Congratulations, George Saunders!

lincoln

US author George Saunders has snatched this year’s Man Booker Prize for his book, “Lincoln in the Bardo” last night by the UK time. He defeats five remarkable writers along with their books; ‘Elmet’ by Fiona Mozley, ‘4 3 2 1” by Paul Auster, ‘Autumn’ by Ali Smith, ‘History of Wolves’ by Emily Fridlund and ‘Exit West’ by Mohsin Hamid.

Citing from guardian.com the book is based around a real event: the night in 1862 when Abraham Lincoln buried his 11-year-old son Willie in a Washington cemetery. Imagining the boy trapped in the Bardo – a Tibetan Buddhist term for a kind of limbo – Saunders’ novel follows the fellow dead, also trapped in the graveyard and unwilling to accept death, who observe the boy as he desperately waits for his father to return.

I honestly just knew about the name of George Saunders after I read an article about this year’s award a few weeks ago. Pardon my very limited literary knowledge and reading scope, my fellas. For my brain and taste can’t move on from the Victorian reading materials, hehe.

A panel of the award’s judges say ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ is unique and extraordinary that makes it deserving the title. From the synopsis of the book and how Saunders tells it, I can’t agree more. And I think, just my silly prediction because I haven’t read the book, ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ is quite depressing.

The storyline is about kids passing away at early age. And that they or their families find it so difficult to cope with all of that. Reading about this idea has made me mournful. Two things that quickly cross my mind: the innocence of children and grief that is inevitable in our lives.

Thanks to my habit of reading books mostly about the life as the way it is (read: happiness is as important as sadness), I am not shocked by this sort of choice. What makes Saunders’ idea is remarkable is his focus on bringing up children death which for me, is even sadder. Also, the angle from which he presents the story is I think distinctive and quite new for me.

If one thing that makes me taking a few steps back from putting ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ into my upcoming to-be-read list is Saunders’ storytelling technique which mostly consists of dialogues. I dislike this type of conveyance. I prefer to reading stories with a lot of descriptions, metaphors, the sort of reading-beyond-the-lines because I have been accustomed of reading fictions by the Victorian writers.

But since I am up for literary challenges, I will give it a try. After I complete reading ‘Middlemarch’ which is 300 something pages away from completion, LOL.

Anyway, congratulations, Saunders! Creative, exceptional ideas really deserve top prize, like yours!

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The unexpected thing that surprises yet makes me reading ‘Middlemarch’ faster than before

eliot

Dr. Tertius Lydgate says to Mrs. Dorothea Casaubon that her husband, Mr. Edward Casaubon, is severely ill. The sick man may not live longer if he takes his life too seriously, not wanting to take leisure time. If he continues doing so, the disease will get worse.

Prior to Mr. Casaubon’s almost faint, he finds himself so caught up in jealousy over his own niece, Will Ladislaw, who wishes to come at the couple’s residence in Lowick. The patient’s unwillingness to declare his envy turns him into having an argument with his wife who doesn’t sense any jealousy taking place in the heart of her middle-aged husband.

And so it goes. Self-dissatisfied upon his failed research coupled with unexpressed envy strike his health, or to be precise, makes his body weaker than it already is.

This is the scene where I find myself mostly captivated so far (for I don’t even reach the half of the overall book which takes almost 700 pages by the way). When I have decided reading the novel I think I will find Dorothea as the perfect representation of my character or my view on the purpose of the life, which is makes one’s life useful to others. This is actually one of the reasons why Dorothea marries the clergyman.

But in fact, it is Mr. Casaubon who best describes my personality. When I firstly meet this figure right as the novel begins, I think his traits will be like other scientists’, serious, quiet and smart. As the book progresses, I later discover his dark sides match my own.

When he and his wife are on a honeymoon trip in Rome, I start feeling his negativity matches my own. He finds it so hard to separate his professional life with personal, happy time that he definitely deserves to experience. So instead of having a joy, spending most of the time with his wife, Mr. Casaubon gets busy with his job. Dorothea is desperately feeling lonely.

