Books, movie

Charles Dickens

I’m currently on a Charles Dickens reading binge. He’s AWESOME. Since September 1, I’ve read David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby, and Our Mutual Friend. Right now I’m over halfway through Little Dorrit. So far, all of them have been extremely enjoyable except Great Expectations, which I didn’t care for.

I watched the version of David Copperfield with Maggie Smith as Betsy Trotwood and that kid who plays Harry Potter (which I’ve never actually seen or read) as young David. It leaves out a ton, and the last ten minutes or so are about as compressed as anything could be, but it’s pretty good. Maggie Smith is note-perfect.

Anyway, Dickens is excellent. He’s comic, romantic, tragic, dramatic, and poetic. You can’t do better than read Dickens. I would regret that I started reading him so late, but now I get to enjoy all of his books for the first time. Delightful!

By the way, if any of my three or so readers is familiar with any good movie or TV adaptions of Charles Dickens, I would appreciate it if you would share them in the combox.

Books, review

He Knew He Was Right

I finished reading this a few days ago, and this work by Anthony Trollope was very good indeed. I’m not sure if it’s on the level of the best Barsetshire novels, but it was certainly worth reading all 716 pages (according to my e-reader).

The book follows the marriage between Louis Trevelyan and Emily Trevelyan, nee Rowley, which is in turmoil for virtually the whole book, excepting only the first pages which give us the background leading up to the quarrel. They have been married for about two years at the time of the disagreement, which is on a matter ridiculously trivial: a friend of Emily’s father, Colonel Osborne, visits too often and treats her with too great a familiarity for her husband’s comfort; therefore, despite the fact that nothing strictly improper has been done, and Emily is true to her husband, her husband wishes her to (at least somewhat) drop the acquaintance. Emily takes this as a gross insult to her fidelity, and as she also has a temper, storms away. The rift grows and grows.

Complicating the matter is their son, also named Louis, who at the beginning of the book is ten months old. Emily’s sister, Nora, also lives with them, and has a subplot built around her. One of the members of this subplot branches off eventually into a different subplot, and another character, who participates in the main plot as well, has two sisters, one of whom has another subplot. Yet another subplot grows around a character in this subplot. This is typical of Trollope, and in this novel he gives nearly as much, if not more, time to the various subplots as to the main plot; a relief, since they are much more humorous, cheerful, and rather more interesting than the main plot.

I heartily recommend this book to my readers, once they have returned from reading the Barsetshire novels and The Way We Live Now. It might even read well before the latter book.

Books, review

One of my favorite authors

I thought that since I haven’t posted in over a month, I would write a quick post about one of my favorite authors, Anthony Trollope.

I do not think he is particularly well-known. This is a great misfortune, for his books are numerous, amusing, plain, and comfortable. He wrote in the great days of Queen Victoria; the golden age of English novelists, producing Dickens, George Eliot, Thackeray, the Brontes, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson, and various others. (Preceding the golden age, we had the novels of Jane Austen, which are probably at least equal to the best novels of the golden age, as well as Sir Walter Scott, who, I am told, was excellent also; I have not read enough of him to either confirm or contradict that statement.)

He is best known for his excellent Barsetshire series, beginning with The Warden and ending in, most suitably, The Last Chronicle of Barset. His books, being Victorian, are acceptable reading for even the straitlaced (though they do deal with mature themes on occasion, such as adultery or illegitimacy). His characters are delightful. I point out with especial affection his portraits of Anglican clergymen and elderly noblewomen. Although C. S. Lewis would probably sigh sadly to read this (well, perhaps not, but he would not like it), I thoroughly enjoy his love-stories. There are usually at least two or three in each novel, and frequently more – at the end of one book, there were four weddings. There are also usually some romances that fizzle out by the end, or have already been commenced at the beginning of the book.

His novels have many subplots. If you have trouble keeping up with many characters, then it is perhaps wise to write them out on a sheet of paper, for there are certainly quite a few. He has ample time to keep up with them all,  for his books are rarely less than 450 pages long, and generally more like 700 or 800.

If you are to start reading them, I recommend starting with The Warden and reading through the whole Barsetshire series. His other series is the Palliser novels. I have read only the first one and The Eustace Diamonds; neither was his best work, though I suspect Phineas Finn is better; I have only read a very small portion of that work, however.*

I’ve never actually read The Warden – I started with Barchester Towers – but you had probably better begin with it. Both novels deal largely with Anglican clergymen, and Barchester Towers is very funny.

After you’ve finished those, I recommend The Way We Live Now. It is long, relatively serious, and has about fifty million characters. I have also read Ayala’s Angel and Orley Farm. The first is rather weak. The second has some good pathos, but is not really one of his best. Just now I am reading He Knew He Was Right; I will endeavor to make known my opinion of it when I am finished. If by some miracle you read all of these books before I finish it, go ahead and read Can You Forgive Her?. I liked it when I read it, but in retrospect it seems tedious.

