Masterpiece Monday: The Trial

Rating: 2 out of 5

BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!

It took me almost a month, but I’m finally done with Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1925). Unfortunately, it did not enthrall me like his short stories, but at least I can cross it off my 5 Classics I Really Want to Read list.

The story follows Josef K (referred to mainly as “K.”), a bank official who is arrested on his 30th birthday for a crime unknown to both him and the reader. For an entire year, K. must seek legal advice from lawyers, relatives, love interests, and fellow accused men.

All this effort proves worthless, however, since K. is captured the night before he turns 31. Dragged to a quarry outside of town, he’s placed on a butcher block. Aware that he is supposed to grab the two men’s knife as they pass it back and forth to commit suicide, he refuses and lets them stab him in the heart–in his words, “Like a dog!”

It was not the subject matter which made me dislike The Trial. Kafka’s morbidity is intriguing, and his prose is engaging. Like many existentialists, Kafka’s life was so influential on his work, and therefore extremely fascinating to literary critics.

Born to a middle-class, German-speaking, Jewish family in Prague, Kafka suffered from alienation and self-loathing. His relationship with his father was strained, and his five siblings all died prematurely, his two brothers when Kafka was a child, and his three sisters during the Holocaust after Kafka had died of tuberculosis.

Much of Kafka’s personal life has been left to interpretation, with theories ranging from schizophrenia, anorexia, and homosexuality. A deeply private and troubled man, Kafka never intended to gain fame from his writing. In fact, he explicitly told his closest friend, Max Brod, to burn all his work after his death.

As much as I empathize with Kafka’s wishes, I am glad Brod ignored them. Otherwise, we would have no record of one of the greatest writers of all time. While I don’t consider The Trial Kafka’s best work, I appreciated its reference to another of his stories, “Before the Law.”

Kafka’s own legal background inspired his occupation with the machinations of the government and justice system. If he was not a man without a niche, struggling to find his place in the world, his insights would not be nearly as powerful. It’s simply amazing to think that this novel foreshadows the horror that is to befall Europe in World War II. Although his life could never be described as peaceful, I’m actually glad it ended when it did, rather than witness the tragedy that would take the rest of his family.

Favorite Quote: “Are people to say of me after I am gone that at the beginning of my case I wanted to finish it, and at the end of it I wanted to begin it again?”

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Masterpiece Monday: “Roads Go Ever Ever On” by J.R.R. Tolkien

[UPDATE 8/30/12: Much to my surprise, a new road was presented to me at the last minute. By that, I mean I have accepted an even more amazing opportunity as Marketing Coordinator for a supercomputer company. Although the road took an abrupt turn, I wish everyone the best in regards to my former position, and I’m excited to begin this new journey!]

It’s been a crazy week, I must say! I’ve officially accepted a new job as a Community Executive for a tech company in the Silicon Valley, and I just moved into my new apartment! It’s been so hectic and stressful, but also very exciting. This is an amazing opportunity in my life, and I’m so happy to be along for the ride!

When it comes to stories about travels and journeys, nobody does it like J.R.R. Tolkien. When I contemplate this new chapter in the book that is my life, I think about one of Tolkien’s most famous poems, called “Roads Go Ever Ever On.” The poem takes on many adaptations in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; part of it was even sung by Bilbo and Gandalf in “The Fellowship of the Ring” film.

It’s such a wonderful poem about enjoying the roads you take in life, even if you don’t know where you’re headed. I love how he writes so much beauty into the unknown, and it reminds me to be grateful for every step and not focus so heavily on the destination.

Here’s the poem in its entirety:

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green,
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

Lovely descriptions, beautiful melody, and a wonderful message. What else could you ask of a poem?

One thing I’ll add though, is that my road may take me to a place where I won’t be able to blog with as much frequency. I’ll take it one day at a time, but if I have to hedge Masterpiece Monday, I’ll let you know. My goal is to write at least weekly, but it’s all tentative right now.

