Sunday, September 26, 2010

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Ex-student Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov has a theory, and one that will change more than one life forever. He believes, with great conviction, that a genius has the moral right to commit murder, theft, and other crimes - just because he is intellectually "above" others. He believes this so thoroughly that he, believing himself something of a genius, murders a pawnbroker and her sister with an axe and steals the money they have accrued over the years. Just managing to escape, Raskolnikov sinks into a war with his conscience and a delerium that causes others to doubt him. After meeting a drunkard named Semion Marmeladov, Raskolnikov has bouts of generosity and conviction, helping their family with their debts, and then paying for Marmeladov's funeral when he is crushed by a wagon, all the while trying to justify his moral degradation. Then he meets Sonia, Marmeladov's oldest daughter, a young woman who has turned to prostitution to keep her family from sinking further into hunger and destitution. Raskolnikov befriends her, fascinated by the oxymoron she has created: a poor prostitute, sunk so low, who believes in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. In the end it is this, and his own raging conscience that bring him to justice.

This is my second Dostoevsky novel, and I cannot say how much I enjoyed it. I don't even know where to start, I have so much to say - there's so much to mention, to bring to the table. However, I think I'll start Dostoevsky's incredible (almost super human) ability to create characters.

Having read Dostoevsky before, I knew I was going to enjoy the characters. The characters in The Idiot stuck with me for a long time. In fact, as I write this, I can very clearly picture each character, what he/she was intended for in the story, and their personalities that are so impressioned into my mind. It is the same with Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov's character alone is a masterpiece. His strange thought processes, his convictions, his awareness of all going on around him, his dilerium after he murders Lizaveta, and the new convictions that come about because of it all make up who he is and where he's going. As I started the book I wasn't as taken with him as I was Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, but as the story progressed and he changed, I felt a great attachment to him. While Myshkin was on the more talkative side, Raskolnikov was quiet, one who observes and reflects rather than speaks his mind. I felt sorrow for Raskolnikov because of the choices he made, but I loved him all the same as he tried his hardest to come to grips with the horrors of what he had done.

Sonia's character is the more simple type, and a hard one to read about. After becoming a child prostitute at her step-mother's insistence, Sonia hates her life but continues living that way because her family needs the money. However, her simple and wonderful faith in Jesus Christ as a wretched sinner affects Raskolnikov in ways he cannot foresee at the time. Other characters in this story include Porfiry Petrovich, the police inspector, who, one word at a time, tries to squeeze the truth from Raskolnikov; Peter Petrovich, the fiance of Raskolnikov's sister Dunia; Marmeladov, Sonia's father; the mad Katerina Ivanovna, Marmeladov's wife; and Razmukhin, Raskolnikov's closest friend who wants to help and has a very innocent love for Dunia.

Dostoevsky's writing is the next aspect that just gets me, in every way: his sentence structure, the way he describes scenes and objects, how he introduces characters...the purity of it all should be recognized for as long as books are in print. I felt this way about The Idiot and I feel it now. Dostoevsky's writing makes you feel as though you're reading a dream. If you've ever wondered what a dream would be like if you could read it, I'm convinced this is it. It's perfectly smooth, like you're floating; and yet his topics are real, his characters are lively and relatable, and above all his stories pierce you deeply with their symbolism and their cunning. If only every author used a bit of Dostoevsky's methods in their works... If only the stories spoke of real and often dreadful things but still permeated with the kind of hope and love we see here, this world would cease to exist as we know it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Quotes (2)

"No. The foolish fellow tore the paper in two, and absolutely refused to leave me. I never had a braver, better fellow, - trusty and true as steel. He embraced Christianity afterwards, and became as gentle as a child. He used to oversee my place on the lake, and did it capitally, too. I lost him the first cholera season. In fact, he laid down his life for me. For I was sick, almost to death; and when, through the panic, everyone else fled, Scipio worked for me like a giant, and actually brought me back into life again. But, poor fellow! he was taken, right after, and there was no saving him. I never felt anybody's loss more."

Eva had come gradually nearer and nearer to her father, as he told the story,- her small lips apart, her eyes wide and earnest with absorbing interest.

