Monday, 28 February 2011

Of books and cats

For starters, my book tally so far is 9/50.  I just finished The Prince, and I also read Mists of Avalon and Lord of the Flies.  I also finished Lancelot, Knight of the Cart, though I'm not going to comment specifically on that one right now.

I guess I'll go in read-them-order and start with Mists of Avalon.  I read it once back in Jr. high.  My friend lent it to me, and I was probably 30 pages from the end (it's over 1,000) when I gave it back.  I got bored with it I think.  This time around, well, I've read parts of The Mabinogion, four of Chretien's five romances, half of Le Morte D'Arthur, Tennyson's Idylls of the King (why is that a classic??), and for the last three months have been discussing Arthurian stories with other lit nerds, so I know a bit more about the legends and stories than I did when I was 12.  That was interesting, seeing what Bradley did with the characters, though some of them seemed pretty forced, like Gareth's adventure, which is sad cause it's a fun adventure and he starts off like he could be a useful character for her plot.  I appreciated that Merlin's utter stupidity wasn't the cause of his death in this one as it usually is.

I have two major beefs with the book though... well, maybe three.  One, according to her own intro, her aim was to show how Britain might have been prior to Christianity taking hold there.  To that end she made a good bit of headway, but then she filled it with Eastern ideas of reincarnation and enlightenment which just aren't native to Western religions.  If it was just briefly in there it might have been easy to ignore, but there were whole sections explaining basically what any introduction to Asian philosophy would say.  This leads me to  my second beef.  There was far too much emphasis on religion, and the clash of religions.  At first it was fine, and it even enriched the plot, but as the book moved on it became a fanatical voice narrating a story whose antagonist was another fanatic.  I'd like to think it wasn't trying to make a point out of that, because I hate pointed literature and if it was pointed the point was badly made.  My third beef with the book is mostly that I love Arthurian stories because of the knights and the adventures and the battles and even the epic fail of characters like Tristan and later versions of Gawain.  Bradley skipped over almost all of that (including the entire fight between Arthur and Mordred!!!) for the sake of keeping to her narrators which were all female.  That itself was actually pretty cool.  A+ for idea on that one.  It showed an interesting perspective, but it deteriorated quickly, and really, to me, the meat of the stories of Arthur and his knights are just that, Arthur and his knights.  To completely push them to the side and leap over most of the major adventures and battles was really disappointing.  I would rather her have allowed some of the male voices to narrate instead of sticking strictly to the females, or had a female in the camps or something.

It's not a book I'll read again any time soon, but those beefs aside, I really enjoyed the first half.  Up until Accalon's part was over (*sad face!!*), I thought it was really good.  Then Morgaine just went completely nuts and passed passionate into fanatical.  The story started to take really long leaps around there too.  I don't know, one of those books where the end is just really disappointing, and not because Arthur dies.  Everyone knows Arthur dies in the end (if you didn't, now you do).  Arthur always dies in the end.

I could keep rambling about that, but I'll move on to Lord of the Flies.  I've been wanting to read this book.  I don't know why I never did except that I never took Brit Lit in high school because of how I was bumped into the AP program my last year.  I don't know that they even read it at my school, either in AP (10th grade was Brit Lit) or regular (12th grade), but it seems to me something that would/should be on a high school reading list.  I wish I had read it when I was younger, when I didn't already know the world was messed up and humanity basically sucks.  I think it would have had more of an impact on me.  The writing style definitely felt geared for young adult.  It spelled out a bit more than I would have liked, and the Lord of the Flies part with the pig head was a little random.  Cool imagery, but random.  Simon was so in and out of the story up until that point that it really felt sudden, but it was a pretty pivotal point in the book so I also felt kinda cheated.  The ending was definitely a disappointment.  It made it feel almost like they were put on the island as a test or something Battle Royale style.  (I know the two have often compared, but I've only seen the movie.  I have the book, but I haven't read it yet.)  I didn't think the officer's reaction was appropriate either, though the children's was bang on.  Still, ending aside, it was an interesting book.  I liked the way the paint became a mask that hid shame.  The dynamics of the Tribe were really believable, though I wonder, had Jack not been so obsessed with the pig, would any of it happened?  Why was he so obsessed with the pig in the first place?  I've read too much and lived too much to not tear points like that apart anymore... I wish I had read it when I was younger.  I've read things that made me stop and reevaluate the world around me before, and I can imagine how that would have made me feel when I was 11, 12 years old, before I'd managed to work my way through things like A Tale of Two Cities.

