Armchair BEA Day 3: Novellas/Short Stories

author_dahlArmchair BEA Day 3 Question: “Now it is time to give a little love to those little stories in your life. Share your love for your favorite shorts of any form. What is a short story or novella that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves? Recommend to readers what shorts you would recommend they start with. How about listing some short story anthologies based upon genres or authors? “

Short Stories

Roald Dahl is best known for his children’s books. However, before he became a children’s author, he wrote adult short stories for such journals as Playboy and the Saturday Evening Post. After serving as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War II, Roald Dahl worked in the British embassy in the United States where he published his first short story called A Piece of Cake. While in the Mediterranean, he had been shot down by a German plane; a journalist at the embassy asked Dahl to send him a detailed account of the event. Surprisingly, the first draft of the story was accepted and published in the Saturday Evening Post without any revisions.

Roald Dahl is a master of dark humor. Nowhere is this more evident than in his short stories. My 4 favorite stories are listed below.

Lamb to the Slaughter – Arguably the greatest short story Dahl ever wrote. It was adapted for television by Alfred Hitchcock.

Man from the South

Parson’s Pleasure

And for anyone who is fearful for the future of publishing, The Great Automatic Grammatizator is a must-read.

Anthologies

As for anthologies, I recommend getting The Umbrella Man and Other Stories (1996) and Skin and Other Stories (2000).

Armchair BEA 2014 – Introductory Post

ArmchairBEA LogoExample

Design by Amber of Shelf Notes

Until today, I didn’t know what BEA 2014 was. This morning, though, I noticed that many bloggers were writing introductory posts for an event called Armchair BEA. I found the website for the Book Expo America, and I learned more about the conference. After much consideration, I decided to sign up for Armchair BEA (the event for bloggers who can’t attend the expo). It seems like a great opportunity to meet new bloggers, and I’m all for meeting new bloggers. 🙂

For the introductory post, I have to answer 5 of 10 questions posted on the Armchair BEA homepage. My responses are below:

1. Please tell us a little about yourself. Who are you? How long have your been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?

My name is Fariba and this is my blog, Exploring Classics. I started learning French when I was 6 years old, but I realized at the end of last year that upon graduation from university, I would never again take a French course. One of the reasons I started book blogging was to continue reading and analyzing French works. I also enjoyed reading classics in general, but before I started blogging, I didn’t know of any classics books clubs. The Classics Club has introduced me to many bloggers who, like me, enjoy reading classics.

Exploring Classics hails from the United States and explores English and French literary classics. I occasionally read recently published works as well. I try to read all French classics in the original language. If the work is in old French (before 1350), I read a version that has been translated into modern French. I also enjoy reading children’s literature; I am currently reading my way through the Newbery Medal winning books.

4.  What was your favorite book read last year? What’s your favorite book so far this year?

Favorite book this year: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Favorite book read last year: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

6. What is your favorite blogging resource?

My favorite blogging resource is the Classics Club blog. I love participating in the challenges. I also like Goodreads because I can rate books and join book clubs. 🙂

7. Spread the love by naming your favorite blogs/bloggers (doesn’t necessarily have to be book blogs/bloggers).

A few of my favorite bloggers:

Cleo @ Classical Carousel

Ruth @ A Great Book Study

Fleur @ Fleur in Her World

Brittany @ Quoth The Wordsmith

Fanda @ Fanda Classiclit

Jean @ Howling Frog Books

O @ Behold the Stars

8. Share your favorite book or reading related quote.

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men” – Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Review of The Tale of Despereaux

What was it about?

The_Tale_of_DespereauxDespereaux is a tiny mouse, born to Lester and Antoinette Tilling. In his first year of life, his brother Furlough notices that Despereaux does not act like the typical mouse. His interests lie not in finding bread crumbs but in reading books and listening to music. But because the Tilling family lives in the castle of a powerful king, Despereaux’s odd behavior is cause for alarm.

