Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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100 Book by 40: FAR FROM THE MADDENING CROWD

I noticed some parallels between Far from the Maddening Crowd and The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen and Bathsheba Everdene share last names. Katniss is an accomplished female lead; Bathsheba breaks gender stereotypes and runs her own farm. Both Katniss and Bathsheba have multiple love interests, and a significant part of the plots of both books hang on romantic outcomes. This prompted me to investigate if Suzanne Collins has acknowledged these similarities. And as it turns out, Collins states that Far from the Maddening Crowd is one of her favorite books.

There’s one other parallel between the authors that comes from reading two of Hardy’s books. Hardy is cruel to his characters. He breaks them down. He makes them suffer. Collins does the same. I actually feel less critical of the way Collins ended her trilogy with this new perspective.

I could talk about Hardy’s sharp perception. I could talk about his wonderful way of capturing the nature of relationships. But I think I would rather let his speak for himself. I loved this book. If these quotes draw you, or you want to see what shaped Collins’ writing, Hardy is a great read.

The change at the root of this has been the recent supplanting of the class of stationary cottagers, who carried on the local traditions and humours, by a population of more or less migratory labourers, which has led to a break of continuity in local history, more fatal than any other thing to the preservation of legend, folk-lore, close inter-social relations, and eccentric individualities. For these the indispensable conditions of existence are attachment to the soil of one particular spot by generation after generation.

Hardy, Thomas (2012-05-17). Far from the Madding Crowd . . Kindle Edition.

This quote is in reference to Oak’s sheep dog, George and his pup. George’s pup triumphantly took Oak to the cliff from which his entire flock plummeted. The implication is that George’s son did such a great job of driving the sheep, that he drove them to their deaths. I love the pivot that Hardy makes to draw a larger conclusion in that this type of single-mindedness is just as undesirable in people.

George’s son had done his work so thoroughly that he was considered too good a workman to live, and was, in fact, taken and tragically shot at twelve o’clock that same day— another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise.

Hardy, Thomas (2012-05-17). Far from the Madding Crowd (p. 28). . Kindle Edition.

This is a quote in reference to one of Bathsheba’s more reserved suitors. This man probably would have given everything for her happiness, but she spurns him for a foppish, handsome soldier.

He had no light and careless touches in his constitution, either for good or for evil. Stern in the outlines of action, mild in the details, he was serious throughout all . He saw no absurd sides to the follies of life, and thus, though not quite companionable in the eyes of merry men and scoffers, and those to whom all things show life as a jest, he was not intolerable to the earnest and those acquainted with grief. Being a man who read all the dramas of life seriously, if he failed to please when they were comedies, there was no frivolous treatment to reproach him for when they chanced to end tragically.

Hardy, Thomas (2012-05-17). Far from the Madding Crowd (p. 93). . Kindle Edition.

Truth.

The rarest offerings of the purest loves are but a self-indulgence, and no generosity at all.

Hardy, Thomas (2012-05-17). Far from the Madding Crowd (p. 101). . Kindle Edition.

Interesting observation about the differences between men and women and their motivation to marry.

It appears that ordinary men take wives because possession is not possible without marriage, and that ordinary women accept husbands because marriage is not possible without possession ; with totally differing aims the method is the same on both sides.

Hardy, Thomas (2012-05-17). Far from the Madding Crowd (p. 101). . Kindle Edition.

Here’s an update on my reading list.
Reading now:
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Finished reading:

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens *I read this when I was too young to appreciate it; I would like to read it again as an adult. I will do so if I have time.
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time.
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time. I have the unabriged unedited version and will probably take on that if time allows.

Pending reading:
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie


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100 Books by 40: THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO

I read the unabridged version of this book. That was a poor choice.

What can I say to adequately express how much I didn’t enjoy reading this book? It’s nearly twelve hundred pages. It was originally written in French. I am convinced that Alexandre Dumas was paid by the word. I wish I would have considered all of these things before I checked out the unabridged version. Umberto Eco probably says it best in the introduction.

The Count of Monte Cristo is of course one of the most gripping novels ever written, and on the other hand on of the most badly written novels of all time and of all literatures.

