Monday, February 19, 2018

Challenges Update: February

February is always my favorite month. My birthday is on this month, and for me there is always an excitement in the air. In my age one does not really expecting birthday party with many presents; just a quiet lunch with my family. But this year, about a week from my birthday, I had a nice surprise from Adam—he picked me as winner of his #TBR2018RBR mini challenge! As it was Charles Dickens’ birthday, I chose a book from the Vintage Classics Dickens Series. By the way, these series are quite beautiful. My favorite is the Russians Series, but I’m not really into it right now. I have bought one of the Bronte Series last month, and liked it. Anyway, I know the gift is not intentionally for my birthday, but I’m happy to take it as my birthday present! 💝

As for progress, I have been unusually productive so far:

Book(s) read = 5
Review(s) posted = 5

  1. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier for #TBR2018RBR
  2. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (Re-read a favorite classic)
  3. Towards Zero by Agatha Christie for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic crime story)
  4. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene for #TBR2018RBR and The Classics Club
  5. March by Geraldine Brooks for #TBR2018RBR

Question of the month from #TBR2018RBR:

What are your strategies for staying on top of your reading goals? Do you keep a bullet journal or other kind of planner? Do you aim for a certain number of books per week, per month? Do you just “wing it” and let whatever happens, happen? Tell us your secrets!
I make a one-year reading list in Excel; with certain books per month. Of course the books are not just randomly picked; I must keep a balance between tough and light books, classics and popular. Most importantly, I must adapt the list with my own reading pace. This way, I can manage to be on top of my reading goals and to keep up with all the challenges.

Right now I am only several days before ending East of Eden, so I can positively say that I have read 6 books in two months, wow! I love East of Eden so much it takes me nearly a month to finish it—having been savouring it slowly, and often repeating certain passages twice or even thrice. You see…. February always sends good vibes around me! 😉

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross: A Reading Journal

I have been meaning to read this book for some times, but I have always dreaded I won’t have enough time to plough the depth of the canticle. So, I decided to read the forty stanzas in forty weeks—one stanza a week. I am reading the Indonesian translation (titled: Madah Rohani), along with comments from a Carmelite priest, which I found very helpful to understand the canticle. This post would be my reading journal for the next forty weeks—I will jot down my thoughts of each stanza every week.

Stanza #1
Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.

My thoughts:
It’s about a soul’s search for unity with God—pictured as a bride who is seeking her bridegroom. It loves God so much that it hurts—longing for the perfect happiness, which is unity with God in Heaven. But when it is still on earth, it must be satisfied by just getting a glimpse of Him. However, right when it feels Him, He would flash out of its reach; and this bleeds the soul so much more. It seems that God deliberately do this to strengthen the soul; to always wait in hope for the eternal "marriage". Apparently the nearer a soul to perfection, the greater it is tortured by love. 

Stanza #2
O shepherds, you who go
Through the sheepcots up the hill,
If you shall see Him
Whom I love the most,
Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.

My thoughts:
The soul needs an intermediary (pictured as shepherds) to express its love lamentation to God (pictured as hill—or the highest peak). Here the commentator suggests that the intermediary could be its own longing and affection; or it could also means the angels—I am more inclined to the latter. So the soul begs the angels to speak about its sorrowful love to Him (whom the angels could reach easier than the soul) when the time is right for Him (or if God is willing) to listen to it (“if you shall see Him”). Here the soul does not demand anything; it just gives hints about its anguish and let the Lover do what He desires. By humbling itself, perhaps God would take more pity to the soul.

Stanza #3

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Phantom of the Opera: Second Reading

Some books must surely be read more than once to get into all the layers it contains! On my first reading of Phantom about seven years ago, I was fascinated more by its gothic theme than by the grotesqueness of its back story. Only now on this second reading did I fully grasp the scary reality underneath the fantastic story; even more because it’s so relevant with the world we live now.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the story, but in short it was believed that a famous Opera House in Paris was haunted by a ghost. Not only demanding to be paid on regular basis, the Opera Ghost (OG) often created inexplicable accidents when the directors didn’t give him what he wanted. Many of the theatre crews have seen scary apparitions. One night a mediocre female singer suddenly became an angelic diva after receiving lessons from an angel of music. These incidents, in the age when superstitious was quite strong, only made the phantom of the opera more sensational.

