READING UPDATE: SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, MILAN KUNDERA AND STENDHAL
Hello dear readers and/or fellow bloggers. I hope you are all safe from the corona virus epidemic and doing what you can to protect yourself. I'm very saddened by all the deaths worldwide. I'm a bit nervous about work organization and practical things, not so much about the contracting the virus myself. The island I'm located on isn't densely populated so the risk is quite small. I'm, however, worried about others. I'm also a bit worried about the consequences this might have on our economic system in Europe that has been bad as it is. I think most workers are a bit on edge these days, it is hard to know what exactly is expected of us and the instructions we get are not always clear. What can we do except to do our best? Stay safe. Today I'm back with some reading reviews. I thought those of you who are locked indoors might enjoy some reading suggestions. As you all might know, I love reading. Being a literature lover, fiction books are usually my preference but I try to read non-fiction too. Today I'll give you a couple of reading recommendations I hope you will find useful.
CRISTABEL AND KUBLA KHAN, A VISION BY SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE 5/5
I absolutely adore the Lake poets. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is one of my personal favourites. It is hard for me to choose favourites among English authors of the Romance period, but I definitely have a soft spot for this author. If you're looking to read or re-read English classical poetry, this is a great place to start Christabel: Kubla Khan, a Vision; The Pains of Sleep is a book that contains some of Coleridge's best narrative poems. Naturally, you can also find these poems in other editions. Your local library probably has these poems either published individually or in collection with other poems. Moreover, you can easily find these poems (and numerous notes on them) online, no need to spend money on an kindle edition where you can easily download these poems from Gutenberg and/or other sites. Let's get back to reviewing these two poems, shall we?
I cannot tell whether I prefer Christabel or Kubla Khan, a Vision. I loved the fantastic vision of Kubla Khan. It feels like such a genuinely inspired piece of poetry. There is so much strength in it. The same could be said for Christabel. I imagine this long narrative poem must have caused quite a sensation when it was first published. Its eroticism is quite bold and it is captivating in so many ways. The same sex eroticism might come as a surprise even to a modern reader. Imagine what reading this poem must have been like for an average reader of that period. I definitely recommend reading both of these narrative poems. These two works are such classics, something every lover of poetry should read.
I'm definitely a fan of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He is one of my favourite poets of Romanticism. There is something in S.T Coleridge's poetry that suits me. I'm not sure precisely what, but I can never get tired of his works. Everything I've read so far I really enjoyed. Original, imaginative, unique are the adjectives that first come to my mind in describing his poetry. If he needed some opium to get there who am I judge? Seriously though, his poems have stayed with me, more than was generally the case with other writers of this period. As much as I like the Lake District poets, not all of them have deeply impressed me. For me personally, Coleridge is much better poet then Wordsworth.
Kubla Khan has musical quality to it. Even more than that it seems to be infused with something mystical. You can almost hear the wind and the river. I like the rhythm of the poem, it feels savage and wild, at least to my ear, for example the following lines:
...A mighty fountain momently was forced,
Amid whose swift, half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail;
And ‘midst these dancing rocks at once and ever,
It flung up momently the sacred river!
Christabel is another majestic work of poetry. It may just be my favourite stuff by this guy. I loved it, whatever it is supposed to represent and whatever reading you prefer of it. The demonic presence of Geraldine is perhaps the most impressive part of the poem:
Like one that shuddered, she unbound
The cincture from beneath her breast:
Her silken robe, and inner vest,
Dropt to her feet, and in full view,
Behold! her bosom and half her side——
Pains of Sleep is another powerful poem. It is short, but so well constructed. I also liked Biographia Literaria (not sure if this edition contains it), that is some solid literary criticism. I really enjoyed reading Coleridge's thoughts on literature. All in all, I would definitely recommend this book and well his works in general. Here you can read and download the complete poetical works of S.T. Coleridge.
THE BOOK OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING MY MILAN KUNDERA 5/5
The book of Laughter and Forgetting is a book that has absolutely enchanted me. I remember reading it on a beach and thinking how it was somehow appropriate to read it there. Many subjects in this book are timeless. The vastness of the sea seems a good metaphor for this book. I can still remember how it felt, reading this wonderful novel on a hot summer day that seemed to last forever. I still remember the lessons it had to teach, a strange mix of sadness and happiness it stirred in me. It made me think of a great number of works, from 1984 to If on One Winter Night a Traveller. How I would describe The Book of Laughter and Forgetting? It's such an unique novel. It speaks of so many things, from communism and regimes to love and art. For me personally, it is a perfect book.
...“The first step in liquidating a people,' said Hubl, 'is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”
― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
I loved the female protagonist of this novel and her dreamy search for memory. She is in many ways, such a strong woman. Her life has never been easy but she keeps on fighting. I find it very easy to relate to her. When her story turned into an odd dream of sorts, I found it somehow appropriate as well, even if it was quite disturbing at times.
...“Tamina serves coffee and calvados to the customers (there aren't all that many, the room being always half empty) and then goes back behind the bar. Almost always there is someone sitting on a barstool, trying to talk to her. Everyone likes Tamina. Because she knows how to listen to people.
