Lingua Mea Vita


BBC Book Challenge — Great Expectations

I will pretty much do anything Oprah tells me to do. I guess in my case, I’m lucky she asked me (and her other millions of viewers) to read Charles Dickens books rather than pimp my young body out for oodles of cash. But Oprah wouldn’t ask me to do the latter. Oprah loves.

Since both A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations happen to be on the BBC Book Challenge list, I figured I’d tackle one of them for my next book-to-read.

And ladies and gents, there is a reason why Charles Dickens is uber-famous.

Great Expectations is incredibly readable! Well, dur, yeah, it’s readable…it’s a book. I mean that Great Expectations is an easy read, in terms of flow and language, even by today’s English standards. For those intimidated by the looming cloud of “Dickens language” should have no fear. Take it slow at first, you’ll get used to the language really quickly to realize that “w” is pronouced like “v” and that this book has more plot twists than a Kevin Spacey movie.

So needless to say, major spoilers in the plot summary.

SUMMARY (a rather long one):

We meet six-year-old Pip. We learn that he is an orphan, he lives with his brother-in-law, Joe and his sister, Mrs. Joe. We also learn that Joe is mild-mannered and Mrs. Joe is a raging…witch. I learn that there is no way this story is told through the voice of a six-year-old, despite it being in first person.

Pip is lounging around in a cemetery, visiting his dead parents when he comes across a big, scary hulk of a man. He tells Pip to get “wittles and a file” or he’s going to sick “the young man” on him. Pip, like any child, is afraid of anything he doesn’t know so just the prospect of the “young man” is enough to get him go back home, steal some food from his mean sister and a file from his blacksmith brother in law.

Later, Pip feels guilty for stealing the food that his sister planned to serve for Christmas dinner (though he can’t stand anyone invited to dinner, with the exception of Joe). She notices the food is missing at the same time the police show up at the door, asking for help in investigating the whereabouts of some convicts. Joe, one of the dinner guests, Mr. Wopsle, and Pip (for some reason) all go out to investigate. The convict is revealed to be the hulking man who demanded the wittles and the file. He takes the blame for stealing the food from Pip’s sister and the file from Joe and his taken away.

After this, Uncle Pumblechook (another one of the dinner guests) takes Pip to Miss Havisham, the old, wealthy, town nutjob who sits in the dark in an old wedding dress and veil. Miss Havisham has an adoptive daughter, Estella, who is very pretty, but very mean. And despite Estella mocking him to no end, Pip decides that he’s in love with her.

Miss Havisham invites Joe to see her at Satis House (her mansion of sorts). Joe reveals to his wife that Miss Havisham paid him 25 pounds (which is apparently, a ton o’money back then) and she no longer needs Pip. So Pip starts to work with Joe, along with Orlick, the king of the temper tantrum.

After some time, Joe gives Pip a half-day off to see Miss Havisham, and of course, Orlick, thinking like a child, decides that it’s only fair if he gets one too. When Joe refuses, they get into a fight and Joe fires Orlick. When Pip comes home, he sees that his sister has been beaten and the audience is lead to believe that Orlick is behind it, though the police in the book don’t confirm it.

Biddy, Pip’s childhood friend, moves in with Pip, Joe and his sister, taking on the responsibility of Mrs. Joe’s nurse. Biddy has the hots for Pip, but he, after all this time, despite her never really being kind of him, is still carrying a torch for Estella. He then receives a large sum of money from an unnamed benefactor. The conditions? He has to move to London, buy new clothes, and become a gentleman.

And of course, Pip wastes the money and his sister dies.

Pip also thinks that Miss Havisham is the person behind the money and that she wants him and Estella to marry.

(Pay attention now, this is where the plot starts to twist)

  1. Turns out, Miss Havisham isn’t the benefactor. She didn’t ever want Pip to marry Estella. Estella marries a Bentley Drummle, a man that pip doesn’t even like.
  2. The benefactor is a man named Abel Magwitch, who reveals himself to be the hulking, “wittles and a file” man from the cemetery. He became rich after he escaped the clutches of the police in Australia
  3. Turns out, Abel Magwitch is Estella’s biological father.

Pip and Magwitch plan to leave the country, but before that can happen Pip is nearly beaten to death by Orlick. After that, Magwitch is arrested and dies in prison. All of his money is surrendered to the government, so Pip is left broke and in debt.

Joe kindly pays off Pip’s debts without him knowing. Once he finds out, he goes back to the village to thank Joe and propose to Biddy. Turns out, Biddy and Joe are getting married. Whoops!