As he finished, she suddenly threw her arms around his neck, burst into tears, and sobbed convulsively.

"Eva, dear child! what is the matter?" said St. Clare, as the child's small frame trembled and shook with the violence of her feelings. "This child," he added, "ought not to hear any of this kind of thing,- she's nervous."

"No, papa, I'm not nervous," said Eva, controlling herself, suddenly, with a strength of resolution singular in such a child. "I'm not nervous, but these things sink into my heart."

"What do you mean, Eva?"

"I can't tell you, papa. I think a great many thoughts. Perhaps some day I shall tell you."

"Well, think away, dear, - only don't cry and worry your papa," said St. Clare. "Look here, - see what a beautiful peach I have got for you!"

Eva took it, and smiled, though there was still a nervous twitching about the corners of her mouth.

"Come, look at the gold-fish," said St. Clare, taking her hand and stepping on to the verandah. A few moments, and merry laughs were heard through the silken curtains, as Eva and St. Clare were pelting each other with roses, and chasing each other among the alleys of the court.

-- Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe
pages 232-233

I'm learning a ton from Stowe's incredible use of dialogue. Uncle Tom's Cabin is one of the most powerful books I've ever read, and I've read some pretty darn powerful books. Everyone should read it, if not have it on their shelves. Happy reading! :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pocahontas by William Makepeace Thackeray

I've never been a big poetry reader... I'm more for the long, drawn out novels that have lots and lots of meat. But this year, for history, I'm reading a book called American History in Verse, put together by Burton Stevenson. I'm really enjoying the poems I'm reading in it, so I thought, why not? So here is one of the several poems I've read so far.


Wearied arm and broken sword
Wage in vain the desperate fight;
Round him press a countless horde,
He is but a single knight.
Hark! a cry of triumph shrill
Through the wilderness resounds,
As with twenty bleeding wounds,
Sinks the warrior, fighting still.

Now they heap the funeral pyre,
And the torch of death they light;
A! 'tis hard to die by fire!
Who will shield the captive knight?
Roud the stake with a fiendish cry
Wheel and dance the savage crowd,
Cold the victim's mien and proud,
And his breast is bared to die.

Who will shield the fearless heart?
Who avert the murderous blade?
From the throng with sudden start
See, there springs an Indian maid.
Quick she stands before the knight:
"Loose the chain, unbind the ring!
I am the daughter of the king,
And I claim the Indian right!"

Dauntlessly aside the flings
Lifted axe and thirsty knife,
Fondly to his heart she clings,
And her bosom guards his life!
In the woods of Powhatan,
Still 'tis told by Indian fires
How a daughter of their sires
Saved a captive Englishman.

- William Makepeace Thackeray

This poem is definitely not historically accurate. Historians agree that this never happened. My history book says, "...and on one of these (expeditions) was taken prisoner by the Indians and conducted to the camp of their chief, Powhatan. According to the story he sent to England a few months later, he was well treated and escorted back to Jamestown. Eight years later, when writing an account of Powhatan's younger daughter, Pocahontas, for the entertainment of Queen Anne, he embellished this plain and probably truthful tale with the romantic incidents so long received as history."

(Note: I will not be posting poems from just this history book. I daresay I'll be posting a lot about Poe in the near future... He's a very favorite, with prose and poetry.)

Happy reading! :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reckless is HERE!

I've been waiting for it for six months... Cornelia Funkes newest work of art: Reckless!!!!!

