Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Review of 'The Country Girls' by Edna O'Brien

"Meet Kate and Baba, two young Irish girls who have spent their childhood together.  As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship.  Kate, dreamy and romantic, years for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl.  Although they set out to conquer the world together, as their lives take unexpected turns, Kate and Baba must ultimately learn to find their own way."

This was another book from my Irish and Scottish Literature class that I really liked!  Like a lot (almost all) of the Irish literature that we read, this was another sad one.  Why am I so attracted to sad books?

I really liked watching the characters develop.  It was a little scary to see how much Kaithleen and Baba relied on each other, even as they transitioned from girls into women.  There was no Baba without Kate and no Kate without Baba.  In other words, they are inseparable.  They change and in a way, kind of turn into each other just by associating with the other for most of their lives.  It was a little bit sad to see that they couldn't truly function on their own.  When Baba wasn't like boarding school, she didn't plan to just get herself out, she planned for both she and Kate to get out, despite the fact that Kate was better suited for school than Baba.

Kate's relationship with her dad was an interesting one.  She didn't really have much of a relationship with him to begin with, but it is very obvious that Kate's mother was the one holding them together (by force or otherwise).  The story of Kaithleen's mother and father is just so tragic.  They were so in love when they married, but then Kaithleen's father took up drinking and suddenly, the whole family began to fall apart.  I think Kaithleen's relationship with other men was determined largely by her relationship with her father.  She went for guys who were almost nothing like her father.  They were older, they were sophisticated, oftentimes rich, and they typically weren't Irish.  It's very interesting to me.  My life is not like this, so it's very interesting to read and think about.

I know that this book is part of a trilogy, so I hope to get around to reading the other two books and learning about what ultimately happens to Kate and Baba.

Edna O'Brien writes in such a way that I'm just drawn in.  By her characters, by the story she weaves, etc.  She is a wonderful Irish writer and if you're looking to read more Irish literature, this would be a good start.

I give 'The Country Girls'
Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Homage to a Life

It's never easy when someone you love passes on.

The story is complicated and very personal, so I won't go into too much detail here, but this is something that I really want to talk about.  Need to talk about, even.

My Uncle struggled with his health for over three years.  Troubles with his breathing, troubles with his brain, troubles with his heart... he spent years in and out of hospitals, struggling to be healthy and to live as normal of a life as possible.  But only last week, my family and I were told that things weren't looking so good.  We were hopeful, but I think we were also preparing for the worst case scenario.  We received updates from my grandpa about every other day, or at least as news came in, which everyone really appreciated, I think.

On a Friday night, I went and visited my Uncle in the hospital.  He was more broken and unaware than I have ever seen him before.  I cried gigantic tears and my mom and I held each other through the time we were there, however brief it was.

Sunday, I was at the mall with my boyfriend and we were on the train about to head home when my mom called and told me that the decision that was made was the the breathing tubes would be disconnected and my Uncle would be allowed to go on his own, whenever his body let him.  I tried not to cry on the phone, but as soon as I got off, they fell again and I think my boyfriend had an idea what was going on.  He just held me.

We finished our shopping and went back to my boyfriend's dorm where we played games and hung out for a while.  Not a few hours later, my mom sent a text and my sister contacted me as well.  My phone ran out of batteries, so I couldn't respond for a while.  As soon as I saw that my mom texted me, I knew they news I was going to receive.  So I didn't call her back, even though I probably should have.

When I talked to my sister who gave me the news, I really didn't know how to feel.  I had no more tears.  I was getting choked up, making sure my sister was okay, but I couldn't cry any more.  I sat in the middle of my boyfriend's dorm room just thinking.

It felt wrong for me not to feel more sad.  I should be crying, causing a scene... but I wasn't.

To receive the news that I was losing one of my favorite Uncles wasn't really a shock at all.  In my mind, I lost my Uncle 2-3 years ago; When problems started in his brain and his personality changed from the easy-going and very funny guy to someone completely unrecognizable.

This is what confuses me about my own grief: I don't seem to be grieving much at all.  I wasn't surprised to hear the news of his passing.  I was relieved, in a way.  He was out of his misery and this whole nightmare of a situation was over.  I was more sad thinking about how my dad and other Uncle had just lost another brother and how my grandparents had just lost another son.

My mom put up a picture of him on Facebook from a time when he was relatively happy and he was our happy, smiling Uncle again.  There were a billion messages saying 'my condolences' or 'I'm sorry for your loss' or other similar sentiments.  It's a nice thought, but those messages succeeded in nothing else but making me mad.  I don't think these people quite understand, even if my mom kept them all updated on my Uncle's status.  It's easy to feel misunderstood.  But then my neighbor got on and was talking about celebrating his life and what we as a family remembered about him.  Another lady who had lost her husband to a terminal illness advised us to just remember the wonderful times we had with him and make sure to take care of ourselves too.  These comments made me feel much, much better and it kind of explained why those supposed to be comforting comments were so upsetting to me.  They were so negative and sad when I don't feel that my Uncle's death was such a negative thing and not entirely sad either (though it still is a little sad).  He was not going to get better.  I believe the doctors gave us a 0% statistic for his recovery, or something hovering around that number.

