Tag Archives: Conrad

4 short reviews

Beowulf
Unknown
3.5 out of 5 stars

I feel almost guilty for rating this classic of classics so poorly, but I think it’s a book you either love, loathe, or feel lukewarm about.

Pros:  The historic setting, historic dialogue, underwater/cave battle, and Christian perspective.  Added 1/2 star for Beowulf‘s influence on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Cons:  Beowulf (the character) is much too flawless a fighter. He hardly seems human.  A more interesting character is Wiglaf, the underling whose courage outweighs his inexperience.

The Queen of Spades
Alexander Pushkin
2 out of 5 stars

A very weird, Edgar Allan Poe-esque story about gambling and ghosts.  It’s also super fast-paced, which doesn’t help.  Interesting concept, however.

A Tangled Tale
Lewis Carroll
5 out of 5 stars

One of the best books I’ve read in the last year.  This is a collection of math/logic puzzles, with continuing characters and storylines.  The dialogue is wonderfully witty and hilarious at times (“Equilateral! And rectangular!”).

As far as the puzzles themselves go, this is serious stuff.  Mathematically, pretty much all you need is algebra.  The logic is the tough part.  I tried solving several of them, but was only able to solve one on my own: “Petty Cash”.  Even this involved Victorian British currency and some convoluted systems of equations.

Needless to say, you will be staying up very late at night trying to solve these.  They look horribly simple, even on your second or third attempt.

A Personal Record
Joseph Conrad
5 out of 5 stars

Another memoir by Joseph Conrad, this book gives fascinating insights on what his early life was like, how he became a seaman, and how–comparatively late in life–he became a writer.  Highly recommended for Conrad fans and people interested in the lives of great authors.

The Mirror of the Sea

Sharing Our Bookshelves @ In the Bookcase

Caspar David Friedrich - Küste bei Mondschein

With the quality of our desires, thoughts, and wonder proportioned to our infinite littleness, we measure even time itself by our own stature.

The Mirror of the Sea is a fascinating work.  I was struck by several things–one, it is nonfic that reads like a novel; two, it is a very personal book; and three, the writing is pure art.

I’ll admit, I’m biased.  As of the last year or so, Joseph Conrad (along with Hawthorne) has been the author I’ve most admired.  His thoughts and observations are profound in a perfectly down-to-earth way, without being too self-conscious or egotistic.  He never expects anything of the reader except their willingness to listen.  It is as if he understands, inherently, how to express his mind in the truest way, and convey it through, not beneath, the prose.

The Mirror of the Sea is, of course, about the sea.  Conrad alternates between personal anecdotes and deep, lengthy descriptions, with the frequent psychological aside.  It is a slow book, much like Moby-Dick.  Unlike the fictitious Ishmael, however, Conrad never seems to forget the reader.  The hint of conversational style holds your interest and makes The Mirror of the Sea perfect escapism for anybody who loves the sea.  I’m seriously disappointed that I’ve finished it already–it was my go-to book for levelheaded, relaxing reading. 

An overwhelming theme in the book is that of wooden ships versus steamships.  Conrad’s life overlapped both, and it is the source of much nostalgia in this book.  He seemed to consider himself the witness of the end of an era, and in The Mirror of the Sea, he studies how this has or will change sailors and the British Navy.

Speaking of which, the book ends with some chapters on Lord Nelson.  These chapters feels slightly out-of-place compared to the other topics, but it is interesting to read Conrad’s huge esteem for the Admiral.

Overall, I give it 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it if the topic interests you.