Wednesday, May 17, 2017

My Personal Canon: Books I Love & Made Most Impact

painter: Louise Catherine Breslau
Today is Indonesian National Book Day, and to celebrate it, I want to do this new meme I have seen in the book-blogosphere lately. I found it in o’s and Jillian’s, and decided to publish mine. My Personal Canon means books that I love, and/or books that made biggest impact in my life.

Émile Zola
If you are my followers or have known me long enough, you’d certainly know that this French author is my most favorite author, ever. An author whose works I am eager to read all without exception. So far, I have never been disappointed by his books. Okay, there are two or three that are not as good as the others, but overall, I admire his genius, his powerful stories, his passion in details, and his beautiful narrative.

Germinal – this is my all time favorite! The one book in which I found every elements I love of reading.
Le Bête Humaine – loved the narrative so much, and the human psychology side is very interesting.
L’Assommoir – it’s distressing but very powerful. Maybe it’s the ‘blow’ that actually made me loving it!
The Debacle – I think this is the best war themed historical fiction I’ve ever read!

Charles Dickens
How can one not love Dickens? His legendary characters, his sense of humor, even his own life… I don’t think Victorian era would be that interesting without Dickens! ;)
A Christmas Carol – how can you imagine Christmas without remembering some characters or scenes in this book; Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, everyone” at least?
David Copperfield – still the best Dickens I have read so far.
Our Mutual Friend – a loving and warming book everybody will love!
The Great ExpectationsI think it’s Dickens best-in-writing. Not too much, not too mellow, not too dark. J

Agatha Christie
Dame Agatha Christie is one author that had great impact on me as a teenager. From her books I learned about good and evil; that everyone can be evil (even a murderer); that it’s all about choice. Christie’s are my first adult books, and through her my fondness of justice and crime themes grew.
Curtain – the one mystery book that have ever made me cry!
Murder of Roger Ackroyd – her best in terms of plot-and-psychology-building.

John Grisham
After Christie, came Grisham. Still about justice, and I became fascinated with court scenes. I read and liked almost all his books, but my favorites remain these two…
The Chamber – this book taught me that there are many faces of racism and death penalty; and…
The Testament – loved the beautiful and peaceful scenes; soothing and touching.

Alexandre Dumas
Dumas is always the champion for poignant and intricate stories. And his books are usually long but full of action, thus offers long enjoyable moments of reading (just what you’ll need to spend long holidays).
Twenty Years After – this is the sequel of The Three Musketeers. Although less famous, I loved this book more because the friendship of D’Artagnan, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis was growing more mature and deeper here.
The Count of Monte Cristo – need to reread this! *note to self

Random Classic Novels
To Kill a Mockingbird  by Harper Lee – used to be my fave numero uno… until Zola stole it! ^_^
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerlad – always love Fitzi’s beautiful prose and his interesting symbols in this novel. And I always have interest in the jazz age…  

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton – I named Wharton as the female Zola after reading this (do you agree?) And she became instantly my most favorite female author.  
Lord of the Flies by William Golding – the morality struggle (and triumph) in this book is what I loved most… and the thriller of course.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville – what an epic!  
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – my latest favorite
Winnetou  by Karl May – I always have a soft spot for the Indians; and Winnetou is the perfect book to teach youngster about diversity. The story is set on the Wild West—so it’s full of action!—and the main characters are a German and an Indian. Their friendship is full of love, trust, and respect.

Play – the only one…
Julius Cesar by William Shakespeare – the only play that gets here… maybe because it’s about Ancient Rome. Always love everything about it!

History and Historical Fictions
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – a history that tasted like fiction. A painful reflection of injustice suffered by minorities; touching, and at once, inspiring.
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett – loved the intricate story and the knowledge about building cathedral. I always like to read about people who have passion on some artwork.
Cicero Trilogy by Robert Harris – again… the Ancient Rome effect. Plus, I have great respect for Cicero.
The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone – similar to Pillars of the Earth, and Stone brought me to get inside Michelangelo’s mind and emotion, superb!
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier – loved the painful love story!
Désirée by Annemarie Selinko – this one about Napoleon; loved the romance and a glimpse of one of the biggest generals in the world.