One day, Furlough sees Despereaux dangerously close to the Princess Pea and her father. Despereaux is standing in the middle of the room with one of his large ears dilated and turned toward the princess, the source of the music in the room. Suddenly, Princess Pea notices the mouse, and picks him off the floor. She then proceeds to talks to him. At first, the king mistakes Despereaux for a fly, but the girl eventually convinces him of his mistake. The king does not share the princess’s interest in the mouse. He reminds the princess that it was a mouse that indirectly brought about her mother’s death. So, with “I honor you” still on his lips, Despereaux is forced to return to his hole.

Furlough races back to his father to give him the alarming news. Despereaux has violated the most important rule among mice. He has been in the presence of a human and by doing so, has jeopardized the safety of the other mice in the castle. Lester gathers together the whole mouse community and holds a Mouse Council to decide on his son’s fate. After hearing from the witnesses, the Mouse Council, with Lester’s blessing, motions to send Despereaux to the dungeon where he is expected to be destroyed by the rats.

Despereaux may be the hero of the story, but he is not the only important character in the book. The Tale of Despereaux is a tapestry with characters woven into it like different colored threads. The book is divided into four parts. Each of the first three parts introduces the reader to a different character whose individual story is uniquely connected to the fates of the other characters. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo is ambitious in its plot structure and unconventional in its storytelling, but because the hero is an odd, misunderstood mouse, the style of the story fits its subject matter.

What did I think of it?

While the story was quite interesting, I was shocked by the level of violence and abuse in the book. None of the parents love their children, but commit perfidy (a word the author loves) to get what they want. In Book 3: Gor! The Tale of Miggery Sow, a young girl is sold by her father to an abusive relative for a red tablecloth, cigarettes, and a hen. But one passage from that section really caught my attention:

“[Miggory] was twelve years old. Her mother was dead. Her father had sold her. Her Uncle, who wasn’t her uncle at all, had clouted her until she was almost deaf. And she wanted, more than anything in the world, to be a little princess wearing a golden crown and riding a high-stepping white horse.”

My full reactions to this passage will be elucidated in a future post. Suffice it to say that I felt that there were themes in the story that were not appropriate for children. I am leaving my criticism of certain themes in The Tale of Despereaux for a future post because I realize that they contradict my feelings toward the equally dark children’s stories of Roald Dahl.

I was also quite irritated by the frequent asides to the Reader. The asides really disrupted the telling of the story, and were quite unnecessary. A story should be interesting enough that a child is naturally excited to read on to the end. Instead, the author’s asides resembled the comments of an overzealous parent who is trying to convince his/her child to read the book. These asides were also irritating because there was way too much telling and not enough showing. When characters were untruthful, the author straight up told the reader. I found that offensive because it seemed as if the author underestimated the intelligence of the Reader. Even if that was not her intention, it sure came across that way.

Overall, the story itself was quite captivating. I thought the organization and design of the book were very lovely. However, I do not think that it should have won the Newbery Medal. I have a feeling that the librarians chose this work primarily for its creative storytelling.

Favorite Quote

“The world is dark, and light is precious.”

 This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge

 

Review of Little House in the Big Woods

893I did not read the Little House series as a child. I asked my mother why I hadn’t, and she reminded me that I had refused to read anything but fantasy. For some reason, frontier/rural life didn’t appeal to me. Now, at the age of 22, I have finally started reading the Little House series. Less than six months ago I started reading the Anne of Green Gables series. Basically, I am reading as an adult all the works the typical American girl grows up reading. Maybe I’ll read Little Women soon (we’ll see about that…).

Anyway, I hesitated to read Little House in the Big Woods. I thought it would be overly-sentimental. Boy was I wrong.

Here are a few of the many things I learned from reading the book:

1. A gun is a man’s best friend. Always keep a gun ready and loaded in case an animal attacks the family.

2. A pig’s bladder makes a fantastic volleyball.

3. Pig’s tail is delicious.

4. Who needs an American Girl Doll when you can play with a corncob doll instead?

5. The best time to extract maple sap from a maple tree is in the winter.

Life on the frontier was harsh, but people found time for entertainment. In Little House in the Big Woods, Ma and Pa work very hard all year long, and so do their children. Pa also has no problem spanking his children when they misbehave. However, I liked how Pa explains everything to Laura. He doesn’t just say “Because I told you so.” He is a great teacher and takes every opportunity to teach his daughters about the world around them. Pa may be generally a tough and rugged man, but he does have a soft spot. He is not afraid to admit to his children that he too misbehaved as a child. The gun may be an extension of his arm, but he doesn’t kill every animal he sees. He refrains from shooting at a buck because of its beauty.

