Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I like to think I’ve outgrown my youthful overreliance in wild hyperbole and dismissal of other people’s opinions when it comes to books and life in general. However, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte elicits such a knee-jerk revulsion from me that I fear I can never be generous or objective in my estimation of it. This despite the fact that several readers I know whose tastes have often aligned with mine thinks highly of this novel. I simply can’t move forward in a conversation about this novel without the other person agreeing to the premise that Edward Rochester is objectively The Worst.

Written in 1847, Jane Eyre is a bildungsroman that traces the life of the eponymous Jane as she builds her own self-identity despite her often dire circumstances. Orphaned early with no memories of her parents, she is forced to live with callous relations before being shipped off to a rigid boarding school where she experiences injustice and loss. As an adult with no inheritance or relations to support her, she takes on the job of a governess at a gloomy manor called Thornfield, where her life becomes enmeshed in the tempestuous affairs of its owner Edward Rochester. This relationship has become so totemic in literature that it’s the template of an entire literary tradition. The novel is told solely through Jane’s point of view, an unfiltered transcript of her thoughts and feelings as she struggles to actualize who she is and reconcile her passions with her own sense of morality. Continue reading

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Part of me wishes that I had managed to read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea when I was a lot younger, if only so that I could have had a more visceral affinity with the imagery that Jules Verne uses with gusto. There’s always a thread of exuberance in his prose that typifies the most optimistic of colonial literature. This novel, however, has more emotional weight than the other Verne novel I’ve read, Around the World in Eighty Days. It tackles issues such as the overhunting of the oceans, the slave trade, and rampant capitalism. A chapter can start off as a breathless travelogue then turn on a dime and transform into a claustrophobic thriller.

The only struggle that I experienced came from “almanac fatigue,” because Verne spends pages listing animals and plants that the characters see throughout the novel. The thorough descriptions of all the marine flora and fauna wears the reader down after a while, especially when you’re anticipating the inevitable batshit crazy climax at the end. The tedium makes it even more glaring that the final confrontation lacks a true denouement. Continue reading

Book 2, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

It’s been a long time, blog. The longer one puts off a task, I found, the easier it is to avoid it altogether. Even though I still continued to read, I succumbed to work-related stress and my own laziness when it comes to reading my doorstopper books. I’ve decided to not to be too harsh on myself this time, and simply record my thoughts without straining towards any sort of synthesis. So I’m sorry for people who would be looking for plot summaries or full on reviews, because you’re not going to find that here.

Anyway, on to Book 2 of The Brothers Karamazov.

What is this book about? I seldom experience this anymore, reading a novel and failing to grasp, at the very least, what the shape the narrative is taking. On one hand, The Brothers Karamazov (Ignat Avsey, trans.) is about a family of screwed up landowners and the effect that they have on the people who love, hate, and work for them. It is also an involved examination of the idea of redemption–whether all have the capacity of being saved, whether it’s only for some, or whether it’s available for no one at all. I know that there’s a murder that will occur later on but I don’t think I’ll ever claim that this is essentially a crime story, either.

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Book 1, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Well, here is the Mt. Everest of my bogus enterprise, the most daunting of all the doorstopper books I’ve planned to read in 2012. I know that I’ve also endeavored to read Tale of Genji and Don Quixote but there’s somehow a unique weight that comes with undertaking a Russian tome.

I read the first volume of The Brothers Karamazov back in college but I can’t actually remember much about it. I’m quite certain that i have read up to the infamous Grand Inquisitor chapter but I can’t recall much beyond that. Dostoevsky has always been daunting to me; I’ve tried multiple times to get into Crime and Punishment but I always back away from the intensity of it. I’ve built up a certain apprehension towards The Brothers K as well and was quite surprised that this particular iteration, as translated by Ignat Avsey, starts of in a pretty inviting–even jaunty tone.

Four characters are at the heart of The Brothers K. The patriarch is Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his sons are, respectively, Dmitry, Ivan, and Aleksei (fondly called Alyosha by almost everyone). For the sake of brevity, I’ll simply list the pertinent events of Book 1.

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Emma, Jane Austen

Tai: Why should I listen to you, anyway? You’re a virgin who can’t drive.
Cher: That was way harsh, Tai.

I wonder how many people begin Emma with the movie Clueless as their point of reference. This revelation pegs me as an irredeemable child of the 90’s, it’s true, but the contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen’s novel by director Amy Heckerling provided a level of accessibility that would’ve never existed had I entered the text cold. The lives of gentlefolk in a small English countryside is hardly something I can relate to, but conjuring up images of a young Alicia Silverstone traipsing around Beverly Hills prepared my expectations for a ridiculous, over-the-top romantic plot peppered with insight and comedy. While I loved the movie as a young kid, the novel itself is a surprise as an adult, the humor so fresh and razor-sharp two centuries after its first publication.

Emma Woodhouse is the darling of Highbury, heiress of her father’s estate, and–in her own mind–an unparalleled matchmaker. She’s young, rich and precocious, certain that she will never marry and therefore committed to pairing off the people she loves in a tidy fashion. Everybody in town defers to her except for the gentleman George Knightley, Emma’s brother-in-law. He is constantly unimpressed with Emma’s insights about romance because underneath her seemingly altruistic intentions lies the heart of a spoiled young girl.

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