As Bon Jovi once said “OHHHHHHHH WE’RE HALF WAY THERE OH-OHH”. I admit I wasn’t around when Jon said it, but I have this feeling deep inside somewhere that he was talking about hitting page 541. Just a hunch.
“Better stand tall when they’re calling you out”, Emperor Alexander wrote, with slight rephrasing of my own, in his message to the Russian people. “Don’t bend, don’t break, baby, don’t back down”, they all shouted back. It’s 1812. Time for war. Except this time everyone seems to have switched places.
- Title: The Neverending Story
- Author: Michael Ende
- # of Pages: 445
SPOILER ALERT: mentions main characters and touches on major events, includes quotes without names or direct comments about the plot but that may give away points to attentive readers
Bastian Balthazar Bux is shy, awkward, and certainly not heroic. His only escape is reading books. When Bastian happens upon an old book called The Neverending Story, he’s swept into the magical world of Fantastica—so much that he finds he has actually become a character in the story! And when he realizes that this mysteriously enchanted world is in great danger, he also discovers that he has been the one chosen to save it. Can Bastian overcome the barrier between reality and his imagination in order to save Fantastica?
I recently read Momo, also by Michael Ende. A quick Google investigation led me to the conclusion that my review of it was going to be the only non-five-star review on planet Earth, which reminded me – I never liked The Neverending Story, when I read it as a kid, either. I also didn’t like the movie. (Fun fact: Michael Ende didn’t think so either. he asked the production to stop, or at least change the name, because in his opinion it was too different from the original book. He sued and lost.) I thought the book really was neverending. As with Momo, I seem to be the only person who thinks this way. So naturally I decided to read it again and attempt to solve this mystery once and for all.
* translation: Louise and Alymer Maude (for page # references)
So this week, instead of war and peace between countries, we had some war and peace between hearts. Lots of proposals, engagements, disapproving parents. In a world with issues of class, hierarchy, and not much gender equality love can become a very unpleasant game. But let’s start at the beginning.
- Title: Momo
- Author: Michael Ende
- # of Pages: 227
Momo has a wonderful life. She has no parents and her home is the ruins of an old amphitheatre, but she has wonderful friends of all shapes and sizes who take care of her, play with her and keep her company. There’s Beppo Roadwsweeper, old and wise, who loves her and cares for her like a father, Guido Guide, the storyteller who loves to make up local history for tourists, and the children of the city who love to play with Momo and find that no game is really much fun without her.
One day something weird starts happening to the people in the world. It starts with the old barber, who gets a visit from a very odd, very gray man who tells him he can start saving time in the Timesaving Bank and then, when he’s older, he’ll have enough time saved up to fulfill all of his dreams. The man agrees. In order to save up time he has to start giving up some small things – a daily hour with his old mother, a weekly visit to his lover, his habit of sitting around and contemplating life every evening. He’s not the only one. One by one, people start saving time. As they strive to become more efficient, they drop hobbies, family and friends. Very soon society turns into a sort of machine – there’s no point wasting a second on anything that isn’t neccessary.
Momo and her friends start noticing the change around them. They soon find out it has to do with men in gray plaguing the citizens, convincing them to save time and then evaporating from their memories as soon as they’ve gone. They try telling people the truth, but when the men in gray find out, they find themselves in grave danger. As the world keeps changing, it’s up to Momo to save everyone.
I spend a good fifteen minutes reading reviews online before I set out to write this one. I screened through pages and pages of four and five star reviews, each one praising Ende more than the last, trying to figure out what went wrong for me.
* translation: Louise and Alymer Maude (for page # references)
Well, hello everyone. We’ve officially finished Volume One. Good job folks. Only two more to go!
We’ve tackled tips, we’ve discussed philosphy, and now it’s time for the little humans roaming around Europe. When thinking of War & Peace one tends to imagine thousands of pages describing terrible battles, people in medieval style clothing (because anything before World War 1 is basically the Middle Ages) and lots of descriptions of noble men on horses in indecipherable English. In reality, Tolstoy actually puts a serious emphasis on the humanness of his characters – their relationships with others, their own personal thoughts, humor, sarcasm, joy and sadness. It’s still a bit weird for me. I never expected to find myself laughing. Wanting to hug these people. Or just give ’em a high-five.
“The universal experience of ages, showing that children do grow imperceptibly from the cradle to manhood, did not exist for the countess. Her son’s growth towards manhood at each of its stages had seemed as extraordinary to her as if there had never existed the millions of human beings who grew up in the same way.” (pg. 181), Tolstoy says of Nicholas Rostov and his mother. Something in the way this was phrased made me grin from ear to ear, and Rostov, a 19th century way-too-patriotic-for-my-taste soldier, who seemed so far from anything I could ever understand, became just a kid. A twenty year old kid who comes home to his worried mother.