So Pip leaves the country, becomes wealthy, and pays Joe back eventually! That is that!

WHY IS THIS BOOK RELEVANT?

I read somewhere (probably Oprah’s website) that Charles Dickens was the first “celebrity”. People from all over read his books and lauded him for his extraordinary talent. Charles Dickens is still kind of a celebrity to this day, his work is considered the gold standard in literature. As it should, the plot elements of Great Expectations can be easily molded in modern America (as it was in the 1998 movie with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow).

But outside of being the first celebrity, Charles Dickens ushered in writing in the first person (which is probably why I found it so easy to read, most literature these days seems to be written in the first person). Dickens also introduced the use of the plot twist long before M. Night Shyamalan.

All in all, Charles Dickens was the innovator. He made literature personal by basing his characters and plots off his life experiences and he kept readers engaged with the plot twists. Somehow, 150 years ago, Charles Dickens created the formula for the modern novel.



Rollin’ With My Homies

Jane Austen’s Emma was a cherry-popper for me in a few ways. It was the first book that I read on my own outside of required reading in high school. It was the first “old-timey” language book, I read (and trust me, I was petrified that it wouldn’t make any sense). And it was the first Jane Austen book I read.

Oddly enough, despite 95.2% of my female friends in high school being obsessed with finding their own Mr. Darcy, Emma still is the only Jane Austen book I’ve read.

I  read Emma in the first place because my inner-teacher’s pet had been awakened in my 10th grade English class, and I was going to impress my teacher by showing that I had a broad taste in books. I borrowed her copy of Emma and realized it was the same story as one of my all-time favorite movies, Clueless.

SUMMARY

Aside from Dionne and Murray, the characters  and plot in Emma and Clueless totally align:

Cher Horowitz and Emma Woodhouse — The pretty, spoiled brat main characters in their stories, both Cher and Emma decide to fix up singles in their high society group after successfully matching up their teachers.

Josh and Mr. Knightley — Like, Cher and Josh, Emma and Mr. Knightley share the awkward is-he-my-brother-though-he’s-not-my-brother relationship. Also like Josh, Mr. Knightley is older than Emma, and irritates her on occasion, but she sees the good in him. SPOILER, BUT SERIOUSLY HOW HAVE YOU NOT SEEN CLUELESS: They end up together in the end.

Tai and Harriet — Both Harriet and Tai are naive, but sweet. Emma/Cher tells her to reject the guy she’s actually interested in, for another disinterested guy. At one point, Harriet wants Mr. Knightley, like Tai wanted Josh, and that makes Emma/Cher uncomfortable.

Elton and Mr. Elton — No parallels here. 😛  These are the guys who Emma and Cher try to set up with Harriet and Tai, but rejects her because he’s a snob and more interested in the “higher class” Emma and Cher. Ends up with Augusta/Amber.

Christian and Frank Churchill — This is where the main difference between the stories occurs. Emma/Cher are trolling for new guys for Harriet/Tai when she stumbles upon Frank Churchill, whom she wants for herself. In Emma, Frank Churchill is really interested in Jane Fairfax, who is pretty much perfect. Clueless does away with Jane and puts a modern twist on it, by making Christian gay.

Mr. Martin and Travis Birkenstock — Both are the guys that Harriet and Tai are initially interested in, but are rebuffed at the assistance of Emma/Cher. Mr. Martin is a farmer and Travis is a stoner.

Mr. Hall and Miss Giest and Mr. Weston and Miss Taylor — The couple that is set up by Emma/Cher in the beginning. In Clueless, both Mr. Hall and Miss Giest were her teachers, though in Emma, only Miss Taylor was her teacher (governess).

And if that wasn’t enough to confuse you, just remember: Emma is the same as Clueless, just instead of Valspeak, they spoke old-timey language.

WHY THIS BOOK IS RELEVANT

Though there are other Jane Austen  books on the BBC Book Challenge list, Emma is the only singular romantic-comedy book that made the cut. When you think about it, Emma is the the original “modern” romantic comedy (Shakespeare wrote RomComs, but they just don’t seem to make as much sense as Emma). There are mismatches and mixups but in the end, everyone is coupled up and happy. We know the warming (or groaning) effect that romantic comedies have on women today, imagine the impact of a romantic comedy written by a woman way back when everything was “serious-serious-find-a-husband-or-die-alone”!

So on top of being the original RomCom, Emma really opened the doors for modern romantic comedies. Kate Hudson, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez, you owe your careers to Miss Jane Austen.

I would like to end this entry by giving a shout out to the late Brittany Murphy. I know you’re rollin’ with your homies up there in the sky.

