Current Distractions, November 2016 Edition


Basically I've failed miserably at NaNoWriMo, watched a terrible reality show called Steampunk'd, and worked on stuff in my house.

In my free time I've been actually struggling through Top 100 books, believe it or not.

This post is short because I have a ton of stuff to do between now and mid-December, so I'm just writing it to get it out of the way. But I have a bunch of posts scheduled for the holidays already, so look forward to that.

First Impressions of Jane Eyre

Way back in my original review of Jane Eyre, I mentioned that I first read it when I was ten years old.

I knew that back then, after that first reading, I used the book for a book report. I'd thought that that book report was long gone, but thanks to my packrat tendencies and the fact that I'm currently trying to deal with the enormous volume of useless paper that I've accumulated over the years, I actually found it again. I have it here to present to you today. I wish I knew what my teacher at the time made of this.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte | Two Hectobooks

What parts of this book seemed real?
The parts of the book that seemed real were the parts when Jane is at Thornfield under the employment of Edward (Rochester). Jane is a governess to Adèle (Varens). I believe it is possible to have such affection for a pupil. Jane (Eyre) is sometimes stern yet she is a good kind governess.

What parts of this book seemed fake or unreal?
One of the parts of this book that seemed fake was the description of Bertha Mason; the author describes her and gives her bloodshot eyes, swelled and dark lips, and purple coloured skin. I don't believe there could be anyone so ugly. Another is the description of Rosamond Oliver; she is too beautiful to be possible; she has picture eyes, long eyelashes, a smooth forehead, oval-like cheeks, sweetly formed lips, a small chin, teeth (very white), and blonde curls.

I'll read this book several more times and get something new from it every time, I'm sure, but it's pretty hilarious to see what made the biggest impression on me as a preteen. Certainly not the love story. I also love that I used two semi-colons.

And here's a character profile of Jane from the same book report:

Describe the character in the book. Tell what you think the character looked like.
She has hazel-coloured hair and green eyes. She was quite short because she is said to be small throughout most of the book.

What kind of personality did this character have?
At the beginning of the book Jane is place-less, is unloved, and dependent. Towards the end she changes and becomes independent also a loved and loving woman. Jane is quite confident in herself and she shows this first when she is 10 and argues with Mrs. Reed (child to adult) and second when she argues with St. John and Mr. Rochester.

What did the character do that you admire?
She left Mr. Rochester after she found out that he had an insane wife. Jane sets out on foot without money or food for four days.

R45. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Year Published: 1967
Pages: 136

First Sentence: When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton | Two Hectobooks


Someday maybe the teenager I was will forgive the adult I am for not getting around to reading The Outsiders before now.  It seems that my brother and sister both read this book at school, and I somehow completely missed it (like so many other classics, alas!).  But this would've been something that I latched onto and loved for years, I'm certain.  I know this especially considering the fact that this book was written and published while S. E. Hinton was a teen girl and has many of the hallmarks of teen girl writing and the "teen girl gaze" that I remember with a lot of fondness and some horror.

I am shocked even further by the fact that I've never seen Francis Ford Coppola's movie adaptation, starring so many young 80s hotties.

But here we are, and wow did I ever miss the boat on this one. The story of the Greasers vs. the Socs in smalltown USA (I pronounce this as "socks" in my head and I don't even care that that's illogical and incorrect) is narrated by Ponyboy Curtis, 14 years old and the youngest of the three Curtis brothers.  His oldest brother is named Darryl ("Darry") and his middle brother is named Sodapop.  Why do these boys have these names?  This is such a weird choice by the author.  In any case, the Curtis boys' parents are dead, and the three of them are now running with a gang of Greasers. When Ponyboy and another gang member, battered Johnny Cade, are attacked by the rival gang the Socials, Johnny ends up killing one of them in self-defense. This sparks off a series of dangerous, sad adventures for Ponyboy and Johnny.

