October 2015 Review

Photo of the month: pumpkin selfie

Wow. This was quite the month. Most of it is fuzzy due to my bipolar mixed state which gobbled up most of my conscious activity. But I’m starting to emerge, thankfully.

At some point, I decided to choose this crying piggy bank as my monthly topper – probably because I spent a huge chunk of money on my new contact lenses, but it may also have been because the picture’s really darned cute. I’ve decided to include it now, even though it doesn’t summarize the month as well as I’d expected at one foggy moment in a long foggy month.

I’d say more about my month, but I’m a bit foggy. ūüôā So I’ll let the posts and pictures say the rest:

I’m currently reading or listening to:

Abnormal Psychology Posts

Clinical Mental Health Diagnosis: Biological Assessment
Clinical Mental Health Diagnosis: Psychological Assessment
Does the DSM-5 Encourage Overmedication?
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – the Basics
Panic Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Hoarding and Body Dysmorphic Disorders

Book & Movie Reviews

Already started this series. Thought it would be a nice addition to A More Diverse Universe, The Halloween Reading Challenge, and R. I. P. X
This has been collecting virtual dust in my Audible library. Thought it would be a nice addition to The Halloween Reading Challenge, and R. I. P. X
I started this a long time ago for my bookclub and wasn’t able to finish it on time. Figured now was a good time since the review would fit in well with¬†A More Diverse Universe,¬†The Halloween Reading Challenge, and¬†R. I. P. X

Read this so that I could discuss it with my Abnormal Psychology Prof

Read this classic vampire story for 
The Halloween Reading Challenge, and R. I. P. X and The Classics Club
I read this to supplement my study of The Epic of Gilgamesh.
This is a classic text discussing the theories about the relationship of the flood myths in Gilgamesh Epic and the Old Testament.
I was supposed to finish this 12-part series for my bookclub a while back, but I only got through 7. I’m slowly trying to finish the series because it is rather interesting.¬†

This book has been hanging out in my Audible library for quite a long time.
In my efforts to decrease my TBR pile, I read it. Thought it would fit in nicely with
The Halloween Reading Challenge, and R. I. P. X
How could I resist? 
Thought it would fit in nicely with The Halloween Reading Challenge, and R. I. P. X
This is my RL book club pick for November
I actually didn’t finish this one. I got about 3 hours into the 14 hour book.
I was interested in what Greenberg had to say about the problems with the DSM classification system (for there are many)…and he had some good ones
But with his bashing of psychiatry he promotes stigma and ignorance of mental health by encouraging the people who believe that mental illness either doesn’t exist (“it’s all in their heads”) or is caused by a weakness of character.
Although interested in what he had to say, the book made me so angry that I couldn’t listen anymore.
Picked this up off the Audible New Release section.
Figured it’d be one last hoorah for the Halloween season.

Movies/Shows watched:

Watched this with my boyfriend. Thought it would be a nice addition to The Halloween Reading Challenge, and R. I. P. X

Watched this horror flick with my boyfriend, but since I only gave it 3 snowflakes, I decided not to review it. 

Thought it would be fun to watch the movies after reading the book.
This is the original Swedish version of the movie
This is the American remake of the Swedish film.
I expected it to be a remake of the Swedish book, but it wasn’t.
Watched it after reading the book.
I like to compare different adaptations.
Watched this while I was giving platelets. Wow. It was pretty amazing. 
Went to this in the theater with my sister and her son.
While not as hilarious as the first, it was a fantastic sequel. 

Next Month’s Blogging Activities Include

Sci-Fi Month 2015 @Rinn Reads

The Classics Club (My List)

I’m participating in Nonfiction November hosted ¬†by Doing Dewey, Sophisticated Dorkiness, I’m Lost in Books, and Regular Rumination. ¬†I will also be participating in the I am Malala readalong in the last week of November. I’m hoping to take this theme to heart and catch up on my non-fiction reviews in November. ūüôā

This post is linked up to the Facebook Group The Sunday Salon. “The Salon is open to anyone who’d like to discuss books of a Sunday (or, frankly, any other day of the week). … Discuss what you’re reading here, or link to relevant blog posts, or comment on one anothers posts. Enjoy.”
This post is also linked up to the Sunday Post at¬†Caffeinated Book Reviewer. “The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted here @¬†Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It‚Äôs a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog, showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead.”

