Friday, January 3, 2014

5/116 - The Death of Ivan Ilych and Master and Man by Leo Tolstoy

After coming off the Anna Karenina high, I decided to tackle these two short stories, and I went in with a sort of, "Huh! A mere hundred pages to a reading master like myself? Nothing."

And they were easy reads, I will say. There were no moments of bewilderment or boredom, so my high opinion of my reading comprehension ability has yet to diminish by one iota. Which is probably not a good thing, but oh well. 

These stories were great.  I liked The Death of Ivan Ilych more than Master and Man, but obviously they were both excellent.  I felt like the psychological side of things was more developed in Ivan Ilych. 

I have to admit, I didn't like the translations of these stories as much as the translation of Anna Karenina. Not knowing one word of Russian, I obviously can't claim anything from an academic point of view, or make any statements based on anything but my gut. And my gut did not like how words such as, "honey," "kid," and, "mummy" showed up in these stories, and also pointed out to me that the same words in Russian probably showed up in the Russian version of Anna Karenina too and were not translated that way.  Again, it's just what my gut says. 
Also, call me a picky jerk, but I didn't like how 90% of the translator's bio was about how she's related to famous people. She's obviously clever enough to have learned and be a fellow at Oxford, so she doesn't need to rely on that to make her bio sound prestigious. Also, being related to the person who did the first illustrations of Tolstoy's stories will, sadly, not make you a better translator of those stories.  A word at the end that basically stated, "So-and-so's lifelong love of Tolstoy was instilled in her at an early age because her great grandfather did the original illustrations of his stories"would have been more appropriate. 

So. That's what I think, har de har har. 

CONCLUSION: I may be wrong about this, but it seemed to me that both stories were linked by the idea that, even if you've had a largely meaningless life and no one cares that you're dying, literally in your final moments you can be redeemed and at peace.  Which is nice. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

4/116 - The Voyage of the Frog by Gary Paulsen

I was a huge fan of Gary Paulsen's novels when I was in middle school, especially the hatchet books. For some reason the suburban, squeamish, nearly vegetarian middle-school-Kelsey was all into stories about kids having to, like, skin rabbits and build shelters out of sticks.  Don't ask why, I don't get it either.

This book was fun.  Not something I'm dying to read again, though I wouldn't be averse to doing so.  I always feel like a much more resourceful person after reading one of his books.  Even though there was a sort of diagram in the front with all the various parts of the boat noted down, I still got rather lost now and then with him clipping and untying and hauling things.  It didn't affect my understanding of the plot itself, mercifully.  I can imagine a kid who is into sailing would adore it.

CONCLUSION: Very pleasant. Sailing is much more dangerous than I'd imagined.

Let's do this thing.

Looks like I'll be reading 113 books this year.  Welcome to 2014, Kelsey.

My real question right now is whether I should organize or plan out my reading, or just let it be kind of a grab what you want when you want thing, based on feelings.  I'd feel awfully learned if I grouped things by date of publication, or general eras or general countries. But I worry that if I did that I would get all mired down by having to read a long stream ancient plays or absurdly fat books of Russian short stories.

Right now, having come off the exhilaration of Anna Karenina, I'm quite game to read my skinny little volume of The Death of Ivan Ilych and Master and Man or whatever it is and continue immersing myself in the brilliance of Tolstoy.  Or, still glowing with the pride of having plowed through 800 pages, I could toss myself onto the much larger task of reading not only Shakespeare's complete works (which, unfortunately, only counts as one book because it's all one giant, nasty volume) but also, at the same time, Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human or whatever the monstrosity is called. However, a nice Gary Paulsen teen/kids book doesn't sound so bad either.

We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

3/116 - Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I can't believe I'm done.  This was one of those books that I was afraid would de-rail the whole project because it would be too boring or difficult and I'd get discouraged and seek shelter with Agatha Christie.  But I was, mercifully, wrong.  I tore through this book. I thought about it all the time, talked about it to relatives and friends who have never read and never intend to read it. During a period of very focused reading (like, several hours a day), I felt like all the characters were walking around with me, invisibly, a few get behind.