This is the start of my putting special attention to this character, who is actually not the protagonist. I begin thinking how this man resembles my trait, particularly a few years back then. I am a serious, curious person who has spent years of learning and working so hard for me and for my family. Sometimes when I am on a holiday, I am still attached with jobs or at least I use the spare time for reading something thought-provoking once in a while. I know this is unfair for my brain but I can’t help it. I was born this way, man. All I can do is loosening it bit by bit and now alhamdulillahirobbil’alamiiiin (praise to God Almighty) I start successfully taking time to get relaxed and enjoy life through small things.

That’s the first point.

The second one which slaps me on my face is Mr. Casaubon’s relationship with Will Ladislaw. It’s not about the former’s jealousy over the latter but his inability to take criticisms as something objective. Before Will Ladislaw meets his wife, Mr. Casaubon already hates the painter. The reason is very simple. Will Ladislaw has different opinions with Mr. Casaubon about knowledge. He often criticizes Mr. Casaubon about his failed observations and things related to that.

Mr. Casaubon takes the opinions too far into his heart that he despises him so much that he doesn’t want Will Ladislaw to come into his house. His jealousy makes his stance even stricter.

The fact that Mr. Casaubon can’t stand of criticisms and think that he is the best of all is so me. I am so hard on myself and perfectionist. I think these go hand in hand with perfectionism. These make me stubborn, underestimating others’ opinions. I still feel people’ opinions that go against my views ‘attack’ me.  I get irritated. In the past, this feeling is so strong but now thankfully I learn to accept what people say about me or whatever they wish to say about what I do or what I say. I learn so much not to take things too seriously.

I am curious what happens in the life of Mr. Casaubon then. Can he cope with and control the devilish parts of him? Or will he get carried away with them and let them ruining his marriage life?

Well, those questions are just small pointers that make me wanting reading the masterpiece faster than before apart from bigger aspects that turn this book is so awesome, like the fate of the doctor’s life himself, who is also a perfectionist on his own.

This book is about ambitious people, perfectionists, and idealistic persons. No wonder I love reading it because the book is mostly about me. Thank you so much for writing this, George Eliot!

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The number 1 challenge in ‘Middlemarch’: plentiful characters

Middlemarch ... New edition

Just when I am curious about the life of Dorothea Brooke after she marries with Reverand Edward Casaubon, George Eliot presents me with the new major character, Dr. Tertius Lydgate through events involving Rosamund and Fred Vincy. Eliot suspends the life of Dorothea with the coming of this brilliant doctor in Middlemarch.

While Dorothea’s part runs simple, the doctor’s ways of adjusting himself in the county is broad and complicated. Eliot introduces what motivates Lydgate becoming a doctor, what shapes his medical belief and what kind of mission he carries in the small town.

Plus, Eliot mentions Lydgate’s brief obsession toward a Parisian theater actress who influences his preference about woman. The complicated one is in regard with the mention of several prominent Middlemarch figures, such as Mr. Bulstrode and Mr. Camden Farebrother, Mr. Chichely and the Vincys.

In addition, I get a glimpse on the matters involving Fred who is said to have been in a huge debt. His laziness makes Mary doesn’t count him as a potential husband. There is a tension, too, between Mr. Vincy and Mr. Bulstrode.

While Rosamund and Mary are close friends yet they both have different views. Eliot states early in this novel that Rosamund and Lydgate hit it off the moment they get the first sight of each other at the Mr. Farebrother’s house.

Within the first 135 pages of this very thick book of 668 pages, I already get so many things about the people in Middlemarch. Again, they emerge when the novel is only 135 pages young.

I slowly digest the materials every time they contain a lot of figures like in ‘Middlemarch’. I need better concentration to memorize who are they all as the novel progresses. Sometimes I forget the roles some of them play in the book then I have to recall them back. Or, I just resume the reading process while not really remembering the minor characters knowing what matters most are those concerning Dorothea and Lydgate, Eliot’s grand focus of her masterpiece.

