I know I fell off of my Harvard Classics journey. My classes started and I was given more responsibilities at work, so my reading has been neglected. Now that I have finished Death of a Transvestite, I will be remedying this as quickly as I can.
I hope you will join me in welcoming back Francis Bacon.
Aside from my current project of reading the Harvard Classics, I will be beginning courses for my MA program on Monday. One draw back is that I will have less free time to keep up with the Harvard Classics, but you can look forward to hearing all about the books I read in those courses. I’m especially looking froward to my Native American Lit and Children’s Lit courses. I think I am way too excited to be reading some Harry Potter for credit.
OK, now I’m just so excited I need to share the book list:
Where the Wild Things Are
Voyage of the Dawn Treader
HP and the Chamber of Secrets
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen V.1
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Tale of Desperaux
Bridge to Terabithia
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Heartsong of Charging Elk
And then there are two others that are legitimate text books. I have read all but six of those books. I did see the film of Desperaux, but those are never as good. I am noticing that there are a few odd books from their series, and that makes me wonder what we will be talking about in reference to that. So excited.
I will no longer be using the Tumblr text box to write my thoughts. Once again, near the middle of my post, my browser crashed and all was lost. Once again, Tumblr’s autosave feature failed. I am this close to referring to it as Starscream.
Edit: as I was copy pasting what I had written from Word to Tumblr, Firefox crashed once more.
Alright, it looks like I liked this book so much I have around 50 quotations to share via the queue. I really need to get back into the habit of quoting as I go so that I stop inundating the blog with quotations after I finish a work. Whoops.
For those of you who are curious I am now into the third volume (I really thought I was further along) of the Harvard Classics and have begun reading Essays, Civil and Moral by Francis Bacon. This volume also contains Thomas Browne and prose by John Milton. Having read most of Milton’s prose for class, I am more looking forward to reading Bacon and Browne than slogging through his prose again.
Note: I did enjoy Milton’s prose, but I have a hard time rereading things for pleasure. I know, that’s weird for a reader to admit.
The Harvard Classics, Volume II, Book V: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
To continue the philosophy groove of this volume we come to Marcus Aurelius. So far his Meditations have been interesting if a little different. He orders his work like a list with numbered chapters. The first chapter contained only people he knew and their profound effect upon him. Each person was then given a number. Pretty straight forward. It also reads a little easier than the previous two authors in that Marcus comes across a little like a child to me. At least in this first chapter, his style of writing is essentially a wonderfully long run-on sentence in the style of Dickens (i.e. it was punctuated well, but went of for days (and, yes, I know that makes it not technically a run-on sentence)).
The only other thing I’d like to mention for now on the subject is the curious appearance of Severus in Marcus’ list of influential people. (I’m about to segue into Harry Potter so if that’s not your cup of tea feel free to scroll to the next post.) Now one of the things I most enjoy about the Harry Potter series is J.K. Rowling’s intense research into names and words for her series. I love suddenly finding out that Kreacher is German for Creeper (though spelled Kriecher in the German) or that Durmstrang is an accepted amalgam of Sturm und Drang (also German) or that Lupin, which is a derivative of Lupine, or wolf, (bet you know where I’m going with that one) turns into a werewolf, coupled with the name Remus (one half of the orphaned boys, raised by wolves, who eventually founded Rome in mythology). I think I’ve proved my point about Rowling and her research (and these are just the ones off the top of my head). Having found Severus in an unrelated text I am now compelled to look further into his origins and see what, if anything, Rowling borrowed for her characters.
I apologize for my obscene usage of parenthesis in this post.
The Harvard Classics, Volume II, Book II: Crito (and Book III: Phaedo)
I made a mistake. I thought the order went Apology, Phaedo, Crito for the Plato section. Can you guess where I was wrong?
I finished Crito last night and am about half way through with Phaedo right now.
Crito is again a dialogue. This time the format is like a play where the two players are Crito and Socrates. It follows the conversation between the two shortly after the trial of The Apology of Socrates as Crito is trying to convince Socrates to escape the prison, and thus death.