I think I'm adopting a new philosophy about funerals and death.  Funerals need to be a time to remember.  It needs to be a way to accept what happened, get some closure, and start to move on.  I don't think that it's a real enough expectation for people to not be sad, but I feel like funerals need to be a bit more positive-- less morose and downtrodden.

I think that this is a post I really needed to write, so if you've read through this entire thing, thank you very, very much.  I'd like to hear your thoughts and stories about death, dying, and funerals, if you're willing to share with me.

Thanks for Reading!


Monday, January 21, 2013

A Review of 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' by Robert Louis Stevenson

"Stevenson's famous exploration of humanity's basest capacity for evil, 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,' has become synonymous with the idea of a split personality.  More than a morality tale, this dark psychological fantasy is also a product of its time, drawing on contemporary theories of class, evolution, criminality, and secret lives."

This is a classic horror story, so I was very excited to read this book for my Irish and Scottish Literature course.  However, I wasn't as impressed as I thought or hoped I would be.

I liked the general plot line.  A man with a split personality-- one is a perfect gentleman who never does anything wrong while the other is a loose cannon, a menace to society, the unleashed form of Dr. Jekyll.  I liked how Dr. Jekyll just decided to due away with his 'good' persona and give in to the 'bad.'

I didn't like how Robert Louis Stevenson seemed to assume that one must be completely good or completely bad.  Maybe it was just simpler to tell the story this way, but I really hated the separation of these two major aspects of a being.  One cannot be completely good without a little bad, because otherwise, what would they be?  We can't know good without the bad.  They're relative terms.

This could partially be a personal problem, but I was having trouble keeping up with minor characters.  I don't think that I was really given a reason to care about them and they weren't particularly memorable.  I'm a reader who thrives on well-written characters, and this story just didn't have them to the degree that I was hoping for.

This wasn't an altogether unpleasant read, but it's not a book that I would like to read again.  I feel really guilty saying this about a classic read...

I give 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde':
Thanks for Reading!


Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Review of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde

"The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde's only full-length novel, is the enduringly eerie story of a naive and irresistible young man lured by decadent Lord Henry Wotton into a life of depravity.  Though dorian is steeped in sin, his face remains perfect, unlined as years pass-- while his portrait, locked away, reveals the blackness of his soul.  This tale's elements of Gothic horror and fable render it timeless, and the unabashed hedonism and cynical wit of its characters epitomize Wilde's literary revolt against the properties of the Victorian era."

This was a very strange read, as far as the story goes.  It's strange, but I really did like it.  It's always fun when something so internal as the soul is turned inside out and presented in a very visual way.  It really helps because while we might know what sins are, it's very different to see what sin looks like, especially when they accumulate and appear on the face of a beautiful individual (painting or no painting).

What was really intriguing to me was how willing nearly everyone was to forgive or dismiss Dorian when he did sinful things.  It was all due to the fact that he was beautiful; he couldn't possibly be capable of doing awful things like killing people and doing drugs, right?


Even when Dorian admitted to killing Basil, the artist who immortalized Dorian through painting, characters like Lord Henry scoffed and were like, "Yeah, right.  How could you?  You're young and beautiful.  You're not capable of such a thing."  Ordinarily, Dorian would have been chewed apart by all of the wrong things he's done and it would have appeared in some way shape or form, but instead, he suffers the guilt.  To me, that's much, much worse.

I'm surprised that Dorian survived that long with that much guilt.  I know that I couldn't do that.  I think Oscar Wilde did an amazing job with writing this novel.  I really wish that he wrote more novels.  Luckily, there are still his plays to read!

Something else that I really liked were Lord Henry's witty phrases.  They're really interesting because when taken out of context, they are pretty applicable to a number of lives and the advice seems sound.  However, when placed back in context, one can't help but think, "Henry, what are you doing?"

This book is wonderful if you're interested in reading the classics or if you're looking for a witty and thought-provoking read.

I give 'The Picture of Dorian Gray':
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

College Adventures: The State of My Brain

The last time I wrote on this blog in a similar format to this, on 16 December, I was in distress.  So I thought that I'd write again to update you on the state of my brain.

On 16 December, I was working at Barnes and Noble, I was waking up in the middle of the night due to my aforementioned job, I was preparing for my finals, I was struggling to make my Christmas plans work, and I was having a mental break-down because of all of these things mashed together into one not-so-nice personal situation.

Today, 13 January, things are much, much different.  I am no longer working at Barnes and Noble (for a variety of reasons that I won't share here).  Generally, I'm sleeping through the night.  I only wake up because I'm not tired any more.  Also, I'm getting enough sleep at night!  My Christmas plans have come and gone by now, but I'm proud to say that I made everything work, even though there were some times that were less than ideal.  I managed to get through it and I'm fine now.  My brain is no longer in crisis mode.