Now I comprehend this book is quite heavy as I need to put steady focus reading it. If not I will get lost in the whole story. The tough thing about reading canon literature such as this one is that the authors bring up a lot of characters whose contributions are necessary to the lives of the major ones.

The interactions of the minor people become the avenues through which the authors inject their overall views about life, love and humanity, as I can get from how Eliot describes the dialogues involving the minor people in the book.

The novel contains stories behind stories. I need to cleave apart layers after layers while the book is very far from closure. Anyway, I enjoy reading it so much. Through conversations between Rosamund and Mary, for instance, Eliot presents me two kinds of women. Rosy is a clever, elegant yet as Mary says, she is blameless, or in my word, a naive one. Mary, on the other hand, appears strong in front of anyone, including feeling no care to Fred, the man she loves, but she is a very sensible person.

‘Middlemarch’ is very entertaining book so far. It is witty, wonderfully-written, deep.  Eliot blends idealism as one of its central themes, with comical languages once in a while. No wonder it is regarded as one of the best novels ever written of all time for I can feel a lot of things within just one package. Thank you, Eliot!

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YES! I completely enjoy reading ‘Middlemarch’ after some failed trials

This is one of the pleasantest posts I have ever shared here. Last night, I was so happy because I retook Middlemarch that has been standing in the bookshelf for as many months I can barely remember. I couldn’t believe myself that I have been immersed in the classic since then. I am so fascinated and grateful for myself because, hell, I bought the book in 2008, been tempted to read it for like, two or three times, but none of which leading me exceeding page 25, LOL!

I have survived until page 30 so far. What makes me joyful is that I have been enjoying reading it until now. This is a miracle! The recipe is forcing myself reading the words although I don’t exactly what all words mean to me (please underrstand that English language is not my mother tongue, hehe).

While the key is also applicable when I read ‘Sense and Sensibility’, how does ‘Middlemarch’ gets more exciting the more I take in words?

In ‘Sense and Sensibility’, I find it a little hard to thoroughly enjoy all of its contents somewhere in the middle of it. The first pages are easy to be understood. As the story progresses, I can’t help feeling a little bit puzzled.

On the contrary, ‘Middlemarch’ is not easy to read from the very first pages although they describe the beauty of Dorothea and Celia and how both siblings differ from each other. But once I pass through them all, everything becomes delicate to taste, hehe.. Can’t hardly wait to read more of it very soon. The novel is more than 600 pages, probably as thick as ‘Wives and Daughters’ whose fonts are much bigger than ‘Middlemarch”’s. It’s going to be a huge work for me given the very thick volume but I am sure I am going to have a very fascinating adventure as long as I enjoy reading it. And so far, it has been hell of a good one.

Very much thanks I would like to say to Joshua Becker, the founder of becomingminimalist.com, who reviews an article by Emily Esfahani Smith about what makes one’s life actually happy and meaningful. Not only her story is  very interesting to read, Emily cites a very fine example to support her view from ‘Middlemarch’.

If I already know what ‘Middlemarch’ is all about then why the hell must I read it again? You may ask me that question.

It’s because I have been long curious what makes the book is very widely-accepted as one of the best novels ever written of all time. Plus, George Eliot writes it. I love her writing style and her ideas though not all of her works end in happy notes. I still remember the joy I have reading ‘The Mill on the Floss’. Although ‘Adam Bede’ a little bit confuses me, I am enchanted by its happy ending. All in all, Eliot’s works never fail satisfying my curiosity. That what makes me idolizing hers.

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I wish I were Austen’s Elinor Dashwood

I wish I were a mysterious being like Elinor Dashwood. I hope I have a lot of masks to put on whenever I need it the most just like her. Of all fictional heroines that I have enjoyed so far, Elinor is the one who makes me envious. She is the one of the kind who knows how to handle her heart with so much care. You can call her a hypocrite for frequently hiding her emotions. Once you realize letting them out in whatever moments you are in may cost you a lot, you understand Elinor behaves the way she does.

