Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë
Published 1847

As I neared the end of the final chapter of Wuthering Heights, I knew instantly that there would be nothing good I felt compelled to say about it.  I raced to the finish line because it could not be over fast enough.  

What was Emily Brontë thinking? 

This torn copy has been part of my bookshelf for ten years, and due to the overwhelming negativity concerning the story, I avoided it for that long.  I did read a few chapters six years ago, but never went beyond that.  This time, however, I was truly excited to finally find out what the hype was about, and now I know.  I know for sure that I will never read this book again.  

Immediately it began in an interesting direction, and I was delighted already.  But just as suddenly, it took a dark, wicked downward turn and spiraled from there.  It became more and more ugly, and dark and dirty (not in a sexual way -- although the cousin thing is a little weird).  

Every character is horrid, HORRID, horrid.  Even the most normal character, Nelly, is ridiculous and unbelievable.  How could she have loved any of those people and used that as an excuse to stay? Heathcliff is absolutely detestable; he is the vilest of men.  His behavior is so outrageous that he is more like an evil force than a human being.  Some of the younger characters appeared immature for their age, which bothered me, too.  And Joseph was so incoherent that I had to skip over his arrogant rambles.  

The ugliness of the characters spoiled my reading experience so much that I could not appreciate the gothic elements of the setting or the writing style.  It is apparent that Emily Brontë can write well, but what she wrote about is perplexing.  The story sucked the life out of me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Azar Nafisi
Published 2003

I LOVE THIS STORY!!!  Where do I begin?  

This true story is a unique and intimate memoir by a woman, Azar Nafisi, who lived in Iran during the Islamic Revolution (1978-81), the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), and thereafter.  It is her own personal journey of life in Iran as a university professor of literature (between 1979-87), and later as a friend to seven young female students who met weekly to read and discuss Western literature in the privacy of her home (1995-97), and finally to her difficult decision to leave Iran and emigrate to the United States (1997).  

Nafisi (center) and "her girls" in Iran

Reading Lolita in Tehran is broken up into four sections that represent different ideas, themes, and periods of the author's life.  It is not in chronological order. 


Nafisi begins a private book club with "her girls," seven young serious women whom she deliberately chose to discuss great works of literature at her home.  The setting is sometimes somber as the women use literature to make sense of life in the Islamic Republic.  Nafisi told her students that "these great works of imagination could help [them] in [their] present trapped situation as women."  At the end of this section, Nafisi uses Invitation to a Beheading by Nabokov to express their existence with the Islamic Republic:
The only way to leave the circle, to stop dancing with the jailer, is to find a way to preserve one's individuality, the unique quality which evades descriptions but differentiates one human being from the other.  [The State] invaded all private spaces and tried to shape every gesture, to force us to become one of them, and that in itself was another form of execution.


Backtrack to the Revolutionary period.  Teaching literature at the University of Tehran, Nafisi explained to her students that "great works of the imagination were meant to make you feel like a stranger in your own home.  The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questioned traditions and expectations when they seemed to be immutable." 

During this time, she rejected Islam as a political entity.  She said the veil "had now become an instrument of power, turning the women who wore them into political signs and symbols."  She said, "The Islamic Revolution . . . did more damage to Islam by using it as an instrument of oppression than any alien ever could have done."
It is only through literature that one can put oneself in someone else's shoes and understand the other's different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless.  Outside the sphere of literature only one aspect of individuals is revealed.  But if you understand their different dimensions you cannot easily murder them . . .
The students of Nafisi's university class put the novel, The Great Gatsby, on trial.  Some students claimed they had to read Gatsby to understand that adultery was immoral, but Nafisi contradicted: 
A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.
She also discovered that Iran's fate was that of Gatsby's.  "[Gatsby] wanted to fulfill his dream by repeating the past and . . . he discovered the past was dead, the present a sham, and there was no future.  Was this not similar to our revolution, which had come in the name of our collective past and had wrecked our lives in the name of a dream?"

Nafisi called The Great Gatsby the quintessential American novel.  "We in ancient countries have our past - we obsess over the past.  They, the Americans, have a dream: they feel nostalgia about the promise of the future."  The ability to dream had been extinguished from the Iranian people.

