“The Wife of His Youth” by Charles W. Chesnutt

The Wife of His YouthI read this before for a college class and always wanted to revisit it. So when the Bout of Books 14 read-a-thon came around, I saw it as the opportune time to give this story a go.

Quick summary:

“The Wife of His Youth” is a short story about a man whose wife found him after searching for 25 years after slavery was abolished. They were married while living in the south during slavery. She was a slave but her husband was a free man. The people she worked for planned to sell her husband so she helped him escape. She didn’t know where he went but since gaining her freedom after the Civil War, she has been searching for him.

The story’s main focus is on the divide within the Black community. The man is light-skinned and is a member of a prestigious organization in his community that’s prejudiced against dark-skinned Blacks. He was considering to marry a well-connected, young light-skinned woman within the organization when his wife, who is darker and older, shows up.

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Book Haul #10: Last of Summer

Umm…I guess I was supposed to be on a book-buying ban. I totally, conveniently forgot about it, of course, but now I’m really on one…unless coupons come my way. I don’t know how long I’ll last but I’m going to enforce this for the next two months at least.

Note: Purchasing Patrick Ness The Rest of Us Just Live Here is an exception.

And here are the last purchases for this summer.

Book Outlet

book haul 13

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“Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Not a fan of the cover 😦

At the end of April, I sought something new to read; something different from the genres and books I usually reach for. While perusing the e-books I downloaded from Early Bird Book’s daily deals, I found a copy of Jules Verne’s novel and decided to venture into science fiction, a genre I hardly read.

I began reading immediately and I could tell that it’s a wonderful and entertaining tale, but the language of the translation was clunky and laborious to read. As such, the story became a drag and I loathed picking it up. Luckily, I went to the bookstore soon after starting the story and there I found a Barnes & Noble Classics copy of the story. Michael Dirda’s advice from his Classics for Pleasure book flitted through my mind: It’s better to read multiple translations of a work* (memory foggy but I believe I read that in his book). So I decided to compare the translation of the e-book to the Barnes & Noble Classics copy. The B&N copy was fluid and so easy to read that I got swept up in the story without noticing though I was re-reading the beginning. It was not a question. I would buy it.

Quick summary:

The story is narrated by Axel, nephew of Otto Lidenbrock, a short-tempered, eccentric German professor of mineralogy. Axel tells us that one day in May 1863 his uncle ran home with an old book by Snorre Turleson, a famous Icelandic author. His uncle, a bibliophile, was glad about his find but became even more excited when an old parchment tucked within fell out. It had runes scribbled across it that, once deciphered, contained instructions of how to journey to the center of the earth through a volcano in Iceland.

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“The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman

Cover of "The Yellow Wallpaper and Other ...
Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore. (Cover via Amazon)

An unsettling story, to say the least. I decided to read this story because of how often I’ve heard of it. I was particularly intrigued because I was told that the narrator is highly unreliable and unstable and such narrators always pique my interest. Of course, my constant misgiving regarding the classics made me assume that it would be a boring read but I resolved to plow through it no matter what. I wanted to know what happens.

I read “The Yellow Wall-Paper” in the Penguin Classics copy of Gillman’s selected writing. It includes an introduction written by Denise D. Knight, professor of English at SUNY Cortland. I’m glad I read the introduction before reading the story because it provided some perspective. Usually, I skip introductions because they tend to give the story away and take all the fun out of puzzling it out for myself. But in this case—where the story is a tad confusing and might be hard to digest if you haven’t the patience for such a narrative—it’s good to read the introduction and get some information on the author’s background and what moved her to write such an unsettling tale.

I like Gillman. I like to assume that anyone who considers herself a feminist would like her too. I think of myself as a semi-feminist. Gillman advocated for equality in the household. She didn’t believe that the woman’s sole purpose should be that of wife and mother. A woman could be more than that or none of them, if she chose. Basically, a woman should have the free will to choose who she wants to be and how she wants to be identified. Gillman believed that society’s insistence on gender roles—man as provider and protector; woman as nurturer and domesticated—limits humanity’s ability. I wonder what she would say of the world now. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is drawn from her own experience. She suffered from depression in her 20s after giving birth to a daughter and was prescribed bed rest, basically she was told not to do anything but lie around all day. Of course, this didn’t help her depression but made her worse. It wasn’t until she stopped with such treatments that she became better.

