Adventures In Book Sorting

I’ve been sorting through my book collection and trying to get rid of things I don’t need.  I can hear you laughing — Marissa getting rid of books. But it’s true; I actually let about four large bags leave. Most were either duplicates, or in bad shape, or ones that I’d read and hadn’t liked but hung onto anyway. There were quite a few that were really nice copies, but I just didn’t need them on my shelves.

Unfortunately, I didn’t plan out the way these books are leaving my house very well. Some went to a trading book store, which was fine, but I took others to Half Price Books yesterday and only got $4.00 for three bags of books. They don’t pay much as a general rule, but that seemed really low so I asked and she said, “Well, most weren’t in good shape and we have trouble selling ex-library books.” I’d had a stressful day already so I just signed the paper and left, but in hindsight I wish I’d refused to sell them. Only one of the bags was ex-library and I had some really nice classics and academic anthologies in the other bags that I know they’ll be trying to sell for at least $12 each. *sigh* I really need to work on being more comfortable with standing up for myself rather than avoiding minor conflicts.

Setting those bookish trials aside, in keeping with my new responsible book keeper persona I’m also starting to read all those books on my shelf that I picked up to read “someday.” I started with Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe. I’d picked it up because pirates and time travel has to be fun, right? (Spoiler warning: it was.) I really enjoyed that one, and the last paragraph made me rethink the whole story (in a good way). I’ll definitely be reading more by that author.

Which brings me to the first time I almost fell off the wagon. Though committed to reading books I already owned, I was so very close to checking Wolfe’s book Peace out of the library. And then I found out that a three-book series I loved and thought I just finished is actually six books long (it’s the Study series by Maria V. Snyder). I was online ordering book four into the library before I caught myself and canceled the hold. With a heavy sigh, I redirected myself to checking a book out of the library on my own shelves.

I stopped reading the next book from my shelf after one chapter. I feel bad about it since The Last Light Of The Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay has such high ratings on Goodreads, but nothing in chapter one made me want to keep going. Mostly because of the sex scene. I’m not such a discerningly prudish reader (or writer) that I think sex should be left out of a book, but dubiously consensual scenes that are more graphic than the plot calls for turn me off. I also didn’t love the writing style, so why put up with that for the next 500 pages?

Now I’m reading Slave of the Huns by Géza Gárdonyi. And I’m thinking I might abandon that one, too, which is sad since I was really looking forward to reading a Hungarian classic. With this one, my problem is that I think the main character is an idiot. The plot is being moved forward by the incredibly stupid decisions Zeta makes to spend time with a hot Hunnish girl. He even admits he’s obsessed with her body and not her mind since they’ve never actually had a conversation.

As if that wasn’t enough (spoiler warning) Zeta becomes the titular “slave of the Huns” by choice. A free Greek, he poses as a slave and forges a letter from his master giving himself to the girl’s father. He means to only do this for the last 6 months of his fictional slave contract, but then the Romans plot to kill Attila and Zeta’s stuck in the repercussions of that (Attila decrees Roman and Greek slaves can no longer be freed or ransomed). Like I said, he’s an idiot.

But then again, we’re all idiots sometimes. Like when I gave away books (some of which I originally spent $15+ each on) to Half Price Books at $4 for three bags. So maybe I’ll keep reading and give Zeta a chance to grow and change. After all, I wouldn’t want someone to give up on me because of a stupid thing I did in my late teens/early 20s to impress an attractive member of the opposite sex.

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Idealist Villains: When NF Types Turn Evil

A few weeks ago I observed something curious in one of the personality type groups I frequent on Facebook. One member started a discussion about what kind of villain different personality types would be and there were a few types they didn’t even list. Their assumption was that most Feeling types wouldn’t become villains and especially not NF or FP types.

Rather than bask in the knowledge that we’re the lest villainous type a surprisingly high number of NFs jumped into the comments to defend our ability to turn evil. Most of their comments went something like this: “Well, I wouldn’t personally be a villain, but I could be because *insert reasons.* And on top of that, *insert fictional or real name* is a villain of my type.” I laughed at the number of INFJs who reminded people that Hitler was an INFJ while at the same time reassuring people they don’t feel Hitler-ish tendencies themselves.Idealist Villains: When NF Types Turn Evil | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Who Gets To Be The Villain?

I dare say when most people think about villains, they think of a detached mastermind. There’s a ridiculously high percentage of NT type villains (and correspondingly few NT heroes; it’s even harder to find heroic INTJs in fiction than it is to find NF villains). In real life, of course, people of any personality type can lean more towards the best version or the worst version of their type. No one personality type is inherently “better” than any other. However, society does stereotype certain characteristics associated with types as better or worse.

