Top Ten Tuesday: Love Triangles

April 15, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 0

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Bookish Things (That Aren’t Books), which I’m not going to do. Instead I’m going to high-jack this week’s Top Ten Tuesday and give you a list of novels with a decent love triangle within them.

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  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy — Alyosha Vronsky, Alexei and Anna Karenin
  • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton — Zeena, Ethan, and Mattie
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov — Clare, Dolores, and Humbert Humbert
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro — Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood — Oryx, Crake, and Snowman

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  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — Wickham (or Mr Collins), Mr Darcy, and Elizabeth Bennet
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — Tom, Daisy, and Jay Gatsby
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides — Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell
  • The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — Albert, Lotte, and Werther
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte — Linton, Catherine, and Heathcliff

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

April 14, 2014 What are you Reading 4

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

RansomRansom by David Malouf

A reimagination of one of the most famous stories in all of literature-Achilles’s slaughter and desecration of Hector, and Priam’s attempt to ransom his son’s body in Homer’s The IliadRansom is the first novel in more than a decade from David Malouf, arguably Australia’s greatest living writer.

A novel of suffering, sorrow, and redemption, Ransom tells the story of the relationship between two grieving men at war: fierce Achilles, who has lost his beloved Patroclus in the siege of Troy; and Priam, king of Troy, whose son Hector killed Patroclus and was in turn savaged by Achilles. Each man’s grief demands a confrontation with the other’s if it is to be resolved: a resolution more compelling to both than the demands of war. And when the aged father and the murderer of his son meet, “the past and present blend, enemies exchange places, hatred turns to understanding, youth pities age mourning youth.” (The Australian)

Ransom is a tour de force, incandescent in its delicate and powerful lyricism and in its unstated imperative to imagine our lives in light of fellow feeling.

Young RomanticsYoung Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay

Young Romantics tells the story of the interlinked lives of the young English Romantic poets from an entirely fresh perspective–celebrating their extreme youth and outsize yearning for friendship as well as their individuality and political radicalism. The book focuses on the network of writers and readers who gathered around Percy Bysshe Shelley and the campaigning journalist Leigh Hunt. They included Lord Byron, John Keats, and Mary Shelley, as well as a host of fascinating lesser-known figures: Mary Shelley’s stepsister and Byron’s mistress, Claire Clairmont; Hunt’s botanist sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kent; the musician Vincent Novello; the painters Benjamin Haydon and Joseph Severn; and writers such as Charles and Mary Lamb, Thomas Love Peacock, and William Hazlitt. They were characterized by talent, idealism, and youthful ardor, and these qualities shaped and informed their politically oppositional stances. “In firm, clear, often elegant prose, [Daisy Hay] narrates the main events in the lives of her subjects from 1813, when they began to coalesce around Hunt in London, till 1822″ (Ben Downing, “The New York Times Book Review”).

Young Romantics is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and friendship played out against a backdrop of political turbulence and intense literary creativity. “Hay’s account of the passionate and messy lives of her Romantics is vivid, picturesque, and finely told” (Richard Eder, “The Boston Globe”)

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

What Are You Reading?

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The New York Trilogy by Paul Austen

April 13, 2014 Contemporary, Mystery, Paul Auster 2 ★★★½

The New York Trilogy by Paul AustenTitle: The New York Trilogy (Goodreads)
Author: Paul Auster
Published: Penguin, 1987
Pages: 308
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
My Copy: Personal Copy

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

If you want to try a metafictional detective novel, then look no further than The New York Trilogy by Paul Austen. Originally published sequentially as City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room, these three interconnecting stories have been since collected into a single volume. Heavily influenced by the post-modernist movement, this novel blends elements of neo-realism, soft-boiled fiction and of course, metafiction. Even the pulp style cover (illustrated by Art Spiegelman) has a metafictional style to it.

I really wish I had a better grasp on post-modernism; there is a lot of literary theory that must go into fully understanding a novel like The New York Trilogy. My level of understanding of post-modernism might hinder this review but I will do my best to add something valuable here. Starting with a look at any example of one of the narrators; such as the one known as Peter Stillman, or is he? Maybe his name is something entirely different; maybe it is Paul Auster. This gives you an idea of just how you have to read this book; continuously questioning everything and assuming things are not as they have been told. This does make the novel difficult to read, I had to take my time with it and reread almost everything.

