Friday, December 7, 2012

Contemporary World Literature and Relevant Application To Our Lives

When reading contemporary world literature, I tend to focus a lot on who the characters are.  I enjoy the plot lines, but I also enjoy looking into how the author has made each character’s personality and struggles to get across a deeper message to the reader.  A message that whether the author consciously includes or not, affects the way the reader thinks about life.

In Please look after mom the relationship of the father to the mother really spoke to me, I saw some aspects of myself in his behavior and made me consider some of the regrets he had when he lost his wife.  One of the things he did that reminded me of myself was the way in which he lost her in the first place.  I’m a tall guy and when I walk my own pace not paying attention to who is walking with me, I will often leave them behind.  The same way in which he walked ahead losing his wife in the crowd, if only he had slowed down for her, the book could have ended there and the heartache would never have taken place as it did.  Although My fiancĂ© is also a tall girl and can generally keep her own pace with me, I know when I have children or perhaps a friend walking with me in a new place.  I really do need to slow down and pay attention to how closely they are walking behind me.

The daughter in please look after mom regretted her relationship, or lack thereof, with her mother.  And causes the reader to stop and think, do I really know my mother? Is she more than just someone who raised me? Or do we have the “Mom was just, Mom” mentality portrayed in the book.  All the characters in please look after mom regretted the way they had treated there mother, and although they all started by blaming one another, ultimately all they could think about was what they personally could have done differently.

In Arabian nights and days by Naguib Mahfouz, the essence of self-reflective, psychological messaging, is still present.  For example when the genie comes in a dream and Sanaan Al-Gamali, and tells him that he can choose to do his bidding, or die.  He chooses to live, but is then forced to do evil.  It’s like putting a gun in the middle of a room and telling 2 people, here’s the deal, you shoot the other, or you shoot yourself, but only one of you will leave this room alive.  Will you be the kind of person who will lay down his life for another, greater love hath no man.  Or would you save yourself.  I know what option I would choose, but it’s the kind of thoughts that go through your mind when you wonder what you would do if placed in the same situation.  If you chose to sacrifice yourself, you would have no regrets.  But if you chose to save yourself, causing harm to another, no matter how much you justified it by telling yourself they were  corrupt and evil person, it would still haunt you for the rest of your life.

In My Micheal, a novel written by Amos Oz.  We are forced to contemplate the way in which we treat our significant other.  A man reading that book may think to himself.  Am I that distant, do I not give her enough attention.  Perhaps work, a sport, hobby, or even friends take priority over her leaving her in the backburner.  Although my fiancĂ© is at the top of my priority’s, second only to God, I still think too much of my time is enveloped in work.  Between a full load at school, being a manager, and having to drive an hour and a half to work.  I don’t have as much time for her as I would really like to. 

My Micheal also speaks to the female reader, and although I can’t say what a woman would get out of the book.  It seems to me she would begin to question her attitude towards men.  In my opinion, some of the reasons I don’t like Hannah, can be seen in many women.  Though exaggerated in this book, I wonder if a woman reader would see, do I really have that attitude? As mentioned by a classmate, Hannah is not a very likeable person, and I would agree with that.

I think books have a lot to teach us.   Some of us consciously observe how what we read effects the way we think and some do not.   But whether you are a conscious observer or not, books will always affect you, so be careful little eyes what you read.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The White Castle - Orhan Pamuk


The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk is a book that examines the realm of knowledge within the world of cultural identities. In many ways, it is a direct conflict between the West and the East cultures and the knowledge that comes from both. Hoja, is a Turkish scholar who buys the narrator a slave who is actually an Italian scholar.

Throughout the story, both Hoja and the narrator are seen as intellectuals. And while neither can truly claim that they know more than the other at first, it becomes obvious that the narrator's knowledge is contemporary, and thus more scientifically sound than Hoja's. Another difference is that the narrator sees and uses his knowledge as a way to help others, whereas Hoja uses his knowledge to move his own ambitions forward.

