Two Weeks that Refuse to End

Hi, vaguely-concerned readers! You may have noticed that I’ve been more than a little absent for the past while. You might think that this means I haven’t been reading, or that I’ve given up, or that I just don’t actually care enough to sign on and tell you about the books I’m immersed in. None of the above is true. Here’s the awful truth, shameful as it is:

I haven’t finished a book in two weeks.

There. Notice what it doesn’t say: I’ve stopped reading, I’ve given up literature, I decided to take a break from paper. No. I have been reading books, I have, I just haven’t been able to finish any of my most recent reads. I’ll use this post to tell you about them, and why I just couldn’t prevail.

To anyone who knows me, or can infer anything about me from the books I’ve chosen to read thus far, you can see that “the greatest war novel of all time” might not be exactly up my ally. And it wasn’t. I was asked to read this (not assigned, just invited to with heavy encouragement) by the teacher who’s helping me through World History independent, as this would add an interesting aside to the WWI unit.

It was intriguing; the point of the novel is to demonstrate the horrors of WWI, written by someone who had been personally scarred. It was about a group of eager young men just waiting to lose legs and lives. I don’t even remember what side they were fighting on, but it’s not completely relevant- the idea is that both sides were crazy.

EDIT: After a discussion with my Dad, who faithfully reads all my reviews, I’ve been convinced to amend this point. Back when this book was originally written, it was extremely relevant that he was a Frenchman, writing about the horrors of war from the side of the Germans. This was scandalous and unpatriotic, but it makes his point that much more poignant; they are just kids, too. This war was kids shooting at kids- boys straight out of high school. Back when this war was actually being fought, my Dad says, the idea was that it was okay to shoot at the Germans because their pain somehow didn’t matter as much. They saw each other as less than human, and that is the hurdle that Remarque is clearing.

By the time I was one hundred pages in (the point at which I allow myself to drop a novel if it doesn’t sit with me) I felt that the author’s point had been made. I believed that war was terrible. In one hundred pages of life in the trenches, we learned that being in the army erases all senses of dignity, privacy, and right/wrong. You also get used to people going completely insane in your trench and trying to run into no-man’s land, digging shallow graves that are uncovered again the next time it rains, guns tampered with to backfire. I’m not even scratching the surface. It was horrific. Point made. Oh, gas attacks. Those were probably the worst. The descriptions of those terrible effects actually made me cringe.

Of course, I respect his purpose for writing the two hundred pages I didn’t read; he was documenting. He wanted to get EVERYTHING in there. That’s as good a reason to write a war novel as any, but I didn’t need to read it. I didn’t want to. However, since I’d spoken to a friend who really liked the book and said the ending was the best, I skipped forward to the final two chapters and read those. They were good- the ending was haunting and everything was wrapped up well, I guess. There’s nothing about the book that was bad, it was just completely not my thing.

On top of that, this was actually an incredibly difficult week for me. I was not enjoying myself. It was a long week, there was lots of homework, the days were endless- it was really a time when I could have used some good escapist literature.

My first impression of this book was a good one. It had a terrific opening line, in my opinion: “Dr. Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse.” The first scene in the book was of the aforementioned Doctor extracting a pea from the ear of a patient who has been half-death his whole life, and this scene made me squirm. But aside from being completely nauseating, it was incredibly well-written, and this is the best thing I have to say about this book: it had some of the best prose I’ve read in a long time. It was like butter and honey and something bitter. He didn’t say things simply, but he didn’t say everything extravagantly, either (except in dialogue, where it was called for for added humor).

Corelli’s Mandolin is really a novel about two things: love, and war. It is heavily political and I skipped chunks of it to focus on the more likable characters. The story is set on the island of Cephallonia in Greece, right at the beginning of World War II. The main storyline is of Pelagia, a young woman, the daughter of the good doctor, who wishes to marry a young man named Mandras, who proposes but doesn’t want to marry her right away because he intends to enlist.

So, Mandras goes away, and almost halfway through the book, Corelli shows up. When the Italians occupy Cephallonia, Captain Antonio Corelli and his mandolin, Antonia, both show up with it, and Corelli takes up residence in Pelagia’s home. He doesn’t speak Greek, but her Italian is nearly flawless, so there’s no language barrier to make him seem any less charming and charismatic than he is. It’s crazy, but I fell in love with him, too.

There’s another character named Carlo, an Italian soldier, who is homosexual and was in love with one of his fellow soldiers, and this character breaks my heart. I can’t say very much without spoiling, but just. Oh, Carlo.

So why didn’t I finish this book? There isn’t an easy answer to that. You know that feeling that you have when you pick up a book, and it’s very, very good in every way, but as soon as you put it down, you lose your desire to read it? That’s what this book was. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, so what I needed to do was read it all in one sitting, but I didn’t want to do that. It was very frustrating. Also, it was going slowly and I didn’t feel like I was making progress. So I dropped it, very annoyed. I might give this one another shot in the future.