I'm so excited!!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Diamond Secret by Suzanne Weyn

Nadya has no past - and no future. After being turned out of a Russian mental asylum with no family or money - or memory - to think of, she was picked up by Mrs. Zolokov, who worked at The Happy Comrades' Tavern. Now she's been there for some time, working as Mrs. Zolokov's tavern maid. She still cannot remember her past, nor does she want to. One day, two men show up at the tavern. Ivan is a cold-hearted, tired, runaway Bolshevik soldier; Sergei, a former count. After some questioning, they offer to take her along with them - to Paris. They tell her they are private investigators, looking for the long-lost granddaughter of a wealthy woman in Paris, and they believe they've found her in Nadya. Wanting to get away from Mrs. Zolokov and desiring a family who would take her in as their own, Nadya agrees to follow Ivan and Sergei to Paris to see if she is the long-lost granddaughter the old countess has been looking for.
But there are a few things Nadya doesn't know. For one, Ivan and Sergei are con men. They don't really think Nadya is the granddaughter they are looking for, only that she looks like her. This granddaughter is going to bring them a lot of money - for she is Anastasia Romonov, the last Grand Duchess of Russia. And as Ivan and Nadya begin falling in love, Ivan realizes he must make a choice - and learn to do the right thing, no matter how hard.

I was happy with this book, as much as I was disappointed. I enjoyed it for what it was (it only took me a few hours, too, which was a relief amongst the many classics I'm reading), but it had several flaws. A few of them are:

One - the characters were underdeveloped and immature. Nadya had a temper that flared up at the most random times, which cut off the flow of the story. Ivan, too, was a confusing character. You never really knew what he wanted and why.
Two - the love story was choppy and slightly unresolved. Ivan's feelings for Nadya are up in the air the whole time. In fact, their love story is so thrown together and choppy that I can't really say when they first started falling in love. In fact, his first affections for her, and vice versa, aren't even shown. And when they are finally together, there is no explanation of why they treated each other the way they did...
and that brings me to my third flaw - the form of the novel. I felt like a lot of it was seperate chapters that were merely thrown together when it was time to publish the book. There were hasty explanations for certain actions of the characters after the fact, when it would have been much more smooth and interesting to build up the reason beforehand. Her writing itself wasn't too bad; that, and the fact that I am extremely fascinated with Anastasia Romonov's story, kept me into the book. If it had been written badly and I hadn't cared about the characters, I would have put the book down early on. I did care about the characters, however, despite the many flaws in the way Suzanne Weyn built them (or rather threw them together). Ever since I first read about the Russian revolution, I've often wondered whether or not Anastasia managed to escape. In fact, I've hoped she did. Therefore, in this story, I wanted her to escape, find her grandmother, fall in love, and live a normal life.

And don't get me wrong. Like I said before, I enjoyed this book for what it was. It had it's moments, yes, and big flaws that almost anyone can recognize, but it was a good story, and made me smile, laugh, and feel for the characters. I would recommend it to someone looking for an easy and fun read. Because that's exactly what it was.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Meggie and her father have always lived an unusual life: with Mo, a bookbinder, running all over Europe to bind books of all ages, and Meggie following him willingly. After her mother disappeared when she was three, Meggie had always found a best friend in Mo. Following him meant more to her than friends her age or schoolwork. Only Mo - and books. That was her life.
Until Dustfinger came along, late at night with the rain beating down on his face. When he mentions a book and a man named Capricorn, and when he acts as though he's known her all her life, Meggie is more reluctant to follow Mo the morning after Dustfinger's visit. And then there's the peculiar question of why her father has never read aloud to her, and why Dustfinger can juggle and breathe fire so well... And soon after, Meggie comes face to face with this man Capricorn, and his plans to keep her and her father with him forever.

The first time I started this book, it was the day before Easter Sunday a few years ago. I enjoyed it so much that I kept it with me all morning Easter, and placed it under my leg at the table during Easter lunch. I think I even snuck in a few sentences. When we were done eating, I could help but go to my room, shut the door, and read. I was hooked. That afternoon, with a few short breaks in between, I read for 6 hours and a total of 250 pages. Just to give you a little glimpse of how much I enjoyed it.

This summer, I read it for the third time. What a book. It's fast paced, has incredibly wonderful characters, and a believable bad guy you'd never want to meet. Dustfinger has been one of my favorite characters in all of literature since I read Inkheart three years ago. With all his secrets, his faults, his gifts and talents, his smile that's just a little bit off, and his strange horned marten who likes some but bites others, Dustfinger is human, something that isn't always that recognizable. He gives a wonderful example of what we all do when we are longing for home - pretty much anything. He misses his family, his home, the fire that, in his world, would dance and burn so brightly for him that fire on earth can't even compare. His heart is broken, and it shows. And it makes you fall for him ever so quickly.