The Epic of Gilgamesh – Historical Background

History of the epic

The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest epic still in existence. Coming from the third¬†millennium¬†BCE, it predates Homer’s epics by at¬†least one and a half thousand years. It is from a time long forgotten by historians – only rediscovered in the last century by¬†archaeologists¬†in the Middle East. The fascinating part about the Epic of Gilgamesh is that even though it is 5 millennia old the humanity and passion of the story still resonate with readers today.¬†

The most complete version of Gilgamesh yet discovered is a series of eleven tablets in the Akkadian language found in the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. Ashurbanipal ¬†(668-627 BCE)¬†was a great king of the Assyrian empire and a collector of literature from all over the Middle East. His library disappeared after the fall of Nineveh in 612 BCE, and was uncovered by¬†archaeologists¬†in 1839. The tablets were¬†transferred¬†to the British Museum where they received little attention until 1873, when a scholar named George Smith realized that they included an account of the flood (recounted in the Bible as the story of Noah’s ark). This announcement set off an immediate sensation because it suggested that the authors of the Bible might have been familiar with Gilgamesh’s story (though possibly both versions come from an earlier source). After this discovery,¬†archaeologists¬†dug up more and more tablets and scholars busied¬†themselves with translations. Unfortunately, some of the tablets are fragmented, and the story has to be pieced together from different versions. This leaves the story very open to interpretation.¬†

Who was Gilgamesh?

The character of Gilgamesh is thought to be based on a real king of the¬†Mesopotamian¬†city of Uruk (Erech in the Bible). The historical Gilgamesh probably raised up the famous walls of Uruk, described in glorious detail in the epic. The walls had a 6 mile perimeter and more than nine hundred towers.¬†Its ruins are near the town of Warka, in southern Iraq.¬†Archaeologists¬†date parts of the wall to around 2700 BCE,¬†so they believe Gilgamesh may have lived around then. According to the “Sumerian king list,” Gilgamesh was the fifth king of the founding dynasty of Uruk.¬†

Gilgamesh was clearly a great builder Рnot only building the great wall, but also restoring the shrine of the goddess Ninlil. He very likely led a successful expedition to retrieve timber from the lands to the North Рa story which was related in the epic.  

This is a series of posts about The Epic of Gilgamesh. Here is a list of all posts thus far: 

The Epic of Gilgamesh – Analytical Summary

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story about the futility of seeking immortality. It’s a journey of self-discovery in which Gilgamesh learns the ultimate truth – every human dies. It follows Gilgamesh, king of the ancient city of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. As a youth, Gilgamesh was a capricious and domineering king. He deflowered the maidens, bullied the children and elderly, and forced labor on the men. His people prayed to the gods that they would send respite. So the gods formed the magnificent wild-man Enkidu out of clay. Enkidu fought in mighty hand-to-hand combat with Gilgamesh. When they found themselves nearly equal in strength, they embraced and became dear friends.¬†

Gilgamesh found entertainment and love in his new friend, and left the people of Uruk alone. But the two unearthly men soon became bored. They decided that they wanted to earn immortality by achieving great feats Рor at least die trying. Rash youths, they glorified death, thinking it would immortalize them. 

First, they set out to defeat the beast Humbaba, whom the god Enlil had appointed protector of the forest. Once conquered, Humbaba begged for mercy. But the two youths, mistaking death for victory, chopped off his head and then downed many of the huge trees Humbaba had protected. 

Gilgamesh and Enkidu certainly made an impression, because upon returning to Uruk, Ishtar, the fertility goddess, fell in love with Gilgamesh. In his blood-glory, Gilgamesh scorned the love of Ishtar, who ran to daddy and pouted and screamed until her father loaned her the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh. 

