Friday, January 25, 2013

Words to Remember: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

Reflections: A Princess of Mars

Adam C. Zern opines on Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars:

"I have very mixed feelings toward A Princess of Mars.  I was one of the few who went to see the film adaptation of Burroughs's stories, John Carter, when it was released in theaters last year.  I liked the movie enough in order to be interested in the mythology and characters presented.  I'm still trying to work out exactly how I feel about the book.

The science fiction is entertaining, sometimes a little odd.  I'm more than willing to accept a few odd elements if a story is good and characters are compelling.  But A Princess of Mars is very inconsistent in that regard.  At times the story moves too slow, getting bogged down in superfluous details.  Other times the story moves far too quickly, leaving out details that would have made good sense to have included.  The characters are affecting as well as dull.  It's a strange combination.  I will say, however, in the end I did accept John Carter as a true hero in the classic sense of the word, and I felt saddened that his world of peace and happiness was taken from him at the end of the book.

The big question now is whether or not I will continue to the series.  Maybe.  I don't have any overriding impulse at the moment, but I can see myself gravitating back to it after a long hiatus away from it.  At that point perhaps my feelings toward the first book in the series will be more definite."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Reflections: Samuel Adams: A Life

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Ira Stoll's Samuel Adams: A Life:

"I recently went to the dermatologist with Samuel Adams: A Life under my arm.  As the dermatologist came into the room she mentioned the book by saying: 'Reading about beer, eh?'  She chuckled and then said: 'I've been meaning to brush up on my U.S. presidents.'  Of course, she may have known that Samuel Adams, the revolutionary patriot and devoted Christian, was never a president of the United States.  I have a feeling she had no idea.  Such an experience exemplifies how little most people know not only about U.S. history but about Samuel Adams especially. 

Although I knew he was never a U.S. president, I wasn't terribly familiar with his life, aside from the fact he was John Adams's cousin.  Ira Stoll attempts to explicate at the end of his book why Samuel Adams, of all of the revolutionary leaders, have been somewhat forgotten by history.  One reason, according to Stoll, is because Samuel Adams left a relatively small paper trail, especially when compared to others like John Adams or George Washington.  What he did leave behind, however, is exceptionally enlightening. 

The most interesting aspect of Samuel Adams's life in terms of what it reveals about American history is his incredible devotion to God, religion, and the moral teachings that spring therefrom.  To review his life and the motivations that drove him to be the apostle of liberty that he was is to reveal the spiritual foundation of America.  His radical love, for such it was at the time (and even more so now), for liberty was springing from a belief in a loving God who desired freedom for all of his children.  Any who posit that the United States is not a christian nation or is not founded upon Biblical principles should read this book.  Although they may still maintain their opinions, they can at the very least understand where such conclusions are derived from.

I was unsure of Ira Stoll's Samuel Adams: A Life the first 50 pages or so.  The book certainly has some issues.  But I came to very much enjoy it because of what I learned from it.  Samuel Adams is, like all of the revolutionary brothers, a personality worth getting to know.  My life benefited from it."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reflections: The Outsiders

Brad Howes opines on S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders:

"I consider The Outsiders to be a young adult masterpiece.  The first-person account of Ponyboy Curtis is 'can’t-put-it-down' good.  Set in Oklahoma in the 1950’s, The Outsiders provides a look into the life of self-proclaimed Greasers who live on the poor side of town.  Though grimy and ill-mannered, the Greasers can be commended for their unity and loyalty to their brotherhood.  That brotherhood however, always seems to stir up a conflict with the upper-class Socs.  Revenge and spite run through the blood of the Greasers.  Ponyboy, with the unfortunate aid of tragedy at points throughout the novel, is learning that revenge doesn’t provide any change of status for the Greasers or the Socs.  Greasers will be Greasers and Socs will be Socs.  In learning this lesson however, Ponyboy learns much, much more about life and what it means to 'Stay Gold.'

When S.E. Hinton started The Outsiders, she was just fifteen years old.  In fact, the novel was a project for her creative writing class.  She says that the book is not based on a true story, but simply tells the stories of groups and cliques in communities across America.  As far as I am concerned, the book is immortal for this very reason.  There will always be feuding classes of kids, whether white/black, poor/rich, nerd/jock/goth...the list goes on.  The Outsiders serves as a novel that convinces readers that people on opposing  sides must still watch the same sunset."

