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After the crime
I’m not Truman Capote so I’m not going to take as long as he did to write his book In Cold Blood and ponder 7 years over a review. Let’s just get it over with.

In Cold Blood is a faction novel: fiction based on facts. It tells the story of a horrible murder that happened in Holcomb, Kansas, on the night of Friday 13th 1959. Is that where our superstition about Friday 13th originates from? (No, it’s not.) That night, the much loved Clutter family was slaughtered in cold blood by two young man that had met in jail: Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. The book concentrates on the events leading up to the killing, the quest to find the murderers, their trial(s) and eventually their execution.

Cover In Cold BloodI’ve had the book on my shelf ever since I saw the biopic Capote in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays an awesome leading role as the author. But I never picked it up for fear of being bored… Because of the movie I already knew what had happened, see. But I’m glad I no longer procrastinated! I buddy read it with the Boekgrrls in November 2009; exactly 50 years after the crime. And it was quite a powerful experience.

Knowing about the case was no problem at all: the events are revealed at the beginning of the story. That’s partly what’s good about the book: although the outcome is public knowledge, it is still interesting to read. Most times… it is a bit slow in some parts as well.

The Clutter FamilyI admire how Capote skips around the actual murder for quite some time; getting us to know Herb Clutter, his wife Bonny, daughter Nancy and son Kenyon. Meeting Dick and Perry ‘warming up’ with some petty crimes. The author guides us through the days preceding and following the massacre, showing us the town and its people, following the detectives that are hunting down the killers. And then finally, the moment of horror.

In Cold Blood is supposed to be the first in a genre that is now well-known: ‘true crime fiction’. Capote was looking for inspiration as a writer when he read a small newspaper article about the case in Holcomb. It took him 5 years of ‘investigating’ and another 2 to finish the book. Its suggests to be factual (presenting letters, reports etc.), so many of the people involved criticized him for not being completely true to the case. Capote himself replied that it was obviously a novel = fiction.

Capote in Clutter Home

An interesting question is why Capote was so immensely fascinated by this case that he worked on it for so many years. I recall from the movie that the author seemed extremely ‘attracted’ by the perpetrators, especially Perry. And the weird thing is that even I felt sorry for him at times — or even sympathy, no matter that he was such a ruthless killer. On of the strongest scenes in the book is Perry’s confession to KBI (Kansas Bureau of Investigation) officer Albert Dewey. The murders, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith

*** spoiler alert *** The suggestion that Perry Smith would have suffered from schizophrenia is pretty convincing. Unfortunately for him at that time in Kansas state the Durham rule was not yet in practice. This act decrees that “an accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act is the product of mental disease or mental defect“. I must say that I’m against the taking of any life, which means I do not approve of the death penalty in any case – not even in a horrible crime like this.

Bookish connections
Capote’s childhood friend Harper Lee accompanied him to the Midwest as his research assistent. I recently read her most acclaimed novel To Kill a Mockingbird which she wrote a few years after the Holcomb tragedy. It has nothing to do with this case, but it does deal with legislation and justice, telling the story of a murder courtcase in Alabama. Capote is depicted in the book as the boy Dill. But Lee is never mentioned in Capote’s In Cold Blood.

BTW from the movie Capote I had gotten the impression that the author himself would play a role in his book as well, which he does not…

Perry’s childhood during the Great Depression, his family travelling the country in search of work, also brings to mind John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which I had read just before In Cold Blood:

‘Tex John Smith Family picking berries in Oregon. 1933’ Was the caption under a snapshot of four barefooted children wearing overalls and cranky, uniformly fatigued expressions. Berries or stale bread soaked in sweet condensed milk was often all they had to eat. [His sister] Barbara Johnson remembered that once the family had lived for days on rotten bananas, and that, as a result, Perry had got colic; he had screamed all night, while Bobo, as Barbara was called, wept for fear he was dying. [p.177]

Women Unbound buttonBecause of some quotes about the role of women, the story also made me think of the October Boekgrrls’ buddy read: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, which is set in fifties as well. Since I’m participating in the Women Unbound challenge, I’ll give this topic its own heading.

