Monthly Archives: June 2012

Like Clockwork

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After leaving my cell phone in a restaurant over the weekend, I decided to take Monday to embrace being off the grid. I slept a necessary but embarrassing  number of hours, then curled up in Barnes and Noble with a pile of teen novels. What did I read instead?

**spoilers!**

A Clockwork Orange is divided into three parts of 7 chapters each (more on that later). It’s the story of a man’s destructive youthful follies, forced state rehabilitation, and what happens next. It’s highly graphic – Stanley Kubric directed the movie for a reason. The argot (“nadsat”) the book is written in makes it a challenging read for most people, but if you speak a decent amount of Russian, as I do, it’s not difficult to get into it. In fact, the language serves to enhance the removed, brutal quality of the narration. Minus the language, it’s a pretty straight forward dystopian tale.

First off, this is not a book I can recommend to anyone in good conscience. Many disgustingly bad things happen to the protagonist, his droogs, and a number of side characters. That said, I kind of liked it. Not the first part, in which the bulk of said disgustingly bad things occur at the behest of protagonist Alex. No, it’s parts 2 and 3 that really caught my attention. The rest of the book (perhaps all of the book?) is about the struggle between free will and the will of the state- or rather, individual evil versus institutionalize evil. Alex is brainwashed in a particularly sadistic manner, then released on to the streets. Now completely averse to violence, he can’t defend himself from the many people he’s wronged in the past- or anyone else who might choose to harm him. Eventually he’s “cured” of his aversion by the same government who brainwashed him in the first place for political reasons.

Now, if we left Alex there, as the original American publication did, the story would be a fable. Kubric’s movie was based on that same fable, and he famously referred to the original last chapter as “trash”. Burgess, the author, disagreed. In the introduction to the full (1983?) American edition, he claimed that the book was incomplete without the last chapter. The controversial final entry shows an Alex growing slowly bored with his life of destruction and gradually realizing that being an adult, being a human being, means creation rather than destruction. (Orthodox reference- to be fully human is to be in the image of God, who is the Creator.) He expresses a desire to find a wife, have  child, while stating fatalistically that there is no way to break the cycle of senseless violence. In fact, he appears to believe that having a child will perpetuate it instead (perpetuation of sin? original sin?).

Burgess claims that the character growth in this chapter gives the story the complexity required of a novel. He also claims that he structured the novel to have 21 chapters- 21 being the age of maturity, as determined by the state. So without the 21st chapter, we leave Alex in a state of perpetual immaturity (in addition to remaining pure evil).

I personally value the novel format over the better known fable. Preferring the idea that no human is pure evil, and that people exist in a constant state of flux, I found the denouement necessary to a truthful novel. I also disagree with the criticism that it’s untrue to the character we met in the first 20 chapters. Even with the state deprogramming, is it not possible that the violent films Alex was forced to watch for endless hours may have had some impact on his character? Having experienced some of the extremes of earthly, sensual pleasures, might he not now desire more?

Burgess professed his overall dissatisfaction with Clockwork. He openly states in the introduction (in the book, not my now smashed kindle edition) that he considers his other works superior, and (most interestingly) if most people misunderstand the novel and film as a glorification of sex and violence, he should not have written it to begin with. (Hmm…) Here Burgess unwittingly parallels Clockwork‘s analysis of censorship and state sponsored values. Should the book exist if people will misunderstand it? Should the author have the right to “take back” his work after it’s been published- perhaps refuse future publishing rights?

Certainly the few clips I’ve watched of the film on youtube.com were disturbing- but not half as disturbing as the reactions of viewers in the comments section. Glorification of violence is alive and well in that sector.

(By the way, I don’t plan to ever watch the film in its entirety. As a matter of personal preference, and for the sake of my spiritual life, I try not to watch films with excessive violence. In action movies with clearly fake explosions and extended chases, I get bored fast. With more realistically filmed -and sometimes not so realistically filmed- sequences, I get really upset. For the sake of comparison (and a little bit of morbid fascination- I watched the trailer, the intro, and parts of a few key sequences online. So take the following with that in mind.)

