Was Your English Lit Teacher Wrong About Symbolism?

101 Books

You always wondered if your college lit professor was just making crap up.

Turns out, maybe they were.

This article from The Paris Review offers a revealing take by many famous authors on how much symbolism played a part in their work.

Their comments were prompted by a letter from a 16-year-old Bruce McCallister in 1963. He was tired of the constant find-the-symbolism game in English class, so he took it upon himself to ask them what the big deal was with symbolism.

He mailed a simple four-question survey to more than 150 novelists. About half of them responded. The responses were varied, but most of the authors seemed to think symbolism is overanalyzed. Their comments were awesome:

The survey included the following questions:

View original post 628 more words

Modern Detour: Review of The New Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor (2012)

392978Welcome to Modern Detour, where I review a work that has not yet survived or may never survive the test of time. In other words, I am trying to read some books that have been published in the last twenty years. I have a tendency to read nothing but classics, so picking up a non-classical work is a personal challenge that I would like to overcome. If I choose to read a book because of a review that I read on another blog, I will link to that blog in my review of that work.

I went to my university’s library last week, and was in the process of looking for a book on comics, when I came across The New Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor by Salim Bachi (2012). I liked the cover art, so I quickly searched for the book on Amazon. To my surprise, I discovered that no one had reviewed it yet. In fact, there were no reviews available anywhere online. Bachi has been shortlisted for the Pullitzer Prize for some of his other works, so I figured that the book that I was holding in my hand would be worth reading. The cover art along with the description on the back cover finally convinced me to borrow the work?

Here is the description that I read:

“One Thousand and One Nights’s Sinbad the Sailor is reborn as a young, adventurous man in modern day Algeria, who has joined the waves of North African immigration into Europe. Accompanied by a mysterious mongrel and his Senegalese friend Robinson, this lover of women and beauty embarks on a journey around the Mediterranean from Algiers to Damascus, passing through Rome, Paris, Baghdad, through the refugee camps and the deceitful glimmer of the Western world that takes him on a headlong pursuit of happiness and love. It is the story of a man coming to grips with the stark realities of war within the framework of legend.” – Pushkin Press

The Verdict

I must preface this review by admitting that I do not know the story of the original Sinbad in One Thousand and One Nights. If I had, I may have been able to understand the legendary figures in the story, like the Sleeper and the Dog (the Demiurge). That being said, the writing style as well as the character of Sinbad were a real turn-off. Sinbad is an Algerian refugee who travels the world in search of love and “exotic” items such as Moroccan leather. He reads a lot, and never ceases to compare himself to such literary figures as Odysseus, Sinbad the Sailor, and Don Juan – even in bed.

There were way too many sex scenes in this work for my liking. The sex scenes eclipsed the social and political criticism found in the book. The eroticism was downright hilarious. Sinbad compares his appendage to a boat, a train, and a baguette. He has a knack for getting himself into some bizarre love affairs. Of course, this novella is supposed to be a critique of French and Arabic society. There is some of that, but the countless references to literary characters along with Sinbad’s detailed account of his sexual escapades, make the philosophical passages of the work seem out of place. When Sinbad is not in the embraces of a woman, he is thinking deep philosophical thoughts. I often forgot that he was a refugee; Sinbad doesn’t undergo too many serious hardships except being busted for sleeping with a man’s wife, having his money stolen by a hooker, and some brief references to war. The novella read like erotic fiction for literary scholars.

I give this work a 1/5 rating.

A Review of Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate)

grand-meaulnes_42523x4When I was in high school, one of my French teachers recommended that I read Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate/ The Wanderer) by Alain-Fournier. I had an obsession for French and was looking for a new French classic to read. The novel did not disappoint. One reason for starting this blog was to introduce the non-Francophone world to French literary classics. Therefore, it was only right to reread and review Le Grand Meaulnes.

A literal translation of Le Grand Meaulnes is The Great Meaulnes. It is believed that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was inspired by this work. The title certainly was.

