It’s Top Ten Tuesday!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s top ten – in recognition of BBAW (that’s “Book Blogger Appreciation Week”) is:

” Top Ten Books I Read Because Of Another Blogger.”

I don’t always do these top ten lists, but they’re always fun and this one also is a good list to give a nod to some fellow book bloggers, so here goes…

9. Oh, yeah.  I forgot to say I only could come up with nine… This one (and the next few) are books that I don’t know where specifically I first heard of them, but I do know I read them because I learned of them within the blogging community.  So for number 9 I’ll go with Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games.  Yes, it’s intended for a little younger reader than me, and yes it’s a little out there, but it was a great story (actually a trilogy, along with the follow-ups Catching Fire and Mockingjay) and a fun, diverting read.

8. The Ubiquitous The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (book and series).  A towering best seller, I think driven by the great character of Lisbeth Salander.  I’d like to meet her.  I think.

7. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.  Another book outside of my usual genre, but an entertaining, diverting read for me.  Here’s what I had to say last year.

6. Beastly by Alex Flinn.  I can’t remember which blog I first heard about this modern retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story.  I did download it at about the same time as my blogging colleague, Jade, at Chasing Empty Pavements though, so I’ll give her a plug.  This book became a pick in my book club as well and we all enjoyed it.  My original post about the book may be found here.

5. Under the Skin by Michel Faber.  Learned about via The Literary Nomad.  An interesting concept for a book blog, where the blogger “visits” a country by reading a book about it or taking place in it.  This book was creepy but a real page turner.  A beautiful alien (reported to be portrayed by Scarlet Johansson in an upcoming movie adaptation) picking up hitchhikers in Scotland.  How could I resist? My original post is here.

4. Gullivers Travels by Jonathan Swift.  I read this one because Allie at A Literary Odyssey hosted a read along.  Like other read alongs I’ve participated in, I started off with great intentions only to fall behind the schedule.  I did finish it, though, and I’m so glad I did.  I took a lot out of it that I am ‘carrying around in my head.’  Truly a classic work, and I can’t believe I waited until I was so “old” to finally get around to reading it.

3. Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy. I learned of this previously ‘unknown’ Hardy book at Chris’s blog, “ProSe.”  A great, lesser known work by one of my favorite authors with a predictably intricate plot.  Great 19th century literature!  My original post about this book was written back in November 2010.

2. After Rain by William Trevor.   Heard about at one of my favorite blogs, Ana the Imp.  Not exclusively a book blog (lots of politics and history too), but I take her book and movie recommendations seriously.  This is a collection of short stories by an recognized master of the form.  I posted about several of them this year.  Lost Ground, After Rain, and Gilbert’s Mother.  The first two were my favorites.

1. The Warded Man by Peter Brett.  Heard of through Borough of Books. My friends and I have all enjoyed this book and its sequel, Desert Spear.  We are eagerly awaiting the third book…  My praise of the book was written this past May.


Gulliver’s Travels makes an Appearance on Jeopardy!

I was watching Jeopardy! last night, and there was a “Brit Lit” category in the double jeopardy round. The first ‘answer’ to be selected: “He visited the floating Island of Laputa on one of his many ‘travels’…”

OK, that was a bit of a softball and the first contestant to buzz in got it correct. I wonder though if it might have just been an educated guess due to the phrasing of the ‘answer’ (inclusion of ‘travels’) or the fact that Laputa sounds quite similar to Lilliputian, but either way it was good to see Mr. Swift find his way onto this popular program.

“Hnuy illa nyha maiah Yahoo”** (Gulliver’s Travels – Part 4)

**take care of thyself, gentle Yahoo

Finally, the concluding part of this epic work!  Once again, Gulliver is off to sea – this time leaving his wife (“big with child”).  How considerate of him.  Just like always, however, Gulliver does not have good luck in his ship, crew, and voyage.  (he has the seafaring luck of a Mario Andretti at Indianapolis).  This time, his crew mutinies and maroons him, making off with his ship.  Later in Part 4, Swift explains – through the mouth of Gulliver – what kind of people comprised his crew:  “they were fellows of desperate fortunes, forced to fly from the places of their birth, on account of their poverty or their crimes. Some were undone by lawsuits, others spent all they had in drinking, whoring, and gaming; others fled for treason, many for murder, theft, poisoning, robbery, perjury, forgery, coining false money; for committing rapes or sodomy, for flying from their colours or deserting to the enemy; and most of them had broken prison; none of these durst return to their native countries for fear of being hanged, or of starving in a jail; and therefore were under a necessity of seeking a livelihood in other places.” I get the feeling that this was not an altogether uncommon demographic for merchant sailing ships of the era..

