In fact, I daresay, the bombshell has been dropped and exploded and the rest is fallout (mostly.  Actually, I'm ahead in my reading and I will say nothing more than there is another bombshell coming.  Although Bertha was decidedly the big one.)

In keeping with the spooky atmosphere but mercifully rooted in the pragmatic world, the narrative brings us to the description of dreams of ill things happening to mother and child.  Coming into this side of the Dreaming from what were clearly easily analyzable dreams, Jane sees Bertha for the first time but mistakes the event for some kind of vision.  Does Rochester come clean to his soon to be wife?  We can take this as a cautionary tale.  Don't build elaborate mythologies, secrets and illusions around the woman you're about to marry.  This section very much reminded me of Laurie and my recent viewing of the 1944 Ingrid Bergman vehicle called Gaslight, from the lies and deception, even down to the boarded-up third floor.  Although that's far from the only film to borrow or resemble Jane Eyre.  Welcome to the other side of recognition!  I just got here myself.

Then there's Chapter 26.  They are rushing to the wedding, they get up to the altar, and then everything falls apart as we learn that Grace Poole has been the victim of being associated too closely with one's work.

Bertha seems to mean a lot of things.  On the practical level, she means Jane and Rochester are not going to be getting married right now.  On another level, there is the dread of the madwoman, the wild, violent uncontrolled force in the home with happens to be Rochester's wife.  Maybe I'm getting a little too eggheaded here, but it would seem to me that Bertha might be a symbol of something.  Something to do with a view of marriage and certain forms of marriage.  It may even be that this theme will be explored further in other ways in chapters to come.

Without a doubt we end this week with anything but closure.  There is much to be resolved.  Jane resolves to leave, but not before Rochester digs his hole a little deeper in suggesting more unsatisfactory solutions.  He gives his life story.  They part on those most difficult of terms, the wounded lovers who are still in love.

As much as I was loving the book before, I really felt it gel into remarkable greatness this week.   This next week we shall read through Chapter Thirty-Three, which in my edition takes us up to page 456.  The following week we will finish!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Podcast- The Hunting of the Snark

This week's podcast is The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll.  It is our longest podcast to date, clocking in at almost 27 minutes.  If you note any gaffs in my reading (I assure you they are minor), know that this took me all danged day.  But I am pleased with the results.

The Hunting of the Snark is a nonsense poem (sort of an epic nonsense poem) although, as is usual with Carroll, there is a sort of Wonderland logic to it.  The nonsense is not entirely untethered and the appeal is that enjoyed by those who love word and mathematical games.  I think you'll enjoy it.

They fixed the embed code, so listen to it here:

Or go download it here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Bright Room Called Tony's Old Room

So, we finished painting Tony's old room. It's a lighter, peachier color than the dining room, but there is a flow of continuity between the dining room, the kitchen and this room.  If you enlarge this picture, I should tell you that the paint was not even completely dry when I took it, which is why the color around the electrical socket seems to be glowing and so on.

Here you can see the green of the kitchen if you were standing in the room looking out of the door.

Here I am in my painting clothes.  As you can see, the door to the room we've painted white, which we intend to do to the closet door as well.  So I guess the project isn't completely finished yet, but enough for me to remark on it.  I didn't really have much else to say in this post.  I just wanted to post a few pictures now that we've finished that project and are happy with the outcome.  It's lovely to see the house move further and further from the unloved rental property it had been for so many years before we first bought it.    I remember when we first bought the house, my friend Michael Nehring gave me the very sound advice which I remember often "Remember, the house is never finished." 
Which is very true and advice I would repeat to anyone getting a home of their own.  But it does feel very good to make progress.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Quick Birthday Loot Update

As you can see, I have my new glasses.  They were part of my birthday present.

I was also given a Friedrich Nietzsche watch.  The seconds hand is the phrase "The Eternal Return of the Same" as a constant reminder of the ticking away of my life.

My grandmother sent me money which I used to buy Alan Moore's graphic novel V for Vendetta, which is one of my favorites and I'm not sure how I lived this long without owning a copy.  My aunt also sent me money which I used to buy The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler.