And I think that’s how Tolkien would’ve wanted it…

Masterpiece Monday: East of Eden

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

Here in California, you’re pretty much obligated to respect John Steinbeck. King of Salinas, most high school students take a trip to visit his museum in the city (a trip I highly recommend, by the way). Many of those students have also been spending their summer vacations reading his hefty novel East of Eden, and now that school’s back in session, they’ll be gearing up for plenty of essays and assignments on the tale.

Published in 1952, East of Eden follows two families: the Trasks and the Hamiltons. While I won’t divulge into the multiple generations of these intricate family trees, I will give some summary on the major characters. Brothers Charles and Adam Trask are the novel’s first versions of the biblical Cain and Abel.

Adam marries the devious Cathy Ames, and they become the parents of Caleb and Aron, which if their names are any indicator, also are Cain and Abel incarnate. Growing up believing their mother to be dead, they’re shocked to learn that she’s actually a prostitute who goes by the name “Kate.” The novel’s ending deals with the aftermath of the boys’ emotional trauma and their attempts to mend their relationships with their father.

Depending on your version, East of Eden easily clocks in at 500-600 pages, which is why teachers make it required reading during the summer. My teacher also instructed us to research a list of biblical allusions, given that Steinbeck includes tons of them in the novel, such the mark of Cain, the prodigal son, and my brother’s keeper.

Steinbeck has been quoted saying that he believes East of Eden is his best work, and although I have only read one other novel of his, Of Mice and Men, I would have to agree. His descriptions of the Salinas Valley are unbeatable, and his characters have rich arcs of development. Yes, it’s a long read, but it’s worth the challenge.

After you finish reading the novel, you can treat yourself to the 1955 film adaption, directed by Elia Kazan and starring James Dean as “Cal” (Caleb). It’s an excellent movie, which won at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and Cannes Film Festival. And did I mention that James Dean is in it?

Do you even need another reason to watch this film?

So whether you’ve read East of Eden, watched the movie, or have an opinion on Steinbeck in general, be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section! Swooning over James Dean also perfectly acceptable!

Favorite Quote: “And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.”

Masterpiece Monday: Bacchae

Image via Tower.com

Rating: 5 out of 5

I don’t mean to update so late, but I’m running on fumes right now. It’s back-to-school season, and I’ve been putting in major hours at the tutoring center. This week I’m teaching an ACT class, and the essay prompt for today had to do with arguing whether or not libraries should offer R-rated movies and books to those underage.

I know most of you would be against any kind of censorship, since it violates a reader’s first amendment, and my students were of the same mind as well. One of the first literary works I thought of that would be on the chopping block was Euripides’ Bacchae. If you haven’t read this play yet, you’re in for a doozy!

Euripides was, in my opinion, the most bad-ass of the ancient Greek tragedians, since his plays were full of brutal material. I’ve already reviewed his more famous work, Medea, and if you thought a story about a mother killing her own children to get back at her husband was insane, Bacchae is even more outrageous.

The play follows Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and partying. Dionysus’ origin story is multifaceted, but in this version, he’s out to avenge his mortal mother Semele, who was killed after she slept with Zeus. As these affairs usually go, Zeus’ wife Hera became jealous and convinced Semele to ask to see Zeus’ divine form. Appearing as a lightning bolt, she was obliterated instantly.

In a bizarre twist, Zeus is able to sew the unborn Dionysus into his own thigh until the baby is ready to be born. At the beginning of Bacchae, Dionysus comes to the city of Thebes to punish the rest of Semele’s family, who accused her of lying when she revealed that she was an immortal’s lover.

Semele’s sister Agave is the mother of Theban king Pentheus, who has banned the city from worshiping Dionysus. If you guessed that something terrible is going to happen to this young man, you would be correct.

