Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish."

I had disliked Hemingway ever since I attempted to read The Sun Also Rises as a teenager, but when Hamlettte from The Edge of the Precipice  announced her read-along of The Old Man and the Sea, I decided to give him another try.  Perhaps we would get along better this time.

This novella was an unexpected surprise and delight that has, well, perhaps not made me a Hemingway fan, but at least has made me very open to reading more of this works.

Imagine that you live in a small town in a simple hut and your life consists daily of fishing for a catch that will bring you your wages when you sell it in the market.  Now imagine going 30 days without a fish, then 40 days.  You lose your only helper, a boy, because you are now viewed as unlucky, and he is sent to work with more successful fishermen.  Day 60 passes but still you sail out as every other day, confident you will catch something.  By the time our story begins, most men would be worn with worry and care, but not the fisherman of this story, Santiago, who prepares his boat and sets sail as he has the previous 84 days that he did not return with a catch.  On this particular day, Santiago ventures into the Gulf Stream north of Cuba to set his lines and wait for his luck to change.  And does it change!  Hooking an enormous fish, Santiago begins his battle which lasts three days and pulls him out into the depths of the ocean, perhaps without the possibility of return. Yet return he does, but tragically his magnificent catch has been worried by sharks, and resembles nothing but a bony carcass.  Does this worry the old man?  Not one bit.  He makes the same climb to his shack that he has made the last 84 days, yet this time he is a different man.  Falling onto his bed, he dreams of lions and his youth.

While Santiago is fighting against defeat in the novella, at the end of the novel, instead of being defeated by the fact his catch returned only as a ragged skeleton, he returns a hero and his dreams of youth indicate the experience has given him life and vigor that had been missing before that day.  It was not the result of his struggle that mattered; it was the struggle itself and its purpose, that brought meaning back into the old fisherman's life.

Ernest Hemingway and Henry ("Mike") Strater
with the remaining 500 lbs of an estimated 1000 lb marlin
 that was half-eaten by sharks before it could be landed
 in the Bahamas in 1935.
source Wikipedia
Hamlette @ The Edge of the Precipice has given us some excellent questions that we can choose to answer for the read-along:

Some people say this story is full of symbolism, maybe even an allegory.  What do you think things like the old man, the fish, and the sharks could symbolize?

The book How To Read Literature Like a Professor states that The Old Man and the Sea is a "nearly perfect literary parable", full of Christian imagery.  We encounter images of Christ in the story when, after grasping the line all night to hold the fish, Santiago made an exclamation that, as Hemingway tells us, is reminiscent of an exclamation "someone would have while having a nail passed through their hand into a piece of wood".  After the completion of his voyage, Santiago stumbles up the hill, carrying his mast on his back, bringing the image of Christ carrying the cross to Golgotha, and when Santiago falls asleep in his house on his bed, are arms are spread wide, as if in the shape of a crucified Christ-figure.

source Wikipedia
Were these symbols intentionally put into the story?  Who can know for sure.  Hemingway, himself, when questioned, said:  "There isn't any symbolism.  The sea is the sea.  The old man is an old man.  The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish.  The sharks are all sharks, no better or no worse.  All the symbolism that people say is sh*t.  What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know."  Personally I think that Hemingway used these images to convey meaning.  He didn't intend to make Santiago, Christ or a Christ-type figure, he simply used images that all readers would be familiar with, to help us feel the old man's struggle, pain, and sacrifice, and to share his triumph when he returned with the experience of the catch of his life.

Thanks for this excellent read-along, Hamlette.  Here are some other participant reviews:

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Read-a-thon, Read-a-thon, How Many Read-a-thons?

I'm finally on holidays, and this, of course, means that I'll have a large amount of time to devote to reading.  This is a very good thing, because my currently reading pile is embarrassingly large.  I was looking for a read-a-thon starting now and running throughout my holidays, but I couldn't find anything that quite fit.  So I'll be doing the following, tailoring each to fit my available reading schedule:

From July 29th to August 3rd, I'll be doing my own personal read-a-thon.

From August 4th to 10th, I will participate in The Book Monsters, Monster Read-a-thon.