The role of women
Bonny Clutter was a very troubled housewife (according to this book = according to Capote? The people in the village? Her family?). Bonny herself believed that a pinched nerve was the cause of her problems. But to the contemporary reader it is obvious that she was depressed; which might be postnatal depression as is suggested in the book, but I rather believe her unfulfilling everyday life must have amplified it. In the past she had been living in Wichita for 2 weeks, having her own apartment and a job. Doctor’s orders. And it seemed to help…

[..] but she had liked it too well, so much that it seemed to her unchristian, and the sense of guilt she in consequence developed ultimately outweighed the experiment’s therapeutic value. [p.26]

So she turned into a woman that:

[..] had reduced her voice to a single tone, that of apology, and her personality to a series of gestures blurred by the fear that she might give offence, in some way displease. [p.23]

Then there’s Nancy’s attitude to her father Herb Clutter.

‘[..] Can’t you make your father understand that?’ No, she could not. ‘Because,’ as she explained it to Susan, ‘whenever I start to say something, he looks at me as though I must not love him. Or as though I love him less. And suddenly I’m tongue-tied; I just want to be his daughter and do as he wishes.‘ [p.19]

I don’t have any intelligent thoughts about this but I do think it says a lot about the way women wore culturally imposed and emotional straitjackets at the time. It seems to have been engraved in our x-chromosomes — and the leftovers sometimes pop-up… Because although it’s 50 years later and I’ve been raised by a feminist mom, I’m embarrassed to say that the feelings described are not completely unfamiliar to me. (Can I get another Honest Scrap Award now, please? ;)

Other thoughts on the book…
I did think the Clutters were a bit too good to be true — except for poor Bonny of course, who was such a troubled, incompetent mother & wife :\

If I had not known the book was based on facts and written relatively short after the real events, I would have sworn to have come upon an anachronism:

[..] Nancy had cleaned up, put all the dishes in the dish-washer, [..] [p.49]

OMG my well-to-do grandparents (or should I say my grandma?) first got a washing machine about a whole decade later! Let alone I would know anyone who had a dish-washer at that time… But hey, I wasn’t born yet either ;)

Movie connections…
In Cold Blood has made such an impression that I was reminded of it during several movies I saw shortly after. That happened because of the schizophrenia in the horror movie Bug and the bloody massacre in Jennifer Lynch’s Surveillance.

But it doesn’t end here; the bookgroup read will result in a film follow-up real soon! Some Boekgrrls are coming over to watch the 1967 film In Cold Blood with me. It got 8 stars in the Internet Movie Databse so I’m having no worries about being bored because I already know the story ;)

Clutter home in recent times

Advertenties

The 2009 Classics Challenge ended on October 31st.
2009 that is. Hence the title :\
And only today I got to write a short wrap-up post in which I have some good news, and some bad news to share…

Let’s start POSITIVE. I finished reading my 5 classics for the Entree Level of the challenge in time! I did tweak the list of my admittance post a bit (substituting titles), but that’s allowed. So below you’ll find the books that made it to the finish line.

The cover pics are links to the posts about the books here on Graasland. Well… that’s how it’s supposed to be anyway. Because the BAD news is that I still haven’t reviewed all of them! Baaaaaad Gnoe. I hope to make it up by stating a short (ha!) opinion right here, followed by a quick recap of the other reviews. And you never know; once the fuses are blown (is that the correct phrase?), when the pressure is off — I might actually get to writing a full-scale evaluation of Brideshead Revisited and Revolutionary Road ;)

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
I saw the 1981 tv-series of Brideshead Revisited twice, so I couldn’t help seeing — and hearing! — Jeremy Irons in my head whenever Charles Ryder entered the story. (Likewise with the Sebastian Flyte character, although I didn’t know that the actor was called Anthony Andrews. It’s just Sebastian.) I loved the book and I got to understand the story better than I did before. Everything seemed to go SO much quicker than on the telly! I seemed to have forgotten big parts, like all that happened after Sebastian went abroad… But what I enjoyed most is that I understood why the novel is called Brideshead Revisited. I had never noticed it before and I think it’s grand. Maybe it was left out of the television series? Gosh, now I need to watch it a third time! ;)