In the country of the Houyhnhnms (I don’t believe Swift gave it any other name than that).  Gulliver learns finally how ‘pathetic’ the human race (known there as “Yahoos”) is compared to a truly an advanced race – in this case, a race of intelligent horses.

Gulliver stays longer here than on any of his other stops, and truly grows to love it there, but is eventually sent away since the race of Houyhnhnms find his presence disturbing (since he resembles the vile Yahoos of that land).

Read the rest of this entry »

Gulliver’s Travels – Part 3

Well, part 3 is a little weaker on the ‘adventure’ side (at least I would say so; I mean, it’s hard to top being a giant in Lilliput and a curiosity in Brobdingnag, isn’t it?) but maybe a little heavier on the thought provoking front…

Gulliver visits several different kingdoms this time (after once again having poor luck in his sailing choice – this time pirates).  The first is the ‘floating island’ of Laputa.

Descriptions of his first sight of the island are quite compelling and somewhat reminiscent to me of those scenes in the sci-fi movie, Independence Day, when truly gigantic spacecraft hover over our pitiful cities.  The inhabitants of Laputa are perplexing to say the least.  They are obsessed with math and music, almost to the exclusion of all other things.  They become so engrossed in their thoughts that they require special assistants to nudge them back to reality when they need to speak or listen.

In another section, in chapter 3, in which the means of propulsion and movement of Laputa are “explained,” I found the details strikingly similar to some of the attempts by the UFOlogist pseudo-scientists to explain the locomotion of flying saucers.  Laputa uses a gigantic lodestone and magnets, switching ‘on or off’ in certain directions.  Quite amusing.  I wonder if the modern day UFO people had subconsciously adopted Swift’s Laputan flying machine’s mechanics…  Swift spends a lot of time explaining this in part 3.

Maybe the most fascinating section of Part 3 was Gulliver’s visit to Glubbdubdrib (or “The Island of Sorcerers or Magicians”) where the ruler has the power to summon up the spirits of the dead to converse with (!)  How convenient.  Gulliver goes through a whole laundry list of famous historical characters, learning much along the way about history not always being the same as what is actually taught.  The Governor of Glubbdubdrib advises Gulliver that the spirits will always tell the truth since “lying was a talent of no use in the lower world.”  This section is again replete with references to Classical authors and works – much more so than Parts 1 and 2.

A new meaning of a word I learned in these two parts is “compass.”  I had always only know the common meaning of a device to “tell which was is north” but a couple times Swift uses it differently as defined by Merriam

1 a : boundary, circumference <within the compass of the city walls> b : a circumscribed space <within the narrow compass of 21 pages  c : range, scope <the compass of my voice>
Increasing my vocabulary here…

One of Swift’s use of this word was when the Governor was advising him to confine his questioning of the spirits to “the compass of the time they lived in.”

The other favorite section of Part 3 for me was the discussion of the immortals or the “Struldbruggs” of the land of the Luggnaggians.  When Gulliver first learns of these immortals he is very excited that “every member of the race is born with at least a chance of becoming immortal.”  In Chapter 10, Gulliver launches into a long description what he would do if he were fortunate to be one of the immortals, starting with the accumulation of as much money as he might need for immortality, etc. His hosts let him go on and on, but finally break the news to him that immortality is a curse and not a blessing.  They do not age to immortality in youthful bodies, but continue to become more & more decrepit and more and more misanthropic as they age.

The function of the Struldbruggs in their society is to serve as an example to the people that they need not fear death if the state of these pathetic immortals is the alternative.  Very interesting stuff.

I’m reminded of a great line from an episode of Star Trek (yep, semi-Trekkie/Trekker here) in the original series.  A human who has become immortal but is marooned on a largely lifeless planet says to Kirk, “Believe me, Captain, immortality consists largely of boredom.”  🙂

Finished Gulliver’s Travels Parts 3 & 4

I am finally done with this classic.  I encountered several ‘technical problems’ with completing this book.  I actually have many ‘copies’ of it, but starting with part 3, I began reading it via my Barnes & Noble eReader on my iPad.  This app allows for easy highlighting and note taking, both of which I like to do when reading ‘meaningful’ books.  Unfortunately, after completing part 3, this app has stopped working.  Now, when I launch the app on my iPad, it takes several moments before it finally recognizes my online library, but, when it does, gone are my little pie charts by each book showing how much I’ve completed reading as of my furthest progress.  If I select one of the books in my library, it pops up a screen with the option to ‘download’ (which is similar to what I have to do when accessing one of my B& purchased books for the first time), but if I select download, it “thinks” for a moment and does nothing.  Very annoying.

