Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (61)

Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun, which lights grim care and stern reality on their daily pilgrimage through the world.

Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9)

Image source: Pexels

p.s. If you’ve watched #TheHeirs, I’m sure you’ll like the picture!

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Review: The Tale of Genji: Dreams at Dawn: Vol. I by Waki Yamato

My thanks to #NetGalley and Kodansha Comics for a review copy of this one.

This is the first volume of the graphic novel/manga version of the eleventh-century Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji by noblewoman Murasaki Shibaku (believed to be the first novel ever written). It tells the story of Hiraku Genji the ‘shining prince’, son of the Emperor Kiritsubo, and a low-ranking lady at court who the Emperor falls deeply in love with. When his mother dies, Genji is sent to his grandmother, and later brought back after her death. In the meantime, the Emperor hears of a young lady, Princess Fujitsubo who resembles Genji’s deceased mother, and she soon becomes his wife. But Genji ends up falling in love with her. His forbidden love and his estranged relationship with his wife lead him to seek the woman of his dreams elsewhere, and he ends up falling in love with a series of different women. This first volume of the manga series takes us through part of the story, giving us the tale of Genji’s mother, his initial years as a child, and the stories of some of the women he falls in love with.

Before I write about the story itself, I have to mention the artwork which is really gorgeous. I especially loved the coloured pages at start of the book and at the beginning of each chapter. These are really delicate and beautiful (faces and costumes), and reminded me quite a bit of the very first anime/manga I ever saw on TV Fushigi Yugi/Curious Play.

Back to the actual story, this was I thought a great way for someone like me, who’s heard about Genji but never read it to get a glimpse of what the story is about, in a fairly simple way (The book is supposed to be quite confusing and complicated, so far as I know). The book also gives one an idea of what court life, especially that of nobles and royalty would have been like at that point—customs, etiquette, leisure activities (poetry, music, games), and even love. That said, though I don’t know if it is a story that would appeal to me as a story though I would may be have read it as a classic work. Genji is a complex character certainly, but I didn’t find him a very likeable one. But then again, if he wasn’t as ‘lost’ as he was (or at least not as unaware about what he was looking for), there would be no story. Also, even in the manga version, there were points at which I found myself a little bit confused as to some of the female characters (who was who and such). There is however a helpful character guide at the back (which I should probably have consulted then).

This version isn’t simply an adaptation of the original text into art, but the author has imagined her own Tale of Genji, creating her own dialogue, associating different flowers and foods with the different women, etc., as she explains at the end. I think the author has done a great job translating the story into this much simpler version, with her own interpretation of the characters and conversations, and the book certainly succeeds in giving first time readers like me a broad idea of this classic. This was a good read, though not a great one for me as despite the lovely artwork which I enjoyed very much, and the author’s efforts that I certainly admired and appreciated, the story wasn’t something that really drew me in. (However, I would like to know where Genji ends up, so will probably continue with the manga version.) 3.5 stars.

This manga version was first published in the 1980s, and was published in English on 26 February 2019 in digital form.

Shelf Control #32: Sketches by Boz

Wednesday, 29 January 2019, and the fifth Shelf Control post this year. Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles. If you’d like to participate, simply pick a book from your pile, write a post about it, and link back to Lisa’s page. Do leave you links below if you do participate, as I’d love to check out your selections as well.

This week, once again I continue my ‘theme’ with a selection from my oldest pending books. There are a couple of further once agains this week–one again my selection is a classic title, and once again from a writer whose books I really enjoy. The writer, as I’m sure you’ve noticed already is Dickens and the book is Sketches by Boz. (Last week was Trollope, Dickens’ contemporary, whose books I also really like; post here)

What it’s all about: This book, first published in 1836, is as the title suggests is not a novel but a collection of sketches. A friend describes it in her review as a time machine that takes you back to 1830s England, mostly London. There are 56 different sketches of places and people, in which we see shades of characters from the novels he went on to publish. The sections include “Our Parish”, “Scenes”, “Characters”, “Tales”, “Sketches of Young Gentlemen”, “Sketches of Young Couples”, and “The Mudfog and Other Sketches”. (The version I downloaded from Project Gutenberg seems to have a few extras.)

