Monday, April 17, 2017

Recently Read: Belle Epoque

Author: Elizabeth Ross
Genre: Young Adult- Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 2013
Page Count: 336
Rating: 3/5

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Maude has run away from her home and father to avoid an arranged marriage to a man more than double her age, and she has landed in Paris. There she finds the city to be a difficult place to survive on her own, until she comes across an ad in the newspaper offering work to young women. Maude soon finds out that this work is acting as an average-looking foil to the society women who want to appear more beautiful. Maude must decide if this work, and a new-found friendship with her first client, is worth the sacrifice of her pride, or if the job even requires any sacrifice of her pride at all.

I ordered this book from Book Outlet quite a while ago and didn't know much about it, besides the basic idea of a foil and it taking place in historical Paris. I'm glad I ended up picking this one up, as it was an enjoyable read. 

The pacing of the book was spot on, and Maude was a likable character. I was intrigued by the idea of beauty foils and was not surprised to find out that this practice is rooted in fact. It is interesting to examine the lengths that women of the past and present go to in order to obtain 'beauty' and how that idea of beauty changes with time.  If you're a fan of historical fiction, this one is worth checking out. It was quick and enjoyable and the historic Paris setting is always amazing to visit.

One of my favorite elements of this novel was that it was set against the backdrop of the construction of the Eiffel Tower, which the majority of people detested at the time. This worked perfectly as a metaphor for the changing ideals of beauty, as the Eiffel Tower is now the most well-known symbol of Paris and one of the most recognized structures in the world. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Recently Read: The Sun is Also a Star (And Thoughts on Fate)

Author: Nicola Yoon
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Publication Date: 2016
Page Count: 348
Rating: 5/5

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Natasha is about to be deported. She is spending her last day in America trying to find a way to stay instead of returning to Jamaica, a place she doesn't feel like she will ever fit in. Daniel is on his way to an interview for Yale, where he will go to be a doctor, just as his Korean parents expect him too. Fate, the universe, or random chance brings them together on Natasha's last day in a America and the meeting impacts them for the rest of their lives. 

I have a weakness for books that deal with fate. I'm fascinated by the idea of fate and the invisible governing force in the universe, whatever that may be. Because of this, I was really interested in reading this novel, and I really loved it. I flew through this book and lost myself in it. I liked both Natasha and Daniel, they felt real; I love when a young adult novel reminds me of what it's like to be a teenager and feel intense emotions and this novel definitely did that. Natasha and Daniel's interactions made me laugh, they frustrated me, and I found myself quite emotional at the end of the novel, which is always a sign that a book is a five-star book for me. 

I've seen quite a few reviews that complain about 'insta-love' in this novel, and I can see their point, but I think they are missing something. I think the point of Natasha and Daniel's immediate and intense connection is that it's governed by fate, or that higher power that orders the universe. I didn't find they're relationship unrealistic; there was growth and doubt in their relationship. I believe that you can feel connected to someone very quickly, and outside circumstances can heighten that connection and cause a sense of urgency. So in short, I didn't see this novel as a case of insta-love, and I really enjoyed Natasha and Daniel's connection and relationship.

This book made me do a lot of thinking about fate. What makes fate so interesting to me is that it can function as an alternative to religion for some people. I myself, am not religious, but I can't deny there seems to be some higher power that orders the universe. Many people, myself included, are uncomfortable with the idea of the universe and our lives being completely random and in our own control, so fate or destiny can act as that higher power we can blame in bad times or hope to in uncertain times.

The idea of, and desire for, a higher power is something shared between all humans, and in my opinion is one of the greatest appeals that religions make to human nature. This makes fate such an interesting and common theme to explore in art, and I think this novel is a thoughtful and well-done addition to that list of art. 

In short, I really liked this book. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me think: everything I could want from a novel.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Poetry Spotlight: Wilfred Owen (Happy National Poetry Month)

In my second year of college I took an Introduction to Poetry class and I fell in love with reading poetry. Before then, poetry was always a little intimidating and a medium that I didn't have much experience with. But after that class, I became addicted to reading poetry, and during the class I actually found myself thinking in and expressing myself in poetry- which I never would have guessed would happen in a million years. So, with this series I'm here to share some of my favorite poems in a way that I'm sure will turn out rambley and unorganized.


There's a lot of stuff going on this month. It's the 100th anniversary of the U.S.'s entry into the first World War, and it's national poetry month. So as a lover of history and poetry, naturally, I have combined them into today's post about one of my all time favorite poets Wilfred Owen. The poems I will be talking about today come out of Penguin's Little Black Classic collection of his works, which I highly recommend. This edition has all of the essential Owen's poems, in a small and affordable package.