*I mention it here, because Catholicism is mentioned in the beginning of Phineas Finn (the title character being Irish); Trollope rarely mentions Catholics, in the novels I have read, but there is a part in Barchester Towers where he writes a page or two, perhaps more, about Cardinal Newman’s conversion. Skip it. I did, and I don’t believe I missed anything important. There’s a minor priest character in The Way We Live Now, also, and I believe I skipped some of the conversations that began to veer into Protestantism vs. Catholicism, because I do not like that sort of thing. Several of the other few references are by a character in the Barsetshire novels who is both anti-Catholic and a negative character. So if that kind of thing bothers you, Trollope doesn’t mention it much, though like I said, it does come up at the beginning of Phineas Finn and I don’t know if it stays up. Maybe it comes up in The Warden.

Books, writing

I write like who?

I’ve written before* about the unreliability of this test, but this time, however unreliable the results probably are, I’m delighted with the results.

I write like
Jane Austen
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

I put this post into the analyzer.Oddly enough, it wasn’t Jane Austen I was aiming at, it was the feel of the reviews here. (It’s not plagiarism to imitate a style, right? Unless you imitate particular peculiarities… try saying that three times fast. Anyway, I’m happy to admit that I greatly admire Decent Films, because reading it introduced me to film criticism and it is unlikely I would have the ability to criticize as I did in that piece if I had never read him. Anyway, I just looked at the review again and  it’s not much  like his writing, so never mind.) If I’ve really absorbed Jane Austen’s lovely, long, complex sentences, I’m very happy.

*Note: since writing that post almost two years ago, my opinion of H P. Lovecraft has improved.  This  is partly a result of exploring the Catholic sci-fi blogging subculture [!]. Jimmy Akin, for example (admittedly not really in the sci-fi blogging subculture, though definitely in the Catholic apologetics blogging subculture) admires him a lot. I’m not linking to the other ones I have in mind because I’m not sure they’re quite reader-friendly. I actually link rarely, because I don’t know the age and maturity of most of my readers, and don’t wish to scandalize them by linking to a website, even a Catholic one, which might cause them to blush. That’s also why I recommend books, movies, and TV shows infrequently. I may be over-scrupulous in that matter, but better safe than sorry. In real life, I bestow my praise much more freely.

Books, fairy tales, memories

Childhood favorites – Updated!!!

Recently I picked up a few books from the library that I first read when I was around ten years old, give or take a year. They are by Edward Eager. Have you ever heard of him? If not, you should have. I was infatuated with his books as a child. They are very like E. Nesbit’s books, whom he takes as a model.

My conscience fully approves and sanctions this endeavor to reread books I have read in my childhood, for C. S. Lewis has sanctioned it, and on the matter of Good Books he is practically always right. “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly.” Except I am only sixteen, not fifty. All the same, it holds, and he also says somewhere that a child’s book that you can’t enjoy as an adult is not a good child’s book. Not that I am an adult, either, but my literary tastes have certainly matured, to some extent. I would not have enjoyed George Eliot as a ten-year-old, and I would not now enjoy the Phantom Stallion books – at least, I hope not.

At any rate, the books I have been reading recently are:
Magic or Not? – Edward Eager
The Well-Wishers – Edward Eager (the sequel to the above)
The Time Garden (sequel to ‘Knight’s Castle’) – Edward Eager
Seven-Day Magic – Edward Eager
The Magic City – E. Nesbit
The Railway Children – E. Nesbit
And begun, but not yet finished – The Midnight Folk – John Masefield, and reading to my sister – The Story of the Treasure-Seekers – E. Nesbit
And checked out from the library (I overstuffed yesterday and checked out over twenty things, I think):
Half-Magic – Edward Eager
Magic by the Lake – Edward Eager
Knight’s Castle – Edward Eager (alas, he wrote only seven magical books for children)
The Enchanted Castle – E. Nesbit
Wet Magic – E. Nesbit
The Phoenix and the Carpet (sequel to ‘Five Children and It’, which I believe we own but haven’t found yet, and which is a very delightful book) – E. Nesbit
The Story of the Amulet – E. Nesbit. Note: this sequel to ‘The Phoenix and the Carpet’ involves the children calling on dark powers using an Egyptian amulet, so probably Michael O’Brien and like-minded would not like it; however, C. S. Lewis particularly loved this story, recommended it to a young reader on Page 174 of the third volume of his Letters, and praised it somewhere for giving him his first realization of the quality of ancientness – I do not remember where. I consider Lewis a knowledgeable authority on matters of literature, who has probably read more ancient and medieval literature treating with witches than O’Brien, and who undoubtedly would not knowingly indoctrinate a child into witchcraft; so I went ahead and read it, but if such things make you uncomfortable, go ahead and avoid it.
The House of Arden – E. Nesbit (which I have now begun to read and which has a rather unpleasant passage about a witch in it that would make it appropriate to probably only those who already know that witches are bad)
The other books I got from the library include poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay, since I read part of her poem ‘Renascence’ for my Great Books class last Tuesday and wanted to finish reading it – a very lovely poem (update: some of her poetry isn’t quite clean, though, exercise discretion); some books on vegetable and herb gardening, to indulge my latest hobby, planning my future garden; a cook-book; a couple of P. G. Wodehouses; ‘The Lady of the Lake’ by Sir Walter Scott; a collection of short stories about the sea; and a couple DVDs.
One of the things I’ve noticed about children’s books is how much shorter they are to read than ‘grown-up’ books. I can easily finish one in a day. It is pleasant to be able to read something quick, delightful, and easy, but it is rather sad to bite it off so quickly. I can see why reading books aloud to children is a superior way; reading aloud takes me much longer than silently, and my mouth gets dry and I want to stop before one chapter is over.
Books, review