The first story City of Glass follows a detective fiction writer that becomes a private investigator. This unnamed narrator explores layers of identity and reality; often to Paul Auster (the author), Paul Auster (the writer), Peter Stillman (the mark), the other Peter Stillman (the son) and finally Daniel Quinn (the protagonist). The story follows this narrator as he descends into madness as the reader follows close behind. This is story that explores the relationship between the author, characters and the reader in a twisted kind of way. Essentially asking us to consider who has the real power in this relationship?

Ghosts follows the story of a private eye called Blue who is hired to follow Black; he has been hired by White to write down everything Black does. Only problem is that Black doesn’t do too much apart from sit and write all day, which means Blue spends all day sitting and writing. This is a story that explores the issue of who has the real power, the author or their characters. Paul Auster is showing us his views towards writing (sitting and watching what the character does).

Finally in The Locked Room, the title suggests that the story is referencing the locked room mystery archetype. It tells the story of a writer that doesn’t have the creativity to produce any fiction. When a childhood friend disappears, he has been hired to write his works and determine if they should be published. While one this job he finds himself taking the place of his friend and becoming husband and father to his family. This final story looks at the relationship between character and reader and asks us to consider if we are under the control of the author or do we interpret what is happening for ourselves.

It is interesting that a novel like The New York Trilogy can leave you perplexed and confused but when you try to articulate what happened and slowly dissect the novel into its three parts it all makes sense. I’m often surprised with how much I get out of a post-modern novel, especially since I often freak out and feel like I have not understood it. Then it all makes sense and I often wonder how I did not pick up on this while reading or after reading the novel. I hope I’ve made enough sense out of The New York Trilogy, a bizarre novel that requires very close attention but I’ve conquered it and I feel proud.

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Is Formalism still Relevant?

April 12, 2014 Literature 2

Yuri Tynianov

Yuri Tynianov

In a time of revolution a new form of literary theory also emerged. Russian Formalism was an influential school of literary criticism that involved a number of influential scholars including Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov, Vladimir Propp, Boris Eichenbaum, Roman Jakobson, Boris Tomashevsky and Grigory Gukovsky. The movement may have been short lived from the 1910’s to the 1930’s but it played a big part in influencing modern criticism, including structuralism and post-structuralism.

The idea of Formalism is to study the mode, genre, discourse and forms of literature. Ignoring the social or cultural influences, Formalism choices to analyse the structure rather than analyse the meaning behind it. The approach takes a more scientific look at literature over the others at the time, but still influenced by other schools of thought like Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic theories and Symbolism.

While I don’t know much about literary theory, the concept of Formalism has been on my mind lately, and even been the subject of an interesting debate on Twitter. While this an out-dated school of thought, I do believe it is a useful form of literary criticism. While I wouldn’t recommend focusing on Formalism, it can serve as a basis into diving into the world of literary criticism. I have to wonder, is it just my university or does Formalism get taught as an early concept in other English lit courses?

By developing a basic understanding of mode, genre, discourse and forms, it allows us to ask questions we may not normally ask. Why is the text written in one perspective over another? What does the form say about its content? How does paradox, irony, ambiguity, or tension work in the text?  The idea is to help to develop critical thought, giving students a basis to work with.

Formalism is not a term used in the current subject I’m taking; it’s called Approaches to English Literature but the concept is the same. However recent trends in academic literary criticism suggest that maybe Formalism making a comeback. While I would never focus on Formalism, I think it is a useful skill to learn; I believe there is a use for this school of literary criticism. It may only be to develop skills needed for future studies. What are your thoughts on Formalism? Do you believe its useful or making a comeback? If you’ve studied it, do you believe it helped develop critical thinking?

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The Yellow Papers by Dominique Wilson

April 10, 2014 Dominique Wilson, Historical Fiction 0 ★★½

The Yellow Papers by Dominique WilsonTitle: The Yellow Papers (Goodreads)
Author: Dominique Wilson
Published: Transit Lounge, 2014
Pages: 348
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In an effort to learn the secrets of the West, China sent a group of boys to America to be educated. This was following their defeat in the two Opium Wars in 1872. Seven-year-old Chen Mu was one of the boys sent to America; but at nine he fled to Umberumberka, a mining town in outback Australia. The Yellow Papers is a story of love, obsession and friendship set against a backdrop of war and racial prejudice.

The title refers to a Chinese tradition of determining a soul is at rest; this involves a priest determining if the death fell on a lucky day or not as well as performing some rituals. I couldn’t find much information about this process but the book suggests that the family is given yellow papers to indicate the soul is at rest. Also it may be interesting to note that the colour yellow is considered lucky in Chinese culture but Westerners use it as a racial slur. You might think this information would be useful and paid a big part in the novel, especially when it comes to tackling racism, but it doesn’t.