When Hoja first bought the narrator, Hoja had tried to force superiority over the slave, but eventually realizes that he as a scholar himself, the slave knows his own share about other things. Hoja begins to develop a relationship (of sorts) with his slave, and he reveals his ambition to become the Sultan’s court astrologer. However, it is during this time that the conflict is at its worst point: Hoja becomes more and more malicious, taunting the narrator over his past misdeeds, his ability to admit faults, and his fear of the plague.

When the plague does hit, Hoja appears to have died because of it, only to recover and reclaim his slave. Hoja sets to work on a great weapon that will prove his brilliance. It is during this time that Hoja is shocked at how much his slave (who has always looked like him) is able to imitate him in mannerisms and knows about his past. At this point, the slave-master role deteriorates completely away and they realize that they are able to switch identities.

In the end, it is a criticism of the differences between Western and Eastern culture and knowledge. Hoja asks at one point if anything would actually change if Istanbul was taken over by Western rulers. “[Would] defeat mean that people would change and alter their beliefs without noticing it?” (109) By the end of the book, it is made clear that normal characteristics that would have an effect on culture – i.e. dress, religion, education, language, wealth – it had all been chance and the knowledge that comes from that is all important.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Micheal - Amos Oz

My Micheal is a novel written by Amos Oz from the view point of a woman; I was very impressed with his ability to portray the thoughts and feelings of a woman into a novel. Throughout the book was expressed her feelings towards her husband and struggles she had with him. It made me think of the ways in which things I do, could affect my future wife in similar ways. I, like Micheal, can easily become over concentrated on my work and that mindset. Leaving the woman in my life feeling as if she is coming second. I truly do it so I can support her and give her a good life, but there is a very delicate balance that must be maintained.

For me this was probably the most enjoyable book I’ve read all semester. I have a background versed in psychology and counseling so I found myself relating much of the book to conversations I had had with other women about relationships. The book also reminded me of a book a friend gave me last year. Hannah is bored with a scholarly and professional husband and lacks a sense of adventure. Something that John Eldridge points out in his book Wild at Heart. Men today have become nice guys with no sense of adventure or danger. Women need to be caught up in an adventure once in a while. Or they will become as bored as a man would.

Even though I knew all along that the author was male, it was easy for me to disregard that and feel as though I was hearing directly from Hannah. Hannah gets over the “honeymoon stage” of their relationship and feels it is not what she had expected. And begins to withdraw her from her husband and son into a saddened state.  Which was worsened by the fact that her son resembles Michael.

Although I was constantly trying to figure out how I could help Hannah if I was somehow involved in her life. I also couldn’t help but think a lot of her issues were her own fault. It seems most of the time as if she doesn’t want to be happy and shoots down Michael in his attempts to make her so. Although he may not be a funny guy, some effort could also be made on her end.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Arabian Nights and Days - Naguib Mahfouz

When I first found out we were going to be reading Arabian Nights and Days I was expecting something along the lines of Disney’s Aladdin. I grew up watching it and this is where most of my experience with Arabian themed tales comes from. However I found the themes of Arabian Nights and Days to be far from the innocent tales I had expected.

What surprised me about this book, apart from the themes, was how much it jumped around. It was a collection of smaller stories but ones that did not fit together as smoothly as I would have expected. It was also weird to read a book written by someone with Muslim views. They came through throughout the book and I wasn’t sure how to interpret it all, as I have a very limited knowledge of their religion.

The book also made me curious about the misconceptions I had about their culture. From what I grew up with, genies were always good and granted people wishes. What limited knowledge I had came from Aladdin and I Dream of Genie, and I had assumed that this view was the only way genies were thought of. To me the Genie’s seemed like Angels and Demons, the “believing genies” seemed like how our culture views angels and the evil genies seemed like demons. The first Genie we encounter in the book is the non-believing, evil Genie. Which manipulates humans to do their bidding, then he deceives the human again telling him I had nothing to do with it, you performed the action of your own free will, making him feel fully responsible.

I have never read A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, but after reading this book I am encouraged to do so, perhaps next summer when I may have a lighter work load.  It sounds like a very interesting read from what I’ve discussed with class mates.

