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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Taras Bulba

My brother lent me Nikolai Gogol's Taras Bulba some time ago.  When we were younger we saw the movie, but I honestly don't remember much from it (beyond Taras Bulba removing his scalp lock in anger at one point).  My dad decided he wanted to watch the movie again, so I decided to hurry and read the book before he gets the movie.  I started it this afternoon and finished it this evening (it's only about 140 pages, so totally doable in a day).

Taras Bulba opens with Taras Bulba's sons returning home from school.  Old Bulba (as the book often calls him) decides that they should immediately set out for Zaporozhe Sech, the training camp and base of the Cossacks.  After arriving there, his sons prove themselves to be adept warriors.  But the only way to truly have them reach manhood is to test their mettle on the battlefield.  Unfortunately, their current Ataman (leader) has made peace with their normal enemies.  So Taras sets about getting a new Ataman elected, one who will lead the Cossacks into glorious battle.  They decide on a course of action, but just before their army is about to leave, they get word that Jews and the Poles are ravaging the Ukraine (I think it was that the Jews were holding the churches in pledge, Jewish women were making skirts out of Orthodox priests' cassocks, and that the Polish priests were travelling around in carts which were pulled by Orthodox Christian men instead of horses).  So they decide to attack the Poles instead.

Their attacks go well until they arrive at the town of Dubno.  The Cossacks will not fare well against the fortified town, so they decide to wait until the townspeople starve.  It is there that Andri, Taras Bulba's younger son, discovers that the woman he is in love with is there.  He decides to turn his back on his people, his faith, and his homeland to be with her. 

Taras Bulba doesn't believe this can be so (especially since some of their numbers were attacked and enslaved during the night), but when he discovers it to be true, he is enraged.  He disowns the boy and vows to destroy the girl who would so tempt him.  But then the Cossacks get word of another tragedy: the Tatars have attacked the Sech and enslaved or killed all the Cossacks who remained (and stolen all their treasures).  So the Cossacks decide to split their army in half.  The Ataman will lead one half to save their comrades, while the second half, led by Taras Bulba, will remain to free their comrades at Dubno.  Taras Bulba manages to kill Andri just before he and his other son, Ostap, get surrounded.  Ostap is captured, but one of the other Cossacks manages to get Taras Bulba out of the battlefield.  Old Bulba was wounded in the battle, but after recovering from his wounds he decides to sneak into Poland to find his son.  This is much harder to do now that the Poles have put a huge price on his head.  He manages to do it though with the help of a Jew.  He is unable to speak with his son, but is in the crowd when Ostap is executed.  He later returns to Poland with a large force of Cossacks.  The other leaders agree to a peace, but Old Bulba refuses.  He takes whatever people want to go with him and pillages Poland in the name of his son until he is captured and killed.

So that was Taras Bulba.  A bit of crazy carousing and a whole lot of battle.  Gogol's prose is beautiful, particularly when he is describing things.  I was struck a number of times by his beautiful imagery, particularly when he was talking about the Ukrainian steppes. 

My one issue with the book was that I had a really hard time keeping most of the characters straight.  I had no problem with Taras Bulba and his sons, or the Ataman (because the book just referred to him as the Ataman once he was elected) and one or two other characters, but everyone else seemed to blend together in my head (rather like the dwarves from The Hobbit).  So when Gogol started detailing how people were dying in battle, at best I would have a vague sense of someone being a Captain or something, but that was it. 

Other than that, Taras Bulba was a very interesting read.  Most of the books I've read are by North American or Western European (ie English) authors, so it was fun to read something from Russia.  My brother lent me a book of Gogol's short stories, so that'll be a lot of fun to read in the future (I'm not going to read it yet though.  I'm going to read some other stuff first before coming back to Gogol).

Oh, I should also mention the introduction by Robert D. Kaplan, who likened a lot of what happened in the book to crowd mentality.  The Cossacks came together as a crowd and made decisions as a crowd.  It took only a strong personality to point them in a direction and set them loose.  I thought it was interesting that Taras Bulba often would point his brother Cossacks in a direction that suited him then join in on the action (almost surrendering himself to the crowd mentality after he was certain they were doing what he wanted).  Kaplan's introduction was rather thought provoking (and made me want to go read The Iliad or The Odyssey (which my brother and I are going to do soon!))

