Tag Archive


authors book awards book clubs book discussions book list book review book reviews books classic literature Connie Willis Coursera Dresden Files Elizabeth Peters family fantasy featured link friends headlines humor J.D. Robb James Michener Janet Evanovich Jim Butcher LA Times Festival of Books librarians library love of reading Mt. Bookpile mysteries Mysterious Galaxy Nora Roberts obituary paranormal romance quote Ray Bradbury reading reading challenge romantic suspense science fiction Sherri Tepper television show Todd McCaffrey vacation video clip web page design

Frankenstein Essay

 

My essay from the Coursera section about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:

On the surface, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein does not appear to be a feminist book. The women in the novel don’t appear often and are sexless and insipid for the most part. The strongest woman is Justine who is falsely convicted of murdering the youngest Frankenstein brother. Even she goes along with the men. She warrants that she is not guilty, but concedes to the conviction without further demur. These are not strong women portrayed in Frankenstein.Women wanting to be equal with men in business, politics, medicine, etc., are often sidetracked when they decide to have children. They have the physical responsibility and the health risks of pregnancy. It was common for women and/or their infants to die in childbirth. Also, women are perceived as the main nurturer while the man is the provider for a family. It is usually true that even when two parents share responsibility for child and home care, the woman usually does more of those tasks.Frankenstein by Mary ShellyIn this novel, the monster is not birthed by a woman. Shelley’s monster is created instead. Although this first monster is a failure, the procedure could be the first step is freeing women from the physical process of pregnancy. If Frankenstein had carried on his experiments – perhaps even with the creation of a partner for the monster – his techniques would have improved. The next creation would not have been as horrific since he could have learned from his mistakes. Frankenstein’s process could eventually have relieved women of the responsibility and risks of childbirth.

Frankenstein flees when he sees his creation. He refuses to take responsibility. Most women care for their babies willingly, no matter what. This man can’t. The creation of life could have freed women in the future. Instead, Frankenstein rejects that possibility. This portrays the strength of women and a subtle sense of feminism in Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Citation: Youngquist, Paul. “Frankenstein: The Mother, the Daughter, and the Monster.” Philological Quarterly 70, 3 (Summer 1991): 339-359.

Dracula – Coursera Essay

 

Dracula by Bram StokerWe read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for our third selection. Here is my essay:

______________________________

Bram Stoker has infused his novel Dracula with shadows to add in the buildup of the horror of the story. One image he uses extremely well is that of mist and fog.An image of mist and low clouds or fog immediately brings stealth and cover to mind. When the men go looking for the vampire, they encounter mist many times in their search. The mist is a representation of their quest. A foggy mind struggles to get a clear vision or to think clearly. Stoker uses this imagery to increase the frightening mood.

Mist can seep in through small cracks. Dracula changes into mist when he slips into a building to feed on a human. This adds another sense of creepiness; the reader can remember the times he has seen fog roil through an open door.

When they return to Transylvania, the men know the Count is using the fog and weather to cover the ship carrying his coffin. It is a powerful tool for Dracula. Each time Stoker uses it, another layer of despair is added to his tale.

The mist also works with the religious theme Stoker uses throughout Dracula. Mist covers things like a shroud or veil does. The characters each learn to carry a crucifix to keep the vampire away. Mina Harker is a godly woman, praying all the time the men are hunting the vampire. Religion is the light to dispel the mist. In the Christian Bible, 2 Corinthians 3:16 states “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” When they destroy Count Dracula, the mist dissipates, along with the darkness that surrounds them.

Mist and fog add to the eerieness of Bram Stoker’s novel. He uses it effectively, even in the end when it disappears with the Count.

_____________________________________________

Through the Looking Glass – Coursera Essay

 
Our second week of the Coursera class focused on Lewis Carroll’s work. Here is my essay.
———————————————-
Lewis Carroll’s famous stories can be read as delightful children’s tales. Carroll was also canny enough to write them for adult appreciation, with symbolism throughout. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice finds herself talking to flowers in the garden. After her initial shock, Alice has a conversation. Flowers have meanings that add a layer to the story.The Tiger Lily is the first to speak to Alice. The symbolism for tiger lilies is pride and wealth. The flower’s tone is superior – “We can talk,” said the Tiger-lily: “when there’s anybody worth talking to.” The Tiger Lily retains a haughty attitude throughout the conversation with Alice and the other flowers.Symbolism for roses is found in their colors. The Rose mentions that Alice is the right color, so it is probably pink or peach. Pink roses depict gratitude, appreciation, and admiration. Peach roses mean togetherness or closing of a deal. Alice’s Rose tends towards appreciation but is more direct. Yet Rose graces Alice with comments of “that’s not your fault” when it observes Alice isn’t a proper flower.