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Another Party at Gatsby’s

I wasn’t excited when I first heard that The Great Gatsby was being made into a movie. That was last year. I had no intentions of seeing it and thoughts of re-reading the book was far from my mind. I didn’t even consider listing it on my Classics Challenge book list. That all changed a few weeks ago when I saw Iron Man 3. While waiting for the movie to start, sporting my 3D glasses over my prescribed lenses, I watched a preview of Gatsby. Being in a good mood, I got caught up in the music for the movie and the glimpses of glitz that await those who choose to watch. But what really pulled me in was the party scene. After a brief glimpse of that scene, I decided that I wanted to watch the movie so I could vicariously live through those who attended Gatsby’s massive parties.

I hate watching the movie version of a book prior to reading the book since parts are usually left out and the movie version is usually a poor remake (except The Princess Bride.) So I decided to re-read The Great Gatsby. I loathed doing this at first since I hated the book when I first read it in high school. I did not understand the story, I could not relate to the characters, and I found it hard to believe that anyone could consider it a “Great American Novel.” To my teenage self, The Great Gatsby did not define all that America is or was so it shouldn’t be considered a “Great American Novel.” (I still think so.)

But this time I’m older so maybe, I thought, the book would not be a total bore. And it wasn’t! First of all, I read an old copy of the book. A copy that was published in 1925 (it’s my dad’s friend’s of a friend’s). Anyway, I found this to be totally cool simply because the book is old and falling apart and was published in 1925. Silly, I know, but I was thrilled by these irrelevant details. Old books are always cool except when you find droppings in them or a spider crawls out.

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“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

Like most people, the first time I encountered Zora Neale Hurston‘s Their Eyes Were Watching God was in my AP Literature class. It was a required summer reading and weirdly, I enjoyed every minute of it. I recall my teacher discussing it on the first day. She read the passage on the pear tree and the bee and asked what it meant. No one raised their hand. It seemed that though we knew what the pear tree and the bee symbolized, we were too embarrassed to say it. I raised my hand and tentatively answered that I think it symbolized Janie’s first sexual experience. The teacher replied that I was almost correct and went on to further explain.

Apart from the moment when Janie and Tea Cake first meet, the pear tree passage is my favorite part of the book. Indeed, Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of my favorite novels. I love it for its imagery and poetic language. I love it because it’s like a play at times, what with the exaggerated personas that certain villagers take on when they congregate at Joe Starks’ shop, the stage, and the fact that they are sometimes represented as a chorus, their voices, feelings, and thoughts represented as one for all of them.

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1/4 Year Reading Progress

2013 Goodreads Reading Challenge
2013 Goodreads Reading Challenge

A quarter of the year has passed and I am a third of the way through my Goodreads Reading Challenge. I proposed to read 30 books this year, which I think is a manageable goal, and so far I’ve read 10 of the 30 books.

I’ve read The Element by Sir Ken Robinson, an insightful read; Jinx by Sage Blackwood, a fun one; Native Son by Richard Wright, which will leave you either seething or in deep contemplation; The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin, an uneventful but thoughtful read; Mythology by Edith Hamilton, great for myth lovers and novices to the subject; I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing both by Nora Ephron and both filled with chuckles; The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, in which you will find great advice if you are patient; A Wizard of Earthsea also by Ursula Le Guin, a truly imaginative read; and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky, a totally un-put-down-able book. I was not bored by any of these titles, even when I read Dillard’s book. They were all eye-openers in their own ways and all offered insights and advice that I hope I can remember.