However, does the phantom really exist? Or is it just a tasteless joke thrown by the resigned managers to prank their successors? We, readers, have actually been warned from the first through the prologue:

“The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers,  the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade.”

Because the opera ghost was indeed a real person called Erik. He was born deformed with corpse-like appearance and—as Christine Daaé put it—smelled like death. It saddened me to read how his mother rejected him because of that. I could not imagine growing up deprived of love. Add to it degradation and humility Erik must have experienced from his youth; and in the place of a supposedly loving and genius man, stands a really hideous monster. So, whose fault is it, if many years later what that man thinks is only revenge? It is inevitable.

My thought when I finished this second reading was: what would have happened if Erik was accepted by the society? He might have built grand architecture and brought brilliant innovations to the opera house for its good. But look now what it gets? Almost a major destruction if an innocent young girl had not bravely and lovingly accepted him as a human being. How just a tiny gesture of affection could make such huge change!

Not just about Erik, I think the phantom of the opera also refers to the marginalized people who worked as fireman or other (seemingly) insignificant jobs at the theater. When Christine Daaé showed the bowels of the opera house to Raoul, she pointed to these firemen as “ghosts”. It seems to me that to the glorious upper world, those underground workers are ghosts—nonexistent and insignificant; ugly things that must be kept hidden and forgotten. How relatable it is with our real world!

5 of 5!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

New Ideas for Future Zoladdiction

Hullo everyone! This coming April, Zoladdiction will be turning five, yay! I have started this event of reading (and promoting) my favorite writer Émile Zola back in 2013 (with o). Since then, I host it every April, except in 2016 due to my tight schedule. Now, welcoming Zoladdiction’s fifth anniversary, I am thinking of rejuvenating it a bit. My goal from the first is to promote Zola’s genius and beautiful writing. By picking “Zoladdiction” for the yearly event’s name, it assumes that once you get into Zola’s, you will find yourself being addicted to his works. This is true! Almost everyone I knew who has ever discovered Zola, confessed of falling in love with him or at least wanting to read more of him. And don’t worry, Zola has a lot of works you can plunge into without ever getting bored!

About the rejuvenation: Starting this year, Zoladdiction will come with different themed reading challenges. The purpose is to highlight Zola’s works as well as his life, to let more people know about him and admire his genius, while we are still having fun in reading Zola’s and explore more of his works.  I have come up with four ideas for four consecutive years:

Zoladdiction Themed Reading Challenges

2018: The Style – highlighting Zola’s unique and beautiful writing styles by sharing quotes etc.
2019: The Shortie – reading his short stories (which are sometimes more poignant than his novels)
2020: The History – reading biographies, essays or other writings about Zola, or his J’Accuse!
2021: The First Crush – reminiscing how we fell in love with Zola by rereading our first Zola

Now I need your opinion. What do you think of this? If you have better idea, let me know! Or if you would like to co-host or any other kind of contribution, just let me know, so we can discuss it.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Written in 1951 post World War II, The End of the Affair is a grim story about love, trust, and faith. I started my reading without any knowledge about this book or the author. I have assumed that this is simply about painful love affair. It was started by love affair, indeed, but it ended much more than that.

During and at the end of World War II, Maurice Bendrix, a novelist, made friend with Henry Miles, and had an adulterous affair with his wife—Sarah Miles. The affair quickly turned to love and hate relationship, poisoned by Maurice’s severe jealousy because Sarah refused to divorce Henry despite of their loveless marriage. One day a bomb blasted Maurice’s apartment where the adulterous couple was spending the night. They both survived, but after the incident Sarah broke off the affair without apparent reason. Two years later Maurice accidently met Henry, who has begun to suspect Sarah’s affair. Himself burned with passionate jealousy, Maurice took initiative to hire a private detective to find Sarah’s lover. The detective found her diary which revealed that when the bomb blasted, Sarah has made a promise to God not to see Maurice again if He let him live.

Interestingly, this book does not speak about guilt, which is usually common theme for love affair stories. From the beginning of Maurice and Sarah’s affair, there were these confusing tugs between love and hate, joy and sorrow, and between fleshly love and God’s love. They seem to not understand what or which one were their feelings at times. At first I thought that Greene was talking about post war depression that leaves men with emptiness in soul and apathetic behavior towards religion or God. But after that part, Greene seems to fling us to opposite direction, and end the story with a twist.