Telling you exactly how Pentheus meets his doom would be spoiling the whole reading experience, but I will tell you that  it is crazy and gory. I certainly wouldn’t say this is middle-school material, but I think you guys are old enough to handle it.

One thing I’d like to add, however, is that Euripides is an amazing playwright, so don’t think he relies on shock value alone. Although the moral of the story is to respect and honor the gods, he manages to include apt political and cultural commentary of his time period. Thousands of years later, we can still learn so much from Euripides.

Favorite Quote: “Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”

Masterpiece Monday: 5 Classics I Will Never Read

Last week I discussed the five classic novels that I really want to read, and I’m happy to say that I’m making a dent on that list. I finished Francesca Segal’s The Innocents, and now I’ve moved on to Kafka’s The Trial. I haven’t read enough to make an opinion yet, but keep a look out for my review of The Innocents this week.

Today I want us to be completely honest. We all love books–there’s no denying that–but let’s face it, we don’t love all books. There are stories so bad that we wouldn’t touch them with a fifty foot pole. Most of these stories are easy to mock, like 50 Shades of Grey, but what happens when the literary world has dubbed them as masterpieces? Do we still voice our hatred or bury it deep down to avoid offending the literati?

Well, I’m not afraid of speaking my mind, so without further delay, these are the five classics I will never read, unless bribed or under threat of torture:

1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851): I have disliked Melville ever since I read his short stories “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “Benito Cereno.” His writing is so dull and dry that I cannot imagine being able to read an entire novel about a man hunting a whale. I’m sure under the surface there’s some wonderful symbolism, but the surface makes me want to fall asleep. How can this guy have been neighbors with Nathaniel Hawthorne? That’s like saying Kristen Stewart lives next to Meryl Streep. They may both be in the same profession, but they might as well be on different planets. Call me Ishmael? Call me never.

2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929): I’ve stated many times before that my least favorite writing style has to be stream of consciousness, of which Faulkner is king. If it wasn’t for Sparknotes, I would never have finished his Intruder in the Dust. It was such a frustrating reading experience that I swore off Faulkner forever. If I wanted to read insanely long, incoherent sentences which ramble about nothing of significance, I would work in politics.

3. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925): I wish that I liked Woolf, because I think she lived a fascinating life. Nicole Kidman played her beautifully in the film adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. But I have never been so bored as when I read her novel To the Lighthouse. Almost nothing happens. The characters want to go to the lighthouse, but put it off for decades. By the time they go, some have died and it’s just not the same. I’m surprised that Woolf and Faulkner weren’t partners in a writing workshop, because Woolf’s stream of consciousness is just as bad.

4. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843): This has to be the most overdone, cliché story of all time. Seriously, check out this Wikipedia page; it’s mind-boggling. I dislike most Christmas stories in general for being sappy lessons about morality and childhood innocence, but this one takes the cake. We get it: Scrooge is a humbug, and the three ghosts of his past, present, and future fill his heart with Christmas spirit. Excuse the Valley Girl reference, but gag me with a spoon. Dickens himself doesn’t suck, because I loved A Tale of Two Cities, but if A Christmas Carol was never adapted again, I think the world would be a better place.

5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955): Ok, if someone could write me an absolutely stellar review of this novel–like it changed your life forever–then I might consider reading this one, but only out of morbid curiosity. Let’s face it, Lolita is the most famous story about a pedophile ever written. I’m pretty squeamish, and I’m apprehensive about the emotional trauma that might occur from being stuck in the mind of a sick bastard. Nabokov is the only author on this list that I haven’t read personally, so I think it might be better to test out one of his other novels first.

Alright, I just unleashed a ton of controversial opinions, so feel free to share your own. Should we agree to disagree? Which books do you not want to waste time reading? Don’t be afraid to shout out your thoughts–trust me, it’s therapeutic!

