The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

This book is about, well, an invisible man. Pretty self explanatory.

I’ll have to say, I didn’t really like this book.

It was a good book, don’t get me wrong. Pretty good sci-fi novel, but still. I didn’t really like it. And that mostly has to do with the fact that I didn’t like any (and I mean any) of the characters. None. Partly because I couldn’t relate to them (at all), but also because I just couldn’t like them. I didn’t hate any of them. I just didn’t care. I was very “meh” about all of them.

The plot was cool, though, and the idea behind it was also enjoyable. I liked the sentiment behind it, and I’d almost say that it’s worth the annoying characters just for the book itself.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This book is pretty famous, so I probably don’t need to do a summary, but I’m gonna give you one anyway: This book is basically about this guy, Raskolnikov, who tries to get away with murder. But of course, it’s much more complicated than that, since this is an old Russian novel, and old Russian novels are always more complicated than that.

I actually really liked this book. I read it for school, and despite the fact that every time I sat down to read it I was extremely frustrated with how slow going it went (it’s a very dense book, and took a bit of time to read ten pages, let alone fifty a night), but the content itself was very enjoyable. And I think that that mostly has to do with the fact that I was reading it for school. If I had just picked it up for funnsies, I would have put it down after the first few pages, and even if I had gone through the entire book, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it half as much as when I had to analyze it for school. Half the fun of the book is learning its background, finding its secrets, and trying to discover all the things Dostoyevsky hid within the pages. Without that, the book isn’t as great. It just isn’t.

There is so much that can be said about this book, and I can’t list all of it here. But one of the things I really enjoyed were the characters. Not only were they extremely well written, they were all very well rounded, and we could see different parts of them at different times of the novel. The best characters were Raskolnikov, Razumikhin, Dunya, and Sonya, of course, but the supporting characters were pretty good too, though you don’t exactly find yourself liking them–because they are far from good people. They just happen to be good characters. But every character is realistic. Our main character, Raskolnikov, is extremely schismatic (his name actually comes from the Russian root that means “schism” so…), and is very far from perfect. Which I personally enjoyed. It made all his struggles seem more real, and it made it easier to appreciate him.

The other thing I love is that despite the fact that we already know what the crime is (it happens within the first 70 pages, and then there’s almost 400 pages left of the book for the punishment. Ridiculous, I know), the novel is still a mystery, but instead of finding the killer, we’re finding the motive. Which I thought was pretty cool. But I’m not going to go into that too much. I have a lot of thoughts on it, but I really don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave it at that.

When we first started reading this for class, my teacher told us that it was one of the books that you have to read at least once in your lifetime, and that a lot of professors will tell you that it’s one of the most important books in human history, or something along those lines. And I agree: you should read it at least once in your lifetime. Preferably in a classroom setting, since it will (hopefully) keep you reading it, and it will also get you analyzing it, which is a good majority of what makes this novel so great. But if you don’t read it in a classroom setting, do some of your own online research, or talk about it with someone. It’s one of those books that you just want to discuss with a book club or a friend (who’s also reading it, preferably). But definitely read it. It’s really dense, but its greatness outweighs its denseness.

Just an upcoming writing contest…

Despite the fact that this is not a book, I thought I’d let you all know about it.

Easy Street is having a contest called The Great American Sentence. You can check it out at this link.

Basically you submit up to 5 of your original sentences (as in sentences written by you) by midnight EST on February 28. If they like your sentences and decide to publish them, you can $5 a word, and if you post a link like I just did, you can get $10 a word. Cool right?

A couple poets that I love:

I love poetry. And recently, I talked with a friend about a specific amazing poet by the name of Shel Silverstein, and they said they had never read anything by him. And I have to say, growing up reading Shel, burrowing my nose in the pages and getting lost in the words of Shel, laughing and crying because of Shel, I was really astonished. I hadn’t realized that some people never read his poetry.

And then I realized there are a lot of poets that people have never read.

So if you’re looking for poets, and amazing, beautiful poems, here are a few that I personally love:

The Most Famous Ones:

Walt Whitman

E.E. Cummings

Emily Dickinson

Shel Silverstein

Robert Frost

Shakespeare

Lord Byron

The ones you’ve probably not heard about but are still amazing:

Clementine Von Radics

Tyler Knott Gregson

“Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen

“Iris” by Vivian St. John

“Tiara” by Mark Doty

“Yes” by Muriel Rukeyser

“The Waking” by Theodore Roethke

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

“In Michael Robins’s Class Minus One” by Bob Hicok

“Confrontations with the Devil in the Form of Love” by Judy Grahn

(I listed the poems specifically here because I’ve yet to read anything else by the author, and so cannot say that I love the poet and not just the poem).

A lot of these are really sad. But they’re all really good. So if you’re looking for a poet, or a few poems, these are my personal favorites.