The Bull brought famine and drought. He drank the Euphrates in a few gulps. He snorted, and the earth cracked before him. But Gilgamesh and Enkidu were in a blood-lust fury. They tore the Bull apart, and Enkidu threw the shank of the Bull at Ishtar claiming he’d tear her limb from limb if only she’d come down from the wall. Then Gilgamesh and Enkidu rode through the streets exclaiming: “Who is the most magnificent hero? Gilgamesh is! Enkidu is!”
With these two “victories” over death, Gilgamesh and Enkidu fancied themselves equal to the gods. But they soon found themselves sorely wrong. The gods punished the two by giving Enkidu a wasting illness. Before, they had glorified death as a path to immortality. But now they were standing face-to-face with death, and they were¬†appalled¬†by what they saw. To¬†slowly die breath by breath? Humiliating! The loss of life, of friendship, of love? Tragic!
Gilgamesh could not face the reality of his friend’s death; refusing burial until maggots fell out of Enkidu’s nose. Then Gilgamesh melted down. He realized that he is human – and humans die. And death is not glorious. It leads to rot and decay. This was the second stage of Gilgamesh’s folly: he no longer saw death as a path to immortality, nor did he see it as a natural part of life. To Gilgamesh, death was an enemy who must be defeated.

Gilgamesh wrapped himself in the bloody skins of a lion and roamed the earth trying to hide from death. He became increasingly more violent and insane. In one passage, he found a boat that would take him to a man-god who Gilgamesh thought could advise him on becoming immortal. But instead of asking the boatman to ferry him across the lake to Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh furiously destroyed everything in sight. Having shown his power, he then demanded the boatman ferry him. But the boatman told him “How can I? You have destroyed the tools I need to do that.”

Everyone Gilgamesh talked to on his journey told him the same thing Рdeath is inevitable. You are wasting your life in futility. But he would not listen. 

He finally reached Utnapishtim and asked the man-god how he had become immortal. Utnapishtim related the story of an annihilating flood which killed all but him, his family, and the animals he brought on his ship with him. Realizing the horror that they had empowered, the gods rewarded Utnapishtim with god-hood –¬†promising¬†never again to destroy the inhabitants of earth. But, Utnapishtim assured, the gods would never again grant immortality. Death was now the¬†inevitable¬†finale of life.

Gilgamesh was relentless, so Utnapishtim challenged him to fight death’s younger brother sleep for only seven days. Gilgamesh reclined and immediately fell asleep from exhaustion. He slept for 7 days before Utnapishtim woke him.¬†

Defeated in the realization that death could not be overcome, Gilgamesh prepared for his journey home. He bathed, anointed his body with oils, and donned civilized clothes. He was now willing to face death as a man. But there was one more lesson Gilgamesh had to learn before returning to his kingdom. 

As a parting consolation prize, Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that at the bottom of the lake lay a plant that would return youth to whomever ate it. Gilgamesh dove into the lake and retrieved the plant. Instead of eating it right away, Gilgamesh decided to take it back to Uruk. In his hand, he finally clutched a tiny morsel of immortality, something that would allow him to return to Uruk wise and youthful. Yet he hesitated.

While on his return journey, Gilgamesh stopped by a lake and bathed. He carelessly placed the plant on the shore. Of course, the plant was stolen by a passing snake, which sloughed its skin and slithered youthfully into the ground. 

Thus Gilgamesh realized that his entire quest for immortality Рfrom the glory-seeking of his youth, to the insane grasping for godhood, to his desperate clutching at the comfort of youth Рwas in vain. He returned to Uruk an introspective, wise king. This elderly Gilgamesh finally attained a form of immortality: he built temples, halls, and the great wall of Uruk (parts of which have been found by archaeologists today). He brought prosperity to the city. 

My one lingering question after writing this analytical summary is why did Gilgamesh hesitate to eat the plant? Was it his final folly to hesitate? Or was this hesitation encouraged by his new-found wisdom? I can’t decide.

There are so many things to say about The Epic of Gilgamesh, and I had big plans for this post. But I see now that there’s no way to give even a small portion of Gilgamesh’s due in one post. So I will break this into a series of posts. More is yet to come. If you have anything specific you’d like me to discuss, let me know.

