Monday, December 11, 2017

My 2018 Reading Challenges

The most exciting month has come! December is always full of fun; from Christmas, holiday, and arranging for next year’s reading challenge! Besides Goodreads challenge (I will challenge myself to read 28 books—two books more than this year) and The Classics Club Challenge (I am doing my second round—2018 is the second year), I will be participating in three cool challenges:

Host: Books and Chocolate
Duration: January – December 2018
Goal: Read 12 books

A 19th century classicDombey and Son by Charles Dickens
A 20th century classicEast of Eden by John Steinbeck
A classic by a woman authorThe Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte
A classic in translationThe Sin of Abbe Mouret by Émile Zola
A children's classicFive Go to Billycock Hill (Famous Five)  by Enid Blyton
A classic crime story, fiction or non-fictionToward Zero by Agatha Christie*
A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fictionJourney to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
A classic with a single-word titleResurrection by Leo Tolstoy
A classic with a color in the titleThe Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
A classic by an author that's new to youWalden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
A classic that scares youThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkiens
Re-read a favorite classicThe Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

*I will read Agatha Christie, but have not fixed the title yet.

Host: Roof Beam Reader
Duration: January – December 2018
Goal: Read 12 books (with 2 alternatives)

*The year is publication year of my copy*
1. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier (2002)
2. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene – Indonesian translation (2003)
3. March by Geraldine Brooks – Indonesian translation (2007)
4. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy – Indonesian translation (2005)
5. Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau (2009)
6. Cleopatra: A Life by Tracy Schiff - Indonesian translation (2012)
7. The Siege by Helen Dunmore (2002)
8. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (2014)
9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2001)
10. The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton – Indonesian translation (2013)
11. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens (1995)
12. The Origin: A Biographical Novel of Charles Darwin by Irving Stone (1982)

1. World Without End by Ken Follett (2012)

Host: Becky's Book Reviews
Duration: January - December 2018
Personal Goal: Read 6 Victorian books

_ Book published between 1841-1850: The Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte
_ Character name in the title: The Sin of Abbe Mouret by Émile Zola
_ Gothic, suspense, mystery: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
_ Translated into English from another language: A Love Story by Émile Zola
_ British author: Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
_ American author: Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Host: The Classics Club
Duration: January – December 2018 (second year of originally five years)
Personal Goal: Read 13 books

1. The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
3. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
4. The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder
5. The Sin of Abbe Mouret by Émile Zola
6. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy
7. The Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte
8. Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
9. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkiens
10. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
11. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
12. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
13. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Now, let’s hope nothing huge and unexpected will happen next year, so that I can read and blog calmly throughout the year!

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

If God does not exist, then everything is permitted—this seemed to be the central point of argument Fyodor Dostoyevsky brought up in The Brothers Karamazov. Originally intended to be a trilogy, he wrote this amazing book to follow the life of a notorious family, the Karamazovs; from the father: Fyodor Pavlovich, to the three (legitimate) sons: Dmitri, Ivan, Alyosha, and (most probably) illegitimate son: Smerdyakov. They are entangled into an intricate love-suspicion-jealousy-hatred relationship throughout the story, which lead to destruction both to (most of) themselves and to people around them.

So, how did Dostoyevsky put the above argument into this nicely-woven story? From the beginning the doubt and rejection of God and immortality scattered throughout the chapters. But the most serious one is in these two famous chapters: “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor”. In “Rebellion” Ivan poured out his disappointment of God for letting injustice and suffering happened to innocent people, apparently, for nothing. While “The Grand Inquisitor” is a poem Ivan wrote to question about free will God had imposed upon man. He believed that free will is impossible burden for mankind, because we will always have to answer to our consciences; that we will never be happy whichever path of life we choose, good or evil. If that was the case, then why wasting your energy by doing good? Is that true? Dostoyevsky let us readers judge the case by following the faith of the Karamazov brothers.

Of the three (plus one—the illegitimate) sons, Alyosha was the only one who chose “good” from the beginning. However, he too had doubt—albeit small—when his beloved Father Zosima’s corpse decomposed shortly after his death, while everyone was almost sure a miracle would happen to the saintly monk. But Alyosha soon got through his doubt. Dmitri, on the other hand, started as a scoundrel and sensualist; have plunge to the lowest, but finally managed to crawl up to the light. In the crucial moment, “something inside” ripped him from the fatal act—that is conscience.

But the most interesting case is Ivan. His “conversation” with the Devils shows how strenuous the battle of his conscience was; how bad his soul has been contaminated by evil power. Ivan was not atheist; he just did not accept God’s “interference” in human life; hence his belief of if God does not exist, then everything is permitted. That way, so he believed, man could do whatever he likes without weighing his conscience, and that would make him happy. This ideology eventually provoked a murder, and Ivan did suffer from his conscience. I’m glad though that in the end his good conscience won the battle at the end.