Laurie has ordered this for me: 
You'll notice the description "exotic Middle Eastern/ Neo-Classical melodies & tribal rhythms" which is a good encapsulation of the kind of music I used to listen to.
It's a marvelously beautiful album which I owned many years ago and lost somehow just after it went out of print.  I was extremely excited to hear recently that after a decade it's finally back in print for a limited time and I made a huge fuss and stink over how much I would love to own this album again.  Laurie is making it happen.

My birthday was very nice.  The whole family went out.  Gina brought Stefan and we even managed to get Tony to come, which was nice.  I had a giant veggie pizza.  There may have been singing with the dessert, but if there was, I've blocked it out.

I am 33 years old and in spite of the less than ideal situations in my life at present, I'm fairly pleased with where I am in my life.  In this inevitable week of reflection, it strikes me that I should write more, but other than that I'm pretty happy with where I am at 33.

Bonus podcast

Since I skipped a week in my podcast due to allergies and since I had nothing to do until Laurie gets home this afternoon, I put together another podcast, a bonus podcast for this week.

This time I chose a lesser known piece from the Household Tales of The Brothers Grimm.  It probably doesn't require much more in the way of introduction aside from that.  So, listen to it here

Or, go download it for yourself, please. 

Reading the Classics with Paul- Jane Eyre Part 4

This week's reading had a lot to do with tying up the ends from the first act of the story and propelling us into the third act.  I couldn't have planned it better.  There's the very strange scene with Mr. Mason somehow acquiring a gaping, bleeding wound which Jane seems to assume was given him by Grace Poole.  At the end of the night, the man is hustled out of the house.  I don't know about you, but I have the impression that he may turn up again and that it may be significant that someone stabbed him in the arm.  That may be a plot point.

Mrs. Reed is dying.  Jane goes to her bedside, learns that John Reed fell into the groove he pretty much seemed primed into when last we saw him.  The other two sisters have their final scene with their fates, one (Georgiana, the mean, prettier one) to middle class, bourgeois mediocrity, the other (Eliza, the marginally nicer one) getting herself to a nunnery.  I would again reference that strange article I read which claimed Jane Eyre had a negative view of religion.  I take this as more evidence against that assertion and wonder how closely that essay writer actually read the book.  The convent seems to be about a pleasant an ending as any of the Reed family will enjoy.

One of the most baffling choices from my point of view came with the letter.  If I were Jane, I would have written back to Uncle John on the first scrap of paper I could find.  Jane sort of puts it out of her head for the time being.

Mrs. Reed dies with no peace in her soul.

Rochester seems to be marrying Blanche or about to, but then Jane and Rochester go for a walk in the garden and Rochester, ever full of surprises, proposes to Jane.  Actually, there was a lot more to that scene, but afterward everything seems to be moving in a very happy direction for Jane at last.  However, one notices that we have about 200 pages left to go, so one assumes that something may happen between here and there aside from wedding planning.

Next week, we shall read through Chapter 27 which takes us up to page 376 in my copy.  I believe we will be finished in three more weeks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Podcast!

I apologize again for last week's absence in my podcast.  As I mentioned, my allergies rendered my voice undesirable for reading aloud by my own estimation.

This week I've recorded what is most likely a familiar piece: The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe is one of my favorite authors.  His prose could be a bit clunky in places (although, to those of us who have slogged through H.P. Lovecraft, Poe reads like greased lightning) and his poetry even more so.  But his stories are incomparable.

America is still an infant nation in a lot of ways even as we find ourselves in the winter of a decidedly Faustian period of western civilization.  One could argue that we haven't hit the peaks of art that Europe has produced in the mediums of painting, sculpture, musical composition or architecture (note: I am neither making nor not making that argument myself.)  But one medium that America has decidedly stepped up to greatness and genius is the world of literature.  And everything stems from Poe.  The detective story, the horror story, the weird tale, the fever pitches of emotion, so much is owed to Poe.

So, I hope you enjoy this week's offering.  As usual, you can listen to it here:

Or you can download it here:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reading the Classics with Paul- Jane Eyre part 3

I apologize if my remarks are short and less than brilliant this week.  My allergies keep reminding me of that scene in the recent King Kong film where they try to capture the beast with ropes and guns. Right now the allergy monkey is decidedly winning in my sinuses and lungs.  I wish I could remember where I put that palette of chloroform.