Crito has two main arguments. The first deals with the problem of Socrates’ children being raised without their father’s teachings and guidance and the second over the potential moral dilemma Socrates might have over his close friends losing money and reputation for aiding in his escape.
Both of these are easily refuted by Socrates. Socrates sites the laws of Athens as is main reason for not escaping. The (ridiculously) simplified synopsis is that because he has accepted their laws his entire life and chosen to bear an raise his children in Athens and has never left the boundaries thereof he must have decided that the laws and regulations of Athens are agreeable to him. Because he has chosen to comply with these rules he must then comply with the ruling of the court of Athens. (I will admit I probably missed something terribly important.) Essentially it boils down to the hypocrisy of abiding by the laws only to decide the laws are unfair after a fight with them.
While this makes sense, I can’t help but think that it’s a kind of an odd thought process. He clearly didn’t agree with the laws fully or he never would have broken them, accidentally or otherwise. I do, however, admire the way in which he accepts his fate and ultimately is excited for death (explained more fully in Phaedo).
Again the philosophy is a little long winded if you aren’t accustomed to it. Each point is so thoroughly explained and reasoned that I almost lost the train of thought several times.
As for Phaedo is also a dialogue, however, it is more poorly constructed. I have a very hard time keeping track of who is saying what. It reminds me of Moll Flanders actually. Instead of formatting it like a play throughout, Plato uses the technique, “[Words], said, Cebes”. I have an awful habit of skipping over or not processing sentences like that, therefore I don’t always know who is speaking and have to reread many paragraphs. Edit: I went back and looked and the beginning is styled like a play, however, when Phaedo begins retelling the story of the final conversation the [name]: is dropped.
At any rate the main crux of this piece is the final conversation with Socrates before his death. It is told by Phaedo to Echecrates. I think it’s interesting that the story is about a conversation told by someone who was there by an author who is said to have not been in attendance of the original discussion. How can you trust that what Plato is writing is even true? I am aware that many accounts do place Plato in the room during the conversation, but it seems strange for him to exclude himself in his own story.
It is also revealed here, for the first time, that Socrates wasn’t killed until about a month after his trial date due to a festival. Apparently during this festival (in celebration of the safe voyage of this ship (dedicated to Apollo) carrying 14 youths of Athens) the city is not allowed do kill anyone so as not to dishonor the festival. I had no idea. From the dialogue of Crito there is only mention that a boat is docking in the morning and that means that Socrates must die the following day. There was no explanation as to why. Obviously the readers of the time would implicitly know the reason this boat is so important, but I, having not studied Greek history, did not. It’s kind of like the plethora of pop culture references in television shows. Our children will probably have no idea what was so funny or relevant about XYZ. I also doubt that these shows will be watched by them anyway. /tangent.
I was also struck bythe fact that there are no women present at this last discussion. Socrates’ lover (I presume) was present when the men arrived, however, she is asked to leave (with their infant son) early on due to her emotions.
On entering we found Socrates just released from chains, and Xanthippe, whom you know, sitting by him, and holding his child in her arms. When she saw us she uttered a cry and said, as women will: “O Socrates, this is the last time that either you will converse with your friends, or they with you.” Socrates turned to Crito and said: “Crito, let someone take her home.” Some of Crito’s people accordingly led her away, crying out and beating herself.
I just can’t get over his abrupt dismissal of her or Phaedo’s quip “as women will”. I do realize (as explained later in this work) that the soul cannot acquire knowledge when the body is distracted by love, food, etc. but it seems rather callous to send away the presumed mother of his child for an outburst, and with no explanation or apology. Perhaps we just come from different worlds with different views, but it was a little disarming to notice. Phaedo actually comments aside to Echecrates that he felt an odd sense knowing that this was his final conversation with his good friend.
I remember the strange feeling which came over me at being with him. For I could hardly believe that I was present at the death of a friend, and therefore I did not pity him.
So why is it OK for Phaedo to admit to these thoughts, but not for Xanthippe? I will concede that she was more exaggerated in her outburst, but it’s the same sentiment. Perhaps, because she is not a philosopher, she couldn’t see the blessing of death as the men did.
