Archive for ‘Thoughts on Reading’

August 2nd, 2013

WDJKRD?
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by Madeleine Rex

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So, What Did J.K. Rowling Do?

Until July 14th, I, and most people I know, had never heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Now, most of us own a copy and are reading it as quickly as we can. The revelation that J.K. Rowling is the author behind the pseudonym Robert Galbraith certainly shook up the world of books.

The reviews on the back of the book, written before the leak, are hilarious. It seems some of the reviewers were psychic. Mark Billingham says, “Cormoran Strike is an amazing creation and I can’t wait for his next outing. Strike is so instantly compelling that it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel…” Mike Cooper couldn’t have known how true his last sentence is, “Robert Galbraith’s debut is as hardbitten and hard-driving as its battered hero. CUCKOO’S CALLING scales the glittering heights of society even as it plumbs the dark depths of the human heart. A riveting read from an author to watch.”

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with all the news, the leak was the friend of the wife of Rowling’s lawyer. The woman, Judith Callegari, posted the author’s true identity on Twitter. In a statement, Rowling expressed her anger at having been outed as The Cuckoo’s Calling‘s real author:

“To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm, and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.”

Needless to say, I’m glad I’m not Judith Callegari or Rowling’s (former) lawyer. How could you ever live down betraying the woman who created Harry Potter? Talk about shame. And public humiliation. You can read more about Rowling’s statement, as well as the law firm’s pathetic attempt to save-face, here

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But I think the real question is: Why the charade? Publishing under the pseudonym resulted in sales that were microscopic in comparison to what Rowling could have gotten. Approximately 1500 copies of the book sold between April and mid-July. Since then, it’s risen to the top of every best-sellers list I’ve looked at.

Rowling insists that she was enjoying the anonymity, and it doesn’t seem as though she ever intended to announce her authorship, which is what fascinates me most. The pseudonym allowed her to prove that she could receive critical acclaim without her name slapped onto the front of her book. Though The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t selling all that well, the reviewers liked it. No one can say Robert Galbraith wouldn’t have found his way to best-seller-dom with book two or three or four. Maybe Rowling didn’t mind the idea of biding her time – after all, she doesn’t need the money.

The Guardian article, “JK Rowling tells story of alter ego Robert Galbraith

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,” goes into detail regarding Rowling’s motivations. I can’t help but wonder how long she thought she could keep it up. Beyond the first book, no doubt, but she’s so well known that I can’t believe her secret could have remained a secret forever.

All the same, it’s a shame she didn’t get to reveal her identity on her own terms.

Even more shameful is what this whole scenario says about first-time authors. Despite solid reviews, The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t flying off the shelves. I’d never heard of it before, and I work in a book store. What does this say, then, about readers? What does it take for us to open a book and take a chance on something? I wish I could say I’d bought The Cuckoo’s Calling before I’d known who the author was. I wish I was a fan of Robert Galbraith’s and J.K. Rowling’s. Considering I haven’t read much crime fiction, there’s a good chance I’d have never picked up this book without knowing the truth of its authorship.

This saddens me. I’m reading the book now, and though I’m at the beginning, I can see that it is a great piece of fiction. Its tone is dry yet detailed. The characterization is remarkable and the premise unusual. The humor is clever and often grim (yes, grim humor). I would not know any of this if Judith Callegari hadn’t tweeted J.K. Rowling’s secret. Yet another Guardian article highlights the negative repercussions of Rowling’s “ruse” and the skewed views of the book world, which you can read here

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Whatever Rowling’s motivations and expectations, one thing is undeniable: We’ll be seeing a lot of Robert Galbraith in the future. And I, personally, am happy about that. If you’re as interested as I am in this whole pseudonym thing, check out this post on Barnes and Noble’s Book Blog, “5 Authors Who Used Pseudonyms

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.” It quite cleverly points out that J.K. Rowling has always used pseudonyms, her real name being Joanne Rowling.

Whatever you think of all this drama, I heartily recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling. If you’ve read it, what did you think of it?

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December 14th, 2012

Literature Revealed: Symbol
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by Madeleine Rex

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“You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have—arm yourselves!”

This year, in AP Literature and Composition, I’ve been assigned a remarkably difficult weekly task. I must turn in two analyses of literary terms within literature we are reading for class, explaining the context, affect, and relation to the story as a whole. Because these are taking up the time I would otherwise spend blogging, I figure I can post them here in case anyone finds them remotely interesting. Personally, I love this assignment. It’s ridiculously tedious and never-ending, but the critical thinking involved is so much fun.

Most of my terms are from William Shakepeare’s Hamlet and E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View. However, this term is from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.

P.S. WARNING: SPOILERS

________________

Symbol: A symbol represents an object or idea. It is usually commonly associated with the thing it represents. When symbols are used, it is called symbolism.

Example:

“A huge foot d’or, in a field of azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel” (Poe 111).

Function: In Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Cask of Amontillado, the main character, Montresor, is endeavoring to lure Fortunato, against whom he has a grudge, to his death. Montresor intends to do so by promising Fortunato, a drunk, that he will be one of the first to taste a rare drink (Amontillado) that Montresor has in the cavernous vault beneath his home. As they walk through the vault, an oblivious and very drunk Fortunato says, “I forget your arms,” referring to the Montresor family’s coat of arms. Montresor describes the coat of arms as quoted above.

