Aug 31, 2017

Notes from the Underground

It’s About THAT Guy

By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Translated by Pevear & Volkhonsky
Russian, 1864
Existentialist  Philosophy, Novella

Main Attractions

1.  The Most Comedic, Painful Narrator
2.  Great Insights into the Dark Side
3.  Highly Quotable Lines of Greatness
4.  Philosophy of the Human Condition
5.  Great Intro to Existential Novels
6.  Easy to Read, Yet Astounding Depth
7.  A Snippet of Life Underground
8.  More Enjoyable After Re-Reading it
9.  A 40 Year Old Reflects on Being 24
10. Asks the Ignored Bigger Questions 

Cuisine & Delicacies

Ranked as: Decadent Chocolate Cheese ’N Cake
The first part is a lively philosophical social commentary but the 2nd part takes a radical turn!  It’s told as a flashback and becomes more and more embarrassing for the narrator.  Understanding a lot of this book depends on the social context of the time which can make it confusing for the reader and possibly difficult to finish.

Why Visit Here

Everyone has faced the darker aspects of the self, this novel showcases it with such psychological depth.  At times, it’s over the top and goes to great length to show just how far a character will go to sustain their position while suffering.  It’s a great journey into the mind of a suffering protagonist.

The Literary Conversation:
These 3 books were written in reply to each other:
Fathers and Sons By Ivan Turgenev (1862) - It started it all with a powerful story about tensions between generations & social change, introducing Nihilism.
What is to Be Done By Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1863) — He added a Feminist spin and political/economic themes to the dialogue, introducing some idealist solutions.
✓ Notes from the Underground By Fyodor Dostoevsky (1864) - He took the idea of Nihilism and ran with it, crushing any idealist notions with practicalities of social conventions or poverty.

Destination Summary

The unreliable, unnamed narrator gripes and complains about everything.  His ideas are presented in a very personal way and the reader can’t help but react to his actions & dialogue.  At times, he is comical in his extremely melodramatic suffering.  Other times, it’s painful to read what he says, thinks or does.  The reader is left with a clear glimpse into the shadow of the soul.

Fabulous Summary by Thug Notes in 4:29 min.

Packing List

✓ Wet Blanket
✓ An Ant Farm to Shake
✓ Reading Chair Under a Bridge

Recommended Resources
Alternate Books
Nausea By Jean-Paul Sartre (1938) - His break with reality maybe self imposed, is told with a different writing style and has deep insights.
✓ A Hero of Our Time By Mikhail Lermontov (1840) - The main character is satirical hero who is comically bitter and even teeters on cruel.
✓ Demons (also called Devils/The Possessed) By Fyodor Dostoevsky (1872) - He goes much deeper into ideas that he started in Notes from the Underground.
✓ The Will to Power By Friedrich Nietzsche (1901 Posthumous) - Has parallel themes, but with radically different conclusions.

What is to Be Done?

Nothing Short of a Revolution

By Nikolai Chernyshevsky
Translated By Michael R. Katz 
Russian, 1863
Political Fiction, Philosophy, Feminism

Main Attractions

1.  Fascinating Character Study
2.  In depth Exploration of Choices 
3.  Powerfully Influential on Society
4.  Plot Line is a Rich Tapestry
5.  Introduces Unique Alternatives
6.  Strong Feminist Undertones
7.  Moving or Baffling Love Story
8.  A Revolutionary Obscure Character
9.  Great Dialogue with Lots of Ideas
10. Enjoyable & Very Readable Story 

Cuisine & Delicacies

Ranked as: Decadent Chocolate Cheese ’N Cake
This one is packed with philosophical musings and quotes.  There is a decent sized cast of characters who all influence each other’s actions and choices.  The depth of this book makes it difficult to finish if you become bogged down by the ideas that are explored.  It’s a rich feast for those who enjoy exploring characters and pondering why they make the choices they do.  The fest becomes even richer if you explore the historical context & impact of this great book.  Add a side dish of maple pecan cheesecake if you read the 2 companion books!! 

Why Visit Here

This book is written as part of a set of 3, see “Alternate Books” below.  Reading all three books by the different authors gives a rich dialogue & debate by 3 legendary writers.  It shows the power of literature and reading into the historical impact of just this one book, What is to Be Done?  demonstrates the cultural impact that literature can have.  This book is touted as sparking a revolution because of its rich ideals.  

It’s very much a feminist book but also gives insight into politics, economics and social roles.  Chernyshevsky challenges social conventions in this book.  He provides some very unusual alternatives to our way of life.  It’s written in an entertaining novel format so the ideas are presented in a very accessible way.  