The Adventure of Tintin by Hergé – my childhood books that took me to different countries, getting to know different people and cultures, thanks to the realistic-pictures by Hergé. In short, I grew up with Tintin; I learned many things through it—as I remember I once asked my dad while reading Tintin in Tibet: "How can yelling trigger snow avalanche?" (remember Captain Haddock scene?) Plus it always makes me laugh!
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling – I remember… one day years ago, I leisurely opened to see what books they’re recommending. In the top ten are both Harry Potter & the Sorcerer Stone (no. 1 for weeks) and Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secret; with a boy with a glass and lightning scar mounted on a broom in the cover. What is this?? I read the synopsis and got quite intrigued. But at that time I have never bought books online, so I soon forgot about that. But few months later, I saw the same book (the translation of course) displayed in front of my favorite bookstore, and I thought Ah…this is the book that made a lot of fuss the other day! So without further thinking, I bought both copies, read it, and instantly fell in love with Harry Potter. Now I think some magic must have got into me that day, because I’m not used to buy books beyond my comfort zone without much consideration (asking friends about it, read reviews, feel the book in my hand, return it to the shelf—and if I leave the store with regret, that means I REALLY want to buy it—then come back to the store next time to finally buy it!). So, yeah…Harry Potter has its place in my heart, and if you ask me now: Do you still love to read Harry Potter, after all these years? My reply will be: ALWAYS!

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Super-Exciting Project: The Great Gatsby Readalong

Sorry for having been silent for a few weeks. I have a delayed review of Zola’s The Earth for #Zoladdiction2017; which I have read, have been quit shocked by its brutality, but nonetheless have liked it; but still could not squeeze enough time and focus to write a proper review. Maybe in one of these days…

Meanwhile, I have been longing to post about this coming event:

The Great Gatsby has been one of my favorite novels, and I have planned to reread it this year. My first schedule was July. But knowing that Hamlette of The Edge of Precipice was planning to host a readalong on June, I was super excited that I changed my schedule to adjust with it.

Besides Gatsby itself, I have planned to read two companion books: So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came To Be and Why It Endures by Maureen Corrigan and Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell. Considering that I might be moving to a new apartment during June, I doubt if I would be able to finish all, but I’ll just try.

Can't wait to get through this book!

My copy is still on its way from the bookstore, hopefully it'll arrive just on time!

Have you read The Great Gatsby? Care to read (or reread) it along with me, Hamlette, and (I believe) a bunch of other super-excited readers?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Claude's Confession by Émile Zola

Is this book really Zola’s most autobiographical novel? Maybe some of Zola’s hardcore fans have been curious about this. From the biographies I have read in books, introduction to Zola’s novels, or Wikipedia, I learned many similarities between Zola’s early life and the story plot of Claude’s Confession. Both Claude and Zola came from small rural village in very young age, and suffered from poverty and culture shock while living in Paris for the first time. But beyond that, I don’t know how many of the plot representing Zola’s real life or thoughts.

Like Zola, Claude must leave his rural life, and bunch of friends, to live alone in Paris. He felt lonely and out of place, that his only consolation is by exchanging letters with his friends. The main theme of this book is Claude’s passionate love over a tart named Laurence, whom he took in his place out of pity. At first he was disgusted of her vulgarity, and even determined to “purify” her. But from disgust came passion. Claude became passionately in love with Laurence. It was an unrequited love, though, since Laurence, who has been living in the street, has never known the pure love which Claude offered her. This ignorance made him extremely sick; then he began to lose senses.

This might be far away in plot and style than Zola’s more mature novels, but nonetheless, is quite interesting. I can sense Zola’s brilliant way of dissecting his characters psychologically, to study how it would react; exactly the way he would do later on in his Rougon-Macquart series. If you have been familiar with his books, Zola’s characters always have one extreme tendency (or madness). It could be the possessive love for money, sex, or even of land. In Claude, it was the obsession of purity and innocence. Claude’s ideal girl is one with pale complexion and virginal timidity (I have read somewhere that it’s also Zola’s taste of women—don’t know whether it’s true or not). And just the same as in his other novels, this madness is always ruinous. It’s as if, when you have this tendency, you would certainly go down into the bottom.

If you have interest in psychology, this novel will amuse you. For mere entertainment, it’s rather painful. But if you call yourself Emile Zola’s fan, well, I believe this novel would interest you to learn how Zola ever began his literary genius.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Max Havelaar by Multatuli

Multatuli is pseudonym of Eduard Douwes Dekker, a Dutch civil servant of The Netherlands during its colonialism in Indonesia (then Dutch Indies) on 19th century. He was an assistance resident in Lebak (the Bantam residency of Java—now Banten) when he began to see—and growingly disgusted by—the abuses of Dutch colonial system. Dekker began to openly criticize (and later oppose) his government, which ended with his resignation. But far from ending his opposition, Dekker began to publish his writings exposing the scandals he had witnessed. Not having enough exposure with the newspaper and pamphlet, he wrote a satire novel under pseudonym of Multatuli: Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company.

If you think this is a dull historical journal about coffee auctions and colonialism by a boring ex-civil servant, you are wrong! I have thought so in the past—hence have never considered reading it. But when I started reading, I found that Multatuli is really a talented and witty writer. Though implied by the title, this book is NOT about coffee trading; it is a satire about the injustice suffered by Indonesian people because of the colonial policy.