After reading Brideshead Revisited with my online bookgroup, the Boekgrrls, some of the women came over to watch the 2008 adaptation on dvd. Of course we had a fun night, but I didn’t like the film at all. It was way too explicit about the homo-erotic motive that was so subtly hidden in the book. Maybe Waugh would have liked that if he had lived in our era. But for me it took the edge of the story. Also, I hated that ‘they’ had tried to find clones of the original actors — Matthew Goode even sounded like Jeremy Irons. Well, of course with a voice like Sir Irons (really, when is he going to be knighted?), such a thing is not really possible, but they obviously tried. Shame.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird was a quick and entertaining read ad I’m glad to have read it. The story immediately grabbed me and I liked the atmosphere of doom, suggesting that ’something was going to happen’.
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Revolutionary Road got under my skin, but in a different way than Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (see below). After I had picked it up I immediately got immersed in the story. But it’s quite depressing… The feeling of doom hardly left me during the day, even when I was not reading! It’s obvious from page 1 that something bad is going to happen. And still, the end came as a painful surprise.

The story revolves around image. “The important thing, always, was to remember who you were.” Frank and April Wheeler think they’re special, even though they live in the suburbs, like their peers, and Frank has a job in an advertising agency that is not much of a challenge. It is shockingly recognizable: don’t we all think we’re different? I kept seeing Jon Hamm = Don Draper in Mad Men, as Frank Wheeler btw. But that might have something to do with the cover picture ;)

Again, I watched the movie adaptation afterwards. Unlike Brideshead Revisited I really liked it — although I’m not sure if I’d have appreciated it as much if I hadn’t read the book.

I Am a Cat (vol.1), Natsume Soseki
After reading volume 1 of I Am a Cat I wasn’t sure yet what to think of it. I’m not much of a person for satire and I preferred the parts concentrating on the cat over sections digressing on humans. Reading the 2nd volume helped me form a clearer opinion — but only the 1st tome counts for the Classics Challenge ;) The fun thing was that while reading I Am a Cat I came across several parallelisms with graphics I read at the same time; Coraline and Mutts. That must mean typical cat tricks are pictured lifelike!
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath ended as my favourite read of 2009. I had been holding off this classic for a long time, not knowing what to expect, and even for about a 100 pages into the book I had my doubts. But after a while it really got under my skin — and I still can’t get it out of there. Heart rendering. A Must Read for anyone.

You know what? I believe reviews are not even required for the Classics challenge! Phew, three things to cross off my to-do list in one go. I am so relieved! I might even join the new Classics challenge in February/March… Or I may not ;) Let’s see what the future brings.

I’ve got some fun bookish things to share from the past week. First of all I received a RABCK from ApoloniaX in Germany: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Did you know it is the prototype of the modern detective story in the English language?

But that wasn’t all. I also received my present from velvet’s 12 Days of Christmas giveaway on vvB32 reads. A package with no less than 3 books and some other goodies! A post about that will be up soon, so I’m keeping the exact contents a secret for just a while longer ;)

I also worked some more on Graasland: I added my list of books read in 2001 and published my review of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The classic is now on its way to another reader in the UK.

Me, I’m off to the suburbs for another release in Bookcrossing Monopoly. Sounds like I’m having a good time, right?

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

2009 was a good year for reading. I completed 35 books (5 more than last year) and I didn’t put any aside because I found them too disappointing. My eyes have goggled a total of 10.038 pages ;)

2009 FIRSTS:

I’m afraid I have a lot of ‘wrapping up’ to do on my challenges — writing reviews and wrap-up posts — so thank god for next weekend: it’s Bloggiesta!

Now, the highlights of 2009…. (drum roll)

BESTEST book: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (published in 1939)

I would never have guessed it would end as my best read of 2009. I had a hard time getting into the book, especially because of the ‘epic’ chapters intertwining the story of the Joad family during the Great Depression in the US. But it really got under my skin. And looking back The Grapes of Wrath definitely made the biggest (and a long lasting) impression.
I still need to review it so I guess it’d better be one of the first to tackle. (Review added)

SECOND best book: The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata (1962)

I had never heard of Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata, even though I’ve been reading Japanese authors for a while now. So I’m really glad I got to know him thanks to the Japanese Literature Book Group that started this year. Again, I haven’t reviewed this book yet :\ But I absolutely loved the detailed descriptions of Kyoto and Japanese culture. It reminded me of last year’s favourite: The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery. But The Old Capital is way more subtle — Japanese, where The Teahouse Fire is recognizably American in comparison. So, another review that’s high on my to-do list.

