Mulla Nasreddin Folktales

This book of folktales was a gift brought back for me from Uzbekistan with a couple of other items:

Dried apricots, spice tea, a detailed handcrafted magnet, and a booklet of folktales.

The booklet is not a top-quality production, and has some flaws and errors. By far the worst error is that one of the stories was accidentally split into two parts, the second part printed on an earlier page and the first part printed on a later one! Still, the translation is accessible, the introduction is informative, and the folktales are entertaining.

The stories are a mix of humor, wisdom, and foolishness. The central character, Mulla Nasreddin or Nasrudin, is known by a variety of names with a variety of spellings. He is sometimes clever and sometimes obtuse.

See below for some examples of his shenanigans.

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When and Why I Read Mulla Nasreddin Folktales

This small booklet was purchased for me recently in Uzbekistan.

Genre: folktales
Date started / date finished: 12-Jun-19 to 13-Jun-19
Length: 46 pages
ISBN: 9789943398826
Originally published in: 2018

Dubliners by James Joyce

I am, still, not a fan of James Joyce.

I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a high school student. When I re-read it again recently for the Hungry Hundred Book Club I asked myself, more than once, why I’d even bothered, not having liked it the least little bit the first time around.

Enough was enough, I told myself. Lesson learned. I was never going to read more Joyce. Life’s too short to spend time trying to like stuff I don’t actually like, regardless of how ‘important’ the stuff purports to be. But then, I read more Joyce anyway! Why did I do that?!

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When and Why I Read Dubliners

The Irish Embassy in Singapore invited local readers to participate in Bloomsday by reading James Joyce's short story collection Dubliners and coming for a discussion on 14 June 2019. I saw it as an opportunity to pursue the question of whether Joyce is really the founder of ALL modern fiction, as has been asserted.

Genre: literary fiction (short stories)
Date started / date finished: 30-May-19 to 05-Jun-19
Length: 150 pages
ISBN: Project Gutenberg 2814
Originally published in: 1914
Gutenberg link: Dubliners

Little Women (1933)

Why do I feel like there was too much shouting? (Also, too much crying? Sheesh, Kathy, calm the heck down.)

The 1933 Katharine Hepburn film is an unsubtle adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic American novel Little Women. Then again, the book at times is less than subtle in its advocacy of Christian selflessness. Moreover, I get the sense that compared to the films of the day, Little Women represented a victory for realism: it was a departure from overblown, melodramatic, stereotyped adventures.

I decided to watch Little Women (1933) after the Hungry Hundred Book Club meetup, when I saw three classic film adaptations—Little Women 1933, Little Women 1949, and Little Women 1994—listed in a friend’s copy of the book. Many critics seem to consider the 1933 adaptation the best of the bunch.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/little-women-1933/id298739825

See below for more of what I thought of it, as well as a plot summary in the form of a list of incidents included in the movie.

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Increasing Feminism in the Works of Louisa May Alcott

Introduction

Loved by mothers and daughters for more than a century, Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women attained a higher level of popularity than any of her other books. Even though the book was clearly directed toward a female audience, it has been said of Little Women than even from a male point of view the book and its sequels are very good (Chesterton). Though Little Women is known mostly for its characters and amusing stories (Gale), it becomes clear to a careful reader that Alcott weaves into her stories her opinions on certain issues. Her reform-minded father and her mother both encouraged her to live independently and stand up for her opinions (Gale “Overview”; Magill, “Little Women” 1264). The issues Alcott supported included coeducation and abolition, but causes Alcott especially supported were women’s rights and women’s suffrage (Gale; Gale “Overview”). In fact, after she had become famous, the novelist used her popularity to aid her causes and became the first woman in Concord to register to vote (Magill, “Louisa May Alcott” 7). It should not be surprising, then, that it is Alcott’s feminism which most influences Little Women and which dominates her later works in particular. Sometimes Alcott speaks out quite strongly through her characters, but other times she must make sacrifices, toning down the opinions in order to insure that her books succeed. In her earlier works, such as Little Women, Alcott is most restrained, but in her novel Rose in Bloom, she is less so, and in Jo’s Boys, she hardly restrains her opinions at all.

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The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The full title of the work is The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come. The work tells the story of a man named Christian who reads the Bible and thus comes to fear his doom and to feel that he is carrying a burden. He desires to be saved. Luckily, he subsequently encounters a man named Evangelist who advises him to travel to the Celestial City by a certain path. Christian tries to follow his instructions, with varying degrees of success, and (massive spoiler alert) ultimately reaches his goal.