Dumas’ writing is all over the place. A mass of fillers, shameless in its repetition of the same adjective only one line below, incontinent in its piling on of these same adjectives, quite capable of entering into some sententious digression that can never be got out of because the syntax won’t hold, and huffing and puffing on like that for twenty lines, it is mechanical and clumsy in its descriptions of feelings. Its characters either shudder or turn pale, dry great drops of sweat that run down their  brows or, stammering in a voice no longer human, rise frenziedly from ther chairs or fall back into them, with the author always, obsessively, bent on telling us that the chair they had fallen back into was the same one on which they had been sitting a second before. – Umberto Eco

A little repetition or poor writing can be overlooked in a short read. But this? Twelve hundred pages worth of nattering on? No. I liked the plot, but the mechanics of the writing were just too poor for me to ignore. Dumas lays the foreshadowing on too thickly. I understood at the very beginning of the book that the plot resolution would revolve around revenge. It took five months and hours and hours of reading to drive to that.

I did learn one lesson. The lesson is that poor editing and mechanics can ruin the best plot. The other lesson was to consider the abridged version of some of these classics. The fact that they exist might not be solely due to lazy teen readers.


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100 Books by 40: EMMA

Going from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy is disorienting. I finished Emma and started Far from the Maddening Crowd yesterday. Austen and Hardy’s works were only separated from each other by about 40 years, but that period introduced considerable changes to British culture. Plus, Austen’s witty dialog is a stark contrast to Hardy’s brooding characters and lush context descriptions. In Austen’s work the transformation engine is love, whereas Hardy’s is suffering. Dropping one book and immediately picking up the other was a challenge.

Concurrently, I have been reading The Count of Monte Cristo for four months. FOUR MONTHS. The things that I don’t appreciate about this book are legion. It was written in French, and like Crime and Punishment, I’m not appreciating all the translation choices. There is quite a bit of repetition. Like many novels from that time period, it was published serially in a periodical; Dumas might have reiterated significant plot points to remind readers. To top it off, the plot feels like a soap opera. Seriously, this book is Guiding Light set in the nineteenth century.

All that challenging reading explains why I was so pleased to pick up Goodnight, Mister Tom. Young Adult Fiction was exactly what my wearied brain needed. Anyone want to place bets that I will finish Goodnight, Mister Tom before I finish The Count of Monte Cristo? Don’t bother. Gambling implies that there is reasonable possibility of either happening. Lets be honest, there isn’t.

I haven’t said anything about Emma. It was pleasant. I found Emma and her father obnoxious. And given that I am on Jane Austen book number 3 in this list, I am chafing a bit at the bright, sunny endings that her books have. Those criticisms aside, her dialog and wit save the day. But I guess in keeping with most romance books, it didn’t tell me anything about life or relationships that I didn’t already know. It was a pleasant diversion and not much else.

I need to wrap this up and get back to The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m on renew number five with the library, and I just can’t bring myself to do another.

I just got a new camera. This means you will all suffer through my learning journey with it.

The wall under the stairs.

The wall under the stairs.

This sandstone glitters.

This sandstone glitters.

Where does the water go?

Where does the water go?

This is the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge.

This is the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge.

Shadow of life.

Shadow of life.

This is where the Bengals play.

This is where the Bengals play.

This area in the foreground is where the banks second wave will be built. Someday this view of the city will be obscured.

This area in the foreground is where the banks second wave will be built. Someday this view of the city will be obscured.

Fixing the side walks.

Fixing the side walks.

This building has some mega ugly 70's façade put on it. This is what was underneath.

This building has some mega ugly 70’s façade put on it. This is what was underneath.

Front view of the building. I hope they restore the original façade. It's way more awesome than the 70's mess that was there before.

Front view of the building. I hope they restore the original façade. It’s way more awesome than the 70’s mess that was there before.

Inside Rhinegiest.

Inside Rhinegiest.

Beer.

Beer.

 


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100 Book by 40: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

My book quest has made it into my dreams. Typically my dreams are about anxiety or mundane activities with a little weird thrown in. I spent many years bartending and waiting tables; my anxiety dreams for nearly a decade involved some form of me being in the weeds. If you aren’t familiar with the phrase “in the weeds”, it’s a service industry phrase to describe getting overwhelmed by your tables/customers. There are many causes for a good server to be in the weeds, but they normally stem from a particularly needy table or poor seating timing. My mundane dreams typically involve something that I would do in my waking hours. A few weeks ago, I had a dream that I was required to converse with other people using only PHP (server-side web programming language) statements and methods. I woke up laughing.