Daisies symbolize innocence and loyal beauty. Innocence portrays the idea of young children. These Daisies start all talking at once when they join in. They try to outdo each other in their knowledge and shouts just as children will. It takes the authoritative Tiger Lily and Alice’s threats to make them quiet down.

Two other flowers make brief appearances. Violet was hiding. Violets’ symbolism is of faithfulness and modesty. This Violet is rude, yet quickly retreats when Tiger Lily speaks harshly. Larkspur stands for levity or lightness. Larkspur warns Alice that the queen is coming. With the warning, it adds the fun sounds of the Queen: “I hear her footstep, thump, thump…”

The levels of Carroll’s novels appeal to all. Even the gardener can appreciate his work, using the symbols of the flowers to speak.

 

Works cited:

http://www.teleflora.com/about-flowers/flower-meaning.asp
http://www.theflowerexpert.com/content/aboutflowers/flower-meanings
http://www.buzzle.com/articles/flowers-meanings/———————————————————–

Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Coursera Essay

 

I hope Aravis meant it. After her request I decided to post the short essays I’ve been writing for the Coursera science fiction and fantasy class. The first week we read a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales grouped together in an edition from the late 1800’s called Household Stories, available free through the Open Library.

——————————————–

Ignoring Cultural DifferencesEurope, including Germany, was comprised of many small political regions during the 18th and 19th centuries. There were culture clashes on all sides. It is easy to develop an “us vs them” attitude. The city states and communication limitations fostered that mindset. Some of the Grimms’ stories address the differences by ignoring them in some animal stories.

“Bremen Town Musicians” is a good example of “people” working together. They have something in common – they are old and in danger of being killed. The ass offers to help others who aren’t any threat to him. But the next three, the cat, the cock, and the dog, are enemies. Dogs chase cats, cats eat birds, and cocks strike out at anything that threatens them. When this group has an opportunity to improve their lives, they work together. They trick the robbers by their wits to trick, attack, and repel the men.

“Old Sultan” is another story of unlikely animals working together. When Sultan thinks he was about to die, the dog visits his friend the wolf. Their first trick uses each of their own natures as they work together. The wolf “steals” the baby – expected for a wolf. Sultan rescues the baby. That is part of the nature of a trusted family pet. After the wolf and dog’s misunderstanding about the sheep, the wolf challenges the dog. He brings a boar as his second for a duel. The dog brings a cat – again, different natures working together. The wolf surrenders after the cat chases away the boar. The wolf and dog become friends again despite their nature.

Although these types of stories are not common in the Household Tales, they are not common in real life as well. The stories illustrate that people can overcome their culture and prejudices to come together.

—————————————–

There are many morals throughout the Fairy Tales. This is the theme I chose for my essay.

Studying Science Fiction and Fantasy

 
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Alice in Wonderland
and Through the Looking Glass
Dracula
Frankenstein
The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr. Moreau
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s and Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories
Princess of Mars and Herland
The Martian Chronicles
The Left Hand of Darkness
Little Brother

That is a short list of Who’s Who in fantasy and science fiction over the past 300 years or so. That is also the syllabus for the Coursera Science Fiction and Fantasy online course I’m taking right now. It is taught by Eric S. Rabkin, a professor of literature at the University of Michigan. All the Coursera classes are free and taught through respected universities.

First, I have to admit I’m out of the study habit. No, I’m not getting a grade or college credit for this course. Even so, I want to pass on the pass/fail scale. It means reading a novel (or the equivalent) each week. I have read most of these books. But a few are new to me. Although I know the basic story, I hadn’t read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’ve read The Invisible Man, but not The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. I’d read all of the Poe short stories assigned, but hadn’t read any of Hawthorne’s short stories before this – only his novels. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland is the only novel in the group that has never crossed my SF radar at all. I also haven’t read anything by Cory Doctorow, let alone Little Brother.

There is the challenge of a novel a week – plus a short essay, plus judging four (or more) essays by other students. There are also discussion forums and video lectures that are posted after we submit our essays. Silly me, I still want to read other things as well.

I quickly gave up on And the Ladies of the Club by Helen Hoover Santmyer. It’s 1000 plus pages, and is the book by real life book club is discussing next week. I still listen to books in the car and at work, so have kept up my mysteries. I still read a romance novel for a while before bedtime as well. So yes, I’m still getting a lot read.