Reflections: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Brad Howes shares his thoughts on Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:

"I like short novels (or should I call them “novellas”?).  I appreciate an author that can grab a reader, tell a complete story, and create a satisfactory resolution in a couple of hours.  Perhaps it’s my inability to keep attention for long enough to enjoy the epic classics, but when I can finish a book in a day, I am pleased.  Stevenson doesn’t bog us down with minor details here; rather, he builds suspense immediately and moves the story along quickly.  Moreover, the language is in the beautiful British style that just cannot be taught. 

The classic takes a few different forms throughout the text.  The body of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is written in first person from the point of view of Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer, Mr. Utterson.  Utterson suspects foul play as a result of Jekyll’s request that he execute a will conveying everything to a mysterious Mr. Hyde upon  Jekyll’s death or disappearance.  My favorite line from the book expresses Utterson’s determination: “If he be Mr. Hyde...I shall be Mr. Seek.“   

After  Utterson’s informal, and eerie, investigation is complete, we get a short explanation of events from a mutual friend of Jekyll and Utterson.  The story concludes with a lengthy letter written by  Jekyll himself, explaining the transformations that have taken over his life.  While the letter does provide closure and answers, it’s not very exciting.  In fact, Utterson’s discovery could have been the end of the novella—had it been, I don’t think I would have enjoyed the book less. 

Bottom line:  A must-read.  Even if you hate it, it was only three hours of your day wasted.  And you won’t hate it."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Reflections: Short Stories from Jane Austen

Cortney Howes shares her thoughts on two short stories from Jane Austen:

"Jane Austen began writing at the age of fourteen and two of her works from that age that I have recently read are Lady Susan and Love and Friendship. Both of these short stories were very entertaining and easy to follow. Juliet McMaster in her article, Young Jane Austen states, 'I would argue… that if you don’t know the juvenilia, you don’t know Austen.'

Lady Susan is about a mother who is recently widowed. She spends her time flirting with married men and getting them to fall in love with her and then moving on.  Lady Susan is the evil of this story but also the entertainment. I was always wondering what she was going to do next!

Love and Friendship is a highly dramatic story of two women and their emotional life. Austen is obviously making fun of the dramatics that women use when something bad happens to them or one of their loved ones.

These works are argued to be not as mature as her other  popular novels; however, I really enjoyed them. I would highly recommend both of these short stories!"

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reflections: Gods and Generals

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Jeff Shaara's Gods and Generals:

"Years ago I stumbled across The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, a historical novel about the battle of Gettysburg, and thought I would give it a chance.  I have never forgotten it.  The narrative was one of the finest I've read in the historical novel genre.  Interestingly though, I didn't make much effort at the time to read the other books in the series, written by Michael Shaara's son, Jeff Shaara, Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure.  After several years, I've finally taken some time to read the prequel to The Killer Angels, Gods and Generals, and it is a book I will not soon forget.

Character is where Gods and Generals truly shines.  The author takes sufficient time, in my opinion, to establish the central characters, such as: Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Winfield Scott Hancock, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, among others.  The best part about the book is that neither side, Federal or Southern armies, are painted to be totally evil or degenerate.  Characters fight for home and family, nation and unity, principles and virtues, not for a blind rage to dominate or control.  As a reader, you feel emotionally affected by each of their stories, regardless of which side they fought for.  The beginning of the book is especially poignant as the Civil War begins in earnest and friends begin to siphon off into opposing camps.  The subtext of the book—"The heartbreaking saga . . ."—is very appropriate to the realities presented in the book.  Although it's not oppressive in its "heartbreaking," it did affect me in a very real and lasting way.  I pondered often on the impact of the Civil War and felt sympathy for those who's lives were everlastingly changed by it.

Perhaps the only criticism I could offer regarding the book is that it once or twice becomes too consumed by the nuances of military tactics.  But those times were very brief and not terribly noticeable.  Overall, it's an excellent book. 

The moments that truly matter in this book are the ones surrounding the complex characters you're introduced to.  Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's story is really the pay-off of this book, and it is genuinely moving.  I would highly recommend Gods and Generals, and I am sure little time will pass before I read the third and final book in the serious, The Last Full Measure."