Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The House of Spirits ...

MATT: I'm excited ... oh, I'm excited.

Paranormal powers ... fulfilled promises of legitimate family life ... three generations and a remarkable house.

This oughta be amazing!

Though the participants in the poll for our next book were (shall we say) minimal, we have nevertheless achieved a critical mass that puts Isabel Allende's The House of Spirits on top of the heap. Magic realism, here we come!

Because it is now Dec. 22 (SO CLOSE TO CHRISTMAS!!!), let's plan on having this one read by the end of January. About mid-January, I will also put up a new poll on what book we should read for February-March.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all as well!

SHORT STORY RECOMMENDATION: If you have time and are looking for a rather interesting (and rather uncanny) piece of literature, may I recommend House Taken Over by Julio Cortázar.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Admin Privileges ...

"With great power comes great responsibility."
Good morning my friends! In order to facilitate our ability to share insights into our shared literary experience, I have granted each member who has joined thus far admin privileges. These privileges allow you to create polls and edit other member's posts.

I've done this partly because, while blog comments are lovely and all that, I think that one of the best ways to respond to questions raised in a particular post may be to simply edit that post and put your name (in bold) before the section that you add (as I've done in some recent posts). That way, people will be able to follow the entire string conversation from titillating question to thought-provoking response(s).

Finally, I should point out that, while the recently granted admin privileges also allow you to change settings, layout, etc., I would prefer that if you find the need to change the background to pink or rename the group "Zoroastrianism Addicts Anonymous," you at least check in with the group beforehand ;)

Broadly appealing & moderately challenging contemporary lit appropriate to a church group ...

Mannie (taken from Mannie's most recent e-mail to the group): And finally, since my brain hurts and I'm willing to say "tomorrow I'll look at Matt's awesome new blog," I must post a question here:

I'm deciding on books for the ward RS book group for next year. Any suggestions? I'm looking for contemporary lit (past ten years) that is church group appropriate, but will be liked by a range of people. And, something that will stretch them a bit, but not throw them off completely.

Matt: Wow ... broadly appealing and moderately challenging contemporary lit appropriate to a church group? That is quite a challenge.

Initially, I would say "The Road," because the more Cormac McCarthy I read, the more convinced I am that he is one of the truly great authors writing today. The tale is touching, tragic and haunting. Actually, though, the more I think about it, the more I realize it will potentially turn off some of your audience. You should definitely read it first.

You could also try "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Sussana Clarke. Incredibly well-written, interesting character development, and fascinating concept: England in the early 1800's as if it had a shared past of actual magic. Imagine Britain post-Austen, pre-Dickens with magic - so good.

Finally, consider "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" by Mark Haddon. It is a story told from the perspective of a boy with high-level autism. Absolutely fascinating concept ... well-written ... and definitely mind-expanding. This one may be my top pick of the bunch.

Mannie, I know this is way late but I'd recommend The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd( I love this book, but you might want to check with someone who's read it more recently to see if it is church group appropriate) or The Color of Water by James McBride (this one is just a tad more then 10 years old, try 13 or 14, but it is a great memoir of a mixed race family, I loved it!).

Also, would you mind posting the books you pick. I'd love to look into the ones I haven't read.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I Allende

You know she's Chilean, right?

MATT: Actually, I had no idea she was Chilean ... but I have since done some research into the life and works of Isabel Allende (and by research, I mean I went to Wikipedia and did a Google search ... oh, the joys of modern life ;) From that research, I learned that:
In 1981, when Allende learned that her grandfather, aged 99, was on his deathbed, she started writing him a letter that later evolved into a book manuscript, The House of the Spirits (1982); the intent of this work was to exorcise the ghosts of the Pinochet dictatorship.

I don't know a lot about Pinochet ... but I think the book may be a good way to find out.

Books and the Annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional ...

I adore the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. Each year, I look forward to uplifting stories of faith, beautiful carols, and a high dose of the "true spirit of Christmas."

To date, I have never been disappointed. This year, the messages from Pres. Uchtdorf, Pres. Eyering, and Pres. Monson again rang true - and made me want to do better and be better.

On top of all that, though, Pres. Uchtdorf's talk also reminded me of another reason I love the Christmas Devotional: The introduction of beloved books to the Church membership. It seems like each year at the Christmas devotional, members of the First Presidency refer to one book or another filled with tidbits of truth and hints of happiness.

In the past, those books have included "The Life of Our Lord," by Charles Dickens (used as the centerpiece for Pres. Hinckley's talk at the 1999 Christmas Devotional) as well as "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens, and "The Mansion," by Henry Van Dyke (both mentioned by Pres. Monson in his 2003 Christmas Devotional address).

This year, Pres. Uchtdorf continued that tradition with his shout out to Le Petit Prince - The Little Prince. I absolutely, positively, and in all other ways, adore this book. I read it for the first time many, many years ago ... recently, though, it seems to have re-entered my life.

I love this book for many reasons ... though I'm sure I don't have time to go into them now. Suffice it to say, I leave off each reading with a desire to be a better person - and isn't that the sign of truly great literature?

While I don't have time to explain all the reasons I love The Little Prince, I do want to share one of the many amazing insights in that little book.

In his travels through the universe, the Little Prince eventually arrives on earth where, among other things, he meets and tames a fox, who explains many things to the Little Prince (including helping him see that his rose is unique and special, because she is the one that he loves). As the fox tells the little prince:
"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye."
If you haven't read it, please ... do. Get a copy as soon as you can. You won't regret it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Call for Bibliophile Blogs ...

Good day to you friends ... in an effort to help us all be a bit more connected, I'd like to include personal blogs (and others you're a part of) on this site. To that end, please leave the address for your blog in the comment section of this post and I'll put them all up quick as a wink.