I think I get why people consider Tolstoy a genius. I'm not really into literary analysis, so I didn't see a lot of, like, symbolism and stuff like that. Granted, I didn't look for it.  But it didn't seem like the sort of book where symbolism and all that are vitally important to your understanding.  I read for pleasure and sometimes personal development, but I can't make myself read things that are boring, poorly written, or so obtuse that you have to have an English degree just to comprehend it.  Anna Karenina felt like an extremely complex Jane Austen novel, a really magnificent piece of psychological invention.  And, like a Jane Austen novel, it wasn't hard to understand or follow at all. The names were just longer. The only place I got even a bit muddled was during a politics session - but I have a suspicion that Tolstoy meant it to feel confusing because Levin couldn't make head or tail of it either.

It, more than almost any other book I have ever read, felt true.  The characters felt real, were just as confusing and interesting as real people.  Seeing into their minds was thrilling and odd.  Watching how things raveled and unraveled, watching people spiral into self-destruction or scrape their way into the light was fascinating.  And I've honestly never felt that way before.

I'm now EXTREMELY curious to see the recent movie adaptation Joe Wright made.  Besides the main casting - Anna, Karenin, Vronsky and Oblonsky - I have no idea who plays what. I know Olivia Williams is in there (I'm a big fan of hers) and I'm curious to see who she plays.  After reading it, I'm more and more convinced that Keira Knightley might have been extremely well cast.  We'll find out about that, I suppose.
I can completely see why Joe Wright chose to go the very stylized route with this.  I think it'd be too enormously overwhelming to do anything else, and you'd miss the opportunity to play with a lot of elements in a more overt way.

I miss carrying this book around my house.  Not because it was fun to show off my obviously fabulous taste in literature - I just miss holding it.  It was one of those books that just feels good to hold.  Solid, you know?

CONCLUSION: Well, yeah.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

books I have read at least three times (and probably more than that):

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (I've probably read this 15 times at least)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
  • Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  • All of the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis
  • Every Agatha Christie novel I own except The Big Four, Passenger to Frankfurt and the one set in ancient Egypt
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl
  • Dog Friday by Hilary McKay
  • State of Fear by Michael Crichton
  • Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare 
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg 
What does this list - which I intend to add to as I remember things - say about my taste?  I really don't know. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Taking Care of Terrific by Lois Lowry

Unexpectedly good.  the cover was hideous and didn't give you any sense of how biting - and reference-y it would be. I sincerely enjoyed it. A lot of good points made about perception and how we treat people based on it.  And the story made me tense! I really skimmed through one section because I was so nervous about what happened to the characters.

CONCLUSION: I'm designing a new cover for it in my head. I'll be keeping this one around.

The Monument by Gary Paulsen

Again, unexpectedly good.  Something about the look of these books made me thing they would be a lot less good than they were, even though I do like Lois Lowry and Gary Paulsen books in general.
This one definitely made me think guiltily of my drawing table and under-used sketchbook.

CONCLUSION: Quick and thoughtful.  Perfect for reading all in one sitting on a slightly wet day in front of a fire that you prod occasionally.  Which is what I did.

Monday, December 2, 2013

recent reads that I stole from my mom's book club stack because I had no time to go the library. (2.5)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor 
I was really jealous of the main girl's art capabilities and endless wealth because I was having a HORRIBLE time with my art stuff and felt particularly broke at the time.
I'm glad it didn't have a love triangle, because I'm tired of those.

CONCLUSION: I told mom she probably shouldn't bother with this one.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Another one I told mom she might not like, because she's not hugely into fantasy.  I'm really wondering who published first, because The Hunger Games came out on '08 and so did this.  And the main lady's name in this is KATSA. Which is suspiciously close to KANISS, is it not?  Especially when there is archery involved.
There were a lot of interesting elements in this book.  It's not something that's going to blow your mind, but it's interesting.

CONCLUSION: I was probably distracted by the Katsa/Katniss question.

ALSO! I re-read A Wrinkle in Time the other day, which was WAY better than either of these.  So.