I recommend the unabridged format, cited at the top of this blog post.  My initial reading was the abridged format, translated by Benjamin R. Tucker, Revised & Abridged by Ludmilla B Turkevich, published by Vintage Books, 1961.

The Literary Conversation:
These 3 books were written in reply to each other:
Fathers and Sons By Ivan Turgenev (1862) - It started it all with a powerful story about tensions between generations & social change, introducing Nihilism.
✓ What is to Be Done By Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1863) — He added a Feminist spin and political/economic themes to the dialogue, introducing some idealist solutions.
Notes from the Underground By Fyodor Dostoevsky (1864) - He took the idea of Nihilism and ran with it, crushing any idealist notions with practicalities of social conventions or poverty.

Destination Summary

It’s a story that branches into a love triangle.  It’s incredibly written and recommended for folks who don’t read about love triangles.  

Off the Beaten Path

A short video explaining Nietzche’s Superman

Travel Advisory

There are 2 editions.  The 1961 Edition published by Vintage and translated by Benjamin R. Tucker was revised & abridged by Ludmilla B Turkevich.  There is about 100 pages missing from the original text.    

I highly recommend the complete, unabridged  edition pictured at the top of this page.  It's the 1989 Edition published by Cornell University Press. 

Packing List

✓ All 3 books for an intensely deep experience
✓ A Documentary about Russian History, focusing on Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861
✓ A box of tissues & a train ticket to Russia

Recommended Resources
Alternate Books
✓ Prologue: A Novel for the Beginning of the 1860’s By Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1877) - He wrote this while in Exile, it includes his ideas that were later condensed into What is to Be Done?
✓ Demons (also called Devils/The Possessed) By Fyodor Dostoevsky (1872) - He goes much deeper into ideas that he started in Notes from the Underground.

Book Adaptations
✓ What is to Be Done? By Leo Tolstoy (1886) - He explores morality and also the trials of poverty.
✓ What is to Be Done? By Vladimir Lenin (1902) - He greatly admired Chernyshevsky’s book and wanted to explain his political ideas.
✓ Who is to Blame? By Alexander Herzen (1846) - A precursor to Chernyskevsky’s, What is to Be Done?

Additional Resources:
✓ A thesis titled “The Philosophical Ideas of N.G. Chernyshevsky”

The Bear and the Nightingale

Russian Fairy Telling Retelling

By Katherine Arden
USA, 2017
Fantasy, Historical

Main Attractions

1.  Russian Fairy Tale Retelling
2.  Plot-Driven, Fast Pace
3.  Clearly Written Language
4.  Interesting Set Up of Plot
5.  Book 1 of a Series
6.  Slightly Spooky Vibes 
7.  Wild Female Protagonist
8.  Drawn Out Climax
9.  Slight Magical Realism
10.  Fairy Tales Woven In

Cuisine & Delicacies

Ranked as: Summer Salad
 A fast, light read that’s great for lounging in a cabin in the mountains.  The characters develop in a movie like way that makes for faster reading.  The breeziness of the narrative makes for an immersive world that’s easy to fall into.  For added toppings, be sure to explore the original fairy tales!   

Why Visit Here

This book showcases some of Russia’s most well known stories and fairy tales.  It’s told in a very Western way that can be accessible to a wide audience.  Folks who are curious about the culture of Russia or the old ways of life, could enjoy reading this story.  It has a very contemporary feel to the writing style which is appealing to  folks looking for an easy book to read.     

Destination Summary

Magical mysteries surround our young leading lady.  When all of her older sisters are married off, the mysteries become more prominent in everyone’s life.  It’s set in a very historical Russian countryside, generations before cell phones or modern technology.  The atmosphere is very wintery with encroaching magical themes.

Off the Beaten Path

A Modern Man decides to Live Part Time in the 9th Century! 2:50 min
Experimental Archeology Research Project called “Alone in the Past”

Some Cool Medieval Russian Folk Music, 3:57 Min
Based on “Kalinka” By Ivan Larionov, Recreated By Geoff Knorr

Travel Advisory

Some of the Russian names are very Westernized and some nicknames mix up the genders that Russian folks would never use.  The average Western reader would never catch on to these details and they don’t hinder on the story in any way.

Packing List

✓ Good Book of Russian Fairy Tales
✓ Old Style Folk Tunes
✓ Candle, Tea and a Heavy Blanket

Recommended Resources
Alternate Books
✓ Norse Mythology By Neil Gaiman (2017) - A good introduction to mythology, arranged with a story arc.
✓ I must dig up an anthology of Russian Folk Tales to share.

