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Plato’s Republic: An Apology

Republic

Republic by Plato

My Rating★★★★★

Is the attempt to determine the way of man’s life so small a matter in your eyes—to determine how life may be passed by each one of us to the greatest advantage? (1.344d)

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I propose therefore that we inquire into the nature of justice and injustice, first as they appear in the State, and secondly in the individual, proceeding from the greater to the lesser and comparing them. (2.368e—369a)


The Republic: An Apology

“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” 

~ Alfred North Whitehead

The Famous Republic

‘The Republic’ is either reverenced, reviled or just plain ignored. Though it keeps resurfacing, it has been pushed back often, being accused of bigotry, racism, elitism, casteism, anti-democratic nature, the list is endless. But it is beyond doubt, one of the preeminent philosophical works and has been quoted, referenced or adapted by almost all of the major thinkers since.

The ideas of Socrates have had an afterlife that is as long and varied as the thousand year journey envisioned for souls in the famous Story of Er. It is impossible to catalogue the full list of impacts but Whitehead’s quote (introductory to this review) gives adequate flavor. The practical influence of Republic is more difficult to gauge than its impact on the theorizing of later thinkers – over the centuries, individuals have discovered in Plato’s works the inspiration for undertaking political or social or educational reform and have used it as the springboard for much revolutionary thought, and deeds.

Republic has inspired in addition to all the expository analysis, also countless creative interpretations, which have shaped our vision of future possibilities, limits and of extremities. Many depictions of both utopian societies and their dystopian counterparts, ranging from Thomas More’s Utopia to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to George Orwell’s 1984, have their roots in the ideal city brought to life by Socrates, Glaucon, and Adeimantus. Contemporary films such as Gattaca and The Matrix may not owe direct inspiration to Republic, but they participate in a long tradition of artistic works that ultimately trace their concerns back to the political, social, and metaphysical issues raised in Republic.

But in spite of all this, the original work retains a reputation for being difficult and hard to penetrate. This has meant that the scholars have more or less appropriated this brilliantly composed treatise, and that is a pity. There is great suspense in every page as you eagerly try to work your way through Socrates’ arguments… anticipating now, guessing now, failing now, but always on the edge of your seats at the sparkle of his wit and wisdom. The dialogues are constructed with an almost unbelievable care and subtlety. The drama is breathtaking and all-pervading, even in the stock responses to theoretical or rhetorical questions. One is never allowed to sit and absorb passively, but is forced to constantly interact with the dialogue. It is as much fun to read as a Shakespearean drama.

The Offensive Republic

Now, to examine some of the reasons why The Republic offends modern sensibilities:

Much of the contemporary discomfort with Plato’s state arises from his countenancing of censorship, a rigid caste system, etc. But these are in a way unfortunate misunderstandings. A close reading of the text would make clear that these catch-all descriptions of Plato’s state are not as representative as they are made out to be. For example, the caste system that is first to get blamed is hardly a rigid hereditary system, but a strict meritocratic system that is much more equal than anything that we have seen till date. It involves a strict battery of tests (similar to the aptitude tests of today) based on which every individual is to be judged (and opponents of IQ tests may relax – these are meant to be much more practical examinations).

Also, the popular rendering of the title as “The Republic” itself is unfortunate, giving it an obvious political and ideological overtone. In the manuscripts and ancient citations, the title of Republic is given as Politeia (“Constitution”) or Politeiai (“Constitutions”); Peri dikaiou (literally, “concerning that which is just”) is sometimes listed as an alternative title.

The Misunderstood Republic

I had planned on giving a blow by blow defense of the most reviled aspects of The Republic, but that is not the point I wish to make here. The primary mistake in criticizing The Republic is to assume that it was meant to be a political treatise in the first place. It is not. The whole argument begins from a question of identifying what ‘Justice’ is and whether it is beneficial to live a ‘Just Life’. This is the crux. ‘Why’ and ‘How’ to be Just and ‘What’ is this “Justice’ anyway? That is what Socrates wants to explore. He takes detours in this exploration. He uses metaphors – of State (as larger manifestation), of Caves, etc. But they all lead us back to the same basic question.

To identify this basic concern, we need only look at the complex structure of the dialogue itself. Republic’s “narrative” is structured in an almost circular pattern. This circular pattern is complex, evoking the narrative patterns of epic poems such as Iliad and Odyssey. Most basically, the dialogue’s two main concerns (defining justice and ascertaining its relationship to happiness) are treated in two corresponding sections (books 2-4 and books 8-9) that are interrupted by what is nominally a series of digressions in books 5-7, and 10. These nominal digressions, of course, create the dialogue’s most memorable metaphors, but they are meant to be digressions that add to the core. Not the other way around.

At its most basic level, Republic is an effort to forge a consistent and meaningful redefinition of “Justice”. The aretê that is explored lies in nothing outward, but rests solely in the mature reason and regard for what is beneficial to the soul. Not all the details in these allegories stand up to logical analysis, but they are not meant to.

This is made clear by the fact that The Republic’s interlocutors repeatedly draw attention to the incomplete, provisional, and at times unsatisfactory nature of their treatment of justice, happiness, the ideal political community, the theory of the ideas, the cognitive faculties of human beings, etc. The inadequacy of “the method we are employing” is acknowledged at 4.435c-d, at 6.504b-d and in many other places.

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The Personal Constitution: A Constitution of the Perfect Life

The Perfect State sketched out (which is the stub of almost all criticism) is only an approximation devised to arrive at the Perfect Man, and that is why the so called bad aspects can be deemed acceptable. The mistake, as stated already, is to see it as a purely political treatise while it is in fact a treatise on justice and how to live the perfect life – the ‘Constitution’ of a perfect life.

“He will look at the city which is within him, and take heed that no disorder occur in it, such as might arise either from superfluity or from want; and upon this principle he will regulate his property and gain or spend according to his means.”

In the end, the state is not fleshed out enough to really form a complete constitution for any state that can exist in reality (and not just as an idea). But the psychological part (it is curious how this part has generated so much less criticism, in comparison) is – we return in the end (and all the way in between) to the original question of how an individual should order his life – what his virtues should be. It is a political critique piggy-backing on a  personal enquiry and hence any commentary of it cannot treat them differently. Censorship, slaves, aristocracy are all wonderful aspects in an individual but not palatable in a state (to modern eyes). Hence, we can only criticize that the greater to smaller equality is not well realized (i.e. from state => individual). But then Socrates, as above, is always eager to make the point about the provisional nature of his metaphor which is only meant to incite thinking and not as an answer – that is just not the way to deal with true lovers of truth, with true philosophers.

[Cheeky counterproposal by the reviewer's alter-ego: “Or all the personal stuff is just a convenient cloak for the political criticism that is the real purpose! After all, we cannot forget the historical milieu in which Plato composed it. He had enough axes to grind!”]