Well, we sure ended on a cliffhanger this week without my planning.

We start this week with a little more character development.  There's the scene where Jane wakes up to demonic laughter and a conflagration in Mr. Rochester's room.  She dowses the sleeping man in water and in effect saves his life.  He, being the Byronic hero we've come to know and love, repays the favor by lying to her and then splitting town for a few weeks.

And what about that fire?  What's going on in this strange house of mystery?  There are many possible speculations.  Maybe it was Grace Poole who seems to very strangely not exhibit in person the aspects of character that people attribute to her from other rooms.  On the fantastic side, the story established the possibility of the supernatural in the beginning when child Jane saw the ghost in the Reed house, so maybe it's something infernal or undead.  This is a cut and dry Romantic Era novel after all.  Or, on the polar opposite practical side, maybe Pilot knocked a candle over and the demonic laughter Jane keeps hearing is actually really the house settling at night or something.

Ah, but now here's one of the downsides of classics.  Be careful little mouths what you say because I, in reality, do not honestly have the luxury of delighting in these speculations because the only thing I came into Jane Eyre knowing about the book, the only plot point I'd ever heard before is the one that explains what's going on.  I'm still enjoying the book, but it's like old cliche of excitedly waiting in line in 1980 to see Empire Strikes Back and having some jerk walk out of the previous showing and hearing them say to their friend "Wow!  I can't believe Darth Vader was Luke's father!"  In full hearing of the line.

Apparently anti-histamines remove my pop-culture reference filter. 

So, Rochester leaves and we round out our week's reading with a few major themes.  One is love, particularly falling in love with someone you maybe shouldn't, someone who others might not think is beautiful or lovely or right for you, but who you love regardless and helplessly.

Then Rochester comes back with a party in tow and I spent the rest of this week reading with my Trotsky cap on.  We are in the thick of classism and social hierarchy.  It gets a little ugly with the Ingram girl who Rochester seems primed to marry at present.  Not only are Jane and the other servants non-entities or, at best, idle amusements to this crowd, even Adele is sort of treated as such.  We're ready for the weird gypsy to drop a train on them, to suck the air out of the room, which she seems to accomplish with Blanche Ingram.  I think the strangeness of the fire scene primed us for the fortune-teller.  We are, of course, at this point wondering what this fortune teller is all about, but the tone has been established enough that it's not taxing our credulity.  Next week we'll see right at the beginning what the fortune teller is on about.  Then maybe we'll get some answers.

Next week we will read through Chapter 23 which is up to page 300 in my edition.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And A Quick Personal Update...

Because I knew I would have to explain why my podcast is going to be a little late this week, I may as well throw in a few other bits of excitement from the past few weeks.  The podcast will be late this week either because the flowering bushes alongside our fence have bloomed or because my body has proven hospitable to a cold or 'flu virus.  I have no idea if I am stricken with allergies or a cold.  Contagion is the only real difference I can see from my point of view.  But this matters to the podcast because, trust me, you really don't want to hear me reading in your ear right now in my condition.  So, I imagine it will be up over the weekend.  I am already feeling a-ways down the road to recovery.

Also interesting today, Laurie found, when she went to go to work this morning, that someone has slashed both of her driver's side tires with a knife.  There's not really a whole lot to be said about that except that it is a miserable thing for one human to do to another.  Of course we don't know who did it.  We do however think we can rule out casual vandalism in that Laurie's was the only car in the area that this happened to and that it seems as if there was some emotional connection in the act as one of the tires was stabbed far more times than would have been necessary to effect that outcome.  We, however, refuse to quail at such craven acts.  I would add that if it were casual vandalism it would be more evidence for my hypothesis that vandalism is classism in that it targets the poor.  Again, support your local libraries, people.  Society could use some good shifts.

But, in cheerier news, our tax refund occasioned the purchase and installation of an electrical dishwasher in our kitchen.  This will save us a tremendous amount of time.  We've also settled on a color to paint Tony's former room (which is currently being employed as a room for the sole purpose of a place for the cats to look out the window.)  More on that after we paint although the short answer is: Peach.