One of my major gripes with the novel is the fact that it attempts to look at a subject but ends up just glossing over it. The Yellow Papers tries to be a big sweeping historical epic but compact into 300 pages. This means that there are huge gaps that we have to fill in for ourselves and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing it does detach the reader from the novel. The novel could go into detail about racism, culture clashing, even the Opium Wars but this book avoids dealing with these subjects in great detail.

While The Yellow Papers is essentially the story of Chen Mu, this book is broken into three parts that shifts into different focalisation.  Chen Mu, Edward and Ming Li are the primary focus on the three parts. While Chen Mu is not a well-developed character by any count, Edward and Ming Li’s development fell flat. Both characters are two dimensional with no real indication on personality or motivation. This causes The Yellow Papers to start off well but plateaued out a third of the way through the novel.

There is some beauty within the text; some of the syntax reviews great imagery. While Dominique Wilson never really gives us much to do with scenery, the discourse is often very revealing. “Since that evening the thought that she could not love him had festered like a cancer in his belly.” This sentence hit me pretty hard; the idea of not being love and cancer being used in the same sentence, an idea that suggests being unloved is both unwanted and weighed heavily on him. Sentences like this are found throughout the novel and what saved this book from abandonment.

I wasn’t happy with The Yellow Papers at all and while I see some beauty in Dominique Wilson’s writing, I think she needed to flesh this one out a lot more. It is her first novel and I’m sure she learnt from writing it; her next novel will really determine my opinion of her style. As I’ve said, I found beauty in the syntax, enough to try her again.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Important Books

April 8, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 12

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Most Unique Books. I’m not sure if I can find ten books that did something different from the norm, so I’m going to do books (that I’ve read) that are important for the way they helped shape or change the world of literature.

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  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin – this novel is credited as the first dystopian novel.
  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle – May not be the first detective novel but it revolutionised the genre.
  • Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri – An collection of epic poems that dive into the realms of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – for it’s commentary of the Jazz age and the American dream.
  • Red Harvest by Dashell Hammett – may not be the first pulp novel but it is credited for being Hard-Boiled fiction to a wider audience.

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  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – for the way it adolescent alienation and angst
  • Catch-22 by Joseph’s Heller – a satirical look at the military and its bureaucracy
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – Censorship, book banning and the importance of literature.
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus – because we need a bit of existentialism in our literature.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (of course) – this novel deals with a wide range of topics; Romanticism, science, feminism and so on, as well as being a milestone in Horror and Science-Fiction.

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It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

April 7, 2014 What are you Reading 3

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

Veronica MarsThe Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham

From Rob Thomas, the creator of the television series and movie phenomenon Veronica Mars, comes the first book in a thrilling mystery series that picks up where the feature film left off. 

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

In Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas has created a groundbreaking female detective who’s part Phillip Marlowe, part Nancy Drew, and all snark. With its sharp plot and clever twists, The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line will keep you guessing until the very last page.

The Sorrows of Young WertherThe Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Visiting an idyllic German village, Werther, a sensitive and romantic young man, meets and falls in love with sweet-natured Lotte. Although he realizes that Lotte is to marry Albert, he is unable to subdue his passion for her, and his infatuation torments him to the point of absolute despair. The first great ‘confessional’ novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther draws both on Goethe’s own unrequited love for Charlotte Buff and on the death of his friend Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem. Goethe’s sensitive exploration of the mind of a young artist at odds with soceity and ill-equipped to cope with life is now considered the first great tragic novel of European literature

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

What Are You Reading?

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A Two Year Reflection

April 6, 2014 Literature 4

article-new-thumbnail-ehow-images-a08-31-nh-ways-literary-criticism-800x800One of the things I love about book blogging is just expressing my bookish thoughts, the stuff I’ve been thinking about. My goal was to post a non-review at least once a week (Saturday) but sometimes life gets in the way, you get busy and fall behind on book reviews. I’m pleased to say I’ve written all my book reviews so now I can get back to what I love about book blogging. Two years ago (this month) I started book blogging, my newfound love for literature was evident on my now neglected autodidactic blog Knowledge Lost and I felt the need to document my reading journey.

While this book is a documentation of my reading journey over the past few years, I also want to share my bookish thoughts. It is interesting to see how much they change over the course of a few years. So this post is kind of like a reflection of the past few years and see how much things have changed. Surprisingly for two years of blogging, Literary Exploration has just over 600 posts and over 340 of those are book reviews. While I would like to see more non-review posts, I’m very happy with the direction this blog has taken.