The Streets-morning by George Cruikshank via wikimedia commons

The Author: Charles Dickens (1812-1870), author of fourteen (and a half) novels as well as novellas and shorter works, essays, articles, and non-fiction. Seen as a literary genius, he enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime. His works continue to be read and celebrated, adapted on screen and in the theatre.

Jeremiah Gurney [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why I want to read it: For starters because I love his books. While I think I read A Tale of Two Cities first, it was Nicholas Nickelby in which I really started to enjoy Dickens’ storytelling–he really drew me in and kept me hooked–and at a time when I was still getting used to reading the classics unabridged 🙂 But more than that, one aspect that I enjoy in Dickens’ books are his characters–Madame Defarge, Quilp, Pecksniff, Mr Micawber, Mr Pegotty, Mrs Gamp, Mr Chokumchild, Wackford Squeers, Ebenezer Scrooge and many many more. And this was largely what Sketches is–portraits of characters and places. So I think I am going to enjoy this a lot.

Dickens Dream by Robert William Buss [Public domain] via wikimedia commons
(Dickens with various characters from his books)

So, do you enjoy Dickens? Which is your favourite, and what do you love about it? Looking forward to hearing about it! And if you know of any retellings (books), I’d love to hear about them as well!

Shelf Control #31: The Last Chronicle of Barset

Wednesday, the 23rd of January, and time once again for Shelf Control. This is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books on your TBR pile. To participate, pick any book from your TBR pile, write a post about it, and link back to Lisa’s blog. Do also share your links in the comments below as I’d love to read about your picks.

As I’d mentioned last week, for the rest of January, in keeping with my ‘theme’ this month, I’ll be writing about some of the oldest books on my TBR pile in this feature (last week’s post is here). This week, my pick is Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset. This is the second time I’m writing about a Trollope book in this feature (the other, The Eustace Diamonds I wrote about here). The Last Chronicle of Barset is the sixth and final book in Trollope’s Barsetshire series. Barsetshire is a fictional English county created by Trollope. Novelist Angela Thirkell also set many of her works in Barsetshire.

The story: The Reverend Josiah Crawley, the impoverished curate of Hogglestock is accused of theft, more specifically of stealing a cheque, causing a public scandal. How the community and others react to this forms the rest of the story. Crawley if I remember right, is also not the most likeable of people. Of course, this isn’t all that this almost 900 page tome deals with. There are romances, several other subplots, and we also catch up with characters we have met previously in Barsetshire and see what has become of them.

The author: Anthony Trollope, born in 1815, worked in the British Postal Department. He also wrote forty-seven novels (besides short stories), including the Barsetshire and Paliser series, and standalones like The Way We Live Now, He Knew He Was Right, and Orley Farm. 

Trollope, Napoleon Sarony [Public domain] via wikimedia commons

My copy: I downloaded a copy via Project Gutenberg as Trollope’s works are in public domain. (Find his works here).

Why I want to read it: I’ve read the first five books in the series, and enjoyed them and really want to see how it wraps up. There was especially one story thread left dangling in the previous instalment, The Small House at Allington, and I wanted to see how that is resolved. Also I enjoy Trollope’s storytelling. Even when one knows the answer to some questions (like in Orley Farm) he can keep one interested and reading right through. Which is quite something considering most of his novels are doorstoppers!

Have you read this one or any others in the series? Or any books by Trollope other than these? Or do you plan o read any? Which ones and if you’ve read them, how did you like them? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Some Classics I Didn’t Really Care For

Classics are a ‘genre’, if one can call it that, which I enjoy reading very much. I remember when I first started consciously picking up classics (full versions) around when I was in college, I used to find them (or perhaps myself) moving a lot slower than when I was reading, say, mysteries or popular fiction. But once I read through a few, I found most moved almost as well as more ‘modern’ works. I started with Jane Austen, Dickens, and the Brontes, and have since read many more, ‘discovered’ authors like Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, and Wilkie Collins, whose books I’ve enjoyed as well as lesser known (to me at least) ones like Mrs Oliphant, whose works I’m also really enjoying.

I will at some point write about favourites and favourite authors, but this post is about ones (books, not authors) that I really didn’t enjoy when I read them. These are all books I’ve read only once. Some of these I read quite a long time ago (so all my impressions are from memory alone), and perhaps might give another shot to, but on first reading them, they certainly did not work for me. So here goes.