Masterpiece Monday: 5 Classics I Really Want to Read

So if you’re like me, for some reason (boredom, intrigue, shame over your reality show obsessions like “America’s Next Top Model”), you’ve Googled “best books of all time.” I love reading the classics, and every now and then I like to spice up my reading with some intellect. Usually after a string of chick-lit novels, I’m craving a challenge.

Right now I’m enjoying Francesca Segal’s The Innocents, but often find myself feeling nostalgic for its inspiration: Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. This, of course, makes me look forward to reading another Wharton novel waiting for me on my bookshelf: The House of Mirth.

Thus, I thought that I would share with you my list of the five classics that I really want to read soon, starting with The House of Mirth.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905): The title is derived from Ecclesiastes 7:4, which states, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” That little tidbit of info alone tells me that this story is going to be dramatically tragic, and hopefully in the best possible way. When it comes to the struggles of upper-class women in the Gilded Age, Wharton is queen, and I am her humble reading servant.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877): This tale covers two goals on my reading list–experience another great ‘fallen woman’ story and finally read a Russian author. I’ve been recommended this novel by a few of you guys, and I trust your judgment. Plus, I seriously can’t get enough of 19th-century women pushing the boundaries of femininity and morality. It’s like literary crack to me!

Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945): This is a story which I already know a lot about, since I watched the film adaptation in my high school European History class, and I routinely reference it as an example of allegory to my students. And frankly, I’m tired of mentioning a book that I still haven’t actually read. I fell head over heels in love with 1984, so there’s little chance that I’ll dislike Animal Farm. Why I continue to put off good reading, I’ll never know!

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961): I feel that if you’re going to use “catch-22” regularly in conversation, you might as well read the book which originated the term. I don’t actively seek out war stories, but it sounds like Catch-22 is much more than that. I’m a big fan of satire and anything chock-full of mentally stimulating themes and allusions, so I’m pretty sure this fits the bill.

The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925): I already love Kafka after reading his amazing shorter works, such as “A Hunger Artist” and “The Metamorphosis.” His writing is unique: bizarre, existential, and humorously morbid. Even though he died before he could finish writing it, I don’t want to die before I can finish reading it!

So what are the classics that you haven’t gotten around to yet, but you definitely want to read? Share your picks, and offer your opinions on mine!

And check back next week, because I’ll be discussing the five classics that I NEVER want to read. Any guesses???

My 1st Blogging Anniversary!

All my blogging anniversary needs is a baby panda!

So I’ve decided to forego this week’s Masterpiece Monday, because tomorrow will be my first blogging anniversary! When I became “Book Club Babe” a year ago, I would never have guessed how fun and rewarding it would be. In the grand scheme of things, my blog may not make that much of an impact, but I’m proud to say that I’ve gained over 14,000 views from all over the world. My readers are the best a blogger could ask for, and I’ve decided to make a better effort this year to engage in more conversations with them.

To celebrate this important milestone, I’m recapping my three most popular posts. Feel free to follow the links to read them in their entirety.

Fifty Shades of Grey: My Rant on Crappy Books and the People Who Buy Them. It looks like I’ve caught the Fifty Shades bandwagon and shook things up a bit with my criticisms. Luckily, my readers have awesome taste in literature and shared their own complaints of the crappy series. It felt so good to preach to the choir! (Originally posted 4/18/12)

Most Hated Words in the English Language? I had discussed The Huffington Post’s list of disgusting-sounding words. You agreed with the grossness of “moist,” “hubby,” and “fetus.” It seemed that anything too medical was also bad on the ears. However, it was nice to end on a good note with our favorite words. (Originally posted 8/2/11)

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. This was a popular read among my readers, who enjoyed the unique photographs. I’m so glad that I read this novel, which I borrowed from a friend after she recommended it, because it was a good experience to read outside my comfort zone. I rated it 4 out of 5, so make sure to put it on your to-read lists! (Originally posted 4/5/12)

So has anyone else reached the first blogging anniversary? Let me know how it felt, and we can virtually toast to another year of books and blogging!