Another question- film making quality aside, can a story or concept be better for you, be better understood in book form than film? Burgess pointed out that many people preferred the film because the book’s narration was so difficult to comprehend. I found that the fascinating rhythm of the text was half the reward. For those of you that have seen it, does the film lose that rhythm? I also didn’t love the constant focus (literal and metaphoric) on Alex and the droogs- in the book they were one gang of many, while in the film it seemed as if they were THE gang. Lost some of the meaning and some of the significance of Alex being singled out at the end.

I don’t think I’ve been this intellectually excited about a book since The Woman in Black, another horrorshow I couldn’t recommend to anyone in good conscience.  Perhaps it’s the half-great literature, half-completely appalling aspect that makes it so fascinating.

I’m afraid I can’t leave you with any fabulous conclusions- just fragments and questions. At least it’s in the spirit of the novel.

Anna – no longer a princess

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One of the great Russian poets of the 20th century, Anna Akhmatova, would have celebrated her birthday this past Saturday. She also happens to be one of my personal favorites, discovered in my otherwise bleak second year Russian classes at college.

There’s a gorgeous passage in Father Arseny: A Cloud of Witnesses, in which Fr. Arseny describes the poets of the Silver Age and their religious influences. Prior to monasticism, Fr. Arseny was a professor of art history who was also extremely well versed in Russian literature. He describes Akhmatova as being a true believer and that her belief strongly influenced her work. See for yourself:

From The Voice of Another

Don’t torment your heart with earthly joys,
Don’t cling to your wife or your home,
Take the bread from your child
To give to a stranger.
And be the humblest servant of the one
Who was your bitterest foe,
And call the beast of the forest your brother,
And don’t ask God for anything, ever.

December 1921, Petersburg

From Lamentation

You are worshipping the Lord
In his holy courtyard.
God’s fool sleeps on the church porch,
And a star looks down at him.
And touched by an angel’s wing,
A bell begins to speak,
Not with alarm, with a voice of terror,
But saying farewell forever.
And the saints and miracle workers,
Leaving their ancient icon frames,
Come out of the cloister
Leaning on crutches.
Seraphim — to the woods of Sarov,
To shepherd the rural flocks,
Anna — no longer a princess,
To Kashin, to pull the prickly flax.
With them goes the Mother of God,
Wrapping her son in a shawl
Dropped by an old beggar woman
On the front steps of the Lord.

May 24, 1922, Petersburg

Poetry is taken from Fr. Joseph Honeycutt‘s post on Saturday.Thanks to him for both the reminder and the translations of two of my favorites!

I personally prefer editions with the Russian original and English translation side by side, but if that isn’t important to you, check out more of her poetry here.

Six on Saturday

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1. I was in Minnesota this past week, introducing Bill Cosby at a conference, in front of four thousand people. Of the many random things I’ve done in my life, this is one of the randomest. (Most random?) I think it was a success. Even if it wasn’t, they cared way more about Cosby than me, so I fulfilled the chief requirements of speaking audibly and not passing out onstage.

2. MY KINDLE IS DEAD. IT WAS FINE LAST NIGHT. NOW IT IS NOT. I FOUND THIS OUT ON THE SUBWAY WITH NOTHING ELSE TO READ. GAHHHHHHHHHHHHH

3. This meant, of course, that I needed to stop and buy a new book. So I did.  Tragic, huh? (FYI- I usually post images of the edition I’m reading, but Amazon didn’t have one.) While buying at an awesome bookstore, the lovely book seller told me that this was one of his favorites. While searching, I realized just how many books they didn’t have that I’m looking for…

4. Including The Pillars of the Earth, The Wise Man’s Fear, and Outlander. I’m on a fantasy kick (or at least want to be). I also hoped to find A Clockwork Orange, which I was about 30% through when Kindle kicked the bucket. I’m still on my quest to find a used/cheap copy of the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of The Brothers Karamazov.  I searched Minneapolis high and low, but the Midwest proved as barren as the greater Boston area.

5. My 30 before 30 list contains few SFF books, but it’s been zipping along. If you check the updated page, you’ll see that I’ve already finished Wuthering Heights and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I’m in the middle of a few others. In fact, I may be zipping along a little too fast. I do have to stretch this out until 2016. Suggestions for slowing down (book recommendations!) welcome.

6. I need plays to read that would be appropriate for high school or middle school productions. Your thoughts?

Happy Saturday, y’all.

