Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

imageBook Description (Amazon):  The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil’s, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry’s world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Dorian’s wish is fulfilled, and when he subsequently pursues a life of debauchery, the portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: dark

So apparently this is the only actual novel that Oscar Wilde ever wrote. And one of the great things about classics is the Project Gutenberg so I was able to get the book free on my iPad (thus the really fancy cover). In general, I don’t really like classics. I’m the sort of person who much prefers a good plot to flowery detailed language, so classics in general don’t really suit my fancy. That being said, I thought this book actually had a pretty good balance of both.

The book begins when Lord Henry Wotten visits his longtime friend Basil Hallward, an artist, and they discuss Basil’s new muse, a young man named Dorian Gray. Dorian has classic good looks and has sat for Basil a number of times. Basil is convinced that his art has changed for the better since meeting Dorian. Lord Henry of course is interested in meeting the young man as well. Unfortunately Lord Henry is a blathering, philosophizing trouble maker.

When Dorian meets Lord Henry, he is captivated by his “worldly ideas”. Henry tells Dorian that his youth is the most important thing and basically that he will never be as young or as good looking as he is that very moment. (Who cares about intellect or experiences or any of the good things you get out of growing older.) Dorian is easily influenced and lets this affect him greatly. He looks at the painting that he has just sat for and realizes that he has already grown older than he is in that painting. Dorian wishes that the painting could age and he could remain the same.

Dorian somewhat randomly goes to a shoddy second rate theater where he falls in love with the main actress, Sibyl. He adores her and returns night after night to watch her various performances. Eventually he decides that he cannot live without her and proposes marriage. He tells Basil and Henry and the three plan to see her the next evening in her performance. When they arrive, she has “lost” her acting prowess, realizing that it was just pretend and now she has a wonderful life to look forward to. Dorian is embarrassed and apparently was only in love with her acting in the first place. After the show, he tells her that the engagement is off and he never wants to see her again.

He goes to look at the painting and he realizes that the painting now has fine lines around the face whereas his own face hasn’t aged. He realizes that when he thought about swapping with the painting, it has somehow come true. He decides that he should right the situation and make amends with Sibyl the following day, but the next morning, he finds that Sibyl has committed suicide.

Dorian continues to do worse and worse things, never aging or looking as sinister as he really is. Eventually the mental stress catches up with him and he finally confronts Basil, blaming him for the curse of the painting. As he shows Basil the painting (the only person he has ever shown), Dorian kills him. He enlists the help of a previous friend to dispose of the body. (It goes unnoticed as Basil was about to depart for Paris when he was killed.)

He goes to an opium den that he apparently frequents regularly in the slums. As he is leaving, one of the women calls him “Prince Charming”–the name that Sibyl had called him. Sibyl’s brother, her only sibling, is in earshot and the name “Prince Charming” stirs a memory in him. He follows Dorian but relents on killing him when he sees that the man he expected is much too young to be the right man who killed his sister. James (the brother) goes back inside and the woman tells him that Dorian has not aged in 18 years (since Sibyl was killed). (I thought for a second that this woman actually was Sibyl and the suicide was a fake but it was not…)

James follows Dorian to his home and then follows him out to the country to a party he is at. James is accidentally killed by a bird hunter while he is hiding waiting for Dorian. This seems to rattle Dorian significantly, and he starts to tell Henry what happened to Basil. Henry obviously doesn’t believe him. Dorian tries to change his ways but the painting doesn’t alter for the positive. So eventually Dorian comes to the realization that he has to destroy the painting. He stabs it with the same knife he had used to kill Basil. In the end, he is the one who is killed and becomes old like the painting while the painting reverts to its original young portrait.

Verdict: 3 Stars

That’s probably the best verdict I could give to a classic. On the scale of classics by themselves, I think it would be one of the best I’ve read. I thought that the idea was interesting and probably very unique at the time of the original release. It’ll probably be another year before I read a classic so at least this was a pretty good one!

 

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A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin

photo-3Book Description (Amazon): Originally published in 1968, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea marks the first of the six now beloved Earthsea titles. Ged was the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, but in his youth he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. In his hunger for power and knowledge, he tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tumultuous tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: deliberate

For a book of 197 pages, I thought it would be no problem to knock it out in a week (or less). It was actually a lot harder than I expected. This book is very deliberate and there is not a single unnecessary word in the book.

The book begins in the area of Gont with a young boy named Duny. His mother died and he realizes at a young age he has some magic tendencies and starts learning basic magic from his aunt. His powers are proven one day where he creates a vast fog saving his village from intruders. He is sent to a wizard name Ogion who mentors him and gives him his “real name”–Ged. Ged thinks that he should be progressing more quickly and is egged on by a witch girl who he continues to meet as he roams around nearby. He looks up a spell to bring a creature back from the dead and decides that he has to go to the school for wizards on the island Roke.

