Friday, 28 June 2013

This Friday, Atlas Shrugged

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowIt is Friday again and I am late with the post. But, I have an excuse. Dropping off a friend at Heathrow so she makes her flight to South Korea takes time! But now I'm ready to answer some Follow Friday question, hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.

Q: What is your preferred reading format? Hardcover, eBooks, paperback etc?

I know some people are quite specific in what they prefer and are staunchly against any kind of online reading. I get that, it can be quite taxing on the eyes sometimes. But I simply prefer reading, no matter how and in what format. I do care about what I read, but not, too much, about how. I do really enjoy reading on my Kindle and it was an absolute life saver when I still flew to the Netherlands every other weekend. Choosing between hardcover and paperback is a bit more difficult. Whereas the latter are simply more handy because they are bendy (yes, I here admit to being a spine-breaker), I love hardcovers, especially antique ones. Books are simply beautiful when they have leather covers or beautiful designs. And you find these less on paperbacks, unfortunately. Although they lend themselves to stunning covers as well. So, as long as I can read, I don't really care how I read.

Today I am using Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' for Book Beginnings (Rose City Reader) and Friday 56 (Freda's Voice).

'"Who is John Galt?"'
Well, that's definitely a way of starting a novel. Immediately I want to know who John Galt is and why do we  need to know who he is, and especially, who wants to know?

'"Why don't you want to fight?""Because they had the right to do it."'
This makes me want to know what happened. I couldn't imagine not fighting if anyone tried to harm me, but the character is talking about a 'they' and I could hardly take on one person. I think the idea of 'they', of the collective, is quite important to 'Atlas Shrugged' and I definitely cannot wait to get started!

I also want to take this opportunity to direct you guys towards an amazing video by Jack Collins, which explains the plot of 'Atlas Shrugged' surprisingly well! And all of this while drawing. Take a look at the still below and then click on the link. It includes spoilers, but it's totally worth it!

So, what do you prefer to read, Kindle or Paperback? And don't forget to check out the video.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Review: 'The Master & Margarita' by Mikhail Bulgakov

I once promised myself I'd read 'War and Peace', but since it's such a massive book I figured it would be better for me to start of with some different Russian fiction before throwing myself at Tolstoy's gigantic work. I put 'The Master & Margarita' on my '100 Classics' list for The Classics Club after repeatedly hearing it was an amazing book and I am certainly glad I picked it up.

Moscow, 1929: a city that has lost its way amid corruption and fear, inhabited by people who have abandoned their morals and forsaken spirituality. But when a mysterious stranger arrives in town with a bizarre entourage that includes a giant talking cat and a fanged assassin, all hell breaks loose. Among those caught up in the strange and inexplicable events that transpire in the capital are the Master, a writer whose life has been destroyed by Soviet repression, and his beloved Margarita. Their adventures reveal a story that began two thousand years ago in ancient Jerusalem - and its resolution will decide their fate. 
Initially, I was slightly scared at the prospect of this book. I had read the introduction that made a very big deal of the two different narratives, the one set in Jerusalem and the actual plot surrounding the Master, Margarita and Woland. But I found that both stories go very well together and work into each other beautifully. The latter is clearly the biggest and most important, yet the first has a beautiful descriptive quality to it, especially when describing the storm that follows Christ's crucifixion. Yet this writing style seems intrinsic to Bulgakov, who has an incredible eye for detail that makes his scenes come to live. The characters are realistic which means that the dreamlike quality of the novel is enhanced, rather than put aside. What happens seems absurd, but the responses are so comical and natural that I found myself accepting them rather than questioning them. What happens in Moscow is absurd, yes, but that is the exact point of them. They are ridiculous, hilarious even, but that is where their danger lies. With a few tricks, Woland is able to completely destabilize the mental health of an entire city. Bulgakov shows how thin the layer of of pretense confidence is with which we protect ourselves against ridicule from others. As soon as someone shakes up the control we believe we hold over ourselves, chaos erupts.

One of the things I loved most about this novel was the relationship between the Master and Margarita. Their love is the ground upon which Bulgakov's writing flourishes most, in my eyes. Consider the lines below:
Love leaped out in front of us like a murderer in an alley leaping out of nowhere, and struck us both at once. As lightning strikes, as a Finnish knife strikes! 
This might be one of the most beautiful descriptions of falling in love I have ever read. For once, love isn't this beautiful sensation that makes the sun shine brighter and everything happy with rainbows. It is a sharp pain that appears suddenly and there is nothing either the Master or Margarita can do about it. I, personally, think that is stunning writing. Their love is incredibly dedicated to each other and desperately passionate and in many ways the driving force of the novel.