The local electric and gas company has a program for lower income homes where they come and assess your home for repairs that could potentially make the home more energy efficient and then they send someone out to make those very repairs.  The man who came the other day replaced a light fixture in our kitchen, gave us new shower heads, weather-stripped our doors (which involved removing one of them and shaving it down) and sent another man to fix the massive carbon monoxide leak in our kitchen that we were entirely unaware of. All at no cost to us.  Sometime soon, presumably in the forthcoming drier season, they said that they will replace several of our windows as well!

My parents are coming up this weekend to celebrate what will be my 33rd birthday.  That is always pleasant.  I hear tell I may be getting a new pair of glasses.

I also have an upcoming test for a career type job.

Also, aside from the allergin spewing bushes, we have a lot of great flora blooming in our yard.  It's a wonderful time of year.  Our grapevine is excelling, our mint is coming back as is our basil, both of the trees we planted last year have come back, and our clematis vine is blooming with huge flowers.  My hand is in the picture for size context.  For size context for the hand, I have the normal sized human male adult hand:

More soon.

National Library Week

It is National Library Week, so I thought I might take a few moments and write about libraries that have been important in my life.

In my opinion, public lending libraries are one of the best ideas humans have ever enacted in any civilization.  You can go to a building and access and probably even take home with you for a time the collected thought, art, and achievement of humankind.  You can access almost all recorded periodicals, books, films, music.  There is internet access, occasionally job skill courses, lectures and events for children.  Ours has chess clubs, book clubs, movie nights.  You can even go there if you don't know how to read and they will teach you.

I'm in agreement with Eleanor Crumblehulme who wrote, "Cuts to libraries during a recession are like cuts to hospitals during a plague."  Or as Carl Sagan famously wrote,
"I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries."
Unfortunately, libraries are one of the first things our elected officials tend to cut when their budgets need to be trimmed.  Which strikes me as odd as they are not exactly money pits to begin with.  Also unfortunate, and the other side of that same coin, is how little the public uses the public libraries relatively speaking.  You'd think there would be crowds.

When I was growing up, we went to the Garden Grove Library and the one in Westminster, both of which seemed small (although both are twice as large as Chico's) compared to the fabulously wealthy and exclusive (you had to live in that city to get a free library card) Huntington Beach Library.  I have a lot of memories around those libraries.

When I was a boy I remember once finding a library book that had somehow sat in my sock drawer for four years and I panicked.  The nice librarian gave me a gentle reprimand over the importance of timely book returns and then told us that the fees capped at something like $5 (I guess we either took a few years off from visiting the library or that book somehow was lost from their system.)  Which is a cute story but I don't think I've ever returned a book late since.

I spent a lot of time at the Chapman University Library and that actually had a lot to do with the man I've become.  I recall Mindy and I doing an unofficial poll in the Student Union cafeteria where we found every film major we could find and asked them if they'd ever watched 1) Citizen Kane, 2) The Godfather or 3) Dude, Where's My Car?  You are probably way ahead of me as to which film was most represented in the answers and dashed our hopes for the future of film making.  Especially since the former two and hundreds of other excellent, classic films were available to borrow for free from the library about 40 feet away from where we were asking that question.  And that was just the general library.  My friend Nathaniel worked in the film school's library which housed thousands upon thousands of films in a secret, windowless basement room.  This was over a decade ago and it's the only way at that time I would have been able to access Orson Welles' entire directorial catalog.

I've spent a lot of my life in libraries and, Lord willing, should I live much longer, I expect to spend a lot more time in libraries.

And, yes, I've taken dates to libraries before back in my dating years.

I've instructed Laurie that, should I die, she should give any of my books that she doesn't want to the library with the stipulation that they all enter circulation and don't get sold to grabby online used booksellers (like me.)

But, the Chico Library is one of my favorite places in Chico.  Increasingly so as time goes by.

Do visit and support your library this week.  And every other week for that matter.  Life's too short not to.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Reading the Classics with Paul Book Group- Jane Eyre Part 2

Well, almost immediately in this week's reading everything has changed.  Helen's part of the story is decidedly over.  I was sorry to see her go but I thought her coda was very sweet.  We flash forward through the rest of Lowood, showcasing an enterprising young woman that Jane has grown into.  We're introduced to the new living space.