Five Bookstores nowhere near Boston

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Summer o’ Travel, 2012 edition. I’m off to Minnesota next week, Florida and Houston later this summer, maaaaybe Chicago, an undisclosed location for a three day weekend with my dear friend Jenny (AustinNewOrleansSanFran?) and best of all Beijing for three weeks in July/August! I haven’t been back since 2004. It’s The School’s first ever Chinese summer camp, and yours truly gets to chaperone. I’ll also be teaching an English/American culture class once a day, for which I’ll be paid. Best of all, the students traveling are the same ones I taught last year. We’ll get to review all our delicious food words and I can pester them with more stories about my high school days. Does it get better? Nope.

In honor of my upcoming travels, another Five Bookstores post. Some near, some far. Enjoy!

1. The Drama Book Shop, New York:

perfect for theater geeks like me

I discovered this haven for theater geeks at the height of my theater geekiness- my semester at the Eugene O’Neill in 2006. It’s small, cramped, and full of all the obscure Ionesco and Beckett a girl could ever want. There’s minimal theatrical paraphernalia as well- I’ve always wanted the $50 bust of Shakespeare they have for sale. Mostly though, it’s two unassuming floors of play goodness divided by genre waiting for you to purchase and put into action.

 

2. Shakespeare & Co., Paris:

Shakespeare & Co. was at the top of my Paris list when I visited in Summer 2010. I can’t remember if I heard of it before I saw Before Sunset, but the name alone makes it a priority. I’ve also harbored a long term secret desire to be a “tumbleweed”- one of the young writers the owner lets sleep in the beds scattered through the store in exchange for working there. Not unlike the movie, I arrived from Notre Dame (just down the street!) in the middle of a huge poetry reading. I shoved past the crowd and got happily lost in the wall to wall shelves. Not five minutes after arrival, I was grabbed by an Iranian news team doing a story on the bookstore.  At least, I think they were Iranian. So somewhere out there I was on tv! It’s a mostly English bookstore, which was a welcome break on my epic trip through Russia and France on my way home from Hong Kong.  On my way out, I discovered a stack of poetry written by a Wellesley professor. Rarely have I had such a positive experience in a bookstore I’ve only visited once.

3. Flow Organic Bookshop, Hong Kong:

Speaking of Hong Kong, this is one of the only bookstores where you can sample the good stuff.  In the other (chain) English bookstores, books are tucked into shrinkwrap, thus ensuring that no one will enjoy them without paying the proper amount. What makes Flow organic is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it’s the lack of plastic. Perhaps it’s the creepy, growly Buddhist chant the owners are fond of playing. Perhaps it’s that it’s one of the few disorderly places on the tidy Hong Kong Central outside escalators. Perhaps it’s the stacks and stacks of books piled on the floor (OverFlow?). No matter. Flow was and is one my absolute favorite places in Hong Kong, one of the few where I felt completely at home. Bring in your old novels to exchange for store credit, or just pay the very reasonable prices up front. Oh, and elbows in- you wouldn’t want to cause an avalanche.

4. Labyrinth Books, Princeton, NJ:

Labyrinth joins this list for primarily nostalgic reasons. I’d hoped to find a picture of it as I remember it best- huge windows, glowing welcomingly with somewhat sparse displays. Labyrinth is a curious mix of textbooks and real people books. It plays to the University and to the townies, the used crowd and the new. My well loved complete poetry of Yeats was found here, as was my brand new Franny and Zooey. The textbook element has a plus- the religion section is HUGE. I started (and quickly stopped) reading The Philokalia here. It’s a cold store, the tile giving it an almost institutional quality ending in a surprisingly mellow kids’ section at the book. In the end it feels unwelcoming because it’s all just a little too neat and clean. Even Barnes and Noble has a sort of haphazard element that allows you sprawl, read, and occasionally buy. However, it’s what we’ve got in Princeton and the selection alone makes it a place to try.