Prioritizing other’s safety over your own, a characteristic most commonly associated with FJ types, is often seen as a heroic trait. Hence, we see characters like Captain America with an ISFJ personality type. But what if you have an ISFJ character who decides only a certain group of people (or even just one person) is more valuable and it’s their duty to protect them? Suddenly the heroic trait doesn’t seem so safe any more. Especially when you consider the prime example of a villainous ISFJ is Norman Bates from Psycho. Continue reading

Classics Club: Anna Karenina

At 817 pages, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is the most daunting book I’ve yet read for The Classics Club. I chose the translation by husband-and-wife-team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Their work translating Russian literature is highly acclaimed, and I liked the idea of a native Russian speaker and a native English speaker working so closely together on the translation. I found their Anna Karenina very readable.

It took me quite a while to read Anna Karenina, but I did enjoy it. The book was just so large it was hard to take everywhere, and I finished several thinner books for more portable reading. I think ‘intermittently’ was probably the best way for me to read Tolstoy. Usually I would read whole Parts in a chunk, but when it switched between different character arcs (and there were several), I needed a short break.

The main reason I was excited to read Anna Karenina was because my creative writing professor always talked about Russian writers as examples of superb character building. In this regard, Tolstoy did not disappoint. My sister, who’s reading War and Peace, said she noticed the same thing. The characters, especially his male characters, are nuanced people with depth of personality. I particularly enjoyed Levin and his story.

Three couples are at the centers of the novels main plots: Stepan and Dolly Oblonsky (Anna’s brother and sister-in-law), Kostya and Kitty Levin (Kitty is Dolly’s sister), and Anna Karenina with Alexei Karenin (her husband) or Alexei Vronsky (her lover). I know why Tolstoy chose Anna Karenina’s name as the title — she’s the only character which connects and influences all the others — but I was a little surprised not to see her play a more prominent (or at least more active) role in all the main plots.

Anna makes one decision — to enter an adulterous relationship with Vronsky — and then everything else just sort of happens. Her affair takes Vronsky out of Kitty’s life, which leads to Kitty’s very wise decision to marry Levin, but that’s the only affect Anna has on that plot line. Her main influence in the Oblonsky family storyline takes place at the beginning of the novel, before she even meets Vronsky. As relatives they cross paths throughout the book, but don’t influence each other much. For all the talk about her strong personality, Anna may be least active main character I’ve read. She takes the easiest road from the moment she throws her life in with Vronsky. She tells her husband only when she can’t bear not to. She won’t accept Karenin’s forgiveness because the self-awareness, growth and repentance necessary is too daunting. She doesn’t accept a divorce because it seems like such a final step that would separate her from her son. She refuses to take an interest in her daughter. She throws herself under a train because she can’t stop sabotaging the one relationship she has left, with Vronsky.

Here we get back to my caveat about Tolstoy’s really great characters mostly being male. I liked Kitty, I sympathized with Dolly, I partly understood Anna, but I didn’t empathize with them and they didn’t always feel real. Or maybe they were realistic, but I just didn’t like Anna and Dolly much? I’m not sure.

Plot wise, it did seem odd to me that the book continued so long after the title character’s death. These last chapters did tells you the main things that happened to Anna’s Alexies after her death, but didn’t follow them closely. Instead, it switched to wrapping up Levin’s subplot of spiritual awakening, which had absolutely nothing to do with Anna. Ending on that note made me wonder if the main point Tolstoy wanted his readers to take away wasn’t the tragedy of Anna’s unhappy families, but the beauty of Levin’s spiritual quest. Levin is also tempted by suicide, but he doesn’t take that route, and instead finds hope in his newly re-awakened faith in God that sits apart from any organized religion. Perhaps Tolstoy hoped his readers would progress on a path of faith, hope and happiness as well.

Classics Club — The Iliad

I’m not actually all that far behind on my reading for the Classics Club book challenge — I’m just behind on blogging about the books. Right now, I’m halfway through Anna Karenina, and I recently finished Tenant of Wildfell Hall and The Iliad. Since I also have to write about The Iliad for the high school curriculum I’m building (which my brother is trying out this year), that’s the one I wanted to talk about today.

Usually, I like to read something about the author’s history and the time period framing their writings when I explore a piece of classic literature. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about Homer. There’s even debate about whether or not he’s the one who wrote down the epic poems he (probably) composed. The introduction to the Robert Fagles translation seems to lean toward Homer writing his own poems down once the art of writing was reintroduced to Greece, though it’s all “pure speculation.” I suppose in some way the mystery surrounding these texts makes them even more intriguing.

Having once been told by a nihilistic classmate that nothing original has been written since Homer, I was rather curious to finally read The Iliad. While I can’t say I agree with him, it’s not hard to see The Iliad‘s influence on modern literature, and when I get around to reading The Odyssey (also on my Classics list) I’m sure I’ll notice even more themes that show up in modern plot and characterization.

