Sunday, May 24, 2009

All is mere illusion and calamity

Candide is one of those books that I bought because, frankly, I felt that my bookshelves were lacking in some hard core classics. Books that I might never actually read but tell myself that someday I will. And the cover is cute. So, I was trolling the shelves the other day, looking for the next big thing and I picked this guy up. I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but it sure wasn't what I got.

The premise of the book is that Candide is brought up living with a Baron and is taught by his tutor Dr. Pangloss that this world is the best possible of all worlds. Everything is how it should be and it's all hunky-dory. Cue every bad thing you could imagine happening to happen. Candide tried to make sense of all the tragedy around him while trying to reunite with his main squeeze, Cunegonde.

I adored this book. I thought it was funny and witty and smart. Every time someone (usually Candide) would say how great things were or how their fortune had turned for the better I was itching to know what catastrophe would happen next. I haven't felt the burning need to write a research paper on a book for a while; where was this book when I was in college? The secondary characters had lines I could see coming out of my own mouth. Martin especially. I could see him rolling his eyes as his sarcasm bounced off of the ever cheerful Candide.

Interesting note - this book has the first recorded use of the word Optimism. The word is only used twice in the whole book.

Voltaire does a great job commentating on the purpose of philosophy. The introduction of this edition goes into Voltaire's use of the word "but" to make this clear. The characters can go on and on about their viewpoints on human suffering, but they still have to deal with the real things going on in the world around him.

One thing that bothered me about the book (and this spoils the end) was the fate of Cunegonde. Everyone who we thinks has died come back through some miracle coincidence (save the Barron and his wife) and we catch up with Cunegonde twice during Candide's travels. The second time she is continually mentioned as being extremely ugly. They all keep harping on how horrible she looks now. Candide, ever the honorable man, does still marry her, but has to literally step back when he sees how ugly she is. I just wasn't really sure why this was necessary to the story. But I'm nitpicking here.

These are a few quotes that stuck out to me, although I underlined a whole lot of this book.

"He could prove to wonderful effect that there was no effect without cause, and that, in this best of all possible worlds, His Lordship the Baron's castle was the finest of castles and Her Ladyship the best of all possible baronesses. " page 4

"If this is the best of all possible worlds, what must the others be like?" page 16

"My dear young lady,' replied Candide, 'when you are in love, and jealous, and have been flogged by the Inquisition, there's no knowing what you may do." page 22

"Private griefs are crueler even than public miseries." page 56

"The man of taste explained very clearly how a play can be of some interest but of almost no merit. He showed in few words how it was not enough to contrive one or two of those situations that are to be found in any novel and which always captivate the audience; that one needs to be original without being far-fetched, frequently sublime but always natural; to know the human heart but also how to give it a voice; to be a poet without one's characters seeming to speak like poets; and to have perfect command of the language, using it with purity and harmony, and without ever sacrificing sense to rhyme." page 64

"the honest ones admitted that the book dropped from their hands every time, but said one had to have it in one's library, as a monument of antiquity, like those rusty coins which cannot be put into circulation." page 76 in regards to Homer - who I also have and I am pretty sure I've never really read the whole thing

"Fools admire everything in an esteemed author. I read for myself alone; I only like what I have a use for." page 77

Friday, May 15, 2009

soon soon soon

Books that I have finished reading and am going to try to blog about sometime soon I promise!

High Fidelity
Driving with Dead People
The Vagina Monolouges
Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays

I'm have a super busy work week and have to work this weekend but I haven't forgotten about these books (at least not yet)!

Poetry in the Morning

I've taken to reading aloud a poem, usually just one, before I leave my house in the morning to start my day. I've got a lot of poetry laying around the house and it usually just ups my mood. I read this one today and I fell in love with it. It's from April's Poetry magazine.

The Second Trying

If I could only get hold of the whole of you,
How could I ever get hold of the whole of you,
Even more than the most beloved idols,
More than mountains quarried whole,
More than mines
Of burning coal,
Let's say mines of extinguished coal
And the breath of day like a fiery furnace.

If one could get hold of you for all the years,
How could one get hold of you from all the years,
How could on lengthen a single arm,
Like a single branch of an African river,
As one sees in a dream the Bay of Storms,
As one sees in a ship that went down,
The way one imagines a cushion of clouds,
Lily-clouds as the body's cushion,
But though you will it, they will not convey you,
Do not believe that they will convey you.

If one could get hold of all-of-the-whole-of-you,
If one could get hold of you like metal,
Say like pillars of copper,
Say like a pillar of purple copper
(That pillar I remmebered last summer) -
And the bottom of the ocean I have never seen,
And the bottom of the ocean that I can see
With its thousand heavy thickets of air,
A thousand and one laden breaths.

If one could only get hold of the-whole-of-you-now,
How could you ever be for me what I myself am?

by Dahlia Ravikovitch
Translated for the Hebrew by Chana Bock and Chana Kronfeld.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Words are things

This novel was all but shoved upon me by my father. Now I can't say that I'm a big Byron; I've never delved too much into him. And I have never heard of Ada Lovelace, Byron's daughter. This book weaved together three different stories: A novel that Lord Byron could have written, Ada's notes on the novel, and the email correspondence of the woman who is researching the work.

The story that Bryon tells is very interesting. A young man, Ali, is brought to England with his father, Lord Sane. He is treated pretty horribly and has several romantic run ins. The whole story ends up mirroring Lord Byron and his relationship with Ada Lovelace.

Ada's notes revel her strain with her absent father and the pain she she has to deal with from her cervical cancer.

The emails are also between a young woman and her estranged father. She emails him because he was a Lord Byron scholar. She also emails with her girlfriend back in the states.

The book is a little long, I had a hard time sticking with it at the end. I got a little confused in some of the email sections because their names aren't used, just their emails. A little hard to keep track of.

I liked this book, but not as much as I thought I would. Parts of it really held my attention and parts of it kind of bored me. The whole thing did make me more interested in Lord Byron's actual work and about Ada's life. I had no idea that she was involved in the development of the analytical engine. Her mother was pretty crazy and kept her from anything creative so Ada poured her brains into science. I'm going to have to pick up a bio of hers sometime soon.

A few quotes:

"Unbearable did it soon become to them - who were a world to each other, and yet could not shake the world from them!" page 347

"The dead we love keep on dying for us again and again, and he is one of those I love." 273

"Sticks and stones, so the children cry, may break my bones, but names shall never hurt me. Ah no. He said it himself: words are things." 314

"Happy endings are all alike, disasters may be unique." 268