March Madness

March has come and gone, and with it the festival season (Fringe festival, Clipsal car race, WOMAD weekend etc). I have passed two of the three specialist exams I need to do this year, which makes me eligible to sit the final one either in 6 weeks or in November. Right now I am trying to decide which I want more- to get it over and done with, or to just rest. Cause I am so tired right now. I also got a bit of reading done, and prepped for the April challenge- A to Z blogging- a post a day (except Sunday’s) with each post related to a letter of the alphabet!


Challenges I had books count for this month:

Rock My TBR Challenge

Book of Night Women

2017 Diverse Reads Book Challenge

Book of Night Women (Jamaican)

52 Books in 52 Weeks

  1. The book of Night Women- Marlon James
  2. The White Queen- Phillipa Gregory
  3. Ghost A La Mode- Sue Ann Jaffarian
  4. Gulliver’s Travels- Jonathan Swift
  5. Fish of Seto Inland Sea- Ruri Pilgrim

 

Netflix and Books Challenge

Brooklyn 99 season 3 (10)

The crown (20)

Gilmore girls (a year on the life) (20)

The white queen (430 pages= 40 points)

 

Colour Coded Challenge

White: the white queen

Fish of the Seto Inland Sea

by Ruri Pilgrim
Around the World: Japan
How Obtained: second hand book sale


In Fish of the Seto Inland Sea, Ruri Pilgrim creates a labour of love for her mother by writing the story of her family.It starts with her mother’s grandmother as she is about to get married in the 1870s, when tradition and class bind the Japanese people into a regular known way of living. They remember the time of the Samurai respectfully and fondly, and family is everything. As time goes on, changes come: modernisation, war, maniacal patriotism, the threat/influence of socialism, defeat, poverty of a nation, and the beginnings of gradual rebuilding. The family changes too- old, rich families lose their fortunes, marry the lower classes, marry for love rather than ‘suitability’ as deemed by the parents, the lines between neighbours of different classes blur, but the ties between family weaken.

This book was intended to tell the true history of Ruri’s family, but she found herself up against a brick wall when it came to trying to find out all the details, so she took the key elements, and historical knowledge of life in different times in Japan, and created a fictionalised version. This works really well in this book. The prose is flowing without the harshness which some works get when trying to cram facts in. What I think she did really well, was to give an idea of the social changes in Japan and the impact of the war, not by talking about them directly, but by telling about an incident in a characters life from their point of view. We see the horrible harshness of the war through the parents whose children die overseas ‘for the glory of the Emperor’, in the story of a mother who became a refugee at the end of the war and had to walk for days to safety with her baby dying on her back, in the lack of food and work… We see the shift in societies boundaries when all grown up, the main character and a lower class employee of the family from when she was a teenager (who wasn’t even allowed to talk to her back then) meet in a jewellery shop- he is now a success and buying lots of jewellery- and they eat dinner together.

A fairly large amount of the book takes place during the war years, so it is a little depressing at times. But overall it is very readable, and I feel like I learnt quite a bit about life in Japan over the past hundred or so years.

In some ways, there wasn’t really an end point. The story could have gone on to follow Ruri’s mother as the emigrated from Japan to live with her. That would have been interesting too. Fittingly, it ends with a sense of the perpetuity of life.

‘you came on the right day. The blossom will be gone tomorrow. When the time comes, the flowers never linger.’

‘Isn’t it marvellous when the flowers go, the young leaves are just ready to unfurl’

Julius Caesar- Shakespeare

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…”

I saw an abridged version of Julius Caesar at our local Fringe Festival this weekend. I have mostly read the comedies and tragedies, and have only started learning about the history plays recently, so I saw it as a good opportunity to go see it.

Interestingly, this theatre company is made up entirely of women. This is a play that is pretty much entirely about men and the politics and wars between them, and this probably made it easier to change genders compared with the comedies where there are romantic couples, fathers, mothers, sisters and so on. Change the pronouns, and change brother to sister, and the only change in thinking the audience has to do is accept a world where women rule and carry the high positions. It didn’t seem odd at all to me.

Julius Caesar follows a few key players in the conspiracy to kill Caesar- from when Brutus is being convinced to join them, to the act and then on to the retribution afterwards. Brutus thinks deeply before (s)he acts, and only does so believing that it is what is right for Rome. It appears that all went to plan, but the fickleness of the public, and the brilliance of Marc Antony’s speech turns the course of history towards inexorable doom for the conspirators. Although perhaps not entirely inexorable- there were a few silly mistakes and different choices that still could have been made after the act that might have helped. (note- killing yourself based on second hand information is never a good idea.

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

Like many Shakespeare plays, a lot of people die, or talk about dying. This play asks what is honourable about death and how you face it- can it be honourable to kill a leader, is it more honourable to kill yourself than to let yourself be killed, is it dishonourable to fear death.

And I will leave you with a quote, that you may see a reference to in a recent young adults book and movie, which I think could be taken as a piece of advice.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

We may not be able to control our death, but we can take charge of our lives.

Letters of a Portuguese Nun

Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Uncovering The Mystery Behind a 17th Century Forbidden Love- by Myriam Cyr

This book was given to me for Christmas, by someone who knew I was reading around the world. Wether or not it counts, and for what country is too hard to decide though. This book is written by a Canadian woman about the Portuguese Letters, so it doesn’t really count for Portugal. The letters are included, so perhaps it could. But then the whole reason this book was written, is because there is doubt as to whether the letters were really written by a Portuguese nun, with some historians arguing that they were written by a Frenchman either to make money, or to prove a point to a friend.