Indeed, the more we approach certain aspects of the text from analytic and conceptual standpoints, the more we find that Socrates and his companions make innumerable assumptions and leaps of logic that is not satisfactory or fully justified. Each of these can be fairly scrutinized and contested, and have been. We may raise any number of questions about its relevance to our experiences and value systems. Much of Republic, especially its political philosophy, argument for Censorship and Social structuring, is at odds with modern ideals; some readers will doubtless be dissatisfied with, among other things, its unapologetic elitism and naive (almost laughable) confidence in the integrity of “philosopher-rulers.” Some, however, may find that its critique of ancient Athenian society opens the door to meaningful questions about contemporary cultural practices and priorities. And even more meaningful questions on how to organize our inner impulses and constitution.

Philosopher, Be Thyself

We need to understand that the Platonic Dialogues, in principle, are not meant to represent a simple doctrine that can be followed, they instead are meant to prepare the way for philosophizing. They are not easy guide books to follow. They require work from the reader, above and beyond the ideas presented. That is one of the reasons for the dialogue nature in which they are structured. Plato’s overarching purpose in writing the Republic was to effect a change in his readers similar to the change that Glaucon and Adeimantus undergo at Socrates’ hands in the fictional world of the dialogue. This purpose can be summed up in the word protreptic, from the Greek protrepein, which means “turn (someone) forward,” hence “propel,” “urge on,” “exhort.” Plato uses literary art, which in his case includes but is not limited to philosophical argument, to move his reader toward a greater readiness to adopt a just way of life.

The dialogues are thus intended to perform the function of a living teacher who makes his students think. One must philosophize to understand them. One must look at the microcosm of the dialogues as well as the macrocosm of the world that we inhabit simultaneously to understand them. It is in this process that the dialogues assist, insist and themselves provide a training in.

We can only conclude by asking questions, in the true spirit of the dialectic method:


Can we then say that we are convinced, that justice, as defined by Socrates, is something intrinsically valuable? Are we convinced that the just man can be “happy” even if he does not enjoy a reputation for justice, nor any other material benefit, in this life or after?

OR


Have Socrates and his companions persuaded us that the ideal city-state they describe in Republic is truly the best political community possible? Do we believe that Socrates himself thinks so? Is that what we take away from such a deep examination of how to live our lives? Or do we let the Story of Er guide us back to the truer motives of the interlocutors?

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“I really do not know as yet, but whither the argument may blow, thither we go.”

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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy, Thoughts

 

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A Reading List to learn to Read Like a Literature Professor?

This reading List is reproduced from the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines (Paperback) by Thomas C. Foster to act as an addendum to my review of the book ie The Cheat-Sheet

What I offer here is a list of items mentioned throughout the book, plus some others I probably should have mentioned, or would have if I had more essays to write. In any event, what all these works have in common is that a reader can learn a lot from them. I have learned a lot from them. As with the rest of this book, there is very little order or method to them. You won’t, if you read these, magically acquire culture or education or any of those scary abstractions; nor do I claim for them (in general) that they are better than works I have not chosen, that The Iliad is better than Metamorphoses or that Charles Dickens is better than George Eliot. In fact, I have strong opinions about literary merit, but that’s not what we’re about here. All I would claim for these works is that if you read them, you will become more learned. That’s the deal. We’re in the learning business. I am, and if you’ve read this far, so are you. Education is mostly about institutions and getting tickets stamped; learning is what we do for ourselves. When we’re lucky, they go together. If I had to choose, I’d take learning.

Oh, there’s another thing that will happen if you read the works on this list: you will have a good time, mostly. I promise. Hey, I can’t guarantee that everyone will like everything or that my taste is your taste. What I can guarantee is that these works are entertaining. Classics aren’t classic because they’re old, they’re classic because they’re great stories or great poems, because they’re beautiful or entertaining or exciting or funny or all of the above. And the newer works, the ones that aren’t classics? They may grow to that status or they may not. But for now they’re engaging, thought-provoking, maddening, fun. We speak, as I’ve said before, of literary works, but in fact literature is chiefly play. If you read novels and plays and stories and poems and you’re not having fun, somebody is doing something wrong. If a novel seems like an ordeal, quit; you’re not getting paid to read it, are you? And you surely won’t get fired if you don’t read it. So enjoy.

Thomas C. Foster

Primary Works 

W. H. Auden, “Musée des Beaux Arts” (1940), “In Praise of Limestone” (1951). The first is a meditation on human suffering, based on a Pieter Brueghel painting. The second is a great poem extolling the virtues of gentle landscapes and those of us who live there. There’s a lot more great Auden where those came from.

James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues” (1957). Heroin and jazz and sibling rivalry and promises to dead parents and grief and guilt and redemption. All in twenty pages.

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1954). What if there’s a road but characters don’t travel it? Would that mean something?

Beowulf (eighth century A.D.). I happen to like Seamus Heaney’s translation, which was published in 2000, but any translation will give you the thrill of this heroic epic.

T. Coraghessan Boyle, Water Music (1981), “The Overcoat II”(1985), World’s End (1987). Savage comedy, scorching satire, astonishing narrative riffs.

Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac (1984). Don’t let the French title fool you; it’s really in English, a lovely little novel about growing older and heartbreak and painfully bought wisdom.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (1865), Through the Looking-Glass (1871). Carroll may have been a mathematician in real life, but he understood the imagination and the illogic of dreams as well as any writer we’ve ever had. Brilliant, loopy fun.

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (1979), Nights at the Circus (1984), Wise Children (1992). Subversiveness in narrative can be a good thing. Carter upends the expectations of patriarchal society.

Raymond Carver, “Cathedral” (1981). One of the most perfectly realized short stories ever, this is the tale of a guy who doesn’t get it but learns to. This one has several of our favorite elements: blindness, communion, physical contact. Carver pretty much perfected the minimalist/realist short story, and most of his are worth a look.

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (1384). You’ll have to read this one in a modern translation unless you’ve had training in Middle English, but it’s wonderful in any language. Funny, heartbreaking, warm, ironic, everything a diverse group of people traveling together and telling stories are likely to be.

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900). No one looked longer or harder into the human soul than Conrad, who found truth in extreme situations and alien landscapes.

Robert Coover, “The Gingerbread House” (1969). A short, ingenious reworking of “Hansel and Gretel.”
Hart Crane, The Bridge (1930). A great American poem sequence, centered around the Brooklyn Bridge and the great national rivers.

Colin Dexter, The Remorseful Day (1999). Really, any of the Morse mysteries is a good choice. Dexter is great at representing loneliness and longing in his detective, and it culminates, naturally, in heart trouble.

Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop (1841), A Christmas Carol (1843), David Copperfield (1850), Bleak House (1853), Great Expectations (1861). Dickens is the most humane writer you’ll ever read. He believes in people, even with all their faults, and he slings a great story, with the most memorable characters you’ll meet anywhere.