While he’s at Roke, he realizes that he is a very competent wizard, but he has jealousy with a wizard named Jasper. Ged believes that Jasper looks down on him for being lesser than him in both class and magic skills. Ged’s jealousy increases and increases until they have a wizard’s duel. Ged summons a woman from the dead, and a creature appears and attacks him and kills one of the professors in the process.

Ged’s only friend at the school, Vetch, graduates and moves home. Ged eventually finishes school (the attack set him back) and moves to the villages of the Ninety Isles to protect them from dragons. While he’s there, he befriends a fisherman whose son becomes sick. Ged tries to bring him back and realizes at that time that the creature who has been following him will never go away. He sets off to convince the dragons never to haunt the Ninety Isles and does so by guessing the old dragon’s real name. Ged leaves the ninety isles in hope of returning to Roke now that his business is done but he is unable to return due to some magical powers. He goes on to Osskill where the creature has killed a human and taken his form. The creature nearly kills Ged in the wilderness but Ged escapes to a nearby castle.

In the castle, the lord Benderesk and his wife Serret nurse Ged back to health and then try to convince him that he can figure out the true name of the spirit who hunts him by touching this magic rock, the Terrenon (for whom the castle is named). Ged realizes that the Terrenon holds an ancient dark magic and tries to escape as he realizes that the lord wishes him to hold the dark power. He escapes and takes Serret with him. He realizes finally that she is the witch who he knew back with Ogion. They transform into birds to escape the ancient creatures who are attacking him. Ged escapes; Serret does not. Ged continues to fly and fly until he returns to Ogion, worn of all strength.

Ogion convinces Ged to become the hunter, not the hunted. Ged sets off to backtracking his steps to find the spirit who is haunting him, and along the way finds Vetch who volunteers to help. Vetch, like a few others along the way, has seen the shadow spirit who has now gained enough power to take on the shape of Vetch. The pair travel beyond the end of the known earth and find the spirit. When Ged finds the spirit, they simultaneously say the true name of the other “Ged” and real Ged realizes that the spirit is a part of him and they become one.

Verdict: 3 stars

I appreciate this book for its ideas, and I suspect many books have built upon these ideas over the years. This is not the first book I have read where everything had a “true name”. However, I just never really became absorbed into the book at all. It was too dry. I mean, another certain author filled 7 whole books full of talking about wizard school. This book took only about 50 pages. Perhaps the books in the sequel give more detail to the world and the magic, but I doubt I will be reading them.

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The Vampire Lestat – Anne Rice

photo-2Book Description (Amazon): Once an aristocrat in the heady days of pre-revolutionary France, now Lestat is a rockstar in the demonic, shimmering 1980s. He rushes through the centuries in search of others like him, seeking answers to the mystery of his terrifying exsitence. His story, the second volume in Anne Rice’s best-selling Vampire Chronicles, is mesmerizing, passionate, and thrilling.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: enchanting

My sister is a big Anne Rice fan, and I think she has read all of Rice’s vampire books. When I borrowed Interview with a Vampire from her, she also sent me this one. I started it after I finished Interview, but with holiday traveling and the slow start to the book, it took me quite a while to finish. In fact, when I was on my flight to my parents’ house, one of the flight attendants told me that this book was his favorite of all of them. So I kept reading.

The book is “an autobiography” in that Lestat is releasing it as a bit of “his side of the story” in response to Louis’s release of Interview with a Vampire. Lestat reawakens after sleeping in the group (presumably since we left him in Interview) in the 1980s which I thought was a hilarious idea. He automatically falls in love with the era and decides to join a rock band. He quickly takes over using his vast money to direct the band to his whims. He wants people to know that he is real and idolize him (since everyone knows of Lestat from the book). This is totally against any vampire “doctrine”.

Then the book turns into telling Lestat’s story from the beginning. And honestly, I just didn’t care. Basically Lestat lived in rural France in the 1800s to an aristocratic family (albeit one that was no longer wealthy). He did not get along at all with his family except for his mother who eventually convinces him to move to Paris with his new friend Nicolas as she is dying and he will have no one on his side once she’s gone. Lestat and Nicolas, a violinist, go to Paris and join a theater. Lestat becomes the main character and loves ever minute of it. At one performance, he feels as though someone is watching him specifically and the following night, he is kidnapped from his home.