The Monster Read and Review-a-thons are a great chance for us all to get together, read some fabulous reads, and get to those reviews that we know have been sitting there waiting to be done for a little too long. You can read as much as you want. Review till you cannot review anymore. Whatever works best for you! In addition to the Thons, we will be hosting some fun related challenges, great prizes, and a Twitter party

From August 11th to 17th, I'll be participating in the second annual Beat the Heat Read-a-thon

The Beat the Heat Readathon runs from August 11th to September 1st. What does this readathon entail, you ask? Well, read as much or as little as you want – the main point is to READ! You set your own goal, and for three weeks you read as many books as you can/want to reach your goal!

There will be mini-challenges throughout the Readathon for participants, along with a grand prize giveaway at the end!

Sign up here at Novel Heartbeat or over at Phantasmic Reads. You may join whenever you like, but to be eligible for our grand prize giveaway, you must sign up by August 24th.

To join, all you have to do is make a sign-up post – even if it’s just a “Let’s do this!” thing – and add your post URL to the linky below! You can put your goals and progress (will be required for the final giveaway) in your sign-up post, or you can make it separate. Totally up to you! (You are welcome to use the template we provide as well.)

In order to enter for the grand prize, you must have a post to keep track of your progress so we can see that you participated.

then, from August 18th to 24th, I'll participate in the 11th Bout of Book Read-a-thon.

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Previously, I've only participated in one read-a-thon, and that was only for 24 hours, so I am a little perplexed as to how to tackle these longer read-a-thons.  I am so terrible with lists and focussing on specific books, that I don't want to go that route.  Should I aim for a set number of pages?  I have no idea the average number of pages I read per day/per week.  Yikes!  So I think I'm going to set my goal at 50 pages a day (this should be easy) and raise the count when I see how I'm progressing.

As for books, as I said, I have a disconcerting number of books to complete, as well as some new ones that I want to read.  Here are some books on my list:

Currently reading:

The Guns of August – Barbara Tuchman
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
Antigone – Sophocles
The Book of Margery Kempe
Surprised by Joy – C.S. Lewis
Le Morte d’Arthur – Thomas Mallory
The Decameron – Giovanni Boccaccio
Barchester Towers – Anthony Trollope
The History of the Ancient World – Susan Wise Bauer

New Books:

The Terror – Dan Simmons (thanks to Andrea @ Tasseled Book)
Russian Thinkers – Isaiah Berlin
The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton
The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
Metamorphoses – Ovid
The Universe Next Door – James W. Sire
Porterhouse Blue – Tom Sharpe

I'll update when I'm able, but the plan is to read, read, read.  So, happy summer reading to everyone!

** Edited to include the Monster Read-a-thon, kindly suggested by Masanobu at All the Pretty Books **

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-coloured hotel."

Early this year I read The Great Gatsby with, I'll admit, some trepidation, since I'd read it in high school pretty much hated it. But my second exposure was much more pleasant and, if not my favourite book, I could definitely appreciate certain aspects of its structure, and especially Fitzgerald's descriptive power.  So when my Goodreads group decided to read Tender is the Night, I was in with only minor hesitation.

Menton, South of France
source Wikipedia
Well, in spite of starting with a good attitude, the tenor of this book quickly extinguished it.  The story revolves around the characters of Dick and Nicole Diver: Dick's descent from a respected psychoanalyst to an alcoholic has-been, and Nicole's transformation out of the trauma of childhood abuse and neuroses, to become a strong, yet rather callous woman who eventually divorces her husband.  I made it slightly into Book 2 before I closed it for good.  The description of the possible incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father sickened me, and when a random black man was introduced with no real reason other than to move the plot along ….. well, actually I was never sure why he was introduced.  Perhaps if I kept reading I'd have found out, but the development was so shaky to begin with, I simply couldn't see how Fitzgerald could pull together a plausible story. While he had moments of interesting description, the whole story seemed fragmented, like a jigsaw puzzle with a number of missing pieces.

Possibly autobiographical, at the very least, it is said that Fitzgerald drew from his own life experiences.  Yet Fitzgerald did not delve very deeply into the mental illness aspect, which lessened the impact of the characters and perhaps made their shallowness stand out more prominently.  And, if indeed it is autobiographical, Fitzgerald lumped himself (Dick) in with all the shallow people who had nothing better to do but party, cheat on their spouses and try to ignobly wiggle out of any trouble they found themselves in.

