Book Rec // ‘The Man in the High Castle’ by Philip K. Dick

Hi all! Another book review here today, and this one may be one you’ve heard of before, thanks to the adapted Amazon original series of the same name: The Man in the High Castle. I admit that I learned about this book through the show (although I have only watched the first episode) and ever since I heard about it, wanting to read it has haunted me. And now that I’ve read it, the memory of the book is still haunting me—in a great way.

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Thoughts on the first few chapters of ‘Vanity Fair’

My second big bad classic that I’ll be audio-reading on my hellish commute is Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray. I attempted to read this book once before, when I was a junior in high school, and I’ve seen the movie half a dozen times, so I know the rough sketches of the characters, and I know (vaguely, since the movie changed bits) how it ends. So this book was sort of the perfect choice for my next audiobook, because despite the size of the book and the language, I can pay attention to it easily. Yay for multitasking!

5797In case you don’t know much about Vanity Fair, it was written in the 1860s and set in the Regency period. It’s a funny, sarcastic, critical, and scathing look at social norms and social politics at the time. At the center of the story are two women: the angelic and generous Amelia Sedley from a merchant’s family, and the shrewd and calculating Becky Sharp, a governess and social climber. Thackeray named this book the “novel without a hero” because every single one of his characters is ridiculous in some way, and their flaws are expounded upon and laughed at for chapters at a time.

But the thing I’ve found most striking about this novel so far is that even though Becky can be deplorable, he treats her with understanding and a sort of grudging respect. The narrator explains that Becky has had to be an adult since she was eight years old, and as an orphan, has to break societal norms in order to build the life she wants.

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‘Bunheads,’ a simple look at the world of professional ballet

I just finished reading Bunheads by Sophie Flack, a book recommended by this article in the Guardian. A YA book, Bunheads is about a nineteen-year-old ballet dancer in the corps de ballet of a major New York ballet company. Picture the movie Center Stage (one of my fave movies from the early 2000s!) in book form.

13526145The main character Hannah Ward is torn between wanting to be promoted beyond the corps to a soloist, and eventually a principal dancer in the Manhattan Ballet Company. She’s one of the most talented and determined members of the company, but over the course of the novel, she finds it difficult to remain dedicated to a craft that has robbed her of her adolescence and the beginning of a normal adulthood. At 19, she’s been living on her own for five years, and has never graduated a normal high school, let alone attended college, and has never dated.

When she meets a normal, albeit interesting, NYU student named Jacob, she begins to question both the politics and struggles of remaining in the corps of the company, often a thankless position, and the motivation to ballet that she once held so dear.

What I really liked about this book was the insight it gave into the world of professional ballet in New York. The author, Sophie Flack, is obviously a former ballet dancer, so this book almost doubles as a memoir. The dynamic between ballerinas is portrayed realistically, without a lot of the cliches that usually come packaged with a ballet story: though there are intense diets, injuries, stress, and in-fighting, it’s never overblown and sensationalized. It’s simply true.

I really enjoyed this look at the world of ballet, but this book had some major flaws.

The main character, Hannah Ward, is thinly sketched at best, and feels ambiguous in personality and like an allegory for the general struggles of a ballet dancer. It’s sentimental at times, and amateurly written.

The thing that bugged me the most was that Jacob, her suitor, got so impatient with Hannah’s crazy schedule; she constantly told him her career was more important to her than a relationship, and he would constantly make her feel guilty about it. If she weren’t already ambivalent about her commitment to ballet, this story would be, at its heart, a story about a young girl who gives up her extremely successful career to please her boyfriend. Um, no thank you!

Hannah was pretty independent, and her ultimate choice between ballet and life made a lot of sense, but it could have been achieved without the problematic role of Jacob. But, oh well!

Still—read this book if you’re interested in the world of ballet, as I am, because you’ll learn a lot. There’s a lot to learn about ballet beyond Black Swan (also one of my favorite movies!).

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"Never a briefcase in Paris and never an umbrella"

Those words are spoken by Audrey Hepburn in my favorite movie, Sabrina. I watched this movie when I was very young with my family, and it’s definitely one of my favorites. It came to mind because I’m beginning Edward Rutherfurd’s long epic novel about Paris…called Paris. It spans the history of the iconic City of Light, and I can’t wait to spend a thousand pages in Paris. (Yah, it’s long 🙂 )

18730321I’m bringing the book on the flight with me to San Francisco and if you’re reading this, I’m probably carrying this book onto the flight back! I’m so excited to read this book (and for my trip, of course). Just a quick scan at the table of contents shows that the book will chronicle the lives of the citizens and visitors of Paris throughout the centuries. It’s like historical fiction on steroids.

This is the first passage:

Paris. City of Love. City of Dreams. City of splendor. City of saints and scholars. City of gaiety. 

Sink of iniquity.

In two thousand years, Paris has seen it all.

Eek! Can’t wait to read more.

Bonus: some photos of when I visited Paris for two days when I studied abroad in college. One of the best feelings I’ve ever had was waking up in a Paris hotel room and hearing the sounds of the city first thing in the morning. Paris was a waking dream.