Also, completely unrelated, HOW OLD IS PAUL RUDD ANYWAY?



BBC Book Challenge — Winnie the Pooh

Couple things:

  1. I read A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh as my next BBC Book Challenge book because I needed something light to read after the intense lovefest that was Love in the Time of Cholera.
  2. It was also free on iBooks.
  3. I should go through these books a little faster if I’m going to finish by the end of the year. I’m a little distracted by writing projects (which is another blog post).

SUMMARY

It is pretty difficult to summarize Winnie the Pooh. It really is a series of short stories involving all of your favorite characters from the 100 Acre Wood. The chapters are titled in a way that gives away the ending to the story (Piglet Meets a Heffalump, Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh finds One). The stories are cute and short and an easy read.

WHY THIS BOOK IS RELEVANT

Winnie the Pooh has been translated into a ton of languages (even Latin) and it is one of the few children’s books on the BBC Challenge list, but what is so special about a fat, dumb bear who craves honey?

What makes Winnie the Pooh so special isn’t Pooh himself, but the cast of characters. It’s one of the first children’s books where there are multiple characters with vastly different personality types, acknowledging that children (and adults) can be very different from each other. With characters so different, the reader can identify their own personality within the group, making them feel special and holding a certain character special in their heart.

What do I mean? Well, let’s compare the 100 Acre Wood to a group that many tweens found character-identity with when I was a kid, the Spice Girls:

(stay with me here)

Both groups involve very distinct characters that the reader (or tween) was supposed to identify with and share an affinity for. Oddly enough, a lot of the personality types are the same (which relates to the archetypes mentioned in The Tao of Pooh, also a good read):

Pooh = Ginger
Ginger was clearly the ringleader of the Spice Girls. The most outspoken, the most iconic, and the group pretty much fell apart without her. Same goes for Pooh, he’s not necessarily outspoken, but he does have a kind of…sassy…quality in the book, like he’s pretending to be dumber than he is to mock everyone. And Pooh is clearly the glue that keeps the 100 Acre Wood together, without him…there is no story.

Piglet = Baby
Piglet was the oft scared, innocent one. And while Baby Spice’s innocence was probably more about selling that creepy, sexy little girl Lolita thing, her given personality works best coincides with Piglet.

Tigger = Scary
Tigger was the perkiest, happiest and and the most unbridled energy. Scary Spice was the smiliest, most energetic and had the most unbridled hair. Though her name was Scary Spice, she seemed to have the happiest, most positive energy of the bunch, and same with Tigger. And come on, look at Scary Spice’s pants.

Roo = Sporty
Probably the weakest argument. Sporty Spice was clearly athletic, and Roo was young, and energetic (but not to the point of near insanity like Tigger). I’d say the same about Sporty. Energetic, but not over the top like Scary could be at times. This energy translates to sportiness, I suppose.

Eeyore = Posh
The most obvious of the bunch. Posh never smiles.  Eeyore is always in desperate need of Lithium. Eeyore’s got it all, beautiful surroundings, loving friends, but is always so depressed. Posh also has it all, successful career, great eye for fashion and design, beautiful, healthy kids, David Beckham, and never smiles.

Of course there are a few Pooh characters I left out like Rabbit and Owl. But they just didn’t fit; there wasn’t a Bitch Spice or an Old Spice (but the latter would’ve been great).

But what about Christopher Robin?

I think the animals of the 100 Acre Wood were manifestations of different aspects of Christopher Robin’s personality (A.A. Milne wrote Winnie the Pooh about his son Christopher and how he played with his stuffed animal toys). So, put together, Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Roo, and Eeyore (and the others) are Christopher Robin, like Ginger, Baby, Scary, Sporty and Posh are the Spice Girls.

The Spice Girls = Christopher Robin.

So when that music journalist gave the Spice Girls their nicknames, had he just finished reading Winnie the Pooh? Probably not. But Pooh did set the precedent for reader-character identification in literature, and clearly, it extends beyond what you read. For Sex and the City fans, how many have defined yourself as a Carrie or a Charlotte? Or a John or a Ringo for Beatles fans?

Humans love to identify themselves, and Winnie the Pooh just made it easier.



BBC Book Challenge — Love in the Time of Cholera

I chose to read this book first because the title of one of my favorite artists’ albums comes is a reference to this book (Emiliana Torrini’s Love in the Time of Science).

Mistake.

Love in the Time of Cholera is really just that: 348 pages of grandiose love dribble that makes me want to catch some nearly deadly bacteria that makes me head to the toilet every 30 seconds.

I’m not a romance girl, can you tell?