When the story ended, I was just: “What was that really about, then?” After three-quarter of the book which were full of hatred and disbelieve in God that was quite disheartening, suddenly I realized that maybe Greene is speaking about faith. I am still not 100% sure about this, but one thing captured me in the end: the fact that baptism received in childhood has the same power as when one receive it consciously as adult. The child could wander far away from the right path from that moment, but it will still be there; and in the right moment the adult version of the child will eventually get to it—though the road might be long and winding, and at times seems impossible. And of course, it needs one’s cooperation with God’s will to let it happen, for anyway, He has imposed us with freewill.

It’s quite a powerful work from Greene, but reading it has not been a pleasant time for me, so…

Final verdict: 3,5 / 5

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Towards Zero by Agatha Christie

Being a huge fan of Dame Agatha Christie, I have read many of her books—maybe most of them (she wrote not less than 73 novels—source: wikipedia). Still, her books never bore me. When I thought her method must have been more familiar with my next read, I would be amused to found yet a new unexpected one. And Towards Zero was one of these.

"When you read the account of a murder--or say, a fiction story based on murder, you usually begin with the murder itself. That's culmination of a lot of different circumstances, all converging at a given moment at a given point. People are brought into it from different parts of the globe and for unforseen reasons. […] The murder itself is the end of the story. It's Zero Hour."

It was quoted from Superintendent Battle, who was our detective in this book. If you are familiar with Agatha Christie’s, Battle has appeared with Poirot on several cases. In this one he worked alone, though Poirot’s name still had chance to appear as his inspiration. Anyway, what made Towards Zero very special (at least to me) is the unusual order in which Christie wrote it. Usually a murder committed; then the detective started the investigation. With Poirot (because I am more familiar with him than Marple), it means taking himself into the circle of people connected with the murder—and  into their confidence—in the hope that they will unintentionally reveal their secrets. The order would be: first, the major event (the murder) which leads to small incidents (maybe more murders to cover the murderer’s secret), then Poirot or other detective completed the puzzle, and finally the revelation.

Towards Zero was started from minor unrelated events of some people. Then on certain point they were gathered in a same place, where eventually the murder would happen. This new method allowed us to see the characters unprejudiced, because we still don’t know the victim-to-be and the crime scene. I have never encountered the same method in Christie’s before, and I liked it. Finally, after so many years with my three favorites: Curtain, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and And Then There Were None, now I officially declare that Towards Zero has become my fourth favorite!

a scene from a French adaptation: L'Heure Zero

Intentionally I did not tell you what the story is about, because it’s almost impossible to tell anything without spoiling the surprises—and there were many, including the ending twist! And, of course, the interesting psychological aspect! Maybe I can only safely say that there would be many coincidences in this story; that it involves a triangle love story of a husband and two wives (ex and current) in the centre, but there are also other lovers beyond it; that there are invalid old lady and old gentleman; and there is also a stranger who had attempted suicide. One of them is cunningly and methodically planning a would-be-perfect-murder. But—and this is what Christie was trying to tell us—there are a lot of things beyond us that can happen; that even the most complex murder could possibly be revealed. Sometimes, the thing can just be a tiny, completely unrelated coincidence. We might call it… miracle.

Final verdict: 5 of 5 - Perfecto!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Challenges Update: January

Mid January… I am still a bit busy preparing the annual tax report at work, but here is just a quick update on my challenges progress.

Book(s) read = 3
Review(s) posted = 1
  1. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier for #TBR2018RBR
  2. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (Re-read a favorite classic)
  3. Towards Zero by Agatha Christie for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic crime story). Reviews for the last two are on progress.

Question of the month from #TBR2018RBR:

Which book on your 2018 list has been on your shelf the longest?
It should be The End of the Affair (Graham Greene). I remember buying it in a local second-hand bookstall for my used-to-be online second-hand bookstore. It has closed since 2014, but I still kept some of the books I wanted to read; this one is one of the few.

Overall, I have been super productive this month, having read 3 books, and am starting the fourth only today. The first one was also my first review for my other blog: A Glimpse to the Past, which I have been neglecting for three years! 

My favorite so far is Towards Zero, which was quite surprising. Hopefully I can keep this pace throughout the year!