Worst book: Butterfly in the Wind by Rei Kimura (2000)
What do you know, I do have a review of this year’s worst read on Graasland! ;) That’s because it was the first book I read for the Japanese Literature Challenge (for which I actually only needed to read 1 book, but why stop, especially after such a disappointment? ;) I read Butterfly in the Wind in Dutch (Vlinder in de wind) and found the content, the way the story was told ánd the translation all h o r r i b l e.

I have thought of listing more books especially worth mentioning, but I had many good reads this year so I’ll just give you the whole lot of them. The first title (Silk) was read last, the last of the list my first book of 2009 (Falling Angels). Are there any of these you would have picked as your best read?

  • Zijde (Seta / Silk), Alessandro Baricco
  • The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson (online reading group)
  • I am a cat (Wagahai wa Neko de Aru), 2nd volume, Natsume Sōseki (Japanese Literature Read-along, JapLit Challenge)
  • The Old Capital (Koto 古都), Yasunari Kawabata (Japanese Literature Reading Group)
  • Persuasion, Jane Austen audio book
  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (November Book Group read; What’s in a Name)
  • I am a cat (Wagahai wa Neko de Aru), 1st volume, Natsume Sōseki (Japanese Literature Read-along, JapLit Challenge)
  • Coraline, Neil Gaiman (graphic novel)
  • De pianoman, Bernlef
  • Be With You (Ima, Ai ni Yukimasu), Takuji Ichikawa
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck ((multiple) challenge book) TNX to boekenxnl for this rabck!
  • Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates (Classics challenge; online reading group)
  • Het Pauperparadijs, Suzanna Jansen (non-fiction)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Bookcrossing bookring / (multiple) challenge book)
  • Vlinder in de wind (Butterfly in the Wind), Rei Kimura (Japanese Literature challenge book)
  • Away, Amy Bloom (online reading group)
  • The Mapmaker’s Wife, Robert Whitaker (Bookcrossing bookring / What’s in a name challenge book)
  • What came before he shot her, Elizabeth George (What’s in a name challenge book)
  • With no one as witness, Elizabeth George
  • Zo god het wil (Crossroads / Come Dio Comanda), Niccolò Ammaniti
  • De inboorling, Stevo Akkerman
  • Ten zuiden van de grens, ten westen van de zon (Kokkyo no minami, Taiyo no nishi / South of the Border, West of the Sun), Haruki Murakami
  • De kleine keizer (‘The Little Emperor‘), Martin Bril (What’s in a name challenge book)
  • Nikolski, Nicolas Dickner (ring)
  • Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh ((multiple) challenge book / bookgroup)
  • Slam, Nick Hornby
  • Notes from an exhibition, Patrick Gale
  • Rivier der vergetelheid (Meuse l’oubli), Philippe Claudel
  • Dans dans dans (Dansu dansu dansu / Dance dance dance), Haruki Murakami
  • The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro ((multiple) challenge book)
  • Grijze zielen, Philippe Claudel (What’s in a name challenge book)
  • The National Trust for Scotland: Brodie Castle (non-fiction)
  • De ijdele engel, Godfried Bomans
  • The End of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas (TNX to rapturina for this rabck!)
  • Vallende engelen (Falling Angels), Tracey Chevalier

The ‘stats’ (for real geeks like me ;) will have to wait until another day. But here’s what I read in 2008 and in 2007 — for those of you who haven’t had enough yet (are you also from the Eighties generation, too fond of making lists? ;)

My Google map will show you my Bookcrossing releases of all-time. Making a sidebar button for it is one of my wishes for next week’s Bloggiesta! As is, maybe, a special page where I can bring my year lists together?

Coincidently (dôh) this week’s Booking Through Thursday wants to know exactly what I’ve been talking about today!

Usually I don’t win any prizes… But lately I’ve been really lucky!

Velvet from vvb32 reads gave me not one, not two, but four awards!

Click on the award pics to go to the different blogposts on vvb32 reads. From left to right: I received The B for Beautiful of the The BINGO Award, the Ohh la la! I love your blog Award, The Lemonade Award (a ‘feel good’ trophy that shows great attitude or gratitude), and the Honest Scrap Award for bloggers who write from the heart.