Mrs. Fairfax is a gentle and loving woman.  I really get a kick out of Adele as well.  She's a breath of fresh air in what would otherwise be a very gloomy atmosphere filled with mainly very gloomy people.  Occasionally literally (as when she tries on her present) the only bit of color in the place.  I think there must be some metaphoric intent in Jane's description of her own clothing as Quaker.  She seems to live an austere and ascetic life, content with bare necessities and very little in the way of diversion.  I understand that her formative years were in a place where deprivation was the norm and so this is the young woman she is as she enters the larger world.

We soon realize that there is far more to the house than meets the eye and that there is also an absent employer.  I know enough about the story to come to know that the weird laughing Jane keeps hearing is, in fact, foreshadowing.

Mr. Rochester is a dictionary definition of Byronic hero, isn't he?  At his entrance into the narrative right down to the detail of having a foot injury.  He's moody and closed, brooding but intellectually sparring, giving to fits of strange rhapsodies and apparent visions (I think.  Anyway, the whole scene near the end with him embrace an angel or whatever it was struck me as very strange.  I think he may spend too much time alone.)

He's also a bit of an ass, but a troubled one.  Almost as if there was some horrible secret, some skeleton in his closet which Jane is totally unaware of at this point in the narrative.  A secret which will shed light on why he behaves as he behaves and somehow explain why it's okay that he play mind games with his new employee.

Our reading this week ends with one of the odder flirting scenes I've ever read.  It's full of awkward fumblings for power and dominance mixed with commentary on character, social duty and forgetting of position on both sides.  It seems to establishing a game of wits.  Somehow, I think smart money's on Jane.

This next week we shall read through Chapter 18 which will bring us to page 226 in my edition.  It is fast reading and we've still a long way to go.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New Podcast!

This week's podcast is my reading of The Haunted Mind, an essay by Nathaniel Hawthorne (I do not wish to be disrespectful, but I think he is rather looking here like a man who has lost some sleep in his lifetime.)  It's a piece from his book Twice-Told Tales (so called simply because they were all material that had also appeared elsewhere) dealing with something I know I've experienced and I'm sure you probably have as well: the experience of waking in the middle of the night and the mad, feverous, rapturous, unfettered thoughts that enter the mind on those occasions.  Also on the nature of time, sleep, dreams, humanity and death.

So, this week we've gone slightly back in time in our material and slightly shorter in length.  I thought it was a fantastic piece of literature.  It's an earlier piece of American literature, contemporaneous with Poe (who did not like Hawthorne... or much of anyone else for that matter.)  I think what appealed to me most about it was how it reached forward in time about 170 years, uniting me with a universal human experience.  Perhaps those half-wakeful hours mid-sleep will be slightly less lonely in times to come knowing that it is a shared human experience.  Which, in the end, is a bit of what literature is all about, erasing the borders between humans, the propriety and hiding of our rich emotional lives, and giving us peeks into other brains which reveal that we are not alone.

As usual, you can listen to the podcast here:

Or you can download it yourself, slap it on your iPod and down the road you'll go: 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

In Which I Assign You Homework

This blog post will contain, at the end, a homework assignment for all of you.  I want everyone to complete it immediately.  Whether you read this blog here on on Facebook.

So, you'll all remember I recently wrote a blog post about the Harvard Classics Library, the 52 volume set of books that supposedly contain a nearly Harvard level education for those who read them all.  I've discovered that they are, in fact, still in print.  My problem was that I was looking to the original publisher, Collier (who no longer exist) or their successor Macmillan.  Easton is a prestige publisher.  They publish fabulously beautiful books.

The price tag seems steep to me.  $70 per leather bound, gilt edged volume.  And I have a hard time imagining carrying such a thing around and reading it on a bus or in a break-room should I secure gainful employment in the near future (although, if there's a wealthy patron of the arts to whom $70 a month is nothing, I would emphasize that if I were given a subscription to the deluxe leather-bound editions I would employ my creative powers to figure out a way to make do with them.)  Earlier editions are bound a little more sensibly and, as I mentioned before, with some intrepid searching one could likely assemble a complete set for less than $200 (perhaps much less, more like $100.)  Also, if you have an e-book reader you can download the entire 52 volume set for free.  More likely for me, the Chico Library contains a full set of a basic hardcover edition for the lending for free.  No matter where you are, your local library should have a full set as well and if not, badger your librarian.