But even if you don’t I hope that you read Shel Silverstein, at least once in your lifetime. Because if you haven’t, you’re missing out on something wonderful.

Hey guys! Just really quickly:

It doesn’t matter what you read. Whether you are reading comic books/graphic novels, the newspaper, fanfic, or an actual novel. Whether you are reading a series or a YA novel or a bibliography. Whether you read poetry, or intellectual debates. Whether you read cheap romances or horror stories. Whether you are picking up something new or rereading a beloved paperback friend:

Who cares what you’re reading? Does it even matter?

You’re reading. Something new, borrowed, or blue, you’re reading. And that’s all that matters in the end. And you should never feel embarrassed about what you read. Just read it. If you like it, read it. If a friend recommends it, try it. If you want to try something new and totally out of character, go for it. The adventures will always wait within the pages of the book. But never, never let someone else tell you what to read. Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t read something because it’s not true reading (and I don’t mean for this to be a reason for little kids to suddenly read Fifty Shades of Grey. That is not what I mean, at all. If you’re parents say no because it’s not appropriate, you should probably be listening to them. But don’t let them tell you not to read it because you’ve already read it, or because it’s “not a real book.”).

And parents: if your kids are rereading something, or reading a book with pictures, or even comics, don’t worry. They’re still reading. If you try to stop them, they may stop reading all together. So let them read what they enjoy reading. It doesn’t matter that they may be reading at a lower level (and by the way, the level doesn’t matter. Everyone reads at their own pace), or that they’re reading graphic novels instead of books. It’s all literature. And it’s better that they’re reading, and enjoying reading, than being forced to read something they don’t enjoy.

(Also: this does not apply to school reading. You should read that because usually, they’re good books. And if you don’t enjoy them, at least you can say you didn’t like it because you’ve read it and didn’t enjoy it.)

And, along those same lines: it doesn’t matter if you’re reading paperback or ebook. They’re both still books. Don’t ever feel shame or embarrassment because you’re reading from a device instead of having the weight of the paperback, or if you’re reading a paperback because you like the way it feels in your hands. Who cares what you’re reading on? Again, all that matters is you’re reading.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This book is about two people: one, a concierge named Renee, the other a twelve year old girl named Paloma. Both are geniuses trying to hide it. Both live at 7 rue de Grenelle, in an elegant hotel in France.

First off, I really liked this book. And I mean, I really liked it. But I do realize that this book is not for everyone. But I’ll get to that later.

I loved reading this. Most of the chapters consist of philosophical debates and observations, but underlying those are the impressions each person experiences as they go through their every day lives. There is, of course, an overall plot, the events that take place within the hotel.

So of course, the main thing I enjoyed was the intellectual debates that they have within the novel. Renee and Paloma contemplate most of the Big Questions (i.e. What is the purpose of life?), as well as the basis of humanity. Their commentary ranges from absolutely hilarious to extremely insightful, and I found myself laughing through most of it.

Renee, for starters, has a very dry sense of humor, but she also has a lot of fear. She’s scared, almost constantly, that she will get found out. Which, of course, makes for even more entertaining commentaries and scenes. Paloma, on the other hand, does not fear the spotlight, but rather just doesn’t care. She lets people think she’s stupid, because it’s simply easier to get peace and quiet that way. She’s also a bit suicidal. (Well, when I say a bit…) I, personally, found both of these characters absolutely delightful. If I had to choose between the two, I probably would not be able to. And it just made it so much better that the novel switched between their two points of view–something I didn’t realize, and got very confused until I figured it out (I hadn’t read the summary before picking it up off my book shelf. I’d gotten the paperback years ago as a birthday present, but hadn’t been interested in reading it. So of course, I was very confused when in one chapter, the narrator said that they were seven years old, and in another, they were suddenly fifty-four. I had thought, at first, that the book was just bouncing through time, but eventually the events in the hotel started to converge and then I thought, “Huh?” So don’t make the same mistake! Read the summary!)

I will say this, though: this book is very hard to follow if read out loud to someone else, and it does contain a lot of big words. Just for an example, I’m including an excerpt at the end of this review. Please, please read it before deciding to pick up the book; if you can’t understand it, you should probably hold off reading it for a little while. But you should read it. It’s really good.

This book is a rather  harder read, and it does talk about drugs and sex, among other things.

Here’s the excerpt:

Which way lies the truth, in the end? In power, or in Art? Is it not the power of well-crafted discourse which enables us not only to sing the praises of mankind’s creations but also to denounce as a crime of illusory vanity the urge to dominate, which moves us all–yes, all, even a wretched concierge in her cramped loge who, although she may have renounced any visible power, nevertheless pursues those dreams of power in her mind?