What intrigued me most, though, was the portrayal of women in The Iliad. Though several women have lengthy passages of dialogue (including Helen and Hector’s wife Andromache), and goddesses play a huge role in the plot, they’re all show in some kind of captivity to men. No matter how strong of a character Andromache is, once she loses Hector she has no social position and no hope of avoiding slavery. Paris stole Helen, and she makes no secret of how badly that has affected her and how little she respects him. Other female characters, like Briseis, are already captives in the Achaean camp. Even the goddesses are under Zeus’s power, and his threats toward Hera starting in Book 1 portray an eyebrow-raising level of domestic abuse on Olympus.

The intriguing part is that Homer doesn’t give the impression that this portrayal of women is entirely okay. He does imply it’s “normal” for that time period, but he takes great care to show the womens’ side of the story more than one might expect in a poem mainly about the wars of gods and men. We see goddesses scheming to get around restrictions of the gods. We get plenty of dialogue from Helen, showing that ten years haven’t simply turned her into a submissive or entirely complicit captive even though her inner turmoil is ignored by both Aphrodite and Paris. Even Briseis — the captive Agamemnon steals from Achilles — has a chance to give her side of the story and make sure no one forgets that she (and by extension the other female captives mentioned as spoils of war or offered as prizes at Patroclus’ funeral games) is a human being.

It makes me miss having University access to databases full of scholarly journals — I’d love to read what people who have the time/resources to study these characters better are writing. I did find one interesting article, though: The Portrayal of Women in the Iliad by S. Farron. He says, “Homer had different attitudes from his characters. He knew that women are complete human beings and constantly emphasized how deep and intense their feelings are.” I’d agree with this writer that Homer was trying to craft real characters, not urge social reform, but it’s still intriguing that he realized women were worth writing well. He treated them as real characters with emotions and thoughts that were relevent to the story, which is more than his male characters did.

The Phantom of the Opera

I choose The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux as the first book to read off my Classics Club book list for one simple reason. I had a dream about it.

The edition I read

Now, understand I’ve never read this book before. It’s not even one I checked out of the library, flipped through, and lost interest in. So when I dreamed about seeing the written pages of this book morph into film-like scenes that were not in the 2004 film or the play I saw this year, I decided I needed to read this book. It’s not unusual for me to dream vividly, but it was a bit odd to construct such an elaborate version of  something I hadn’t thought about recently.

So I ordered it into the library and read it (in translation, unfortunately, since my French isn’t very good). And I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy the book. It must have been almost 10 years ago that I first became seriously interested in the musical The Phantom of the Opera, and at the time I decided against reading the book because so many reviewers I read said they were disappointed. They said if you like the play, don’t bother reading the book because Andrew Lloyd Webber somehow managed to pull brilliance out of a terrible novel.

Overall Impressions

It is not a terrible novel, though I understand why some readers didn’t like it. Many who love the musical expect a more romantic Phantom character, while Leroux’s Erik (a.k.a. The Phantom) is firmly rooted in a Gothic tradition of villainy. He sleeps in a coffin. His lair includes a torture chamber. He has no nose in his deathly-pale face.

But we’ll get to comparing it with the play later. For now, back to the book. It is written as if by a narrator who began studying the events surrounding the tragedy of the Paris Opera House about 30 years after its haunting by the “ghost.” This haunting coincided with the famous disappearance of Christine Daaé and the Vicomte de Chagny. Our narrator connects these two events, interviews the only witness who is both surviving and locatable, and happens into possession of some very intriguing documents attesting to the ghost’s antics. In short, he is uniquely positioned to be the only person qualified to uncover the truth regarding the opera ghost.

Parts of the story are told as we would think of a “normal” 3rd-person narration, others are the narrator’s conjectures about what might have taken place, still others are written as if borrowed from the memoirs of a few key characters. This rather disconnected narrative style works surprisingly well, and there were only a few places where I thought it jarring to be reminded that the narrator is supposedly piecing this story together from multiple sources of evidence.

Comparing Phantoms

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Probably the main change from the book to the play is how Erik is portrayed. This blog post about The Many Faces of Erik collects pictures of the Phantom’s portrayal in film and on stage, both before and after Webber’s musical. I could have nightmares about that face from the 1925 version, but it’s probably the closest to Erik in the book.

Erik is described as having “a death’s head,” and his hands are skeletal and cold. Even the most ghoulish Phantom make-up in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals can be hidden under a half-mask. In the book, the entire man is deformed in some vague way that can’t really be hidden. The people who glimpse him even in disguise get the impression of a ghost or skeleton.