I’m so honored! I have to answer a few questions to actually pick two of them up, so I’ll do that at the end of this post.

But my luck does not end here. I also won the cutest maki-e stickers (shiny things are excellent for a magpie like me) and mobile phone charm in the Japanese Literature Challenge at Dolce Belezza. I’m not linking to the post because I want to show them to you once they’ve arrived ;) Now I definitely need to buy an iPhone so that I can personalize it with my new goodies! ;) In situations like these I’m always thinking of Ren & Stimpy: HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY!

Won: Traditional Framer's Gouda Cheese

Now for those of you who are wondering what that cheese is doing in this blogpost… It was a prize also! We’ve got a fabulous new cheese shop in our shopping center and although we missed out on the first prize, a garden kitchen, we were lucky enough to win the 2nd: real Gouda farmer’s cheese. Yum! We are actually happy to have come second because we wouldn’t have been able to fit the kitchen on our balcony anyway! LOL

Now that we’re feeling lucky we’ve bought a ticket to the New Year’s Lottery..! Keep on dreaming eh? ;)

As promised, here’s my acceptance speech for the awards…

Ohh la la! award
J’adore your blog!

Where is your favorite place to read a book?
Actually… while commuting by train! And in my reading chair at home, cosying up with da kittehs.

Bookmarks or dog ears?
Bookmarks.

What is the best book you have read so far this year?
It’s almost time to compile my top list for 2009… Best read so far is either John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or Yasunari Kawabata’s The Old Capital. Both classics..!

Do you like to snack while reading and if so, what is your favorite snack?
Not especially, just when I feel like snacking. I have a taste for salty — but potato chips & reading do not go well together… (no grease spots in my books please ;)

Book borrower or book collector?
In 2009 I was mostly a book collector.

For the Honest Scrap award I need to disclose 10 honest things about myself…

  1. I still prefer a nickname when socializing on the web.
  2. I’m keeping my blog separated from my professional life as a museum employee.
  3. I’m a vegetarian but I sometimes crave meat.
  4. Thankfully my lust for meat vanishes when I recall why I’m a veggie.
  5. I wish I was strong enough to stop eating dairy as well — but I’m not.
  6. I feel I’m the slowest book blogger on the planet when it comes to writing reviews.
  7. Making bento’s usually takes more time than it should too :\
  8. I can’t decide on a favourite book of all-times, nor a fav author.
  9. I lied. I think David Mitchell is the best writer ever ;)
  10. I’m not very good at passing awards along.

Well, that’s pretty honest, isn’t it?! And because of confession #10 I’ll just round up with a big THANK YOU!

spotvogel2It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird [..] They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.

Thanks to a bookcrossing book ring I have finally read Harper Lee’s 1960 classic To Kill a Mockingbird. It had been on my wishlist for quite a few years and became part of two challenges: the 2009 Classics Challenge and my personal 2008-2009 challenge. There has been written a lot about this book so I’m just going to add my personal view. Well.. and a little about the story for people who haven’t read it (yet).

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel in which a female attorney, Jean Louise — Scout — Finch, looks back on her childhood during the Great Depression in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama.

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first new it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the court-house sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. [p.11]

The story focusses on the events of a certain summer, that morally and socially shaped Louise into the adult she became. Because of this, the book is considered a Bildungsroman. Although Harper Lee used a lot of autobiographical elements, the novel is fiction.

Cover To Kill a MockingbirdI am very glad I got to read the book. I don’t think it will end up in my 2009 top 5 list, but it was a quick, entertaining read: the story immediately grabbed me and I liked the atmosphere of doom, suggesting that ‘something was going to happen’. The first paragraph sets the tone:

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right -angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.
When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident.

The reader now knows that the rest of the book will tell about the events leading up to Jem’s accident. But like in a court case where seperate witnesses have different truths, the sibling’s have different points of view on where it all began.