Alternate Movies
✓ 12 Months Dvenadtsat mesyatsev/Двенадцать месяцев (1956) Directed by Ivan Ivanov-Vano - This movie contains the fairy tales from this book in a truer form.
✓ Father Frost  Morozko/Морозко (1964/1965) Directed By Aleksandr Rou - This movie’s plot overlaps with some of the book’s main plot, it’s a beloved Russian Holiday movie.

Thank you to Andrea for letting me borrow her movie ideas ^.^

Aug 30, 2017

Retellings of Fairy Tales, Mythology & Legends

Thoughts on Own Voices 

There’s a few topics I want to touch on with this book, The Bear and the Nightingale.  It can apply to Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and a little bit to The Strain By Chuck Hogan & Guillermo del Toro.  

What do they all have in common?  The underlying plot is based on mythology from another culture than the writer.  Neil Gaiman is from the UK.  Hogan & Arden are American.  del Toro is from Mexico.  They have written books that were inspired by myths or fairy tales from North Germanic culture, Romanian Strigoi or Vampires, and Russian Fairy Tales.

Of these works, The Strain is the most different from the original myth.  The authors took an ancient, obscure and relatively unknown to the average reader of non-vampire books and built a whole world with historical roots impacting the current world of the novel, they added themes of biology, evolution and today’s real world problems to the story.  They did a brilliant job and even added a TV Show to expand on their world. 

Here's the Trailer, a little creepy:

Speaking of Strigoi & TV Shows, a Romanian lady is actually working on a fabulous grassroots documentary ^.^  Here's a link to her fabulous Youtube Channel.   She’s telling about the Strigoi in her own voice and including the voices of other Romanian folks, where the original myth stems from.

[Intro to Ingrid's Strigoi Documentary]

The Bear & Nightingale also took a few liberties with the original fairy tales and with the Russian name systems (Patronymics).  She gives a clear explanation of this in her note at the back.  She did write a lively, fast paced novel with an interesting story line.  She captured this historical context and weaved in Russian Fairy Tales in a creative way.  Separating the branch of Russian Mythology from it’s family of Slavic Mythology may not be common for English speakers.  Russian Fairy Tales are far more common to English speakers and are more accessible in children’s books.  The Bear & Nightingale is great for reminding us of Russian Fairy tales and the magical stories they contain.  I’m certainly eager to dig deeper and older, venturing into the mythology.  

Neil Gaiman assembled Norse Myths into a novel form complete with a story arc.  

All of these writers are giving exposure to ancient stories that are not commonly read by a wide audience.  I’m sure after the very main stream Neil Gaiman packed the gigantic Norse Myths cannon into a compact trade paperback, more folks will be eager to venture out and read that barbarically long and complex Norse Mythology Cannon.  There are a few solid places to start for adventurous folks: The Poetic of Edda, Saga of Volsungs, Saga of Icelanders, The Nibelungenlied, and to include the neglected Finnish folks, I’m compelled to say The Kalevala.  If you’re lucky to track down the encyclopedic long book of all of Scandinavia’s Mythology, it’ll take at least 5 years to read it all!  In this light, Gaiman provided an epic service to those who are new to Scandinavian or Norse Mythology and are terrified for not knowing where to begin.  

So, exposure to unsung myths, legends and fairy tales are a great benefit of writing about a subject from an English speaker’s point of view.  As a native English speaker, the novel is sure to have that contemporary feel which just makes the book even more accessible and maybe can earn it a wider readership.

The downside is part of the ‘Own Voices’ discussion.  Do the benefits outweigh the costs in this context?  Does it break down barriers so more folks are willing to pick up a Russian Mythology book written or translated by a Russian Writer?  Or does it keep the English writers at the forefront of the fiction world?  Is there a place for both to exist?  

Most of my reading is with dusty classics of all kinds.  So I’m far more used to reading pompous language.  While reading The Bear and Nightingale, after the first 50-100 pages, the story began to feel more contemporary.  I could feel it was written by a North American.  After reading her bio, I couldn’t abandon that feeling and it interrupted the story for me.  I can step back and say I enjoyed the story, but it just didn’t have the depth that I’m used to as a reader of classics.

So I can appreciate the wider appeal of this book.  Part of me deeply wishes that a Russian person would write about this subject.  I do want to read books that are ‘own voices’ because there is an authenticity to that.  

But, when does going too far into the own voices discussion become reverse racism?  And what exactly determines an own voice?  If someone has a skin color but has a parent of that voice, whose voice do they have?  Is it the voice of their parent or their own skin color?