Villa Ephrusi, Cap-Saint-Jean-Ferrat
source Wikipedia
While reading Tender is the Night,  I felt as if there was a wall up between Fitzgerald and the reader.  He didn't really speak to you as a narrator, neither did he connect through his characters.  It was a very sparse, removed style that, in this case, lacked any impact other than perhaps, shock. Yes, there are moments of beauty in his prose, but even those moments sometimes seem contrived.  In The Great Gatsby, his "prose moments" blended well with the story, but in this book they appear to be random sprinklings without making anything cohesive.

It's not often that I don't finish a classic but I just couldn't make it through this drivel.  Will there be any more Fitzgerald's in my future?  One never can say for sure, but I doubt it.

On a positive note, the title for this book was taken from the poem, Ode to a Nightngale by John Keats, which can be read here for those who are interested!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Confessions by Saint Augustine

"You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable."

Book No. 1

Book:  The Confessions of Saint                   Augustine
          Oxford World Classics
            Translation:  Henry Chadwick

I'm starting my Well-Educated Mind Biography Project with possibly the first biography ever written, Confessions by St. Augustine.  Born in 354 A.D. in Thagaste, which is modern day Algeria, Augustine reveals his time as a boy growing up in North Africa, his profession as a teacher of rhetoric, his travels to Rome, his connections with the Manicheans*, and finally his conversion to Christianity.  We, as a reader, are privileged to have a window into his life and internal struggles, as he asks questions about life and God.

*Manicheanism:  a quasi-religion that taught a dualism of everything that is material is evil, and everything that is spirit is good.  Their beliefs caused them to take rather bizarre views of Christian teachings such as:  because God created a material world, he cannot be good; Jesus did not become man because all material is evil, etc.

First Stage of Reading:

What historical events coincide-or merge-with these personal events?

Augustine lived in the Roman Empire during a time of political, social and religious turmoil, which helped him to produce prolific amounts of writing addressing these situations.  

Augustine was born in a century where at the beginning, Christianity was a persecuted religion, yet at the end of the century most people of the Roman Empire were at least ostensibly Christian and Christianity was the official religion of the Empire.  As the church attempted to determine its nature,  there were many disputes among Christians and much of Augustine's writing deals with these issues.  He also endeavoured to reconcile pagan thought with Christian values, one of the first Latin writers to explore the benefits of pagan ideas as well as assessing their limitations.

Who is the most important person (or people) in the writer's life?

Perhaps the most important person in Augustine’s life was his mother, Monica.  Her prayers and petitions for him were unceasing and what a wonderful thing for her to see him eventually become a believer.  

Ambrose, the archbishop of Milan, was instrumental in Augustine's journey away from Manichean belief and towards a belief in God.  Augustine respected his intellect and his influence on Augustine was unequivocal, as he encouraged him to look beyond the literal into the substance of the Bible, and asserted that a deeper meaning could be found there, contrary to what Augustine had learned from his Manichean teachers.  

Saint Augustine in his study (1480)
Sandro Botticelli
source Wikipedia

The Second Stage of Reading:

What is the theme that ties the narrative together?

Confession is the most important word in this work.  It is as if Augustine must confess to make his journey complete. 

What is the life's turning point?  Is there a conversation?

Well, of course, Confessions is a very long conversation of Augustine's with God.  But in reference to his conversion, I believe it was more a process.  Augustine himself said that he believed that God was with him and guiding him even when he was living with sin and recriminations.  He also makes reference to not being ready to hear or act on certain convictions, so in retrospect, while Confessions is a conversation with God, it is also the story of his life.  I like this presentation because it makes his life meaningful; even though Augustine at times made poor choices and employed wrong-thinking, none of his life, in effect, was “wasted.”

The Confessions of Saint Augustine
source Wikipedia

The Third Stage of Reading:

What are the three moments, or time frames, of the autobiography?