So, my book dream, I was with Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder and not Johnny Depp).  He was giving me a tour of my high school cafeteria. My classmates were at various tables acting out assorted Disney movies. I’m not sure why or how the cafeteria transformed into the set for Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but it did. Willy Wonka seemed to take this morphing as an obvious transition and proceeded the tour in our new location. This is where I woke up.

I’ve seen the 1971 edition of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory several times, although the last sitting was years and years ago. I’ve not seen the 2005 version. Here’s the first thing that struck me about the book in contrast to the movies. Willy Wonka isn’t as weird in the book as he is portrayed to be in either of the movies, but particularly the 2005 release.

As a kid, I found Willy Wonka terrifying, and the oompa loompas doubly so. Full disclosure, I am completely freaked out by little people. I am ashamed that I feel that way, as I know they are people and should be treated with respect. They freak me out in the same way that an unleashed dog nearing me freaks me out. I was bitten by an Irish Setter when I was 5, and unfamiliar dogs still make that lizard part of my brain light up with the fight or flight response. I feel the same when confronted by a little person, although I was not bitten one. Still the same fight or flight physical response happens.

After the first few chapters of the book, I was put at ease by a number of things. First, Willy Wonka was peculiar, but not to the extent that I was expecting given both the movies. And the oompa loompas were described as being knee-height, bearing more in common with Tinkerbell than the orange-faced terrors in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Once the uncomfortably weird aspects of the movie were purged from my mind, I really enjoyed the book. The book was less dark than either of the movies. With one exception, the uncertain fates of the naughty children are pretty heavy. They imply that Augustus Gloop could be mashed into raspberry cream. Veruca Salt along with her parents could be incinerated. Although the book seems to pass this off as less scary than it seems as I write it now.

In short, I really liked this book. I liked it more than either of the movies, and I am a Gene Wilder fan. Because Willy Wonka is less frightening, the ending with Charlie and his family moving into the factory is far more sensible. Finally as a vehicle for teaching morality to children, I thought it wasn’t as heavy handed as some of my other reads on this list. Now, only to get over my irrational issues with little people…


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100 Books by 40: Middlemarch and Pillars of the Earth

In my quest to read 100 books by 40, I have learned that the 30’s are the land of 1000-page books. Between Middlemarch, David Copperfield, and Pillars of the Earth, I feel like each book is taking weeks. I feel that way, because they are. When I download them on my Kindle or pick them up at the library, I find myself groaning at the size of them.

My original intent was to write two separate entries for Middlemarch and Pillars of the Earth. Since I was reading them simultaneously, I was inadvertently comparing them. Both are epic in scope, covering large swaths of time. With Middlemarch set in 19th century England, and Pillars of the Earth set in The Middle Ages, both are narrating an existence that I find remote. Both books are around 1000 pages.

That’s were the similarities end. Some have suggested that Middlemarch is the best novel written in the English language. Pillars of the Earth? Not so much. Pillars of the Earth seemed like a children’s book by comparison. George Eliot carefully crafted characters full of good intentions who all fall victim to their own limited perspectives, experiences, and unacknowledged expectations. She does an incredible job of describing the space between expectations and reality being the canyon that separates a person’s happiness from disappointment in marriage and relationships.

After reading that paragraph, you might think that I enjoyed Middlemarch. I did not. I was scratching my head over Middlemarch‘s reputation through the first half of the book. Clearly, Eliot is a master of the craft of writing gorgeous sentences and paragraphs, but I didn’t really connect with the characters until the last half of the book.

*******Minor Spoiler Alert********

The thing that hooked me was the troubled marriage of Tertius Lydgate and Rosamond Vincy. The way Eliot describes how their relationship decends into dysfunction is stunningly relevant. I think she’s summarized why marriages dissolve for the last two centuries. Eliot’s observations on how we relate to each other is timeless. This discovery made wading through the first half of the book worth it.

Pillars of the Earth then. Ken Follett has a thing for cathedral architecture. He spends many paragraphs talking about building methodology, and cathedral parts like tranceps, celestories, naves, ect. I enjoyed none of that. Not only are his descriptions difficult for me to visualize, but I simply don’t give a shit about cathedrals. Sorry about it, Europe.

