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text 2017-09-12 11:13
The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe
The Haunted Grange Of Goresthorpe - Arthur Conan Doyle

Another re-read; my original review is here, and I stand by it.  (4.5 stars)  The honorary president of the Arthur Conan Doyle Society goes to a lot of trouble apologising for the averageness of the story in the introduction and I can only wonder why.  It's a ripping haunted house/ghost story; it's fast-paced, tightly written, with tension that continues to ratchet up the reader's nerves until the very last page. 

 

It's fun, it can be found free online, it's Conan Doyle and I highly recommend it. 

 

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text 2017-09-07 16:50
5 Best Study Questions on To Kill a Mockingbird

to kill a mockingbird

 

‘To Kill a Mockingbird,' written by Harper Lee, is a seminal work which is considered to be one of the most popular and influential books to tackle issues such as racism and the justice system in America. It was published in 1960 at a time when America was still reeling from the effects of racial segregation, and issues of racial profiling and discrimination against people of color are still rampant.

 

It was met with critical acclaim and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. However, it got mixed reactions from the public on its early release, but eventually got a better reception and became an American class worldwide.  It has been the only published book of Harper Lee for decades since its release, until the other book, ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was released, but it happened in more than 50 years later in 2015.

 

Most of the story revolves around the Finch’s family and the people of the Maycomb town, with the main characters Atticus Finch, and his children Scout and Jem, their friend Dill, and the mysterious neighbor Boo Radley.

 

No matter, whether you’re only reading it for the first time or are already revisiting it for a school assignment, there are a lot of insights that can be gained from reading 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. Below we list down some study ideas that would help you in creating a discussion or in writing a paper for this classic work of literature.

 

Suggested Study Questions for Reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:

 

  1. 1. What is the significance of the children’s encounters with Boo Radley in the story?

 

The character of Boo Radley served mainly as both an anchor and a pivot for the children regarding their character development throughout the book. At first, Boo was seen as some sort of an outsider, but eventually, children created a special friendship with him. How did their friendship with Boo plant the seeds for a value of compassion awakening in the children, regardless of what society thinks about them?

 

  1. 2. How children’s innocence is affected by the harsh realities of a racist society, particularly the one illustrated during the trial of Tom Robinson?

 

The scene of Tom Robinson’s trial is an important point that makes the book so memorable, and this is what makes this book hold its place as one of the most famous works of literature. There is a need to highlight the disparity between the presented evidence, which clearly proves Tom’s innocence, and how bias and prejudice affect the ruling of the jury.

 

  1. 3. What drives Atticus to fight for Tom Robinson and how does this affect the family’s relationship with the people of Maycomb?

 

It is said that Atticus’ character has become a model for lawyers who want to serve with integrity. In a society where it is easier to conform, what could drive characters like Atticus Finch to represent a person who is vilified by almost everyone in their town? Point out how did his choice to represent Tom has turned the Finch family to the outcasts of their city, and how were they able to find a community within the black people who treated them as of their own.

 

  1. 4. Most of the story is presented in Scout’s perspective, why you think Harper Lee did choose to write it from a viewpoint of a child?

 

The children are great vessels to tell the story since their innocence still leads them to be more impressionable and observant when it comes to the things that are happening around them. Since they are young, their prejudices against other people are not as ingrained as compared to the adults in Maycomb, and they are still willing to see the best in people, regardless of their skin color or place they take in society.

 

  1. 5. Atticus Finch describes a Mockingbird as an innocent creature, that does not cause any harm to people. The quotation “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” is one of the most definitive passages in the book. Discuss the reason behind calling it a sin to kill a mockingbird.

 

One of the greatest and perhaps the most climactic turning points for the characters in the book is the verdict and subsequent death of Tom Robinson in the hands of the supposed justice system. It brings out a great moral question, which is the heart of this novel. Compare this with the death of child’s innocence, when they have to witness such great injustice in a seemingly small and quiet town.

