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Reading King Lear

1carered

“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?” (III, iv)

King Lear is a tragic story but it’s also the most human plays of Shakespeare. No ghost, no devices, just plain humans and their vices and shortcomings. One of the major themes of the play is the inability to see things for what they are. The tragedy of King Lear is caused by his inability to recognize reality: (1) He believes Goneril’s and Regan’s lies about their love for him; (2) He falsely accuses Cordelia of being disloyal, when in fact, she is the only one of the three who loves him; (3) He banishes Kent for treason when he is the most loyal of Lear’s servants; (4) Lear falsely believes that he can abdicate responsibility without negative consequences. At this point in the play, Lear recognizes the plight of the poor in his kingdom and regrets not having done more to help them. At last, Lear recognizes his past folly, but it’s too late.

Eyesight and appearance. One who has eyes but is yet blind. It’s so much more relevant today in politics. One is blind to the intentions of cunning politicians. What about blindness to one’s responsibilities? The book is relentless about human vices and how being ignorant and blind to one’s shortcomings could doom him.

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Reading Anne Tyler

imageI discovered Anne Tyler’s books while browsing in Hong Kong last week. I have mistaken about her books being chick lit. I picked up A Spool of Blue Thread and started reading at the store—to about a third of the way. There are no elements of thrill and mystery but the relentless dynamics of a family. The Whitshank family is tragic, comic, absurd, and absorbing, and lives on its illusions. Reading the book is like studying a family in a restaurant with a searching expression. Do you find them attractive? Intriguing? Are their large numbers and closeness admirable? Or would they betray a hidden crack somewhere, through a strained silence? What is said and unsaid reveals so much insights about the family and that is what keeps the pages turning. I’m glad to have found her as she has a vast oeuvre to be discovered.

Book Titles Matter

I don’t judge a book by its cover more than I do by the title. As long as the cover is not racy or movie tie-in, I’m an easy sell. But titles matter and they convey to me an immediate message about the book. If F. Scott Fitzgerald adhered to the earlier title of The Great Gatsy, Trimaochio, I probably would give the book a pass on first sight. Like strange-looking, eerie-smelling food, books with an ambiguous titles are usually deal breaker.

Lithub posts an interesting article about the origin of some iconic titles. I prefer simple, disarmingly beautiful book titles. Something lyrical and poetic, not cliched or too catchy. I’m sure authors are as fussy about the titles of their novels as parents are about the babies’ names. One can imagine the tediousness of the conception of book titles. For me a book title is a very slippery thing. It determines whether I’ll pick up a book or not, that is, before hearing the feedback of the content. I avoid anything that sounds obscure and ridiculous. Sometimes random isolated phrases make the best titles.

Thankful for These

Goodreads: What book are you thankful that you read this year?

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Having grown up in a foreign country, I never read this children classic. It’s a celebration of friendship and its meaning. It’s an evergreen tale that deserves recognition as a novel in which readers will find wisdom, humor, and meaning.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. It’s as much a documentary of the Manson murders as a testimony of Vincent Bugliosi’s brilliance and perspicacity in his handling of the case. It’s a spellbinding murder case and most importantly, a testimony to how our justice system comes through.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I would not have picked it up, let alone read, this book if Tina didn’t pick it as a read-along. Rand’s philosophy can be outlandish but she is not without reason. The huge tome delves on the importance of reason and individual thinking. When one is rid of its own will and thinking, the virtues that make life possible and the values that give it meaning become agents of its destruction.

On Reading and Writing

“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.” – William Faulkner

The man who owns the coffee shop that I go every morning is frustrated about his son’s lackluster English grade. He gets mostly C/C+ on most of his writing assignments. At the mention of writing that rings a bell in my head. I suggest cultivation of a reading habit—to read whatever subject that interests his son, in stead of playing video games.

All the grammar guides, writing tips, and books on writing will not make you a better writer if one never reads. Reading is just as crucial as actually writing, if not more so, and the work one produces will only be as good as the work you read.

Reading and writing go hand-in-hand. I have never met a good writer who doesn’t read—and reads widely. Through reading one will gain knowledge and find inspiration. As I read more, I have learned to read with a writer’s eye. Even grammar sinks in when I read. If you’re worried about knowing all the rules of grammar, then just read books written by adept writers. Eventually, it all will become part of your mental makeup.

A well-read writer has a better handle on vocabulary, understands the nuances of language, and recognizes the difference between poor and quality writing. Most importantly, what I read will somehow manifest and find the way back in my writing. I attribute this to the brain, which is like a sponge that soaks up everything we observe and experience throughout our lives, and each thing we are exposed to becomes part of the very fiber of our beings. What we read is no exception.

Thoughts on French

Many people traveling in France would share the frustrating experience that they are ignored speaking English. Although English has borrowed and adopted French words, the French language has not welcomed the invasion of English words. They have been more resistant than most. The French have had a low against the encroachment of foreign words since as early as 1911, but this was considerably bolstered by the setting up in 1975 the Maintenance of the Purity of the French Language law, which introduced fines for using illegal anglicisms. You may safely conclude that the French take their language very seriously indeed.

No you won’t be fined for speaking English, but you won’t go very far either. In some of the old Paris dining establishments, especially the ones removed from the tourists’ tread, a hamburger is a steak haché (not le burger). A steak haché is made from minced beef, which is formed into patties ready for cooking and originates from France. Filet mignon generally refers to pork rather than beef. Some menus might provide a one-line English descriptions but don’t expect it to be the convention.

Estimates of the number of anglicisms in French have been estimated to be 2-3 percent or less. So it is altogether possible that the French are making a great deal out of very little. I suppose what really ranckles the French is not that they are borrowing so many words from the rest of the world but that the rest of the world is no longer borrowing so many from them. From the outset the government conceded defeat on a number of words that were too well established to drive out: gadget, holdup, weekend, blue jeans, self-service, and many others. They do recognize the global importance of English but prefer to speak French. But it’s a different case when it comes to relaxing at home in the evening.

But the English-speaking world can be better at looking after the borrowed words than the French were. Quite a number of words that English has absorbed no longer exist in France (at least not widely spoken). The French do not use nom de plume, double entendre, panache, bon viveur, or R.S.V.P. for répondez s’il vous plaît. Instead they write prière de répondre.

“Crime and Punishment”

“To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.”

According to Goodreads, Fyodor Dostoyevsky came up with the idea for his 1866 novel Crime and Punishment after he gambled away most of his fortune. He wrote the book hoping that, at the very least, the sale of it could pay off his debts.

The crime is committed at the very beginning and the rest of the book depicts the perpetrator’s punishment, more mental, meted by his conscience, than physical. The book gripped me from the beginning when I first read it in high school. Even the central story of Raskolnikov and his struggle with fate keeps verging on comedy. Lots of punchy humor, and physical comedy, even in dark moments, percolate this novel.