General Catch-Up – October 2019

Autumn has finally arrived here in my region of the world. The temps have been cooling down significantly – even enough for us to put the flannel sheets on the bed. (I’d forgotten how delicious these feel to sleep between: it’s like sleeping in clouds. Sigh. Bliss.) I’m wearing socks more regularly during the day and even had to pull on a coat last week. I’m loving it all.

There are some Octobers when I’m just pulled back into one more read of “Dracula,” the 1897 classic by Irish writer Bram Stoker. (For a previous review, see here and here.) My typical experience is that I really enjoy the whole experience, even if it’s not the first time of reading it – I’m up to about five times now… And now I think it’s time to give it a break.

It’s got all the same great ingredients: epistolary, scary-but-not-too-scary, familiar storyline but, for some reason, this year’s read dragged for me which signals that perhaps I need a break. It’s been fun, Bram, but I’m gonna to put you aside for a while so I can get your “special” back. No hard feelings. You’re still awesome. I’ll still come back to you. Just not for a while. (And if you’d like to see a review of an earlier version of Dracula-like creatures, try The Vampire by John Polidori (1819).)

In other news: we went to a really good play over the weekend. Called “Black Girl, Interrupted”, it was written by Iyanisha Gonzalez, a Ph.D. student at our university here, and was stupendous. Seriously. It was an excellent play-going experience and was completely professionally run. The play is based on the real-life rape and murder of a black female soldier in the Iraq conflict and how the U.S. Army covered it up as a suicide. (The drama is fictionalized from there, but the actual basis of the plot is true.) So – phew. Hard topic but again, an excellent experience. If this play comes to your area, I highly recommend it.

I’ve been reading but have had some titles recently which have been good, but for some reason, haven’t had a blog post about them. One, especially, deserves its own post but for time reasons, this mention will have to do. “The Absolutely True Dairy of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie (F) was a fast and thoughtful YA read, epistolary (as the title implies) and about a young teenager who goes against the cultural mores of his tribe when he decides to go to a high school “off rez”. A sensitive and provocative read about the importance of fitting in balanced with being true to yourself. I bet high schoolers love this read. (Maybe not. They might be more enamored of “Twilight” or playing on TikTok or similar…:-} )

Another read (although this was not half as good) was a quick peruse through “The Well-Dressed Lady’s Pocket Guide” by Karen Homer (2013), who has written for Vogue and other fashion mags. Fairly ok, but didn’t really have that much helpful information in terms of wardrobe, but a pretty ok foundation overall. I’m trying to make more use of my current clothes, especially with our cooler temperatures, and was rather hoping that this guide would help with that. It was actually more of a brief historical overlook of fashion, which was ok – just not what I had been looking for/hoping for.

In the in-between times, I’ve been sucked into the flow of doing another jigsaw puzzle – I’m addicted to these things and time just disappears when I’m doing them sometimes. This one (on the right) is a redo of one my mum and I attempted a couple of years ago on one of her visits, but we had run out of time to finish it. I’m determined to finish this sucker now. 🙂

And now it’s almost November. Thanksgiving is around the corner (wow) and then, I saw Christmas stuff in Target yesterday…

And I found a big stash of Twiglets half-price (below) whilst I visited World Market. (They are typically very hard to find, locally, so this stash will need to last quite some time. In theory.) Life is good.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson (1896)

This is an interesting novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson, with a story line that is referenced as much as Dracula and Frankenstein. I actually had to read this twice through in order to get a better appreciation of what happens, as TBH, it was a bit confusing as the explanations of the actions are held off until the end, by which time, I had got confused who was who. However, the second time around, I loved it, and really appreciated what Stevenson was trying to do.

Stevenson was a Scotsman but was taking a break with his family down in Bournemouth (Southern England), during which time he revised “The Child’s Garden of Verses” (which I had as a child), and “Kidnapped”, and wrote this novella. He called it a “shilling shocker” as it was supposed to be somewhat pulpy and sell quick and easy. It also was published close to when “sensation fiction” was all the rage, and that includes writers like Wilkie Collins, Mrs. Henry Wood et al.  Little did he know that we would be reading it in the 21st century.

The story is well thought out: foggy London, Victorian times, experimenting with human life (see also: Frankenstein and others), and the duality of humans with both good and evil in them. This last duality was a big deal for the Victorians, as they spent a lot of time and energy considering the role of good/evil in people. It seemed pretty cut and dry for them – Good = Godly; Bad = Satanly.

There have been arguments that Jekyll/Hyde suffered from schizophrenia, but I think that is just 21st century psychology talk really. I think it was just a story about a man who struggles between the two sides of himself: the moral good side, and the immoral bad side. (Not officially two personalities, but the tendency, perhaps.) The “good” Jekyll was
fairly handsome, tall, well dressed, well liked; the “bad” Hyde was shrunken, ugly, hideous so the imagery was a bit heavy-handed. However, this lack of subtlety  is also very Victorian as well. (They like to make sure the readers “got” the lesson…!)

But perhaps none of this is true, and Stevenson just happened to write a good story that took hold of popular culture. Who is to know? Different times mean different interpretations for different people. Wikipedia (I know, I know…) mentions that the story was meant as an allegory (which makes sense), and actually, for quite some time, the book and the story were mentioned in sermons and in various religious texts as it made a point in an easy-to-understand way for the masses who could not read then.

Overall, a fun and short read (even if I did have to read it twice to fully appreciate it.) Also didn’t seem half as wordy as Frankenstein. (And also, Avi Puppy didn’t eat this one.)

This was a library copy. Hooray for Texas libraries.

Frankenstein Or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (1818)

Thought to be one of the earliest examples of science fiction, Frankenstein was written as part of a casual competition between Shelley and three writing friends when they were on holiday with bad weather. Weeks later, this story was produced, and was actually the only story to be published out of that competition. Shelley wrote it when she was just 18, although it was published until she was 21, and then it was published anonymously, presumably due to gender discrimination rampant at the time (early 1800’s).

(The photo depicts the library book which Avi Puppy decided to interpret for himself.)

Although most people believe the created monster is called Frankenstein, it is actually the name of his creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who after creating this monster, goes on to live a tumultuous life of chasing his creation around the world to prevent murders.

Having never read this story before, but been familiar with the vague story line, I enjoyed the read and following the plot as the monster with no name evolves from a lonely kinda nice guy into a monster intent on revenge upon his maker for bringing him to life and making his life so miserable and lonely. Shelley does a good job on showing this transition in the monster’s character, and also how it wreaks havoc on Frankenstein’s life. As is commonly noted, 19th century writing is particularly wordy, but once I got used to this, the story moved quickly. However, I wonder how much would have been cut if it had been written and sent out today? I know I would have moved that red pen pretty swiftly through some of its wordiness.

I wish more people would take the time and effort to read some of the classics as most of the time, the stories are actually *really* good and worth the work. I had not read this just out of procrastination, but once I had added it to my list of Summer Classics 2011, I actually really looked forward to it. I had a similar reaction to “Dracula”, which was also an epistolary novel and much better than I had realized. (“Frankenstein” had a little bit of referring to letters, but a lot of it was direct narrative from one person or another.)

Glad I have read this one, and will be searching for another classic to read before the summer ends… I am thinking of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, but we’ll see…