This is a series of posts about The Epic of Gilgamesh. Here is a list of all posts thus far: 

Pride and Prejudice Movie Comparison

Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth

Funny thing about these movies is that of the more recent two, I have pretty much the same comments to make as I did about the Sense and Sensibility movies last month. The beloved-by-many 1995 version with Colin Firth hits the literal nail on the head. The dialog from the miniseries is taken directly from the book, EVERY important scene is included, the characters are spot-on, and the humor comes through in-tact. Bonus, there’re those lovely scenes with Colin Firth in the bathtub and later playing wet-shirt-contest. ūüôā Perfecto! But a little long for a one-sitting viewing. ūüôā

Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Keira Knightly and Matthew MacFadyen

The 2005 movie, on the other hand, makes the story into a romance and removes almost all of the humor. The romance gets to be a bit¬†melodramatic¬†at times, but it is a good romance. I’m not sure if the purpose was to reduce the length/complexity of the story or if the director simply wanted to remove all the humor, but the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are completely changed in this version. I don’t particularly mind, but it’s enough to piss off a purist. I rather liked the new Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. ūüėȬ†

Pride and Prejudice (1940)
Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier

The classic 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice is short-and-sweet. The humor and the main story line between Darcy and Elizabeth is intact, but all the other characters have changed dramatically. Especially Darcy’s aunt. Definitely not a movie for purists. But frankly, I think this one’s cute. After all, what’s more shocking than a surprise ending in your best-known novel? ūüėȬ†

Lost in Austen (2008)
Jemima Cooper and Elliot Cowan

As a bonus, I’ll mention my favorite film retelling of Pride and Prejudice – Lost in Austen. In this silly little fantasy, Amanda Price is a modern young Brittish woman who can’t settle down in life because she’s in love with Mr. Darcy’s character. When her boyfriend botches a proposal, Amanda runs away and, out of sheer need, somehow opens a doorway into the story. She trades places with Elizabeth (who has to figure out how to survive in modern London). Unfortunately, Amanda isn’t able to keep her modern manners to herself, and she throws the whole story out of whack. Furthermore, many characters turn out to be very different in “real life” than they were perceived to be by the narrator of Pride and Prejudice. What this story lacked in originality, it made up for with well-aimed British humor. ūüôā

Does anybody else have a favorite Austen retelling (book or film)?

Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome

2012 Book 168: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Written by Jerome K. Jerome, Narrated by Frederick Davidson

Reason for Reading: This was my “monthly random pick” which took me two months to get to. ūüôā My next “monthly random pick” is The Passage, by Justin Cronin. This book is a classic, so it fits in my Classics Club list. ūüôā¬†

In this classic novel of humor, three men (to say nothing of the dog) decide to cure their hypochondriac ailments by getting fresh air and exercise. They decide to travel down the Thames in a boat. The narrator jumps back and forth between humorous description of their preparations/trip and silly¬†reminiscences¬†of¬†loosely¬†connected incidents about the characters. This is the type of book where, at the end, you’re not sure if there was any story in there at all, but you certainly enjoyed the trip regardless. It was a good-natured, happy sort of humor. This is a short book, and certainly worth reading if you like the classics. ūüôā

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (NCE; WLC)

2012 Book 148: Pride and Prejudice (A Norton Critical Edition)
written by Jane Austen, edited by Donald J. Gray
My Review

The Bennet household is in a bit of a financial bind. They have five unmarried daughters with almost no dowry, and the estate is to be inherited by a mysterious cousin that no one’s met yet. But things get exciting when a rich bachelor moves to town and brings is even richer bachelor friend. Every young lady in the area is ready to throw themselves at these men. Except, of course, for Elizabeth Bennet. She instantly decides that the rich bachelor is perfect for her sister, Jane, and his richer friend is the most detestable man on the planet. Thus starts one of the best-loved romances in Western literature. And, like most everyone else, I loved this story. Even on the nth reading of it. ūüôā

This book is also a social satire, which is a fact unfortunately ignored by many readers. I think many of the people who hate the book (mostly men) see it simply as a romance and don’t look any further. This failing to see the humor was one of the reasons I so loathed Seth Graham-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I had high hopes that he had managed to weave Austen’s sense of humor (i.e. a wry, witty social satire) with zombie-whacking humor. I would have eaten such a book alive. ūüėÄ But, alas, Graham-Smith clearly didn’t understand the humor in P&P…I wasted a couple hours of my life on that book that I will NEVER get back again.

