It’s been a while since my last post but I thought I’d pick up where I left off and continue my reviews on books. Over the summer I read Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac (considering the amount of time it has been since, this review may be a little sparse). This book was published in 1864 and is a part of a larger work that Balzac wrote called The Human Comedy. This particular story has to do with Cousin Bette, an old maid that spins a lie for her family. She tells them that after many years, a man has finally shown interest in her and is now her lover, his name being Wenceslas. Her family is astonished and are unaware of the fact that he is actually just a young artist that Bette supports. He has suicidal tendencies and comes across as very depressed and morose. He eventually meets Hortense, Bette’s cousin, and falls in love with her. Hortense is the daugther of Baron Hulot who is married to Adeline but is in love with Josepha, a singer, but when she rejects him, he sets his sights on Valerie Marneffe, who wants to seduce Crevel but is in love with Henri. When Hortense and Wenceslas wed, Valerie and Bette team up to try and get money from Baron Hulot but things happen and Valerie becomes pregnant, not knowing who the father is. Valerie and Crevel are mysteriously poisoned by a Brazilian toxin and die. Baron Hulot finishes out the story by having affairs with multiple women. His wife Adeline dies and he marries another woman shortly after.
This story reminded me of Twelfth Night or The Importance of Being Earnest in that there are multiple people with complicated love lives. The characters in this story are complex and at times extreme, making them seem real and all the more unreliable in nature. Balzac’s ultimate goal was to portray the human comedy, or more specifically the human condition, or really what it means to be a person. Balzac makes you familiar with Paris and famous figures at the time, as well as ones throughout history, making the reader have to educate themselves every now and then on who exactly he is talking about. Cousin Bette reflects on romance and relationships and explores the side of the human condition that effects all of us so deeply- love.
Some people like rereading their favorite books over and over again, maybe just to remember it for old times sake, or to get that same feeling they got when they first read it. Whatever the reason, people do reread books. Personally, I don’t enjoy rereading books. I like reading as many as I can to challenge myself so I don’t like taking time to read one again. The only time I would really reread a book is if it is one of my favorites that is a little on the short side or if I read it a while ago and it is being turned into a movie. I like to read them a few weeks before I go see the movie just so the details are fresh in my mind and so I don’t miss out on anything, not that I have any idea on why this would be important. Books are basically made to be reread-that is the overarching goal of the author. Why write a book that someone will only read once? The author wants to tell you a story that you will want to remember and revisit later on. Like I said early, I’m not a big fan of rereading. Even when it comes to movies, I don’t rewatch many unless I have the hankering to. Me and my family really only buy books and movies that we have read or seen before. Maybe that makes us hesitant to try new things or stingy when it comes to giving up our favorites but I’m definitely okay with it. I just want time to read books that I haven’t read yet, as quickly as possible. Over the summer I may do some rereading, but I do want to get some books marked off my list to at least give me a sense of accomplishment. Do you reread books often?
Recently for an AP Lang project (I’m starting to notice that all the reading I’m doing lately is usually because it’s required and that makes me really sad) I went to the library to look for a nonfiction book that I could possibly write an essay on. Being really into history, I saw a book called A Short History of Nearly Everything and I was instantly intrigued. The book is by Bill Bryson and it is literally what the title says it’s about. I could end this blog post here, but it has to be a minimum of three hundred words so I’ll continue. Honestly, I don’t normally just pick up books because they look or sound interesting so that fact that this book somehow did that to me is amazing. I’ve only read the first few chapters but what I have read is really just awesome and I can tell the rest of the book is going to be as well. It begins with the beginning-the creation of the universe and moves on to talk about stars and supernovae and the like. From just skimming through the book, I can see that he talks about humans and historical events. It’s basically like a mini textbook that it written for people to actually absorb and understand, because let’s be honest, who actually understands textbooks completely? I am just all-around excited to read more of this book, and that was definitely nerdy but I think we’ve established that already. Also in AP Lang we are doing the last author study of the year and Bill Bryson was on the list of options but unfortunately I did not get him because the selection for authors could be comparable to the hunger games. I ended up with my second choice, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Have you read anything by either Bill Bryson or Ta-Nehisi Coates? If so, what did you think?
*UPDATE*: Today I asked if I could possibly be switched to Bill Bryson for the author study, and it happened! I might add some Ta-Nehisi Coates to my list and read his works eventually. I’m excited to read Bryson (for a reason). Just kidding, you shouldn’t need a reason to read.
Everybody wonders where they are going to go when they die. Christians believe that if they believe in God they will go to heaven when they die. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, that their soul will continue in another living organism. These concepts of life after death are interesting and can also be controversial. Author Mary Roach turns away from the spiritual aspect of life after death and does in-depth research on the physical in the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. In this book, Roach introduces the reader to what happens to their physical bodies after they take their last breaths. Some bodies are naturally donated to the science and medical field so students can learn more about how the human body functions. Others are used for unorthodox purposes, like crash test dummies, or even to prove a point about the crucifixion of Jesus. This book was astoundingly factual with a whole lot of comedic relief from some of the more gory sections of the book. The author used footnotes to enrich what she was talking about and I feel that I learned a lot while reading it. It takes a lot of complex writing to make the reader feel nauseous from gore and laughter at the same time. I’ve never been into morbid and gory books but this one was definitely an exception. In my previous posts I have talked about how I really like historical novels, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. This book also involves the historical side of cadavers and I found that really interesting. Now before you judge me for being interested in dead bodies (I’m Hayley, not Hannibal) read the book. I never thought a book about cadavers would be hilarious but this one proved me wrong. Basically, if you are looking to read an educational but hilarious book about dead people, this would be the one to go with. This book has also been considered kind of controversial because of the lighthearted way Roach talks about the dearly departed. I liked it however because we as a society always make death a serious event, at least in America. In Mexico, they celebrate Día de Los Muertos, where they are happy that the deceased had a good life with great memories. If you have read this book, what do you think about the author’s nonchalant perspective on depicting the dead?
