Friday, October 30, 2009

What I'm Reading Now-Dracula (The Final Review)

Dracula by Bram Stoker-Well, you may remember that I signed up to read this as part of the Dueling Monsters Read-a-long sponsored by Heather J. and Softdrink. I have to say that not much has changed, overall, since my last review. I still think this was a surprisingly good read, and I am glad I read it. There were a few things that bugged me about the story, but overall they were fairly minor in the grand scheme of things.

I'm not going to go into plot since its mystery was part of the reason I read it; besides, most of you know enough to know if you'd be interested in reading more or not. Since I'm not going to go much into the plot, this post is mostly just going to be a random round-up of my thoughts throughout the novel. Yeah, I know, and that's different from my other

I was, of course, familiar with Dracula and vampire lore in general, but I didn't really know what, specifically, was Dracula's story. So, that was part of the fun for me, seeing what enduring vampire myths and story-lines were Dracula-inspired and what have been added to the mix since then. What? You think I'm going to tell you here? If you want to know what happens, read the book, like I did!

I mentioned in my last Dracula post that one of the things that surprised me was the amount of actual scary stuff, like not implied creepiness lurking in the shadows but actual lopping of heads and feeding on children and staking of hearts and that sort of thing. With this in mind, I was also surprised that Dracula is shelved in the YA section of my library. It's not that I think this is necessarily too hard-core for YA readers, it's just that I'm sure Stoker's intended audience in 1897 was not 13-year-old girls. Did anyone else read a library copy of this? Does your library consider this a YA read as well? What do you think of this categorization?

Heather J. recently put up a post about Literary Connections, where something you read in one book plays into another book that you read shortly after. Well, as you probably know, I recently read (and loved!) The Sparrow. All throughout that book, I was wondering what significance the title had, and if it applied specifically to our hero, Father Emilio Sandoz, who feels as though he has been betrayed by God. Toward the end of the book it is revealed that the quote comes from the Bible (Matthew 10:29): "Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it." Some of you who are more familiar with the Bible probably already had this one figured out, but I didn't have any idea. I had never heard this before and was unfamiliar with the reference. In Dracula, one of the characters, Dr. Seward, is trying to figure out what is going on with one of his mental patients whom he suspects is suffering from religious mania. Part of the reason for the suspicion (and something that I found a bit hilarious) is the patient's equal treatment of Dr. Seward and one of the hospital attendants-he treats them both as equals (gasp!), both of whom are unworthy of his attention. Dr. Seward notes in his journal: "His attitude to me was the same as that to the attendant; in his sublime self-feeling the difference between myself and attendant seemed to him as nothing. It looks like religious mania, and he will soon think that he himself is God. These infinitesimal distinctions between man and man are too paltry for an Omnipotent Being. How these madmen give themselves away! The real God taketh heed lest a sparrow fall; but the God created from human vanity sees no difference between an eagle and a sparrow."

And, at this point, I was ridiculously happy that I understood that reference. Because I'm a big dork like that.

Within the confines of the story, we really don't get much feel for society in general at the time, not the way you do in many Victorian-era novels, but our heroine, Mina, gives us a good sense of both herself and society at the time in one of her journal entries. She and her dear friend, Lucy, have just taken a walk about town, followed by a "severe tea" at a local inn (whatever that is-do they throw your crumpets at you and insult your dress? Is smiling not allowed?). She says, "I believe we should have shocked the 'New Woman' with our appetites. Men are more tolerant, bless them!" Bless them indeed! Later, as Lucy is sleeping peacefully in their shared room, Mina writes, "Some of the 'New Women' writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the New Woman won't condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it, too! There's some consolation in that." Ah, Mina, I suspect 2009 would shock you to pieces!

Interestingly, as I was just looking up information about the New Woman movement, this quote from Winnifred Harper Cooley's The New Womanhood jumped out at me. "The finest achievement of the new woman has been personal liberty. This is the foundation of civilization; and as long as any one class is watched suspiciously, even fondly guarded, and protected, so long will that class not only be weak, and treacherous, individually, but parasitic, and a collective danger to the community." Whoa. Did we see this play out in the book or what? (For those of you who haven't read the book, yes we did).

***THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS***Okay, so I mentioned that there were a couple things that bugged me about this book. One of the things is that up to a certain point, Mina is shown to be a pretty independent and capable woman. Then, all of a sudden, all the men in Mina's life decide that they are going to go after Dracula and it would be best not to trouble Mina's delicate femenine sensibilities with the harsh and stressful details of this crusade. They try to protect her and keep her away from all the scariness in the world, and it's not like she's ignorant up to this point; she has been full-on involved and knows exactly what kind of evil they are up against. She's been typing up and collating everyone's scary journal entries, lizard-crawling men, woman-eating wolves, vampire stakings and everything for crying out loud! And what happens? Dracula gets her, and if she follows in poor Lucy's footsteps, she will soon be preying on small children, which, I think, qualifies as a parasitic danger to the community.

Wow, I did not expect for this review to get all deep! I have to say, whether that was an intentional commentary on society or not, I feel a lot better about Bram Stoker now. I was ready to throw the book across the room earlier, but now I'm glad I didn't, especially since it's a nice older copy.

Did any of you Lost fans notice the reference to Jack Sheppard? It was at the very end of Chapter VIII, when Dr. Seward is talking about his restrained patient, Renfield. He says that "Jack Sheppard himself couldn't get free from the strait-waistcoat that keeps him restrained, and he's chained to the wall in the padded room." Well, I had to see if this Jack Sheppard was any relation to Lost's Jack Shephard...turns out probably not. Jack Sheppard was a notorious criminal in England who was known for his all the times Jack has tried to escape the Lost maybe there is a connection, hmmmm? Really? You think I'm reading way too much into this? Yeah, probably.

My final thought is that people must have had much better memories back in the old days because the entire novel is told in epistolary format, mostly through journal entries, and the ability that all the characters have to remember things in great detail is very impressive. Take for example, Dr. Seward's account of Mina's account of Dracula's monologue during his visit to her boudoir:

"Then he spoke to me mockingly, 'And so you, like the others, would play your brains against mine. You would help these men to hunt me and frustrate me in my designs! You know now, and they know in part already, and will know in full before long, what it is to cross my path. They should have kept their energies for use closer to home. Whilst they played wits against me--against me who commanded nations, and intrigued for them, and fought for them, hundreds of years before they were born--I was countermining them. And you, their best beloved one, [blah blah blah].'" This goes on for about half a page. This is why I have a hard time with epistolary novels. The writing doesn't always ring quite true. I'm just sayin', if it were my journal entry, it would look something like this:

Holy crap! Dracula was in Mina's room last night! I knew we shouldn't have left her all alone with that creepy mist that can sneak through cracks and turn itself into a vampire! I asked her if he said anything important, and she didn't remember too many details-vampire in the room and all-but basically, she said he's pissed that we're hunting him. And that he's kind of uppity and full of himself.

So, in summary, I'm glad I finally read this book, I enjoyed it, and I hope you do too! If you've reviewed Dracula, let me know, and I'll add a link to your review.

Reviews and other stuff:

The Daily Rant told us when Dracula's castle went on the real estate market. Anyone know the status of that? I've been thinking a vacation home in the mountains would be nice. Also, anyone have several million dollars I could borrow?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The End is Near

End of the Read-a-Thon that is! Everybody who participated this time around is a rock star! I have been trying to visit as many blogs as I can to cheer people on, and that's no easy task-there are a lot of you out there! Great job everyone!

Eva has asked for a wrap-up post for everyone to give their input on the read-a-thon. After visiting lots of blogs and seeing what everyone is eating, I think the only suggestion I would make is that next time someone post a list of healthy snack ideas/recipes ahead of time. LOL! Let's face it people, a case of diet soda, a pound of jerky, and endless varieties of chips all mixed with endless rounds of coffee can't be good for us!

Seriously though, I think this was a great event, and I had a lot of fun visiting everyone's blogs. In fact, I'm gonna go now because I've still got 20 minutes to try to visit everyone on my list!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon is in progress!

I have not been brave enough to sign up for the full-on challenge of 24 hours of reading, but I will do my best to encourage everyone else who was! If you are so inclined, please feel free to help me. Pick one (or many) of the 361 (oh my!) ambitious individuals who have pledged the next 24 hours of their lives to their love of literature, go visit their blogs, and give them a quick word of encouragement. Many of them are reading for charities, and I know they'd appreciate your support. You just might find a few great blogs in the process!

Happy reading everybody!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What I'm Reading Now-Dracula (Mid-Read Update)

Softdrink and Heather are co-hosting the Dueling Monsters Read-a-long this month. This month being October, the monsters are, of course, Dracula and Frankenstein (although, to be fair, Frankenstein is not actually a monster). I read Frankenstein back in high school and was not all that impressed, but I have not yet read Dracula, so I figured this would be a good time to do it. I was afraid that it would be similarly disappointing, but I was wrong!