E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime (1975). Race relations and the clash of historical forces, all in a deceptively simple, almost cartoonish narrative.

Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet ( Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea) (1957–60). A brilliant realization of passion, intrigue, friendship, espionage, comedy, and pathos, in some of the most seductive prose in modern fiction. What happens when Europeans go to Egypt.

T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917), The Waste Land (1922). Eliot more than any other person changed the face of modern poetry. Formal experimentation, spiritual searching, social commentary.
Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine (1986). The first of a number of novels set on a North Dakota Chippewa reservation, told as a series of linked short stories. Passion, pain, despair, hope, and courage run through all her books.

William Faulkner, The Sound and The Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Difficult but rewarding books that mix social history, modern psychology, and classical myths in narrative styles that can come from no one else.

Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary (1999). A comic tale of modern womanhood, replete with dieting, dating, angst, and self-help—and an intertextual companion to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813).

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (1741). The original Fielding/Jones comic novel. Any book about growing up that can still be funny after more than 250 years is doing something right.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925), “Babylon Revisited” (1931). If modern American literature consisted of only one novel, and if that novel were Gatsby, it might be enough. What does the green light mean? What does Gatsby’s dream represent? And what about the ash heaps and the eyes on the billboard?

Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915). The greatest novel about heart trouble ever written.

E. M. Forster, A Room with a View (1908), Howards End (1910), A Passage to India (1924). Questions of geography, north and south, west and east, the caves of consciousness.

John Fowles, The Magus (1966), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969). Literature can be play, a game, and in Fowles it often is. In the first of these, a young egoist seems to be the audience for a series of private performances aimed at improving him. In the second, a man must choose between two women, but really between two ways of living his life. That’s Fowles: always multiple levels going on. He also writes the most wonderful, evocative, seductive prose anywhere.

Robert Frost, “After Apple Picking,” “The Woodpile,” “Out, Out—” “Mowing” (1913–16). Read all of him. I can’t imagine poetry without him.

William H. Gass, “The Pedersen Kid,” “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country” (both 1968). These stories make clever use of landscape and weather and are wildly inventive—have you ever thought of high school basketball as a religious experience?

Henry Green, Blindness (1926), Living (1929), Party Going (1939), Loving (1945). The first of these really does deal with blindness in its metaphorical as well as literal meanings, and Party Going has travelers stranded in fog, so that’s kind of like blindness. Loving is a kind of reworked fairy tale, beginning with “Once upon” and ending with “ever after”; who could resist. Living, aside from being a fabulous novel about all the classes involved with a British factory, is the only book I know in which “a,” “an,” and “the” hardly ever appear. It’s a bizarre and wonderful stylistic experiment. Almost no one has read or even heard of Green, and that’s too bad.

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (1929). The first truly mythic American detective novel. And don’t miss the film version.

Thomas Hardy, “The Three Strangers” (1883), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891). You’ll believe landscape and weather are characters after reading Hardy. You’ll certainly believe that the universe is not indifferent to our suffering but takes an active hand in it.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown” (1835), “The Man of Adamant” (1837), The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of the Seven Gables (1851). Hawthorne is perhaps the best American writer at exploring our symbolic consciousness, at finding the ways we displace suspicion and loneliness and envy. He just happens to use the Puritans to do it, but it’s never really about Puritans.

Seamus Heaney, “Bogland” (1969), “Clearances” (1986), North (1975). One of our truly great poets, powerful on history and politics.

Ernest Hemingway, the stories from In Our Time (1925), especially “Big Two-Hearted River,” “Indian Camp,” and “The Battler,” The Sun Also Rises (1926), “Hills Like White Elephants” (1927), A Farewell to Arms (1929), “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936), The Old Man and the Sea (1952).

Homer, The Iliad, The Odyssey (ca. eighth century B.C.). The second of these is probably more accessible to modern readers, but they’re both great. Every time I teach The Iliad I have students say, I had no idea this was such a great story.

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898). Scary, scary. Is it demonic possession or madness, and if the latter, on whose part? In any case, it’s about the way humans consume each other, as is, in a very different way, his “Daisy Miller” (1878).

James Joyce, Dubliners (1914), Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man (1916). First, the stories in Dubliners, of which I’ve made liberal use of two. “Araby” has so much going on in it in just a few pages: initiation, experience of the Fall, sight and blindness imagery, quest, sexual desire, generational hostility. “The Dead” is just about the most complete experience it’s possible to have with a short story. Small wonder Joyce left stories behind after he wrote it: what could he do after that? As for Portrait, it’s a great story of growth and development. Plus it has a child take a dunk in a cesspool (a “square ditch” in the parlance of the novel) and one of the most harrowing sermons ever committed to paper. Falls, rises, salvation and damnation, Oedipal conflicts, the search for self, all the things that make novels of childhood and adolescence so rewarding.

Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis” (1915), “A Hunger Artist” (1924), The Trial (1925). In the strange world of Kafka, characters are subjected to unreal occurrences that come to define and ultimately destroy them. It’s much funnier than that sounds, though.

Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees (1988), Pigs in Heaven (1993), The Poisonwood Bible (1998). Her novels resonate with the strength of primal patterns. Taylor Greer takes one of the great road trips into a new life in the first of these novels.

D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (1913), Women in Love (1920), “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” (1922), “The Fox”(1923), Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), The Virgin and the Gypsy (1930), “The Rocking-Horse Winner” (1932). The king of symbolic thinking.

Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur (late fifteenth century). Very old language, but writers and filmmakers continue to borrow from him. A great story.

Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head (1961), The Unicorn (1963), The Sea, the Sea (1978), The Green Knight (1992). Murdoch’s novels follow familiar literary patterns, as the title of The Green Knight would suggest. Her imagination is symbolic, her logic ruthlessly rational (she was a trained philosopher, after all).

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1958). Yes, that one. No, it isn’t a porn novel. But it is about things we might wish didn’t exist, and it does have one of literature’s creepier main characters. Who thinks he’s normal.

Tim O’Brien, Going After Cacciato (1978), The Things They Carried (1990). Besides being perhaps the two finest novels to come out of the Vietnam War, O’Brien’s books give us lots of fodder for thought. A road trip of some eight thousand statute miles, to Paris no less, site of the peace talks. A beautiful native guide leading our white hero west. Alice in Wonderland parallels. Hemingway parallels. Symbolic implications enough to keep you busy for a month at your in-laws’.

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), “The Mystery of the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1842), “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843), “The Raven” (1845), “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846). Poe gives us one of the first really free plays of the subconscious in fiction. His stories (and poems, for that matter) have the logic of our nightmares, the terror of thoughts we can’t suppress or control, half a century and more before Sigmund Freud. He also gives us the first real detective story (“Rue Morgue”), becoming the model for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and all who came after.

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1965). My students sometimes struggle with this short novel, but they’re usually too serious. If you go into it knowing it’s cartoonish and very much from the sixties, you’ll have a great time.