5. The Bookstore in the Grove, Miami:

I visited Miami for the first time last summer for a wedding. In need of a card for our gift, my mother and I wandered into the delightfully quirky Bookstore in the Grove, about twenty minutes from our hotel. I am happy to report they not only have beautiful congratulatory cards, they also have author readings, a small cafe, excellent sandwiches, and a verrrrrrry nice selection. The low-ceilinged air conditioned comfort of the place made me quite reluctant to exit into the oppressive Miami heat (ha!). A sweet refuge in the middle of touristy Coconut Grove, and not too far from the water. I could have easily whiled away an entire afternoon here but settled for an hour of bookish fun. I was particularly fond of the tall, thin, shallow, thematically arranged bookshelves scattered throughout. And look at that entrance!

There you have it. More 5 bookstores to come, possibly after my summer travels. Where are your favorites?

Things I’m Currently Reading- June edition

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Bittersweet June. My beloved Adorable Hipster Boyfriend is in Moscow till August. Dislike.

HOWEVER.

I have excruciatingly good news. After two years of being unemployed, underemployed, and partially employed, yours truly will be starting a REAL LIVE SALARIED FULL TIME JOB at the end of August!

(ahem)

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I cannot even begin to tell you what a weight this is off my shoulders. Best of all, it’s a job I’m actually looking forward to! I want to do it! I think it’ll be fun!

To clarify- I’m accepting a position as the theater director at a private Christian school outside of Boston. I’ll be directing three productions, teaching two theater classes and two English classes. I’ll have my own office, which is full of lights and costumes and is right next to the spaces I’ll be using.

In other news, I spent four/five days at Holy Trinity Monastery over Pentecost, hanging with friends, going to a lot of church, reflecting, and meeting lovely baby Lucy, my dear friends Kate and Pete’s new arrival. I also met another lovely Boston book blogger, Jen. We swapped recommendations and generally had a great time in the North End. Next week I’ll be in Minnesota. Oh, and in July I’ll be spending three weeks in my second hometown of Beijing with a group of students. Glory to God for all things.

You’ll hear all about that, and my apartment/car hunt later. Let’s get to the good stuff.

Daily spiritual reading-

  1. Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, Victor Afanasiev (this is taking a long time)
  2. The Bible. (Usually via http://jordanville.org – have fallen off the wagon)
  3. The Hermitess Photini (when I’m too tired for Elder Barsanuphius- he’s been kind of intense lately)

Pleasure reading-

  1. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  2. Sloppy Firsts, Megan McCafferty (reread)
  3. Elder Ambrose of Optina, Sergius Chetverikov
  4. The Princess Bride, William Goldman (reread)

Work-

  1. A BUNCH of plays

Books that have been on hold, but want to finish-

  1. With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man, Elder Paisios
  2. The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Dr. Li Zhisui
  3. Miracles, C.S. Lewis
  4. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  5. Under the Dome, Stephen King

Just finished-

  1. Object Lessons, Anna Quindlen
  2. The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss (SO GOOD)
  3. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose,
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
  5. The Girl Who Played With Fire, Stieg Larsson
  6. An Uncommon Education, Elizabeth Percer

Stopped because I couldn’t take it anymore-

1. None! Except that I chose to stop reading The Milennium Trilogy.

Next up-

  1. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, the Countess of Carnarvon
  2. Another of the 30 before 30 books
  3. A Shakespeare- I still have 6 plays left.
  4. Insurgent, Veronica Roth (Divergent was one of the best dystopian YA novels I’ve read in a loooooong time)
  5. Adorkable, Sarra Manning (love her!)
  6. The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss

And I MUST start planning some books for all of my upcoming trips. Happy reading, y’all.

Yikes

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I’ve been seriously neglecting this blog for a few weeks because I am a) crazy busy and b) dead tired. Don’t believe me? Here are a few of the things that have happened in the past two weeks…

-helping boyfriend move out

-saying a traumatizing goodbye to boyfriend as he flies to Moscow

– a four day slightly ironic Russian monastery retreat

-two interviews

-full volunteering at puppet theater

-weekly other volunteering

-major church holidays

-meetings about the upcoming trip to Beijing

-lesson planning

-job applications

-insomnia

-continuation of serious family issues

-said family visits to discuss serious issues

Sorry y’all. I am reading too! Lots and lots and lots. (But did you expect anything less?) The June reading update will be um, updated tomorrow.

 

Book hot tip- if you like SFF, go out and buy The Name of the Wind right now. You won’t regret it. In fact, if you like good books at all, go out and buy The Name of the Wind right now.