Moral value of this book is, that man must try first to understand God’s plan for humankind; and this must not be done with mind only, but much more with reflective soul. To logical mind, conscience did make one suffer; either when he tries to be good or, even more, when he does evil. And to be good is arduous, especially when one is born from a bad family like Karamazovs. What then? Dostoyevsky answered this by writing quite lengthy passages of Father Zosima’s speeches in the early chapters—which, I confess, seemed not to be related to the story when I read it, but made sense in the end. These passages contain some aspects that were missing from Ivan’s ideology: humility, and “all responsible for one another”—the later applied not only in evil, but also in love or good deeds. Young Zosima’s turning point moment was marked by his humility to his servant whom he has beaten the night before his planned duel. The same worked for Alyosha. Remember how Alyosha, when he was disappointed at Father Zosima’s humiliation, went to Grushenka’s, and what has made him turning toward “light” again then? Is it not after Grushenka pitied him; that Alyosha was astonished that she had pity on him—he who was nobody? Is it not a remark of humility too? Lastly, the remark of all responsible for one another appeared in Ilusha and the children story. Ilusha’s sorrow was caused by Dmitri is an example of how one evil deed to one person might cause suffer to a lot of people. The same also applies to love and good deeds.

So, Ivan’s ideology might partly be right; that free will could cause suffering. But on the other hand, it is also true that from freewill too love, charity, affection, and in the end happiness, was born.

5/5 stars for this great book; I would like to reread it someday!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Republic by Plato

I must take a mental note not to read any philosophical book during three of the last months of year! When reports and deadlines occupied most of my brain, I should have chosen some lighter books than Plato! Really… I almost put Republic down in the middle of 200s pages, but I know that if I didn’t finish now, I won’t probably pick it up again in the future. So, I kept on reading. And you know…it turned out to be rewarding in the end!

Republic is a conversation of some Ancient Greek men who were “on the threshold of old age”—one of them was Socrates. From common earthly matters, their conversation moved to a serious one: Does morality rewarding? Socrates thought so, but others disagreed. One of them said that “morality is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger party…” And that led to a discussion about governmental systems—the best and the worst types, as well as the same weighing at human’s characters. They even created from the scratch an ideal community in which happiness is in store for everyone—from the leaders (they call it “guardian”) to its citizen.

So, Republic is not a political book in the first place. First Socrates analyzed positive and negative points from several biggest governmental systems; then cross-referenced them with men’s character types. In the end, they all agreed that morality is, after all, rewarding. And actually, being the title of this book doesn’t mean that Republic is the best political system chosen by Plato. Here is the nomination according to Plato, and agreed by the rest (from best to worst):

- Aristocracy (complies with Plato’s ideal state)
- Timarchy or Timocracy
- Oligarchy
- Democracy
- Dictatorship

Like I said, I have chosen the wrong time to read Republic, so I didn’t have chance to make thorough analysis on the state models, and cannot decide which model is the most ideal.

The idea of one-person-one-occupation is good. That way everyone can work according to his passion and skill; that way he will produce his best, and in the end everyone will be satisfied. I also agree that the ruler (or guardian, using Plato’s term) must be provided with special education, on philosophy, in particular. But I strongly opposed to Plato’s way of exalting the guardian class, to the extent of restraining them from marrying other social classes, and even suggesting that children will be snatched from their parents and raised by the state. I agree that ruler of the state must have certain qualities, but that the kingship should be dominated by certain class… a big no!

To sum up, there are things in this book that are indeed relevant with our issues today; the idea about morality and philosophy really benefit us—and thus make Republic an important reading. But there are also other ideas that was really disgusting.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge

It’s back! After two sabbatical years (is it really two years?) of one of my favorite reading challenges, Adam has decided to host The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge again, yay! Thanks Adam, for I really need this kick right now to finally take on several books that has been in my shelf for years!

It requires us to read twelve books (with two alternates) from our TBR pile. This year I intended to read all twelve of them, so here they are… (the year is the publishing year of my copy):

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier (2002)
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene – Indonesian translation (2003)
March by Geraldine Brooks – Indonesian translation (2007)
Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy – Indonesian translation (2005)
Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau (2009)
Cleopatra: A Life by Tracy Schiff (2012)
The Siege by Helen Dunmore (2002)
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (2014)
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2001)
World without End by Ken Follett (2012)
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens (1995)
The Origin: A Biographical Novel of Charles Darwin by Irving Stone (1982)

Now, wish me luck for next year! *fingers crossed*

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dickens in December: A Reading Event | #DickensInDecember2017

credit for Dickens image

In my bookish life, December is one of the most exciting months of the year (besides April—because of… you know… one particular genius French author I happen to love! 😎). I love organizing, and around December I used to organize my reading schedule for the next year. All with reading challenges that everyone is posting, anticipation of reading (and rereading my favorites), it makes December so full of excitement and anticipation!

There is another thing. Since two or three years ago, I have been cultivating a new habit of reading Dickens only in December. Why December? I don’t know… maybe because Dickens is always associated with Christmas—hey, he is “the man who invented Christmas”, right? Or maybe, December always gives the perfect mood for reading Dickens… do you feel it too?? Anyway, now, I always put a Dickens or two in my December entry for next year reading lists.