The novel is all about how people are people no matter how long their hair is (no mention of skin colour, though, although I'm not sure if that has more to do with the demographics of 1960s Oklahoma or not). It also tracks family dynamics and how sometimes your friends are your family, and sometimes people will express their love in ways that might baffle you. Ponyboy is the youngest and smartest of the bunch, which allows him to have these revelations.  (But why is his name Ponyboy!?) The messages are unselfconscious, which is refreshing.

A lot of the characters are cute boys, and they're muscular and acrobatic and they love each other. Everyone gets a hair and eye colour.  I love that about this book.  I love the restraint teen girl writer S. E. Hinton shows in the female characters she includes, which is to say that none of them are obvious self-inserts. Other things are more strange and made me wonder, like how Ponyboy randomly, two thirds of the way in, mentions that he's a track star. This is a tiny spoiler for an old book, but the book is structured such that it's actually written by Ponyboy, and I can't help wondering whether that "oh yeah I forgot this important fact" stuff is intentional to evoke the feeling of a young teenager writing without a plan, or if it's because the book was actually written by a teenager.

In any case, I enjoyed my short time with this book and it's definitely worth a little bit of yours as well.

Five Years Ago This Month: November 2011

Five years ago this month...

...I DIDN'T POST ANYTHING. For shame once again, past M.R.

Also I took literally one photo, and it was a selfie, and since I don't post pictures of myself on this blog, that's that. November 2011 was kind of a rough month, apparently.

56. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Year Published: 1929
Pages: 217
First Sentence: Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth.
Rating: 3/3 (read it!)


So, full disclosure, I've read a lot of Nancy Drew books (like three dozen of them) and that's about where my knowledge of detective novels begins and ends.  I've read Poe's ratiocination stories and maybe a couple of Sherlock Holmes stories and that's almost it for the classics with a few notable exceptions that I'm forgetting right now*. What I'm trying to establish here is that this is a genre I'm extremely unfamiliar with, haven't really sought out, and, dare I say, don't really care for.  Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon is the prime example of the hardboiled detective novel, and this was kind of a problem for me.

Like all parodies of the genre, the novel begins with Sam Spade's secretary ushering a beautiful woman into his office at his private detective agency.  The woman, Miss Wonderly, tearfully tells Spade that her sister has run away with a shady character, and she needs his help to find out where this man, Floyd Thursby, has taken her sister.  At this point, Spade's partner Miles Archer comes into the office and the three of them agree that Archer will follow Thursby that night.  In almost the very next scene, Spade gets woken up by a call telling him that Miles Archer has been found shot dead.  Not much later, Floyd Thursby is dead, too, and Spade confronts Miss Wonderly about it and how she's definitely not all that she appears.  Eventually there actually is a "Maltese falcon" involved.

Spade is hard-boiled for sure.  He drinks and chain-smokes in a lovingly detailed way (he rolls his own cigarettes just about all the time) and goes from bed with the femme fatale to punching dudes out with almost no change in facial expression, cool as a cucumber in virtually every situation.  Hammett describes him as a "blond satan" in the first paragraph.  He's a character that I didn't particularly like, what with his womanizing and his utterly ambiguous personal code of ethics, but I think Spade's character flaws are a feature, not a bug.  None of the other characters are quite as alive as Spade is, although I loved his secretary, Effie Perine, and I'm not saying that they were hollow shells or anything, either.  In fact Spade's inner life is possibly the biggest mystery of all in this novel.  It's never clear exactly what he's thinking or how much he knows, even after he gets the main villain of the piece to explain everything.

Hammett himself was a private detective with the Pinkertons, and I'm really curious how that compared with what he's depicting here.  His style, with the cigarettes and the blond satan and all that, is intriguing and could probably be called hard-boiled, too.  He doesn't waste time on flowers in his prose, but instead concentrates on exactly where his characters are putting each of their hands.

I have to admit, this was a hard one to rate.  I'd hoped to love it more than I did.  At most points I didn't love it at all, just sort of quietly enjoyed it.  It's a 3/3 the way Kim is a 3/3: not useless or uninteresting enough to be a 2/3 but it didn't blow me away.  Give it a shot if this is a genre you like or you're curious about (but be aware that there's some 1929-vintage misogyny and homophobia in it).

* Trixie Belden?