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Joys of Much Too Much

I've had this book for years, but I don't think it ever made it onto the List because it's nonfiction. I don't specifically remember when I bought it, but I remember hearing about it and really wanting to read it. Bonnie Fuller was a high profile magazine editor with a family of four kids - I definitely wanted to know how she managed such a life (and how I could, too). But apparently not enough to read it for a super long time. But I've been feeling overwhelmed by life for the last few days and spied The Joys of Much Too Much on my shelf. Now seemed as good a time as any to finally give the book a read. So I shoved all the things I needed to do aside last night and started reading.

I have to say, Fuller immediately made me feel better about my life. I breezed through over half the book last night, feeling a whole lot better about everything.

Fuller talks about how she got to where she's at and shares all of her tips for anyone else interested in living life like she does (in semi-organized chaos). Sure, she'll never have a Martha Stewart-perfect house. But who cares? If that's the price she has to pay for being the primary breadwinner of her family while still finding time to spend with her husband and kids, she gladly pays it!  Oh, and did I mention she passionately loves her job, too? That's totally the type of life I want to have, too; one where I'm happy and actively doing the things I love with my friends and family!

While I breezed through the book, I have to say that the latter half felt a bit more like a slog. Hence my three star rating on Goodreads (wheras last night I was definitely thinking along the lines of a four). The Joys of Much Too Much was a good read, but it got a bit too repetitive near the end. I think it would have made a better nonfiction novella (if such a thing exists?) rather than full book.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Atlantia

A friend at work was taking Ally Condie's Atlantia out and I happened to read the back.  It sounded so interesting that I had to take it out, too.  Here's the synopsis:

Can you hear Atlantia breathing?

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamt of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all her plans for the future are thwarted when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected decision, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long hidden—she has nothing left to lose.

Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the complex system constructed to govern the divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.

Doesn't that sound awesome???

I ended up taking the book out from the library before Christmas, but just got to reading it a few days ago (I actually finished it last night).  And I have to say...I was actually tempted not to finish it.  The first chapter really caught my attention, but then the book got rather boring for quite awhile.  Rio's sister goes Above with no explanation.  Then multiple people offer Rio help and she turns everyone down attempting to do her thing on her own.  Or using them to get her information but keeping things from them because of reasons.  (Some of that was the secret that she was a siren, some of it was literally *reasons*).

Somewhere in the middle, I did manage to get interested *enough* in the plot to keep going.  But that had nothing to do with Rio.  Mostly it had to do with her aunt (who was this super powerful siren with extra special magic powers) because I was intrigued trying to figure out her relationship with her sister (Rio's mother).  It also had to do with the fact that the city was falling apart and I wanted to know who had caused the damage/what everyone was going to do about it.  Unfortunately the pay off for everything wasn't great, which made me sad.  I don't think I'll be running out to get any more of her books anytime soon.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Tarzan of the Apes

Well, I did it.  I read Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, which is the first adventure of Tarzan.  I actually finished it last night, but didn't have a chance to write anything about it until now.

Tarzan of the Apes is all about how Tarzan became Tarzan.  He's the son of an English nobleman (this is a key point).  His father, Lord John Clayton Greystoke, and his mother, Lady Alice, are marooned in the wilds of Africa, where Tarzan (their son, John) is born.  When they pass away around when he is one year old, Tarzan is raised by Kala, a she-ape.  Although smaller and slower-developing than the other apes, Tarzan comes into his own, using his cunning to eventually become King of the Apes. 

But he is also intrigued by the remains of his parents' cottage, where he discovers books.  He manages to teach himself how to read, which is how he learns of the world outside of his jungle.  And then one day he finds other humans.  First a displaced tribe of African cannibals enter his jungle, which he messes with (he kills them and steals from them, making them believe he is some sort of angry jungle spirit).  Later a small group of white people (including the first white woman he has ever seen, Jane Porter) are marooned exactly where his parents were years before.  Tarzan finds himself drawn to these people because they are the first beings he has ever seen that look like him.  He ends up saving and protecting them.  He also finds himself falling in love with the lovely Jane Porter.  But when Jane and the others leave him, Tarzan must choose between his world and following her into her world.