He is taken to Magnus’s castle and turned into a vampire. Then Magnus kills himself by jumping into a fire without hardly telling him a thing. He remains tied to the mortal world, sending letters and Magnus’s money to his family and his theater family. Eventually his mother comes to visit. As she only has a short time left to live, Lestat tells her what has happened and at her request, he turns her into a vampire as well. Eventually Lestat and Gabrielle (his mother) are accosted in their (previously Magnus’s) tower by a bunch of lesser vampires. They believe that they are Satan’s creations and live as “old” vampires do–sleeping in cemeteries, wearing rags, and haunting mortals. They are opposed to Magnus’s and now Lestat’s way of pretending to be a mortal and living amongst mortals. (They are led by Armand who we know from the previous book) They have kidnapped Nicki and are about to sacrifice him. Nicki is saved but is near death and against Gabrielle’s wishes, Lestat turns Nicki into a vampire.

Nicki hates being a vampire and is reckless and careless with everything. Armand is having difficulty without any direction (no coven to lead). Armand begs Gabrielle and Lestat to take him with them and tells them about his creator Marius, however the pair realize that they will not help Armand. Lestat puts Armand in charge of the Theater–now the Theater of the Vampires–and also in charge of Nicki. The pair go to travel, growing apart quickly. Lestat wants to travel to all the cities and be around all the people; Gabrielle wants to live in the wild never seeing anyone. Eventually they part. Lestat all the while is trying to contact Marius by leaving him notes at every location they go. Marius has not replied, Gabrielle has left him. Lestat sinks into a depression and buries himself in the ground. Eventually he is saved by Marius. (This is where the story finally becomes interesting.)

Marius takes Lestat to his home (an island far away and difficult to get to). He tells Lestat the story of how he was made (he’s about 1800 years old and was an ancient Roman). He tells the tale of the supposed origin of vampires and shows Lestat “Those who Must be Kept” aka the first vampires–Akasha and Enkil–vampires from ancient Egypt who are so old that they rarely feed, hardly move, and are kept in a shrine in Marius’s home. It is suggested that any damage that happens to them happens to all vampires. For instance, Marius took them after their previous owner left them out in the sun and all the vampires in existence were burnt. Akasha allows Lestat to feed from her which increases his power, but Enkil gets protective and Marius sends Lestat away to calm Enkil. Marius promises that they will meet again once Lestat has completed one “life”.

Lestat takes his father to New Orleans and the story reverts to the story that we knew from Interview. After this section which I will not revisit, it returns to 1984 where the band is about to perform at a very large concert in San Francisco. As Lestat had wanted, many vampires know of the concert, and one of those is Louis. He comes back to Lestat and attends the concert with him. After the show, Louis and Lestat are attacked by vampires who are instantly burned to death. Gabrielle also appears and helps them escape. Once they are in safety, Lestat begins trying to contact Marius. He then realizes that it has been Akasha all along because he awakened her with his voice. (a bit cheesy but oh well) The book ends with Akasha appearing and grabbing Lestat.

Verdict: 3.5 stars. I did like this less book than the previous one. I thought the first half or so of the book was fairly dull and it was really hard for me to get into (3 stars max). Once we meet Marius and find out about the ancient Egyptian vampires, it was interesting again (4 stars). Honestly I just wanted it to be the story of Marius. I never really came to like Lestat. Even when he explained “his side” of the story from New Orleans, he still just seemed like a jerk. It didn’t offer anything new. I may revisit this series later in the year when I have less books in my backlog. I would like to read The Queen of the Damned at least.

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2014 Book Club List

This year’s book club list was created similarly to last year’s list. We had a list of categories for people to pick from, however, this year, the categories were chosen in the order of how many meetings you attended over the past year. I was second to pick,  and I chose sci-fi/fantasy.  The three books that I brought to the meeting were Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, The Snow Child  by Eowyn Ivey, and The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I hope to actually read all three of these over the year, but we only pick one per category, and Ready Player One  was that one. We did have a few slight changes to our list. We removed the categories comedy and (auto)biography. We chose to remove comedy because it was too difficult to find books in that category and comedy is not something that is consistent from person to person. We chose to remove the biography category because it was too difficult to find books for that category in a size that would be feasible to read in one month (most are 500+ pages). In their place, we added literary fiction and young adult. So, without further ado, this is our list for the year:

January (Classic) – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

February (literary fiction) – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

March (book into movie) – Divergent by Veronica Roth

April (nonfiction) – I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

May (romance/love) – Child of the Mist by Kathleen Morgan

June (mystery) – The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz

July (best seller) – Innocence by Dean Koontz

August (historical fiction) – The Heritic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent

September (young adult) – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

October (sci-fi/fantasy)- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

November (pick an author) – Any book you choose by John Grisham

December – Book swap

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