SUMMARY

The book starts off with the lovelorn suicide of a photographer and Dr. Juvenal Urbino coming to inspect the body. This exchange I can’t even call it an exchange because there’s a dead body involved, is the first 50 pages of the book. We don’t meet our main characters, the ones who are engaged in the “great love affair” in which the book revolves around,  until 50 pages in.

Yup.

With some irony, the Dr. Urbino dies by falling off a ladder trying to catch his pet bird the same day as  the photographer . His wife, Fermina Daza (one half of the main couple) goes to the funeral and sees the man who has been obsessed with her over the past 50 years, Florentino Ariza. I am bothered by how similar their names are, especially when Gael Garcia Bernal Gabriel Garcia Marquez refers to them by first and last name for the entire book.

We get some back story between these two:

Florentino first sees Fermina when he was 13 when he was working as a delivery boy, falls in love her at first sight while she’s teaching her ironically named Aunt Escolastica how to read. He writes a 60-page love letter (What 13 year old boy is actually writing 60-page love letters? I know passionate, adult men who have issues writing 60 pages of anything), but decides to give her an abridged version as to not creep her out. She tells him that she can’t accept it, because her father is  the Tony Soprano of Colombia (Lorenzo Daza) and she needs his permission to breathe. He tells her to get his permission, and Tony Soprano grants it until Fermina gets thrown out of her big, fancy Catholic school for writing a love letter.

Tony Soprano is so pissed off that he kicks her Aunt for encouraging her to get with Florentino and takes her away…where her cousin helps her write more love letters. She’s able to return to town after she’s 17 and filled out. Florentino says “hubba hubba” and Fermina says, “WTF was I thinking?”. Though she doesn’t really want to, Tony Soprano has her marry Dr. Urbino. When Florentino finds out, he decides he’s going to one-up the doctor in power and money and get his woman back (especially when he swore his virginity to her).

It doesn’t work (as we know that no teenage boy is going to stay a virgin for 50 years) Florentino scratches his way up to become president of the River Company of the Caribbean. He has sex with a lot of women to, one of which that Fermina stops him having sex with (Barbara).Florentino basically gives up when Fermina doesn’t fall into his arms, and he figures that the only way he’s going to be with her if Dr. Urbino dies. (No, he doesn’t kill him.)

So, Dr. Urbino dies. And Florentino ditches his 14-year-old sex slave (EW.) and Fermina finally have sex. He’s 76 and she’s 72.  After you’ve got the sagging flesh image of old people sex out of your head, think further. This means that Fermina was 9 years old when he fell in love with her. Florentino Ariza fell in madly in love with someone who probably still plays with dolls.

Fin.

HOW THIS BOOK IS RELEVANT

So why does the BBC (and apparently Oprah) want you to read this book? My initial (cynical) knee-jerk reaction is because it is a love story involving the elderly where that’s usually territory reserved for the young and foolish. But after some thought (and some input from others), I’ve come to a different, more thoughtful conclusion.

What you’re supposed to take away from this book that love is like cholera (or any other untreated bacterial disease). You can try to resist it, but if there’s a cholera epidemic, you’re going to catch it and its going to spread until it’s controlling your life. “Cholera” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Garcia Marquez is trying to say once you really fall in love it controls your emotions instead of you doing so and that we spend so much time trying to control our emotions, we lose who we are as humans. Dr. Urbino, who is a very controlled, unfeeling character, was honored controlling a cholera outbreak in France. We honor suppressing our very human, irrational selves. But is Dr. Urbino the happiest character in the book? Nope—that would be Florentino Ariza, the most irrational, romantic, emotionally-driven character in the book, when he finally beds his woman.

So basically this book is a great big critique of people like me who dislike mushy-gushy romance and aren’t moved by movies starring Reese Witherspoon.



‘Ello BBC Book Challenge!
January 17, 2011, 5:34 pm
Filed under: BBC Book Challenge | Tags:

The BBC Book Challenge is one of those memes that you find on some tight-ass’s personal blog from time to time. The challenge says that the average person has read only 6 books on a list of  100 classics compiled by the BBC. The introduction is usually followed up with “Let’s prove them wrong!” and some bolded and italic titles indicating what books they’d read, but never enough titles to actually “disprove” the BBC.

But I always wonder: do these bloggers, between their shopping trips to Banana Republic and keeping up with their raw vegan diet, actually read the books they hadn’t read on the list?