Since there’s not much else I can say in a mini-review of the story that hasn’t been said over and over, I’ll discuss the supplementary material in the Norton Critical Edition. There wasn’t a LOT of supplementary information in the book, but it was generally of good quality. It started with a biography of Austen, punctuated with letters written by the author. This part would be helpful to someone who isn’t familiar with Austen’s life, but wouldn’t be particularly new to anyone who’s read a biography of her. Additionally, there were several critical analyses of Pride and Prejudice, both contemporary and modern. I enjoyed most of these–though I admit I got bored with the Freudian one and moved on to the next. The piece I found most surprising was the interview with Colin Firth. I really didn’t think that this interview belonged in a critical edition of P&P and wasn’t expecting much from it. But I was very wrong. Colin Firth had a strong understanding of Darcy’s character (of course! how could I doubt? It IS his job!). It was fascinating to read his thoughts about how he incorporated his understanding of Darcy’s motivations in the most powerful scenes (such as the first ball, the drawing room discussion when Lizzy was at Netherfield, the dance at Netherfield, and the proposal). It gave me a completely new impression of Darcy’s character and made me want to watch the whole miniseries again.

I found the excerpt by Marilyn Butler Jane Austen and the War of Ideas: Pride and Prejudice, quite helpful…I feel encouraged to read Butler’s entire book (after I finish re-reading the rest of Austen’s novels). In this excerpt, Butler shows how Darcy and Elizabeth have elements of both pride and prejudice in their personalities. I had always thought about Darcy being proud and Elizabeth being prejudiced…but now I see that it is not that simple. Darcy was proud of his lineage and wealth, and he was prejudiced against people who had less wealth and less sophistication than himself. Elizabeth was prejudiced against Darcy because of his initial bad impression, but she was too proud to allow for the possibility that she might be mistaken in her first impressions.

She stubbornly liked Wickham, despite the fact that he said he wouldn’t speak ill of Darcy, and yet gossiped about Darcy till the cows came home…despite the fact that he said he had no reason to avoid Darcy, and yet ran off when the ball came ’round…despite the fact that he was clearly a fortune hunter. Furthermore, Elizabeth stubbornly detested Darcy, even though she was warned by Jane and Miss Bingley that there might be more to the story than Wickham acknowledged….despite the fact that Darcy made clear efforts to be more polite to her as he got to know her better….despite the fact that he politely asked her not to “sketch his character” at the present moment because it would do neither of them any justice.

I had never before thought of the flaws of Elizabeth’s character. But, indeed, she had to have flaws so that she could develop throughout the book. One of her most amusing flaws was that she was judgmental and critical of everyone–and THAT is exactly the complaint she had of Mr. Darcy’s character! It is quite common, I suppose, to detest your own flaws when you see them in other people. ūüôā

I think this is an interesting time to insert the Jane Austen Character Quiz. I was a little annoyed at question 7 which asks which actress would play me in a movie, because if I said I’d be played by Gwenneth Paltrow, isn’t that just ASKING to be Emma? So I decided to take the quiz several times, and see what answer I got for EACH of the actresses. It turns out that I would be Elizabeth Bennet for five of the seven actress choices, and I would be Elinor Dashwood if played by Emma Thompson, and Anne Elliot if played by Amanda Root. I took that to mean that I COULD be Elinor if I really wanted to be, but really I was Elizabeth.
I was a little put out at first. I really wanted to be Elinor. But, then again, I am really NONE of the Austen characters, am I? I did some thinking about this issue, though. And I considered: Elizabeth Bennet’s most outstanding characteristics are that she’s witty/sarcastic and fun-loving. I don’t know if I’m particularly witty, but I am a bit sarcastic, and I think I’m fun-loving as well. Her characteristic that drives the plot of Pride and Prejudice, however, is that she tends to be critical of her fellow humans, makes strong and lasting immediate impressions, and stubbornly sticks to these first impressions despite contradictory evidence. I don’t really want to be those things. But you know what? I don’t think those are good characteristics, but, as I said above, we tend to detest our own flaws when we see them in other people. ūüėČ I have been writing a lot of letters to my cousin Steve lately, and it made me realize that I spend an awful lot of time criticizing other people. Not that I feel I’m BETTER than those other people…but, still, I was surprised that I must seem (to Steve) to be rather judgmental. This was a side of my personality that I hadn’t seen before, because I’d never had the chance to talk so freely as I do in those prolific letters. So…perhaps the quiz knows what it’s talking about after all?