At this point the men have discussed death and why it is not an evil as well as the existence of an afterlife and the soul. It is rather interesting but, again, long winded. I’m going to head out and hopefully finish Phaedo before I get to sleep this evening.
I’ve moved onto the first author of the Harvard Classics Volume II: Plato. I start with The Apology and follow it up with Phaedo and Crito. I’m not expecting any of these to take me too long. The Apology is only 30 pages so I am hoping to finish it up tomorrow after work. I will continue to post The Sherlockian quotations through Sunday (I think) as they are already queued up. I will probably end up inserting any quotations I enjoy into the queue between Sherlockian ones, but who knows.
I have never read any Plato (that I remember) so I am looking forward to this.
I was updating my Shelfari page today to add that I had finished Promise not to Tell, and I decided to read through some of the reviews like I usually do. Some people have the plot entirely wrong. One said the story was about a problem teen names Sean and two people seem to think that this is a book about the murder of a nurses granddaughter. This confuses me.
If you don’t know how Shelfari works here’s a quick explanation. You create an account. You type in the book title in the search bar. The search kicks back books of that title or by that author. You click on the picture of the book and are brought to that book’s page. From there you can add the book, write a review, or see some information about the book.
Because of how visual the site is, it’s odd that there are three separate reviews that detail a wholly different plot line.
The real plot line follows the protagonist, Katie, as she takes an emergency leave from her job as a school nurse to determine whether to send her Alzheimer addled mother to a home. While she is there a murder is committed that is disturbingly similar to the murder of her best friend thirty years ago. The story twines the past and present together as Katie comes to terms with both murders. It is part mystery, thriller, and ghost story and is surprisingly engaging.
I read this book in two sittings and had a very hard time putting it down. Because of that, and the fact that I didn’t have my notebook and wasn’t going to write in a book I hadn’t purchased, I don’t have a particularly analytical review of it to give. I am incredibly OK with that. The Harvard Classics haven’t been able to hold my prolonged attention like that so far, so it was pleasant to become so immersed in a story so quickly.
I was surprised to learn that this is also McMahon’s first novel. It was reasonably well thought out, though there were some lingering questions in the end, and the characters actually developed and weren’t complete Mary Sues as can happen to new writers. I also enjoyed that, while I was able to discern who the killer was before the big reveal, the major plot twists were entirely surprising.
On an aesthetic note, I dislike the cover art. I have a real issue with using photos of people to represent the characters. I especially hate movie images replacing original cover art (one of the many reasons I enjoy the Harry Potter covers so much is that they are all so diverse from language to language and print to print and yet there is not one with the actors gracing it). I like being able to form my own mental images of the people and don’t like when that privilege is taken from me.
I am also choosing not to count this as my free between Harvard Classics book.
The next book in this volume of the Harvard Classics is Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn. Both Franklin and Woolman mention him (or his descendants) in their own autobiographies so I am looking forward to what he has to say for himself.
The format of this one is different from the previous two in that it is literally a list of 555 thoughts on various subjects (Reparation, Luxury, Murmuring, and Avarice to name a few). I am curious to see what he has to say on these subjects.
Because this is an entirely different style than my usual, I will most likely only be posting quotations I enjoy (accompanied by their subject title) and will do an overall review at the end. Of course if I have comments upon one of the 555 fruits of solitude I will make them.
I also feel the need to say that the following book will be More Fruits of Solitude (part two of Some Fruits of Solitude). As they each contain their own table of contents and introduction to the reader I will be treating them as separate books even though they are by the same author and written in the same styles.
I am so intensely excited that the book picked up. Even if it was only for about a half a chapter. It renews my hope that this book won’t be a gigantic waste of my time.
He finally elucidates on his journeys instead of giving a stock answer about them and in doing so elaborates a great deal on his stance against slavery. His main bias towards the practice is that they are all gods creatures and should, therefore, all be free. He also believes that a side effect of owning slaves is that this ownership tends to breed laziness in the owners.