Well, I wanna be a tight-ass and play along, so here’s the list ( the ones I have read are bolded). The ones I haven’t read, I will read and blog about here:

  1. Pride and Prejudice — Jane Austen
  2. The Lord of the Rings — J. R. R. Tolkien [I read the Two Towers, not sure if this counts]
  3. Jane Eyre — Charlotte Bronte
  4. Harry Potter series — J.K. Rowling
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee
  6. The Bible
  7. Wuthering Heights — Emily Bronte
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four — George Orwell
  9. His Dark Materials — Philip Pullman
  10. Great Expectations — Charles Dickens
  11. Little Women — Louisa May Alcott
  12. Tess of the D’Ubervilles — Thomas Hardy
  13. Catch 22 — Joseph Heller
  14. Complete Works of William Shakespeare
  15. Rebecca — Daphne du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit — J.R.R. Tolkien
  17. Birdsong — Sebastian Faulks
  18. Catcher in the Rye — J.D. Salinger
  19. The Time Traveler’s Wife — Audrey Niffenegger
  20. Middlemarch — George Eliot
  21. Gone With the Wind — Margaret Mitchell
  22. The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald
  23. Bleak House — Charles Dickens
  24. War and Peace –Leo Tolstoy
  25. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Douglas Adams
  26. Brideshead Revisited — Evelyn Waugh
  27. Crime and Punishment — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  28. Grapes of Wrath — John Steinbeck
  29. Alice in Wonderland — Lewis Carroll
  30. The Wind in the Willows — Kenneth Grahame
  31. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield — Charles Dickens
  33. Chronicles of Narnia — C.S. Lewis
  34. Emma — Jane Austen
  35. Persuasion — Jane Austen
  36. The Alchemist — Paulo Coelho
  37. The Kite Runner — Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin — Louis de Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha — Arthur Golden
  40. Winnie the Pooh — A. A. Milne
  41. Animal Farm — George Orwell
  42. The Da Vinci Code — Dan Brown
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude — Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney — John Irving
  45. The Woman in White — Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables — L.M. Montgomery
  47. Far From the Maddening Crowd — Thomas Hardy
  48. A Handmaid’s Tale — Margaret Atwood
  49. Lord of the Flies — William Golding
  50. Atonement — Ian McEwan
  51. Life of Pi — Yann Martel
  52. Dune — Frank Herbert
  53. Cold Comfort Farm — Stella Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility — Jane Austen
  55. A Suitable Boy — Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind — Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale of Two Cities — Charles Dickens
  58. Brave New World — Aldous Huxley
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night — Mark Haddon
  60. Love in the Time of Cholera — Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  61. Of Mice and Men — John Steinbeck
  62. Lolita — Vladimir Nabokov
  63. The Secret History — Donna Tartt
  64. The Lonely Bones — Alice Sebold
  65. The Count of Monte Cristo — Alexandre Dumas
  66. On the Road — Jack Kerouac
  67. Jude the Obscure — Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones’s Diary — Helen Fielding
  69. Midnight’s Children — Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby Dick — Herman Melville
  71. Oliver Twist — Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula — Bram Stoker
  73. The Secret Garden — Frances Hogdson Burnett
  74. Notes From a Small Island — Bill Bryson
  75. Ulysses — James Joyce
  76. The Bell Jar — Sylvia Plath
  77. Swallows and Amazons — Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal — Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair — William  Makepeace Thackeray
  80. Possession — A.S. Byatt
  81. A Christmas Carol — Charles Dickens
  82. Cloud Atlas — David Mitchell
  83. The Color Purple — Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day — Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary — Gustave Flaubert
  86. A Fine Balance — Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte’s Web — E.B. White
  88. The Five People You Meet in Heaven — Mitch Albom
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection — Enid Blyton
  91. Heart of Darkness — Joseph Conrad
  92. The Little Prince — Antoine de  Saint-Exupery
  93. The Wasp Factory — Iain Banks
  94. Watership Down — Richard Adams
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces — John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice — Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers — Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet — William Shakespeare
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — Roald Dahl
  100. Les Miserables — Victor Hugo

Some of these are tough to group. Do people actually read the entire Bible or all of Shakespeare’s Plays (seriously, I don’t know if I’ve met anyone who has read Measure for Measure). In these situations, if I feel like I’ve read most of it, I’m counting it as “read”. Also, why is Hamlet separate, BBC?

Otherwise, it looks like an interesting list. Some I’m eager to dig into (I’ve never read any of the Russian powerhouses), others not so much (I am NOT a Steinbeck fan). My friends in high school were really into Jane Austen and Hitchhiker’s Guide and I was going through my Stephen King/James Michener phase (because those two are JUST alike :P), so I’ll finally be able to decide whether or not I actually like them.

Onward!