Archive for December, 2012

A Christmas Carol

I know this is nothing like what they would have had in the days of Charles Dickens, but it is Christmasy!

I know this is nothing like what they would have had in the days of Charles Dickens, but it is Christmasy!

First of all, merry Christmas everyone! In the spirit of the season, I decided to read a Christmas-related 1001 book, and what better choice than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

I was already familiar with the basics of the story, as I’m sure that most of you are as well. Ebenezer Scrooge is an old miser who says “Bah humbug” to Christmas and helping the poor and basically basically everything else. Until he’s visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley, who has been doomed to wander the earth in the chains he created in life. He warns Scrooge that unless he changes his ways, he will share the same fate. Scrooge is then visited by three spirits: the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.

Even though I knew the story so well, it was still nice to see those aspects that don’t get covered in your average Christmas special. Like the fact that the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to visit many more places than just the Cratchit’s house. Or how the Ghost of Christmas Past has a constantly shifting appearance. The whole thing also had a certain Dickensian quality to it that doesn’t quite come through in modern adaptations.

It was basically a nice, short read for the holiday season. So I’ll keep this review nice and short, too. Enjoy your holiday!

Three Stars

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December 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm 1 comment

Spoilers Review for Clarissa

I’ve written my second review of Clarissa, this one containing spoilers. If interested, you can find it here.

December 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm Leave a comment

Clarissa

I’ve finally finished. At 984,870 words spread over nine volumes, it’s the longest book I’ve ever read. Starting on January 10th of this year, I’ve read it letter by letter according to the date ascribed to each one. Today marked the date of the last one. And now that I’ve been reading it for so long, I hardly know how to begin writing this review, but I’ll give it my best shot.

I suppose the first thing to talk about is the sheer length of it. It certainly presented an interesting change. In reading the 1001 list so far, I’ve had some challenges, but this one takes the cake for being the most monumental. I believe I mentioned in an earlier post that there’s a great feeling of accomplishment that comes along with reading a book like this cover to cover. I certainly wouldn’t be feeling that right now if the book had been of a normal length.

On the other hand, it was so long that it dragged. On and on, often repeating the same points over and over again. And sometimes it picked up, getting so exciting that I was tempted into breaking my schedule by reading ahead. But that only made it more frustrating when it all slowed down again. As a writing major, I’ve learned that one of the most important parts of editing is knowing what to cut. You have to chop out whatever isn’t pulling its weight, whatever doesn’t quite fit, even if that means that you have to “kill your darlings” as Faulker once said. So I can’t help but wonder how much better Clarissa might have been if Samuel Richardson had edited it down to size.

The author himself recognized that many of his contemporary readers had expressed a similar opinion, and he addresses this, along with other complaints, in a postscript to the novel. Now, I find this a little obnoxious as well. In my writing classes, we run workshops in a fairly standardized way, and the most important rule is that the writer of the piece being workshopped isn’t allowed to talk. This is for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to discourage the instinct to defend your piece from every criticism, which is exactly what Richardson appears to be doing. But perhaps you feel that a published author whose books are so highly regarded is allowed to break whatever rules he wants to. I just can’t quite get past it.

Anyway, in his postscript, Richardson defends the length by quoting another writer, who says, “That if, in the history before us, it shall be found that the spirit is duly diffused throughout; that the characters are various and natural; well distinguished and uniformly supported and maintained; if there be a variety of incidents sufficient to excite attention, and those so conducted as to keep the reader always awake! the length then must add proportionably to the pleasure that every person of taste receives from a well-drawn picture of nature. But where the contrary of all these qualities shock the understanding, the extravagant performance will be judged tedious, though no longer than a fairy-tale.” I agree completely! The problem is that this book does not provide “a variety of incidents sufficient to excite attention.” At least not enough to maintain it throughout a thousand plus pages. I would have given up on this book long ago if I had tried to read it as I would a normal book. The way I read it, though, a little bit at a time over months and months, made it enjoyable enough.

At this point, I would like to go into more depth speaking about the characters, the plot, and all that good stuff, but I feel that I just can’t restrict myself to speaking only of events that happen in the first volume or so. Therefore, I’ll save all of those for a later review to go on my spoilers page. For all those reading this review because they’re considering reading this book themselves, I would definitely recommend reading it according to the dates on the letters, as I did. It’s a fine book to read if you have the patience to stick with it. I’ll give it

Two and a Half Stars

December 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm Leave a comment

And the Winner is…

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency with a total of one vote! Yay! (Insert the sound of wild cheers)

Hey, I’m just happy someone voted.

So you get your wish, anonymous voter! After a rather stressful Monday spent finishing end of the semester projects for my two computer science classes, I took part of my free time on the following day to pick up this book.

I’m currently on page 56, and although it jumped around a lot in the beginning, I think I’m beginning to get a feel for it. It’s made me laugh a few times already, which is always welcome, but there was one quote that really stuck out to me. One of the characters works with computers, and in trying to explain a bit about his work to an old college professor, talks about one very early one he worked with.