1.        As a child, forming a poor character by stealing and valuing things that were superficial .  He grew up accepting the social value of using knowledge as an end, rather than as a means to forming good character, yet he could see that there was no fruit in this approach to life.

2.        As a young man, being influenced by friends and being draw into the Manichean beliefs as he searched for meaning in the world.  Augustine seemed to straddle the life of worldly pleasures and the search for a life of  abiding faith.

3.       As a more mature man, finding a way of reconciling God to his intellect, converting to Christianity, discovering joy and peace, and writing his confessions.

Do you agree with what the writer has done?

I absolutely love that Augustine kept searching.  We all get pulled into the world to a certain extent, by technology, materialism, etc. and we all struggle with our human nature.  Augustine's search for God ended not only in finding Him, but by learning that God had been search for him all-along.  And in the end, Augustine was no longer living for himself but for God, a manner of living that brought such joy and contentment to his spirit.

Saint Augustine & Saint Monica (1846)
Ary Scheffer
source Wikipedia

This book is broken up into two section, the first being Augustine's autobiography (the first 9 books) and the second being theological & philosophical works (the last 4 books).  With regard to the latter, Augustine's curiosity and quite astounding intellect can leave his reader going "huh?" as we try to navigate with him through the quite confusing realms of memory & senses, the meaning of time, and the book of Genesis and how it intersects with the Trinity.  In retrospect, the change in tone between these two sections are perhaps not as unusual as they first appear.  In the first nine autobiographical books, Augustine is dealing with the past, yet with the second section, he deals with the present and some of the thoughts that he is reflecting on during his life as a bishop.  These subjects also tie into the material he has already presented:  memory affects his presentation of his past experiences, time relates to the existence of his past recollections, and the chapters on Genesis and the Trinity are reminiscent of his earlier inquiries on how to read the Bible and how to view God.

During my first reading of Confessions, the last few chapters honestly went over my head, but with this second reading, I was able to follow Augustine's train of thought at least now and then.  I will definitely re-read this book in the future.  There is so much to draw from this great intellect and I still feel that I have only scratched the surface.

Portrait by Phillipe de Champaigne
17th century
source Wikipedia

Favourite Quotes:

“If anyone find your simultaneity beyond his understanding, it is not for me to explain it.  Let him be content to say ‘What is this?’ (Exod. 16:15).  So too let him rejoice and delight in finding you who are beyond discovery rather than fail to find you by supposing you to be discoverable.”

In our present time, where progress counts for so much, how many people would be content with not knowing?  And how paradoxical that a desire for discovery of something unknowable, actually brings less knowledge than “not knowing”.

“There is never an obligation to be obedient to orders which it would be pernicious to obey.”

Further reading: 

Monday, 14 July 2014

Délicieusement Cru par Judita Wignall

No, not a classic, but a book that can be added to my Summer Freak Language Challenge.  About four years ago, I went on a raw diet for about three weeks and felt the best that I've felt in a long time. So this summer I've been poking around raw cookbooks again, and this one just happened to be in French.

Délicieusement Cru, or Deliciously Raw in English, is a raw cookbook that takes raw food to a new level.  Using similar ingredients to other raw cookbooks, it adds new creative zest and additional ingredients and techniques which transform your common raw food recipes into something gourmet.

Stand-out recipes include:

  • Smoothie au piña colada
  • Crêpes aux petits fruits et à la crème
  • Salade vitaminée
  • Soupe verte énergétique
  • Hoummos de courgettes
  • Fromage de noix de cajou et de graines de chanvre
  • Sandwiches roulés aux légumes et au pesto
  • Pizza végétarienne
  • Mousse à l'orange et au chocolat
  • Tarte aux fruits d'été
  • Crème glacée à la vanille
  • Gâteau au fromage aux cerises et au chocolat blanc

An especially clever addition by the author, is a list of the soaking times, drying times and preparation times at top of the recipes.  Making raw food usually takes much less prep time than cooked food, but much more co-ordination.  By having the times listed, it makes this task less complicated.