The Great Courses: Western Literary Canon

Lecture 24: Pride and Prejudice, Women in the Canon
I’ll just finish up with some comments on Lecture 24 in the Western Literary Canon course. Professor Bowers begins by pointing out that, unlike many other canonical works, Jane Austen’s books are generally read for pure pleasure. I found similar opinions in the Norton Critical Edition. Apparently, one really shouldn’t look for a “deeper meaning” in Austen’s books–they’re simply not that deep. They’re meant to entertain, not to educate. I suppose I can understand this point of view, as Pride and Prejudice is certainly less deep than Candide, by Voltaire (for example). They are both social satires, but Austen is much lighter. ūüôā Professor Bowers claims that the charm of Austen’s books is that she portrayed humanity accurately and honestly. I think this is true in that her books portray human folly. However, I feel many of her characters satirize human folly to (humorous) extremes.
Jane Austen was one of the first women authors who was accepted into the “Western literary canon.” Mostly, the great critics-on-high chose books by deeply educated male authors. However, once Austen was accepted, critics opened to the idea of women canonical authors ,and efforts were made to retreat into history and rescue women authors who deserve canonical status like Sappho, Marie deFrance, and Christine de Pizan. Professor Bowers didn’t point this out, but another impact that I think Austen had is that she is the mother of “regency romance.” Most regency romances today are thematically copied from Austen’s style. Regency romances, ranging from Christian to erotica, abound in today’s market.
Bowers makes the interesting point that Mrs. Bennet is the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice by Aristotelian view–she is the one who schemes to get her daughters married, and she is the one whose dreams come true. Margaret Drabble, in her introduction to Pride and Prejudice [1], even suggests that Mrs. Bennet may be simply misunderstood by modern readers. Due to the circumstances and time, her life revolves around finding suitable husbands for her daughters to ensure that they don’t end up poverty-stricken old maids. She is, perhaps, a bit over-zealous and foolish in her attempts at matchmaking…but her intentions are very maternal. This is an interpretation of Mrs. Bennet that I have never considered, and I found it refreshing.

On this reading, I wasn’t any less impressed by the silliness of Mrs. Bennet than I had previously been; but I was surprised at a new opinion of Mr. Bennet. I had always considered him to be a sensible man with a delightfully sarcastic edge. But he wasn’t at all sensible. He SHOULD have laid aside money over the years instead of assuming he’d eventually have a son. When he realized he wasn’t going to have a son, he should have made more efforts to keep Mrs. Bennet from overspending. Instead of laughing at the folly of his daughters and wife, he should have spoken some sense into them–at the very least into his daughters. By laughing at their folly, he allowed them to expose themselves both to ridicule and to the preying eyes of ungentlemanly men. He shouldn’t have encouraged his daughters to laugh at his wife. He is just as much at fault for the ridiculousness of the family as his wife is.

[1] Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Penguin Group 2008. ISBN: 1-101-08421-98

Texts that I have read for this lesson:
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice (Norton Critical Edition) (required reading)

Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis

2012 Book 144: Surprised by Joy

Written by C. S. Lewis, Narrated by Geoffrey Howard

Reason for Reading:¬†I’m slowly working through the books of C. S. Lewis out of curiosity for his theology.¬†


In this short memoir, C. S. Lewis describes his spiritual journey from youthful atheist to firm and faithful believer. This isn’t really a memoir of Lewis’ life, although it does contain some interesting anecdotes about his school years. Mostly, he only focuses on incidents in his life that impacted his spiritual development. I have read many spiritual development memoirs, and this one is like the others…only it stands out because it is a classic. It was written when these types of journeys were not as commonly shared in memoirs. (In fact, I suspect that this book was one of the ones that inspired so many of the spiritual-journey memoirs that we see today.) One thing I found interesting about this book is it explained to me why so many people retro-diagnose Lewis with Asperger’s syndrome. He talked about his difficulties dealing with other students…not knowing how to respond in social situations and being told to “take that look off [his] face” when he was trying very hard to keep an appropriate facial expression. I think it is important to recognize that we can’t accurately retro-diagnose people with today’s syndromes, but it IS interesting to see how such personality traits were present in Lewis’ day, and how he excused them with stories about how childhood events affected his social interactions. It was definitely an interesting read…and anyone who likes to hear about others’ spiritual journeys really should start with C. S. Lewis.