Why am I writing about this again?  Well, I think I'm dead set on having that be my next reading group after we finish with the Penguin Essential Classics.  Although the Penguin group will most likely take us up to around the beginning of 2011, I'm already toying with that idea.

However, another idea I've been toying with, which is the reason I'm posting this in the first place, is to do more Essential Classics, but no longer those dictated by the Penguin PR Department.  I thought it might be fun to list our own personal Essential Classics, so here's how we're going to do this assignment.  List your own personal 10 essential classics in the comments here or on Facebook.  Don't be swayed by what other people post and try to restrain yourself from overlapping with books in the list of Penguin's 10 Essential Classics.  You're thinking of the 10 classical literature texts which everyone should read and pretending that this will be the next 10 books we'll read in our series (although don't get too excited about that prospect as it probably won't happen, at least for several years.)  Also, you don't have to be involved in the current reading group to do this.  I want everyone to do it.

Here's mine:

1.The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas- one of my favorite works of fiction.  I assume it was left off of the Penguin list because the 1400 pages might intimidate some. 

2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky- unfettered genius and one of the finest novels ever written.  If you haven't read it you have squandered the years God has given you thus far.

3. Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe- I was tempted to put another Shakespeare play on this list (Lear, Tempest, or maybe I'd be difficult and put Henry IV Parts I and II) but I was very happy and content that they picked Hamlet in the Penguin list.  I love Marlowe.  I used to say that if he hadn't died so early I think he would have overtaken history's place for Shakespeare, but I'm not so sure if I believe that anymore.  Marlowe was a ball of fire.  Shakespeare was a calm and skilled craftsman who grew and evolved as an artist.  But Faustus is a marvelous work and I really think everyone should read it.  The Faust legend is part of our collective unconscious and this is my favorite retelling of it.

4. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde- People who know me know how much I love Wilde.  It was hard to choose which of his works to list, but I think everyone should at least have read this.  It was this or Dorian Gray.

5. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain- I know my list is turning into largely Victorian/Edwardian but there is simply not a better novel in existence than Huckleberry Finn.

6.  Plato's Republic- We needed an ancient and a work of non-fiction (sort of.  Humor me.)  I haven't read this since high school, so the idea of re-reading it appeals to me tremendously.  My reasoning is, along with it being a great feat of human thought (although not always entirely agreeable), so much of the world we humans have created stem from this work that you really should have read this at some point in your life.  You'll identify so much of the fabric of society around you in it.

7.  Beowulf- Yeah, I said it.  If it ever came to this, I would highly recommend everyone get the Heaney translation.  But really, you should read this.

8. Candide by Voltaire- This slot was a toss up between this and Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.  But I went with Candide!  Analyze that!

9. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens- I had to have some Dickens on the list and I figured this and Christmas Carol are probably his two most saturated in the public consciousness.

10. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes- This slot was a toss up between this and Swann's Way by Marcel Proust (earlier I was considering all of Remembrance of Things Past but decided to be merciful.)  But I thought that Don Quixote was probably more of a basic essential than Proust.  Proust is a little down the road for a lot of readers and as far as I know Cervantes never wrote sixty pages about buying a hat.  Plus there's a newer translation I've been eager to check out.

So, there's the list.  I think I get a D- in Diversity.  There's a big list of dead, mainly white, mainly native English speaking, mainly straight men.  I'm a little surprised myself at that.  Although I don't repent of a single title I included on my list, I'm sorry to see what a bad reflection on the global citizenship of Western Civilization is our Pre-1920s Canon of Literature.

I will also say, this was a lot harder than it looks and my respect for the Penguin people just went up a bit.  All the more reason why I challenge all of you, People of the Internet, to post your own personal 10 Essential Classics!


Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Fable of the Wild Boar, by Paul Mathers

Once upon a time, there was a family of means by way of inheritance and generations of social fermentation.  This finally occasioned Father's appointment to a prestigious ambassadorship by good Queen Victoria, and the family moved to a lush countryside mansion in an exotic, exciting, friendly and lively distant nation.

The house was filled with every luxury, convenience and entertainment.  The children, four in total, wanted for nothing.  The kitchen was fully stocked with a world class chef on-hand and on-call around the clock.  There was a resplendent garden, vast, full of worlds of different flora which could be studied for years without exhaustion or repetition. There was a menagerie on the property containing animals from around the world all readily observable in reconstructions of their natural habitat.  There was a library so large that it seemed impossible to name a text or subject not contained therein.  There was an observatory with one of the world's more powerful telescopes of the day.  There was a stage which, given the prestige of the ambassador's position, constantly brought top-tier actors, musicians and speakers who were in or traveling through the area, all of whom were honored to perform at that venue.

The only problem was the wild boar.   Life was endless delight save for the wild boar that roamed the premises.

Everyone decided early on that it had nothing to do with quality of character, the order in which the boar picked them off.  While Geoffrey was decidedly a wicked little monster of a boy, Mother was the first to be gored by a tusk to the carotid artery and stomped to death.  In her case it was in a hallway of the mansion at night as she was checking on the little ones before bed.  Geoffrey was trying to kill finches with his slingshot near the aviary when the boar rounded a shrub and charged the young man.

Nicholas was next to go, in the kitchen, as providence would have it, as he was asking Chef for a bit of ham as an afternoon snack.  Chef tried to fight the beast off with a cleaver, but the weight of the beast on the poor child's chest proved too much.

It was days before someone finally found Father's remains in the wine cellar.  Which left the twins - Charlotte and Jane.  Charlotte was taken around the time the leaves were changing as she was planting lily bulbs in the garden.  The people of the estate had long given up reading metaphors and omens.

Chef, Nursemaid, Evans the Butler, and Jane were the remaining inhabitants aside from the boar.  The morning after Charlotte's funeral, Evans knocked on the door of the library where Jane was reading just after breakfast.

Evans changed his demeanor from subordinate into the position of an elder, "If you don't mind, I would like to ask the same question I asked both of your late parents.  It would be such a simple thing to open the front gates of the estate, place a large, freshly baked and aromatic pecan pie across the street to lure the boar off of the premises and then close the gate behind it."

"I don't see why we should do that.  The boar was here before we were.  It has as much of a right to be here as we."

"In which case, do you have any intention of leaving the estate?"

"By no means.  I love the library, the zoological gardens, the meals and the observatory.  I couldn't imagine leaving those things behind."

"You do understand that you could have all of those joys without having the boar."

"I think we have already exhausted that line of conversation, Evans."

"Aren't you concerned that the wild boar might kill each of us one by one?"

"Oh, it will.  I'm sure of it.  Sooner or later.  It is a wild boar, after all.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get back to my book."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reading the Classics with Paul- Jane Eyre part 1

Jane Eyre, so the popular version of the story goes, was written by Charlotte Bronte after a conversation with her sisters in which the sisters were speaking about how a heroine ought to be beautiful and stunning. Charlotte held the position that a heroine could be plain (it's said echoing Charlotte's own view of herself and treatment by others) and to prove her point went and wrote one of the greatest novels in the English language.  I have no idea if that story is true or not.  If it were true, I certainly hope Branwell Bronte was nothing like John Reed.

Upon completing our first section of Jane Eyre, I think I've already gained a little understanding into the process of elimination employed by the good people at Penguin Classics in compiling their list of 10 essential classics. At first glance of their list, oh so many months ago now, I was shocked, even a bit bilious, over the omission of any work by Mr. Charles Dickens. For one. There were many other classic authors omitted from the list that scandalized me until I calmed down enough to realize that a list of 10 books must needs only include a maximum of 10 different authors.