Out of this portion of books, my favorite is A Wizard of Earthsea. A Wizard of Earthsea is great because of the thought and creativity given to form the story. Le Guin is truly a great author. I can see why J.K. Rowling loves her stories. Le Guin takes her time building the world of Earthsea, mapping it out for us all while taking us through Ged Sparrowhawk’s life. There is much to learn in this story and words of advice that can be applied to life are sprinkled throughout. I especially like the afterword where Le Guin discusses her thought process in creating Ged and the world of Earthsea. It’s an enthralling read.

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“Native Son” by Richard Wright

Cover of "Native Son (Perennial Classics)...
Cover of Native Son (Perennial Classics)

I’m late, I know. BUT as my way for commemorating Black History Month on my blog, I decided to read Native Son by Richard Wright and boy was I blown away by it! I mean Wright got down in that book and analyzed the shit out of the social structure and race relations of the 1940s. Native Son is a powerful book and even today I’m sure it can rile some people. (I got pretty pissed while reading it.)

Summary:

Native Son tells the story of Black people oppressed in America through the life of Bigger Thomas, a 20-year-old Black man. Life is hard for Bigger and his people. They live in deficient houses and receive meager pay. They are unable to move beyond the Black Belt, an area in Chicago where Blacks are designated to live. Segregation is so tight that it’s hard for Bigger to envision a promising future for himself. He tries to avoid thinking of this because it makes him feel helpless and powerless. To cope, he becomes angry and puts up a wall behind which he hides, peeking out occasionally at the reality of his life. His family and friends cope in other ways: his mother puts her trust in religion and his girlfriend Bessie numbs herself with alcohol. It’s not until he kills Mary Dalton that Bigger begins to feel as if he can direct his life and that for once he is in charge of what he does and what happens to him.

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“Classics for Pleasure” by Michael Dirda

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

I’ve always thought of the classics as boring and stuffy books to which I would not relate and would not enjoy. I would hardly pick one up to read for leisure and would only purchase them to add to my bookshelves to show off to friends. My views changed after reading Michael Dirda’s Classics for Pleasure.

I first read this book last year when I rescued it from a Borders sale. Since I was broke with no job prospects, I thought it best to spend my time reading the classics. Being the impatient person that I am, I wanted to know what to expect before I begin. Would I like what I read or not?

I was sucked so deeply into this book that I believed that I would like all the works discussed. Dirda’s love for literature is apparent throughout. And his appreciation for the works selected for Classics for Pleasure drew me in and made me want to experience such magnificence for myself.

Fortunately, I got a job but became sidetracked and forgot about pursuing the classics. Now that things have settled down a bit, I’ve decided to hop on the bandwagon and join The Classics Club, which I believe will be a great way for me to stick to my plan to nourish my reading appetite with the classics. The Classic Club asks that members list 50 or so classics that they plan to read over a 5 year period. After completing a book, members discuss it on their blog and share the review with other members via The Classics Club’s blog.

It’s a great plan and helpful, especially if you’re reading a difficult book that might make you miserable. Misery does love company!

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“How to Read Literature Like a Professor” by Thomas C. Foster

Cover of "How to Read Literature Like a P...
Cover via Amazon

Step into the classroom with Professor Foster and learn to read between the lines of the next story, play, or poem you pick up.

I wish I had this book while an undergrad. I should have thought to buy it sooner. Usually I would see it in the store but would bypass it because I thought it would be boring. Obviously, it’s a professor who wrote it and professors are usually boring when they discuss literature and whatnot, especially when they write about it, so this book would also be boring, I reasoned. I was so wrong.

I took a few literature classes by professors who were so excited about the books they discussed, I couldn’t help getting caught up in their excitement and wanting to read the text as they do. They made it seem fun – intellectual fun. So I went out and bought How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster and threw it on my bedroom floor and left it there for a couple months.

One day, I stumbled on it as I was rushing into my room. I then decided to read it. Ha! I thought. This dude is freaking hilarious. Books like this should always be funny or a bit silly at least. It’s the best way to learn something that has the potential to bore a student to death.

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