So, I think, I’ll just access it via my B&N reader on my iPhone.  This, however, works even less than the iPad version now, as it won’t even launch and instead momentarily locks up my iPhone.  Also very annoying.  I think I will stop by the local brick & mortar B&N store today and see if they’ve heard of similar problems.  (They haven’t been that helpful on other issues before, but maybe they have improved…)

To make matters worse, I had misplaced my actual hard copy of Gulliver’s Travels.   I guess relying on my eReaders (my nook® version, and the version on my FreeBooks app were still accessible, but my highlights and notes weren’t on them) had aided in my losing track of where my actual book was(!)  I located it last night – apparently it had fallen off my nightstand and ‘rolled’ a little bit under my bed.  I guess the end of the story is that now I may be finally ready to write a post on parts 3 & 4.  I will work on that today.  My colleagues in the Gulliver’s Travel read along probably have assumed I’ve fallen off the face of the Earth by this  point.

Finished reading Gulliver’s Travels Part 2 (better late than never)

I’ve been thrown a little behind schedule with the ‘new arrival’ at my place  (no, not a child, an iPad!), and  I’ve been spending all my free time lately exploring and playing with it instead of reading like I’m supposed to.  I did use it to read part 2 of Gulliver’s Travels, though, via the B&N Reader app. (I had downloaded a free version of Gulliver’s Travels to my nook® reader, and anything I’ve ‘purchased’ on that I can also access through the iPad (or iPhone).  Of course, the iPad with its touch screen makes highlighting (and notetaking) a breeze compared to the nook®.  Well, enough about that stuff you probably don’t care about.  Let’s see what Lemuel Gulliver was up to in part 2…

Gulliver’s wanderlust prompts him into another voyage (I learned this week that, at the time of the publication of Gulliver’s Travels, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was still wildly popular) and he ends up in yet another fantastical, undiscovered region of the Earth, where this time the tables are turned and he is the small, 1/12th size creature and the natives, Brobdingnagians, are the giants.  This change and juxtaposition provides more fertile ground for his satire.  He even quotes ‘the old philosophers’ saying that “Undoubtedly philosophers are in the right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.” (one other tidbit I learnt during this reading of Part 2 was that the microscope was a recent invention at the time and was becoming all the rage as people owned them and using them had become a hoby of many.  I guess one could argue also that the telescope was a recent (at least relatively so) invention as well, and these two ‘miraculous’ scientific advances, enabling the viewing of the very small and very far away probably added to the author’s inspiration).  More ‘gross-out passages’ were supplied by his tiny relative size, and descriptions such as describing the skin “with a mole here and there as broad as a trencher, and hairs hanging from it thicker than packthreads.” He also didn’t neglect his penchant for providing too much information on bodily functions, not to mention his ‘landing short’ when trying to leap over a pile of cow manure.  Enough already, Swift!  🙂

The adventures were, once again, entertaining and sometimes nail-biting.  His fighting and vanquishing the rats (!!) that crawled onto his bed with him,  his battle with the wasps and the annoyance of the “house flies” that wouldn’t leave him alone.  Can you imagine dealing with flies 12 times their normal size?  Not to mention the fact that he was so small allowed him to see ‘their loathsome excrement’ (again with the excrement!?) and spawn.

Gulliver was generally skilled in adapting to his unique situation, however, and often was quite diplomatic, careful to avoid making enemies (e.g. the son of his first master, and even the king’s dwarf felt his ‘mercy’ at times) where that would seem to be the ‘default’ result of some of his interactions.  At least in a couple instances though, his mercy was not evident as he “had the satisfaction to see the young rogue well beaten”, etc.

The King’s questioning him about the government of his native land provided the most transparent foil for Swift’s satire.  Many quotations from here are quite memorable, such as “My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved, that ignorance, idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legistlator; that laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied, b those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them.” and,   commenting on reckless government spending (truly a timeless theme, I guess) “true, he was still at a loss how a kingdom could run out of its estate, like a private person.”