 

lorna Doone.jpg

Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore is one of the classic works that I picked up when I first started really reading classics, so this could be one reason for not liking it so much. This is the story of John Ridd who has sworn to avenge his father’s death, but then meets and falls in love with Lorna Doone who is one of the ‘enemy’ and also to marry one. I don’t remember any of the details of the book now, but what I do remember is that I found this one very hard to get into, and while I did read all the way to the end, I didn’t find it particularly absorbing.

 

Great Expectations.jpg

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Before I say anything about this one, I’d like to say that I love Dickens’ books in general–I enjoy his storytelling and his characters, and have many many favourites among his works (I even like Barnaby Rudge, which many of my bookish friends don’t). But this one was a different story. This is the story of a young orphan Pip, whose life changes when he encounters a convict in his village. Pip is a very human character, with several flaws and failings that I could understand, even identify with, but I still couldn’t like him one bit, nor feel any sympathy for him or many of the others in the book, and so it wasn’t a book I ended up liking very much.

 

Tom Jones.jpg

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding, is the story of the titular Tom, who is brought up by Squire Allworthy, and is in love with Sophia Western, a neighbouring squire’s daughter. This is a picaresque novel which is a parody, with much humour, but I somehow just couldn’t get into the book (though I did read it all the way through) nor did I find the humour very appealing.

Augustus Carp.jpg

Staying with humorous titles, next I have Augustus Carp, Esq by Sir Henry Bashford. This is also a satire of sorts, with Carp finding faults with everyone he encounters. I only came across this one since it was mentioned in the Guardian‘s list of a thousand books everyone should read. This wasn’t a bad read as such but quite a bit of the humour was crass and not to my taste at all.

 

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain–I enjoyed Tm Sawyer and found it great fun. Huck Finn deals with perhaps more serious themes as Huck travels down the Mississippi river with a runaway ‘slave’. When I first read the book, I felt as though nothing much seemed to happen in it, which is why it seemed to me to simply drag on.

 

Rainbow.jpg

The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence, which tells the story of three generations of the Brangwen family, deals with many controversial themes and taboo (for their day) subjects but this one I couldn’t get into at all. I don’t think I read more than a few pages before putting it away.

 

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And finally, a book that is classed as a classic, though much more modern compared to those I’ve mentioned earlier on this list, The Magus by John Fowles. This is the story of a young Englishman who takes up a teaching post on a remote Greek Island, and finds himself mixed up with a mysterious man who lives there. He is drawn into a psychological game of attraction and danger. While the plot was really intriguing and had plenty of twists and turns, this was a book I did not enjoy at all. It never seemed to pick up pace no matter what happened, and however much I read, I seemed to make no progress at all. I read it to the end, but mostly because it was a group read and I was leading the discussion. But otherwise, a really frustrating read, which I would never have finished.

So these were a few classics that I really didn’t like or which I couldn’t get interested enough in. Do you enjoy reading classics? Which ones have you read that you found you didn’t enjoy or could’t get into? Looking forward to hearing about them!

Children’s Book of the Month: Listen O King: Five-and-Twenty Tales of Vikram and the Vetal

Vikram Vetal

(adaptation by Deepa Agarwal)

This in so many ways felt like a read that fit this season. I wanted to include some traditional stories in my reading this month since this is the time we’re celebrating Dusshera which is all about Rama defeating the demon king Ravana, about the goddess defeating a demon, and so basically about good defeating evil. While these stories aren’t about good and evil as such but about various qualities that ideal kings, and ideal humans must have (as well as I guess about human folly), but still they are traditional tales, this version being a translation of one dating back to the twelfth-thirteenth century. This is also Halloween month, and this book fits that theme as well, the main adventure leading the king to a fairly spooky cremation ground, with ghouls and corpses very much around. The vetal himself is a spirit who occupies a corpse. The cover of this one (the Puffin Classics ed) is quite perfect (and partly what attracted me to this version), King Vikramaditya with the Vetal on his back, the sinsipa tree which the vetal inhabits, an owl, a fire, skulls and bones, all done in three colours.

 

This story is basically about King Vikram who is charged by an ascetic with fetching a spirit, the Vetal back to him so as to conduct some rituals which will give him some extraordinary powers. Vikram sets off to do this, and after some effort in a terriifying place full of skulls and blood, body parts, and bloodcurdling shrieks, manages to catch hold of the vetal who hangs on a sinsipa (Indian rosewood/sheesham tree). No sooner does he start on his journey back, the vetal begins to recite a story, which ends with a puzzle. He tells Vikram that if he doesn’t answer the puzzle despite knowing the answer, his head will shatter to pieces. But as soon as Vikram gives an answer, the Vetal heads right back to the cremation ground, and his sinsipa tree, the process starting all over again. Vikram is patient and brave, and repeats the process, not merely one or two but twenty-four times, until finally there comes a puzzle that he can’t answer. But that isn’t the end of the adventure.

 

These are a fairly interesting read for me, mainly because while I was aware of the basic Vikram-Vetal storyline (from stories and TV adaptations), I had no idea how the story ended. The final riddle that Vikram really couldn’t answer, and how the consequences connected up with Vikram’s own story were the most interesting bits for me. The various stories that the Vetal narrates to Vikram, as I said, are to do with morality, and with folly—the characters are always perfect specimens in terms of looks, sometimes even qualities, or full of vice, and the riddle that is posed to Vikram is to do with who is the perfect embodiment of a particular quality or of a vice/folly. There is a lot of what people would describe as ‘insta-love’ to an extent that people are prepared to commit suicide merely after having set their eyes on someone, and a few more exaggerations, but a lot of these stories/collections that are intended to ‘teach’ are formatted in that way. Also every story pretty much begins with the place that the story is set in and its ruler, even if the ruler may not be the main character. The language that the translator/author has used to adapt the stories (this is a children’s version) also gives one a flavour of the kind of language and style of speech that the original stories would have used, which I liked. The stories that the vetal narrates I think would have probably been better had I read them one or two at a time rather than back-to-back else they begin to feel a little repetitive (even though the themes are not). And there is no answer to that final puzzle—they can’t really be, but I still would have liked to know what the thought-process would have been in that period. Still these were an interesting read for me overall, and would be a great introduction for anyone who wants to read the original at some point.

[I’ve mentioned this book a couple of times on this blog: here and here]

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (17)

Jane Eyre.jpg

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847)

[Image source: Jane Eyre Illustration, By F. H. Townsend, 1868-1920 (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1260/1260-h/images/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Shelf Control #6

Shelf Control

Shelf  Control is a feature that I borrowed from Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies. This one is all about celebrating the books already on your TBR waiting to be picked up. All you need to do to participate is to pick one of the books on your TBR each Wednesday and write a post about it (what it’s all about, what makes you want to read it, where you got it, etc.).

This week’s pick from my TBR pile is the Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope.

eustace diamonds.jpg

A little about the author: Anthony Trollope, Victorian novelist, and author of forty-seven novels, most if not all, doorstoppers, and several short stories, also worked in the British Postal department, where he rose to a fairly high post, and is also credited with having introduced the mail-box or pillar box.

A little about the book: The Eustace Diamonds is the third of Trollope’s Palliser series of novels. The Palliser books are political novels centered around the politician Plantagenet Palliser  and his wife Lady Glencora and around issues of politics in Britain and Ireland. In this one, Lizzie Greystock, who takes an almost pathological delight in lying marries Sir Florian Eustace. After his death, disputes arise as to the possession of a family heirloom, a diamond necklace, which Lizzie claims for herself. When she becomes engaged to a new suitor, Lord Fawn, the Eustace family lawyers insist she return the diamonds. Matters get complicated when a strong-box containing the jewellery is stolen. Where the diamonds have gone, and who was responsible for the theft makes up the rest of this story with other parallel storylines, I’m sure because there always are in these tomes.

When and Where I got it: This is another that I haven’t actually bought but being a public domain book, simply downloaded through Project Gutenberg. (Trollope’s works are available here). And I did this probably sometime in 2016 after I finished the Phineas Finn, the second of the Palliser books. I did read Trollope last year, but that was a stand-alone, Castle Richmond, as a ‘buddy read’ with the Victorians group on goodreads (my review is here).

Why I want to read it: Well, for one because its a next in series, I’ve read the first two of this one and want to see what happens in the next one, though the Pallisers don’t have as much of a role (or at least not a central role) in this installment. But more than that, because I find I really enjoy Trollope’s books. I’ve read may about 11 of his books so far now and have enjoyed them all (some far more than others, of course)–they throw up issues one can relate to even today, and his endings which I have commented on in one of my reviews as well aren’t always conventional or ‘storybook’. So, definitely looking forward to this one.

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (3)

800px-George_Eliot_7

“Every woman is supposed to have the same set of motives, or else to be a monster. I am not a monster, but I have not felt exactly what other women feel, or say they feel, for the fear of being thought unlike others.”

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1876)

Image source: Sir Frederick Burton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Crito, Emma, and and Some Perspectives on the Social Contract

So the post I was planning to do this week was my review of my non-fiction read of the month, which this time is The Innocent Man by John Grisham, my first time reading something from the true crime genre (unless one counts Arthur and George, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s shorter account of the same case) but I am only a little over a third of the way into that one, and though very readable, I also find it disconcerting in a way, which means I’m reading fewer pages at a time than I normally would. But without rambling again, the point was that I wondered what I my post should be about instead.

Flicking through my old book journals, I came across this entry on Socrates’ dialogue Crito, and while mostly a description of some of the ideas that this dialogue picks up, it reminded me of something else on that theme, and so this post. All the discussion about Crito (which I read back then for a course) is from that old journal entry (30 May 2008).
Socrates_Louvre

Sting [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Crito is a dialogue between Crito and Socrates on the day before the boat bringing the final word on Socrates life is expected, and where Crito, a friend of Socrates is attempting to convince the latter to escape prison and save his life, while Socrates argues instead to stay on, and accept his punishment, which would be the only ‘right’ course, and he has throughout advocated taking the right course. Some of the points that stood out to me in this dialogue, besides the compact issue which I am coming to, were firstly, Socrates’ argument that we mustn’t act on the basis of what the world says or what the world will say but be guided only by our reason and principles. And following from that, secondly, that we must stick to our principles irrespective of whether the result is unfavourable to oneself (this second was a question I’d noted needs more thought but not sure whether I ever got back to it).

1024px-David_-_The_Death_of_Socrates

Jacques-Louis David [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Anyway, the dialogue also brings up the issue of the compact between state and individual, reflecting upon the duty of the latter to obey the law, and what I found interesting about it was the interpretation of this social contract (applicable to all of us) which I hadn’t really come across elsewhere (other than the common understanding that people entered into the ‘contract’ at some point in the past to escape the nasty, short, brutish, etc. life). Socrates’ argument was that when the individual accepts all that the state has to offer, and accepts what the state does, the individual implicitly agrees to be part of the state and must consequently keep his part of the bargain and obey the law that the state has laid out. By disobeying or not following the law, one is not only breaking the framework of the state but also causing oneself injury with which one can’t really live. More proof of our acceptance of that contract lies in our continuing to life in that state and not leaving it (again something that could be debated). This is of course not all of the dialogue not all of the issues thrown up by it but the crux of the points that made me understand the notion of the social contract very differently.

EmmaTitlePage

Jane Austen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But what has all this to do with Emma, for in that there was no individual versus state, not was anyone ordered to drink Hemlock, but Emma comes in here for a different reason. And this was that it, or rather the introduction to Emma by Peter Conrad in my Everyman Classics edition of Emma, gave me another new view of this implicit social contract. As Conrad writes, “…Emma, within its pastoral and domestic limits, is a political novel, a work about the contract which convenes and maintains society”. This contract is not one between state and individual but between individual and individual who live together in one society, and as Conrad puts it, “[p]articipation in society means self-suppression, dissembling, compromise”. “Emma too is about the sacrifices to which we must reconcile ourselves when we life communally, and it shows Rousseau’s process of evolution at work both in society and in the development of individuals. The stubborn, vital self―the untamed individualism which is the glory of Elizabeth Bennett tramping through the mire to Bingley’s house―must, as Emma learns, be bullied into acquiescence, apprenticed to society.”

These two works certainly had me thinking of the social contract idea differently. It isn’t just something that happened in some time in the past when society came into being, but something we live every day. And it isn’t something that is relevant only when we are dealing with the state/government but when we’re dealing with, living with each other as well. While I am not at the moment even attempting to analyse the points or to go into their merits or otherwise, one question they do throw up is what the idea of the social contract means (more so in the “social” context rather than individual and state) when we think in terms of our individuality. Are we really keeping up our end of the bargain?