Classics Club: October Meme

It’s time for my post for the Classics Club October Meme! This meme is a way for all of us classics clubbers to interact with each other and remind ourselves that we can’t always be introverts. ūüėČ The question of the month is: Why are you reading the classics?

I have always loved reading the classics. First of all, if they’ve survived this long, that’s generally because they’re so powerful that they resonate throughout the ages. I appreciate a good book! Second, I enjoy learning about history. Reading books that were written in a certain historical period is a fantastic way to help me learn about that time period. Third, I enjoy picking up on allusions to classics in popular culture (and other books). It is fascinating how certain ideas stay with us forever…how some of them morph with time and become new ideas. I enjoy following this process because it helps me understand what is important to us psychologically.¬†

Update: So far, I have read and reviewed 3 of 50 on my classics club list.

For those of you who are not members of the classics club (and therefore don’t have your own blog post on the topic) please feel free to answer this month’s question in my comments! ūüôā

The Blind Owl, by Sadegh Hedayat

2012 Book 136: The Blind Owl  

Written by Sadegh Hedayat; Translated by D.P. Costello; Introduction by Porochista Khakpour

Reason for Reading: 
In order to increase awareness of speculative fiction authors-of-color for A More Diverse Universe blog tour, I have read and reviewed The Blind Owl, by Sadegh Hedayat. Although The Blind Owl may not be considered speculative fiction by critics, I felt that the surreal nature of this book fit with the spirit of speculative fiction. 

My Review
In this surreal novella, an unnamed protagonist unburdens the deadly weight on his chest by confessing to his own grotesquely owl-shaped shadow on the wall. 

“in order to explain my life to my stooping shadow, I am obliged to tell a story. Ugh! How many stories about love, copulation, marriage and death already exist, not one of which tells the truth! How sick I am of well-constructed plots and brilliant writing!”

In his mind-spinning narration, it is difficult to tell when the events described are cloaked with opium, veiled with madness, or are simple truth. This novel is deeply disturbing in many ways. It narrates horrific events, certainly, but it is the manner that they are conveyed that is frightening. His imagery is surreal. His repetition is hypnotic. His words are oppressive. 

“Only death does not lie. The presence of death annihilates all superstitions. We are the children of death and it is death that rescues us from the deceptions of life.”

The imagery and symbolism used by Hedayat portrays his personal marriage between Western and Eastern culture. Although this book is considered the essence of Persian literature, there are signs of Poe and Kafka. The Blind Owl bled, vomited, and wept Freudian symbolism. 

This was an amazing book, and highly recommended to people interested in Persian fiction or in modernist fiction. 

About the Author and Book: 

Sadegh Hedayat (1903-1951) was one¬†of the two fathers of Persian fiction, and sole father of¬†modernist Persian literature. He was born to an aristocratic family in Tehran, and grew up during a turbulent time in the history of Iran. After WWI, the country underwent¬†“modernization” and “Westernization.” As always happens with modernization, many people felt oppressed by the loss of culture and ceremony…by the loss of what makes them THEM and by the adoption of foreign values. Hedayat was apparently not one of these people. In 1925 he left Iran for studies in Europe. After short-lived attempts at studying engineering,¬†architecture, and dentistry, he dedicated his life to studying Western literature and to learning Iranian folklore and history. From 1937 to 1939, Hedayat lived in India.¬†The Blind Owl was first published in 1937 in Bombay, India with the label: “Not for publication in Iran.” At the¬†time of publication Iran was suffering from the oppressive later years of the reign of Reza Shah. Free press was limited, the middle class was ruled with an “Iron Fist,” and the¬†bureaucracy¬†was falling apart under corruption.¬†