During the Revolution, women became the punching bag or pawn of the new Iranian theocratic leadership, even though men felt the iron fist of government, too. No longer were women able to choose to wear the veil or not (as some did choose to wear it for religious symbolism), but now they must also wear a black robe to cover themselves entirely.  It was like a cloak of invisibility; all individual creativity was stolen from the people, though women mainly felt the brunt of that MAN-MADE statute.

Iran was being purged of everything Westernized - because the West invented immorality [insert SarcMark] - so you can imagine how challenging it was for Nafisi to continue teaching Western literature to her students.  She saw no other way to think about and teach fiction than through Western literature, and she never compromised her ideas.  Eventually, Iran began closing the universities.


Iran was now involved in a war with Iraq, which lasted eight years; their enemies: fellow Muslims.  

This is when Nafisi is expelled for refusing to obey the mandatory veil law.  To Nafisi, the Ayatollah "decided to impose his dream on a country and a people to re-create [women] in his own myopic vision.  So he had formulated an ideal of me as a Muslim woman, as a Muslim woman teacher, and wanted me to look, act, and in short, live according to that ideal."  It was not the veil that she rejected, "it was the transformation being imposed upon [her] that made [her] look in the mirror and hate the stranger [she] had become."  

The Ayatollah was more concerned with perception than truth.  (This reminds me of Matthew 23, when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who only cared about what their morality looked like in public, but inside they were hypocrites.  They only cared about the "outside of the cup.")  

During her time away from teaching, she wrote and focused on her family; but there seemed a great disappointment and void in her life.  When universities were permitted to reopen their doors and search for professors, she returned to teach literature at a different university, which was quite a fascinating experience; but she later resigned and eventually started her private book club.


Finally, return to the period during "Lolita."  This  last section is all for the women of Iran.  Nafisi compiled the themes of discussions "her girls" had had about marriage, being in love, and desiring freedom.  Unfortunately, after the Revolution, Sharia law had replaced existing law.  A man was permitted to have up to four wives and temporary wives on the side (because . . . convenience).  He could beat his wife, and it would be her fault.  Mothers had no rights to their children.  This is what Nafisi's "girls" had to consider.  No wonder they all wanted to leave Iran.  But through the works of Jane Austen, they could pretend. That is what life in Iran had been reduced to.

It is during this regretful time that Nafisi decided to leave "her girls," her home, Iran, and go to America.  

Azar Nafisi

This is only a small portion of the story.  Nafisi's journey is profound and individualized.  When I read some negative reviews on Goodreads, I realized that some readers will never connect or understand how deeply personal this story is.  I am grateful I was able to appreciate it; I know what it means to use literature to define seasons of your life, be they full of joy or disappointment.  I will read this book over and over again.  


This story caused me to think about the recent political protests in America.  Feminist/Leftists and political Muslims are marching in union and using one another to push their contradictory agendas; though one day this union will come crashing down because both actually oppose each other.  In the meantime, non-Muslim women treat religious headscarves like trendy beanies, chant "Allahu Akbar" for political slogans, or bow down during the Muslim call to prayer (like Eloi in the Time Machine being summoned underground).  If nothing else, this should offend Muslims, but for now it is deliberately expedient. 

Nonetheless, uninformed American women should read Reading Lolita in Tehran

They need someone who lived under political Islam to expose them to what it feels like when individuality, livelihood, sanity, hope, future, imagination, creativity, liberty, spirit, and life are snuffed out (by men, no less).  Not suggesting that Nafisi was preaching against Islam - she was not (Her focus was on books; she LOVES literature.) - I am the one saying that there is enough evidence to prove political Islam is disguised as a religion and does not have a favorable history toward women.  Some Americans are dangerously oblivious to this, and they need to have their eyes opened. Stories like Azar Nafisi's may help.


For a fascinating interview with the author about her book :

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Histories by Herodotus

The Histories
Herodotus (translator: David Grene)
Written 440 BC
The Well-Educated Mind (Histories); 
Back to the Classics Challenge (Published before 1800)
The Classics Club II
The Manly Reading List

I have no interest in writing this post.  I did not chew on The Histories, nor did I digest it; rather I deficiently tasted it, I admit.  It was a long, laborious read, with occasional moments of fascination about ancient culture, which I preferred.  The bulk of it was about the Greco-Persian conflicts.

I am more anxious to get this over with; therefore, here are some of the questions provided by Susan Wise Bauer from TWEM that I attempted very poorly to consider.

Level I:

* Who is the author, and does he/she state the purpose for writing?  