On top of this, Follett’s characters are as shallow as kiddie pools in comparison to Eliot’s. I finished the book at a bar. The patron next to me said reading the book was on his bucket list. Thinking that a literary perspective on Pillars of the Earth might make me more positive about the book, I inquired why it was on his bucket list. He proceeded to say that it was important. I asked in what way. I legitimately wanted to hear some explanation for why the book is great. I realized too late that he was manswering. (Manswer – when a man presents something as fact that he’s only deduced or has limited to no knowledge of. This habit seems to come on the dad gene.) I accidentally backed him into a corner where he had to admit that he didn’t know why the book was important. I immediately felt bad for making things awkward.

I do have a new appreciation for inherent political instability of The Middle Ages. But even in this respect Pillars of the Earth holds up poorly against Middlemarch. Eliot had the benefit of writing in the time she lived, so her descriptions of the political environment and social class as actors on the characters resonates where Follett falls flat.

Net Middlemarch, yes. Pillars of the Earth, no.

In closing, here’s some stellar quotes from Middlemarch.

We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, ‘Oh, nothing!’ Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts―not to hurt others…

I am not magnanimous enough to like people who speak to me without seeming to see me…

For my part I am very sorry for him. It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self–never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardour of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dimsighted.


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100 Books by 40: Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented

I am starting with an aside. I don’t watch much TV, outside Mad Men and Breaking Bad. I was watching Fringe. I just started back up with Dexter. I feel like I have gone from drinking a 20 dollar bottle of wine to a 50 dollar bottle of wine. Dexter is a great show. I dropped off after the Julia Stiles season; I hate her. And that season was such a disappointment after the John Lithgow season. So far Colin Hanks is a vast improvement over Stiles.

Now then Tess, this was a great book. It is set in 1870’s England. The book primarily tells the tale of what happens to women as a result of sexual indiscretion as opposed to men. Things have changed little from the time of this novel to today. Men are still easily forgiven if not encouraged to express themselves sexually, and women are still penalized. Sure the consequences have changed, but the overall practices are quite similar. Girls who claim rape are bullied on Twitter (thanks Stubenville rape case). Women who advocate for accessible birth control are called sluts (thanks Rush Limbaugh).

The author was very sympathetic to Tess. The author seems to argue that sexuality, particularly female sexuality is natural. There is one bit that I didn’t enjoy about the book, and discussing it requires a spoiler alert.

*********************SPOILER ALERT**********************************
Tess ultimately murders the man who took here virginity. There are many things that lead to this which makes the reader sympathetic to Tess’ actions. She flees with the man who she actually loves; she is apprehended while sleeping on the altar of Stonehenge. This metaphor for nature being sacrificed at the altar of convention and religion was a bit too much for me. I felt like this bit was heavy-handed. Otherwise the book was really great.


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100 Books by 40: The Hobbit

I finished reading The Hobbit this week. And I’m nearly done with Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I started this project 12 months ago, so this is a great time to check my progress and evaluate my reading pace as compared to my goal. If that last sentence felt controlled, you should know that I manage multi-million dollar projects for a Fortune 50 company. Charting progress against a measurable goal is like breathing to me. Sorry about it.

Now then, The Hobbit was such a pleasant romp as compared to Gone with the Wind. Unlike my sequence of book-reading vs movie-viewing for The Lord of the Rings booksI saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey before I read the book. Having finished the book, I can say dividing the book into tree movies was a poor choice. The book has a nice brisk pace to it; it’s exciting to read. The first movie was a total snooze in comparison. I enjoyed this book very much. Don’t let the movie dissuade you from picking it up.

I have been reading for 12 months. With seventeen books under my belt, I have averaged 1.42 books read per month. Since I have 30 months remaining and 67 books left to read, I will need to increase my pace to 2.23 books read per month.  That’s a 36% increase. While that’s nothing to sneeze at, I did read other stuff this year. I browsed my subscriptions to the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Economist. On top of that, I read I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”, What do Women Want?,  and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop TalkingThese books were great for very different reasons. I didn’t write about them here, mostly because they aren’t on my list.

I am thinking that if I cut out that other reading, I should make my goals. It’s just tough to keep at that list. Most of the books are pretty tough reading and cover emotionally difficult subject matter. The Grapes of Wrath is coming up, for example. I am sure I will learn a lot from that book and value my experience reading it. But let’s be honest, if we all wanted to live in the reality of The Great Depression wouldn’t we have chosen to stay there? Exactly. I need to stop writing and read…