One of the main themes of the novel, that stuck out to me, was the theme of cowardice. As Bulgakov wrote:
'Cowardice is the most terrible of vices.'
He himself was heavily burdened by his own fear and perceived cowardice. Writing during the repressing Stalin-years, he saw no future for himself as a free writer, which caused him to despair so much he burned the first manuscript of this novel in 1930. He felt like a coward and I believe he poured these fears into the Master, whose novel is the downfall of his sanity and standing and seems to abandon it. This is a shame that Bulgakov felt, which I can relate to on a simpler level. As an aspirational writer, I occasionally feel like I need to write and that I am betraying my own passion when I neglect my writing. In burning his manuscript, Bulgakov burned and denied a part of himself, which must have hurt incredibly. Perhaps the most famous line from the novel is:
'Manuscripts don't burn.'
Despite the dangers associated with writing, Bulgakov couldn't let his ideas and believes go and needed to express them, the same way that the Master's manuscript cannot be burned and destroyed but continues to exist. But unlike Bulgakov himself, the Master has an unconditional support at his back in the form of Margarita. She is not only a woman who loves him, she also represents the people willing to die for the freedom that freedom of speech and writing procures.

Apart from the Master and Margarita, my favourite characters were most definitely the satanic ones, especially Behemoth. Perhaps it's the fact that he's a cat and people keep trying to kill him and I don't like cats, but he genuinely made me laugh. Together with Koroviev, he provides some comical relief and helps Woland sink Moscow further into despair. Woland himself is strangely sympathetic, being Satan and all, but I rather enjoyed his character. I am not quite certain on what I think about him except that Bulgakov did very well in not stereotyping his behaviour as extremely evil or, well, satanic. Woland, at times, seems the most sane of all people.

I give this novel...


Overall, I massively enjoyed reading this novel. It was not only passionate, but also funny. Despite the fact that all the Russian names were quite hard to keep a track of at times, each character had their own tell tale characteristics and was described in such detail that they almost seemed to spring off the page. I recommend it to everyone who isn't scared off by the 'Russian novel' tag, but also to those who have been starved for amazing prose. Seriously, Bulgakov could write.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Penultimate University Friday

It's my penultimate Friday at University and I'm sad! In roughly a week's time, I won't be a Fresher anymore and sadness will ensue. Although, summer is coming so that's a good thing!

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader, Friday 56 by Freda's Voice. This week I'm using The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway because I decided I needed to read some more Hemingway.

'Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn.'
I have discovered a like for intrusive authors, especially if they're using it in an ironic way.It just adds a whole amount of fun to sometimes quite serious plots. So, I hope this develops into something fun!

'"What? Get up? I never get up."He climbed into bed and pulled the sheet up to his chin."Try and argue me into getting up."'
Oh god, this sounds like my kind of book. Getting up is so difficult in the morning. I would never challenge anyone to arguing me out of bed though, because I can be quite argumentative when I believe in a cause as much as I believe in sleeping!
Alison Can Read Feature & Follow
Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee and this week's question looks amazing!

Q: Activity: Spine Poetry. Create a line of poetry with your book spines (take a picture). Not feeling creative? Tell us about your favorite poem.

Although I never feel very creative, I decided to give this a try. I am just going to pretend it is modern poetry with a very deep hidden meaning that will reveal itself at some point. I have taken the liberty to add some basic words such as 'in' and 'a', (I put the titles in bold) since they're hardly found in (my) book spines!

'In The Night Sky
A Band of Angels,
Bones Buried in the Dirt,
A Shame,
I, Claudius'

So, what's your poem? Managed to put something together that actually makes sense? Leave a link to your post in the comment or tell me there :)

Sunday, 2 June 2013

June Meme Qst: Opening Line

It's June and this means the Classics Club has another question meme for us! This month's question is:

What is your favourite opening sentence from a classic novel (and why)?

Opening sentences are really important to novels and I am, unfortunately, one of those people who are influenced by terribly, or amazing, opening lines. I guess if I have to pick my favourite one I will have to go for the first opening line that really influenced me, which is from Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. Here we go:
'IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.'
I decided to also add the next line, because it just underlines to irony of the first line. The opinions of the male characters are hardly taken into account, aside from Mr. Darcy, because it's so focused on Elizabeth and other women. And I think it's amazing that in a time where women were the property of parents or husbands, Austen considered the men the property. I love you, Austen.

I decided to add something extra, so here's my favourite opening line of a film, which is also a book: 'The Fellowship of the Ring'.
'The world is changed: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, I smell it in the air...Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.'
I just love the beginning. From the very beginning you are aware of an existing history, but also of the close link between the earth and the people in The Lord of the Rings, which I think a lot of people miss out on. And this line is of course helped by the fact it is read out by Galadriel.

So, how about you? What was your favourite opening line?