Lisa See is a great example of this.  She’s born to Chinese parents and was raised in the USA.  She specializes in writing about China, specifically, Chinese Historical Fiction with female protagonists.  She’s very forthcoming about her heritage.  Her novels do have such a depth to them and she’s written a few.  Her recent one, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane just seeps with all aspects of the dying culture of the Akkha Tribe.  She includes lexical idioms, sayings, customs, superstitions, sacrifices, diet, dress, environment, and the recent social situation.  Her writing is poetic, which forces the reader to slow down and absorb the culture on the page.  The story is a fast paced with a dual story line.  Granted, See is a veteran and Arden is a debut writer.

So, what are own voices and do the benefits outweigh the costs?  What is an ‘own voice’ in our globalizing world?  What is contemporary literature’s role in cultural literacy?  Can a writer learn more about the ‘other’ by borrowing their voice?  Would this create a bridge among readers?  Does it increase barriers for ‘own voices’?  

The whole point of  the ‘own voices’ movement is the encourage minority folks to chime into the dominant conversation.  Where do the translators fit into all of this?  What are their roles and code of ethics?

Some recommended Scandinavian Myths & Legends:

The Poetic of Edda, Saga of Volsungs, Saga of Icelanders, The Nibelungenlied and The Kalevala

The Bear & Nightingale hints at these 2 Fairy Tales:

Morozko Movie:

Twelve Months Movie:

Link for Andrea’s Fabulous Review, where I found these 2 Russian fairy tales.

Aug 24, 2017


Philosophy's Journey into Darkness

By Jean-Paul Sartre
French, 1938
Existentialist  Philosophy

Main Attractions

1.  Unique Diary Entry Style 
2.  Unreliable Narrator
3.  Can experience the Novel
4.  Highly Re-readable
5.  Blended Plot & Consciousness
6.  Advanced Holden Caulfield
7.  Baffling & Understandable
8.  Gateway into Philosophy
9.  Highly Quotable
10. Plot Seeps into the Reader


Cuisine & Delicacies

Ranked as: Decadent Chocolate Cheese ’N Cake
This novel is rich in quotable lines that can spark deep thinking.  Some of the ideas are very abstract and could become a bit difficult to ponder.  Some of them are also very dark and could feel creepy to think about.    Superficially, the narrator may sound like a more intelligent Holden Caulfield who may come across as whining.        

Why Visit Here

It’s a good introduction to Existentialist philosophy because the philosophy is told in a story format.  After a few readings, more and more ideas can emerge from this text.  Of course reading dense philosophical works can also deepen your understanding of this text.  Nausea is not written in a dense, academic way.  The sentences and vocabulary are actually quite modern and straightforward.  The ideas Sartre reveals are very profound and can be uncomfortable to explore.

Destination Summary

The narrator is overcome by this new state of mind which he calls “Nausea.”  It overcomes him in waves and is the central idea in the book.

Off the Beaten Path

Why I Like Existentialism a 16 minute video by Eric Dodson where he explains what it is in a relatable, personal way.  It’s a good introduction to this topic because it’s not overly technical.

Travel Advisory

The opening pages of this book can seep out of the pages, I swear The Ring was inspired by this book!

Packing List
✓ A strong mind and stomach
✓ Curiosity into the dark side of the psyche 
✓ A ratty copy of an old Nietzsche book of your choosing.
✓ Or Heidegger’s Being & Time for the adventurous!

Recommended Resources
Alternate Books
Hunger By Knut Hamsun (1890) - The narrator in both books are feeling the decline of the self.  The novels are told in vary different ways.
Crime & Punishment By Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866) - The main character’s thoughts are the focus of the novel and are obsessed with his internal reaction to committing a crime.
Catcher in the Rye By J.D Salinger (1951) - If you enjoyed or sympathized with Caulfield, you maybe intrigued by the different point of view in Nausea

Aug 13, 2017

What is Education… I Mean a Book Review?

I’m still finding the voice of my channel and how to use youtube for education, my own and sharing it with others.  This is a bit more poetic than essay or response.  And it may come across as a teacher’s style of asking questions.      

My reading is at an exciting junction.  It’s far more personal than it ever has been before.  The dichotomy of it being so personal and yet shared so publicly just highlights the potentials that contemplative reading can have.  It brings me to 5 main topics which may not appear to be connected, but with a reflective glance, could be. 

The first one I’ll call “Reading Inadequacy.”  In our life, just under the surface is always a dark place of doubt.  I don’t think it ever goes away, nor should it.  Part of learning is setting something a bit higher than your own ability.  The courage to stand up to that task is monumental.  If you get knocked down, remember it’s only paper and ink.        

