Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Love in the Time of Cholera

"The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love."

There is no simple way of defining love. It can take many shapes, evoke many feelings, and have many effects. In his 1985 novel, Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez portrays love in every state and under every circumstance. From the first blossom of youth to the withering of old age, one couple's love spans 50 years under the Caribbean sun.

The Plot:

The story begins in a Caribbean port city in the late 19th century. Young Florentino Ariza meets the beautiful Fermina Daza who has just arrived with her father and aunt. After initially being rebuffed by the young girl, Florentino begins a secret correspondence with her which eventually leads to a proposal. When Fermina's father finds out, he takes her away to visit family over a two year period. Upon her return, Fermina has matured from girl to woman, and she rejects Florentino's old proposal. Instead, she decides to marry the older and more renowned doctor Juvenal Urbino.

Though Fermina is now married, Florentino vows never to give up on his dream of marrying her. In the years that follow, Florentino keeps that vow. Through the ups and downs of the Urbino's married life and the loves and lusts of his own, Florentino bides his time until the day he can once again openly proclaim his love for the woman that captured his heart as a boy.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

Ok, I've read lot's of books in my life. Books that I have loved, books that I have liked, and books that I could take or leave. But I have never disliked a book as much as disliked this one. God knows why I finished it. Maybe it was so I felt that I had a right to complain. Whatever the reason, I trudged along through each page, wishing that it would just end.

What made me dislike this book so much? It all came down to the characters and the story. Juvenal Urbino, though the character that interested me the most, just didn't connect. I have no idea why Fermina was so sought after by these two men, she didn't strike me as anything special. And then there's Florentino...crazy, obsessed, perverted Florentino. Except maybe for a few rare moments at the beginning of the story, Florentino never shows the selflessness that is true love. He's got obsession and lust by the bucketload, but nothing that I would consider love. When he and Fermina finally get together in the end, it doesn't strike me as being a happy ending for two pining lovers, but rather as an ending where the dirty old man finally gets what he wants (even after he selfishly destroys the life of a young girl in his care).

If there is anything good about this book, it is Marquez's writing. The style is really good and I can understand why he won the Nobel. Heck, if we could read the style without having to actually, you know, read the book then we would be set. Unfortunately, the (how can I phrase this?) "smut" served heavily throughout the novel mars the beauty of the writing in my opinion. Though I think that Marquez's intent was to craft a novel that shows "love" in all of its forms, he succeeds only in showing "carnal love" in all of its forms.

If you liked this book, all I can say is congrats. Marquez didn't become this famous without his novels appealing to a large audience. If you're trying to decide whether or not to add this to your reading list, only you can make that decision. My opinion is that there are better things out there, so I wouldn't put this one near the top.

The Movie:

In 2007, Mike Newell directed an adaptation of the novel starring Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, and Benjamin Bratt. Most critics claim it is nowhere near as good as the novel. Considering my feelings on that, I have no intention of seeing this.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weekly Geeks: Saying Goodbye

Over the last nearly three years, the team keeping this blog running has ebbed and flowed. Mostly we've tried to be consistent in posting each Saturday and doing a wrap up each Friday. But, over the last several months not only has our focus as a team struggled, but participation in the weekly assignments has slowed to a trickle. There are those bloggers who come back week in and week out, and sometimes we see some new faces in the links, but overall attendance has sharply declined. So after some discussion, the Weekly Geeks team has decided that it is time to end this event.

I woke up today to the saddening news that Weekly Geeks will be coming to an end. Though I completely understand the reasoning behind the decision, it will, nevertheless , leave a gaping hole in my book blogging life. The sense of community that came along with participation is something that I will greatly miss. Our final assignment is to either share memories of Weekly Geeks creator Dewey, or to re-post a favorite assignment. Since I began blogging after Dewey's passing, I thought I would re-post a Weekly Geek's idea I submitted back in 2009 which the team so thoughtfully used.

So, my fellow Weekly Geeks, your challenge this week is to come up with at least one song-book match. It could remind you of a theme from the book, a specific part of the plot, or even one of the characters (a sort of theme song, if you will). Be sure to include samples of the lyrics and the reason why that song reminds you of that book. If you can provide a link to a recording of the song so that other geeks can hear it that would be great as well. (One good place to look for links is, there are others, too).

Poison and Wine by The Civil Wars - The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don't want me to
Oh your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine

Oh I don't love you but I always will
Oh I don't love you but I always will
Oh I don't love you but I always will
I always will

The atmosphere of tortured love found in this song beautifully fits Maugham's classic story of a married couple who put each other through hell. Maugham deals with the complexity and dichotomy of human nature, and The Civil Wars capture that in many of their songs, but especially in this one. See the official music video here.

Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova - The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel

I don't know you but I want you
All the more for that
Words fall through me and always fool me
And I can't react

And games that never amount
To more than they're meant
Will play themselves out

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice
You've made it known

Ray Singleton was never in Livvy Dunne's plans, just as she wasn't in his. Yet even as both of them struggled with grief, loneliness, and shame, they each find themselves slowly falling for the other. To me, this song made famous in the indie film Once reflects the love that is possible in the midst of struggle and heartache and is a perfect compliment to Creel's 2005 novel. See the song here.

White Horse by Taylor Swift - Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Say you're sorry
That face of an angel comes out just when you need it to
As I paced back and forth all this time
'Cause I honestly believed in you

Holding on, the days drag on
Stupid girl, I should have known
I should have known

From the very first time I heard this song by Taylor Swift, I've thought of it as Marianne's song. A girl who felt herself in a fairytale wakes up to find that her "prince" has deserted her, and in the end, leaves him behind in favor of a man who genuinely loves and cares for her. If this doesn't sound like Marianne - Willoughby - Col. Brandon, then I don't know what does. Jane Austen's classic story of passion and betrayal is echoed beautifully in this modern song. Listen to it here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Books vs. Facebook

A recent survey in Britain is gaining a lot of attention worldwide. The National Literacy Trust surveyed approximately 18,000 school children and had some findings that are both eye-opening and alarming. According to the survey, one in eight children had never been into a bookstore, one in five had never been given a book as a present, and one in six admitted to "rarely" reading outside of school.

The survey also discovered that the majority of "reading"done by today's children involves Facebook, emails, and text messages.

"Trust director Jonathan Douglas said he was worried the youngsters who did not for pleasure would 'grow up to be the one in six adults who struggle with literacy'.

He added: 'Getting these children reading and helping them to love reading is the way to turn their lives around and give them new opportunities and aspirations.'"

Personally, I can't imagine being someone who doesn't read. Reading has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. But I'm curious as to how you "raise a reader". What kinds of things have you done to encourage your kids to read? Did it work? Were you raised to be a reader or was it something you discovered late in life? As we enter a faster paced and highly digitized world, the struggle to keep (real) reading alive is more important than ever. If the post-internet generation is to ever discover the amazing stories of the past, they will need all of the support and encouragement we can give.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Classics of Russian Literature

I've just completed my fourth lecture series from The Teaching Company's "Great Courses" series. Having already listened to "The Life and Works of C. S. Lewis", "Classics of British Literature", and "The English Novel", I decided to go in a slightly different direction with a literary tradition that I am only vaguely familiar with.

Our guide for this journey through Russian literature is Dr. Irwin Weil, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature at Northwestern University. Of the four different professors that I have listened to so far, he struck me as having not only the best delivery style but also one of the deepest passions for his topic. His love of Russian tradition, history, and language is evident from the very beginning.

Throughout the 36 lectures in the series, Dr. Weil focuses on 3 different periods in Russian literature: the early literary traditions during the Kiev period, the Golden Age of Russian literature, and the literature of the communist period in the 20th century. Not only did I learn more about the authors I was already familiar with (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov), but also discovered new authors that I am dying to sink my teeth into like Pushkin and Pasternak. One thing I loved about the series was how Dr. Weil highlighted the differences between the literary periods, but also the many similar themes that permeate the tradition as a whole. Themes like the equality found within humanity, the heavy spiritual quality found even in the works created at the height of the Communist era, and the relation of the vastness of the Russian empire to the sweeping and broad feelings found in it's great novels.

But what I loved more than anything was hearing these great works in their original language. I had never thought of Russian as a beautiful language, but hearing Pushkin's "I Remember a Wonderful Moment" rolling off the speaker's tongue in it's original rhythm and sound is a moment that I will never forget. Do yourself a favor and listen to it here.

If I had any complaint, it was that the lectures stopped with Solzhenitsyn and didn't introduce any of Russia's contemporary literature. This did give the feeling that Russian literature is a thing of the past, which of course it cannot be.

All of these lecture courses have been worth it both in time and money. If you would like to learn more about not only the great works and author's of the Russian tradition, but also about the heart, soul, and history of that ancient land, I can't recommend this course more highly. Dr. Weil does a wonderful job in introducing us Westerners to a literary tradition that is both familiar and unknown. Don't be surprised if you begin to see more and more of it popping up here at Complete and Unabridged.