Herodotus is a writer of Greek history who lived during the 5th century BC, and his given purpose for writing The Histories was to preserve the history of the Greeks and non-Greek populations, including the discoveries, achievements, and accomplishments of man, as well as the causes of the Greek and Persian conflicts.

* Who is the story about, and what are the major events?

The Histories covers Ancient and Greek history through the Greco-Persian Wars, using a mode of investigation, subjective oral histories and folk tales, and other hearsay.  Herodotus incorporates the cultural ways of the people and nations in and around the Mediterranean and Asia Minor and the numerous ongoing conflicts and wars between the Persians and the Greeks. 

Skipping Level II questions because I just want to get this over with.

Level III:

* What does it mean to be human?

This question focuses on what the author considers is a specific characteristic of human beings.  In this case it is having success, control, and power over others.  The most powerful conquer, and those who conquer are the most important.  In addition, to be a warrior and to die in battle is honorable.

* Why do things go wrong?

Things go wrong when man becomes arrogant and greedy for power; power is fleeting.

* What place does free will have?

What free will?  As is all too common in history - and no different for the civilizations featured in The Histories - people were dominated by a government (or kingdom) that controlled them.  People did not have a say in what their kings or leaders did.  Human sacrifice was also part of ancient cultural traditions. (Some traditions are really ignorant.)   

* What is the end of history?

Is there any hope for humanity after reading The Histories?  Yes and no.  All of these civilizations are gone.  Like power, governments and civilizations do not last long.  Most change hands and morph into something else, either equally bad or little better.  In this case, Herodotus ends off with this:
"From soft countries come soft men.  It is not possible that from the same land stems a growth of wondrous fruit and men who are good soldiers."  So the Persians took this to heart and went away; their judgement had been overcome by that of Cyrus, and they chose to rule, living in a wretched land, rather than to sow the level plains and be slaves to others.  
So, in other words - I think - the Persian leader(s) did not learn their lesson, nor did they care about anything but power.  And man still has not learned.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books On My Spring TBR

Ten (well, eight) Books On My Spring TBR

I'm reading some chunksters right now (or quite soon), so I didn't make it to ten; it would be a miracle to get through all of these during spring.  

The Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky
Still reading this.  Hope to be done by end of spring.

The Book of Pirates - Pyle
Reading this very slowly with my nine-year old.

Wuthering Heights - Bronte
Can not wait to get to this to see what all the kerfuffle is about.

Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis
Looking forward to this, finally.

The Old Man and the Sea - Hemingway
Rereading this again - this time to my kids.  
Excited to see what they think.

The Peloponnesian War - Thucydides
NOT looking forward to this.

The Kite Runner - Hosseini

The Republic - Plato
Don't know what to say about this,
except I probably won't get to it until summer.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Emma by Jane Austen

Jane Austen
Published 1815

This is not a review of Emma as much as it is about what I thought of my first reading of Emma.  This one I enjoyed easily because it was light-hearted and humorous, and of course had a glorious, happy ending.  

Emma, the character, reminded me of one of those perfectly popular girls in high school who has a lot of friends - one could not avoid being friends with her because she asserted herself into your life, and always for a good cause.  She is the rescuer-type because she always knows what is best for everyone else; hence Emma invests a lot of personal time on others in the story, though curiously not on herself.  

Since Emma thinks she is already perfected in many aspects of her life: social status, wits, intelligence, beauty, family, home, she does not want or need much else in her life; therefore, she dedicates her remaining free time to helping everyone else, such as her little protégé, Harriet, the plain, awkward nobody whom Emma takes under her wing. 

Emma is known for her character makeovers and matrimonial matchmaking - she thinks - and she also thinks that she is superior at it.  She is going to change Harriet and marry her off to someone she thinks is good for Harriet (and vise versa).  But Emma's meddling turns into one humorous, embarrassing fiasco after another.  Lucky for her, after each debacle, she has a moment of recovery in which she is able to save face.  Unfortunately, at some point, her assertiveness catches up with her, and her foolishness goes a little too far.  Even for the reader, one could not help feeling uncomfortable for Emma.


The good news, though, is that Emma is extremely likable.  She is veritable, attentive, and introspective.  It is easy to forgive her, especially because she knows when she deserves rebuke for her behavior, and she is genuinely remorseful. 