In my online Boekgrrls book group there was some discussion whether or not the quote above contains vivid imagery. I think so ;) Some people didn’t find it evocative — worse, they thought it gawky because they had to physically try the position of the arm. I rather like it that everywhere around the world and through time, people are swinging their arms while reading ;)

Some women also didn’t find it believable that children were accepted into the courtroom. Well, it was a long time ago… And honestly, isn’t it really harder to believe that black people were treated as lesser humans? And they were! Even though you know that it’s true, it is still shocking to read about this kind of racism. To Kill a Mockingbird was published 5 years after Rosa Parks had refused to give up her bus seat for a white passenger (also in Alabama); Harper Lee had been writing on the book for a few years.

Aside from the main storyline (which I am not writing down because it is broadly known and when you’re in the dark about it you might want to keep it that way), you can feel how Scout grows into her later profession even though that was not yet common for women of that time.

“There are lots of reasons. For one thing, Miss Maudie can’t serve on a jury because she’s a woman –”
“You mean women in Alabama can’t –?” I was indignant.
“I do. I guess it’s to protect our frail ladies from sordid cases like Tom’s. Besides,” Atticus grinned, “I doubt if we’d ever get a complete case tried — the ladies’d be interrupting to ask questions.”
Jem and I laughed. Miss Maudie on a jury would be impressive. I thought of old Mrs. Dubose in her wheelchair — “Stop that rapping, [judge] John Taylor, I want to ask this man something.” Perhaps our fore-fathers were wise.
[p.225]

After Jem and his sister have sneaked out to watch the court case, some Southern ladies tease Scout afterwards:

“Watcha going to be when you grow up, Jean Louise? A lawyer?”
“Nome, I hadn’t thought about it..” I answered, grateful that Miss Stephanie was kind enough to change the subject. Hurriedly I began choosing my vocation. Nurse? Aviator?
“Well…”
“Why shoot, I thought you wanted to be a lawyer, you’ve already commenced going to court.”

Recently To Kill a Mockingbird became #1 on the list of the best 60 books of the past 60 years. Maybe not because Harper Lee is the most skilled writer of recent history, but because her book is about the equality of Man.

“Well how do we know we ain’t Negroes?”
“Uncle Jack Finch says we really don’t know. He says as far as he can trace back the Finches we ain’t, but for all he knows we mighta come straight out of Etiopia durin’ the Old Testament.”
“Well if we came out durin’ the Old Testament it’s too long ago to matter.”
“That’s what I thought,’ said Jem, ‘but around here once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black [..]”
[p. 165]

John Sutherland remarks in his article about the list of 60 books:

“[..] as Henry James said, the house of fiction has many rooms. One important room is reserved for fiction that expresses the basic ideals of its time: such as Oliver Twist, or The Grapes of Wrath. To Kill a Mockingbird will always have a high place in that company.”

Cover Grapes of WrathHa! I have just finished John Steinbeck‘s The Grapes of Wrath, which is also on my challenge list (review pending). That book is more about equal rights for ‘poor’ white people from the East of the US migrating to the West in the same period as To Kill a Mockingbird. Both books won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the year after they were published (respectively 1940 and 1961). And both books play in the American South.

Have you ever heard of Southern Gothics, a sub genre of the gothic novel and unique to American literature? I hadn’t. But To Kill a Mockingbird is (by some) considered to belong to this genre.

“Like its parent genre, it relies on supernatural, ironic, or unusual events to guide the plot. Unlike its predecessor, it uses these tools not for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South.

[..] the writer takes classic Gothic archetypes, such as the damsel in distress or the heroic knight, and portrays them in a more modern and realistic manner — transforming them into, for example, a spiteful and reclusive spinster, or a white-suited, fan-brandishing lawyer with ulterior motives.”

Lawyer. Heroic knight. That’s why Atticus, Scout’s father, seems a bit too good to be true sometimes! But I think it is also because most of the story is told through the eyes of a child — don’t young girls often look up to their fathers, seeing them as hero’s?

Gregory PeckI had to think about my father a lot whilst reading this book. He was a great fan of Gregory Peck, who played Atticus in the 1962 movie adaptation. But he was also born in the same year as Harper Lee and had a huge sense of morality, of justice. He would have liked to become a lawyer. Hee hee, maybe he even looked a little bit like Gregory Peck ;)

I couldn’t help but think of another film as well: Mississippi Burning. Some marvelous actors playing in it: Gene Hackman, William Dafoe, Frances McDormand (I’ll leave it to you to look them up if you don’t know them ;) I would definitely like to see that movie again soon! I don’t feel the need to see To Kill a Mockingbird. But I liked reading this classic enough to want to have a copy of my own. I’ll be on the lookout for a nice edition! :)

Mockingbird sound recording courtesy of The Quomma.