The Montresor coat of arms can be considered ironic, symbolic, or both. It portrays a heavy, golden foot crushing a snake after it has bitten the foot’s heel, an image of merciless retribution. The “foot of the Montresors,” as it may be called, is brutal and quick in its punishments of those who have harmed or spited it. The fact that the foot is gold cannot go unnoticed, as gold traditionally symbolizes justice and balance, which coincides with the idea of vengeance, which rewards one act with another, the balancing of two evils.

The reader, though unaware of what Fortunato did to incur Montresor’s wrath, knows that, “when [Fortunato] ventured upon insult [Montresor] vowed revenge.” The reader also knows that Montresor, though cautious, wastes no time in exacting his revenge. Such a vengeful reaction and spirit is mirrored symbolically in Montresor’s arms. Just as he is determined to have vengeance, so was the bitten foot that crushed the mad snake.

This theory is further supported by the Montresor’s motto, which translated reads, “No one provokes me without impunity.” This oath, combined with the image of the arms, solidifies Montresor’s character as a man who indignantly crushes those who have done him wrong. Understanding that this mentality has presumably been nurtured by his family for generations illuminates an aspect of Montresor’s motivation to seek revenge. He has been raised to admire such heartless “justice,” which explains the apparent clean conscience with which he lures Fortunato to his death. Our sense of right and wrong depends heavily on what we are raised to believe, so, to Montresor, seeking revenge is likely the only course of action available to him – it is his right and his duty.

The irony of the arms lies in the fact that Montresor is aware of the symbolism of its image and of who plays which part. Fortunato has no idea that he is the serpent who has – possibly in a fit of madness (or drunkenness, considering his tendencies), as the serpent is described as “rampant” – insulted and provoked the heavy foot of a Montresor, who is now determined to crush him.

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December 3rd, 2012

Literature Revealed: Personification
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by Madeleine Rex

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“You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have—arm yourselves!”

This year, in AP Literature and Composition, I’ve been assigned a remarkably difficult weekly task. I must turn in two analyses of literary terms within literature we are reading for class, explaining the context, affect, and relation to the story as a whole. Because these are taking up the time I would otherwise spend blogging, I figure I can post them here in case anyone finds them remotely interesting. Personally, I love this assignment. It’s ridiculously tedious and never-ending, but the critical thinking involved is so much fun.

Most of my terms are from William Shakepeare’s Hamlet and E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.

P.S. WARNING: SPOILERS

________________

Personification: Attributing human qualities or actions to an inhuman object or idea.

Example:

“O, heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom.
Let me be cruel, not unnatural;
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites–
How in my words somever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent”
(III.iii. (346-352)!

Function: Hamlet has been beckoned to his mother’s room after the King’s reaction to his clever play. Hamlet’s suspicions have been verified by his and Horatio’s observance of the King – the Ghost most certainly spoke the truth. All that is left is to follow through with his oath to kill Claudius. Due to the astounding events of the evening, Hamlet is feeling rather on edge as he answers his mother’s call, and thus pleads with himself, uttering the passage above. In this passage, he addresses his heart, commanding it to “lose not [its] nature,” or to remain loving. He makes a reference to the Roman emperor, Nero, who killed his own mother, and says he hopes to not do the same. Personification comes into play in lines 349 and 350, in which Hamlet says he will speak harshly, but not act so, stating, “My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites.” “Hypocrite” is a term used to describe people whose actions or words contradict what they did or said previously. In this instance, Hamlet applies a human attribute (hypocrisy) to objects, the tongue and the soul. Hamlet is emphasizing that, though he will say cruel things, he will not act cruel. Similarly, in line 353, he tells his soul to never consent (allow) harsh action toward his mother. This entire passage is an internal plea of Hamlet’s to keep himself from losing control with his mother and harming her beyond what is necessary to accomplish what he must – avenging his father’s murder. In a sense, he is successful – he does not physically harm his mother, but she exclaims, “O, speak to me no more! / These words like daggers enter my ears” (III.iv. 98-99). However, through a cruel chain of events, his actions toward others eventually result in his mother’s death. In his effort to kill Claudius, he behaves as a madman, eventually earning Claudius’s suspicion, and Claudius commands Laertes to challenge Hamlet to a fencing match with a poisoned sword. In case of Hamlet’s victory, the king prepares a cup of wine, also laced with poison. During the chaos of the match, the Queen unsuspectingly sips from this poisoned cup and is killed. Hamlet’s actions, though not meant to kill his mother, culminate in her death and the deaths of many others. Incidentally, Hamlet’s actions are not the only to lead to unforeseen and unfortunate events. Polonius’s spying leads to his death (when Hamlet kills him in Act III), Claudius is killed just as he hoped to kill Hamlet – and with the poison he used to kill his brother, Laertes is killed in the fencing match meant to kill Hamlet, and Hamlet’s apparent madness leads to Ophelia’s actual madness and suicide. It seems that, no matter what the intention of a character’s seemingly small devious action, it soon goes awry, often coming back to hurt them.

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