Author Bio
What makes Owen such a remarkable poet and recorder of history is the fact that he served and died in WWI. Up until WWI, many of the poetic recordings regarding wars in America, the Civil War is a great example of this, were recorded by poets who were not fighting the wars and were only outside observers. During WWI, we see a shift in the attitudes regarding war in art. In the Civil War, for example, poetry highlights the honor, righteousness, and even beauty associated with war and defending one's country, but in WWI, the poetry highlights the horrors of war and even suggests it's lack of purpose. This has everything to do with the advanced technology of war that debuted in WWI including machine guns, trench warfare, mustard gas, and fighter planes. The death toll for this war was unlike anything the world had ever seen, and it left a whole generation of men missing, or "lost" as Gertrude Stein phrased it (hence the literary movement named The Lost Generation). Young men lined up to join the war, eager to earn the honor and respect that the older generations associated with war, but many felt that nothing had been gained from the conflict and all of the bloodshed was for naught after the war's conclusion. There was no clear winner or loser. This is also the first time we as a society come to recognize and try to treat PTSD or shell-shock as it was referred to.

Owen was from England, and wrote all of his poems in the just-over-a-year that he served in the British army before being killed in action at the age of twenty-five, one week before the Armistice. Owen met Siegfried Sassoon, another well-known and excellent WWI poet, in an army hospital while being treated for shell-shock, and the two became friends. Sassoon was responsible for publishing much of Owen's works after his death. 

You can read more about Owen at the Poetry Foundation
Spotlighted Poems 
Like I mentioned above, WWI poetry was revolutionary for the way it talked about war. In many poems, the divide between generations regarding the purpose of war and the honor associated with participating in it is visible. Poetry of this era is honest and brutal and even bitter and sarcastic. Owen is one of the best poets to come out of WWI, and his poems are breathtaking and so poignant. Many of these poems left me speechless after reading them for the first time. 

Poem titles link to poems 

Dulce et Decorum Est- If you read one poem from this post today, make it this one. This poem left me absolutely speechless after I translated the last line of the poem from Latin (It is sweet and proper to die for one's country.) If you have taken a literature course, you have probably read this poem, and rightfully so. This poem forces the reader to face the horrors of the trenches as a solider would, while also applying traditional poetic techniques such as rhyme and alliteration, causing quite the contrast. This poem has that bitter and sarcastic punch ending that many war poems have and also highlights the shifting attitudes towards war. 
Bonus: Hear it read by Christopher Eccleston here.

Anthem for Doomed Youth- This is another poem that illustrates the shifting attitude towards war by the young generation that is currently facing it. The "Doomed Youth" of this poem is of course the generation of soldiers fighting in the war. Again, Owen paints a clear and horrifying picture of life at war with traditional poetic devices. 
Bonus: Here it read by Sean Bean here.

The Parable Of the Old Man and the Young- This poem alludes to the biblical story of Abraham and his son Isaac, who God asks Abraham to sacrifice in order to prove his devotion. Owen uses this story to create a parallel between Isaac and the soldiers. Once again, we see the shift in thinking from the older generation to the younger. 

The Chances- This poem is interesting because it deals with all of the chances a man takes when he signs up to be a solider. Owen lists all of the bad things that can happen, including going "mad." This is an early poem to deal with the psychological and physical affects of war, and Owen does it in a very powerful way. 

As usual, leave me your favorite poems or poets below! 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Recently Read: V for Vendetta

Author: Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Genre: Graphic Novel/Comic
Publication Date: Originally serialized in 1982-1985
Page Count: 296
Rating: 3/5

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This graphic novel takes place in a bleak London future. The government is fascist and all-controlling, but even worse, the people have lost their lust for revolution and justice. A mysterious, masked figure named V aims to restore that lust for revolution through any means possible.

I hadn't read anything by Alan Moore, but his graphic novels have become a staple to the genre, so I wanted to check them out, and I thought this would be a good place to start. I was also unfamiliar with the movie version of the novel, so I knew nothing about this story, and I think that added to my enjoyment of the novel. 

The art is traditional comic book art. It's dark and realistic; it's nothing mind-blowing, but it suits the story perfectly. I was really entertained by the first half of this novel. I lost myself in the first half and kept turning the page to find out exactly what was happening and what the motivations of each character were, and I even forgot I was at work while reading it. The second half, however, was a little slow for me. It was still entertaining, but I feel like it dragged out a little too long. 

