Tag Archives: Conrad

Reading Everything in August

No, that is not the title of a challenge…but it may as well be.  I’m up to my ears in books and it’s wonderful.

Sweet peas and ocean breezes   ♥

I spent most of my July weekends working on a large volunteer project for a non-profit.  It was a beneficial experience, but more of a commitment than I realized.  Now that that’s pretty much wrapped up, I can turn back to books.

Here’s a quick list of what I’ll be reading this month, at different levels of undivided attention and in no particular order:

  • 1984 – George Orwell
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne
  • Master and Commander – Patrick O’Brian
  • Drawn from Memory – Ernest Shepard (illustrator of the original Winnie the Pooh)
  • Psalms (almost finished)
  • Tesla biography (yes, still)
  • Smart People Should Build Things and The War on Normal People – Andrew Yang
  • Nostromo – Joseph Conrad
  • Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
  • Other??  There’s sure to be more.

I probably mentioned before how many, many times I struggled to start Nostromo and stick with it.  Well, I’ve finally succeeded making it past the start, and it’s every bit as engrossing as I thought it would be.  Abandoned mines, haunted Englishmen, political unrest, and questionable investors…if you’re fascinated by 19th-century South American history, this book is all about it.  Some parts are pretty funny, close to dark humor but more often like Dickensian absurdism.

Some quotes from chapter 6:

‘We shall run the world’s business whether the world likes it or not. The world can’t help it – and neither we can, I guess.’ – random American character

* * *

The parrot, catching the sound of a word belonging to his vocabulary, was moved to interfere.  Parrots are very human.

Joseph Conrad 1916

I will never get over the fact that English was Conrad’s third language.  Regardless of one’s views on his politics or perspective, the man was brilliant with words.

Tonight I think I will go read the first chapter of Moby-Dick, because it’s the moment I’ve been waiting for – the beginning of Brona’s read-along

You can read a sample of my old thoughts on the novel here.  I first read Moby-Dick back in 2010… it feels like a lifetime ago.  Since then, these are some of the milestones which have happened in my life:

  • Entering/graduating college
  • Getting my first car and job
  • Learning real faith
  • Falling in love
  • Cutting my hair short
  • Writing drafts of two books
  • Buying two Apple products (whaaat?)

I so rarely re-read books that I’m really curious how I will react to this one.  Will I enjoy it as much as I did before?  Will I notice anything new?  I’ll be posting intermittently about it, so we’ll see how it goes.  🙂

Three Old Movie Reviews – Heston, Peck, Cooper, et al

So, I’m not much of a movie watcher these days, much less a reviewer.  But I’ve started keeping a journal of books read and movies watched, by month.  (Got this idea from Rachel!)  This month’s been particularly good, so I thought I’d share a few quick recommendations:

Dad’s Army (TV, 1968–1977)

This comedy is set in WWII and follows a group of Home Guard soldiers in an English town named Walmington-on-Sea.  Their leader, Captain Mainwaring, manages a bank by day and serves as an officer by night.  He takes the whole thing very seriously, determined to transform his ragtag followers – butcher, undertaker, spoiled boy, and all – into a force capable of defending against an invasion.

If you enjoy British humor, this show is likely to appeal to you.  It combines several different types of comedy, including dry humor and slapstick, into a coherent medley of laugh-out-loud moments.  My favorite thing about it is the ensemble of characters.  They’re each quirky, unique, aggravating, and ultimately endearing.

The Scarlet and the Black (1983) – Heard about this one from Stephen

Based on a real-life historical figure, this movie stars Gregory Peck as Hugh O’Flaherty, an Irish priest living in the Vatican who saved thousands of people from the Nazis during WWII.  Christopher Plummer plays Herbert Kappler, the SS official in charge of occupied Rome.  His orders are to catch any POWs trying to find refuge in the Vatican, and he is prepared to do so by cruel force, twisting Rome into a police state and hounding the “white line” which separates Vatican jurisdiction from the rest of the city.