Theodore Roethke, “In Praise of Prairie” (1941), The Far Field (1964).

William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Take your pick. Here’s mine: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, King Lear, Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, A Winter’s Tale, As You Like It, Twelfth Night. And then there are the sonnets. Read all of them you can. Hey, they’re only fourteen lines long. I particularly like sonnet 73, but there are lots of wonderful sonnets in there.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818). The monster isn’t simply monstrous. He says something about his creator and about the society in which Victor Frankenstein lives.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late fourteenth century). Not for beginners, I think. At least it wasn’t for me when I was a beginner. Still, I learned to really enjoy young Gawain and his adventure. You might, too.
Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone (fifth century B.C.). These plays constitute a trilogy dealing with a doomed family. The first (which is the first really great detective story in Western literature) is about blindness and vision, the second about traveling on the road and the place where all roads end, and the third a meditation on power, loyalty to the state, and personal morality. These plays, now over twenty-four hundred years old, never go out of style.

Sir Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queen (1596). Spenser may take some work and a fair bit of patience. But you’ll come to love the Redcrosse Knight.

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), The Master of Ballantrae (1889). Stevenson does fascinating things with the possibilities of the divided self (the one with a good and an evil side), which was a subject of fascination in the nineteenth century.

Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897). What, you need a reason?

Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill” (1946). A beautiful evocation of childhood/summer/life and everything that lives and dies.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Poor Huck has come under attack in recent decades, and yes, it does have that racist word in it (not surprising in a work depicting a racist society), but Huck Finn also has more sheer humanity than any three books I can think of. And it’s one of the great road/buddy stories of all time, even if the road is soggy.

Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982). Tyler has a number of wonderful novels, including The Accidental Tourist (1985), but this one really works for my money.

John Updike, “A&P” (1962). I don’t really use his story when I create my quest to the grocery, but his is a great little story.

Derek Walcott, Omeros (1990). The exploits of a Caribbean fishing community, paralleling events from Homer’s two great epics. Fascinating stuff.

Fay Weldon, The Hearts and Lives of Men (1988). A delightful novel, comic and sad and magical, with just the right lightness of touch.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927). Explorations of consciousness, family dynamics, and modern life in luminous, subtle prose.

William Butler Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” (1892), “Easter 1916” (1916), “The Wild Swans at Coole” (1917). Or any of a hundred others. A medievalist professor of mine once said that he believed Yeats was the greatest poet in the English language. If we could only have one, he’d be my choice.

Fairy Tales We Can’t Live Without 

“Sleeping Beauty,” “Snow White,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Rapunzel,” “Rumpelstiltskin.” See also later uses of these tales in Angela Carter and Robert Coover.

Movies to Read 

Citizen Kane (1941). I’m not sure this is a film to watch, but you sure can read it.

The Gold Rush (1925), Modern Times (1936). Charlie Chaplin is the greatest film comedian ever. Accept no substitutes. His little tramp is a great invention.

Notorious (1946), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960). Somebody’s always copying Hitchcock. Meet the original.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Not only a reworking of The Odyssey but an excellent road/buddy film with a great American sound track.

Pale Rider (1985). Clint Eastwood’s fullest treatment of his mythic avenging-angel hero.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Great quest stories. You know when you’re searching for the Lost Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail that you’re dealing with quests. Take away Indy’s leather jacket, fedora, and whip and give him chain mail, helmet, and lance and see if he doesn’t look considerably like Sir Gawain.

Shane (1953). Without which, no Pale Rider.

Stagecoach (1939). Its handling of Native Americans doesn’t wear well, but this is a great story of sin and redemption and second chances. And chase scenes.

Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1981), Return of the Jedi (1983). George Lucas is a great student of Joseph Campbell’s theories of the hero (in, among other works, The Hero with a Thousand Faces), and the trilogy does a great job of showing us types of heroes and villains. If you know the Arthurian legends, so much the better. Personally I don’t care if you learn anything about all that from the films or not; they’re so much fun you deserve to see them. Repeatedly.

Tom Jones (1963). The Tony Richardson film starring Albert Finney—accept no substitutes. This has the one and only eating scene I’ve ever seen that can make me blush. The film, and Henry Fielding’s eighteenth-century novel, have much to recommend them beyond that one scene. The story of the Rake’s Progress—the growth and development of the bad boy—is a classic, and this one is very funny.

Secondary Sources 

There are a great many books that will help you become a better reader and interpreter of literature. These suggestions are brief, arbitrary, and highly incomplete.
   
M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms (1957). As the name suggests, this is not a book to read but one to refer to. Abrams covers hundreds of literary terms, movements, and concepts, and the book has been a standard for decades.

John Ciardi, How Does a Poem Mean? (1961). Since it first appeared, Ciardi’s book has taught tens of thousands of us how to think about the special way poems convey what they have to say. As a poet himself and a translator of Dante, he knew something about the subject.

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel. Although it was published in 1927, this book remains a great discussion of the novel and its constituent elements by one of its outstanding practitioners.

Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (1957). You’ve been getting watered-down Frye throughout this book. You might find the original interesting. Frye is one of the first critics to conceive of literature as a single, organically related whole, with an overarching framework by which we can understand it. Even when you don’t agree with him, he’s a fascinating, humane thinker.

William H. Gass, Fiction and the Figures of Life (1970). Another primarily theoretical work, this book discusses how we work on fiction and how it works on us. Gass introduces the term “metafiction” here.

David Lodge, The Art of Fiction (1992). Lodge, an important postmodern British novelist and critic, wrote the essays in this collection in a newspaper column. They’re fascinating, brief, easy to comprehend, and filled with really fine illustrative examples.

Robert Pinsky, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (2000). The former American poet laureate can make you want to fall in love with poetry even if you didn’t know you wanted to. He also provides valuable insights into understanding poetry.

Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Another important reference book. If you want to know something about poetry, look in here.

Master Class 

If you want to put together the total reading experience, here you go. These works will give you a chance to use all your newfound skills and come up with inventive and insightful ways of seeing them. Once you learn what these four novels can teach you, you won’t need more advice. There’s nothing exclusive to these four, by the way. Any of perhaps a hundred novels, long poems, and plays could let you apply the whole panoply of newly acquired skills. I just happen to love these.
   
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861). Life, death, love, hate, dashed hopes, revenge, bitterness, redemption, suffering, graveyards, fens, scary lawyers, criminals, crazy old women, cadaverous wedding cakes. This book has everything except spontaneous human combustion (that’s in Bleak House—really). Now, how can you not read it?

James Joyce, Ulysses (1922). Don’t get me started. First, the obvious: Ulysses is not for beginners. When you feel you’ve become a graduate reader, go there. My undergraduates get through it, but they struggle, even with a good deal of help. Hey, it’s difficult. On the other hand, I feel, as do a lot of folks, that it’s the most rewarding read there is.

Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1970). This novel should have a label: “Warning: Symbolism spoken here.” One character survives both the firing squad and a suicide attempt, and he fathers forty-seven sons by forty-seven women, all the sons bearing his name and all killed by his enemies on a single night. Do you think that means something?

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (1977). I’ve said so much throughout this book, there’s really nothing left, except read.

Thomas C. Foster

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Creative, Poetry

 

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The MAD & The BAD: Today’s Dose of Entertainment

In the previous Post, Sunday’s genre has been decided – War Movies and Thriller/Murder books. Monday unfortunately turned out to be an off day and will be decided next week.

All picks will be updated at the dedicated page. Let us go ahead with today’s picks, shall we?

 

Today’s MAD Recommendation

MOVIE: THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED

IMDb link: The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) – IMDb

IMDb General Rating: 7.3/10

My IMDb Rating: 8/10

Genre: Sport, History, Drama

The Greatest Game Ever Played

Plot:

Disney continues their string of sports films with The Greatest Game Ever Played directed by Bill Paxton. It tells the tale of Francis Ouimet, an amateur golfer in the early 1900’s. As a child he showed a love for the sport and even worked as a caddy at the local golf course. As an adult, despite his natural talent, he found himself held back by prejudice against the working class and his father who didn’t want him wasting his time with the game. Yet through luck and the help of a local golfing club member, Francis found himself given the opportunity to play as an amateur in the 1913 U.S. Open.

Up until that point the world of golf had been dominated by the British and Scots. Leading the British was Harry Vardon, aka The Stylist. Vardon had risen from lowly roots to become the best golfer in the world. Despite this, he found himself consistently excluded and looked down upon by “gentlemen” golfers. The 1913 U.S. Open was his chance to win acceptance into their exclusive society and overcome his self doubts about his class.

It was against this backdrop that Vardon and Ouimet, along with his pint-sized caddy Eddie Lowery, found themselves facing off in the greatest game of golf ever played…


Reviews:


“It’s by far the most inspirational sports movie to come along in many a month.”  — Seattle Post


“The technique is at the service of a game in which everything is at risk, and we like both players; our affection for them makes everything trickier, and certainly as the final rounds are played, the games themselves seem to have been scripted to create as much suspense as possible. I have no idea if the movie is based, stroke for stroke, on the actual competition at the 1913 U.S. Open. I guess I could find out, but I don’t want to know. I like it this way.” — Roger Ebert

 

“But that is beside the point. Like the best fairy tales, The Greatest Game Ever Played works precisely because it is so simply told, so devoid of irony and cynicism. In this I compare it with the Harry Potter or Pixar movies…”  — Ign.com


Why You should Watch it:

  1. If you are in the mood for a good underdog triumph story
  2. If you are thinking of developing a liking for Golf, what with being in the corporate field and all :)
  3. If you are not in a particularly demanding mood today…

Why I loved it:

  1. For the simple fact that it made the impossible possible. I never expected golf would ever interest me in any way ever. The movie had me tense and on the edge of my seat by the last swing.
  2. Brilliant cinematography and some wonderfully shot effects and scenes
  3. A historically correct story that I have to admit was inspiring.

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Today’s BAD Recommendation

BOOK: KAFKA ON THE SHORE by HARUKI MURAKAMI

GoodReads link: Kafka on the Shore

GoodReads General Rating: 4.04/5

My GoodReads Rating: 5/5

Genre: Suspense, HumorMagical Realism, Novel

Kafka On the Shore

Plot:

Comprising two distinct but interrelated plots, the narrative runs back and forth between the two, taking up each plotline in alternating chapters.

The odd chapters tell the 15-year-old Kafka’s story as he runs away from his father’s house to escape an Oedipal curse and to embark upon a quest to find his mother and sister. After a series of adventures, he finds shelter in a quiet, private library in Takamatsu, run by the distant and aloof Miss Saeki and the intelligent and more welcoming Oshima. There he spends his days reading the unabridged translation of A Thousand and One Nights and the collected works of Natsume Sōseki until the police begin inquiring after him in connection with a brutal murder.

The even chapters tell Nakata’s story. Due to his uncanny abilities, he has found part-time work in his old age as a finder of lost cats (a clear reference to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). The case of one particular lost cat puts him on a path that ultimately takes him far away from his home, ending up on the road for the first time in his life. He befriends a truck-driver named Hoshino. Hoshino takes him on as a passenger in his truck and soon becomes very attached to the old man.

Nakata and Kafka are on a collision course throughout the novel, but their convergence takes place as much on a metaphysical plane as it does in reality and, in fact, that can be said of the novel itself. Due to the Oedipal theme running through much of the novel, Kafka on the Shore has been called a modern Greek tragedy.


Reviews:


“A real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender”  — John Updike


“I’ve never read a novel that I found so compelling because of its narrative inventiveness and love of storytelling…great entertainment”– Guardian review

 

Murakami is like a magician who explains what he’s doing as he performs the trick and still makes you believe he has supernatural powers. So great is the force of the author’s imagination, and of his conviction in the archaic power of the story he is telling, that all this junk is made genuine.” — New York Times

 

“Murakami’s prose style is addictive, and the depth and scope of his work is astounding. Not since Steinbeck has any writer managed to lift so much of the human psyche and deposit it in one novel. Readers will come away from this book shattered, but reawakened to the limitless possibilities in themselves and in the cold world in which we live.” — Post Gazette


Why You should Read it:

  1. If you are a classical music lover, you will enjoy the role of music in driving the narrative.
  2. If you are not a classical music lover, the book will probably make you one – just take the trouble to search in YouTube for the Beethoven and Schubert music alluded to and you will find yourself loving them.
  3. The quirky characters, the half fantasy-half reality, half japanese-half western settings everything will give you an atmosphere rarely found in books.
  4. While Murakami was writing this, he was also working on a Japanese Translation of Catcher in the Rye. And you can see bits of Holden Caulfield in Kafka, So if you loved Catcher in the Rye…

Why I loved it:

  1. For the simple fact that Murakami did not disappoint after The Wind-Up bird Chronicle. Every author peaks with some work and I honestly thought it had to be Wind-Up Bird, I couldn’t see him topping that. Well, he equalled it at least.
  2. The open-ended riddles gives the reader the feeling of solving some internal puzzle as the story unfolds, I loved that feeling of being allowed to write my own meaning into the larger than life events being played out.
  3. It introduced me to the haunting melody of Beethoven – The Archduke Trio. I never grow tired of listening to that.
  4. “In some way the spirit of the book is a throwback to that music, as it invites the reader to relax and dream and drift along with the flow of time. Water is everywhere: Mr. Murakami often invokes imagery of streams and spring rain, of a river that follows an unexpected path. ”Kafka on the Shore” artfully sets such currents in motion.”


That is it for today folks! See you tomorrow! Hope you enjoy the picks!