Elinor is a very interesting character because she is so reserved. She is the sort of person everyone loves being around with. She knows how to interact with the so-knowing-it-all-people affairs like Mrs. Jennings. She can, too, befriend with the woman who steals the heart of the man Elinor admires so much, Lucy. As much as she wants to cry it all out when she knows Lucy is engaged and later is married to Edward Ferrars, Elinor keeps her promises of not telling every one about the secret engagement.

When her heart is still broken because of Lucy and Edward, Elinor manages to console her sister, Marianne, as Willoughby leaves her for another woman. Elinor puts forward her brain and logic when it comes to love that results in the despises from her mother and Marianne. It turns out that Elinor’s suspicions about Willoughby are indeed true.

The way Elinor is so patient with everything happening to her life and those around her is amazing. She isn’t trapped in materialistic view of the people surrounding her. Elinor is very strong woman, so tough that she can withshield the sadness in her heart for months. Even so, her life is so full of patience. On the surface, Elinor’s life seems flat and boring as she has to wait and see for all things to come into her life. Not many active actions she actually does to pursue her dreams, unlike Marianne to Willoughby.

Yet in her circumstances, she has no other better options. She can’t force her feelings to Edward while Colonel Brandon, as I come to the page of 279 out of 367, remains attached to Marianne. So Elinor keeps trying being cool and patient while watching things turning out as they are. And that is the damn difficult thing one can ever have to do.

‘Sense and Sensibility’, my second escapade with Jane Austen

sense and sensibility

For how many times I can’t remember I made a vow to myself which I knew I was going to break it. Before the payday came this Tuesday, I promised to myself I wouldn’t buy a book because I have planned saving a sum of money for other things. Only a few days I kept this promise as yesterday I went to the Kinokuniya bookstore after my job was done. I couldn’t help fighting against the temptation of not reading a novel. So even if my money is so tight I kept going there. Even when I have known I can’t expect the bookstore offers more classic titles I went home bringing Jane Austen’s evergreen romance story, ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Although I once watched its movie version I kept purchasing it because I have known written version will always be much more joyful for a reader like me.

The best realistic thing about Victorian books is that they are sold in various editions that match with my pocket. I bought the book edition at just around US$7 (see picture), which is still very affordable for me. I can still enjoy a very lovely story under cheap price. I actually wanted to buy ‘The Vegetarian’ but the price is too high for me at the moment. So never mind with ‘Sense and Sensibility’, though.

I watched ‘Sense and Sensibility’ years ago. All I remember is Kate Winslet still looks so young at the movie.  I don’t even know the name of the actress who plays the oldest one as the central protagonist of the book. I was considering my experiences of having watched the movie version before I bought the canon. As the amazing experience of reading ‘Jane Eyre’ after watching its movie version proves my capability of enjoying the novel, I grabbed ‘Sense and Sensibility’ then headed home.

Unlike ‘Emma’, which was opened with rather cheerful tone, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, so its first pages suggest, invite me to probably read it in a serious mode. So far, I am at its first 13 pages so I can’t say many things yet other than the novel is quite solemn. Since I am accustomed of reading books by Thomas Hardy which are way stressful than Austen’s I bet ‘Sense and Sensibility’ is not that much depressing. At least let’s hope this classic isn’t as distressing as ‘Jane Eyre’.

 Thank you for providing the picture.

For this particular reason Anne Bronte is my most favorite Bronte writer

anne bronte

Hail to the Bronte sisters who have left enduring legacy in English Literature. I wish they write more books so that I can go inside their unbelievable minds. Though I know I can never reach their super high imagination level put into magical words at least I can enjoy more of their works. They die relatively at young age because of sickness.

So far, I read four books; ‘Agnes Grey’, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and the last one is ‘Jane Eyre’. I know some titles remain unread, particularly by Charlotte Bronte but I believe reading them is sufficient for me to draw a conclusion that Anne Bronte is my most favorite one.