It is weird watching Plummer, our beloved Captain von Trapp, playing the enemy here.  He does an excellent job of it – better at his German accent than Peck is at his Irish.  Nonetheless, Peck does what he is best at, and that’s expressing the essence of the character.  The self-conflict, humor, anger, and fear are each embodied in O’Flaherty, a very human character.  Fans of Gregory Peck and history won’t be disappointed.

Overall, though I like a long historical drama, this one felt a bit too drawn out.  I felt the second half was very strong; just the first half was slow.  Still one of the best bio-pics I’ve seen.

The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) – Heard about this one from Elisabeth

Charlton Heston and Gary Cooper…  *mic drop*

Ok, let me try that again.  Charlton Heston and Gary Cooper star in this 50s thriller about a ghost ship, the Mary Deare.  (Fun fact: Hitchcock considered directing this movie, but decided to work on North by Northwest instead…a film I saw last year and despised.  Moving on…)  Captain Patch (Cooper) is the only one on the ship.  Salvager John Sands (Heston) thinks there’s something fishy about Patch and his story about dynamite, fire, and the crew abandoning the vessel.  When Sands and Patch finally make it to shore, other people think it’s fishy, too, and the drama escalates from there.

This story reminded me an awful lot of Joseph Conrad (Lord Jim and The Shadow-Line especially.)  Unfortunately, compared to those two, this story is a bit of a letdown.  It starts out with an utterly chilling opener, then takes some up-and-downs until the finale, which is fairly pedestrian.

It’s a real shame, because of the cast.  Heston is great here as a reluctant hero (definitely a precursor for Chris Pratt’s Jurassic role).  Cooper is fine, too, though the role is far from his best.  We even get a small appearance by John Le Mesurier, who plays Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army

Overall, Mary Deare is an ok movie.  Speaking of Lord Jim…I would say Mary Deare is way better than Lord Jim (1965) starring Peter O’Toole.  But neither one really packs the same punch as an actual Conrad novel.

Wednesday Quote: Work

A few years back, I used to participate in a weekly feature called “Weekend Quote,” hosted by Lemon Tree at Half-Filled Attic.  I so enjoyed that feature that I wanted to bring it back this year, except on Wednesdays instead of the weekend.  There are so many great quotes to come across while reading, and not nearly enough opportunity to share them.

Joseph Conrad author

“I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself.”

This is spoken by Marlow, the narrator from a few of Conrad’s stories, and the context novella is his most famous one, Heart of Darkness.  As an inspirational quote, it’s one of my very favorites – instead of holding up an idealism, it presents you with a different view of reality. 

Today is my first day back at work since Christmas break, so I’ll be keeping this in mind.  😉

Mount TBR 2016 – Recap

For this recap, something a little different.  I was mighty pleased with the little mountain of to-be-reads I climbed, so everyone’s a winner – and they all get awards!  Thanks to Bev for hosting this challenge!

*** The Unexpected New Favorite Award ***
 An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro
This was a thrift store find I bought on a whim.  I was greatly moved by this fictional historical memoir, written by Ishiguro (of The Remains of the Day fame).  An aging Japanese man realizes his past is not creating the bright legacy he had envisioned.  Subtly written, yet incredible.
*** The Finally, Finally Read It Award ***
The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane
I liked the beginning of this book a lot.  That made the ending somewhat disappointing.  However, I had to admit it is a worthy American classic, with good writing and thought-provoking scenes.
*** The History Is Disturbing Award ***
Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron – Nicholas Fraser, Marysa Navarro
This is supposedly the best, most judicial biography of Eva Peron out there.  After that masterful T. E. Lawrence biography by John Mack, I was underwhelmed by Fraser and Navarro’s sources; this book read more like magazine articles than a scholarly paper.  More than once, there was a statement that was an opinion, and there was no easy way for me to tell from whence the opinion originated.  Writing aside, the topic matter was chilling.  Eva, Juan, the political situation in Argentina at the time – all of it was very depressing.  An interesting read nonetheless.  Especially pertinent was reading how the Perons controlled the media and depictions of themselves.
*** The Polar History Is More My Thing Award ***
In the Land of White Death – Valerian Albanov
This little book deserves all the glowing reviews it has.  If you’re looking for an introduction to polar literature, I highly recommend the Russian navigator Albanov’s account of his survival trek through the Arctic.  The human element comes through strongly in his narrative; it’s great that he did not edit out the personal side to his story.
*** The I Need to Read More Hoffmann Award ***
Nutcracker and Mouse King and The Tale of the Nutcracker – E.T.A. Hoffmann, Alexandre Dumas
(Side note: E.T.A. is such a great set of initials.)
I let myself forget the Nutcracker I knew before, and I really, really loved the Hoffmann original.  Dumas’s version is also great, but more polished.  Read them both!  What better month to do so?