Again there were a couple classical references that I enjoyed.  Phaeton, the son of Helios, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.  And once Gullvier laments, “how often then I wished for the tongue of Demosthenes or Cicero.”  I often point out to others that one of the reason I like the classics (especially the mythology) is that virtually all of learned Western Civilization in the interim between the Classical Age and today were also familiar with these same myths.  Swift clearly was, and if you ever read Shakespeare, you might as well have a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses handy…

Looking forward to Part 3 next week.  Now to head over to the other participants posts…

Finished Part I of Gulliver’s Travels

Okay, this was a bit of a struggle.  Of course, I’ve always been aware of this work, but have never actually read it (seems like I’m saying that a lot recently).  It is a bit difficult for a modern reader to appreciate the satire within this book.  Not having lived early 18th Century England, I did not notice many things that ‘clearly refer to…’ a contemporary of Swift.  One thing that was ‘clear’ even to me was his description of the ‘channel’ between Lilliput and Blefuscu – (“Aha! Just like the English Channel!” I thought) but that was about all I could muster without the help of the footnotes in my copy (pictured below).

I decided fairly early on in my reading, since I realized the satire would be largely lost on a 21st century reader (at least without significant research), that I would just try to enjoy the book as an ‘adventure’ and as ‘good writing.’  On that level, I believe it succeeds for me.  The descriptions of Lilliput – and indeed the descriptions the Lilliputians used to describe him, The Great Man-Mountain (love that), require some skill and imagination.  I particularly enjoyed, for example, how his pistol was described: “we saw a pillar of iron, about the length of a man, fastened to a strong piece of timber, larger than the pillar; and upon one side of the pillar were huge pieces of iron sticking out, cut into strange figures…”

My rational side had an occasional problem with what I thought were inconsistencies of scale.  E.g. when he first awakens to find himself tied down by the Lilliputians and struggles to free himself, resulting in volleys of arrows – the arrows must be very tiny indeed to only have the effect he describes.  Yet, the scale is supposedly 12 to 1 as far as his size vs. theirs, and later he describes a sword as 3 inches (his inches) long.  An arrow wouldn’t be much shorter than that and would seem to be capable of causing more harm than they do.  But this is nitpicking, I suppose.

I enjoyed some of the classical references as well. (Classics/Ancient History Minor here, thank you very much!).  In my edition’s introduction (by Miriam Kosh Starkman), Swift’s earlier work, Tale of a Tub, is described as having “something of the quality of an Athena sprung full blown.” Quick everybody, get out your Bullfinch’s Mythology if you don’t understand that reference!  Another time, Gulliver states that the emperor “desired I would stand like a colossus with my legs as far asunder as I conveniently could” (in order to let the army march under him).  One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was the famous “Colossus of Rhodes” – a gigantic statue that straddled the harbor of the city by that name.

I liked chapter six’s ‘utopian elements’ of Lilliput, such as “Ingratitude is among them a capital crime” and “fraud is a greater crime than theft,” etc., but Swift’s distrust of (government) institutions – particularly judges and courts – is clear even here.

And what’s with the obsession with his bodily functions?  This was a bit ‘disturbing’ even if humorous.  Does the sheer magnitude of Gulliver in relation to the Lilliputians make this more humorous?  I’ve heard many scholars have wondered about this aspect of Gulliver’s Travels.  I’m thinking he could have gotten away only including Gulliver’s “firefighting prowess,” as the other times this comes up aren’t vital to the story, in my opinion. 

Up until recently, the only knowledge or image I had of this book is the iconic one of Gulliver tied down by countless little strings.  I knew he had other journeys than the one to Lilliput, though, and look forward to experiencing them in the upcoming weeks.  Now I’m going to hop over to Allie’s page to see what she and others have had to say today…  Note, Allie’s mom is also ‘guest posting’ on her page and is ‘reading along’ with the rest of us.

Also participating in the read-along is Lindsey at Sparks’ Notes. (I’ll come back and edit this post later with links to any of the others that post comments)

Another participant is Caritoo over at A Whole Book World

Please give these other blogs a look, and feel free to jump in and join the fun!

Jonathan Swift

Funny, I could’ve sworn that was Isaac Newton

Well, maybe not, but close.  (maybe it’s just that they had the same hairstyle)

A Gulliver’s Travels Read Along

OK, this will be the first time I have tried anything like this since I joined The Blogging Community, but I think it might be fun.  Allie, over at “A Literary Odyssey”  is hosting a read along of this classic work by Jonathan Swift.  It is a novel in four parts, and she will be posting in June on each part as indicated by the schedule she has listed.

One of the conditions of my participation is that I will share the link to her site here (which I’ve done above) and either write my own posts for any or all of the sections, or comment on her posts.  Simple enough, right?  Why not join in?  Sounds like a good idea to me.  Any of you with me?

You can read for free on Google Books and I’m betting it’s also available elsewhere on line since it is in the public domain.