The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy

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“There are two czars in Russia,” pronounced one liberal spokesman, “and the other is Tolstoy.”

That’s what Doris Lessing wrote in her introduction to The Kreutzer Sonata. She also says that the people expected him to “take a stand” on all subjects and so he did, writing about love, marriage, lust and betrayal. This is one strange book, full of contradictions and not at all like what I expected of Tolstoy, or what I heard of Anna Karenina and War and Peace. Lessing said that Tolstoy became a fanatic and this book proves it.

The Kreutzer Sonata is about a man, called Pozdnyshev, who in a fit of jealousy murders his wife. The story starts with the narrator, Pozdnyshev and some other people in a train. Somehow they start discussing divorces and how such things didn’t exist before, when Pozdnyshev tells them he killed his wife for cheating on him and proceeds to tell his tale to the narrator. It’s quite a short story even if you add the sequel to The Kreutzer Sonata which Tolstoy wrote some time later.

To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I mean, in a fictional sense I liked Pozdnyshev tale and his attempt to explain his madness, but until then I was not taking his view on things as Tolstoy’s own or very seriously. Then came the sequel. Why, Tolstoy? Why did you write that sequel? Because, as you said, people did not seem to understand what exactly was your view on marriage, divorce and betrayal? Well, of course they didn’t! Pozdnyshev’s outlook on life was so bleak that we’re not sure what he means half the time.

“…If the aim of mankind is happiness, goodness, love – if you prefer; if the aim of mankind is what is said in the prophecies, that all men are to unite in universal love, that the spears are to be beaten into pruning hooks and the like, then what stands in the way of the attainment of the aim? Human passions do! Of all passions, the most powerful and vicious and obstinate is sexual, carnal love; and so, if passions are annihilated and with them the most powerful – carnal love – then the prophecy will be fulfilled.”

What? There is something terribly wrong with someone who says sex is evil. Also, this is apparently a new development with Tolstoy (thankfully), because according to Lessing none of this was present in his other books. And so my enjoyment of this book was hindered by the fact that by this point in his life Tolstoy did believe in this sex free life = happiness for all world thing and was quite aware of how impossible it was.

Don’t even get me started on the “women hate sex” and “sex is a vice of men” thing, because I’m not completely sure where he got that from (his wife can’t represent all the women in the world, please). I could quote half the book and put a question mark at the end of each, yes, but then there are some that, taken by themselves and out of context, are quite good and more like what I expected from his hype. Like this one:

It cannot be necessary to destroy some people, body and soul, for the health of others, any more than in can be necessary for some people to drink the blood of others in order to be healthy.

Edward Cullen would certainly agree with the end of the sentence, though I’m sure Count Dracula would be seriously disappointed in you Tolstoy. Still, the first part is quite true and can be taken as anti-slavery and anti some sort of greedy capitalism that only takes and never gives back. So by digging and disregarding some things we can get some truly great ideas out of this book. But that’s not enough to make me give it more than one star on Goodreads. Sorry Tolstoy, I hope your other books are better.

Last, but not least, let me leave you with this little gem (except not):

It is bad to use means to prevent the birth of children, both because so doing frees people from the cares and troubles caused by children, which should serve to redeem sexual love, and also because it comes very near to what is most revolting to our conscience – murder.

Tolstoy would be seriously disappointed in today’s society. Also: that description of what a night at Tolstoy’s house was probably like? Creepy as hell, no wonder his wife didn’t like sex.

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Through the Bookshelves or How I spend My Money (4)

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Since I didn’t do a book haul last week this is a bit of a big one, so on with it. From top to bottom:

1) The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
I keep picking this book up, carrying it around the bookstore, then putting it down again in favor of something more expensive. Because I got it considerably cheep compared with the normal price for books here in Brazil. So I’m supper exited to finally have it!

2) The Running Man by Stephen King
I grew up watching this movie, together with Terminator and True Lies and Jurassic Park, so when I saw it on the store I knew it would go home with me. It’s also the first Stephen King book on my shelf… we’ll see how it goes.

3) The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
I liked some other plays of his (and well, he’s Shakespeare), so this seemed like a good idea.

4) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
This is another one of those classic that I’ve been meaning to read, but never get around to it. Now I’ve got no excuse to keep doing it!

5) Holes by Louis Sachar
I’ve just finished this one, so I’m not going to talk about it much. But it’s a hilarious read.

6) Quincas Borba by Machado de Assis
Machado de Assis is my favorite Brazilian writer and I’ve wanted this book for some time now. What was my surprise when I found an orange penguin edition of it? I grabbed it immediately and didn’t let go! Now it sits prettily on my shelf.