As for the French used in this book, I was rather shocked to find out that I needed very little help with translation; I knew the majority of the words and those I didn't know, I could accurately guess.  The one word that had me completely stumped was le chanvre, which my dictionary soon disclosed as "hemp".   It was rather unsettling to discover that my French food vocabulary is rather large, but at least I've determined that if I want to increase my vocabulary, I need to stay away from French cookbooks. :-)

Has anyone else tried raw foods or ever followed a raw food diet?  Please let me know!  I'd love to hear your experience!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014


 by Max Ehrmann

Allez tranquillement parmi le vacarme et la hâte
Go placidly amid the noise and haste

Et souvenez-vous de la paix qui peut exister dans le silence
Remember what peace there may be in silence

Swiss Landscape with Flowering Apple Tree (1876)
Gustave Courbet
source Wikiart

Sans aliénation, vivre autant que possible en bons termes avec toutes personnes
As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons

Dîtes doucement et clairement votre vérité; et écoutez les autres, même le simple d'esprit et l'ignorant, ils ont eux aussi leur histoire.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Évitez les individus bruyants et agressifs, ils sont une vexation pour l'esprit.
Avoid loud and agressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

Ne vous comparez avec personne : vous risqueriez de devenir vain ou vaniteux.
If you compare yourselves with others, you may become vain and bitter.

Il y a toujours plus grand et plus petit que vous.
For there with always be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Jouissez de vos projets aussi bien que de vos accomplissements.
Enjoy your acheivements as well as your plans.

Soyez toujours intéressé à votre carrière, si modeste soit-elle
Keep interested in your own career, however humble

C'est un véritable atout dans les prospérités changeantes du temps
It is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Flower Seller at la Madeleine
Edouard Cortes
source Wikiart

Soyez prudent dans vos affaires car le monde est plein de ruses
Exercise caution in your business affairs for the world is full of trickery

Mais ne soyez pas aveugle en ce qui concerne la vertu qui existe ;
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;

Plusieurs individus recherchent les grands idéaux ;
Many persons strive for by high ideals;

Et partout la vie est remplie d'héroïsme.
And everywhere life is full of heroism

Soyez vous-même. Surtout n'affectez pas l'amitié.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection.

Non plus ne soyez cynique en amour
Neither be cynical about love

Car il est en face de toute stérilité et de tout désenchantement aussi éternel que l'herbe
For in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass

Portrait of an Old Man (1860)
Konstantin Makovsky
source Wikiart

Prenez avec bonté le conseil des années,
Take kindly to the counsel of the years

En renonçant avec grâce à votre jeunesse.
Gracefully surrendering the things of youth

Fortifiez une puissance d'esprit pour vous protéger en cas de malheur
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune

Mais ne vous chagrinez pas avec vos chimères.
But do not distress yourself with imaginings

De nombreuses peurs naissent de la fatigue et de la solitude.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness

Au delà d'une discipline saine, soyez doux avec vous-même
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself

Vous êtes un enfant de l'univers, pas moins que les arbres et les étoiles;
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;

Vous avez le droit d'etre ici.
You have a right to be here.

Et qu'il vous soit clair ou non, l'univers se déroule sans doute comme il le devrait
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Soyez en paix avec Dieu, quelle que soit votre conception de lui
Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be

Quels que soient vos travaux et vos rêves,
Whatever your labors and aspirations

Gardez, dans le désarroi bruyant de la vie, la paix de votre âme.
In the noisy confusion of life, keep at peace with your soul

Avec toutes ses perfidies, ses besognes fastidieuses et ses rêves brisés,
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams

Le monde est pourtant beau ;
It is still a beautiful world;

Prenez attention.
Be cheerful.

Tâchez d'être heureux.
Strive to be happy.

“Desiderata” in Latin means “desired things”  It is a poem that was written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, a poet, writer and attorney, yet it’s popularity only spiralled after his death.  In 1956, a rector of St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Reverend Frederick Kates, included the poem in some devotional material that he planned to give to his congregation, starting the poem on a path of common recognition.  When U.S. presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson was found dead in his home in 1965, a copy of this poem was found by his bed which furthered its rising popularity.  Since then, numerous politicians, actors and musicians have either used the poem for their art or spoken of the effect that it has had on them in their lives.

A bronze statue of Ehrmann can be found in his hometown of Terre Haute, Indianna.

Max Ehrmann (1949)
source Wikipedia