What is it about?

François Seurel, the narrator of this story, lives and studies at Sainte-Agathe, a boarding school in the Sologne region of France. His father, M. Seurel, is the principal of the school, and his mother, Milie, has an unhealthy obsession with organization and cleanliness. François’ monotonous life is considerably enhanced by the arrival of Augustin Meaulnes. François admires his friend Augustin for his charisma and his larger-than-life qualities. To François, Meaulnes is truly great.

During class one day, M. Seurel announces that François’ grandparents will be visiting; he chooses a student to accompany François to the train station. Although Augustin was not chosen, he disobeys his teacher and sets off for the Vierzon station. But he doesn’t know the way. Cold and injured, Augustin arrives at a once – abandoned castle. There, he learns that the children and adults of the surrounding village are participating in a costume party for the marriage of a young man named Franz de Galais. At the party, Augustin meets the beautiful Yves de Galais, Franz’s sister. However, Franz and his fiancée are nowhere to be found. The party takes place as planned, but the marriage doesn’t.

Finally, Augustin returns to Sainte-Agathe after being absent for days. M. Seurel and François had feared the worst for Augustin; so they were relieved upon his return. But Augustin has secret plans to return to the mysterious castle. He dreams night and day about Yves de Galais. François becomes privy to this love, and urges Augustin to seek out the beautiful woman. As Augustin seeks to fulfill his fantasies, he comes face-to-face with a world that doesn’t always resemble that of a fairytale.

What did I think about it?

Like François, I admire Augustin. He is intelligent and mature. There is something about the way that he carries himself that is attractive. In some ways, Le Grand Meaulnes is a typical coming-of-age novel. Eventually, a child must grow up. A major theme of the novel is fantasy vs. reality. Unlike a child’s fantasy world, there is a need for loyalty and responsibility in the real world. But, what I liked especially about this novel was the ending. I really admired Augustin’s maturity at the end of the book. François and Augustin come face-to-face with sadness and darkness, but the ending gives one a lot of hope. The work also offers some beautiful descriptions of the French countryside. I highly recommend Le Grand Meaulnes.

March Event – Reading Candide

Hello everyone, so I have been thinking for some time about having a read-a-long event for a well-known French classic. I have decided on Candide by Voltaire. This classic is widely available in translation. Here is a Goodreads summary of the novel:

“Brought up in the household of a powerful Baron, Candide is an open-minded young man, whose tutor, Pangloss, has instilled in him the belief that ‘all is for the best’. But when his love for the Baron’s rosy-cheeked daughter is discovered, Candide is cast out to make his own way in the world. 

And so he and his various companions begin a breathless tour of Europe, South America and Asia, as an outrageous series of disasters befall them – earthquakes, syphilis, a brush with the Inquisition, murder – sorely testing the young hero’s optimism.”

The event will be from March 1-31.

I will be reading the work in the original language, but all posts will be in English. Here is the posting schedule:

Monday, March 10 : chapters 1-8

Monday, March 17: chapters 9-16

Monday, March 24: chapters 17-24

Monday, March 31: chapters 25-30 (last post)

After I post about a series of chapters, you have a whole week to comment on those chapters.

So who’s interested? It is fine if you do not comment every week of the event, but I’m hoping for a great discussion.

The Devil Inside: Review of the The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

1880s Poster

1880s Poster

I finally bought a Kindle Paperwhite. I had considered buying an e reader or a tablet for over a year. Now that I have bought my Kindle, I have no regrets. Since most of the books I read are in the public domain, I think the Kindle is a great deal.

Anyway, the first story I read on my Kindle was The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is very difficult to give a review of this novella without giving away too much of the plot. Therefore, there will be spoilers in this review.

What is it about?