Book Review: Entwined

Entwined, by Heather Dixon.
One day, I was reading this blog. This blog linked to that blog, and by diligently perusing that blog (which is marvelous) I discovered that the blogger had written a book, which book was in the possession of the library. Therefore I checked it out, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is frothy, true; it is silly; it is splendid. There is a great need for light (very light, I must stress; so light it almost floats away), innocent fiction that appeals to modern young girls. (Modern is stressed, because although it would be much better if we could get them all reading Charlotte Mary Yonge, Louisa Alcott, Jane Austen, and the Brontes, there is no hope that we will. Just none. Zero. We might succeed in getting some people to read them, but for the mass of teenage girls there is no hope that they will begin to read those writers for anything but school.)
This book is a Victorian-oid telling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. It is not set in England, as far as I can tell, though there is a Parliamentary government, trains as a new technology, extended periods of gloomy mourning, and two horses named Dickens and Thackeray, if I remember correctly. At any rate, there is a King, which would rather rule it out being set in Victorian England in the strict sense. The book focuses primarily on the eldest Princess, Azalea. I had better list all the names of the princesses here, and I recommend that you note down the information now; it will be easier to keep track, since the book nowhere lists all of them together.
In order of oldest to youngest: Azalea, Bramble, Clover, Delphinium, Eve, Flora, Goldenrod, Hollyhock, Ivy, Jessamine, Kale, and Lily.
Moral problems are almost nil. It treats the large family lovingly (the author was a member of a large family herself – I am sure she is a Mormon, by the way, since she apparently grew up in Salt Lake City and attended BYU), is chaste, etc. The girls are initially disrespectful to their rather stern father, but near the end of the book this problem is resolved. There is some kissing, no real religion (which is the usual case in fairy tales, so I don’t consider this a problem) and the villain’s attitude to Azalea has some unpleasant undertones. This book is probably appropriate for 12+.  One odd thing about the book; the author is apparently Mormon, and the book has a Victorian England feel, but the only reference to religion is to Mass. ???
Highly recommended if you have been reading tons of Thomas Aquinas and your brain is bursting from reading stuff like “whether the operation of contemplation is fittingly divided into a threefold movement, circular, straight and oblique?”
Books, Humour, rant, school

Lessons from my Math Book — A Continuing Series

It’s not what you think. This is the important stuff you can find in Saxon’s math books. I’ll be posting periodically with new gems from Advanced Math, Second Edition.

To begin, here is an excellent example.
“Some people take the first letters of the words sine, opposite, hypotenuse; cosine, adjacent, hypotenuse; and tangent, opposite, adjacent to form the expression

Soh      Cah       Toa

and say that it sounds like an American Indian phrase.”

I don’t know where to begin here. This is rich, rich stuff. First take the opening – “Some people”. Who? Are they referring to themselves or others? If others, why is it in here? If themselves, why are they talking in the third person? I’ll try to explain this in a minute. Next, let’s take “soh cah toa”. Does that really sound like an American Indian phrase? Sort of? But… why is that relevant? Who cares? Does that make it easier to remember? “Um… I can’t remember if “sine” means opposite over hypotenuse or opposite over adjacent. But there was this pneumonic… agh, what was it? Oh yeah! It sounded American Indian! It was Soh Cah Toa!”


To continue with the odd use of the third person – my theory is that they’re afraid some hyper-politically-correct person will, for some reason, take offense at saying it sounds like an American Indian phrase, for whatever reason hyper-politically-correct people get offended (that is, for any reason). Thus they have a defense ready mad, and all they need do is say smugly “Hey, we didn’t say that. Some people said that, and we were just quoting them. You can’t get on our backs about that!”

Some more that I just got by opening the book to a random spot:

“The tugboat Gertrude…” Tugboat Gertrude? Does that have an amusing sound to anyone else?

“Wilde Oscar worked frantically for _ hours… Calm Sally began to help…” Wilde Oscar?

I remember a particularly excellent example in my Algebra II book, which, however, is on loan at the moment. It is likely enough that the phrasing will recur in some form in this book, and if I find it I will be sure to relate it to you.