In this case, I think I understand why this book covers ground that would also be covered in, say, Oliver Twist, Bleak House, possibly even The Old Curiosity Shop. And in spite of my love for the work of Mr. Dickens, given how much I'm enjoying Jane Eyre, I don't feel robbed by any means.
We have the young orphan with the mean guardian and odious guardian's biological children.  There's one nice nursemaid.  There's accounts of near torturous treatment, an odd supernatural moment, and the doctor who sort of saves her from her condition both physically and geographically.  There's the boarding school/charity school or whatever the proper term may be complete with strict teachers, inadequate nourishment (a theme which recurs so often in accounts of Victorian schools that one must conclude that it was epidemic), and an even stricter headmaster.  The latter struck me as a villain reminscent of Dickens but without a funny name. Although do please bear in mind that in reading the classics we are exposing ourselves to source material, no matter how familiar they may seem now.  Seeing this as a "stereotypical" impoverished orphan in a boarding school scene would be a bit like watching a Marx Brothers film and complaining that they've stolen all their jokes from Animaniacs cartoons.

I was a little surprised to see Bronte's very forward thinking view of the inequality of men and women already in the book (so far we just have the headmaster and John, the brutish bully of a brother through adoption.)  We also see very strongly the oppositional forces between children and adults, the needs of each of those two groups from the other and how people, while giving the appearance of having it all together, are fumbling and failing over those needs.  I almost hesitate to mention it as this is the first female author in our series, but in all fairness we did talk about male-female relationships with male authors in the past (at least parenthetically.)

Also we have a little moment of contrasting world views between Jane and Helen Burns (the latter may well have been my favorite character thus far in the narrative.)  Helen is the Christian antidote, the polar opposite religiously to Mr. Brocklehurst (whose name, if I translate correctly, is something like "Badger Hill."  So maybe there's your touch of Dickensian names or maybe my brain is stuck in Dickens.)  Helen's virtuous character, long-suffering, patience, compassion, and love is in glaring opposition to Mr. Brocklehurst's legalism, cruelty and perfectionism (long-time readers of this blog may be pulling the same modern comparison my mind made over Mr. Brocklehurst to a modern, child-rearing pharisee.) I have recently read a paper on Charlotte Bronte where the author suggested, with this book as evidence, that Bronte had a very negative view of religion, specifically Christianity, on the basis of Mr. Brocklehurst.  This seems to me a re-write through modern goggles.  I assume they rather conveniently forgot the sections that we've just read with Helen Burns.  Either that or there is text to come which will cast a very different light on Helen.  Anyway, Jane's reaction to the sainted Helen's religion is a very natural one, one that I daresay religious people struggle with as well.

At the conclusion of this week's reading, we've established her time and place at Lowood.  We have some basic sketches of the main characters in that place, the varied degrees of teachers as far as kindness and I daresay ability.  We understand the poor conditions of clothing, food and cleanliness.  In the face of these predicaments, Jane seems fairly happy or at least content in her new living situation, so in spite of my immediate modern repulsion at the conditions, I have to reserve my judgment on Lowood until I see how this plays out.  

I'm heartened by our arrival at page 75 without having a single yawning moment.  I think this bodes well for the 400 some to come.  I am enjoying this tremendously (a phrase you'll see repeated over and over if you look back on my entries in this reading group, but what of it?)

Next week, we shall read through Chapter 14 which is up to page 160 in my edition.

New Podcast!

This week's podcast is a short story by Heywood Broun from 1919 called The Fifty-First Dragon.  It is sort of a fable and sort of a morality tale.  I absolutely loved it and wanted to share it with all of you.

Heywood Broun was one of those great, celebrity New York journalists from pre-WWII.  He was known as one of the famous Algonquin Round Table group of wits along with such luminaries as Alexander Woollcott, Dorothy Parker, George Kaufman, Harpo Marx, et al.  Broun started the labor union that would become known as The Newspaper Guild.  He ran for Congress in 1930 as a Socialist but was not elected.

In this week's podcast I seem to have hammered out a few of the problems with the previous one.  The two that immediately spring to mind on your end is 1) the volume.  It is now easy to hear. And 2) the Ps, Ts and Ss not snapping and hissing in your ear quite so much.  As per Sedge's advice, I used a screen over the microphone and I think it made a fine difference.  On my end, I think I've figured out to how upload the podcast in a way that doesn't take all afternoon.

So, here's this week's podcast which I hope you all enjoy.

And if you're the downloading kind, here's the link to where you can download it: