Friday, November 30, 2012

We the Living

Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged, Anthem, and The Fountainhead, wrote We the Living. It was frustrating to watch the characters descend down ever-darkening paths, while I could do nothing to stop them. Frustrating as it may have been to read, I couldn't put it down.
The protagonist, Kira Alexandrovna Argounova is the daughter of Galina Petrovna Argounova and Alexander Dmitrievich Argounova. Her father was owner of a textile factory- before the October Revolution, that is. The family, including Kira's sister Lydia, travels to Petrograd, returning home. They return from several years in the Crimea unsuccessfully attempting to wait out the current regime. Labeled as bourgeois, Kira will not have an easy time in Soviet Russia. Kira was the most frustrating character for me, because I disagreed with so many of the choices she made.
Warning: Spoilers.
Another main character, Lev Sergeievitch Kovalensky is the son of Admiral Kovalensky. The Admiral was blinded in a war and unknowingly sheltered counterrevolutionaries. For this, he was shot. Leo is also considered bourgeois.Throughout the novel, Leo's loss of self is painful to watch.
 Our third important character, Andrei Taganov is a Party member who fought in the October Revolution. Andrei has given his life to the ideals he believes in. His incorruptibility makes him an exception rather than the rule amoung Party officials. As Andrei's beliefs crumble, so will he.
The fates of all three are irrevocably intertwined. This book made me very emotional. However, between outbursts of anger, I had plenty to ponder. We the Living was definitely worth the read.
There is an essay contest available here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Best Laid Schemes

"The best laid schemes of mice and men/ Go often awry" - This quotation from Robert Burn's poem 'To a Mouse' gave John Steinbeck inspiration for the title of his book, Of Mice and Men.
Of Mice and Men is a heartrending story of George Milton and Lennie Small, penned by John Steinbeck. While it's very short, only around a hundred pages, it is a book that will stay on your mind for a while. The two are a pair of migrant workers trying to keep a job and save up their money. Lennie is mentally disabled, but, whatever his reasons may be, George sticks with him and always tries to fix Lennie's mistakes. The two men constantly remind themselves of their goal - land that would be their own, where they could work for themselves. When their schemes go dreadfully awry, everything must draw to an end. 
Of Mice and Men is definitely a classic worth reading.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Less Perfect and More Free

Aldous Huxley
Brave New World was written by Aldous Huxley as a vision of a future "utopia". Here, everyone is engineered for compliance. Even before decanting, (no one is born from a mother nowadays), each bottle is given special treatment to best suit it to its future assignment in life. As each little child is raised, hypnopaedic (sleep-learning) methods are used to ingrain the mindset decided upon for it. They are taught to be happy with their station in life, to be happy at their job, to be happy in their social life, where promiscuity is the norm. Everyone has everything they could possibly need or want. And if ever they should be unhappy, there is always soma, a drug with no side effects or downside. The government is not visibly oppressive or constantly rationing and controlling as in George Orwell's 1984. In Brave New World, there are no Thought Police because people have been trained to be happy with the life they have, which is not a drudgery. No one needs to watch your choices when you have no choice. You have been trained to make the 'right' choice from the beginning. The people of Huxley's dystopia have lost their freedom - and their humanity. Huxley's book is frightening because everyone is happy; the totalitarian regime is not starving them or mistreating them. Individuals have lost their freedom for the greater good.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats was written by T.S. Eliot. It was also the basis for the musical CATS, the second longest running Broadway show.
The book is actually a collection of seventeen poems about, obviously enough, cats. I enjoyed the subject matter; I am definitely a cat person. I also liked the rhythm and the nonsensical qualities of the poetry. Some of the poems are quite accurate; cats can indeed be little beasties at times. My personal favorite poem is 'The Naming of Cats'. Other favorites are 'The Addressing of Cats' and 'Macavity: The Mystery Cat'.

"The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter,
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES."
-T.S. Eliot, 'The Naming of Cats'

"You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse-
But all may be described in verse."
-T.S. Eliot, 'The Addressing of Cats'

Note: The link to the poems only give selected portions of the poems.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Thomas C. Foster
Written by Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor was assigned as summer reading at my school. I thought it would be boring, but it wasn't. In fact, it was humorous at times and always interesting.
This book is about how to analyze the patterns and symbols in other books. Most of the book is spent on common symbols and what they may or may not mean. For example, there is a chapter about weather. Rain can be used to force characters together or to isolate them.  Some rain can be cleansing; it all depends on the story. Snow can be insulating and create a close, cozy environment; however, snow can also be a severe, inhuman element of a story. There is also a small section on irony, which turns everything upside down, and a part about reading with the mindset of the author's intended audience. Common patterns that may relate to myths, Biblical stories, or fairy tales are also discussed. In one case, Foster explains how Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O." is also another version of the story of The Prodigal Son from the Bible.
Multiple examples are used throughout the book to illustrate points, but even if you haven't read the book he is referring to, the examples have enough information in them that you will understand what they mean.
While you can't expect one book to make you as good at analyzing literature as an English professor, I think this book can help you to look out for symbolism and deeper meaning in literature.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Son of Neptune

The Son of Neptune is the second book of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan. I suggest you do not read this post unless you have already read the first book of the series, The Lost Hero, as there may be spoilers.
At the end of The Lost Hero, we have a good idea of where the missing Percy Jackson is now. The Son of Neptune rejoins Percy at Camp Jupiter, where he has made some new friends: Frank Zhang and Hazel Levesque. When the three embark on a dangerous journey to Alaska, they have a chance to regain their cohort's honor - or to die trying.
Hazel is a daughter of Pluto who's keeping some dark secrets to herself. Hazel's secrets will be revealed before the group confronts a powerful Giant. Frank is a nervous kid whose life is tied to a piece of firewood. He knows his family had a powerful inherited gift, but Frank doesn't even know what the family power is, much less how to use it.

Personally, I enjoyed reading The Son of Neptune and thought it was a good book for children.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero was written by Rick Riordan. It is part of the Heroes of Olympus series, which unravels the new prophecy revealed at the end of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

This book gives you lots to think about right from the very start. Jason wakes up holding hands with a girl who claims to be his girlfriend. Unfortunately, he doesn't have any memories of her - or of anything at all for that matter. Piper and Leo, Jason's girlfriend and best friend, respectively, are understandably worried. However, the three young demigods are about to have a lot more on their minds than just mysterious memory loss. As demigods, they make great monster magnets. They may even have a part to play in the Great Prophecy, which was revealed at the conclusion of the Second Titan War.

The Lost Hero gives you plenty to puzzle out. Who is Piper's goddess mother? What is Leo's secret that he's keeping from everyone else? Why does Jason seem to know all about the demigod world, and yet have no memories of his past? And what is behind the mysterious impossibilities becoming ever more common as the young demigods proceed on their quest? The journey continues in The Son of Neptune, Rick Riordan's next Heroes of Olympus book.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a series of five books and two supplementary guides. It begins with The Lightning Thief and ends with The Last Olympian. The series has also inspired a movie. Although it is intended for younger readers, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is still a fun series to read. This series has become extremely popular among kids.
Rick Riordan is the author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. He has begun writing the Heroes of Olympus series, taking place in the world of Percy Jackson and beginning with The Lost Hero. Another series of children's books by Rick Riordan is the Kane Chronicles, beginning with The Red Pyramid. He has also written various other children's books and books for adults.
The Percy Jackson and The Olympians series focuses on the adventures of Percy Jackson, a modern day demigod. Percy's father is Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. However, because Percy's father is one of the "Big Three" (Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon), Percy is more powerful than most demigods. This also makes him more attractive to wandering monsters looking for lunch. The Great Prophecy, which Percy is not allowed to see, may concern Percy closely, but until he knows more he'll just have to concentrate on surviving.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A New Cinderella Story
Gregory Maguire
There are many Cinderella stories from cultures around the world. The Golden Sandal is a Cinderella story from the Middle East. Yeh-Shen is the Chinese Cinderella. The Rough-Face Girl is a Native American Cinderella tale. There are many of these Cinderella stories. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is a new kind of Cinderella story.
Gregory Maguire is the author of Confessions Of An Ugly Stepsister. He has also written several other books, both for adults and for children. His adult books are generally new retellings of fairytales.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister isn't your traditional Cinderella story. It is set in Holland, during the seventeenth century and the craze of the Tulip Mania. The story is told from the point of view of Iris, who has just moved from England to Holland with her strong-willed mother Margerethe and her slow older sister Ruth. Dark atmosphere abounds in this enjoyable retelling of the classic Cinderella story. The book will leave you guessing which magic is real, which is only real in a child's imagination, and whether it even matters.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is definitely one of my favorite books of all time.
For one thing, I enjoy Dickens' writing style. Dickens was an English writer of the early 1800's. He is very descriptive without being boring or tedious. He is the author of such greats as Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and the seasonal favorite, A Christmas Carol.
A Tale of Two Cities begins with the famous quote: "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." This refers to the setting before and during the French Revolution. The story centers around Lucie Manette, who is the daughter of a Bastille prisoner. While in England, she marries Charles Darnay, also a Frenchman by birth. This leaves the lovesick Darnay lookalike Sydney Carton desolate and heartbroken. When her husband returns to France during the turbulent times of the French Revolution, an ugly past rears its head. The book's ending will make you want to burst into tears.
You can buy A Tale of Two Cities here. For those Dickens-lovers in the California area, there is an essay contest at University of California Santa Cruz.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

His Majesty's Dragon

His Majesty's Dragon, also published by the name of Temeraire, was written by Naomi Novik. The novel is set during an alternate history's Napoleonic Wars. This book would not be appropriate for young readers. His Majesty's Dragon follows Will Laurence, a Navy officer whose ship captures a dragon egg from a hostile French ship. Normally this would bring them a fine bounty, but the egg is ready to hatch. If the dragon is not harnessed immediately, it will be feral and worthless. Laurence considers it his duty to the crown that the attempt is made to harness the dragonet. When Laurence harnesses the young dragon Temeraire, his life is changed forever. He enters the world of aviators, which is quite different from his previous naval experiences. His Majesty's Dragon is the first of at least seven novels in the Temeraire series.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Facebook Page!

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Beaches: A love/hate relationship

I have a complicated relationship with beaches.

Reasons to hate:
1. Jellyfish - For one reason, they float around in the water where they are basically invisible, but are out to kill you. For a second reason, they wash up on the shore and die so that you are happily walking along and then realize you almost stepped in a jellyfish. Jellyfish make two reasons to hate beaches; they are outright detestable.
3. Sand - It's everywhere, including inside your swimsuit. Some sand will inevitably come home with you.
4. Sharks, rays, and live water creatures - Sharks may not venture into shallow water, but their babies do. Rays also live underwater. There are all sorts of monstrous creatures living underwater that you don't want to run into.
5. UUO's - Have you ever stepped on some unidentified underwater object? Maybe it was a piece of seaweed. Maybe it was some sort of live mollusk. Maybe it is a giant clam that is now going to close on your foot! I really don't like that you can't see what you're stepping on.

Reasons to Love:
1. Scenery - Beaches always have beautiful sunsets. There are always wonderful views of the ocean and the waves.
2. Ghost Crabs - Going hunting for ghost crabs is a ton of fun. It's always one of my favorite things to do at the beach.
3. Sand - Sand may be everywhere, but it's fun to play in.
This is what I did on my most recent beach trip. It is a tribute to the Nazca lines of South America.
4. Vacation - When you're at the beach, you're on vacation. That means relaxation, not work. I like being able to do fun stuff, instead of work or school.
5. Shells - I love collecting shells. There are so many different colors and shapes. Some people enjoy identifying their shells; I just like to find the prettiest ones.

So far, it's a tie. How do you feel about the beach?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stranded on an Island: Robinson Crusoe

Our world has changed a lot since 1719 when Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe. This book definitely reflects some of the attitudes of the times. For example (Spoilers Ahead), when Crusoe sees a native fleeing some of the cannibals, his first thought is that he could do with a servant. Crusoe feels it necessary to convert Friday to the Christian religion. He convinces Friday that his people's beliefs are incorrect. This isn't quite the tolerance that is so important today
The book doesn't cover just Crusoe's time on the island, but explains his previous adventures before he is stranded on a lonely island. Once he gets off the island, the novel continues to explain the settling of Crusoe's affairs and so on.
Robinson Crusoe also has strong religious themes. Crusoe flip-flops between blaming his misfortunes on God and thanking God for his salvation throughout the novel. He also teaches Friday, a native, about the Christian religion.
This page has more information on Crusoe and Defoe. You can buy the book here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

George Orwell

      Today's post is a double feature on George Orwell. Two of George Orwell's most well-known books are Animal Farm and 1984. Warning: spoilers below.
      Animal Farm is about the Manor Farm, where the tyrannical Jones forces the animals to work for his own profit. When the animals rise up and throw off their shackles of slavery, they rename the farm Animal Farm and establish Seven Commandments for all to live by. As the pigs rise to the top, the Seven Commandments are attenuated to serve the interests of those in power. In the end, the animals have succumbed to a new tyranny.
      1984 is set in an Orwellian vision of the year 1984, with a world suppressed by totalitarian regime. Winston Smith, the protagonist, works at Minitrue, the Ministry of Truth. His job is to alter the past to fit the circumstances of the present. He is a party member, constantly under the surveillance of Big Brother and the Thought Police. Winston begins a forbidden romantic relationship with Julia, and begins to spend time among the proles, or commoners, to avoid the ever-present telescreens. When Winston is betrayed by Inner Party member O'Brien, he is taken to Miniluv, the Ministry of Love, from which he will emerge a different man.
If you're interested, you can buy the books here.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Prydain Chronicles

Happy Easter to everyone!
Today I'm blogging about a series of children's books, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. I know I enjoyed these books immensely when I was younger, and can still enjoy them now. They would probably be appropriate for anybody capable of reading them. There are five books in the series, which begins with The Book of Three. The main character, Taran, is an Assistant Pig-Keeper who yearns for adventure. Along the way he makes new friends and faces great challenges. Taran isn't the perfect hero - he is young and makes mistakes. However, he always tries to learn from these mistakes. The Black Cauldron, the second book of the series, won a Newberry Honor in 1966. The final book of the series, The High King, won a Newberry Medal in 1969. The books are available on Amazon. Lloyd Alexander has also written other books, including the Westmark trilogy and the Vesper Holly series. The Prydain Chronicles can be bought here.
Enjoy the Easter holiday!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Hobbit

 J. R. R. Tolkien didn't just write The Lord of the Rings. He also wrote The Hobbit, another tale of Middle Earth.  The Hobbit is a much lighter story than Tolkien's famous epic. It is sometimes titled There and Back Again, and that's exactly what it is: it's a story about a hobbit who goes on a journey. This, in itself, is unusual, because hobbits are stay-at-home folk, who don't care for adventures (which tend to make meal times irregular). Bilbo Baggins goes on an adventure with thirteen dwarves and a wizard; he is the Burglar. They plan to reclaim the ancient treasure under the Lonely Mountain, the dwarves' rightful heritage, taken from them by Smaug, a fearsome dragon. Did you know that there is a two part movie adaptation planned? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is set to release on December 14, 2012. If you want to read the book before the movie, you can buy it here

The October Game

Have you ever read Ray Bradbury's The October Game? It won't take you long to read, but it may take a while to forget. This story is very short, but very disturbing. It is Halloween, and the Wilder family is having a party. But the Wilders aren't your happiest family: Louise never wanted children, but Mich wanted a son. What they get is Marion, a quiet daughter who resembles her mother. Mich and Louise are not on speaking terms with each other, and only want to hurt each other. In a horrifying twist, a fun Halloween game played in a dark basement becomes much too real for comfort.

Does Atlas Still Shrug?

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is definitely one of my favorite books. It's one of those books you can't stop reading. I like Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. It isn't perfect though. Nothing's ever perfect, is it? Her characters are interesting. Her protagonists are motivated by achievement. Her antagonists are motivated by power and profit. It is ironic that Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart are called greedy and selfish, while James Taggart and his bureaucratic cronies twist laws to rob business. The government essentially becomes a system of forcing the hard workers, the greatest producers, to work "for the good of society". Laws are passed to freeze the economy. The scary thing is the realism - how soon can we expect this kind of choking governmental control in America?
P.S. If you enjoyed Atlas Shrugged, there is an annual essay contest by the Ayn Rand Institute for 12th graders, undergraduate, and graduate students. The book is available here