7) The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
This book sounded interesting (I love monster books!) and I fell in love with the pretty cover. What else do I need? I think it was the most expensive book of the bunch, but not by much, so I’m not feeling guilty about it.

I also got a bunch of classic e-books from Girlebooks: The Anne of Green Gables series, some Elizabeth von Arnim I didn’t have, Frankenstein, Little Women, and others. Can’t wait to start reading them!

Tchau!

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

ImageThere is an on-going trend with me and books: I mean to read them, but never get around to it. The Great Gatsby is one of those books, those famous classics that I’ve been meaning to read ever since I was old enough to want to. When I saw the trailer in the cinema I knew I had to read it before the movie came out, so I finally have.

For those who don’t know, The Great Gatsby is mainly about five people: Nick Carraway, Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Backer (but not really) and (obviously) Jay Gatsby. When Nick comes to New York to work he ends up living next to Mr. Gatsby’s huge mansion, who is a mystery for all who attend his famous parties. Since this is an easy story to spoil I’ll stop here. Suffice to say Nick gets involved with Gatsby’s glamorous and strange life.

Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans.

There is a great hype about this novel (see what I did there?), and I’m not completely sure it lives up to it. I liked it and thought there could be no better ending, but there were some things I could have done without. Like Daisy. To me she was a weak woman who wasn’t happy with her life, but when the chance came to change it she backed away. I honestly can’t sympathize with her much. I do pity her a bit though, but to me her problems are rich people’s problems and I find that rather hard to move me. Especially what she did in the end, I don’t think there’s any excuse for that.

I feel more or less the same about her husband, Tom. Except that in the end he didn’t really know what he was doing and ended up blaming an innocent man. Those are spoilers, so I’m not going into that, but if anyone has read it then come talk to me about it. But Nick (or F. Scott Fitzgerald, actually) rather describes both of the Buchanan’s really well here:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…

I think I liked Nick the most, with his honest outlook on life and his honorable intentions and his loyal character. He was someone who didn’t belong in that abundant life, and so through him we see how deplorable some of these rich people are. He’s also quite funny at times and I think he’s the best narrator F. Scott Fitzgerald could have chosen between the available characters, like here:

To a certain temperament the situation might have seemed intriguing — my own instinct was to telephone immediately for the police.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Jordan Backer, except that she was integral to the story in her own way. Gatsby though, I have a lot of feelings about him. During most of the book it was curiosity and a sort of awe, then a kind of disappointment with who he actually turned out to be and finally pity. Lots and lots of pity. He was a man in love with an idea, and that kind of love is not meant to last. Gatsby lived on hope alone and he was lost when it was gone. And to complete these passages about characters, here’s one on him:

“The poor son-of-a-bitch,” he said.

I also loved F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing, he painted such a complete and thorough picture that there was almost no need to imagine it. The glittering parties, the drunken people and the overflowing abundance reeked from every word. I think that was my favorite part.

People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away.

So these are my thoughts on The Great Gatsby. If you’ve read it too what do you think of it? If not, do you plan on seeing the movie anyway?

Through the Bookshelves or How I spend My Money (3)

Third edition of Through the Bookshelves or How I spend My Money is now here. Is it just me or has it been less time between this and the last one than before? My money waves at me as it goes, flying out of my wallet. The bastard. So, this weekend I bought:

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1) Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston
Since I had such a good foray into Crichton’s books I thought I should try another one. Unfortunately, he died before finishing this book, so Richard Preston did it for him. It sounds Jurassic Park-ish, because it has all this biological experiment thing going for it. We shall see how it goes. Not super excited for it though.

2) Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
I am SUPER EXCITED for this! I can’t believe I didn’t have this book yet, it’s been in my TBR list for years really. That strong wish to read it returned to me full force since the new movie came out and I fell in love with it. With the story, the characters, the feels… everything! Now all I need is the time to read this book.

3) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I could say the same things I said about Les Mis (except the movie part) for this one: I have been meaning to read it for ages! And now I am, since I picked it up the second I got home. Expect a review of this soon, because I have a feeling I won’t be putting it down.

Any new buys or loans this week?

The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells

ImageBeing a fan of sci-fi I knew I had to read some of Wells’ works, as they are considered science fiction classics. I wasn’t sure what to expect of his books, but since I find space travel and alien life really interesting I decided to start with this one. Now I can say I’ll, without a doubt, read more H. G. Wells.

We peered out upon the landscape of the moon.