*** The Unexpectedly Disappointing Award ***
Tales of Unrest – Joseph Conrad
I’ve come to the conclusion that Conrad wrote in two ways: sheer genius, and not.  This series of depressing (unrestful) tales is not genius.  It’s not great, unfortunately.  I didn’t like any of them.
*** The Terrifying, Also Would Not Recommend Award ***
Dracula’s Guest – Bram Stoker
Friends, when a Goodreads reviewer advises you to skip a story, do not try to be a completionist.  Heed their advice.  They know what they’re talking about.  You don’t need to read all the creepy stories.  You really don’t.
*** The Beautifully Written, Tough to Understand Award ***
Memories of the Future – Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
This author was new to me; I read the book because he’s supposed to be similar to Kafka.  Even in translation, Krzhizhanovsky is a lovely writer; his analogies and word choices seem so fresh, even original, compared to other writers.  The trouble is, I was confused most of the time.  I did like the last story, “Memories of the Future,” but it’s very similar to The Time Machine.  Would read more by him in the future (ha. ha.).
*** The Better Than the Movie Award ***
Pinocchio – Carlo Collodi
I’m not big on this fairytale, but it was certainly entertaining.  Pinocchio is such a bad son to Geppetto, and still I felt sorry for him.  Like most fairytales, the amount of exaggeration makes it hard to believe at times (I really think Pinocchio would have learned his lesson faster than he does!).  I’ll probably keep this one, though; it’s definitely a classic.
*** The Childhood Heroine Award ***
Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words
Joan of Arc has always been an inspiration to me.  This books is a compilation of quotes by her, which forms something of an autobiography.  It’s sobering to realize that the main reason we have these quotes is because she was captured and spoke the majority of these statements at her trial.  I really recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about her.  Reading what she did and said 600 years ago makes you feel both how long ago and recent it was.
*** The Childhood Memory Award ***
The Silent World – Jacques Cousteau
I have a vague memory of watching a Jacques Cousteau film as a child.  He is probably one of the many reasons I grew up with a fascination for all things to do with the ocean.  This memoir talks about Cousteau’s early diving career, his various diving projects, and general opinions on topics related to diving.  It wasn’t gripping, but I learned quite a few things, historical and scientific, and the writing style is accessible.  A good read to learn more about him.
*** The Changed My Life Award ***
Works of Love – Søren Kierkegaard 
I left the sticky notes in this book – and not just the few that are pictured.  It’s difficult to describe a book like this without feeling vulnerable, because I can’t adequately summarize it, and I can’t say I agree with him 100%, and I can’t tell you it’s a must read.  I have no idea how Works of Love affects one reader from the next.  Yes, it changed my life; it made me look at something familiar in a new way.

I think of Kierkegaard as this lonely person who is thinking through everything out loud, and some of it is confusion, and some of it is inspired, and he offers it all up to the reader without apology, because he is only human and never expected to think “perfect” thoughts, only to strive for truth.  I don’t know if that’s Kierkegaard, or me projecting myself onto the impression of him.  I think he was born to write this book, in any case.