The letters in question are love letters to an officer, from a Portuguese nun- which of course was very improper that they could have formed a relationship. Myriam Cyr argues that a nun names Mariana Alcoforado was truly the author.  She presents facts about what was known about the family Mariana came from, how nunneries were run in her time, the politics surrounding Dom Pedro and Dom Alfonso fighting for the crown, and Portugal and France fighting against the Spanish. She describes the location of Mariana’s nunnery and the social strata and gatherings the officer would have been in in France. And she outlines her suppositions of how the letters came to be published.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the way it was written- She started with the facts and then tried to make it descriptive and like a story, while still making it clear which things were known and which were guesses or made up. This meant it didn’t really flow or capture you in the same way as a historical fiction does. A novel written in a historical time period or about a particular person can still be accurate and factual, and we will all accept that the exact words, or what exact dress people wore etc are going to be made up. The other option would have been to write up her research as a paper.

I did however still find that there were many little interesting points that kept me reading. Mainly when I could start to see interconnections with other facts I knew about history and countries. It is not going to capture an audience like the Phillipa Gregory series, but I found it a pleasant, mildly interesting short read.

The Prince- Machiavelli

Throughout Time reading list

How obtained: free kindle version


 

I was pleasantly surprised by The Prince. A 16th century treatise on politics and ethics of war and diplomacy, I expected it to be a bit dry or hard to get through, but it really wasn’t. It took maybe four hours to read the version I had (estimating here as I read it in bits and pieces in between doing other things), which included an introduction and a couple chapters at the end on Duke Valentino and the life of Castruccio Castracani.

I was intrigued to find out in the introduction that this work was the origin of the term Machiavellianism- which refers to both “the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct” (in a very negative way), and in psychology “a duplicitous interpersonal style, a cynical disregard for morality and a focus on self-interest and personal gain” (kind of like a psychopath). The author of the introduction thinks that the associations and connotations of the term over time were much strongly negative than the original work warrents. And I would agree-the advice outlined in this book is self serving and based on utalitarianism at the expense of other ethical principles. (Or in other words, most of what Machiavelli is advocating is to choose the method with the best outcome regardless of whether or not it is a good/kind/honest etc method.) But it makes a lot of sense, and he often shows why the way he is advocating is better- the harm that comes from the alternatives.

 

There were lots of quotes that show his style of reasoning and ethics- it was hard to choose just a few:

because [men] are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you too are not bound to observe it with them.

it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them.

A prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which follow murders or robberies; for these are wont to injure the whole people, whilst those executions which originate with a prince offend the individual only.

severities … may be called properly used,  that are applied at one blow and are necessary to one’s security, and that are not persisted in afterwards unless they can be turned to the advantage of the subjects. The badly employed are those which, notwithstanding they may be few in the commencement, multiply with time rather than decrease.

In seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which it is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily; and thus by not unsettling men he will be able to reassure them, and win them to himself by benefits…For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.

Either a prince spends that which is his own or his subjects’ or else that of others. In the first case he ought to be sparing, in the second he ought not to neglect any opportunity for liberality.

Truth bombs:

The innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is deceived

And there is nothing wastes so rapidly as liberality, for even whilst you exercise it you lose the power to do so, and so become either poor or despised, or else, in avoiding poverty, rapacious and hated.

Nevertheless he ought to be slow to believe and to act, nor should he himself show fear, but proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and too much distrust render him intolerable.

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.

Amazingly there are some deontological type ethics he believes in: while it is ok to kill all your opponents after you have won a principality by war or by political back stabbing, it is not ok to trick them into coming to dinner (or something similar) and kill them all in order to take over. 😛

Yet it cannot be called talent to slay fellow-citizens, to deceive friends, to be without faith, without mercy, without religion; such methods may gain empire, but not glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

February Wrap Up

February was slightly more successful for getting books ticked off my lists and counting towards my reading challenges. I read 4 books this month- one was super long (Pillars of the Earth at >1000 pages), and the others were fairly quick reads. I started at a new work place, which I will be at for the next 6 months, which unfortunately is a fair drive away. I am considering trying to find some E books to listen to on the drive, but have never really listened to E-books. How have you found them?

 

Rock My TBR Challenge

  • Pillars of the Earth

52 Books in 52 Weeks

3. Pillars of the Earth
4. Letters of a Portugeuse Nun
5. The Misanthrope- Moliere
6. The Prince- Machiavelli

Netflix and Books Challenge

  • Pillars of the earth (500+ pages)
  • Gilmore Girls season 7

All About Austen

  • Sense and Sensability (2008) miniseries- on netflix. This was the second time I watched this series. Three episodes of around 50 minutes each, it can be done in one sitting or over a few evenings. I love the oceanside setting of their new cottage- it is so peaceful and rugged it makes me want to go there, or make my own seashell art. I also love the neighbors- particularly Sir John Middleton, who is just really lovely and a fun character.

The European Reading Challenge

  • UK: pillars of the earth
  • Letters of a Portuguese Nun- Portugal
  • The Misanthrope- France

Colour Coded Challenge

  • Black: Pillars of the Earth