Most recently I finished The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.  Yes, that evil manual for dictators... or something.  I don't get why it has such a bad reputation.  Personally, I think somebody (probably the Church as they were the first to edit parts for publication) called the book evil, associated it with dictators, and people, being exactly as Machiavelli calls them, "always taken by what a thing seems to be" and rarely looking for themselves, took up the cry and never bothered to actually read it.  Not that it is wholly wrong.  I can see where a dictator or a prince or the President of the United States for that matter could pick and choose bits of practical wisdom and put them to use.  It is better to be feared than to be loved so long as you are not hated (as a leader).  Fear can mean anything from stark terror (though I doubt that's what his intention was as that would lead to hate as soon as it abated) to respectful awe.  That tidbit has been pretty abused over time, but that makes it no less true.  Practically speaking, a leader who is feared, respected, or admired has an easier time getting people to follow him or her into danger than one who is simply loved or well liked.  "You like me, so come die for me," vs. "I have the power to make or break you, so come die for me."  That's putting it in incredibly simple terms, and those are expounded upon, but that's the gist of that section anyway.  Even the "controversial" chapter really was just stating the obvious.  It's not ideal for a leader to be dishonest, but human nature being as it is, find me one who isn't dishonest, then find a way to succeed in the political game against dishonest characters by being honest.  In this world it won't happen.  To quote a song I like, 「理想はただの理想」 "An ideal is just an ideal."  Basically Machiavelli wrote it as he saw it, practically speaking, not beating around ideals, not (completely) catering to the Church which, at the time, was an incredibly powerful political entity, and not making excuses for writing common sense.  I say common sense because that's how it read to me.  If you have enemies in a position to do you harm, destroy them before they can destroy you.  He never says how, though let's consider it was the beginning of the 16th century, basing most of his philosophy on wars and princes up to the 15th century, the most common way would have been execution if one could get their hands on their enemy.  He repeats multiple times that being hated by the people is the worst thing a prince could do - don't touch their property or women, don't make radical changes, don't raise the taxes.  He also says that, while a mask of virtue is necessary, it's also better if the prince has at least some of the virtues he shows the people.

I thought it was pretty vague.  I was actually disappointed, having believed the juicy rumors of it being the handbook for dictators.  It's not.  If a person has the intelligence to follow their ambition and succeed, they don't need Machiavelli's theories to help them.  Most of what he says could be applied to any politician in any type of government as well as most people in a leadership role.  His histories though were interesting, and Castruccio Castracani's was entertaining if not interspersed with pretty bits of fiction.  It read better than some of the contemporary romances.  It definitely beat Mallory.  The first bit though was really dry and not easy to read at 7 o'clock in the morning.  112 pages to me far longer than I wanted it to.  Once the histories started at about page 70 I breezed through it.  I read half of the book today when it took me all last week to read the first half.  It definitely would be an interesting conversation topic, except that it appears even the lit nerds on my forum are still mostly in the "Stalin's handbook" camp.

I'm not sure what to read next!  I'm partway through Ceremony, but that book can be so depressing.  I have a book on the history of Robin Hood, but I'd like something a bit less thinky.  I went from middle ages Arthur legends to epic-length book that was more religious conflict than I care to think about back to Renaissance political theory with a post-nuclear war island nightmare in between.  I need a break!  I've already read all of the palatable Jane Austin though! (/dig)

Oh, and I was going to write about the cats too.  Ophelia has a bladder infection... yay. >.>  I feel bad.  I thought she was just mad at me, so I let it go for almost two months.  She's on meds now, has been since Thursday, but twice again she's peed on my couch.  It's easy enough to clean up, but I need to correct the behavior.  The problem is, I don't know how.  Someone suggested getting her a new litter box and putting it where she's been peeing... which is a good idea except I don't have the space, and her current litter box is four feet from where she peed today.  I'll go to the store and see what's cheap though.  It makes sense.  She's been in pain for two months whenever she goes to the bathroom.  Of course she's not going to want to go in her litter box which has two months of pain associated with it.  I'm too tired and stressed to deal with this right now though.  I washed everything that I could, but some things just won't come clean.  Now it's no longer 50 degrees and sunny, it's pouring rain interspersed with snow.  What I really should do is just pack up a couple more boxes and get rid of the stuff in my apartment.  Getting the boxes is a huge pain though.  If it's not raining tomorrow I'm going to try the close grocery store again, see if they have anything.  I could always buy more boxes, but that gets expensive and the biggest boxes really aren't that big.  GAHH! I hate moving.  I hate living in this tiny hole even more though.  Even prior to Ophelia being sick, I could clean and clean and it's just not enough.  The bathroom moulds in a few days.  The kitchen smells like rat crap.  I just don't have the energy to deal with it all.  To top it off, I just spent $70 that I was planning on putting toward sending boxes on a vet trip.  I don't regret it, I'd do it in a heartbeat again if I needed to, but it adds to the whole "CRAP I HAVE NO MONEY!!" panic when I think about how to send boxes, what to throw away, what to try to sell, and all that stuff. 混乱  I have no idea how to translate that, but that's how I feel right now, like I'm running in circles and can't see or feel anything to find my way.

I think I'll go back to thinking about the middle ages or made-up worlds... or beads.  It's less panic inducing.