Indeed, what constitutes life? Day after day, we put up the brave struggle to play our role in this phantom comedy. We are good primates, so we spend most of our time maintaining and defending our territory, so that it will protect and gratify us; climbing–or trying not to slide down–the tribe’s hierarchical ladder, and fornicating in every manner imaginable–even mere phantasms–as much for the pleasure of it as for the promised offspring. Thus we use up a considerable amount of our energy in intimidation and seduction, and these two strategies alone ensure the quest for territory, hierarchy and sex that gives life to our conatus. But none of this touches our consciousness. We talk about love, about good and evil, philosophy and civilization, and we cling to these respectable icons the way a tick clings to its nice big warm dog.

There are times, however, when life becomes a phantom comedy. As if aroused from a dream, we watch ourselves in action and, shocked to realize how much vitality is required simply to support our primitive requirements, we wonder, bewildered, where Art fits in. All our frenzied nudging and posturing suddenly becomes utterly insignificant; our cozy little nest is reduced to some futile barbarian custom, and our position in society, hard-won and eternally precarious, is but a crude vanity. As for our progeny, we view them now with new eyes, and we are horrified, because without the cloak of altruism, the reproductive act seems extraordinarily out of place. All that is left is sexual pleasure, but if it is relegated to a mere manifestation of primal abjection, it will fail in proportion, because a loveless session of gymnastics is not what we have struggled so hard to master.

Eternity eludes us.

At times like this, all the romantic, political, intellectual, metaphysical and moral beliefs that years of instruction and education have tried to inculcate in us seem to be foundering on the altar of our true nature, and society, a territorial field mined with the powerful charges of hierarchy, is sinking into the nothingness of Meaning. Exeunt rich and poor, thinkers, researchers, decision-makers, slaves, the good and the evil, the creative and the conscientious, trade unionists and individualists, progressives and conservatives; all have become primitive hominoids whose nudging and posturing , mannerisms and finery, language and codes are all located on the genetic map of an average primate, and all add up to no more than this: hold your rank, or die.

At times like this you desperately need Art. You seek to reconnect with your spiritual illusions, and you wish fervently that something might rescue you from your biological destiny, so that all poetry and grandeur will not be cast out from the world.

Thus, to withdraw as far as you can from the jousting and combat that are the appanages of our warrior species, you drink a cup of tea, or perhaps you watch a film by Ozu, and place upon this sorry theater the seal of Art and its greatest treasures.

I know, I know. It’s long. But it’s one of my favorites, and I thought it was pretty representative of how the language is within the novel.

Bottom line, though: READ THE BOOK!!!!

Is Ophelia actually crazy?

 

Warning: I am assuming that you have read both book and play. If you have not, you have been warned that there will be spoilers. I am sorry to tell you this, but there are spoilers!!!!! So if you are afraid that this will ruin the book for you, stop reading here. Read the book. And then continue on.

So I don’t normally do this, and I do not know if I’m going to continue to do this. But I’ve been meaning to talk about this, both in my own context and in context with Lisa Klein’s Ophelia, which I reviewed a while ago. I recently reread Hamlet for school, and my teacher said that Ophelia is the only character who is actually crazy, which I disagree with. I see her point, obviously, since there’s not a ton of evidence to say that she’s not actually crazy without the context of Klein’s novel. But, having read Klein’s novel before taking the class, I had already thought about Ophelia as a perfectly sane person, and so naturally found evidence to support my own thoughts.

First: Ophelia’s songs. Ophelia knows exactly what is happening. I’m talking, of course, about after she is “mad.” There is a scene in the play in which she comes in singing songs to an audience of Claudius, Gertrude, and later on, her brother. Of course, to anyone without context, her songs have no meaning. They’re just songs. And for someone with a little context, she’s talking about her dead father, Polonius. But the songs can also be taken another way. (It’s been a while, but I believe Klein’s novel points this out:) one of the songs she sings has the lines:

He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone,
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone.
(4.5.29-32)
Of course, this could be about Polonius, who was recently slain by Hamlet. But it could also be about the late king, Gertrude’s dead husband. I took it to mean both: that she is both acknowledging her own father’s death, and telling Gertrude about her husband’s death, reminding Gertrude that her late husband is dead. Ophelia is literally telling Gertrude that her husband is dead and gone. Almost as if she is telling Gertrude it is okay, but also reminding her that her husband is dead. So of course, her other song rings true as well.
And will he not come again?
No, no, he is dead,
Go to thy death-bed,
He never will come again.
His beard as white as snow,
All flaxen with his poll:
He is gone, he is gone,
And we cast away moan:
God ha’ mercy on his soul!
(4.5.23-26)
Again, she could be singing for Claudius. But I think that she is also singing to Gertrude, about the late king. “No, no, he is dead…He never will come again,” is telling the queen that her husband is dead, and he will never return. Even if she remarries, it will never be the same. We also know that the late king has a beard. When Hamlet first hears about the Ghost, he asks:
Hamlet: “His beard was grizzled–no?”
Horatio: “It was, as I have seen it in his life,
A sable silver’d.”
In the song, Ophelia talks about a man with a white beard who has died. We know that Polonius and the late king both had silver beards. And so it can be said that she talks about both men within her song. It is not necessarily explicitly Polonius. It is also important to note that she sings these songs to Gertrude, not just a general audience. By singing to Gertrude, she makes it seem much more like a pointed moment than if she had just gone into a chamber at random and sung to some civilians. Instead she seeks Gertrude out, and sings these songs to her.
Second: The Flowers. When we next see Ophelia, she is carrying flowers and herbs. (Whether they are real or imaginary is up for debate, and really up to the reader). And each have specific meanings. Rosemary: remembrance. She gives these to her brother, along with Pansies, for thoughts, in order to tell him to remember and to keep her and their family in his thoughts. To Gertrude, she gives Gertrude (or Claudius; we’re really not told in the play) Fennel, which represents deceit and flattery, and Columbine, which represents ungratefulness, and “forsaken lovers”. She gives these to make a jab at their deceitfulness in their marriage, since Gertrude was once married to the king whom Claudius killed, and Claudius was his brother. Ophelia also gives Gertrude a Daisy, representing innocence. And, of course, no one gets the violets (faithfulness), since they withered all when her father died (her words, not mine). In Ophelia, Klein makes it a point to say that one of these flowers (I don’t actually remember which one but I’m pretty sure it’s Columbine) is a remedy for snake’s poison. And, of course, Claudius killed the king with snake’s poison poured into the ear (Claudius is also very snake-like in that he is cunning and poisoned the king in a Garden, cough cough, Eden). In her own way, Ophelia is telling them (and us) that she does indeed know about the plot against the king’s life. (There are more flower meanings here. I’m not going to go any further with the flowers from Ophelia, but if you’re curious…).
 Of course, in Klein’s Ophelia, she is doing all this because she needs to be protected, so she pretends to be mad. She also needs to get out of Denmark and this is her last herah!
I’m not going to spoil the book more than necessary. If you want to know what happens after this in Ophelia, you’ll just have to read the book.
But I will say that I do not think that suicide would have been her answer. I do think that Ophelia wanted to escape her life, and so suicide would have made sense. But not after what she went through. But I’m speaking from the year 2014. And this brings me to my third point.
Third: History. In the time that Shakespeare would have written this play, women had absolutely no rights. The only  jobs you could have occupied as a woman would have been a maid (maybe), a teacher, or a prostitute. You could only have occupied a teacher’s job if you were educated (naturally). So of course, a woman in Ophelia’s position, who was probably not educated the way teachers needed to be (piano, art, fluency in French, etc.) would have had very few options. She could have gone to a nunnery (as Hamlet suggests), or to a whore house (also as Hamlet suggests), but those were really her only two options. Unless, of course, she marries Hamlet. She was being courted by him, after all. Before the Ghost came, she might even have ended up marrying him. But because she was lured into spying on him by her father, or in Ophelia he scorns her to protect her from his own revenge on Claudius, she never gets that chance. Instead, Hamlet says that he never loved her, and that she should go to a nunnery (which means both a convent, and a whore house). Now, her chance of marrying into wealth is gone. She is no longer under the protection of Hamlet. Which leaves her father. Who is killed by Hamlet. Her brother, being away in France, cannot be there for her in a time where she cannot support herself. She is completely alone. Now, think back to what I said about women in this time: they had absolutely no power. The average woman could do almost nothing to take care of herself financially. And Ophelia, if she is truly sane, probably sees suicide as the only escape, her only true choice. If she goes to a nunnery/whore house, she’s doing what Hamlet said. And she can’t become a teacher, since she doesn’t have the proper education. So the only option that is hers, and only hers, is suicide (and by hers, I mean that it is not doing what someone else said to do. It is completely her choice, without getting the idea from someone else).
Personally, I still like the idea in Ophelia, where she is using suicide to escape from Denmark. Because Denmark is a prison, as Hamlet so eloquently states. Again, not going to spoil the novel. But I like that version a lot more than her just giving up, succumbing to her madness. And even despite the fact that a lot of people are going to disagree and say that she is crazy, that there is not enough evidence to say otherwise, I’ll forever believe that Ophelia is perhaps the sanest character in the play. Which, I realize is not saying a lot considering. But I’m definitely on the side that says she isn’t actually crazy. This play deals a lot with players and the fact that everyone in the play is an actor in their own life (just for example: Hamlet is pretending to be a crazy person). I believe that Ophelia is one of those people, pretending to be crazy.
But I also don’t want to influence your decision. So you read the play, and the novel if you chose, and then you tell me: sane or crazy?