It's a Jekyll and Hyde thing ...

Robert Louis Stevenson's short novella of dual personalities needs little introduction. The tale has become thoroughly engrained in Western culture.

And yet, for all of that, I think that my entire life I have misunderstood one of the most crucial ideas of the story. See, I had always considered Jekyll to be as much a saint as Hyde was a sinner. That is, I thought the personalities to be a perfect duality - the one being everything the other was not. The potion Jekyll drank simply took the two parts of his moral makeup and split them into two separate beings.

But such, at least according to Stevenson's tale, was not the case*. As Jekyll indicates when laying down his history:
Had I approached my discovery in a more noble spirit, had I risked the experiment while under the empire of generous or pious aspirations, all must have been otherwise, and from these agonies of death and birth, I had come forth an angel instead of a fiend. The drug had no discriminating action; it was neither diabolical nor divine; it but shook the doors of the prisonhouse of my disposition; and like the captives of Philippi, that which stood within ran forth. At that time my virtue slumbered; my evil, kept awake by ambition, was alert and swift to seize the occasion; and the thing that was projected was Edward Hyde. Hence, although I had now two characters as well as two appearances, one was wholly evil, and the other was still the old Henry Jekyll, that incongruous compound of whose reformation and improvement I had already learned to despair. The movement was thus wholly toward the worse.
This fact - the idea that Jekyll remained Jekyll (imperfections and all) even after the transformation - may be the reason that Hyde was able to take control over Jekyll in the end.

Had Jekyll been the saint I imagined (the perfect side of Jekyll's better nature), Hyde would have likely soon lost power over him. (After all, Perfect Jekyll likely would have ceased using the potion because, as a saint, he would have not had any desire to give vent to dark longings he no longer had). Instead, however, Jekyll remained frail - as are we all - and each transformation provided meat for the dark half of his humanity to eat as he continued to allow himself to be drawn further into Hyde's sinister world. And so Hyde grew in power until he was able to force Jekyll to change without the potion catalyst.

The growth of Hyde's power in the tale reminds me of an idea I've heard at various times throughout my life. The idea is simply that in each person, there are two animals fighting for control over the person: One is good, the other evil. The question is, which animal will win? The answer follows the reasoning in Jekyll's record: Whichever one that person chooses to feed. If we want to escape the Hyde in each of us (and there is Hyde in each of us ... whether we like to admit it or not), we must cease to give vent to the emotions and ideas that provide that side of our natures with strength and nourishment.

The other idea I want to explore (in a subsequent post perhaps) is the role of Utterson in the tale. I am, as you might expect, always fascinated by literary tales of lawyers. The very first sentence nearly made me laugh out loud:
Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.
In some ways, the story is as much about Utterson as it is about Hyde or Jekyll. But why does Stevenson use him? What does he add (or take away ... Stevenson did want to keep his readers in the dark until the final reveal, I do believe) from the story?

I am, as always, anxious to hear your thoughts.

Now, before leaving this post, I wanted to republish some questions about the book that Shandy asked back in October. She wrote:
"The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true." How does this apply to Jekyll and Hyde? Utterson? Dr Lanyon? In his final explanation, Dr Jekyll divided his intelligence into moral intelligence and intellectual intelligence. Fascinating division, but was it enough to rationalize what Hyde did?
Difficult issues. Weighty. In fact, I'm not sure I can begin to answer that for Jekyll/Hyde, much less Dr. Lanyon or Utterson. Can (or should) the pursuit of "knowledge" and "discovery" justify what Jekyll did? At least insofar as it caused him to continue to delve into the world of Hyde? I guess I would give Jekyll the benefit of the doubt for the first transformation; after all, at that point, he didn't know what would happen when he drank the potion.

But all the subsequent times?

Jekyll admits that his transformations continued after that first time not to pursue "truth," but in order for him to create an avenue for his own worst enemy to rise and act (seemingly) without any accompanying feelings of guilt or social disapproval.

And would Lanyon have pursued the experiment had he been the one to stumble across it? Probably not. It seems that the moment he realized such an experiment could lead to the release of a moral deviant, he would have ceased the search entirely.

Still, I may not be understanding the question properly ... I would be more than happy to recieve guidance on that.

Until my next post or comment, then, farewell. Good reading to you.

* NOTE 1: I think that other incarnations of Jekyll and Hyde may have given rise to this misperception.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Welcome to Our New Home!

"No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance."

- Confucius

We are far apart ... we are separated by thousands of leagues (and an ocean or two), living incredibly fascinating lives in England, Delaware, Utah, California and etc.

But, we are united. United by common threads of humanity and decency; united by love and a desire to perfect the fine art of living; and, shining like a star, we are united by our love of all things literary.

And so it is that, on this slightly chilly December morn, I welcome you once again to what I hope will be a fresh new chapter in the lives of the Bibliophiles. Though the traditional time for resolutions remains somewhat distant, I'm resolving here to begin anew ... to do my part to pump new fire into this worthy (and thought provoking) cause.

Of course, I hope that the fire will also take advantage of our new medium. With blogging, we have all the wonders of the internet at our fingertips. We can include links to any fascinating site we can think of, including Quotidiana, a lovely free website where you can find essays by Charles Lamb, G.K. Chesterton, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

And just think of all the fun pictures we can include - like this one:

As Wilfred Peterson once said, "[a] man [or woman] practices the art of adventure when he [or she] breaks the chain of routine and renews his [or her] life through reading new books, traveling to new places, making new friends, taking up new hobbies, and adopting new viewpoints."

So, welcome my friends. Welcome to a place where we can practice the art of adventure every time we visit.

Welcome to our new home.