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Bookstore Hopping // Sherman's Books in Portland, ME

Exploring Portland last week, I remarked to my friends that I hadn’t found a bookstore yet. And then I looked up and saw one. It was kind of insane. The bookstore was called Sherman’s Books & Stationery, and it was lovely. Half of the items inside were of the “nautical souvenir” persuasion, but as a tourist, I appreciated it just the same. But the thing I loved best about this indie were their methods of categorizing their books. Take a look:

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The extensive and well-stocked Fiction stacks are titled with phrases like “Not True,” “Don’t Believe A Word,” and “Still Not True.” A quote from Harry Potter comes to mind: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” 😉

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Excellent idea: book shopping carts! Take it from someone who is tired of stacking heavy books on one arm while balancing a coffee cup in the other during long hours at a bookstore: these are necessary and should be placed in every serious bookstore.

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Described as “Maine’s Oldest Bookstore,” Sherman’s Books & Stationery boasted a whole section of “Maine Fiction,” which I loved. The best thing about visiting and buying from indie bookstores is the local flavor you won’t get from a Barnes & Noble. The only trouble was the new-book prices! I have a preference for buying secondhand, cheap books 🙂

Check out Sherman’s Books & Stationery’s website and Facebook page, and make sure to give them a visit if you’re ever passing through Portland, Maine!

Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!

Fourth in my novella a day challenge was Melville’s classic Bartleby the Scrivener. You know—”I would prefer not to.” 🙂

This is the second time I’ve read Bartleby the Scrivener. The first time was for a literature class in college with the theme of disobedience, and my heart poured out to Bartleby the batty as I read. It’s a mystery why he acts the way he does, why he “prefers not to,” why he doesn’t move out of his boss’s office when he is dismissed and turned out. Why doesn’t he do anything? And then there’s the way the novel plays on your sympathy, the way it forces you to examine questions about what we owe to our neighbor, to our fellow man.

9780974607801I’ve always loved Bartleby even if I never understood him. Indeed, the narrator doesn’t understand him—not until the last line. The ending phrase of “Oh, Bartleby! Oh, humanity!” links Bartleby’s behavior with the plight of the whole of mankind. How? Bartleby refuses to conform. He refuses to obey. Some critics think that Melville wrote the character of Bartleby as a parody of Henry David Thoreau’s brand of civil disobedience, but I think the last line makes this assumption less likely. The unnamed narrator, and indeed Melville himself, clearly has sympathy for Bartleby’s situation, even if it is self-inflicted. There’s a reason why we feel bad for Bartleby. What is it?

It’s just—Bartleby is so isolated. He doesn’t have a home or family, but he never asks for charity. He refuses money from his former employer, and treats him with respect, never asking for help or even sympathy. The only thing “wrong” with Bartleby, in the eyes of the world, is that he refuses to take part in ordinary societal activities. You know, like working when your employer tells you to work, or having a home. Simple things like that.

I think, at its heart, that this book subtly explores the consequences of being different in this world. Bartleby doesn’t hurt anyone, but he is a blight on society and an unendurable burden on his neighbors, simply for existing. They’re annoyed he loiters in the office building, even though he does nothing and asks for nothing. Are we, as a society, that unsympathetic to the oddities and eccentricities of our neighbors? Has this changed since Bartleby was written? It’s interesting to think about.

Rambly post, I apologize. What do you think about Bartleby? Have you read the novella? Do you sometimes “prefer not to?” 🙂

Buy the brightly-colored novella at Wordery.com.

Re-Reading Harry Potter

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Yay!! I can’t wait to read these books again. I usually read them once a year, sometime in the summer when I have the time to devote to them, but it’s been a while since I’ve read these books. I was obsessed with them since I was nine or ten years old and truly, not much has changed since then. Harry Potter never gets old.

The first book is still full of the magic I fell in love with when I was a kid. Am I too old to get my Hogwarts letter? I recently got my sister to finally read the series, as well as my best friend, and I’m in awe at their experiences reading the books for the first time. I wish I could wipe my memory and read these books without knowing anything. But I’ll settle for frequent re-reads.

Is there a book you can’t help but read over and over? Do you love Harry Potter as much as I do??

Author Spotlight: Neil Gaiman

I’ve been reading a lot of literature by Neil Gaiman lately, and have discovered his flair for creating whimsical, inventive fantasy that sucks you in. I read Stardust a few years ago and Neverwhere just a few weeks ago. Next on my list are American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

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In the past year or so I’ve been reading authors rather than individual books. It’s something I never really did before because I don’t like to be told what to do, mom. I always chose books based on the cover the description and plot, not because of a well-known author, or even because I’d read the author before. But recently I’ve tried to read an author’s entire works and I’ve found that I like the experience. I usually can’t read one author for too long though. I like to pick a different genre/time period to keep things interesting.

Anyway, this rambling post is meant to highlight one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman has a flair for creating hyper-real worlds that combine dark fantasy elements and a dry sense of humor. Collected here are a couple of my favorite Neil Gaiman quotes, about new beginnings and lost love. May these quotes bring a smile to your face as they did to mine.

About new year/new beginnings: 

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.”

About lost love: 

“There are a hundred things she has tried to chase away the things she won’t remember and that she can’t even let herself think about because that’s when the birds scream and the worms crawl and somewhere in her mind it’s always raining a slow and endless drizzle.

You will hear that she has left the country, that there was a gift she wanted you to have, but it is lost before it reaches you. Late one night the telephone will sign, and a voice that might be hers will say something that you cannot interpret before the connection crackles and is broken.

Several years later, from a taxi, you will see someone in a doorway who looks like her, but she will be gone by the time you persuade the driver to stop. You will never see her again.

Whenever it rains you will think of her. ”

Have a Happy Saturday, all. Thanks for reading.

-Lisa