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Don’t feel inferior if you did not finish a book

by Cygne SauvageImage result

I have lost count of the number of times I have attempted to concentrate on and finish Infinite Jest, the voluminous opus of one of my adored writers, David Foster Wallace, known simply by his initials in the journalistic milieu. The several failures to make it to the last page of this more than a thousand work of fiction by one considered a genius in contemporary American literature drives me to a scheme of devoting two hours of pre-bedtime moments to reading a chapter. But to no avail. The earmarked schedule is mostly consumed by having to refresh back to where I left off owing to the profound writing style of the author, and most likely due to my inadequate grasp of DFW’s literary realm. The book has been listed as one of the best novels by Time magazine.

Finishing a lengthy novel is a big challenge… and achievement. The myriad twists and turns in the story may not always be pleasing to the reader.  Likewise, long-winded works often go beyond the plot’s crescendo half-way to the conclusion that the narrative ends up dragging and seemingly interminable. There are several celebrated novels left unfinished by my bedside, each carrying a bookmark where I stopped perusing, with the promise of going back to these pages someday. But until now, I have not returned to Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace which aside from its convoluted theme is peppered with hundreds of difficult  to memorize names of characters.  Nor have I visited again the pages of The Luminaries, Booker Prize winning work of Eleanor Catton, which I bookmarked at Chapter 4. Had it not been a requirement in my college literature subject I would have not been able to endure till the last page of Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations which is deemed as the British author’s obra maestra.  Perhaps I had it at a time when I have already consumed two Dicken’s tales of a young orphaned boy’s travails in the dark side of London: David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

On the other hand, I ardently devoured Donna Tart’s The Gold Finch in just three days, more or less.  I never put down Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and became an avid Howard Roark fan. There was no struggle as well in perusing Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, with Scarlet O’hara leaving a dent in my outlook in life, not Rhet Butler, of course.  I have finished three of the longest novels of James Clavel’s Asian sagas one after the other: Shogun, Noble House and Gaijin. And many more.

Methinks finishing a book, regardless of the many accolades it has earned in reviews or the multi-awards accorded to it, is a function of  one’s mindset and receptiveness during perusal time. Hence, don’t feel inferior if you have not completed an edition, whether fiction or non-fiction, and dub yourself as not erudite enough. This happens even to the most fanatic bibliophile.

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Finally, the epic is translated in a language I can understand

by Cygne Sauvage

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But only the first book of the 12-volume epic set in 13th-century China.  I am referring to the obra maestra of the author Jin Yong, the pen name of  Louis Cha Leung-yung, the most widely read  writer in Chinese-speaking demography.  His works has been popularly serialized in the 1950s, and it took more than 5 decades before the magnificent tales hatched by this imaginative genius, now 94,  will cross to the locales of non-speaking Chinese.  Described to be on a parallel universe with the likes of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings,  the saga weaves the intricate life of its hero Guo Jing against the backdrop of the ongoing  Jin–Song Wars.  His father is killed by the invading Jin army and his pregnant mother flees to Mongolia where the novel’s protagonist is reared by the nomadic warriors under the rule of Genghis Khan.  A Hero Born is the title of the first of the series.

Prior to the publication of the English translated volume Jin Yong’s magnum opus has been adapted into a popular TV series in 2008, and in 2017, using the title “The Legends of the Condor Heroes.” However, there are criticisms as to the accuracy of this interpretation since the condor is not indigenous to China. They say the more appropriate equivalent term in the Western language is “The Story of the Eagle-Shooting Hero.” Whatever.

 

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I admit I have always enjoyed graphic novels

by Cygne Sauvage

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A great part of my childhood, during summer vacations and weekends, is spent in the shabby shack behind our house where I read the previously-owned magazines my grandmother uses for her trade. Among these are the Walt Disney comics, the first of the graphic novels I encounter upon being literate.  I avidly follow Huey, Louie and Dewey, the nephews of the famous Donald Duck, in their Junior Woodchucks adventures. Regular perusal of these magazines, which are all in English, hones my proficiency in this language and enables me earn good grades in school. In my land of birth, this foreign tongue is predominantly the medium of instruction, from grade school to tertiary level, particularly those institutions of learning catering to affluent families.  But don’t misunderstand that I am a scion of a rich clan. I attend public schools, definitely not for moneyed people, but since I seem to have an edge over my classmates in language skill I am always relegated to honors classes where all subjects are taught in English.

During my youth, only US-produced reading materials grace the magazine stands though not in competition with local publications because they have different market audience. The latter serves as daily entertainment stuff, along with radio dramas, of those from low middle income. Though forbidden by our parents and schools to access the local graphic novels because of their concentration on adult romances and nonsense fantasies, I manage to read a lot of them courtesy of a neighbor who is fanatic to this genre.  True, stories lack depth in imagination as most are just culled from Western stories of mermaids and superheroes while romances are mere translations of Mills and Boons.  Sadly,  their styles never progress, that over the years they are eclipsed by the influx of non-US based comic books which proliferate the bookstores and magazine stands starting in the 1980s.   Thus, I have come to be aware of  Tintin, Lucky Luke and Asterix long after Superman, Batman and Uncle Scrooge.

My addiction to Archie and his gang happen during my college days through the kindness of my well-rounded classmates.   Thus,  an issue has always been among the “basic” goods I purchase every payday since graduation, starting a collection I deem precious.

At the turn of the millennium,  globalization and the world wide web give my country’s denizens access to a bounty of translated Japanese mangas and animes which replace the craze over Marvel and DC publications.  Walt Disney soon disappear from the cartoon magazine section of book stores, perhaps affected by the ban of the conservative groups critical of its having no sense of family, that is, there are no parental characters, only uncles and aunts. Hence, the X and Y generations are not aware of them.