But is she really listening? Or is she merely looking at them so attentively, so silently? I don't know, and it's not very important. What matters is that she doesn't interrupt anyone. You know what happens when two people talk. One of them speaks and the other breaks in: "It's absolutely the same with me, I..." and starts talking about himself until the first one manages to slip back in with his own "It's absolutely the same with me, I..."
The phrase "It's absolutely the same with me, I..." seems to be an approving echo, a way of continuing the other's thought, but that is an illusion: in reality it is a brute revolt against a brutal violence, an effort to free our own ear from bondage and to occupy the enemy's ear by force. Because all of man's life among his kind is nothing other than a battle to seize the ear of others. The whole secret of Tamina's popularity is that she has no desire to talk about herself. She submits to the forces occupying her ear, never saying: "It's absolutely the same with me, I...”
― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
This novel isn't exactly well balanced. Sometimes it jumps from subject to subject. At one instant this book is quite realistic and speaks of life under the communist regime and in another it becomes fantastical and unreal. It's an unusual book, but in a good way. I can't think of anything in it that could make it better and nothing that could change because she completely delighted me. It is not only because I can sympathize with most of the things in the book and because so many sentences seems so true. It is also because I was delighted by all the form and content, the poetic and everyday life, the honesty and insincerity, the humanity and inhumanity. I felt like this book is somewhere between heaven and earth, chaos and peace, in some special place where sincerity of creation and talent takes place. There are books that you know you will love. You know that feeling when you read the first page and you know this book will touch your soul? For me this was one of those books. How would I answer the question: "What's in this book?". Perhaps it would be easiest to answer with a question "What's missing?". Still if I had to summarize an answer to this question, I would say that in this book you can find: some poetry, a bit of philosophy, a fair amount of social satire, some politics, a study of regimes, an examination of history, some fantasy elements, questioning of subconsciousness, allegories, realistic storytelling, some postmodern passages, a questioning of human relations, love in all forms, humor in abundance (of all kinds), bits of biographies and autobiographies, some literary criticism, a lot of honesty and of course laughter and forgetting!
...“The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything....The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead. The totalitarian world, whether founded on Marx, Islam, or anything else, is a world of answers rather than questions. There, the novel has no place.”
― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
THE RED AND THE BLACK , A NOVEL BY STENDHAL 4/5
This is one of those novels everyone has heard about, even if they haven't read it. If you're wondering whether you should read it, the answer is: yes, you should. My opinion being based on my firm belief in the literary strength of this novel. The Red and the Black is one those classics that have stood the test of time- and not without a serious. I remember being pleasantly surprised by it. I'm not sure why I expected it won't be as good as it was, for I'm no stranger to classics but for some reason my expectations were high. I realized I was wrong as soon as I started reading it. Right there and then, I had felt myself drawn into the story. The Red and the Black is a wonderful novel that features a charming protagonist and delivers first class social satire. In some ways, the novel perhaps aged a bit (that is sort of inevitable), but it is a fantastic read nevertheless.
As a mix of realism and romanticism this novel does really well. It was interesting to read a book where the two mix. It is not the only book I read in which these two opposing literary periods were somehow joined together, but it is definitely one of the most well known ones. This mix of styles is surprisingly successful. Apparently, a good writer can use literary techniques from both romanticism and realism without looking ridiculous. This novel's full title is Le Rouge et le Noir, Chronique du XIXe siécle (Red and Black : the Chronicle of 19th century) , and as the title itself suggest it says something about the nineteen century. There is a fair bit of history in this one as well. One also gets the impression that the writer himself is quite aware of what he is doing- that is writing a novel.
“Ah, Sir, a novel is a mirror carried along a high road. At one moment it reflects to your vision the azure skies, at another the mire of the puddles at your feet. And the man who carries this mirror in his pack will be accused by you of being immoral! His mirror shews the mire, and you blame the mirror! Rather blame that high road upon which the puddle lies, still more the inspector of roads who allows the water to gather and the puddle to form.”
The Red and the Black is at the same time a psychological portrait of Julien Sorel (the romantic protagonist) and a satire of the French society. Stendhal is very good at presenting the inner state of the protagonist to the reader. The writer was something of an innovator, using the literary techniques that were not common at his time. I believe some people honor him with the invention of psychological novel. I'm not sure whether that is so, but it's true that he was way ahead of his time. Stendhal was a great writer, there is no doubt about that.
Now to be completely honest, I felt that the plot had its faults. I suppose that is the romantic in it. The story is not exactly credible, and there are times when you'll probably ask yourself “Really, do you expect me to believe that?" Despite all that, I found the novel moving at times. It does a great job of portraying the characters. You can definitely feel what they are feeling. I suppose it could be said that the characters have their faults too; at least of you look at them from today's perspective. Nevertheless, the ending product is really very good. This is a classic I would recommend to everyone. It is intelligently written and never boring. The plot is not the most convincing one, but the writer makes up for it with his successful psychological portrayal of characters.
What have you been reading lately? Are there any good books, magazines or blogs you want to share with me? Thank you for reading and commenting.