 

Regarding its importance, To Kill a Mockingbird has never wavered in its position as one of the most highly-regarded books of the last century.  Even until now, the relevance of this novel still rings true in a society where problems and issues concerning racism still exist. Recent events have shown us that racism is still alive in America, which is why a close reading of this work is relevant for students. It shows how these issues have a long history dating back from the time of social policies that were oppressive to people of color.

 

Literature has long been a tool of social awakening, and whether this was Harper’s Lee original intention or not, as in old interviews, she said that the story was loosely-based on her childhood experiences growing up in the South. Perhaps that fact has caused the appeal of this work in the voice of children; it still manages to instill humor and compassion on serious issues like rape, oppression and social injustice without failing to drive the main point through. Students at elementary and high school benefit from reading books on social problems in a voice that they can recognize, as it resonates with them deeply, and hopefully, instill the values that the book hopes to impart when they grow up.

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review 2017-09-06 11:00
A Young Woman’s Flight: The Adventure of the Black Lady by Aphra Behn
The Adventure of the Black Lady, and the Lucky Mistake (Dodo Press) - Aphra Behn

The English prose novel as we know it today is an amazingly recent invention. Its rise began only in the seventeenth century thanks to writers like Daniel Defoe (c.1660-1731), Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)… and Aphra Behn (1640-1689) whose work was rediscovered only in the early twentieth century (»»» read my author’s portrait). Although in her time Aphra Behn was first of all a renowned playwright, she also wrote several novels in her later years. By modern standards, however, these novels are hardly more than novelettes or even short stories.  One of these little known prose works from the pen of the first Englishwoman who was able make her living as a writer is The Adventure of the Black Lady first published in 1684. It’s the story of a young woman called Bellamora who has come from Hampshire to Covent Garden in the hope to find refuge and help with a cousin of hers.

 

In her story Aphra Behn skilfully portrays Bellamora as a very naïve and foolish young woman who got herself into serious trouble and sees her only chance in flight. Both her parents are dead and she left her uncle’s estate pretending to visit a recently married cousin living not far away, while in reality she headed for town right away and with the intention to hide for a while in the “populous and public place” where she had another relation who would surly help her out. When Bellamora arrives in Covent Garden, however, she finds that her cousin doesn’t live there anymore and, even worse, that nobody there seems ever to have heard of her. Understandably, the young woman is desperate and uncertain what to do. The author makes her wander aimlessly through the parish in a hired coach and ask people if they know her cousin and her whereabouts. And surprise, surprise, an impoverished gentlewoman who lets lodgings for a living tells Bellamora that her cousin and her husband have been living with her for more than a year, but that they went out and she didn’t expect them back before the night. Greatly relieved Bellamora asks to be allowed to wait for the couple and, trusting as she is, she soon pours out her sorrowful heart to the friendly gentlewoman. When the Lady and her husband return at last, Bellamora is again plunged into despair because she isn’t her cousin after all. Luck would have it, though, that the Lady is an old acquaintance whom Bellamora doesn’t recognise at first, but who recalls the young woman at once and bids her welcome. And again Bellamora pours out her heart and this time she reveals the whole truth to the almost stranger, namely that she is eight months pregnant and fled from the advances of the child’s father whom she doesn’t want to marry for fear that after the wedding he will love her no longer. As befits a romantic “novel” of the time, with a few other lucky – and unlikely – twists brought about by both the gentlewoman and the Lady who is not the sought for cousin, Aphra Behn drives Bellamora’s story towards a happy ending.

 

Instead of the dodo press book that contains also a novelette titled The Lucky Mistake, I read the free web edition of The Adventure of the Black Lady published by eBooks@Adelaide and found it an entertaining and very quick read about Romantic love and the desperation of a fallen young woman in England of the Restoration. Although Ernest A. Baker included it in his 1905 collection of The Novels of Mrs. Aphra Behn, it’s really a short story filling no more than a couple of pages. If it weren’t for the spelling and some peculiarities of language, the story would feel very modern almost like historical fiction written in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. I warmly recommend it!

 

The Adventure of the Black Lady, and the Lucky Mistake (Dodo Press) - Aphra Behn 

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review 2017-09-05 00:59
The Underdogs
The Underdogs - E. Munguía,Mariano Azuela,Ana Castillo

Anyone who has learned anything about the Mexican Revolution knows that it was a complicated era in that nation’s history that just seemed to continue without end.  The Underdogs was the first novel about the conflict even as it continued to grind on and written by a former participant Mariano Azuela.