He’s also just a kid who takes the car on the weekend, and sometimes gambles away all the money his parents gave him. “And suddenly, in the most casual tone, which made him feel ashamed of himself, he said, as if merely asking his father to let him have the carriage to drive to town: […] ‘I need some money.’ ‘Dear me!’ said his father […]” (pg. 267). 43,000 rubles of it. He then tells himself he’ll start saving up 80% of his salary every year to pay it back. Yeah right, man. Let’s be real.
On one evening, Rostov finds himself relaying his battle story to other men he seeks to impress. “He began his story meaning to tell everything just as it happened, but imperceptibly, involuntarily, and inevitably he lapsed into falsehood. […] He could not tell them simply that everyone went at a trot, and that he fell off his horse and sprained his arm and then ran as hard as he could from a Frenchman into the wood. Besides, to tell everything as it really happened it would have been necessary to make an effort of will to tell only what happened. It is very difficult to tell the truth, and young people are rarely capable of it.” (pg. 186). Without even noticing I find myself there, in that room with him, feeling his almost childish desire to be a hero, embellishing reality. During the beginning of his service Nicholas’s bubble is burst, as he discovers that war is not at all what he expected. It’s bloody and messy and painful, and sometimes when you finally find yourself facing the enemy you accidentally fall. It’s not always marvelous or magnificent, and Lieutenant Count Rostov is just a kid who wants his friends to think he’s cool. And all of a sudden we’re not in 1805, Olmutz, Moravia (now Olomouc, Czech Republic), visiting friends from the Ismaylovsky Regiment, discussing the war. We’re in 20th century high school or middle school or elementary school, telling everyone about the crazy, incredible things we did on summer vacation, hoping we’ll finally become the popular kid this year.
And now for a question. As I write, I wonder what brings you guys back (since I’ve noticed it’s the same few every time – thanks, by the way). Are you reading the book as well? Have you already read it? Are you planning to? Should I be avoiding spoilers? (Character-wise of course, because history, well… it’s already sort of spoiled itself.) Feel free to say hello, share your own experiences, questions, thoughts. I’m always here. (Not much you can do with a broken ankle.)
previous entry here
Another week! I think I’m going to stick to this sort-of-Tuesday-technically-Wednesday routine. It’s consistent, yet still allows me to cover enough ground to provide some interesting content here for you all. Let me know what you think. More frequently? Less? Random, short little musings in between?
Well, we’ve finally hit some battle. I remember being very confused during my previous attempt at what the heck was going on in these kinds of scenes. The positioning was hard to understand and the military terms were waaaay beyond my league. I decided to take my own advice and not gloss over this time. Needless to say, my phone Chrome tabs are all open on various definitions of military terms and weapons and I’m sure my Internet history makes me out to be either an extreme history geek or just sort of crazy. It definitely slowed me down, but gosh, it’s so much nicer to actually understand what I’m reading!
So, a bit of information before I touch on my main point for this week. My copy includes a two-part introduction: 1) Historical Background to W&P and 2) The Genesis and Composition of W&P, both written by Henry Claridge (University of Kent at Canterbury). (The introduction also comes with an introduction recommending reading the background first and leaving the critical point of view till after finishing the book. Unlike my usual self, I decided to ignore the instructions and read everything beforehand.) Most of it was confusing and just freaked me out about this whole project even more (and should probably be re-read now that I feel on stable ground), but one piece stuck:
Due to unexpected… issues I fell back on my tentative reading plans and decided to just post my next War & Peace entry a week after the first. Twenty five minutes ago I realized that even though in my mind today is definitely a Tuesday, it is actually 2:17 AM on Wednesday. Not going to sleep does not mean the day goes on forever.
So. Unexpected issues. I had to go through surgery. I spent Wednesday night in a hospital with a nice metal add-on now permanently (?) attached to my leg. I took the book with me, expecting to have plenty of time. Turns out general anesthesia is quite a shocker to the system. I could barely keep my eyes open, let alone read. A one thousand page book. About 19th century Russian society. In French.
I started reading War & Peace on July 13th, 2015, purely so that I’d be able to tell people I’d read that monstrous thing. I had a plan – read fifty pages a day and finish it in less than a month. Little did I know how unrealistic that plan was. It was my last summer vacation; I had places to go and people to see. And also, I had one thousand pages of size six font to power through. By the end of August I’d barely reached the fourth hundred page. Two more reading bursts in September and January left me with a bookmark neatly forgotten between pages four hundred thirty and four hundred thirty one. I couldn’t get myself to mark it as “abandoned” on Goodreads. According to my account, I am still “currently reading” it.