“‘There really wasn’t a lot this machine could do that you couldn’t do yourself in half the time with a lot less trouble,’ said Richard, ‘but it was, on the other hand, very good at being a slow and dim-witted pupil.’

Reg looked at him quizzically.

‘I had no idea they were supposed to be in short supply,’ he said. ‘I could hit a dozen with a bread roll from where I’m sitting.’

‘I’m sure. But look at it this way. What really is the point of trying to teach anything to anybody? … What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your own mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that’s really the essence of programming.'”

Maybe it’s because I spent all last weekend writing programs myself, but that quote seems particularly true to me. You really come to understand how simple-minded a computer is when you try to teach it how to do something new through programming. You really do have to break things up step by step, including even the smallest details. More than that, though, I might add, in order to really get the gist of programming you have to learn to think like the computer.

This has become really apparent to me while learning the programming language C#. Especially when starting out, I would write a program containing what seemed to be perfectly logical instructions and attempt to run it only to find that when I ran it the computer gave me the wrong result. So you have to debug, running through the code line by line, step by step, to follow the computer’s train of thought until you find the spot where your coding confused it. Often it’s a little problem like having a couple lines in the wrong order.

For example, let’s say we want to type in a number and have the computer add one to that number. If you tell it to calculate x + 1 and then tell it that x equals the number that you typed, it can’t do it. That’s because the way the computer thinks, a variable like x equals zero by default until it reads a line that tells it otherwise. So it will say x + 1 equals 1. Then it will read that x equals the number you wanted, but it’ll be too late. Computers don’t work backwards. Any human reading the instructions would understand what you wanted, but a computer is just not smart enough to think that way. So you have to think the way the computer does if you want anything code you write to work properly.

Anyway, this may or may not have very much to do with the book, but I do enjoy that it seems to show a realistic understanding of computers, and I especially like the way it explained it. I believe that art should connect to our lives in some way, and I always enjoy a book that connects to mine personally, even if it’s a connection as small as this.

December 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

Last Day to Vote!

This is one last reminder to put in your vote as to which 1001 book I should read next. Currently, the results point to Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, but all both of the other books are clearly still in the running.

Tomorrow (hopefully), I’ll go to the library and pick up a copy of the winner. So if you have any opinions about what you’d like to hear me blog about next, now’s the time to cast in your vote!

December 10, 2012 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

Hades: Plot Points

In the third and final part of my series on Hades, I will be discussing various plot points that I found disatisfying in one way or another. As this post does contain spoilers, I’ve included a link to it below rather than placing it on my home page.

I would also like to take this opportunity to note that although I found a lot of issues with Alexandra Adornetto’s book, I did give it two and a half stars over all because it was fairly good. If I’d stopped to discuss all of the things I liked about it along with the issues, this series would have been a lot longer. Instead, you can assume that the book was pretty good except for all these things I’ve pointed out.

Also, I’d like to mention that the author is very young (19 when this book was released). I think that, for her age, publishing three books is quite an accomplishment. I’m just a bit older than her and I haven’t even finished one book that I’m completely satisfied with. I believe she has great potential as a writer if she keeps working at it. I see this whole series not so much as a damning (ha ha) criticism of the author as an explanation of what I perceived to be the weaknesses of this particular book.

So, now on to the final post: Hades: Plot Points*.

December 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm Leave a comment

Tell Me What I Should Read Next!

Now that NaNoWriMo has ended, I’m getting back to the 1001 list. I’ll be finished with Clarissa on the 18th (finally!), but in the mean time there’s a relatively long time between one letter and the next one. Add to that the fact that the semester’s coming to a close, and I’m going to be having a lot of reading time ahead of me.

The question is: where to start? I have a few ideas, but considering the fact that I’m going to be blogging about whatever it is that I pick, I thought I would give you readers the chance to give me your input. The poll below lists four possible choices and an option for you to suggest something entirely different (as long as it’s on the 1001 list, which you can find a link to on my About page under “Other Miscellaneous Info”).

The first option is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables. This is one that I’ve had sitting on my shelf for a long time now, and I’m one of those people who like to be able to say they’ve read all the books they own. Besides, having just reread The Scarlet Letter, I might be able to make some nice comparisons.

Secondly is Slaughterhouse-five, the LibraryThing group read for December. It’s always fun to read books along with a group, and this one sounds interesting.

Third is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which I threw in mostly because it’s a comedy, and I think I might enjoy something light and fun for a change.

Finally, I’ve included the option for you to recommend another book in the comments. I would ask that you take it from the 1001 list, and I reserve the right to refuse a book (partially because I don’t want to get stuck reading something that I know I’ll absolutely hate, but also because I’m limited to what I can find at my local library). But feel free to suggest books that you would really be interested in reading me blog about, or maybe just a book that you really enjoyed and think that everyone should read. I am open to other possibilities!

I’ll leave this poll open for a week or so, and then I’ll pick up a copy of whichever one has the most votes.

December 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm Leave a comment

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