And then I thought….why not creating a reading event of Dickens every December, just like what I have been doing with Zola every April (Zoladdiction—if you haven’t been familiar with it)? That will be super cool! And so…. today I am proud to announce my new reading event:


Why is it cool?
Reading Dickens IS always cool… do you need any other reason to read him?

How can I participate?
Just by confirming in the comment box, or by copy-pasting URL of your blog post about your intention to participate.

Must I own a blog to participate?
No, you can use your goodreads or Twitter or Facebook or Instagram account, or even… you can just read silently without social media sharings. But please don’t go “anonymous” here; use your alias name, at least. I hate talking to ghosts… 😝

Must I post a sign up post, reviews, or wrap-up post?
It’s you choice. I know December can be hectic (so many reports to prepare, humbug!), and totally understand if you don’t have time to write posts. But if you’d care to share your reading plan with us on the comment box, we’d be thrilled! In my blog I will post a scheduled kick-off post on December 1st and wrap-up post around Christmas so that you can share your thoughts or feelings (or URL of your posts) if you’d like to, as often as you want! You can also share it via social media using hashtag #DickensInDecember2017. Don’t forget to tag me! 😉

So, what MUST I do?
Read, read, and read as many Dickensian book(s) as you can! (books by Dickens or about Dickens) 💓

Last but not least… to spice up the event…

Are you super-excited with the upcoming The Man Who Invented Christmas movie?? I AM!! Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it…

You can also share your thoughts on the movie (or any other Dickensian movies) for this event.

Yayyy! See you next month! 🎉

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mini Reviews - Animal Farm & The Age of Innocence

As usual when the last three months in the year is coming, hectic is all around me. I still can catch up with my reading pace, but not with reviews. So, here are my mini reviews of two books I have finished—the eighth and ninth of my second The Classics Club challenge (three more to go for this year!).

Animal Farm by George Orwell

This is my first Orwell; 1984 will be following soon. It is an allegory of Stalinism—a concept I have had, until now, only a vague notion of. Orwell wrote it to satirize Joseph Stalin, with whom the UK was in allegiance with when the book was published (1943-1944). Orwell did his job well, anyone who read it would clearly see the message, and the fable is convincing and entertaining. I have only one question: What has become of Snowball? While the end of the fable was quite predictable, Snowball’s condition was one thing I looked forward to when approaching the end. But that was not the main focus of this book, of course. All in all, four of five stars I granted for Animal Farm. It is not striking, but quite inspiring and entertaining, and definitely well written.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I have no idea what criteria make a book earning Pulitzer Prize; but to me Wharton’s The House of Mirth is much finer than The Age of Innocence. The story is about old vs modern world of New York society. My favorite character is Countess Ellen Olenska. She is genuine, kind, and brave. She sets the example of being modern woman without compromising her conscience and integrity. Maybe she was to be the “victim” here, just as Lily Barth in The House of Mirth, but my sympathy, instead, is more for Newland Archer. I think he was the real victim; he was dragged by the old and the modern New York. Unlike Ellen, it seems that Newland doesn’t have a firm ground to stand on. And the ending is so devastating. I can’t imagine having a life like Newland’s: dry and hollow… for the rest of his life. All in all, it is not as I have expected, but still a treasure. Four of five stars.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

It’s official! Willa Cather will join the short list of Fanda’s favorite female writers. Other than Agatha Christie, J.K. Rowling, and Edith Wharton, most of my favorite writers have been males.

Ruth has told me that it is a slow-moving read, very quiet, a-lazy-day reading. And since my previous reading is Siddharta, which was so deep and meditative, I was so grateful to get next into this book (and will definitely read more of Willa Cather!).

Actually Death is based on life and career of two historical French Catholic priests who served as missionaries on the New Mexico around 19th century. Cather then wove them into this beautiful and quiet narrative; following neither plot, nor chronology. From scattered stories or events, Cather took us to learn not only the missionaries’ struggles against rooted faith of the Mexicans and Indians, but also the unfriendly landscape, the corrupt priests, and the injustice suffered by the innocent people.

With her slow pace, Cather was able to show vividly the raw but beautiful wild nature among the desserts and prairies. It is interesting and at the same time entertaining. And she was also brilliant in building the characters and highlighting the two priests’ sweet and mutual friendship. Their friendship, especially, is so sweet—how they were so different, but could understand each other, and always ready to support the other when needed. And through Cather’s deep scrutiny of these two personalities, we can see what make a good missionary.

Bishop (later archbishop) Latour is really fit for the post; he’s intelligent, healthy, mature, organized, with high discipline and self-respect. However he always feels lonely and unfulfilled, though he has achieved his ambition to build a cathedral, in the end his mission felt like a duty satisfyingly accomplished, and that’s all. The very opposite of his archbishop, Father Joseph “Blanchet” Vaillant is a warm, humble, and easy going person with weak health. He might not have had brilliant achievement, but he does his works with humble joy, even when he must sacrifice his own comfort. I think Father Joseph is the true missionary—he is chosen by God to do His Wish. And with his simplicity, he earned many souls. But in the end, both are really chosen by God—side by side, each with all in his power—to plough His Field in New Mexico.

What a refreshing, calm reading this has been!