PS. For readers from inside campus, a small bonus package is provided! The movie and the book can be lent from me personally from my username at DC++, please understand that I am only lending you the copy and you are advised to delete the copy of the movie/book after usage. The details will be updated along with the posts.

Disclaimer: This blog does not support the propagation of pirated material in any way and the books and movies are to be lent on a personal basis only. [ Just in case :) ]

Follow Me on Twitter.

 
38 Comments

Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Books, Movie Discussions, Movies

 

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The MAD & The BAD: Today’s Dose of Entertainment

The previous post thus confirms saturday’s genre of picks, Action for movies and Detective/psychological for books. All picks will be updated at the dedicated page. Let us go ahead with today’s picks, shall we?

 

Today’s MAD Recommendation

MOVIE: THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS

IMDb link: The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) – IMDb

IMDb General Rating: 6.4/10

My IMDb Rating: 8/10

Genre: War, Comedy

Men Who Stare At Goats

Plot:

A reporter, trying to lose himself in the romance of war after his marriage fails, gets more than he bargains for when he meets a special forces agent who reveals the existence of a secret, psychic military unit whose goal is to end war as we know it. The founder of the unit has gone missing and the trail leads to another psychic soldier who has distorted the mission to serve his own ends.

“In this quirky dark comedy inspired by a real life story you will hardly believe is actually true, astonishing revelations about a top-secret wing of the U.S. military come to light when a reporter encounters an enigmatic Special Forces operator on a mind-boggling mission.

Reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is in search of his next big story when he encounters Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a shadowy figure who claims to be part of an experimental U.S. military unit. According to Cassady, the New Earth Army is changing the way wars are fought. A legion of “Warrior Monks” with unparalleled psychic powers can read the enemy’s thoughts, pass through solid walls, and even kill a goat simply by staring at it. Now, the program’s founder, Bill Django (Oscar® nominee Jeff Bridges), has gone missing and Cassady’s mission is to find him.

Intrigued by his new acquaintance’s far-fetched stories, Bob impulsively decides to accompany him on the search. When the pair tracks Django to a clandestine training camp run by renegade psychic Larry Hooper (two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey), the reporter is trapped in the middle of a grudge match between the forces of Django’s New Earth Army and Hooper’s personal militia of super soldiers. In order to survive this wild adventure, Bob will have to outwit an enemy he never thought possible.”


“More of this is true than you would believe”


Reviews:


“A serendipitous marriage of talent in which all hearts seem to beat as one… fashions a superbly written loony-tunes satire, played by a tony cast at the top of its game.”  — variety.com


“This is the anti-Hurt Locker experience: Where that Iraq War film was absorbing and deadly serious, The Men Who Stare at Goats is irreverent and lighthearted.” — Usatoday.com


“More of this is true than you would believe”


Why You should Watch it:

  1. If you like the brand of absurdist, farcical on your face comedy, you should lap it up.
  2. If you want 2 hours of light-hearted fun and not worry about what a movies message is, then too this movie is for you.
  3. If you are a Clooney fan, this movie will not disappoint you.
  4. If you are the sort who likes a movie to have three layers of meaning, then this is up your alley.
  5. “More of this is true than you would believe”

Why I loved it:

  1. For the ensemble cast who all delivered to expectations. – George ClooneyEwan McGregorJeff BridgesKevin Spacey – I was in fandom heaven.
  2. The Star Wars references between Clooney and Skywalker!
  3. One of the few movies which is better than the book.
  4. “More of this is true than you would believe”

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Today’s BAD Recommendation

BOOK: PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER by PATRICK SÜSKIND

GoodReads link: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

GoodReads General Rating: 3.83/5

My GoodReads Rating: 4/5

Genre: Thriller, Novel

Plot:

In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift — an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille’s genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and frest-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the “ultimate perfume” — the scent of a beautiful young virgin. He turns into a serial killer on his quest for the Ultimate Perfume which can bestow on him God like Powers – one of manipulating emotions of people towards him and of being irresistibly loved by everyone he wished.

Told with dazzling narrative brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.


Reviews:


Perfume is a historical tale that delves into the macabre, but it also has the rare quality of being able to change the way you experience life, albeit through an olfactory perspective. Perfume does more than let you get lost in the world of a book — it puts you in touch with one of the strongest senses we possess and magnifies that experience to the extreme.”  — PowellsBooks


“An astonishing performance, a masterwork of artistic conception and execution. A totally gripping page-turner.” — The San Francisco Chronicle


“In my opinion, it should be considered, digested then savoured, for it was not until I had completed the book that I was able to fully appreciate how truly amazing and spellbinding it really is. Overall, I found Perfume to be as captivating as it is disturbing, tender yet wicked, and on the whole, one of the most thought-provoking novels I have ever encountered.” — Laura Kilvington

“The audiobook, read by Sean Barrett, is the best audio performance I have ever heard; he snuffles and sniffles his way to greatness and you almost believe he is inhaling bliss, or the essence of a stone. I once almost destroyed a dinner party by putting it on for “five minutes,” after which nobody wanted to stop listening.” — Roger Ebert


Why You should Read it:

  1. You will be torn by this book. You will find yourself actually liking and sympathising with the monstrous odd murderer.
  2. You will be lead to believe that all those exotic smells actually exist in the world and will change how you see ordinary things at least for a day or two
  3. The movie is also an amazing feat of art. ANd you should not watch the amazing movie without reading this stunning book. You will enjoy the movie tenfold after reading it.
  4. It is erotic beyond belief. And is also a new brand of erotic – one based on smell and not on sight.

Why I loved it:

  1. The class of the writer, Suskind is peerless in sheer story telling ability and mastery. Every sentence was captivating, intense and filled with life. Every emotion going on in the unfathomable head of the protagonist who thinks with different senses is somehow conveyed to us.
  2. For how it made me keep questioning the morality of Grenouille’s actions. I kept on moving between approving of his murders by understanding the reason and thinking about how he is absolved because from his perspective he really is doing nothing wrong and the conventional morality of being outraged at murder.
  3. It took me back to the place I was in after watching Memento. Morally there was just no reconciling the character as good or bad. It is frustrating and exhilarating. After all, the fundamental theme of any book I would like to write would again be the absence of morality and how it is just a construct of circumstances and perspective… but I digress.
  4. It reminded me very very strongly of The Picture of Dorian Grey which I am a big fan of. To top, it is so very Dickensian in its approach to story telling.


That is it for today folks! See you tomorrow! Hope you enjoy the picks!


PS. For readers from inside campus, a small bonus package is provided! The movie and the book can be lent from me personally from my username at DC++, please understand that I am only lending you the copy and you are advised to delete the copy of the movie/book after usage. The details will be updated along with the posts.

Disclaimer: This blog does not support the propagation of pirated material in any way and the books and movies are to be lent on a personal basis only. [ Just in case :) ]

Follow Me on Twitter.