I thought the best (and easiest) way to give you a quick update on my reading so far would be to share with you some of the notes I have been taking while I've been reading. Just so these notes make a little more sense, the first part of the book consists of journal entries from Jonathan Harker, an English clerk who has been sent to Count Dracula's castle to help him with some legal matters regarding his recently-acquired estate. So, here are my thoughts on Harker's stint as Dracula's "guest."

p.22-Dracula's a reader!
By p. 29: Count has no reflection, does not seem to eat, has reacted peculiarly to blood, affected by crucifix, castle is regarded as prison.
p.36-Dracula warns of sleeping anywhere else in the castle-sincere concern or ulterior motive? p.38-Dracula lizard-crawls down the wall! Eee!
p.50-mother of stolen child eaten by wolves-Holy crap! Surprised by all the actual creepy stuff-expected this to be a book of innuendo and subtlety. Wrong!

I think this gives you a good idea of how I am feeling about this so far and, perhaps, how you would feel about this as well. If you have never read Dracula or if you would like to revisit this literary classic, jump on over to Fizzy Thoughts and sign up for the read-a-thon. If you want to give Frankenstein a go (hey, don't take my word for it-I was in high school when I read it) visit Age 30+...A Lifetime of Books and sign up there. Happy reading!

Bonus! If you participate, you can display the super cute Dueling Monsters button on your blog...which I have been too lazy to put up until now. But isn't it cute??

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Buster on the Beach

Buster and I had a good walk on the beach this morning.

On our way back, we made our own version of Where the Wild Things Are.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-39: Recommendations

This week, Becky wants to know where we get our book recommendations. Well, more and more, I am getting them from fellow book bloggers. I read a review, think, Hey, that sounds interesting! and then I add it to my Wish List. I don't usually buy anything off my Wish List, but I use it to keep track of all the books I want to read. I will also usually add a comment saying which blogger recommended the book so that I know who to thank (or blame!) later. I will also browse Amazon's personalized recommendations from time to time, which are based on ratings I've given other books or books that I've recently added to my Wish List.

One thing I've noticed is that a lot of the bloggers that I follow tend to be mostly fiction readers, and I really enjoy fiction, but I also really enjoy non-fiction. So, my question to my readers this week is:

What's the most fascinating non-fiction book(s) you can recommend? I'm not great with history-I can't retain names and dates and battles, but if you can interest me in a story, then you can sneak some history in, so please keep that in mind with your recommendations.

Here are a few that I've read in the past that I've particularly enjoyed. If I've reviewed them on my blog, I'll link to the review.

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson-There are two story-lines here, one about a serial killer operating in Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair and the other about the men responsible for putting the fair together. The serial killer part was interesting, but I thought the parts about how the World's Fair came together were fascinating. It was a stunning achievement and something about which I had no previous knowledge. (I read Thunderstruck by Erik Larson and didn't care for it as don't recommend that one, 'kay?).

Honor Killing: How the Infamous "Massie Affair" Transformed Hawai'i by David E. Stannard-This is one of those books that makes you embarrassed to be white. In 1931 Honolulu, Navy wife Thalia Massie claimed that she was raped by a group of local boys. Despite the total lack of evidence of their guilt which should have led to an acquittal, the case resulted in a hung jury. This was still good enough to get the boys released; but Thalia's mother, outraged by this injustice, arranged for the abduction of one of the boys. His abduction ended in his murder for which Thalia's mother was charged. The outpouring of support for poor Thalia and her mother from wealthy white folks all over the country was overwhelming. People were outraged that she was being put through the trauma and embarrassment of a trial. She had done what any honorable person would have done in her position. You see where this is getting embarrassing, right? I thought Stannard did a wonderful job of integrating the courtroom drama with the history of Hawai'i and its different cultures in order to explain the political climate that led to this circus. If you've ever heard people say, "Oh, there's a lot of racism in Hawai'i," and wondered what that was all about, this gives you a good place to start with Hawai'i's business/political/military/cultural history.

Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales by William Bass-Did you ever wonder how forensic investigators can see a maggot crawling on a dead body and tell you with absolute certainty how long the body has been lying there? Or how a body that's been lying in an icy stream would decompose differently from, say, a body that's been left in the trunk of a car in the middle of summer? Oh. You were in the middle of breakfast? Sorry. This isn't exactly meal-time reading, but it is interesting and, actually, kind of funny at times. Bass tells about his research at the Body Farm and how it has been used to solve cases. Interesting stuff. Gross, but interesting.

The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs And Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury-In 1925, Nome, Alaska, diphtheria broke out. It went something like this:

Hey, doc, do you think we need any more diphtheria serum for the coming winter?
Naaah. We should be fine.

Hey, doc, I don't feel too well.
Hey, doc, me neither.
Hey, doc, why do all our kids keep dying?


Mushers were called on to bring their best dogs forward for the 674-mile dogsled journey that was going to be needed to get the serum to the town, and this is the amazing story of the men and the dogs that did it. (Note: I could be making the doctor out to be more of a bad guy than he really was. I don't remember for sure-it's been a while since I read this).
**edited 1/30/10 to add:  Heather J. just reviewed this book, and cleared up the fact that the doctor was not, in fact, as negligent as I remembered him.  Sorry doc!

Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking, and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Susan Warren-Lest you think all my favorite books are about death (note to self: reassess reading lists), I thought I would throw this one out there. I thought this was a fun and interesting read, and I reviewed it here.

So, there you have it. That's the stuff I like to read. What do you think I might like? What book shocked you? Amazed you? Fascinated you? Moved you to tears? Educated you? Enlightened you? Please share!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day-October 2009

It's October 15th, and you know what that means! It means it's time to see what's blooming on this fine fall day. Go visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see what other gardeners have blooming in their gardens.

It seems that October is a bit of a slow period in my yard. None of my potted plants out front are blooming. Maybe that's because they've been experiencing a severe bout of neglect lately...

Moving along!

Something that actually seems to be thriving on my neglect is this Tillandsia cyanea or Pink Quill. It's a bromeliad (like a pineapple!), and it looks cool now, but it will get even cooler when it starts throwing out dark purple flowers, like you can see here, at Home and Apparently, these plants really do thrive on exactly the kind of neglect I've been giving them. I guess I must have been taking too good of care of my mine over the past couple years, because this is the first time it's bloomed in a few years. Okay, after doing a little more research at the Bromeliad Society International, it looks like maybe my original plant flowered then started putting all its energy into creating pups (baby plants) that have just now grown big enough to flower themselves.

Speaking of things that haven't bloomed in a few years, my plumeria, which debuted last month after a 5+ year settling-in period is still blooming. Just a few flowers at a time, but I'll take what I can get.

Keeping my plumeria company is my ever-faithful bougainvillea. This is another plant that I don't have to do much to. Hmmm...there seems to be a theme here this month. For those of you not familiar, the blooms are actually the little white things, not the pink parts. The pink parts are called bracts and are specialized leaves which start out green and gradually turn pink, similar to the red parts of a poinsettia. You can see this illustrated a little better in my July post.

Below, is a carry-over from last month, the orchid "Bllra. Peggy Ruth Carpenter 'Jem'."
Another carry-over from last month is Jem's unnamed neighbor, the pretty pink/lavender orchid. This one keeps flopping about in it's pot in a most undignified manner. I've tried to stake it several times, but I can't quite get a good enough hold for the stake, so it just flops about with the orchid. I'll keep working on it. You can't tell in this picture though, can you? She does behave well for photo shoots.

Lest you think all I have are ill-behaved diva orchids, I would like to point out that Den. Pam Tajima (atroviolaceum 'Pygmy' x eximium) is behaving quite well. She just sits quietly in her pot and blooms again and again and again. You may recall that she was part of a group of rogue orchids that sneaked into my car during a shopping trip one day and begged to be taken home with me. Perhaps the embarrassment of this past behavior is what makes her so well-behaved today.

Well, Pam was not the only orchid that sneaked into my car that day. She had two other accomplices, but the gang leader seems to have been Dgmra. Memoria Jay Yamada 'Hawaii,' who is preparing to make his annual showing. You can see why he was the front man of this operation, yes? Well, it takes a lot of work to look that good, and this is what he looks like now.

I'll keep you updated on his progress. As always, thanks for touring my garden with me. In case anyone was wondering, I didn't get any pictures of Buster this time, but he is still doing well. He's had a couple of bouts with pancreatitis over the last month, so he's been taking it easy a lot, but he's still hanging in there and seems to be feeling well now. See you next month!