 

The majority of the narrative follows Demetrio Macias, who finds himself on the bad side of the local chief and is burned out of his home before feeling to the mountains.  Gathering his friends, Macias begins battling the Federales becoming a local then regional military leader.  Joining with a growing Villista army around Zacatecas, Macias and his men achieve a remarkable feat during the battle that leads to victory and a promotion of Macias to general.  The main reason Macias journeys to Zacatecas is an idealistic Federales deserter, Luis Cervantes, who conveniences the leader to join the growing Villista force.  But after the battle, both men become disillusioned with the overall Revolution leading to simply leaving—Cervantes—for the United States or just keep fighting until the odds become too much—Macias.

 

This relatively short, well-written, yet seemingly disjointed narrative is considered the greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution because of this final aspect.  Although this was Azuela’s first novel, it reads very well—in translation—and gives someone not interested in history a little knowledge about the defining moment in Mexican history if only in a brief glimpse.

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review 2017-08-31 15:27
The Emptiness of Literature: "Requiem - A Hallucination" by Antonio Tabucchi, Margaret Jull Costa (translator)
Requiem: A Hallucination - Antonio Tabucchi,Margaret Jull Costa

“Were someone to ask me why I wrote this story in Portuguese, I would answer simply that a story like this could only be written in Portuguese; it's as simple as that. But there is something else that needs explaining. Strictly speaking, a Requiem should be written in Latin, at least that's what tradition prescribes. Unfortunately, I don't think I'd be up to it in Latin. I realised though that I couldn't write a Requiem in my own language and I that I required a different language, one that was for me A PLACE OF AFFECTION AND REFLECTION”.

 

In “Requiem” by Antonio Tabucchi

 

Affection and reflection: with these two words, Tabucchi defined his book better than any reviewer would be able to. "Requiem" is a small masterpiece of contemporary literature, from which one can only complain about one thing: it ends too soon for those who are taking delight in it. It's a very subjective thing, but when you read something that impresses you as language, regardless of its meaning, that seems to be so perfectly expressed that no one could have written it better, that makes you want to telephone a friend at 4AM and read it aloud, then you're probably reading a great prose stylist. I also pay attention to a writer's ability to create interesting, appropriate and original metaphors, similes, etc. A few top off-the-top-of-my-head's examples of what I would call great prose stylists, really the greatest of the great, and they’d be Shakespeare, Proust, Walter Pater, Frank Kermode, Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall”, Faulkner, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” and “To the Lighthouse”, William H. Gass, William T. Vollmann, Cormac McCarthy, John Donne in his sermons (which are enjoyable purely as prose), and many, many others. Again, it's all very subjective, and everyone who cares about this stuff probably has a different list. Hell, I would have a different list if I made it two minutes from now... Having said that, let me fanboy on Tabucchi as hard as I can, and on “Requiem” in particular. This is a tribute to the dead, a fictional Tadeus (the narrator’S best friend), Isabel (his lover), and Fernando Pessoa. But it is also a tribute to a city almost dead, the old Lisbon that the Europeanization of Portugal had been destroying. Tabucchi is passionate about ancient Lisbon and describes it with affection for the all 12 hours during which the main character goes out in search of his ghosts. On the last Sunday of July, the anonymous narrator is reading "The Book of Disquiet" by Fernando Pessoa under a mulberry tree in a farm in Azeitão, when he suddenly finds himself at the Lisbon dock waiting for the "dude" with whom he realizes he suddenly had a scheduled appointment. The "dude" is Fernando Pessoa. While trying to figure out how to fulfill his commitment to the poet, the narrator wanders through an almost deserted Lisbon (people have been refreshing themselves on the beaches), following clues that lead him to the Museum of Ancient Art, the House of Alentejo, the Cemetery of Pleasures, Brasileira do Chiado Café and other traditional points of my Lisbon.

 

If you're into European Literature, read on.

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