As an Indonesian myself, I was interested in how the colonialism have ever started, and why it took so long before the whole nation started to revolt. It only proved how clever the Dutch was at learning Indonesia’s archipelago and rich culture; to use the isolation of so many islands (with many different languages and cultures) to their advantage. Not only that, the Dutch knew one typical character of Indonesians: humble, obedient, inferior. And with our rich soil, no wonder any superior nation—if not Dutch, others would—could easily take advantage of Indonesia as their slave.

Back to the book, Max Havelaar (fictional character which is clearly representing Dekker) is a newly appointed assistant resident in Lebak. He was young, vigorous, brave, and honest. Soon after being appointed, he found out the practice of the regent (“bupati” in Indonesia) in employing local people or taking their animals by force, without paying, as a pretext to preserve his dignity. Instead of protecting local people to be burdened by these thieving, while they still had to pay taxes, Havelaar’s colleagues seemed to close their eyes of these injustices. They chose to please the regent to gain their support, and in the end to create an “all-is-good” report to the government. Other than that, the local people are also forced to grow coffee and sugar on their land, to be shipped to Europe, instead of growing rice for their food. In the end they became poorer and suffered more. Havelaar protested to Dutch government about these cruel treatments; writing many letters which eventually became a manuscript.

Interestingly, the book is narrated by two different persons with two different ways of thinking. The most dominant is a hypocrite, pompous coffee merchant named Mr. Droogstoppel. Max Havelaar’s manuscript accidentally came to his possession and—thinking that its coffee auction subject would be useful to promote his business—instructed his apprentice, Stern, to rewrite it into a book. Being a romantic young man, Stern, instead of writing about coffee trade issues, decided to take another course, that is Havelaar’s effort to fight the injustice done by Dutch government. It was really funny to read how Droogstoppel was furious and indignant of Stern’s romantic idea, while bragging about his hypocritical views. Finally, near the end, Multatuli took over the pen himself to write his own opinions, and closing it with sharp threats that he was going to expose every dirty detail if the government kept silent.

Max Havelaar might not be a great classic—in fact, if it’s not about my nation, I might have not picked it at first place—but we cannot ignore its big influence in Indonesian revolution in 1945 which ended Dutch colonialism, as well as colonialism at some other nations. It was such that the Indonesian greatest writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer called Max Havelaar as “the book that killed colonialism”.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The House of Mirth: The Second Reading

Reading your favorite book for the second time can sometimes be quite risky. You can end up either liking it the more, or disliking it. Because on second reading, you would be reading more thoroughly; examining the characters more closely, analyzing and calculating every cause and effect. Maybe you would still love it because the author wrote it beautifully, but most probably you would see the characters differently. Then you only focused on their fates, but now you might also see their flaws. It happened to me when giving Wharton’s The House of Mirth a second reading.

I still love it, yes, and perhaps even love it more now, as this time no curiosity on the plot obstructed me from savoring Wharton’s beautiful prose. But, as I delved more deeply, I began to question my (blind) judgment on a character I used to praise then. I’m talking about Lawrence Selden. Until last month he seemed almost perfect to me, now I began to see his flaw; that is his lack of trust in Lily when he saw her fled from Trenor’s house that night. But that didn’t make me dislike him; on the contrary, it made Selden more humane. Though I kept thinking how everything might have been different if Selden kept his plan.

On my first reading, my focus was on Lily Bart, whom I analyzed for WEM project. Now I had the leisure to take on Selden. I begin to feel that Selden is the motor of the whole story. It all begins and ends with him. Maybe Selden is Wharton’s own view of the society at that time. I haven’t had close study on her, but from wiki I learned that though growing up in upper class society, Wharton was one of its hardest critics. Selden, too, enjoys the privilege of being with the upper class, but he also ‘disgusted’ with them.

One of the most interesting things about Selden, is his theory of “the republic of the spirit”—the freedom of having choices to make; not being helplessly dictated by society. Wharton also rejected the standards of fashion and etiquette that were expected of young girls at the time, intended to enable women to marry well and to be displayed at balls and parties. She thought these requirements were superficial and oppressive [Wikipedia]. Instead, she was eager to have higher education. I think this is what Selden’s idea with his republic of the spirit—something that Lily Bart envied him for.

Another interesting point is, throughout the novel, there is a sense of ambiguity in Lily’s character. Lily Bart is introduced as an intelligent woman, who is able to skillfully read human characters to use it as a weapon for her advantage. She has maneuvered geniusly to attract Percy Gryce—though she failed in finishing it. Yet, she failed to predict her aunt’s reaction to her (rumored) scandal. I agree with Carry Fisher, that the cause of Lily’s fall is laziness and her longing of freedom and happiness (thanks partly to Selden’s influence!). In the Percy Gryce failure, it makes sense, but how can she be lazy when her whole life was depended on her aunt’s legacy? I just don’t get it.