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

This is very exciting: on Wednesday the Monopoly 2.0 release game got started! My teammate myranya and I are called De boekenleggers, which can be translated into bookmarks — but it is a better name in Dutch because it is literally ‘the book layers’ (people laying books). Our first assignment is to leave a book at an IKEA shop… This is my 2nd time playing Bookcrossing monopoly and it was great fun last year!

Cover The CorrectionsSpeaking of Bookcrossing: I received no less than two RABCK’s this week! (Weekly Geeks made us improve our weblogs, so I’m referring you to my new glossary for the explanation of RABCK ;) First came Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections from Marsala. It is #1 on the list of Best Fiction of the Millenium (so far)! Marsala read the book during the September readathon. And yesterday my surprise gift for joining in that same monthly readathon arrived! I had joined in preparation of the 24 hour Read-a-Thon of October 24th. I am really excited that I already got my pile of books done! Here’s what I will be reading during those 24 hours (although I probably won’t manage all of the books/hours):

  • short stories: Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • De pianoman (‘The Piano Man‘), by Bernlef
  • audiobook: Modelvliegen (‘Model Gliding‘), by Marcel Möring
  • [my current book of that moment]
  • Dromen van China (The China Lover), by Ian Buruma
  • graphic novel: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
  • graphic novel: Persepolis & Persopolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi
  • comic: The Best of Mutts, by Patrick McDonnell

There’s just one title I would like to add: Zijde (Silk), by Alessandro Baricco. So if anyone has got a copy available, in Dutch or English..?

Buying graphic novels for the upcoming read-a-thon was a first for me! I figured it would be great for variety. But the funny thing is I can hardly wait to start reading them now! I should keep myself from picking them up first thing on THE Day ;)

My mailbox really had to work overtime this week: I also received my three online Japanese book group reads yesterday!

    Japanese book group books

  • I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa Neko dearu 1905), by Natsume Sōseki — readalong, part 1 TBR before November 15th
  • The Old Capital (Koto 1962), by Yasunari Kawabata — TBR before November 30th
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor (Hakase no aishi ta sūshiki 2003), by Yoko Ogawa — TBR before January 30th 2010

Next week I hope to have finished John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath… I’ll see you then!

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

Let’s start this Salon post with a confession: I have been a bad grrl and bought 3 more books for myself!

  • I Am a Cat (Natsume Soseki)
  • The Old Capital (Yasunari Kawabata)
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor (Yoko Ogawa)

I’ve got a great excuse though: I joined the new online Japanese Literature Book Group and Read-along at In Spring It Is The Dawn — and these are the first books on the agenda. I am really looking forward to it!

Hello Japan! logoAnother fun thing to do over there is this months Hello Japan! mini mission:

Read or watch something scary, spooky, or suspenseful, and Japanese of course!

DarkWaterSince I have enough to read already I decided to rent a movie that has been on my wishlist for a long time now: Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara), by Hideo Nakata. You might have heard of the American remake with Jodie Foster, but I prefered to see the original. I’ll tell you why in my upcoming review post! It was a nice Friday night activity to surprise Mr Gnoe with, especially with the stormy autumn weather that has set in :)

But back to bookish things. For the last three months of 2009 I am also participating in the Set It Yourself Challenge (SIY) #10. Just to keep the pressure on my challenges: I have listed all 5 books I need to read before the end of this year:

  • The Chosen (Chaim Potok)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
  • The Pillowbook (Sei Shonagon)
  • The Sea, the Sea (Iris Murdoch)
  • The Old Capital (Yasunari Kawabata)

I have joined this Bookcrossing challenge before in 2008 and 2009; succeeding twice, failing once…

Speaking of Bookcrossing: I made a first attempt at the Bookcrossing monthly readathon. 24hrreadathonbuttonBut instead of 24 I read for 15 hours and 8 in the last week of September. So technically I failed but I am actually quite proud of the result because it was an awfully busy week. You can read about my thoughts concerning the readathon in Friday’s post. Now I am really looking forward to the autumnal 24 hour read-a-thon of October 24th! I am already making a list of books and snacks to lock myself in with :)