Completely unrelated, on June 27th, 2017, I broke my ankle. I also injured my wrist, and suddenly I found myself a prisoner in my own home with a cast on my leg and on my arm, in a wheelchair that barely passes through the apartment hall.
I’d never put War & Peace back on my bookshelf. It still lay around on my desk, waiting to be rescued. And suddenly, locked indoors with nothing to do and not much ability to do it with, my crazy plan seemed possible again.
So here I am. July 3rd, 2017. On page 20. Starting from scratch. These blog posts will document my second attempt. Summaries, thoughts and opinions, maybe some tips I pick up along the way for those planning to embark on this journey themselves. This time, with all five A Song of Fire and Ice novels under my belt and some experience in reading encyclopedia-sized books, I hope I make it.
I don’t know if this will be a weekly thing. Maybe twice a week. Maybe less. I might read other books in addition and I might not. I might include some medical updates along the way. I’m not setting any rules – this plan is scary enough. I invite you all to join me. Hopefully by the end of it I’ll also be able to walk again, which is not a bad incentive. (I’ll be able to walk even if I don’t finish but let’s not think about that).
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I couldn’t stop right there
And be one traveler long I stood
And looked at the ground
Praying it would swallow me whole
Then closed my eyes and spun around and opened my eyes and walked straight ahead and got lost.
Has that made all the difference?
The year is nearly over, and with it end a whole list of challenges and begin a whole bunch of other ones. This year, as always, I didn’t reach many of my goals. What usually happens is that I get off to a very good start, and then life gets in the way and by the time the year is over I’ve achieved so much, but not in the categories I planned on succeeding in. This year I read more than one book that was over 500 pages, but I also quit two midway. I planned on completing both 2012 and 2013 Eclectic Reader’s Challenges but finished only one. However, on the way I discovered a hidden love for memoirs, which is really the main idea behind those challenges. I also read two more books from the BBC 100 Book List. I barely passed the halfway mark on my goal of 50 books for the year, but on the other hand I read five books in one week and finally started using my Kindle, after owning one for at least a year and a half prior to use. I’m a to-do list kind of person, but I usually get sidetracked or discover new things and forget old plans, and I always end up somewhere far away from where I thought I’d be in the beginning. I make New Years resolutions, complete barely any, but do so many other things I never dreamed I’d do. All in all, I guess I make up for my failures with unplanned triumphs.
I’ve decided to lower my expectations for 2014. I am now in junior year, which is the hardest year of school, and along with Israel’s mandatory army service I’ve got a busy year of exams, hard work and planning for the future. Instead of taking on too much, I’ll plan for a bit and then see how I proceed.
As I did this year, I still want to retry the 2013 challenge, along with 2014. However, thanks to the Kindle and Goodreads I can now find books I want to read that fit the categories, and not force things in. My 50 books goal seemed achievable around June, but by the start of the school year I knew it was doomed. For 2014 I’ll set it to 35-40, and see how that works. I also want to try and read more Hebrew. This year I read two books in Hebrew, after originally thinking I’d alternate every other book. That expectation was insane, it’s impossible to go from reading almost no Hebrew to something so intense such as that. Instead, I’ll try and read at least 5-10 this year, and see how that goes.
In terms of blogging, I’d consider this year a success. I started this reading blog without ever having written so much as a book review. I was scared it would fail, that no one would care. I turned out to be wrong. I wrote seven reviews this year, including one I used for a book report that got me a perfect 100. I even reviewed a Douglas Adams book, which I thought I would never be able to do proper justice to. I now have 112 followers (along with a writing blog that has nearly 40) and views from over twenty countries including Pakistan, Egypt, Bermuda, South Africa and more. I’ve had highs and lows this year, with a break during the fall, but my record breaking 29 views on April 16th. All in all, I think it’s gone well for my first year and I’m definitely sticking around. I’d like to do more reviews this year, maybe even come up with memes and post ideas of my own. Again, we’ll see what happens.
“That’s a wrap,” as they say. 2013 was an interesting year. I shared my poetry and short stories in front of a crowd for the first time, had my work showcased in two zines, had a writer write a poem about my work after hearing it and being inspired. I started two short story collection ideas.
My first book for the new year is going to be The Reader by Bernhard Shclink, except I’ll be reading it in Hebrew. In fact, most, if not all of the books I read for January and February will be in Hebrew.
I think I’ll finish this off with a marvelous quote by Zig Zigler that says ““it’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” I hope you’ve all had a great year, and that the coming one is even greater.
So long, and thanks for all the fish.