And his character is more twisted in the book as well. In the play, we know the Phantom as a genius who has gone mad and kills to protect his secrets. In the book, we are given more of Erik’s back-story and made to see him not as an unstable, unloved man who is carried away by his passion, but as a violent man without a conscience who has a history of inventing new ways to kill and torment people for pleasure. He captures our imagination, our horror, our pity, but not our love.

Angel of Music

Christine and Raoul’s back-story was very similar in the book and play, with the book simply being more fleshed-out. I liked Raoul less in the book, though. He seems a rather pale, helpless character who follows Christine around vacillating between hating of her for loving someone else and being willing to do anything to protect her from Erik. If he was translated perfectly from the book to the musical and the changes for the Phantom left in place, I doubt there’s be any part of me hoping for Raoul to win Christine.

Poor Christine, in the book and play, was doomed by her father’s promise to send her the Angel of Music. This is built-up even better in the book, with her father telling stories about how the greatest musicians heard the Angel of Music, who moved them from talented to unforgettably brilliant. Christine’s father was a great violinist, but never heard the Angel. His daughter, however, was waiting for him to send one from heaven, and when Erik first sings to her she asks if he is her Angel. He grasps the title eagerly, and she’s lost to his music.

His voice first appears in the book simply as a speaking voice — the man Raoul hears but cannot find in Christine’s dressing room and the invisible speaker in Box 5. Madam Giry calls it “such a lovely man’s voice … so soft and kind.” When Erik finally sings, the word “captivating” hardly seems to do the listeners’ reactions justice:

The voice without a body went on singing; and certainly Raoul had never in his life heard anything more absolutely and heroically sweet, more gloriously insidious, more delicate, more powerful, in short, more irresistibly triumphant. He listened to it in a fever and he now began to understand how Christine Daaé was able to appear one evening, before the stupefied audience, with accents of a beauty hitherto unknown, of a superhuman exaltation, while doubtless still under the influence of the mysterious and invisible master.

Sierra Boggess as Christine and Ramin Karimloo as The Phantom in “Phantom Of The Opera At Royal Albert Hall.”

The voice was singing the Wedding-night Song from Romeo and Juliet. Raoul saw Christine stretch out her arms to the voice as she had done, in Perros churchyard, to the invisible violin playing The Resurrection of Lazarus. And nothing could describe the passion with which the voice sang: “Fate links thee to me for ever and a day!”

The strains went through Raoul’s heart. Struggling against the charm that seemed to deprive him of all his will and all his energy and of almost all his lucidity at the moment when he needed them most, he succeeded in drawing back the curtain that hid him and he walked to where Christine stood. (from Chapter IX)

Michael Crawford (original Broadway cast), Ramin Karimloo (25th anniversary cast), and Cooper Grodin (touring cast I saw in Columbus) have voices like this. That spectacular voice, which mesmerizes Christine and the audience, is the secret of Erik’s allure. Without it, he would just be a hideous man with an even more hideous soul hiding under an opera house. But add this voice, and he becomes something unforgettable — the dark menace who should be repulsive but is somehow irresistible.

Alphabet Name List

Alphabet Names marissabaker.wordpress.comI recently set up an account with my favorite name website, NameBerry. For me, it’s almost as potentially addictive as Pinterest — I could spend hours browsing names, interacting with other writers, and discussing the best names for other people’s children. One of the forum topics I stumbled across last week was about favorite names from each letter of the alphabet.

When I tried to fill out the alphabet chart, there were some letters (A, C, and S) that were hard to narrow down to just one name each for boys and girls. Other letters (O and U), I had hard time finding anything I liked or would actually use even on a fictional person. It was fun, though, and I decided to share it here as well as on that site.Alphabet Names marissabaker.wordpress.com

I’ve mentioned my name obsession before, along with a few of my favorite names. This list is longer, and includes a few that I like the sound of more than the meaning. The two that aren’t linked to NameBerry or another website are from fantasy stories. Brigan is my favorite character from Kristian Cashore’s book Fire, and while it is used as a last name there doesn’t appear to be a distinct meaning. Faramir is from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and means “sufficient jewel” or “jeweled hunter” in Elvish.

Boy and Girl Alphabet Names

Alasdair and Aithne
Brigan and Brianne
Callen and Chasia
Derek and Desiree
Ethan and Eliana
Faramir and Felicity
Garreth and Gabriela
Hugh and Huali
Iain and Illiani
Jace and Jeanette
Kevin and Kaira
Lance and Liya
Merrick and Marina
Neil and Nuriel
Ohan and Ondine
Peregrin and Petra
Quade and Quarry
Rohan and Raine
Shane and Simone
Tristan and Talia
Ulric and Udelia
Vigo and Vivian
Wyatt and Waverly
Xavier and Xandra
Yevgeny and Yasmine
Zachary and Zoe

Alphabet Names marissabaker.wordpress.com