In addition, Emma has a conscience, and his name is Mr. Knightly.  (I couldn't help but think of him in a knightly way.  At first I thought he was a jerk, but even I had to admit he was right, all of the time.  He is also the perfect gentleman.)  Mr. Knightly is one of those people who never second guesses an opportunity to tell you where, when, or how you stepped in it; and he does that a lot with Emma because . . . she is . . . often stepping in it. He could have been called Mr. Rightly, and that would have fit, as well.  Mr. Knightly and Emma have been true friends forever, for no matter how often he rebukes Emma or she disagrees with him, they always reconcile.  Always.

So Emma spends the whole story trying to change everyone and every situation, but in the end everyone and every situation takes care of its own.  The wonderful ending to this story is really Emma's change.  It is as if she realizes for the first time she has her very own life to live; it is about time she stopped looking for other lives to manage and starts tending to her own personal and private affairs.  

Emma is perfectly flawed, but we like Emma because she means well and she knows when she is wrong.  She is not permanently arrogant; she is fixable.  And we know that she is going to make a decently fine individual as she takes all of her exceptional qualities and applies them to her own business, exactly where she should.

P.S. I am super excited to have won a film version of Emma from Heidi @ Along the Brandywine during "I Love Austen Week."  Now if I can just find five minutes to watch it.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"I Love Austen Week" Tag

It is "I Love Austen Week" @ Hamlette's Soliloquy, and this is my first time participating.  I am an Austen newbie because I have not had enough investment in Austen novels or her life; however, I will add that Northanger Abbey is the only Austen I have yet to read, and I am thoroughly enjoying Emma right this very moment. 

So here is Hamlette's book tag for Austen Week:

1.  Which did you experience first, a Jane Austen book or a movie based on one?  
Book: Pride and Prejudice

2.  What is your favorite Austen book?  

Persuasion, with Pride and Prejudice an extremely close second.  I'm really loving Emma right now; then I would place Sense and Sensibility next, with Mansfield Park last.  I still need to read Northanger Abbey.

3.  Favorite heroine?  Why do you like her best?  
Elizabeth Bennet.  She absolutely, totally rocks.  I relate to her very much, or else I made it up in my head, and I want to be her in my next life.

4.  Favorite hero?  
Why do you like him best?  
Captain Frederick Wentworth: Jane Austen created the ideal utopian husband: hard working, self-made, determined, and kind of modern.  And did I mention, (with the help of Jane) he can write a love letter that "pierces" one's heart like Cupid's arrow?    

5.  Do you have a favorite film adaptation of Austen's work?  

"Pride and Prejudice" (2005)  I have not seen many adaptations of Austen films, so I am not a very good judge in this department.

6.  Have your Austen tastes changed over the years?  

Here's my story: I absolutely loved reading Pride and Prejudice and went into Persuasion thinking I knew what I was doing; but I hated it.  A year later, I was encouraged to reread Persuasion - which I did, with the most amazing results: I loved it more than Pride and Prejudice.  I don't know what happened, but the maturity of Persuasion really appealed to me.  After that, it was hit or miss: I admired Sense and Sensibility, but I did not care for Mansfield Park.  And now I am loving Emma.  I think I just need to read and reread Austen's books over and over again.

7.  Do you have any cool Austen-themed things?  

No (sad face).

8.  If you could ask Jane Austen one question, what would you ask her?  

Share your reading/book list. : )  (More like a command.)

9.  Imagine someone is making a new film of any Jane Austen story you choose, and you get to cast the leads.  What story do you want filmed, and who would you choose to act in it?  

Again, I'm not a movie person, and I don't even know actors or actresses well enough to place them in character.  

10.  Share up to five favorite Jane Austen quotations:

Pride and Prejudice: 

 It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us.  
Women fancy admiration means more than it does. 


No, it was not regret which made Anne's heart beat in spite of herself, 
and brought the colour into her cheeks when she thought of 
Captain Wentworth unshackled and free.  
She had some feelings which she was ashamed to investigate.  
They were too much like joy, senseless joy. 

Sense and Sensibility:

If I could but know his heart, every thing would become easy. 

Mansfield Park:

Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like. 


