Saturday, March 31, 2012

eReadings 14

The Seven Poor Travellers
Charles Dickens

This is an odd little story, about a charitable inn in Rochester, set up to allow poor travellers a free night's stay and a meal, with the narrator venturing in as a seventh poor traveller, adding his assistance with meals and company.

For the entertainment of the travellers he tells an extended story within a story on a completely different topic.

As a whole, it is enjoyable, yet still remains an oddity.

eReadings 13

In Defense of Women
H L Mencken

The title interested me here, knowing that this was written in the very early 20th century. It took some time to finally decide that this book is a satire. It is written in an intellectual style, ostensibly by someone who has figured out women, and men, and a good number of other things.

There are aspects, which if serious, would offend many, since there is a lot of negativity in all directions. Women are held up to be more highly intelligent than men, yet in more than one part of the book prostitutes are noted to be an example of the high intelligence of women.

There is a good deal of entertaining wit here, but for the topic and content, I found it got quite tedious, and could have easily been half its length or shorter.

eReadings 12

The Black Tulip
Alexandre Dumas - père

This book begins with the description of a historical event, the gruesome murder of the brothers DeWitt in The Hague, in the Netherlands. This was a time of great antagonisms, between religions, between countries, and the DeWitts were in the middle of one of these moments when power changed hands, and were mercilessly slaughtered (literally) by a mob. The descriptions are graphic.

After this, the scene now shifts to a nephew of the DeWitts, Mynheer Van Baerle, living a simple life in the town of Dort, and very much a tulip fancier. Thus we find our way to knowledge of the great challenge of the time, growing a black tulip, for which a prize and great prestige is promised.

Van Baerle isn't alone in his quest, with the Netherlands full of tulip mania, but one in particular is a neighbor, Isaac Boxtel, who envies his skills at creating new varieties of tulip. So, with the machinations of Boxtel, Van Baerle becomes entrapped in the public antagonism for the DeWitts, and ends up in prison, but not before he has managed to create a true black tulip.

The bulk of the story, then, is about the intertwining of these events, these characters and others, and the eventual presentation of the black tulip. A very enjoyable story.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

eReadings 11

The Poison Belt
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This book was published in 1913, and has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes. It figures another of Doyle's characters, Professor Challenger, a large and boisterous man who is able to see phenomena and make some startling deductions, such as the impending demise of all life on earth, which he communicates to the London Times at the beginning of this story.

The story relies on a holdover from prior generations of scientific thought that there is some ill-defined "ether" that permeates the universe, which somehow plays a role in the maintenance of life.

Professor Challenger, noting reports of some aberrations in Fraunhofer's lines – these are the gaps in the visual spectra of light which depend on the light's source – attributes this to some disruption of the ether, and anticipates this will be lethal to the human race, this being accompanied by some coincidental epidemics being reported in faraway parts of the world.

Indeed, there is something spreading over the world, from south to north, with everyone falling lifeless as it comes upon them invisibly.

The story is a relatively short one. Although I can't imagine someone making a movie from the concept, something like an episode of The Twilight Zone could have been made.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

eReadings 10

South Sea Tales
Jack London

This is a collection of short stories by this famous author. While there is some range to the territory this covers in these tales, there is an emphasis on the area around the Solomon Islands.

As depicted by Mr. London, these people were savages, untrustworthy, and liable to cannibalism and head hunting. I'm not sure how true this was at the time he wrote these stories. To the modern eye, the various white people who travel the South Seas are hardly less barbaric, capturing the natives into virtual slavery for use on plantations and as crew on ships.

There is a gruesomeness which all this lends to the stories as a whole, and one could not say these are uplifting stories in any way. It also seems likely that there is more than a little exaggeration for effect.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

eReadings 9

Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde

This collection of essays, articles, and stories by Oscar Wilde was put together by an admirer, seemingly to counteract the various negative public opinions of him which came about and preceded his premature death. There is no explanation of any of that in this work, so consult Wikipedia or other sources for the details.

He was an infamous character in late 19th century Britain, with a flamboyant lifestyle and sharp tongue. He had been a top student at Oxford, and made a name for himself there, and later, with his most famous work being for plays such as "The Importance of Being Earnest".

As you begin this collection, you quickly get a sense of his wit and the sharpness of his tongue as he derides one person after another. As you read along, you see in contrast his exuberance about things he holds in high esteem, one being the supremacy of literature over all kinds of other artistic media, such as painting or music.

Some of the included material are his own attempts at prosaic stories, so there is a mix of critical commentary and his own creative output.

Mr. Wilde was by reputation a very entertaining person to be with or even just observe, based on what one can read about him, and one certainly gets a sense of his wit in this collection. At the same time, while he certainly was skilled at turning a phrase, there seems to me a shallowness to his own works, so that they lack the depth of character and story development that he admires in others.