It is very interesting, though, to re-read these books in a different light. Now I have to evaluate them – or some aspect of them. I’m reading them with a different mind set. I knew when I read Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness the first time that I missed a lot. This time through, though, I’m seeing other interesting things. For example, it is written from the point of view of two outsiders who are trying to work together by the end of the book. I hadn’t thought about it before, but that is a different perspective and puts the book in a whole new light. Will my essay next week be about that? Who knows, because I’ve discovered other things as well. Re-reading a classic or loved novel is always enlightening. It’s even more so when you concentrate on the subtleties you missed the first time.

I’ve enjoyed the challenge. I’m also looking forward to reading books I don’t have to think about, just enjoy.

If you need a school fix without the challenge of the classroom, check out Coursera. The classes are free and range over more than 100 topics.

19th Century English “Yellow Fiction”

 

James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Robert B. Parker, Danielle Steele, Dan Brown, Margaret Maron, Clive Cussler, Connie Willis, Jim Butcher, etc.

All these authors write popular fiction that is high selling and fun to read. But will they (and thousands others) last and stand the test of time? What similar work did people read 130 years ago?

In some of the English classics we see references to the popular fiction of the day. Now you can peruse over 2300 titles from 19th century England in an online database from Emory University. Yes, you’ll find some that are now classics. But there are other titles that have been long lost and forgotten.

To find them, go to the Emory University Library home page. Then type “yellowbacks” in the search bar in the middle of the screen. You’ll get a list of entries. Take it from there.

Yellowbacks are similar to our mass market paperbacks today. They have that name because of a yellow glaze used on the covers.

The Warden by Anthony TrollopeAs an example, there are 18 titles by Anthony Trollope, including The Warden. There are also 5 titles by Thomas Trollope. I haven’t studied historical British literature. I don’t know who Thomas Trollope was. Was he related to Anthony? His titles all have an Italian flavor (like La Beata: a Tuscan Romeo and Juliet).

Since most of these books are in public domain, Emery has many of them available for download. (But of course, when I tried to do this while on break at work, the site gave me an error message and wouldn’t go to the title I wanted to download. I’ll have to play with it more later.)

Popular fiction has been around a long time. Some of it even stands the test of time.

What Are the Odds?

 

Last night I picked up four books from the library that I had requested over the past few months. Two of them are new, so there was a longer wait for each. Of course they both came in together and I won’t be able to renew either one because of that wait list. These are what came in:

U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton
Under the Dome by Stephen King
The Unbidden Truth by Kate Wilhelm
Moll Flanders by Daniel DeFoe

How did I manage to get three books whose titles start with “U” all at once?????

19th Century Wit

 

My book club is reading Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell for December. I hadn’t heard of Ms. Gaskell before this. I’ve since learned a little about her, including the fact that Charles Dickens liked her work and included some of it in his weekly publication Household Words.

I was reading this while I was at the library bookstore last night. I kept chuckling out loud, although I tried to stay quiet. I had two different customers give in and ask what I was reading. I am charmed by Gaskell’s dry, biting, observant wit.

Cranford is about the “Amazonian society” of aristocratic women who run the small English town of Cranford. The men in their lives have died or are off to sea or away on business or whatever. A few are spinsters. These women have their strict societal rules.

This is one scene that so tickled me last night:

“…I would fain have looked round at the merry chattering people behind me, Miss Pole clutched my arm, and begged me not to turn, for ‘it was not the thing.’ What ‘the thing’ was, I never could find out, but it must have been something eminently dull and tiresome.”

That certainly gave me a good view of the ladies of Cranford.

This book was a miniseries on PBS in 2007. It is being run again on Masterpiece Theater later this month starting December 20th. Since Cranford was chosen back in July, I’m sure whoever nominated the book didn’t expect this scheduling coup. Isn’t it cool when world forces come together (or one saying goes “God works in mysterious ways…”)?

999 Challenge

 

October was a slow reading month again. At least my web site is finished. I also was able to add six books to my challenge. Actually there are two more, but I combined some.

For example, as I mentioned in a previous post I put both of Jane Yolen’s children’s books about disobedient dinosaurs together. Also, Magnol’s Jean de Florette and Manon of the Springs are grouped together because they are one whole story.

I had received an ARC of David Morell’s newest novel, The Shimmer. It’s an excellent mystery/fantasy. What are those shimmering lights there in southwestern Texas? Check it out.

My book club read Where the Heart Is, adding another one for my list. I had seen the movie, and really enjoyed the book. I finally read Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. Then there was the fun, trashy, romance by Sandra Hill using time travel, Rough and Ready.

