Musings of an enthusiastic reader.
Saturday, January 16, 2021
The Golden Bowl By Henry James
Saturday, January 2, 2021
9 Year Blogiversary!
The reason that I have not put up a lot of entries in the past few months in twofold. The reasons are also related. The first is that I have been working more and more hours at my job. These hours have been escalating. I have been working more in the past few weeks then I have worked since my blog started. In fact, I remember that 9 years ago, I started my blog shortly after a work project ended that was taking up a lot of time. At the time, I figured that the extra hours could be devoted to blogging.
The second reason is something that happens from time to time. I have been stuck in a period of what I will describe as lower motivation. Much of this low motivation is part of the natural cycles of ups and downs. However, another related factor is the fact that about two months ago the keyboard on my desktop computer died. I replaced it with something that I had lying around, but something that I thought would be a good choice. It was a Macally keyboard that was a large piece of hardware. I thought that its size and apparent sturdiness would be good for writing. However, in retrospect it it turns out that using it was an unpleasant experience. Among other things it led to a lot of typos and missed key strokes. I have replaced it with an Apple Magic Keyboard which is ironically much smaller but much easier and pleasant to write with. I did not realize that this poor keyboard experience was keeping me away from writing, but once I replaced it, writing blog posts became a positive experience again.
I must admit that had my busyness at work coincided with a period of higher motivation for blogging, that I would have still managed to post more. I am naturally a very slow writer, so the combination of these two factors has really slowed down my posting.
The really good news is that, while the long hours at work were caused by several factors, the biggest driver of time at work was a project that was just concluded on January 31st. I should be working a lot less now. I am hoping that this freeing of my time will be also help spur more motivation to write blogs.
Thus, I am optimistic that I will be posting more frequently going forward and that 2021 will be a good year for blogging. I am looking forward to the future. Have no fear, Babbling Books should still be around for a while.
As I do every year, I want to thank all my wonderful commenters. I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to comment and engage in my comments section. Interaction with other bloggers in our comments sections is one of the main reasons to blog in the first place.
Happy reading and blogging in 2021 everybody!
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Doctor Sleep is Stephen King’s follow up The Shining. Though I recently reread The Shining, this was the first new - for - me King novel that I have read in decades. I thought that this book was an excellent horror tale. It included a compelling plot, good writing and some in intelligent action and suspense elements. The book also played with some interesting themes. Some of the characters were somewhat complex, however, this book was not the deep psychological study that The Shining was. This was first published in 2013.
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The is the story of the title character, Emma Bovary. The reader is initially introduced to Emma’s future husband Charles Bovary, before he even knows her. Charles is a reliable but uninteresting doctor in a French village. Charles’s domineering first wife dies. Simultaneously, Charles begins to provide medical treatment to Emma’s father and starts to develop a romantic interest in her. He begins to court Emma and the pair eventually get engaged and married. Though Emma is happy at first, she soon becomes bored with her marriage and what she considers a humdrum and unromantic country life. She wants to live a more glamorous and materialistic lifestyle with a more interesting man. Emma proceeds to spend lavishly on clothing, furniture and all sorts of frills. After she has a daughter, Emma engages in affairs with other men. First, with a local land owner and later with a handsome clerk named Leon. All this time Charles is oblivious to what is going on, even though Emma and her lovers are often indiscrete. Eventually Emma’s excessive spending catches up with her as debt collectors begin to move to sell the Bovarys’ possessions. All this eventually leads to calamity for the Bovarys.
There are other important characters including the village pharmacist, Monsieur Homais. This man supposedly befriends the Boverys but his friendship is eventually shown to be false. He is pompous and pretentious and ultimately very successful. He uses people for his benefit and abandons them when he no longer needs them. He is also a rationalist who likes to have philosophical arguments.
I would describe the prose is this book as both soaring but also intentionally pretentious. That sounds contradictory but the language sometimes seems sublime while at other times it seems to be very exaggerated. Sometimes it seems as if Flaubert is skirting the line between the two. The over – the - top language seems to be a reflection of Emma and her pretentious associates’ thoughts, personalities and feelings. Emma is often overemotional, phony and also sees the world in a kind of super - romantic state. Of course, I only read a translation of this book. I chose the Lydia Davis version because it seems to be very respected and multiple reviewers have commented that it is close to the original French. Thus, I feel fairly comfortable commenting on the language used in this book. A good example of this language occurs when Emma’s lover Leon is waiting for her in a church.
Despite the almost religious nature of the above, Leon’s hypocrisy and shallowness is illustrated when he fails to provide help or much support to Emma when she most needs it.
The entire nature of Emma is at the heart of the book. She has the opportunity to live a comfortable life. Her husband, while not the most interesting man in the world, sincerely loves her, is hard working and is honest. However, her actions, as well as her thoughts as reflected in the novel’s language, indicate that she has been seduced into believing that she needs to live in world of indulgence and a kind of faux depth. There are obvious connections to romanticism in her outlook. In fact, some have described this book as an attack upon romanticism. Others have described it as a scathing criticism on bourgeois values. I am skeptical of attacks by the elite on the bourgeois or middle class that have been leveled throughout history. However, I think that Flaubert is on to something with his criticism of a certain kind of over - the - top, fake sophistication. With all that, though I did not live in the time and place that the author did, I suspect that, like today, many people lived life in a state of happy medium between materialism, over - emotionalism and over - indulgence and more down to earth thoughts and pursuits. However, Emma has lost all sense of that balance.
There is more complexity here however. The humdrum and unromantic life that Emma bristles over is also critiqued. Despite Charles’s virtues, he really is dull and hopelessly naive. Monsieur Homais seems to represent much of what is bad about of the middle class “average life”. Perhaps, Flaubert is looking toward a happy medium or perhaps he is just being critical of multiples aspects of the human experience.
There is more going on here. For instance, there is an ongoing and debate that spans several years between Homais and the village curate Bournisien. The two men engage in a classic argument between science and rationality on one side and and spiritualism and faith on the other. This debate concludes for the reader when both characters eventually fall asleep in the midst of their argument. Obviously, there is much to this conclusion. This also provides one of the best and most amusing passages in the book.
The pharmacist and the curé plunged back into their occupations, not without dozing off from time to time, something for which each would reproach the other every time they woke.
And then a little later.
Homais did not challenge these superstitions, for he had fallen asleep again. Monsieur Bournisien, being more resistant, went on moving his lips very softly for some time; then, imperceptibly, he lowered his chin, let go of his thick black book, and began to snore. They sat opposite each other, their stomachs out, their faces swollen, both scowling, after so much dissension united, at last, in the same human weakness;
Flaubert seems to be mocking the over seriousness and repetitiveness of some of these discussions. At the same time, he seems to be illustrating how human commonality, even when it is in the form of weakness, is more important than these philosophical differences.
I will mention that complex characters are not this novel’s strong point. Almost everyone from Emma and Charles to the villagers and Emma’s lovers are close to caricatures. I think that it is fair to describe them as symbols. Because we really get into the Emma's head, there may be hints that there is some real depth underneath, but there are only hints. With all that, the characters are enjoyable to read about. Despite her flaws, at times Emma seems sympathetic and I suspect that many readers want her to find a measure of happiness.
This has been called one of the greatest novels ever written. While I would not go that far, I thought that it was fantastic. The plot was engrossing. It bandies about all sorts of interesting ideas. The characters, m while not all that nuanced were entertaining to read about. The language, even in translation, is grand in a kind of ironic way. For those who like Nineteenth Century literature, I highly recommend this one.