The  2nd one is “Can knowledge be simply enjoyed for it’s aesthetics?”  Yes. Yes, as in representing every moment that yes became a powerful word within literature.  If knowledge has the freedom to dance, it becomes a connection.  A connection in our memory, each other and during the creation of knowledge.  What’s easier for you to remember, being moved by a dance or the data of the equations that made it possible? 

The 3rd one is “What does it mean to be educated?”  I think the equation to this one is very similar to: Trust is Confidence in Your Own Strength.  Education’s Latin roots are to lead out, as in from darkness.  I think the part of the key is to trust your guide, perhaps grant yourself the freedom to be a guide.  A guide of who? Or whom?      

The 4th one is “What are the ethics of sharing what we’ve learned?”  After a moving discovery or experiencing that dance, don’t you just want to shout it loudly?  Or are you already able to calmly reflect on the nuances that brought it to fruition?  When sharing it, what is guiding your decisions?  What guides us to choose the books we do?  What are the ethics of the book reviewer?  I think these can become an interesting topic to explore further.            

The final point is “Compiling all of this into a mere book review.”  Crafting a book review that can serve justice to the work could be impossible.  Yes, impossible.  How can an author’s lifework or countless hours be boxed into 500 words or even 50,000: text or speech.  

To grant any freedom for the work to breath, the review itself has to be relatable.  By relatable, it can emulate the dancer or the equations that it contains.  I think a well written review can feature the charm of the work, in all of it’s angels & imps.  An academic one gives us the run down of the muscles ’n bones.  

A review can serve as a guide when sorting through all the books.  Sometimes the reviews themselves are more entertaining than the actual work!!  There should be a code of ethics when reviewing works.  We must consider for ourselves, whose ethics are important and why?

Aug 4, 2017

The Language Instinct

Myths Debunked

By Steven Pinker
Canadian/American, 1994
Non-Fiction, Linguistics, Evolutionary Psychology 

Main Attractions

1. Instinct to Aquire an Art
2. Chatterboxes
3. Mentalese
4. How Language Works
5. Words, Words, Words
6. The Sounds of Silence
7. Talking Heads
8. The Tower of Babel
9. Baby Born Talking —Describes Heaven
10. Language Organs and Grammar Genes
11. The Big Bang
12. The Language Mavens
13. Mind Design


Cuisine & Delicacies

Ranked as: Hearty Veggie Burger
It’s light with humorous anecdotes and hearty in the linguist information.  Because this book is more of an intelligent introduction to the field of linguistics, I would rank it as a Veggie Burger rather than the more densely Roasted Chicken Dinner.  It’s the accessibility that makes this well written book such a joy to read.  Pinker has taken some complex theories and added lighthearted humour to the mix.  

Destination Summary

Pinker outlines the basics of linguistics and promptly goes on to explore common theories & misconceptions in the field.  He’s sure to include new findings and isn’t afraid to debunk beloved linguistic folktales that we all know & love.  He introduces his theories in an intelligent and easy to understand way.  Overall, the book is thorough in explaining the various aspects of his main topic, What is the Language Instinct?  Where did it come from? 

Off the Beaten Path

Steven Pinker tells a ‘F*cking Brilliant’ Story About Profanity & the Law.  A 2:31 min clip, reminiscent of George Carlin’s 7 Words You Can’t Say on Television, but with a delightful Linguistic Twist!!  Caution: There are swears presented during a rational discussion.

The Language Instinct - Clip of Richard Dawkins Interviewing Steven Pinker.  It’s part of a 50 min. Interview.  This clip is 8 min, raw footage of an informal interview.  

Linguistics as a Window to Understanding the Brain.  A fabulous 50 minute presentation with unique graphics so Pinker can give an overview of his field & research.

Packing List

✓ Sense of Humour & Adventure
✓ Curiosity about What Makes Language ‘Tick’
✓ Perhaps a dictionary for the odd, very unique words

Recommended Resources
Alternate Books
✓ An Introduction to Language By Victoria Fromkin (Orig. 1974, Multiple Eds.) - It’s a common introductory text for 1st year Linguistics students.  A new edition is published every few years.
✓ Psychology of Language By David W. Carroll (Orig. 1986, Multiple Eds.) - It’s an introductory text for 1st or 2nd year Linguistics students.  It gives a great overview in a straightforward way.
✓ How the Mind Works By Steven Pinker (1997) - It’s his next book and a Pulitzer finalist for 1998, 2nd to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs & Steel.  It seems like the ideas from The Language Instinct are expanded on in this book.

Alternate Movies
✓ Quest for Fire (1981) Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud - It’s a bit dated for special effects but is still a fabulous movie about us before speech.  The most interesting aspect is there is no speech, only grunts for our communication.