Cornelia Funke is definitely in my top five favorite authors list. Her style is always fresh and gives me a new perspective on my own writing when I'm a bit slow or I can't seem to word things right. It has a sort of flawed perfection to it, also giving the book a certain kind of mortality to it that we can all relate to. I recommend this book to all readers, young and old. We can all benefit from a good story sometimes, especially one that revolves around a father and daughter's love for each other and for literature. What could be better than that?

Friday, September 3, 2010


For all book lovers out there, I have something special for you. I've been using this sheet of paper for almost eight years, and it gets better and better every time I use it.

My version looks a little something like this, only it has a place to put your rating from 1-5. When I was 8, I was totally content with having only 5 numbers to rate with. But as I got older, and the books I was reading got more and more amazing, it slowly morphed to 1-15. I wouldn't recommend that - it gets so utterly confusing. 5 is definitely easier to keep track of.

Since I've been keeping track for so long, I decided that it was time to count the number of books I've read. My grand total: a wopping 410 books!

Now, that's awesome. But here are some goals that I've set and how far I've come.

Goal #1: I told myself that this summer I was going to read 20 books. I thought to myself, no biggy! But when I started telling people, and realized that their reactions were more shocked and amazed than I'd expected, I began to think...well, maybe that's harder than it seems. So I set myself up for the challenge. Well, as of a week ago, I'd read 21 books, dating from June through August. While looking at my book list I thought, "Well, I skimmed two of those books, one because of the content and the other because it was boring in parts. Do those count?" Well, at the beginning of the summer, I started a book of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. What I've read of that this summer, I believe, makes up for the parts of those books that I skimmed. Therefore, I reached and surpassed my goal and read 21 books this summer.

Goal #2: Last year, 2009, I read a total of 60 books. Not bad, but this year, I told myself I was going to read 61 or more. I think I can make it - so far this year, I've read a total of 50 books. Yay! 11 more (and most of those will be for school) and I will be "victorious."

This morning I just read about 50 pages from Crime and Punishment, and am enjoying it so thoroughly that I don't know what I'm going to do when it's over. At the moment, I want it to go on and on and on... Dostoevsky is wonderful!

Happy reading! :)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Quotes (1)

"Mother, I don't need to keep awake, do I?"
"No, my darling; sleep, if you want to."
"But, mother, if I do get asleep, you won't let him get me?"
"No! so may God help me!" said his mother, with a paler cheek, and a brighter light in her large dark eyes.
"You're sure, an't you, mother?"
"Yes, sure!" said the mother, in a voice that startled herself; for it seemed to her to come from a spirit within, that was no part of her; and the boy dropped his little weary head on her shoulder, and was soon asleep. How the touch of those warm arms, the gentle breathings that came in her neck, seemed to add fire and spirit to her movements! It seemed to her as if strength poured into her in electric streams, from every gentle touch and movement of the sleeping, confiding child. Sublime is the dominion of the mind over the body, that, for a time, can make flesh and nerve impregnable, and string the sinews like steel, so that the weak become so mighty.

- Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Chapter Seven

This passage just chilled me to the bone. I'm fascinated by Stowe's writing and her characters. Can't wait to read more!

Happy reading! :)

School - Update

So, school has officially started for me. I've been caught up in full-blown math, history, and lots of literature. Before Monday, family was in town. And before that...well, I'm sure there was something else just as important that kept me away from the computer.

But now that things have fallen into a tighter schedule, I'll hopefully have time on the weekends to resume this blog as much as I can. At the moment I'm working on a review for Inkheart. After that review, I will start one for Dragon Slippers, the first book in Jessica Day George's trilogy. At the moment I am reading three books - Uncle Tom's Cabin, A Southside View of Slavery, and Crime and Punishment. I should have all three, and hopefully more, read before the end of the month and ready to have their reviews written.

For now, however, I need to get back to reading. I will post my quote of the week, and then be off to read today's selection of Uncle Tom's Cabin!