Also, this was during the week of vacation and I was completely giddy all the time. I love not having school, and I had just gotten into a new fandom (yes, I’m one of those people who loves her fandoms) and it demanded all of my attention, so I didn’t want to pay attention to such a high-maintenance book.

That’s it. That’s been my two weeks. Now I’m reading something else which isn’t fantastic, but oh god HOPEFULLY I should be able to finish it. So you might here from me again later this week. Until then.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

I am very drowsy right now. And that’s all I really need to say. There are no very interesting things happening in my life, especially not since three days ago when I wrote for Peter Pan.

So, as I can’t actually remember if I’ve mentioned (and if I have a reminder won’t hurt), I’m reading these books because I know the stories, but I’ve never read them in their original, and it’s interesting the various surprises I’m coming across. It’s like you know the story… but not really. I’ve seen movies and adaptations of Alice (it actually seems quite popular at the moment- I see new Alice-esque novels every time I go to B&N) and they all look interesting because Wonderland is fascinating.

I got this book from the library (from which I get most of my books, especially first-time reads), and they actually had five different copies of both books. I chose two very old, classical covers that looked like a pair. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I realized about halfway through that it would be completely impossible to find the right covers when I needed to write this review. I still checked Google, just in case, and a part of me really wanted to just choose the most stylistic cover, but I figured, no, I chose these ones because I liked how old and musty they looked and I should share that with you. So I photographed them myself.

So here’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

And here’s Through the Looking-Glass:

There, do you see what I mean? They’re perfectly lovely. I was especially thrilled when I looked at the inside cover and saw the name “Phillip A. Bennet” in wobbly penmanship and blue ink. By my estimation, the boy who donated it couldn’t have been more than nine or ten. Then I looked for the year the library had received it- 1978, but the edition came out in 1946. The pages were a pleasantly weathered yellow, there were places where the pages had separated from the cloth of the binding, and the book itself smelled divine. I actually read somewhere online, why it is that old books smell so good. The glue that’s used in book-binding is created from a plant which is closely related to vanilla, and when the glue breaks down it releases the scent. Someone correct me if that’s inaccurate.

Anyway, here’s the thing about Alice: it takes place in a dreamscape. So everything is completely topsy-turvy. It brings new meaning to word ‘nonsense.’ So there’s no real point telling you the plot, because there just isn’t one. It’s a sequence of events, but they’re not in any way connected. But that’s okay, for what it is- Lewis Carroll originally orated this story to a pair of young girls, and nonsense is entertaining to children. The sillier the better. So I won’t criticize it for being pointless- the real problem is that I’m not part of the target audience, so I can’t rightfully enjoy it.

The most fun, for me, came from comparing the Alice’s I know with the story itself. The Disney ‘Alice in Wonderland’ actually uses scenes from both books, and a lot of the more memorable things from the movie actually took place in Looking-Glass Land (there was no mention of Wonderland in Through the Looking-Glass). For example, Tweedledum and Tweedledee were one-scene wonders in the sequel. Humpty-Dumpty made an appearance. Also the singing flowers (though in the book they only made snide comments) and the Walrus and the Carpenter, and the Jabberwocky poem.

Then there were points that get no notice in any adaptations- the entire second book was played as a chess game, with Alice becoming a queen at the end. Through both books (but especially the second) there is a great deal of poems and limericks. Were children really made to memorize such long stanzas back then? What dull lessons. Of course, the first adventure begins because Alice is bored of her lessons.

There’s also much to be said about Carroll’s illustrations. Everyone’s at least a little familiar with the original Alice illustrations, even if they don’t realize it. Carroll certainly has some ability, but I never really thought it could be said that the drawings were pleasant. If anything, they’re a bit garish and even spooky in places. I doubt they were considered so in 1865. Still, I thought they were nice to have, even if they weren’t necessarily pretty. I’m an appreciator of quality illustrations; I really did enjoy the ones in Peter Pan. In fact, I wish I had thought to photograph my favorite one so I could have shown you.

On the subject of Alice adaptations- has anyone seen Phoebe in Wonderland? That’s a movie about a young girl who wins the part of Alice in her school’s production of the play, and she develops a relationship with the characters that helps her deal with the real world as it gets more and more foreign. It’s an excellent movie- a tad on the dark side, I would say, but worth the watch. Most of the daydream sequences were scenes directly from the book, using the exact dialogue, and whenever I came across a passage that I recognized from the movie, my internal voice would switch over. During the final poem in Through the Looking-Glass, I was hearing it sung in my head by the cast of children on stage.

So, I guess that’s it. I’m a little sad to be putting up the children’s books for now, but not entirely. Nonsense gets tedious. I think Alice shared my sentiments, you know- after reading about Wonderland (and Neverland, for that matter) I’ve sort of concluded that I’m happy enough not being there. You need to be very careful of what you say and not to offend, but everyone is s sensitive that you would just as well like not to run into anybody at all. But somebody is always in your path. They sweep you up thoughtlessly and then you have to just go with them. I would find it very frustrating.

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 8:04 pm  Comments (4)  
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