 
 

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The MAD & The BAD: Today’s Dose of Entertainment

After yesterday’s Post, we have finalized Friday’s genre of picks. Or Have we? No. Friday will be kept open-ended. To fit those books and movies that cannot be pigeon-holed, those that break from tradition and refuses to be classified. So if you love different books and movies, keep an eye out for the #FridayPicks!

All picks will be updated at the dedicated page. Let us go ahead with today’s picks, shall we?

 

Today’s MAD Recommendation

MOVIE: 3:10 TO YUMA

IMDb link: 3:10 to Yuma (2007) – IMDb

IMDb General Rating: 7.9/10

My IMDb Rating: 9/10

Genre: Western, Action

Plot:

The film’s premise is simple, but effective: After notorious Arizona outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is captured, it’s up to a handful of locals, including down on his luck rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda), to bring him to justice. Their mission is to transport Wade to the town of Contention where he will be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison. While this journey entails a trip through dangerous Apache territory, the greatest threat to the posse comes from the prisoner himself and his murderous henchmen.

Wade’s gang, run by the fanatically loyal Charlie Prince in his absence, is determined to liberate their leader. In the end, the only man willing to see the job through is Dan, who must also win the respect of his surly teenage son Will. The closer Dan gets to bringing Ben to justice, the more the two men come to find common ground and mutual respect…


Reviews:


“The rare remake that is as good if not better than the original film, director James Mangold’s version of 3:10 to Yuma is a thrilling, character-driven movie that ranks as one of the very best films of the year.”  — ign.com

3:10 to Yuma had me at hello when it pitted Christian Bale against Russell Crowe, two of the most intense actors in Hollywood. The plot is as exciting as it is complex, bringing a new level to the typical western by clouding the moral centers of the protagonists.” — Alexandra Calamari


Why You should Watch it:

  1. Russell Crowe + Christian Bale. I will not elaborate.
  2. It’s a kick-ass action film, as well as a vastly entertaining movie that proves that popcorn flicks don’t have to be dumb, shallow or contemporary to be enjoyed.
  3. Those of you who saw my previous pick, Get Shorty, must be eager for more of curt, tense thrilling movies. Here is another from the same author Elmore Leonard.

Why I loved it:

  1. I am a fan of dark brooding westerns with silent brooding emotionally intense spartan characters.
  2. I am not a fan of the post-Clint Eastwood and the post-Sergio Leone days.
  3. It introduced me to Christian Bale.
  4. I badly wanted some good entertainment after watching The Seventh Seal which had fried my brains, and 3:10 To Yuma provide cartloads.

_______________________________________________________________________

 

Today’s BAD Recommendation

BOOK: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

GoodReads link: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

GoodReads General Rating: 3.74/5

My GoodReads Rating: 5/5

Genre: Psychological Realism, Mystery, Novel

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

Plot:

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. Routine, order and predictability shelter him from the messy, wider world. He thinks of his memory as a movie; he thinks of the human brain as a computer.

Then, at fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, and he is initially blamed for the killing. Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer and turns to his favorite fictional character, the impeccably logical Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face to face with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. As he tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, we are drawn into the workings of Christopher’s mind.


And herein lies the key to the brilliance of Mark Haddon’s choice of narrator: The most wrenching of emotional moments are chronicled by a boy who cannot fathom emotion. The effect is dazzling, making for a novel that is deeply funny, poignant, and fascinating in its portrayal of a person whose curse and blessing is a mind that perceives the world literally.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the freshest debuts in years: a comedy, a heartbreaker, a mystery story, a novel of exceptional literary merit that is great fun to read.

[From the Back cover of the book]

Though Christopher insists, “This will not be a funny book. I cannot tell jokes because I do not understand them,” the novel brims with touching, ironic humor. The result is an eye-opening work in a unique and compelling literary voice.


Reviews:


“I have never read anything quite like Mark Haddon’s funny and agonizingly honest book, or encountered a narrator more vivid and memorable. I advise you to buy two copies; you won?t want to lend yours out.”
— Arthur Golden, author of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA


“It would be curious indeed if this little gem of a novel didn’t find its way onto the best-seller lists.”– The Fort Myers News Press


“To get an idea of what Mark Haddon’s moving new novel, ”The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” is like, think of ”The Sound and the Fury” crossed with ”The Catcher in the Rye” and one of Oliver Sacks’s real-life stories.” — The New York Times


“Christopher Boone is an unsolved mystery — but he is certainly one of the strangest and most convincing characters in recent fiction.” – The New York Times


Why You should Read it:

  1. The protagonist is a kid, but this is as grown up a book as anything Cormac McCarthy writes.
  2. Those of you who have seen movies like MY Name Is Khan, should take this opportunity to find out what real autism is.
  3. Mystification through demystification.
  4. You will love Christopher’s musings on life and the fresh perspective it brings.
  5. Most importantly, the novel is amazingly tender without being cute and still remains funny even if sadly so.
  6. Also, this is a much smaller book than my previous recommendations and an easy fast read. Shouldn’t take you mare than two days. (I got complaints that all my picks are too lengthy!)

Why I loved it:

  1. It draws on elements from Sherlock Holmes, and I am a sucker for anything Holmes. Period.
  2. The whole concept of how a novel that is at heart a family story about a broken home is converted and presented as a detective story.
  3. As I said the heart of the novel is a heart breaking story of an autistic boy coping with his parents divorce. but it is hidden from us as it is hidden from him because he is not capable of emotions. But the agony of the father and the grief pervading the house manages to percolate through his uncomprehending consciousness and into ours, And when it does, it feels so bitter-sweet and unbearable and we join the father in his pain of seeing his son stumbling through the world trying to solve a mystery about a dog that was killed…


That is it for today folks! See you tomorrow! Hope you enjoy the picks!


PS. For readers from inside campus, a small bonus package is provided! The movie and the book can be lent from me personally from my username at DC++, please understand that I am only lending you the copy and you are advised to delete the copy of the movie/book after usage. The details will be updated along with the posts.

Disclaimer: This blog does not support the propagation of pirated material in any way and the books and movies are to be lent on a personal basis only. [ Just in case :) ]

Follow Me on Twitter.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Books, Movie Discussions, Movies

 

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The MAD & The BAD: Today’s Dose of Entertainment

After yesterday’s Post, one thing must be clear and that is that Monday’s genre of picks is decided. Crime movies for The MAD & Speculative Fiction (ok, Science Fiction) for The BAD. All picks will be updated at the dedicated page. Let us go ahead with today’s picks, shall we?

Today’s MAD Recommendation

MOVIE: BIG FISH

IMDb link: Big FIsh (2003) – IMDb

IMDb General Rating: 8.1/10

My IMDb Rating: 10/10

Genre: Fantasy, Comedy

Big Fish: A Movie as Big as Life Itself!