It was foolish, it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. It was adventuring too far, assuming too much, making light of what ought to be serious, a trick of what ought to be simple.  She was quite concerned and ashamed, and resolved to do such things no more. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Love Stories From Books

Ten Favorite Love Stories

Not necessarily a love story between two people, 
but maybe a love story between a character and the landscape, 
the author and his country, or even a love letter.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Genuine Love
Bathsheba and Farmer Oak

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Tragic Love
Yuri and Lara

These Happy Golden Years
Youthful Love
Manny and Laura

West From Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mature Love
Manny and Laura

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Love for Russia and her people
Party by Repin, 1881

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Masculine Love
Rhett and Scarlet

Persuasion by Jane Austen
The ultimate Love letter

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Misunderstood Love
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Consuming Love
Newland and Ellen

Germinal by Émile Zola
Protective Love
Étienne and Catherine

O Pioneers by Willa Cather
Love for the land

Arthurian Romances by Chrétien de Troyes
Medieval knightly Love (makes me blush)
Lancelot and Guinevere

Happy Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith
Published 1943

I was born in Brooklyn and thought this book would appeal to me simply because of the setting; but the protagonist, Francie, is from a different neighborhood of Brooklyn that I am not familiar, and the story takes place in the early 1900s, whereas I grew up in the 70s.  Life was very different for Francie.  

My house in Gerritsen Beach

Nonetheless, this was an excuse for me to dig up old photographs.  Brooklyn was special to me for many years after I moved away but, as I have been living in California since 1982, the emotional connection to my birthplace has faded away.   I no longer feel the nostalgia of the place I grew up.

When we did live in Gerritsen Beach, my father took my brother and me all over Brooklyn, especially to Coney Island and Prospect Park, where he grew up.  He would often take us fishing in Sheepshead Bay or to one of the largest Brooklyn Public Libraries or the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  He showed us the statues and monuments all over the borough, and told us their stories.  I learned that there is much history and culture in Brooklyn; and while reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it transported me back seventy years before I was born, to the place I would later live, and I can imagine all the history that was there before me.

My dad in Sheepshead Bay

Since this story takes place in the early 20th century, it was the beginning of technological advancements - an exciting time for the United States; everything seemed possible.  America was in the middle of an immigration boom from Europe.  Many people settled in New York, and therefore, the reader may experience the different European heritages of Francie's neighborhood.  But there was also a time of uncertainty on the eve of World War I.
Famous landmarks at Coney Island

 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a coming of age story that chronicled Francie's youth, from birth to sixteen.  Readers observe her disappointments, her joys, and everything in between.   She was faced with adversity, poverty, rejection, disappointment, unfairness, and inequality; there were so many things wrong with her world, but it was the reality of her world.  Nonetheless, she persevered because Francie was a tough girl.

The Wonder Wheel

What actually appealed to me was Francie's resilience and tenacity, which she inherited from her mother, her aunts, and her grandmother.  In addition to the aforementioned obstacles, some of the men in their world were not reliable.  I said some.  Hence, the women had to be resourceful in order to survive and take care of themselves and their families.

Francie learned early on that education (in part) was key to rise above hardships and obstacles.  With each generation, the women in Francie's family bettered themselves: Francie's grandmother could not read; but Francie's mother could, (though she never went to school); and Francie not only could read, but she would soon attend college.  Besides the benefits of education, Francie discovered the value of family.  When everything else seemed dire, being surrounded by family was encouraging.

My dad and me in front of the Cyclone

There was more to the story than Francie.  The author wrote about Francie's grandparents, aunts and uncles, and mother and father.  She described how Francie's parents grew up, met, and married.  I personally think Francie's mother made the error of pursuing Francie's father, chasing him away from his then-girlfriend.  But that is a discussion for another day.  None of the characters were perfect, and the author showcased the flaws in their personalities and relationships with one another.

Going over the Brooklyn Bridge, into Manhattan

Finally, I will add that there is a happy ending.  A very happy ending.  While the story ended just as life was improving for Francie and her family, the reader is assured that hard work has paid off.  So you may stop worrying about Francie.  She will take care of herself just fine.

View of the borough of Brooklyn from top of World Trade Center


You may have wondered what the tree in the title means.  There was a tree that grew in Brooklyn that was indestructible and could survive anywhere and under challenging circumstances.  Even if it was cut down or covered with cement, another sapling would find its way to sunlight.  That was Francie.  Nothing could discourage her or snuff out her dreams.  She would make it somehow.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Love Less Than Most Readers

Ten Books That Get No Love (or Less Love) From Me

Once again, I'm out of the loop.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Complete Essays by Michel de Montaigne

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

"A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

I tried, but I can't.