In Hadayat’s later years, his writings attacked the monarchy and the clergy of Iran, which he felt were leading to its downfall. However, he felt¬†alienated¬†by everyone around him in Iran, and moved to Paris. In 1951, he gassed himself in his apartment by plugging all the windows and doors with cotton. He left money for his burial in plain view.¬†

The introduction to The Blind Owl, written by¬†Porochista Khakpour in the Costello translation is well worth reading. She tells about her history with the novel…how her father wouldn’t let her read it when she was a child because it had lead to so many suicides among Iranian youths. I get the impression that Khakpour’s family was of a melancholic nature and was strongly affected by books of this nature. I found The Blind Owl disturbing, but I didn’t experience any inconvenient urge to off myself after reading it.¬†

Personal interpretation that will contain middle-of-story SPOILERS:

I generally roll my eyes whenever the phrase “Oedipus complex” is introduced into an interpretation. However, in this case, I think “Oedipus complex” is exactly what Hedayat was aiming for. The ONLY character named in the entire book was his mother. He described his mother’s dancing in sensual detail. He obsessed sexually about all maternal figures in his life, including his aunt and his nanny. He admits to marrying “that bitch” his wife because she reminded him of his aunt (whom he worshiped with an almost sensual passion). He viewed his mother, nanny, and aunt as sexually unattainable…but that view was extended to his wife. He insisted that he had never slept with her. That he had gone mad from her denial of him and her promiscuity with flea-ridden brutes off the streets. I interpreted these obsessive delusions as false. I assumed that he had, indeed, coupled with his wife, but in his madness repressed those memories and created new delusional memories about other men. (On a side note, I’m not even certain his wife was his aunt’s child…she may have been the daughter of his nanny…but I don’t know why that would matter?)

The Oedipus complex extended towards his feelings for his father, his father’s brother, and his father-in-law. He seemed to fear and loathe the very idea of any of these men–they had, in fact, merged with each other in his own mind. Worse, they had merged with his own self-image so that he feared and loathed himself–probably for his unsatisfied¬†sexual desires towards maternal figures.¬†

Of course, I don’t think the entire story was about an Oedipus complex…that was just the theme that jumped out at me on my first perusal. The story was about a man who was isolated from the rest of the world. A man who would never belong. A man who had no one to unburden himself to as the world around him crumbled into surreal chaos. The isolation was likely a reflection of Hedayat’s own feelings of alienation. The world crumbling around him was likely how he viewed the socio-economic failure of Iran.¬†

I’m sure this is the type of book that you find something new each and every time you read it…even if you meticulously study it for years.

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

2012 Book 135: The Martian Chronicles
Written by Ray Bradbury, Narrated by Peter Marinker

My Review

This is a collection of Ray Bradbury’s Mars colonization stories which were originally published in pulp magazines over a period of a few years. They are independent of each other in plot, but it is fascinating how Bradbury managed to pull them all together in a cohesive whole which told a story in itself. This book is considered the bridge between classic pulp science fiction (which targeted lowest-common-denominator audiences) and the more thoughtful and sophisticated modern science fiction. The stories have the same raw imagination as pulp, but each one tackles one or more social issues as well. The stories are fast and fun, and yet intriguing.
My favorite story is about two missionaries bent on saving the Martians from sins that we humans haven’t even imagined yet. The philosophical discussion of sin and the ironic use of Christian symbolism meshed surprisingly well with the sf-pulpy imagery. Bradbury also touched on evils-of-colonization, race-relations and xenophobia, and politics…to name but a few issues. I was also impressed by Bradbury’s expectations of “the future” (1999 – 2020). Unavoidably, some of his themes were dated–we no longer worry about nuclear holocaust and (I hope!) lynch mobs are very rare in the US these days. He didn’t foresee the civil rights movement or the cooling of the arms race. Despite this lack of foresight, he showed that humans never change. We may think we’re living in an enlightened age, but xenophobia still exists and we’re still willing to destroy the history and of an old land in order to set up our new world. Yes, I did feel that the stories tended to be a bit on the dreary side, but for some reason it didn’t bother me so much because it was made palatable by Bradbury’s fantastic imagination.
This is a fantastic classic that any science fiction fan should read.