Little House in the Big Woods was certainly not a thriller by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes the book came across as didactic. However, Laura Ingalls Wilder had a very unique childhood, and she described beautifully the challenges and blessings people faced on the frontier. If nothing else, the works have great historical value. I hope to read the rest of the books in the series.

 

Review of A Tale of Two Cities

I read A Tale of Two Cities for the read-a-long hosted by Laura@ Reading in Bed.

What was it about?

“Recalled to Life.” That is Jarvis Lorry’s response to his colleague Jerry Cruncher of Tellson’s Bank and Company. Confused, Jerry sets off to deliver the strange message. Shortly afterward,  Mr. Lorry meets a young woman named Lucie Manette at the Royal George Hotel. She has been summoned to Saint Antoine, Paris by two French shopkeepers. Her father Doctor Manette, formerly a French prisoner, has been found alive, sheltered in the Defarge’s wine shop. It is 1775.

Five years later in London, a young Frenchman named Charles Darnay is tried for treason. He has been accused of spying on the English and relaying information back to King Louis XVI. Lucie Manette is in the courtroom, and Sydney Carton makes note of her reactions; she is very much troubled by the plight of the prisoner.  In the course of the trial, Sydney passes a note to the defense attorney and his colleague Mr. Stryver. After much deliberation, the jury determines that there is not enough proof that Charles Darnay has been spying on the English, and he is exonerated of all charges. But revolution is in the air. In less than a decade, aristocratic heads will roll.

A Tale of Two Cities is more than a story about two cities. It is also a story about two families. These families may both be French, but they belong to very different social strata. Aristocrats have been living comfortably for centuries at the expense of the peasants, but mobs are popping up all over France that aim to flip the social hierarchy. Led by women, these mobs go through the streets of France, arresting and beheading any and all aristocrats they find. Under the watch of the revolutionary women, no aristocrat, no matter his/her innocence, can escape from Lady Guillotine.

What did I think of it?

Although this was a re-read for me, I was still surprised by the density of this short novel. The first five chapters were the hardest to read; the characters were not fully fleshed out and the use of too many pronouns made it very hard to understand who was speaking. However, it became easier as I went along.

What a difference three decades can make! Early this year I reviewed The Old Curiosity Shop (1841). It was one of Dickens’ earliest works, and it left much to be desired; the characters were more like caricatures and the plot was virtually non-existent. But A Tale of Two Cities, written 28 years later, had a very well-developed plot, and the characters were a lot more complex and interesting than in The Old Curiosity Shop. The revolutionary women were not portrayed as purely evil. Dickens described their state of mind in such detail that the women were arguably the most interesting characters in the story. The only flat character was Lucie Manette; she was nothing more than a sweet, perfect angel. Her character irritated me because I wanted to understand her true feelings. I wanted her to be powerful and intelligent like Madame Defarge or even Miss Pross (Lucie’s servant). Still, A Tale of Two Cities was a breath of fresh air in comparison to The Old Curiosity Shop. The story was considerably shorter, but no part of the plot was compromised. The start of the novel made a lot of sense after I finished the book. I especially loved how each character mentioned was connected in some important way to the other characters and to the plot. I definitely consider A Tale of Two Cities a classic.

Favorite Quote: “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”

 

End of Bout of Books 10

Bout of BooksThis was my first time participating in the Bout of Books Read-A-Thon. I planned to complete three books: A Tale of Two Cities, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and The War of the Worlds. However, I only managed to finish the first two. I read a lot during this past week, but I sorely underestimated the length and density of Dickens’ work. This was my second reading of A Tale of Two Cities. The first time was in eighth grade (I was that kid), but I missed so much the first time I read it. A review is forthcoming, but I will say here that I really enjoyed the book. I would like to thank Laura @Reading in Bed for hosting the read-a-long of A Tale of Two Cities and Amanda @ On a Book Bender for hosting  Bout of Books 10.