The First Men in the Moon is Bedford’s account of his and Cavor’s adventures in the moon, how they began and how they ended. Cavor is more or less a mad scientist, who accidentally creates what he calls Cavorite, a gravity-defying substance, which he intends to use to build a spaceship. In comes the bankrupt and materialistic Bedford, who sees this as his chance of making a lot of money. These two completely opposite men reach the moon to find the Selenites, a genetically engeneered race living in an endless system of cavers inside the moon.

If you think this book might not be for you just because you’re not sci-fi fan: you’re wrong. This book is more than just space travel; it’s about how humans react when faced with the unknown, how we sometimes find normal things in other cultures horrifying. And how they, in turn, are equally horrified when hearing about us. In the end we still share this common characteristic: the instinct to protect our community from outside intervention.

The world outside the sphere, I knew, would be cold and inhospitable enough to me – for weeks I had been living on subsidies from Cavor – but after all would it be as cold as the infinite zero, as inhospitable as empty space?

I really liked this book. The way it poses both scientific and philosophical questions makes it less science heavy read than Jurassic Park (which, surprisingly, had less moral questions than this one). There weren’t many overly long explanations about Cavorite or the technicality of space travel, mostly because we were seeing things from Bedford’s perspective and he doesn’t know anything about that. The book is much more about how this first contact with a culture so different from ours could go.

By looking at this other beings that we cannot identify and that cannot identify us, we are able to study ourselves and how our society works. Are we better than this genetically manipulated moon-people? Are they morally superior in their lack of choice? These are questions we can’t answer without being at least a bit biased by our humanity. Also, who are we to judge them?

But it wasn’t all serious, no; it had its hilarious moments. Like when Cavor and Bedford, who are hiding from the Selenites and looking for their lost ship (which they call sphere), are so hungry they can’t help but eat this weird fungus thing (even against Cavor better judgment). Turns out the fungus is poisonous and has a sort of drunken effect on them. Their conversation at that time was so funny; they were speaking of completely different things to each other and not even realizing. There were some other parts, but since they’re spoilery I’m not going to talk about them.

That wretched-looking hand-tentacle sticking out of its jar seemed to have a sort of limp appeal for lost possibilities; it haunts me still, although of course, it is really in the end a far more humane proceeding than our earthly method of leaving children to grow into human beings, and then making machines of them.

Through the Bookshelves or How I Spend My Money (2)

Here’s the second edition of Through the Bookshelves or How I Spend My Money, in which I can’t resist a good book. They are just so… good? But anyway, these are my recent buys:

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(from bottom to top)

1) The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy
I’ve always wanted to read Tolstoy, though I have to admit that I’m a bit intimidated by Anna Karenina, so I thought I’d start somewhere else and work my way up. The Kreutzer Sonata seemed a good place as any and it sounds like my sort of book. Meaning: murder. Even though it’s about much more than that. I’m so excited!

2) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo by J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien + Arthurian legend = instant buy. It’s a collection of three stories in verse about some of the Knights of the Round Table written by an unknown poet and translated to modern english by Tolkien. Which goes along with my recent interest in the legends of King Arthur (if only I could finish The Once and Future King).

3) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I’ve been seeing this book in my local bookshop for a few weeks and although it sounded interesting, I wasn’t sure about buying it. Until I saw this video at booksandquills about it and it convinced me to try. I’m surprisingly excited to read it.

4) The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe by (surprise, surprise) Edgar Allan Poe
Ever since I read Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue and his other Dupin tales I’ve been wanting to read more from him. So I armed myself with all his poetry and all his short stories plus The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket which is his only novel. I’m thinking about making a project of it: The Poe Project. I’m also super excited to start it!

And those are all my new books. So: share your own recent buys with me and we shall squee together like the bookworms we are.

Tchau!

Through the Bookshelves or How I Spend My Money (1)

ImageI have a problem, which I’m sure every book lover shares. I can’t see a bookstore that I have to go in, and I never get out empty handed. Never. Recently I’ve been relocating some of my books to my mum’s room, to try and make more space in mine. Not that space problems stop me from buying more, but it makes my mum crazy. I think she’s the only book lover I know that doesn’t have this problem, how I wish she had taught me that one.

Here’s what I bought:

1)      The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

This book first caught my attention because of its colourful cover, then the year its set in (1950s) and finally that it happens in a ship! I love ships, even though I’ve never actually been in one, because my grandfather was a ship Captain and I loved when he told me stories of his sailing days.

2)      1984 by George Orwell

I’ve wanted to read this book for ages, but something else always came up and I’d leave it behind. But no more! And now I’ve got no excuse not to read it. Not that I’d need one, since I’m pretty excited to start.