So what's going on now?  

After making the decision to leave Barnes and Noble, I had to work on finding something else to do, because I still need a job.  While weighing my options, I decided that it would be a lot better for me to have a job on campus that would actually stick to a 10-20 hours a week schedule.  While I still don't have such a job procured yet, I am hopeful because I applied for two on-campus jobs.  One of them would let me work in the Admissions Office.  It would be a lot of office work, but I would also be giving tours to prospective students at my college.  When I read the job description, I thought that it was perfect because it combined several of the skills I've acquired from Barnes and Noble as well as Minneapolis Public Schools.  I tried to stress that in my application.  The other job I applied for was originally going to be a month long, but right after I applied, they changed it to last the entire semester, which just worked out so well for me.  That job is with the Education Department.  I understand that it is going to be a lot of office work, but I am not complaining.  I'm hoping to hear something (good news or bad) from either of these jobs, but if I don't, I still have the option of finding a nannying job.  My second semester schedule is very open, so I think it will be really easy to accommodate a family into my schedule.  And I know that I'd enjoy the job immensely.

I don't wake up in the middle of the night feeling the need to go through my cash register schpeel at Barnes and Noble.  This is an absolutely amazing feeling to me!  I hated the monotony while working the cash register.  That monotony was so monotonous that it infiltrated my sleep and my brain would become confused.  Typically, I'm asleep by midnight and I fall asleep fast.  It's a glorious feeling!

My classes don't start until 4 February, because my college observes a J-Term.  I couldn't find a class to take because they filled up so darn fast, but that doesn't mean that I'm not keeping busy!  I contacted my principal from elementary and middle school (who is no longer the principal of my old middle school) and he is letting my come to the new school where he is principal so that I can volunteer.  When I am done with my undergraduate studies, I'll be certified to teach English in grades 5-12, so I'm volunteering in the fifth grade class, since they are the oldest kids at this new school (it's only K-5).  The kids there are absolutely wonderful and I come away with so many laughs.  I help teach math (I'm struggling with division... I've been spoiled by calculators) and I also help with reading and spelling.  I'm only volunteering, but I'm still a sort of teacher to some of these kids and it feels awesome!  I love what I do here.  I wake up early, but I don't even care.  My days goes so quickly and I'm never bored.  There's always something to do!  I can't wait to spend the rest of my life doing this.

I am feeling great about my life right now.  I had tough decisions to make about a month ago, but I think that I made the right decisions for myself.  I have no regrets.

A Review of 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' by Muriel Spark

"The elegantly styled classic story of a young, unorthodox teacher and her special-- and ultimately dangerous-- relationship with six of her students."

This is one of the first few times I've enjoyed a book that was assigned to me.  This story centers around one teacher and examines how one's influence impacts the lives of those around us.  Reading into this aspect of the book was both wonderful and scary.  The girls in this Brodie set at the very beginning of the book are so young, maybe around the age of eight or nine, and until recently, I've forgotten how impressionable that age can be.

The story is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, but were the girls in the U.S. school system today, they'd be in third or fourth grade.  As I write this review long after finishing the book (which I finished in December 2012 and am therefore counting towards last year's goal), I've started volunteering in a fifth grade classroom (I'll write more about that in a separate post) adding to my experience in High-5, Kindergarten, and first grade.  So I can attest to how impressionable kids this age are.  Even when kids are in fifth grade, which is a time when they're searching for a little bit more independence, the teachers are the oracle and the students are the wayward orfs vying for the knowledge we have (when they're not being distracted by "boy/girlfriends" and cell phones...).

Miss Brodie is definitely the oracle to the Brodie set.  She predicts their lots in life, which is a huge influence in and of itself.  If you're given a label, you either take on that role or you completely defy it, both of which happen in this book.  She tells them which track she thinks is the best in school, which tears the students apart.  Many are trying to please Miss Brodie.

While this is not the main idea of the book, it's kind of opened up my eyes when it comes to how careful I need to be as a teacher.  My influence may not necessarily be a positive step in another's future.  The trick is, how are we to know for certain?

I liked watching how the girls changed from impressionable young minds to grown up and relatively free-thinking young ladies.  I adore books like these.  I think they make me a tiny bit nostalgic... or grateful that I never have to return to that age again.

I did not like how manipulative Miss Brodie was of everyone and how she was a martyr about it.  She led on two different men, one of whom was obsessed with her, but who was already attached and another who was a good match and completely single.  She spent time with the eligible gentleman, but played it off as a personal sacrifice because he was lonely.  When she was teaching, she said that she chose to dedicate her time to the girls because she was in her prime and her prime must be taken advantage of.  Another personal sacrifice.

Overall, I really liked reading this book.  I would recommend this if you're a fan of Scottish literature or are looking for a relatively short book that makes you constantly wonder, "But why?"

I give 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie':
Thanks for Reading!