Tarzan of the Apes is very, very dated in its writing.  Like I said, the fact that Tarzan is the son of an English nobleman means, according to the book, that he is descended from the most advanced species of man in existence.  He is physically beautiful (being compared numerous times to gods) and so innately intelligent that he can teach himself to read at the age of 10 from just looking at books.  It really reminded me of Aphra Behn's Oronoko (which is about a black prince who is tricked into slavery; he is repeatedly compared to white people, apparently looking like a white person except for the colour of his skin.  Again, very dated!)

But at the same time, no matter how ridiculous it was, Tarzan of the Apes is a lot of fun, particularly in the latter half of the book (from when people show up in his life).  I have no desire to read any further in the series at the moment though, which is honestly a good thing; now I can choose another (hopefully List) book, rather than running out to find book 2. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Batman/Tarzan: Claws of the Catwoman

I saw this graphic novel go by at work and thought it would be a fun mash-up.  Batman and Tarzan are actually quite alike in a lot of ways!  They are both orphans who have taken it upon themselves to defend their respective jungles.

This story opens with Bruce Wayne having funded a new wing in Gotham's Museum of Natural History (in memory of his parents).  He has financed a second expedition to Africa so that the explorer, Finnegan Dent, can finish what he started on the first one.  At the wing opening ceremony, Bruce Wayne meets John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (aka Tarzan of the Apes), who had business in New York and so made a point of coming to Gotham for the unveiling.

Later that night, a Catwoman breaks into the Museum to steal some of the artifacts.  She's not Selina Kyle; instead she is Princess Khefretari of the Hidden City of Memnon.  Finnegan Dent found the city and stole many of their artifacts; he's going to use the second expedition to finish his looting.

So Batman, Tarzan (who realized Batman is Bruce Wayne due to his smell), and Khefretari team up to stop Finnegan Dent!

This book was a lot of fun.  I think I'm going to go and read Tarzan of the Apes next because of it!  :)

Wytches

Wow.  What a fascinating and terrifying take on witches.

I can't remember how I stumbled on Scott Snyder's Wytches.  But I am super glad I snagged it from the library (and even more glad that I was able to - it was due back in mid-December and didn't get returned until last week!  I had honestly given up hope, believing it was never coming back!)

Alright, now how to describe this thing?  The Rooks family has moved to a new town for a fresh start.  Lucy, the mother, had been in a car accident that left her unable to walk.  Sailor, the daughter, had been bullied by another girl.  But that girl had disappeared into a tree in front of Sailor.  And because the truth sounds crazy, no one believed her.

But unfortunately, trouble follows them to their new home.  Because Sailor was pledged to the Wytches, ancient beings who will grant you wishes in exchange for food.  They prefer to eat younger people because they are tastier; they cook them in their burrows (in what's called a cauldron - I think the idea was that it's deeper in the earth, so it's using the earth's natural heat to cook you).  As a consolation, you won't even remember the person who was pledged. 

Sailor feels like she's going crazy as she starts seeing the Wytches in the woods (and hearing the chit chit chit of their teeth).  Her father wants to help her, but doesn't believe what's going on until a crazy woman breaks into their house after Sailor's gone missing.  With her help, her father will brave the barrow to save his daughter.  But the Wytches aren't going to let their meal go without a fight.

Like I said, this is quite the terrifying but fascinating take on the idea of a witch.  I loved every moment of the story.  The artwork was interesting and suited it as well; unfortunately I did have a bit of a hard time following what was going on at times though.  But still, this was well worth the read.  I'll have to keep my eye out for volume 2!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Thor: the Goddess of Thunder

When I read Old Man Logan the other day, I also attempted a couple of other Marvel books. I say "attempted" because I made it through a couple of pages of one and just flipped through the other. I didn't care and really couldn't get into them. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up Thor: the Goddess of Thunder. Apparently I liked the idea of a woman Thor enough to actually give it a shot though. Having just finished it, I'm really glad I did!

Thor has become unworthy of Mjolnir after Nick Fury whispered something in his ear. He remains on the moon pleading with the hammer which he can no longer pick up. But when Midgard is attacked by frost giants, he goes to defend the realm he loves even without his beloved hammer. But then a woman picks it up. Mjolnir has found her worthy and so bequeaths her the power of Thor (including a handy mask to hide her identity).

This was an awesome story and now I want to know who the new Thunder Goddess can possibly be!!! I'll have to keep my eye out for more of this story!!!