Partly thanks to the readathon I finished more books in September than I usually read in a month:

  • Vlinder in de wind (Butterfly in the Wind) by Rei Kimura (reviewed)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (review pending), #4 on the list of Banned and Challenged Classics
  • Het pauperparadijs (Pauper Paradise) by Suzanna Jansen (no review planned)
  • Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (review pending)

Current book: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Wednesday’s update post will tell you why I picked this book. I am ‘buddy reading’ with two Boekgrrls: MaaikeB and Manon, so one of these days I should mail them my thoughts so far!

Another exciting thing going on this week is BAFAB! Buy A Friend A Book. One of my favourite reads of the past years is on its way to a long time friend that is on a busy schedule at the moment. I’ll give the book a chance to arrive for a few days longer, so I can’t say more! ;)
Do you BAFAB?

Challenges / Bookgroups etc.

Progress update on my challenges that I have not yet mentioned above:

Current Bookgroup reads:

  • Boekgrrls September book: Away, by Amy Bloom (read and reviewed in Dutch on the mailing list)
  • Boekgrrls October book: Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates (read, to be reviewed)
  • Japanese Literature Book Group for November 30th: The Old Capital, by Yasunari Kawabata (TBR)
  • Japanese Literature Read-along for November 15th: I Am A Cat (part I), by Natsume Soseki (TBR)

That’s it for now. I need to get up my review of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird a.s.a.p. so that I can send this Bookcrossing book along to the next reader. Better get on with it!

As expected I did not reach the goal of reading 24 hours in a week, but I did accomplish my own target of 12! ‘Half-a-readathon’, as another Bookcrosser put it. I even surpassed it a little, with an end total of 15 hours and 8 minutes. And it has been fun! So I will probably join in again, maybe even in the Spooky Booky October Readathon. If I have any reading energy left after the full time 24 hour read-a-thon in the weekend of October 24th, that is…

Anyway, it is a GREAT surprise that I have won the monthly readathon prize! I’ll keep an anxious eye on my mailbox to see what wishlist book chucklethescot has sent me!

Banned Books Week posterWhat I liked best about the readathon is that I used any free minute to try and read. I started fresh with Revolutionary Road and finished it in only a few days! After that I picked up a book fitting Banned Books Week (The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck) and I got 1/5th read of it already. Sometimes it takes me a while to get into a book because I read too little, but I had no problem with that now ;) Both books by Steinbeck and Yates are part of this years Classics Challenge (among others), so the readathon also gave me quite a push ahead at that!

On the other hand… what I liked less about the readathon is that I didn’t get to do other stuff, like review books (or take enough time to think them over) or make bento’s for lunch. That gave me a feeling of being behind… But it was only for a week and I’ll be able to catch up now! But it is something to consider next time I join in.

With only one more day to go in the Bookcrossing September Readathon, I have read for 13 hours and 37 minutes. No way I am going to reach the target of 24 hours, but I was going to be proud at myself if I would make 12 hours — and I’ve gotten that far one and a half hours back! :))

More good news is that I (started and) finished a book during the readathon: Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. And it was a great read!!! You’ll have to wait a while for a review because first I’ve got to try my hand at To Kill a Mockingbird.

Cover Grapes of WrathNow I have started reading another classic: The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. I picked this one because it is part of my personal and Classics challenge and this week it is Banned Book Week in which Americans celebrate the freedom to read. They have been doing so since 1982, in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Steinbeck is #3 on the list of banned and challenged classics. #1 (The Great Gatsby) I read in 2006, #2 (The Catcher in the Rye) I have tried sometime and put away again. The Grapes of Wrath was burned (!) in its year of publishing by the East St. Louis, III Public Library and as late as 1993 it was challenged in the Union City Tenn. High School classes (read more?). Well, it is too early for me to have any opinion on the book but I am against censorship no matter what.

Let’s see what my end total will be tomorrow!

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  • @bellezzamjs Awwwww love that one! And I've been meaning to sign up as I am *so* neglecting jlit these days :( 10 hours ago

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