Don't get me wrong, this story is quite over-the-top and self-indulgent, but it was entertaining. I found the masked figure of V to be compelling and was a big fan of the symbolism weaved into his character. I found some of the characters, particularly the government leaders, to be difficult to keep track off, but I was still able to follow the story just fine. 

This story was written in the 80s in serial form, so it was interesting to see the past's fears for the future. If you are a fan of dystopians or conspiracies, this novel is worth checking out. It's an interesting look at the function of government and revolution in the lives of humans. I'm really interested to watch the film adaptation, as I have a feeling it will be very different from the book, but I think it will be a good film as this is a story that will translate well to film. 

I'm glad to have my first Alan Moore under my belt, and I'm looking forward to moving on to his other works. Watchmen comes highly recommended to me by my brother, so that might be the next graphic novel I tackle. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Literary Look: Modernism

I'm finally bringing back one of my favorite series I've started on the blog: Literary Look. If you are new to these posts, I use them to take a look at the authors and works (and sometimes art pieces in other forms such as traditional art and music) that make up an artistic/literary movement.

Today, I was interested in the Modernist moment, so I decided to record my findings in a post.

You can see the past Literary Look posts here

General Information
The Modernist movement is set in the early 1900s with beginnings in the late 1800s. The movement really picks up momentum after the end of WWI in the 1910s. This movement was of course a response and rejection of earlier movements, such as Realism, as well as a physical representation of the distress caused the utter destruction and violence of WWI. The slogan of this movement was coined by Ezra Pound: "Make it new" and the movement desired to do just that. Authors explored the complexities of the human mind in new narrative styles. Literary terms such as stream of consciousness, the unreliable narrator (one of my personal favorites), and multiple points of view narration were introduced and used by many of the prominent authors in this movement. Many in this movement were inspired by the works of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, as well as the idea of questioning the rationality of the human mind. Works of psychology and philosophy were of particular importance and influence to this movement because of how heavily the works dealt with the human mind and the stream of consciousness narrative style. 

Many historians have chosen 1910 as the start date for this movement, but earlier works can be fit into the movement as well. 

Major Authors and Works 
James Joyce

Joyce's most well-known works include Ulysses, A Portrait of the Artist as a Yong Man, The Dubliners, and Finnegan's Wake. Joyce is one of the most well-known contributors to the Modernist Movement, and his novels were highly experimental for the time. Many of his works use the stream of consciousness narrative style, which adds to the difficulty of their reading. Ulysses covers the events in the life of the main character over a twenty-four hour period, in the style of Homer's The Odyssey, in a stream of consciousness narrative style. Finnegan's Wake is a stream of consciousness narrative written in puns and word-plays, much in the style of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. Joyce's short stories are much easier to read and less intimidating than these two huge works, and they are all I have read of Joyce myself.   

Virginia Woolf 
Woolf is an author that interests me greatly, as I have not read many of her works. Her fiction pieces such as To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway are two of the most popular Modernist novels. Both use a stream of consciousness narrative style and focus on the inner thoughts of her characters. Her works were popular while she was alive and tend to focus on lyrical inner-narratives rather than plot. Woolf was also a pioneer in the literary world of writing about gender, her essay A Room of One's Own illustrates the difficulties that women writers face because of their gender, and her novel Orlando deals with gender and society's black-and-white view of it. Woolf suffered from depression and mental illness, and killed herself in 1941 by drowning.

Franz Kafka

Kafka's works, originally written in German, have come to define the Modernism Movement and Surrealist Literature. His works deal with themes of isolation, anxiety, guilt, and absurdity. His best known works include, The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and The Castle. I read The Metamorphosis quite a while ago, you can read my old review here, but I would like to read it again to see how I feel about it now that I have been studying literature for such a long time. I am also eager to try The Trial. Kafka also has a very interesting collection of drawings that accompany the Modernist Movement quite well.    

Poetry and Poets 
T.S. Elliot

Carlos Williams Carlos 

Carlos William Carlos' poems are very interesting, and much like the poems of Pound below. His poems are short and without a lot of poetic language and devices. His most famous poem is The Red Wheel Barrow, which you have probably read, but also check out This is Just to Say and Complete Destruction.

Ezra Pound 

Pound was a silent leader of the Modernism movement, offering advice and council to many authors including Elliot, but never published anything too well-known himself. He has published quite a few poems and of course they fit in with the Modernism movement. His poems are quite accessible compared to Elliot's. His poems include In a Station of the Metro, "A Girl", and A Pact

Other Art Pieces

Picasso and Cubism
Les Demoiselles D'avignon

Georgia O'Keeffe 
Ram's Head with Hollyhock 

The Treachery of Images by Rene Magritte 

 More Information