Plot:

Big Fish tells the story of Edward Bloom (Albert Finney). Edward is the epitome of the charismatic southern gentleman. He is charming, friendly, and the best teller of tall tales on the planet. In fact, it is through these tall tales that the story of Edward’s life unfolds. As he lies in bed, dying of cancer, he takes his son, and us, on a journey through the many experiences in his life. Whether they are real or imagined is up to you to decide.

Edward’s son William (Billy Crudup) grew up loving his father’s stories, but has grown to feel like Edward has never really given him the truth. The fanciful tales have become nothing more than lies, and as Edward nears the end of his life, William just wants to know his father for who he is and without all of the whimsical underpinnings. And as he sets off to discover his father’s true story, what will he find out…


Reviews:


Big Fish turns into a wide-eyed Southern Gothic picaresque in which each lunatic twist of a development is more enchanting than the last,”  — Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly

“It’s like Forrest Gump without the bogus theme-park politics.”

Big Fish is a clever, smart fantasy that targets the child inside every adult,” Berardinelli said, “without insulting the intelligence of either.” — James Berardinelli

“As you’ve seen as you scrolled down to read this review, I have given Tim Burton’s new film the highest rating of any film I have reviewed on this site to date. And, there’s only one reason for that…

…I’m in love.

I am absolutely in love with Tim Burton’s Big Fish. I love the restrained, but vintage “Tim Burton look” of the film. I love the way Steve Buscemi just seems to own any part he plays. I love Albert Finney. And to top it all off, I love, love, love Ewan McGregor in this film. He emits charisma like no other young actor working today, and by the time it’s over you’ll feel like you want to know him forever. He becomes the kind of character you want to have over for dinner and just listen to for hours and hours.” — Richard Dennis


Why You should Watch it:

  1. It is funny, it is touching, it is absurd, it is serious,  it is philosophical, it explores the question of “absolute truth” – It delivers on enough levels for you to enjoy no matter what mood you are in.
  2. Big Fish is the kind of film that will mean different things to different people, but will be appreciated by almost all.
  3. “Big Fish” is a big movie. It will keep you talking and thinking about it long after you leave the theater!

Why I loved it:

  1. For the sheer comic genius of it.
  2. For the beautiful Big Fish soundtrack that converted me into an eternal fan of Buddy Holly.
  3. For being one of the few movies that keeps its promise of being awesome right till the very last scene.
  4. For showing me Ewan McGregor can act and is not just a light saber wielding dummy.
  5. IF I could give more than 10 on 10, this is one of the movies that would get it. LOVED IT!

_______________________________________________________________________

Today’s BAD Recommendation

BOOK: CLOUD ATLAS by DAVID MITCHELL

GoodReads link: Cloud Atlas

GoodReads General Rating: 4.20/5

My GoodReads Rating: 5/5

Genre: Multi-genre, Novel

 

Cloud Atlas – Another “Big” pick for you!

Plot:

Cloud Atlas is made up of half-a-dozen disparate but artfully interwoven narratives that propel the reader forwards through time and genre, from the distant nineteenth to the not-so-far-off twenty-second century, from giddy picaresque to cool thriller to chilling sci-fi.

Cloud Atlas tells six different narratives, told in parts and out of order at times, constructing a novel with their intersections and coincidences. Each story is at first partially told. It begins with an American notary’s journals during a South Seas voyage, This follows with a story in 1931 of an English cad working as an amanuensis for a blind, syphilitic composer. It jumps to reporter in the 1970s investigating a cover up at a nuclear reactor, then a futuristic fast food robot struggling to achieve sentience, and finally a Hawaiian ruminating on a post-apocalyptic life. Then the unfinished stories are completed in backwards order. David Mitchell’s novel explores the intersection of history and humanity as they echo through time.

David Mitchell’s new novel, “Cloud Atlas,” is a remarkable achievement, a frightening, beautiful, funny, wildly inventive, elaborately conceived tour de force. It places us not in one intensely imagined world but six: six different time periods, milieus, vocabularies and literary styles. Each of these tales more than earns its keep. Collectively, they constitute a work of art. There’s a motorcycle stuntman quality to Mitchell.


Reviews:


“It is a devious writer indeed who writes in such a way that the critic who finds himself unresponsive to the writer’s vision feels like a philistine. So let it be said that Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page.”  — New York Times


“To write a novel that resembles no other is a task that few writers ever feel prepared to essay. David Mitchell has written such a novel — or almost has. It its need to render every kind of human experience, ”Cloud Atlas” finds itself staring into the reflective waters of Joyce’s ”Ulysses.””– Tom Bissel


“David Mitchell’s new novel, “Cloud Atlas,” is a remarkable achievement, a frightening, beautiful, funny, wildly inventive, elaborately conceived tour de force. It places us not in one intensely imagined world but six: six different time periods, milieus, vocabularies and literary styles. Each of these tales more than earns its keep. Collectively, they constitute a work of art. There’s a motorcycle stuntman quality to Mitchell.” — SFGate.com

Was shortlisted for Booker Prize, Hugo and Nebula Awards


Why You should Read it:

  1. The six stories. Each of them are worthy of standing by themselves and are written in different style, theme, encompasses a different genre and is an experiment in literature. But they are brilliant little gems nevertheless.
  2. Reading Cloud Atlas is like doing a jigsaw puzzle: bits and pieces, fragments, clues coming together to create a surprising whole when completed. The trick is to scrutinize each puzzle piece and yet not lose track of the big picture.

Why I loved it:

  1. The intriguing Matryoshka doll structure of the book and the fact that it tells an honest straight story and doesn’t get lost in being too clever
  2. The hidden homages to Melville, Huxley etc that made me feel very clever and literary whenever I detected them.
  3. Robert Frobisher reminded me too much of myself, not sure if that is good or bad…
  4. One good story in a novel is very difficult to achieve… Six really good stories? That is something.
  5. I just love clever stuff like this. Forgive me.

Should you read Cloud Atlas? If you appreciate literary fiction, then this is a novel you should read at least once. Maybe more. It will challenge you, intimidate you, frustrate you, and dare you to think about the important questions it raises. It may not, however, grab you and pull you along with its storylines. That doesn’t necessarily detract from its importance or its brilliance. David Mitchell may be more intelligent than the rest of us, and he has some interesting and important ideas he wants to explore with his readers. Read Cloud Atlas.


That is it for today folks! See you tomorrow! Hope you enjoy the picks!


PS. For readers from inside campus, a small bonus package is provided! The movie and the book can be lent from me personally from my username at DC++, please understand that I am only lending you the copy and you are advised to delete the copy of the movie/book after usage. The details will be updated along with the posts.

Disclaimer: This blog does not support the propagation of pirated material in any way and the books and movies are to be lent on a personal basis only. [ Just in case :) ]

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Posted by on February 17, 2011 in Books, Movie Discussions, Movies

 

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