Will I finish? It’ll be close. I am reading Jack Finney’s From Time to Time and listening to Mary Higgins Clark’s Just Take My Heart. I have a book translated from Japanese waiting somewhere in all my moving boxes (I really hope it didn’t get mixed in with Mt. Bookpile – it’s a library book). I have another time travel book sitting in Mt. Bookpile. I also borrowed another young adult by Jane Yolen to read. That will finish up time travel and translated books. I finished the stand alone mysteries this month.

Wish me luck…

999 Challenge

 

Most of my time in July feels like it was spent on updating my web site – and I have a while to go before I’m done. Even so, I was able to add seven books to the 999 challenge. That’s the number I strive for each month, so that works.

The Blue Angel by Heinrich MannOne thing that this challenge is good for is having me find books that others discovered years ago. This month I read a 100 year old classic recommended by a friend in Germany – The Blue Angel by Heinrich Mann. Without 1) me looking for a translated book and 2) his referral, I wouldn’t have picked this up. It’s an interesting study of a man’s downfall because he’s trying – and manages – to pull others down. Of course it’s because of his love for a woman who is grasping and needy and “looking for the main chance” to use an old fashioned phrase. She is looking out for herself. He’s so besotted that he turns the misogyny that he contained in his classroom for years against his whole community. He uses her to justify pulling up old grudges and being gleeful when he ruins another old “enemy”. The movie version of this book is the one that pushed Marlene Dietrich into stardom.

F. Scott Fitzgerald – Long Time Online Reading Buds Can Say “I told you so”

 

For many years I proclaimed that F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s work didn’t interest me and I avoided it. I knew I wouldn’t like it. (Hear the snickers?)

Finally about a year and a half ago the stars aligned in such a way that I borrowed a copy of The Great Gatsby to listen to in the car. I was reluctant, but it fit a couple criteria I was wanting at the time. After finishing the book I revised my opinion of Fitzgerald’s work. (The snickers get a bit louder.)

A new movie came out a few weeks ago that caught my attention, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I immediately thought of the book I enjoyed so much a few years ago, The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer. I wondered if Benjamin Button was a revised version of Max Tivoli so did my librarian thing and did some research. Benjamin Button was originally a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Me, being me, had to find the short story. I recommend Max Tivoli all the time (it’s a well done, poignant book) and wanted to read the short story that helped spark the novel almost 100 years later. So I put Before Gatsby on hold at the library. It’s a collection of “the first twenty-six stories” by Fitzgerald (written or published? I didn’t check). Again, this is me. I didn’t just flip to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I started reading from the beginning.

These stories may be Fitzgerald’s early work, but they demonstrate the quality of the writer (now the snickers are loud chuckles – they told me so). Somewhere in the introduction it is mentioned that these stories are dated because they rely on the themes of the Jazz Age in the 1920’s America. In one way that is true. Fortunately each story comes with an explanation of terms to help the modern reader understand the allusions. In another way, these stories are timeless. Because while times and environment change, people don’t. There are few women who haven’t met the mean-spirited Marjorie from Bernice Bobs Her Hair. I was glad Bernice gave her a come uppance at the end of the story. Then there’s the pathos at the end of Head and Shoulders that rings so true. I’ve enjoyed the humor of The Camel’s Back and the irony of The Cut Glass Bowl. In some of them I just don’t get the point – in my opinion you can skip Mr. Icky. But for the most part I now understand why my fellow reading friends told me to try Fitzgerald.

I did and I’m glad of it.

(Some one else has the book on hold at the library and it’s due tomorrow. I guess I’m paying a late fine because The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the last story and I’m not there yet.)

Moving Books

 

Three weeks ago I started packing books. They stayed organized. They were well labeled. I didn’t have enough boxes, so it was slow. More boxes; more books. Shelves emptied. I even organized Mt. Bookpile some (put all the science fiction paperback together separated from the mystery paperbacks separated from the classics…). There’s one shelf I can’t get to until tomorrow until after my brother moves some stuff. I knew that.

Last night I thought I had all the other ones packed. The last, large box is, of course, miscellaneous. All the shelves that I ran out of box before books. It’s still fairly well labeled although not as well organized. I have a box just for borrowed books (from friends and family and a couple library books. I just packed it last night and will move it myself so I don’t lose it before the library books are due.) I kept out the two I’m reading (Anathem and a new Dorothy Garlock novel) and the one I have to read for book club next week (Call of the Wild).

Then I was looking for the errant knick knacks that I had missed. I didn’t find many of those. Instead I found…(of course) more books. There’s the group of oversized paperbacks from Mt. Bookpile that didn’t fit in the other box. Oh, and there’s The Monster of Florence. I forgot it didn’t fit into the nonfiction box. And there are a couple of my library school reference textbooks that I kept. And… you get the idea. Sigh…

(Check out the box labels.)