Mr. John Utterson, a lawyer for Dr. Henry Jekyll, learns from his friend Richard Enfield about the recent murder of a small girl. This small girl was trampled by a frightening-looking man who then escaped from the crime scene. Oddly, Dr. Jekyll offers a large sum of money to the girl’s family to drop the search for the murderer. Over the next few months, Mr. Utterson learns more and more about this sinister man. He discovers that the designated beneficiary in Dr. Jekyll’s will is Mr. Hyde, the same man who had trampled the young girl to death. Here comes the spoiler. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are one and the same person. Dr. Jekyll wanted to learn more about his dark and sinister side – the side that he ordinarily represses. Therefore, he prepares and drinks a potion that changes him into Mr. Hyde. This dark side lives selfishly and without morals. Eventually, Dr. Jekyll loses the ability to control the transformations, and it becomes more and more difficult to suppress Mr. Hyde. When Jekyll is asleep or dwells too much on his evil nature, Hyde is released.

What did I think about it?

I know that  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a study of multiple personality disorder. However, upon finishing the novella, I felt that this story was also an allegory on substance abuse. Dr. Jekyll loves and hates Mr. Hyde. He loves Hyde because Hyde does not have to submit to the constraints placed on him by society or a conscience. Also, Jekyll does not have to take responsibility for Hyde’s actions. After all, Hyde is not Jekyll. Hyde is the murderer, not Jekyll. On the other hand, Jekyll has a conscience. He hates what Hyde has done. The transformations become more and more spontaneous so that Jekyll loses control over Hyde. Like someone with an addiction, Jekyll cannot be rid of Hyde. Hyde eventually takes over Jekyll. As I was reading the story, it became clear to me that Stevenson had personal experiences with addiction. It is believed that the author used cocaine as he wrote this novella. At that time, cocaine was legal. Stevenson used because he suffered from tuberculosis. One cannot help but pity Jekyll. Jekyll has good intentions. He wants to be himself again, but he just can’t get rid of Hyde. The temptation to evil is too strong, and eventually, Jekyll is permanently replaced by Hyde. I have never read a story that described addiction so accurately.

Here are some quotes from the text to give you a flavor of what I mean. The “I” in all these passages is Dr. Jekyll:

“Now, however, and in the light of that morning’s accident, I was led to remark that whereas, in the beginning, the difficulty had been to throw off the body of Jekyll, it had of late gradually but decidedly transferred itself to the other side. All things therefore seemed to point to this; that I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse.”

“To cast in my lot with Jekyll, was to die to those appetites which I had long secretly indulged and had of late begun to pamper.”

“My devil had long been caged, he came out roaring.”

I absolutely loved this story. This is the ideal character study, and Stevenson is such a fantastic storyteller.  I know that I will be rereading this novella for years to come.

A Fun Questionnaire: Who Are You?

So, I’ve noticed that a lot of bloggers post fun questionnaires from time to time. So I’ve created one to learn more about my readers and their interests. You can answer the questionnaire in the comments.

Who Are You?

1. What is your favorite classic, and why do you consider it a classic?

My favorite classic is Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I consider it a classic because it contains a timeless message about love and death. Although it is a children’s books, adults can relate to the pilot and the Little Prince’s journey. This is one of the few books that I have read as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult. It is amazing how such a short and simply-written story can speak to someone in every stage of his/her life. I absolutely love this classic. I have even memorized chapters from the book. Don’t worry, I will be blogging about The Little Prince soon 🙂

2. What is your favorite classic genre?

I love children’s and coming-of-age classics the most. However, I am interested in reading more science fiction and mystery classics in the coming months.

3. Which character in a classic work can you relate to the most?

I can relate the most to Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. I have an extremely active imagination and love to talk. Anne also loves reading classics.

4. What month-long classics book challenges (other the 50 Classics Book Challenge) would you be interested in doing this year?

I am going to be doing a picture book classics challenge in March. Stay tuned…

5. Who is your favorite classic author?

Roald Dahl. I love his children’s books as well as his adult short stories.