Is it worth reading this venerable Christian text nowadays?

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When and Why I Read The Pilgrim's Progress

The characters of Little Women refer to the book and its setting, characters, and plot.

Genre: fiction (religious allegory)
Date started / date finished: 16-May-19 to 20-May-19
Length: 145 pages
ISBN: Project Gutenberg 131
Originally published in: 1678
Gutenberg link: The Pilgrim's Progress

English grammar: How to use pronouns ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’

The first-person singular pronouns of English are ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’. Although in daily speech people have been known to use them somewhat interchangeably, IMO it’s worth knowing which roles those different words are supposed to play in a sentence.

Give yourself a quiz. Read each of the sentences below and decide whether it is grammatically correct.

Me/Myself/I Usage Quiz

  • The horses were trained by Sylvia and myself.
  • Me and Sylvia sold the horses to a riding school.
  • The boss split the profit between Sylvia and I.

Answers and explanations after the jump.

Continue reading English grammar: How to use pronouns ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women, a popular and influential nineteenth-century American novel about the coming of age of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, is familiar, charming, and—for those with a compatible upbringing—only a little bit too didactic.

It’s easy to admire Jo, the fiercely independent heroine of Little Women, a tomboy who cuts all her hair off, looks forward to spinsterhood, and aims to support herself by writing. I wonder if she’s a Mary Sue; others (doubtless more fruitfully) debate whether or not the book is feminist.

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New Terrain / New Works featuring JY Yang at Sing Lit Station

I attended a talk on worldbuilding by Singaporean author JY Yang and took some photos and notes. My notes are not comprehensive, but are hopefully characteristic.

In keeping with Yang’s preferences, in the notes below, I have used they/them/their pronouns. (Still, being somewhat of a traditionalist in the realm of English grammar, I wish there were a distinct gender-neutral singular.)

About JY Yang (from Sing Lit Station)

After six years of writing speculative fiction, JY Yang finally finds themselves at the end of the critically acclaimed and bestselling Tensorate series, with the fourth and final volume, The Ascent to Godhood, out in July this year. As a postcolonial feminist writer who deals specifically with gender, cultural imperialism and structures of power in their work, JY Yang is currently embarking on the epic journey of crafting their first novel-length work of fiction. Described as a far-future space opera centred on the descendants of a doomed generation ship, it has giant robots, space stations under siege, emperors and hierophants, holy artifacts and faster-than-light travel. It is Joan of Arc meets Gundam.

About the Event (Worldbuilding “Lecture” at Sing Lit Station)

There were no PowerPoint slides; I can’t imagine the talk proceeding in that way. Yang was animated, spontaneous, and concise in sharing about their struggles and successes as a writer. The talk was neither wholly about worldbuilding nor off-topic, neither wholly driven by the author nor wholly driven by the audience. The chairs were filled, but there was space for everyone. It was a good-sized group, but still felt intimate. A delightful event.

Details below.
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Loving Vincent (2017)

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian aptly calls the film “impressive but weirdly exasperating”. I did enjoy the film, but I do wish I’d sat a bit farther back from the screen. I also wish I had watched Loving Vincent on DVD (rather than in a theater) so that I could watch the special features. For one thing, I’m not so familiar with the life and works of Vincent Van Gogh. For another, I would love to know more about the technique that was used to create this strange film. The medium is the message.

Some of the frames are copies of Van Gogh paintings—over a hundred of them. The color parts of the film seemed to have been actually painted (in the style of Van Gogh); the black-and-white parts seemed to consist of live-action film that had been modified with some kind of filter. In any case, the realism of the people and their movements can be explained by rotoscoping: the movie was filmed first; then artists used the film frames as templates for paintings on canvas. What we see was made using images of those paintings. (And I thought stop-motion animation was pains-taking!)

The story of the film is sad, as is the life of many a starving artist; Van Gogh only became famous after his untimely death. The end credits said he sold exactly one painting in his lifetime, but created over 800 in the decade before he died—and he died when he was younger than I am now.

It goes to show that having a skill is not enough; you also need the skill or connections to advertise that skill in the right place at the right time, or you are no more noticed than a tree falling in the forest where no ears can hear it.

See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Loving Vincent (2017)

Rosie Milne reads from Circumstance at Books Actually

Publisher Monsoon Books and bookshop Books Actually organized a reading by author Rosie Milne from her new novel Circumstance. Moderator Elaine Chiew followed up the reading with insightful commentary and questions.

See below for a bit of author Q&A and photos from the event.

Continue reading Rosie Milne reads from Circumstance at Books Actually