I agree to most literary fans who say ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Jane Eyre’ stand higher than ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’. I sum this up because of what I feel after I read each of them. I go crazy when I read ‘Wuthering Heights’. I am so moved when Jane Eyre becomes a beggar then so relieved when she eventually becomes Mrs. Rochester. I still remember I find it hard to put ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ down because the plot completely moves me. I get addicted to the book but if you ask for my opinion the novel remains below the other two titles in the paragraph. I think this is perhaps due to Anne’s writing technique which doesn’t dramatize Helen’s life as tragic as Jane Eyre or as horrific as ‘Wuthering Heights’.

Anne Bronte is my personal favorite because I find pieces of my personality in her two stories. The reason is so private. As much as I adore Jane’s trait that is so rebellious and as much as I am blown away with the wildness of the love between Cathy and Heathcliff, Anne’s characters are engraved in my heart. The simplicity, patience and strong-willingness of Helen Lawrence Huntingdon and Agnes Grey are what make them ordinarily outstanding.

You may call them boring because they don’t pose one or two particular traits that make them distinctive. Jane Eyre is very notable for her obstinacy and independence while Agnes Grey and Helen Huntingdon are both hardworking women but not that very stubborn. Agnes Grey and Helen Huntingdon are so-so if compared to Jane Eyre or Cathy. But beneath their average qualities lie endurance and strength. In my own words, they are very humane. Not just I but I think a lot of women or people out there will easily relate their characteristics with theirs.

‘Agnes Grey’ is the second novel that bedazzles me after ‘Wives and Daughters’ because of their ordinary protagonists who experience simple lives. Like Molly Gibson in ‘Wives and Daughters’, ‘Agnes Grey’ follows the life of Agnes Grey, all the choices that she makes and how they contribute to the final trait of the female leading figure by the end of the novel.

Agnes Grey wants sufficiency for her and her family needs. The problems she face during the life in the book seems ordinary; the difficulty in finding jobs, the negativity she has to receive as a governess. She sometimes hates her job because she has to deal with naughty children and some even put her position as a maid. But a job is a job. She has to complete her tasks for the sake of making ends meet. Her simple thought in job is also applicable in the romance side. She doesn’t pursue her crush but chooses to be patient and wait. Until when the universe goes in favor of her feeling, he comes and proposes her. There lies indescribable power beyond Agnes Grey’s simplicity.

Helen Huntingdon lives a more complicated life compared to Agnes Grey thereby she is a lot of tougher than Agnes Grey. Not only she has to deal with her alcoholic husband, Helen must go against public norms; fleeing from her husband while they are still married. Unlike Jane Eyre who is completely obstinate, Helen’s firmness is understandable, that she escapes from her husband to save their only son. Helen does this by force. Jane, on the other hand, could have stayed in Thornfield Hall while teaching Adele, for instance. Jane still has other choices that Helen doesn’t. Similar to Agnes Grey, what Helen wants is her son security and good moral sample that he will never get that from his own father.

I can’t imagine what strength Helen poses when she has to take care of her ill husband. She completes the duty of a devoted wife (I know the term ‘devoted’ here stirs debate at that time) by returning back home. As much as she hates him, she performs the responsibility until he dies. This part is so mixed. I feel that in this part, Anne Bronte softly brings up two opposite climaxes at the same time: the downfall of masculinity as portrayed by Arthur Huntingdon and the victory of feminism by Helen Huntingdon. Again, Anne Bronte describes this part in slow, soft ways that makes it very powerful.

Agnes Grey and Helen Huntingdon.. For some they may be boring, plain and not spontaneous. But you and I can’t bet they are beautiful souls because they stick at what they believe to do. They are stubborn because of strong reasons. Though patience and hardworking, they live the lives they dream to have no matter how many bumpy roads they have to undergo. They are awesome fictional characters and for myself they describe my personality.

Thank you for providing the picture.