3)      The First Man in the Moon by H. G. Wells

I love sci-fi, books and movies, so this was something I definitively wanted to read. I’ve never read anything by Wells, but watched a movie once from The Invisible Man and I remember liking it a lot, so I decided to give him a try. Not to mention he’s one of the fathers of the genre.

I’m making progress in the two books I’m reading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Is it weird that I’m liking Jane Eyre more? Not that Gaiman’s book is bad, but for some reason I find myself wanting to go back to the walls of Thornfield Hall, to Jane and Mr Rochester. Perhaps those weren’t the best books to be read together, huh?

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

ImageI bought this book at my city’s book fair last year, in a tiny little tent that sold used books in English. Its pages are yellowish and it has that wonderful old book smell, the perfect combination for the fairytale inside it. I had never read anything by Burnett before, only heard of The Secret Garden, but now I think I should try some of her other stories and see if they are as wonderfully written as this one.

It tells the story of Sara Crewe, the daughter of a rich Captain stationed in India, and her times at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies, where she made friends and foes. Throughout the book she seen as a queer child, with the adult way she spoke and her incredible ability to tell stories. Quickly, half of the seminary is in awe of her while the rest is bitterly jealous of the beautiful things her father sends her. Miss Minchin herself doesn’t like her at all, but spoils her in fear of losing her ‘show pupil’ and Captain Crewe’s money.

When suddenly her father dies (I’m not spoiling anything since this is written on the back cover), leaving her homeless and penniless. Miss Minchin now has to take care of her and begrudgingly lets her live there while making her work all hours of the day. This little description doesn’t come close to making Burnett’s wonderful prose justice, everything she writes feel ethereal and magical. The way she describes Sara’s own little pretend world reinforced that I was reading a fairytale, also warmed me to know that no matter how bad things seemed for her, there would be a happy ending. Like when Lottie, a young child who adores Sara, first comes up to her new servant room on the attic:

Sara lifted her up and the stood on the old table together and leaned on the edge of the flat window in the roof, and looked out.

Any one who has not done this does not know what a different world they saw. The slates spread out on either side of them and slanted down into the rain gutter-pipes. The sparrows, being at home there, twittered and hopped about quite without fear. Two of them perched on the chimney-top nearest and quarrelled with each other fiercely until one pecked the other and drove him away. The garret window next to theirs was shut because the house next door was empty.

“I wished someone lived there,” Sara said. “It is so close that if there was a little girl in the attic, we could talk to each other through the windows and climb over to see each other, if we were not afraid of falling.”

Sara is an interesting character, yes, young and imaginative, kind and understating, willing to put others before herself, but I was also very interested in Miss Minchin. She comes across as a horrible woman, with little patience with children and a greedy spirit; she treats Sara, and the other servant, a girl called Becky, like objects to do her biding or to starve whenever she thinks they deserve it. Despite all that, we are shown throughout the book that she does sometimes realize how unfounded her hatred of Sara really is. Many times she gets angry because Sara does not scream and cry as the other children do, even though she hates when they do it, and so does not know where her annoyance comes from.

I have to admit Miss Minchin puzzled me even in the end, when she saw herself rid of the girl she hated so much and still attempted to have her back in the seminary, though she knew the situation to be hopeless. She made me react, made me angry and I believe that to be what good characters do to readers, and through Sara, I even pitied her a bit for her lack of imagination.

The character’s themselves are not overly layered and things are often seen as either black or white in the book. The bad guys don’t have many redeeming qualities and neither do the good guys have any bad ones, only Sara has any growth in the novel. She becomes much more self-aware, also aware of the difficulties of those who ‘go hungry’, as she knows what it feels like.

In the end, A Little Princess is very much like Cinderella, because it has basically the same premise. If we change Miss Minchin with the horrible stepmother, Lavine, a pupil who is jealous of Sara, with the two stepsisters and the Indian gentleman with the Prince, everything fits together. It’s a simple tale with a rich language and two big twists in the heroine’s luck. Very much not for people who dislike happy endings.

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

ImageAnyone who loves Sherlock Holmes will agree that Conan Doyle is a master of his art; he can craft whole incredible tales of out some ordinary detail and still make them very believable. The Lost World is no different. It was published in 1912 and has since then set the pace for the other fantasy tales that followed. This was exactly what Conan Doyle wished to achieve when he wrote this book, as Michael Crichton tells us at the introduction:

Contemplating a new character and a new novel, The Lost World, to introduce him, Conan Doyle informed his editor, “My ambition is to do for the boy’s book what Sherlock Holmes did for the detective tale. I don’t suppose I could bring off two such coups. And yet I hope it may.”