I’m beginning to get a feeling that we are only going to read books with slightly confusing plot lines. I like books that follow one story from one point of view. But so far the books we’ve looked into have done a lot of jumping around, but hopefully the other books can require a little less jumping around.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

When I began to read Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, my original notion was that this was going to be an awful book. I’ve never read a book written in second person before and found it very difficult to get into. However, after pushing through a couple pages I got used to seeing "you" and carried on with the rest of the book. Another confusing thing about reading the book was how it would jump around in time without giving an indication that we were changing.  I’ve read plenty of books that changed times but it was usually indicated by a couple of *** between chapters or at least a sentence like “Then I thought back on an experience I had as a child…” Please look after mom often made no clear indication it was about to change times and I often caught myself re-reading paragraphs to make sense of it.

This is a book full of self-evaluation and regret. When the family originally discovers their mothers disappearance they all try to blame each other for the loss, but as the story progresses they realize that they never really knew their mother. “Mom was just, Mom” They didn’t see her as someone who had once been a child, who could have feelings and desires outside her family. And even after years of reading and writing letters for their mother, they had never thought that she might be illiterate.

As they try to find their mother physically the characters begin to seek her emotionally. Knowing they never truly knew her they begin to regret how they had treated their mother and think of all the things they should have done differently, and in the final chapter, the mother is running through all the things she should have done differently.

So the moral of the story, take care of your family; if you don’t take the time to find who they are now, you've already lost them. In the words of Garth Brooks “If tomorrow never comes, will she know how much I love her.”

Friday, September 7, 2012

What are the concerns of literature, as we understand those concerns today?

The concerns of literature can vary greatly depending on genre, personal opinions of the authors, and other such variables. Good literature may be concerned with entertainment, in the case of fictional or nonfictional works, learning purposes, such as text books and research materials, or simply to know and understand current events.

For the purposes of an author, the concerns of literature could be many things. A fictional writer may be interested in entertaining others, making money, or simply find writing to be a good way to spend their free time and de-stress. A non-fiction writer could be concerned with educating others, informing people of current events, and also convincing others of their own viewpoint. Journalists, who are in a category of their own, are obviously focused on letting others know what is happening around them. They work hard to get the story before their peers do.

Overall, I believe that literature’s purpose is to teach. Even the worst written fiction books have a story, a lesson that can be applied to the reader’s life. It’s been proven that books have an effect on the people reading it. Perhaps this is because the reader cannot depend on outside visuals. He is contained to words on a page; his imagination must fill in the blanks.  It’s been my experience in the past that when most people think of the word “literature,” what comes to mind is something along the lines of a novel. Most wouldn't consider a foreign textbook to be literature, but by its very definition, literature is all written work. Literature, from the latin, litterae, is the art of written work. Literature literally means “made from letters.” In fact, based on the fact that I believe literature’s purpose is teaching, textbooks (and other books used for learning purposes) could theoretically be argued to be the highest form of literature. Granted, they may be boring sometimes, but information is taken from them and learning is accomplished.

When I personally think about literature, I remember the entertainment I found growing up, lost in a novel. My first passion for literature arose when I discovered the Redwall books when I was young. Soon after finishing the last Redwall book that my library carried, I moved on to Harry Potter, and then Eragon. And this is the genre of literature I currently concern myself with, fictional fantasy books.

Second to fictional entertainment, the majority of my reading has been spent in educating myself in many different fields, whether that be through high school, college, work, or even random interests I find. During the school year, this is the type of literature I find myself in most often. With 18 hours a week in school, 30 at work, and the rest spent doing homework, sleeping, and eating, I don’t have much time left for leisure reading other than personal devotionals. However, I do hope that once I graduate from college that I will once again be able to return to my habit of reading for entertainment purposes rather than out of necessity. Until then, I will content myself with the Bible, which, as said in II Timothy 3:16 is used for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” If Paul defines here that the most common piece of literature, the Bible, is for these purposes, I believe it then confirms my definition of the purpose of literature.