Whatever the world takes away from you, thought it be most cherished, whatever happens to you in life, however you may have to suffer because of your striving, for the good, if you please, if men turn indifferent from you or as enemies against you…if even your best friend should deny you – if nevertheless in any of your strivings, in any of your actions, in any of your words you truly have consciously had love along: then take comfort, for love abides. (p. 279)

Final Thoughts on Lord Jim

Note: Before getting into the review, I want to mention how disappointed I was by the Barnes & Noble Classics edition.  There was an unnecessarily massive amount of footnotes, and one of the endnotes disclosed a major spoiler, long before I reached that plot twist!  Normally I’d recommend B&N Classics, but this one I cannot.

Seascape - Sunset

It’s been more than fitting to have read Lord Jim during my last quarter of college.  I would say, in fact, that this ‘bildungsroman by Joseph Conrad is a timely read for those of us who can sympathize with Jim – a Romantic holding his ideals in one hand and finding his place in the world with the other.  Is it best read as a warning, a fairytale, or a historical fantasy?  Hopefully, by the end of this post, I will have figured it out.  One thing is certain: Lord Jim is not your typical trainwreck.  It’s a longer, more tedious disaster, realistic in its portrayal of events whose consequences are as realistically ambiguous.

Once again, we meet up with Marlow, the narrator from Heart of Darkness, who is telling his audience the life story of the titular Jim.  The son of an English cleric, Jim’s ambition since childhood is to go to sea, like many another sea story protagonist.  Jim’s dream, however, is to be more than ordinary – he wants to be a hero.  He wants to be in life-threatening situations and, if necessary, give his all to save someone.

In a bizarre chain of circumstances and decisions, Jim ultimately becomes a failure to his dream.  He becomes, in his own eyes, the lowest of the low, battling his depressing reality with a strange brand of egotism.  It is a longer and stranger path which later earns him the respectful title of Tuan (“Lord”) Jim, given him by people who truly regard him as a hero. The question is, will he ever see himself again as they see him now?

MJ Heade Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds

I’m hopelessly biased, in that I love Romanticism, Joseph Conrad’s writing, and sea stories.  I’m giving Lord Jim 4.5 out of 5 stars, because Jim’s story really resonated with me.

To be more objective, I can say I don’t remember reading any book that deals with these themes in the way Conrad has.  First of all, Marlow does not concretely judge Jim’s actions.  In fact, the illustration of Jim’s family is a not-so-subtle reminder to the reader that it is difficult, impossible – not even permissible? – to judge him from our psychologically and geographically distant environment.  However, I found myself sympathizing with Jim because there were grounds for sympathy.  There was a real dilemma; this is a book where the ambiguity is real, without sugar-coating the very real wrong of Jim’s actions.

I would say that Marlow certainly wants us to sympathize, but nowhere did it feel like I was being required to take Jim’s side.  The very fact that Jim feels a need for “redemption” indicates there is a wrong needed to be made right.  I think it is subject to interpretation, whether he redeemed himself or not.  Though the ending was extremely unsatisfying – subtracting half a star from my rating – personally I felt Jim had at least forgiven himself.  That was the one conclusion that I could find.

It raises the question of how much of his troubles resulted from his Romanticism.  One of the brilliant aspects of the book is Marlow’s interviews of other characters, in which he learns their opinions of Jim.  One is a French officer, one is an old German adventurer, another is the girl Jim loves, and a fourth is a ruthless pirate.  While excessively varied, the common theme is an awe of (or contempt for) Jim’s heroic ideals.  Do these ideals originate out of moral standards or simply egotism?  Some of both, probably.  Undoubtedly they are the cause of much of his unhappiness, and the greatest source of his sense of what it is to live.

These characters either love or hate Jim passionately.  What most of them don’t understand is he would not be himself without his ideals.   “That was the way.  To follow the dream, and again to follow the dream…”