And it did. The new character was Professor Challenger, a comical man, quick to anger and with a big ego. The narrator, a journalist called E. D. Malone, was tasked with trying to interview the man and after some fighting (yes fighting! With black eyes and everything) told Malone about his infamous expedition to South America. I won’t go into details about what Challenger told Malone, don’t want to spoil it for anyone, suffice to say he thoroughly convinces Malone (and us) that somewhere in the Amazon forest there is a plateau where to this day dinosaurs still live.

Needless to say, the Professor’s scant evidence is mocked by the scientific community and especially by Professor Summerlee, who bickers with Challenger from beginning to end. And so the real adventure makes itself known to us, when a team is assembled to travel to Brazil and verify Challenger’s claims; it consists of Malone, Summerlee and Lord John Roxton.

The two first things that drew me to this book were the author and the setting. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to read this book and wonder about far off lands, of paradise lost in the middle of a great forest. For me it hits close to home, it’s having someone tell me that Jurassic animals still live in my country, and I suppose, that’s a bit harder to imagine. But Conan Doyle convinced me to try, and while he doesn’t focus much on the natives, he does mention the Indians’ superstitions of malevolent spirits inhabiting the Amazon quite a lot.

I had a lot of fun reading this, and by ‘fun’ I mean the laughing kind, it even made me startle some people sitting close to me today. The characters are comical, even the somber Summerlee when together with Challenger makes for an entertaining ride. Lord John is also great, with his various adventures in South America and his unwavering courage. I have to admit I didn’t like Malone much at first, the opening scene with Gladys left me with bad impression, but he grew on me through the story and turned out to be a practical person, always reminding the others that sometimes the simple explanations are the best ones.

One of my favorite scenes was the lecture in the Zoological Institutes’ Hall, where the idea of the team comes up and its components are chosen. It was simply brilliant, with Challenger’s megalomaniac nature making itself known and the first amusing discussions between Summerlee and Challenger.

“Question!” boomed a voice from the platform.
Mr. Waldron was a strict disciplinarian with a gift of acid humor, as exemplified upon the gentleman with the red tie, which made it perilous to interrupt him. But this interjection appeared to him so absurd that he was at a loss how to deal with it. So looks the Shakespearean who is confronted by a rancid Baconian, or the astronomer who is assailed by a flat-earth frantic. He paused for a moment, and then, raising his voice, repeated slowly the words: “Which were extinct before the coming of man.”
“Question!” boomed the voice once more.

There are, of course, some things that must be taken with a grain of salt, like the idea of the Europeans as superior beings, which comes up every so often during the narrative. Considering when it was written it’s not unusual, as it was the belief at the time, so it doesn’t make too much of an interruption. Apart from that, there wasn’t much that I didn’t like; I actually loved every second of it. I’m usually a very fast reader, but this book I savored as if it was my favorite candy. It’s definitively in my favorites list and left me wanting to read Jurassic Park, which I think I’ll do soon, after I finish A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Summer Reading Project of Awesome

I haven’t done anything with this blog for far too long, so I’m revisiting my idea of a reading blog (which school got on the way of this year). And I know how I operate, if I don’t challenge myself nothing gets done long term. I know it didn’t work with the classics challenge I had joined, but alas, hopefully this will.

Finally, this is my last official day of school, I’m done with my finals and the only things in the horizon are two universities entrance examinations (the one I really want is in January). Now, what’s a bookworm to do? Read. So, I’ve come up with my Summer Reading Project of Awesome (SRPOA for short), which consists basically of me reading whatever book I can get my hands on and writing about them.

Three points worth mentioning of SRPOA:

1)      I live in Brazil, so yes our summer is staring now and goes until roughly April next year (when I’ll hopefully already be enrolled in uni so fingers crossed for me).

2)      I love reading and I read all the time, but recently I’ve started wondering if maybe I shouldn’t consider them more in depth and critically. Best way to do that? Writing. Which means critics are welcome (as long as they are constructive, thanks).

3)      I’ve already said I read a lot, but I am not a vary eclectic reader (in part because I’ve got limited access to English books here)  and I mostly stick with ‘safe’ options (books I know I’ll like). I’d like to widen my horizons a bit.

The only specific thing I’m going to do is try and read more classics, I’ve got so many sitting prettily on my selves and half of them are utter virgins, so to speak. I’m not setting a number or a time limit (apart from not stopping until it’s cold, then staring all over again). I’m here to have fun, which is a given with books, and making the most of my favorite thing: stories.