I am truly amazed at the diversity of the Japanese graphic novels, tackling on almost every subject matter under the sun: history, romance, action, mystery, food, etc. I admit that daily surfing online is not complete without a visit to the site of my current reading which is Shokugeki no Soma.

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“Research suggests that reading on paper still boasts unique advantages”

by Cygne Sauvage20150428_012753

One of the ubiquitous items in the school paraphernalia of a daughter of my friend is a tablet which must always be on hand as her teacher sends instructions and reading materials through this device.  Well, sounds ordinary in this digital age, but hey, the girl is just in her third grade.  Isn’t it too early for her to be exposed to reading texts via technological gadgets and skip the experience of leafing through papers, or learning through in-person interactions, engaging in real time discussions with classmates?

Myriad learning institutions would disagree with my antiquated attitude.  They contend that children must be early acquainted with progress in the tools for learning.  The influx of computers, smart phones and tablets is unstoppable.  Technology is so dynamic that a year’s time would render passe’ methods in information transfer as well as instructions.

But wait, an article from the Scientific American have a load to say with regard to the certain disadvantages of reading via screens.

“Evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A parallel line of research focuses on people’s attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.”

Continue reading here:  https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

 

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Changing parameters of greatness

by Cygne Sauvage

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Today the world salutes half of its population,  those whom nature held responsible for the growth and nurture of human embryos inside their anatomy,  enduring physical and emotional anguish to deliver and rear new life forms.  Those from whose enchanting hands developed great individuals who contributed to the advancement in the quality of life and made living as comfortable as possible.

However, a measure of a woman’s greatness is not limited to the capability of her reproductive system or her desire to procreate.  It should not be overlooked that women who chose a different path from starting a family, including those who freed themselves and transcended their given gender, can achieve eminence.

Unfortunately, high profile women in politics, in business or in the fashion world, bestowed with myriad accolades, similar to their male counterparts, have not escaped the changing parameters of greatness. Yesterday’s paladins could be today’s villains or tomorrow’s martyrs.

Thus, it is quite difficult to honour women or men for the grandiosity of their achievement.  A saviour in one country could be deemed as a traitor in another geographical horizon.

Therefore, I decide to hover around the discussion of women on those who emanated from the imaginative artistry of mankind, zeroing in on their strength of character, not on their “heroic” deeds.  There have been several of them whose stories have been told through generations and I can only mention those I have met through my reading passion.

Notable is Elizabeth Bennet created by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice.  She lived in a world that just wasn’t fair for women.  They can’t inherit a property and their only chance for survival is to marry. Yet, Liza Bennet was not cowed by this tradition and expectations that she rejected several marriage proposals including that from her would-be-husband Mr. Darcy. Rebecca Sharp  from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair is a strong-willed, cunning, moneyless, young woman who was determined and succeeded to make her way in society.

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, although told through the history of the Buendia family focusing on the descendants of José ArcadioBuendía, his wifeÚrsulaIguarán is actually the anchor of the clan. She lives to be well over 100 years old, supervises the Buendía household through six of the seven generations spanned in the novel. A very strong character, she often is triumphant where the men of her family foundered, and leads them to the outside world.

At the center of the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is Scarlett O’Hara, who is pictured as mean and belligerent yet maintained her stubborn optimism as the civil war devastated not only their economy but the moral fiber of the society.

And I must include here Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  She’s been convicted of adultery and  forced to wear red letter A for the rest of her life. But, rather than leave or hide, she defiantly decides to challenge the hypocrisy of her Puritanical society. Combatant yet compassionate, Hester opposes  the prevalent oppression in her midst.

 

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Is having lost one’s childhood worse than having lost a child?

by Cygne Sauvage

Having read the synopsis at the back of the book, I braced myself for emotional episodes. This is Ian McEwan’s work after all.   Not a single novel I have encountered from this author has failed to impress me: Atonement, Amsterdam, Solar, and The Innocent.   However, The Child in Time roused a lukewarm interest from this reader who, until the end of the story, is still attempting to grasp the coherence in the plot.

I cannot even be certain on the gist of the novel.  Is it about the child’s disappearance and how the tragic event drove the parents apart? Is it about the government’s superficial efforts to effect reforms in child-rearing? Or a high-ranked government official’s struggle with conflicting desires to be in the mainstream of political actions and at the same time his despise of its disturbing impact on his mental stability that he retreated back to his lost childhood? A reader would wonder whether losing one’s childhood is worse than losing a child.

Does the book’s attempts to expound on the relativity of time, which depending on the observer can accelerate or decelerate, are meant to stimulate the reader to view personal characterization in relation to this physical variable?  That everyone is a child or an adult based on one’s accord of which period of time he/she would comfortably fit in.  Such as when the lead protagonist, the father of the lost child, was invited to lunch with the prime minister, he stubbornly throws a  childish attitude and opts to attend the affair in unconventional, untidy outfit.

Nevertheless, McEwan never disappoints with the discourses presented in the book which in some chapters could be a resource reference material for a student aspiring to be a physicist.

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“Bibliomania”

“Bibliomania, the Dark Desire For Books That Infected Europe in the 1800s.”

“Book lovers and collectors feared becoming a victim of the pseudo-illness.”

While not a real psychological illness, book collectors and bibliophiles described “bibliomania” as a medical condition.”.  Read here: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/bibliomania-the-dark-desire-for-books-that-infected-europe-in-the-1800s

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