Over the past few years you can see just how much my reading (see my infographic) and book reviews have improved, as I grow as a reader so does this blog. I’ve gone from avoiding re-read books to wanting to re-read favourites just so I can blog about those books. That is one of the biggest problems with book blogging, so many books I’ve read before blogging that I need to re-read just so I can add them to my review list. My literary wall of shame is now a little less shameful (I should write a new one), I still dislike eucatastrophic endings and I’m still planning to complete the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

As for literary studies, most people know that I’m now starting at university part time, but I feel like my autodidactic studies are more educational. Those concepts of metafiction, satire and formalism (post coming soon) are all concepts I feel like I’ve got a handle on but still hope to learn about in more detail. If I were ever to teach an introduction course to literature, I probably would still pick the same books as those in this post.

It’s been a great two years, I love book blogging and I don’t plan to let up anytime soon. If I was better at self-editing I would probably try to post every day but unfortunately that is still a pipe dream. Though pop-culture is still destroying literature, books are still better than their movie adaptations. Books are here to stay, even if it feels like there is less and less people reading. I hope book bloggers are here to stay as well, but I would love to see more male bloggers out there.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

April 3, 2014 Classic, Truman Capote 0 ★★★★

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman CapoteTitle: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Goodreads)
Author: Truman Capote
Published: Penguin, 1958
Pages: 157
Genre: Classic
My Copy: Audiobook

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn that the Library of Congress has recently deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. It was a cheesy and mildly offensive (Mickey Rooney’s character) adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella of the same name. I recently had a chance to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s before rewatching the classic film and as I expected, another Hollywood butchering.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s tells the story of the unnamed narrator and Holly Golightly who are tenants in the same Upper East Side brownstone. The novella follows the narrator’s observations the life of this Manhattan café society girl. Holly has no job, but she survives by socialising with wealthy men who in turn give her money and expensive gifts.

It is important to note that Truman Capote has stated that Holly Golightly is not a prostitute; this is a popular misconception that I believe is debunked in the novel (but doesn’t mean it’s wrong). There is a conversation about three thirds of the way through this novella where Holly says she could never be a prostitute, she can’t separate love and sex. Even Capote came out and say that she wasn’t a prostitute, saying in an interview that “[Holly] was the prototype of today’s liberated female and representative of a whole breed of girls who live off men but are not prostitutes. They’re our version of the geisha girl.”

It is hard not to compare Breakfast at Tiffany’s the novella with the movie, everyone has seen the movie but I wish the book was celebrated for its brilliance. The movie has a focus on romance but that’s way off. What I found in the novel was friendship, isolation and on a very basic level hopes and dreams. There was an element of love in the novella but less traditional love, more of a focus on unrequited love (the wealthy men’s towards Holly) and love between friends.

I do have to wonder if the unnamed narrator has an autobiographical element to him. Both the narrator and Truman Capote share the same birthday, (the same birthday as me, 30th of September). I don’t know much more about Capote’s life but sharing a birthday makes me wonder. Holly was modelled after multiple women in Capote’s life, women he considered friends. I might find a biography of Truman Capote to learn more about it.

I listened to the audiobook of this novella read by Michael C. Hall and all I can think of was Dexter Morgan. The unnamed narrator in Breakfast at Tiffany’s had a similar narration style to that of Dexter and I kept waiting for something slightly sinister to happen. None of the characters were sociopaths like Dexter but I do think it enhanced my experience.

I loved this novella and highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it. I didn’t remember reading much from the movie when I picked up this book; luckily, I think that might have tainted the experience. Capote’s writing was incredible and I feel like I need to read more of his, In Cold Blood is obviously a priority, although a biography might be beneficial first.

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Top Ten Tuesday: “Gateway” Books In My Reading Journey

April 1, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 8

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Top Ten “Gateway” Books In My Reading Journey. Basically a list of books that played a significant role in my reading journey, from the start, discovering Russian literature, breaking reading slumps and so on.

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  • Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone! by Craig Schuftan – started my love of reading, the Romantics and learning
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – the book that really started my passion for reading
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – cemented my passion for Russian literature
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – found a love for the Victorian gothic novel
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – developed an interest in philosophical science fiction

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  • The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy – developed an interest in mysteries and pulp fiction
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – the book you recommend to everyone as a gateway book
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino – an interest in post-modernism (sadly not much of an understanding yet)
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – broke a major reading slump last year
  • Careless People by Sarah Churchwell – I credit this book for a new interest in non-fiction

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