All in all, I am grateful I have given The House of Mirth a second reading; I love it more now, and would one day revisit it again. Thanks to Adam for hosting the #CBAM2017, and to you all who have been reading this treasure with me.

For more about this book, you can browse my analysis and review on my first reading.

Monday, March 6, 2017

I am Doing it Again: #Zoladdiction2017 on April

If you haven’t been familiar with #Zoladdiction, it’s an addiction to any book by my favorite author: Émile Zola. It’s actually an event—one perhaps call it “challenge”, but if any Zola-ish thing could have been a challenge, NOT reading Zola is the real challenge to me, LOL! Anyway, for three consecutive years: 2013 to 2015, I have hosted #Zoladdiction during April. For me April is always the best month to read Zola. Firstly because April 2nd is Zola’s birth date; secondly because April always reminds me of Germinal—my all time favorite novel from Zola—thanks to this beautiful quote:

Now the April sun, in the open sky, was shining in its glory, warming the earth as it went into labour. From its fertile flanks life was leaping forth, buds were bursting into green leaves, and the fields were quivering with the growth of the grass. On every side seeds were swelling, stretching out, cracking the plain, filled by the need of heat and light. An overflow of sap flowed with whispering voices, the sound of the germs expanded in a great kiss. Again and again, more and more distinctly, as though they had come right up to the soil, the comrades were hammering. In the fiery rays of the sun, on this youthful morning, the country was pregnant with this rumbling. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating slowly in the furrows, growing up for the harvests of the next century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth.

Last year I have to skip #Zoladdiction because of my tight schedule. But I turned out to be reading few Zolas during April anyway, so I have decided to do another #Zoladdcition2017 this year. Busy or not, I can’t spend a year without reading any Zola, because of…yeah… the #Zoladdiction… ^_^

I would be very excited if any of you would join me next month. There will be no obligations at all, no rule, no linky, no date, no reviews required, etc. because the fun of #Zoladdiction is really in the bliss of reading Zola.

If you want to chat or discuss about #Zoladdiction2017, just drop by here, or mention me on twitter or instagram or goodreads, using the hashtag. I will be reading Claude’s Confession and The Earth, but you are free, of course, to pick any book you like.

Will you join me? :)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

My 2nd Round of The Classics Club

Yayy… I have successfully completed The Classics Club Part 1 (March 2012 – March 2017). It was really a huge commitment to read around 100 classics in five years. When I started it, I kept asking myself, what if I lost my passion in reading classics in the middle of those five years? But I was willing to try then; and now I am grateful I have taken this challenge, because now I can proudly say: I DID IT! I should give myself a nice reward…another (or two?) beautiful book? ^_^

Anyway, my successful first project has inspired me to do a second round. It won’t be as ambitious as the first; I only planned to read 60 books in five years, starting yesterday (1st March). Here is the complete list:

More than half of them (35 / 60) are from authors new to me. The rest is dominated by two of my favorites—Dickens & Zola—of course! ;) Apart from the list, I also planned to reread several of my favorites, or the ones I thought deserved a second chance. One of them is The Divine Comedy. I have read Inferno few years ago, and quite liked it, but failed with Purgatorio and Paradiso (the later was a total failure because I almost didn’t understand all the cantos -_-). I believe, to read and really appreciate Dante’s poems, one needs to dig deeper and work harder.

Then, two weeks ago, when I was googling for a more suitable translation of The Divine Comedy (previously I read Longsworth’s), I stumbled upon a Youtube video of open course on Dante in Translation from Open Yale Courses, given by Prof.  Giuseppe Mazzotta. I tried the Introduction, and enjoyed it. So, I decided to have a go with the course to reread Dante. In a couple of weeks I will also order Prof. Mazzotta’s translation of Inferno. I am aware that I have only very limited time for my literary activities; but I think I can squeeze this course at office hours when I have finished my works, usually 30-40 minutes before 5 pm. Hey, this can be a nice incentive to get my works done as effectively as possible, so that I can use the extra time to attend the course! ^_^

Other than Dante, I also planned to reread The Great Gatsby this year. To accompany it, two companion books have also been seating on my wishlist shelf: So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan and Careless People by Sarah Churchwell. And maybe, I will attend another Open Yale Course on Gatsby… Yeah, after the Dante’s, of course I’ve been searching for more literary open courses available… and found one on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner. Bingo! I did have The Sound and the Fury on my list, and maybe… I should have put To Have and Have Not into…. No. Wait. Remember, limited time! Just one book at a time, Fanda! @_@

I should stop here, or the list will swell to be 100 again…. So, wish me luck with my second round of The Classics Club, everyone! Have you done with the challenge? Will you go for 2nd round too?