After you’re done shaking your head at my really lame title, you can read the rest of this post about one of my favorite paintings. You may be thinking that this blog is all about books, and that’s where you’re wrong! History is my favorite subject and I’m playing on going to college and majoring in secondary history education. The book I’ve been reading is based off of the mysterious painting by Vermeer called Girl With a Pearl Earring. It was painted in 1665 and the figure depicted is unknown. No one knows if she was related to the artist, or if he even knew her at all. Vermeer’s infamous color scheme of blue and yellow stand out in the painting. The book by Tracy Chevalier is based on this well-known painting, her mind creating a story surrounding the origin of the painting. The mysterious girl is now Griet, a simple Dutch villager who is called upon to be a maid for Vermeer and his family. Vermeer takes a liking to Griet and paints her for a patron that lives in the area. What I love about this book is that it is historical fiction. To create a story out of just one painting takes a special kind of talent. To give curious readers a glimpse into the past is a gift. What I love about this painting is the mystery behind it and the simplicity of the figure. Chevalier’s novel put my curiosity to rest and I am satisfied with the story she has created to put meaning to this painting. Vermeer himself was mystery: he never let anyone into his studio and he only painted thirty or so works. He is well-known for his blue and yellow color scheme that colors the simple figures doing household work in his paintings. He is known to have implemented the technique of camera obscura to create his realistic paintings, with the light always coming from the left, the colors blending to look real. The device is actually a small, dark room that projected an image through a small opening upside-down, showing an image that the artist can clearly see and trace. It was this technique that made Vermeer’s paintings realistic and he himself a master of color. I think more stories based on paintings should be made to give us an idea of the time period and the people that lived then. It would help us understand and appreciate art more as well as history.
Photo credit: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/272256739943836661/
Before I start this post, I want you to do something. Say ‘jellicoe’. Say it a few more times. Now say it with an Australian accent. Wasn’t that fun? Now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, you can continue to read this post. This book has raving, all-praising reviews on Goodreads, which I read before starting the novel. Here’s a challenge: go find one review of this book other than mine that is negative. Once you come back, whining about how it was impossible, I’ll let you in on a secret- you can’t find a negative review about this book. It honestly sounded like this was going to be the next big obsession of mine and I started to read the first few pages. That’s when things began to go downhill. The parts of the book that people admittedly stated were confusing were not confusing to me. I don’t know if I just wasn’t reading with devoted attention or if the book was really that bad, but I don’t see what all the fuss was about. Fans of this book should probably not read this post, for my safety and yours. I have some specific issues with this book, number one being that it was based in Australia. Of all places to have a book, you pick a giant, barely inhabited island that was colonized by prisoners. I have nothing against the people of Australia, however. Your accents are gnarly and I probably miss Steve Irwin as much as you do. Now that we’ve got stereotypes out of the way, we can get back to the important topic of the setting. I have read a grand total of two books that were based in Australia now and I didn’t like either one of them. Personally, I think it’s time for me to stop reading books based on the huge island of kangaroos and koalas and other creatures that start with ‘k’. My second problem with this book is the characters. Everyone on Goodreads said these characters were believable and awe-inspiring. I felt that they were underdeveloped and just out of nowhere, if that makes sense. The main characters are ensued in a territory war. Why highschoolers are fighting with rich people from town and military cadets in training over land is beyond me. This war wasn’t really explained well, all that I got from it was it’s been a tradition since people can remember. The people are very strict about the territory boundaries; some girls from the Jellicoe school accidentally crossed over borders and the cadets took them hostage in their tent. A little extreme, if you ask me. There was also a story within the story about five teenagers and their experiences on the Jellicoe Road and the beginning of the territory wars. This added to my problems with character development because the people in the story turned out to be real people in the bigger story. That’s the part most people found confusing. I just didn’t see much change between the way they were and they way they became. Overall, the only things I enjoyed about this book were the cutesy quotes that most everyone likes and trying to read it in my head with an Australian accent. The latter proved to be quite difficult. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as everyone said I would but we all have those books every once in a while. Now that all the people of Australia have completely lost their respect for me, I might go watch Finding Nemo in the hopes that that will somehow make up for all I’ve said. Happy reading.
The argument we hear over and over again is that film adaptations of books never turn out how the reader imagines them. Some small detail is left out, a character doesn’t look how the reader imagined, you nitpick the movie and pretty soon everything is completely wrong! Right? Wrong. Take the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series for example: those books are loooooooong, as well as the movies. If we included every song that is in Return of the King or every spell in Order of the Phoenix, the movies would be longer than 2 or 3 hours. Scenes have to be cut and directors have the challenge of choosing those specific scenes that aren’t exactly important to the storyline. It’s a good thing that we don’t have the popularity of VHS tapes around today because we would have things like Titanic– a two tape movie that you would have to stop, eject, (probably rewind), and pop in the second tape. However, I do have Gone With the Wind on DVD and it is a two-parter. What I’m trying to say with this post is movies based on books should at least be given a chance. I personally have to read the book before I see the movie. Working at a movie theater makes this difficult but that just makes me want to read more. For instance, I overheard my manager talking one day about Catching Fire and saying how small details were left out and if people hadn’t read the books, they wouldn’t have noticed or cared. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t go to the movie that you have been anxious to see and come out putting it down because it wasn’t exactly to how you imagined it. Everyone thinks of things differently so no one is going to be completely with the outcome. Just be content with the fact that someone made the decision to create something you can see rather than just think about.