There was actually a really interesting passage where Woolman recounts a conversation between himself and another about the ownership of slaves. The slave owner claimed that this practice was acceptable because the people he owned clearly bore the mark of Cain by being so darkly skinned. This was an argument I had never heard before. They then got into a discussion about the Flood and how all of Cain’s descendants were wiped out. I thought it was worth noting only because I had never seen a biblical reason for slave owning; usually the arguments are based on living conditions in the home land.
As I mentioned before John Woolman refused to write up wills detailing the continued enslavement of people. It turns out that in several cases his refusal actually caused the men to rethink their wills and come back at a later point to amend their wills to grant freedom to their slaves. It amazes me that this tactic seems so passive, and yet it worked.
On a wholly unrelated note I think it’s interesting how these two texts are linked. It makes sense for the editors of this collection to have placed them side by side. I hadn’t given it much thought due to the immense difference in personage of these two men, but they are connected in odd ways. For instance, John publishes a manuscript on slavery in 1754 and it was Franklin who published it. I also believe that Franklin fought against slavery as well, but on this I am uncertain as it was never a point of his autobiography. I will say that he seems to have only worked with paid or indebted persons.
I had initially thought that when Franklin referred to Quakers as Friends (his emphasis) that he was being oddly sarcastic. I now know that the Quakers referred to themselves as Friends. I’m not certain where I’m going with this except that it was a weird revelation for me. Maybe I’m really that out of touch with religious societies and they all refer to themselves by some colloquial name or another.
Another difference between the styles of these two men, beyond the obvious religious context, is that where Woolman doesn’t use transitions I am annoyed, but when Franklin did it the work still seemed to flow. It’s possible that Franklin’s many asides stating he must be grown old to ramble as he does caused me to accept this as an affectation of age whereas Woolman is writing his memoirs at the age of 36 and I can’t accept this.
Something that is completely Woolman is the way that he writes out dates. Instead of saying June of February he says fifth month and third month (yes I am aware that neither June nor February are the fifth or third month I just liked them). It’s just a strange way of writing dates that I actually really like even if it does confuse me.
I have officially begun the second book of the first volume of the Harvard Classics. Honestly, I’m not too impressed by it as of yet (a whopping one chapter in), but we’ll see how that turns out in the end.
It should be said that John Woolman is a Quaker and he major themes of his journal are religious with a subplot of anti-slavery. While I am certainly on the same side as he in terms of slavery, I’m not so enamored with all things religious. I will be taking this account with a grain of salt and as I do hope to gain something from this work I will therefore be putting aside my personal biases.
I finished this a few days ago and didn’t get around to posting on it for whatever reason until now.This won’t be too very long because I’ve talked about most everything I noted down and I have several things I’d like to quote instead.
My overall thoughts are quite positive. I am slightly annoyed that it ends in the year 1757 though. I would have liked to hear his thoughts on the Declaration of Independence and his later years in general.
I think it is rather strange that he didn’t talk about his family life at all. It was kind of a shock to hear about how his son helped serve in the Indian communications as a sort of officer when he hadn’t even mentioned that he had a son up until that point. I think a lot of my expectation for family life or much more personal thoughts in general is due to the current societies’ need to know every little detail of every celebrity. However, it just seems very separate not to hear anything concrete from his personal life after his wedding.
It was also strange that his electrical experiments were not discussed at length ever. Most people associate Benjamin Franklin with electricity and independence alone. Therefore, I was expecting a great deal of the work to go into detail about his experiments (trials and errors etc.) and was stunned that 40 pages from the end little was said. When he did get around to mentioning them it was only in relations to patents and how he was received abroad. It seems strange that what he is most famously known for now is so vaguely discussed in his autobiography. It makes you wonder how much he valued it as a part of his past.
I was also struck by the deletion of certain parts of words. It is most to see words like f—k or d—n censored, but for some reason Franklin decided to omit the word devil in a curse he repeats. I think it shows a lot about how society has shifted from religious to sensational. I also have to assume that people didn’t go around saying fuck all the time in the 1700s, but, once again, that goes back to shifting societies.
I knew that Franklin was responsible for the library system, fire departments, the stove, and key electrical components, but it was enlightening to hear about the entire person thereof - especially in his own voice (even if he did come off as a little holier than thou on occasion).
Initial Thoughts on the Harvard Classics: Volume 1
As it turns out the first book in volume one is the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. I’m not a huge fan of nonfiction/autobiographies. This confuses my love of memoirs. When I realized that I would have to read about Franklin I was kind of annoyed/disappointed. Now that I’m all of 20 pages in I have changed my mind. I wasn’t expecting to actually enjoy this read this early in. It has made me both chuckle and think.
I’m looking forward to the rest of this read.
Forgot to mention that I kind of adore that this entire book is written to his son in the hopes of teaching him about his ancestors.
Last last night I finished The Club Dumas. I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. This is a good thing because I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with newer fiction - I find I can guess the endings and the plots are slow or tedious or the writing is just not up to what I want. I sound seriously pretentious now.
The way that Pérez-Reverte is able to keep the intensely convoluted plot cohesive is amazing. First let me explain the basic storyline. Lucas Corso is given an original chapter of The Three Musketeers to authenticate from his friend, who sells exotic/pricy books to collectors, Flavio La Ponte. From here Corso begins his investigation. Along the way he is given another book,The Nine Doors, to authenticate. This one, however, is said to be able to summon the devil. Sounds interesting, no?
This is where the story becomes self referential and confusing. While journeying around Europe finding out more about Dumas and the other two extant copies of the devil book, Corso with newly acquired friend/body guard, Irene Adler ( Aside: not gonna lie, I full love the use of this pseudonym) Corso begins to notice that some of the characters he meets are similar to Dumas’ and that he seems to be reenacting bits of the serial. Like I said, kind of confusing. That’s the basic frame work, but there is much more to the story.
This is a book about books and bibliophiles for people who love books. I kid you not there is a point where Corso visits two book restorers and they explain how to forge and/or restore ancient books. There are also points where Corso blatantly points out how things would happen if they were in a novel and how he has become a “second-level reader” of the text he’s now living. On top of these two instances of booknerding, there are several times when famous works are analyzed or used to convey important plot points.
Now I don’t want to give too much away, so I’m only going to say that because of my familiarity with some of the texts referenced I was able to guess quite a bit of the ending. However, there was much of it that was a complete surprise. For instance I knew who was behind the Nine Doors plot, but not in which way and the curious second nature of one of the main characters. Not to mention that I was partially correct about our narrator. I liked how the twists kept coming, but mostly how they came at a reasonable degree and pace. Everything is pretty explicitly explained as it needs to be, but in a non-patronizing way.
One of the things I didn’t like about the novel was the intense repetition. I understand, having finished the novel, that some of it was for very good reason. However, I can’t get over the sheer extent of it all.
I was also struck by the female paradox that is so prevalent in literature. It seems that women cannot exist in the space between virgin and whore or angel and demon. This is true of Irene as well. While she first appears to walk the line betwixt the two well, there is a point where she end up kicking some serious ass and Corso is just completely stunned by it. Other than the obvious societal engendering of the preconceived and outdated roles of men and women, there is no reason that her ability to beat up a man is that incredible. She has stated from the get go that she is looking out for Corso, so why is he so surprised when she does? It’s a little frustrating to see that the only portrayals of women in this book are mostly negative. The other woman is ostensibly a “loose woman”, which we learned in her initial description. It would just be nice to have a well rounded female character for once instead of the flat tomboy and vixen tropes that are so often used.
I would indeed recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good, relatively fast-paced mystery or has a love of books in general.
I have decided to finally read my Harvard Classics (five-foot shelf of books). I don’t think that I will be able to just chug through all five feet in a row, so my plan is to alternate a volume of the Classics with a book of my choice. This will probably mean the alternate book would be something light and quick. Because there are multiple books within each volume I will be posting them under Harvard Classics Vol. X: Book Title and finish the volume before continuing onto my next book.
I will continue posting my thoughts and quotes from each that I enjoyed and want to share. I’m looking forward to this venture!
Right now I am reading The Club Dumas and from the 15 pages I’ve read I like it and I’m finding out some interesting things about Dumas and the Musketeers.