. . . “the letter A, gules” . . . look it up!

On a field, sable, the letter A, gules.

One would think, with all of the “spare time” available in an unemployed life, I would be halfway through reading my list of 101 novels. Alas, it is not so. I am, however, happy to report that I finally finished reading Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s The Scarlet Letter, though I was apparently far too busy on vacation. Because I broke my promise to finish it while laying by the pool in Mexico, I forced myself to finish it while laying by the pool in Florida as soon as I returned, and I have something odd to report. I liked it far less than I did when I was a young adult, and I think that I have come up with a plausible reason (although it may partially be the fault of the long, drawn out period over which I read it.)

I found the long-suffering, self-flagellating Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale to be an annoyingly distasteful character, particularly since he was cast as kind of hero (or at least good guy) in the book. I cannot comprehend how a seemingly intelligent, strong, courageous woman like Hester Prynne could be so completely devoted to a sickly man of such weak character. I recognize that it was at least partially his inner turmoil that made him so physically weak, and his supposed charisma and intellect may have been blindingly appealing to Hester in the beginning, but it was his emotional feebleness that had the most effect on my opinion. Oh, I imagine that as a teenager I romanticized the ill-fated love of the couple and saw his infirmity as a sign of his deep, consuming attachment to Hester. However, now that I have a few relationships under my personal belt and I am older if not somewhat wiser, I know how unattractive that sort of weak, grasping personality can be. Maybe I lack the appropriate understanding of the religious fervor of the time. Maybe I am less forgiving and more jaded in my old age. But I would certainly not have been surprised if Hester completely turned her back on the Reverend after a time were it not for the fact that she was so utterly lonely and without alternatives . . . that and the additional fact that it would make for a fairly anti-climactic story arc.

Upon finishing the book, I also watched a DVR’d movie version of the The Scarlet Letter from 1995 which featured Demi Moore as Hester Prynne and Gary Oldham as Reverend Dimmesdale.  I have no problem, in theory, with Demi as Hester, although the old English speech did not suit her well, but Gary Oldham was a much more appealing Dimmesdale than in the actual book.  My main complaint is that the movie is such a complete departure from the story in the novel that it really should have been called something else.  It DID say at the beginning that it was “freely adapted” from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s text, but other than the setting, character names, and basic antagonistic love triangle, it bore very little resemblance to the original story.  Robert Duval was an excellently twisted Roger Chillingworth, though.

With that piece of classic literature behind me at long last, I quickly read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland  (commonly shortened to Alice In Wonderland) and began to search through my list for the next book I would attack.  I love crossing things off of a list, whether on paper or on a computer screen, and as I put what I considered to be a decisive black stroke through my two most recent accomplishments, I realized that at some point during my hiatus, before I began the arduous task of reading The Scarlet Letter, I had read Dashiell Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon and wrote not a single word about it.  But never fear!  I will rectify this and also share my thoughts on Alice in my next post.  I’m still not sure what book comes next . . .

I’m baaaaack!

Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"

I'm baaaaack!

Yes, I’m back after an unexpected and drawn out hiatus.  It’s amazing how life can change in such a short time, and what’s equally amazing is how I have not spent one drop of that time reading or writing.  For some, this would not be unusual, but for me, it’s akin to living in Opposite World.

A quick update for those keeping track:

1.  I finished NaNoWriMo and actually submitted 50,000+ words by the end of November.  Now I need another November and possibly another 50,000 to get to the end of the story, but I was really proud of myself for reaching that goal. It makes me realize how much really is possible when I put my focused will into it.

2.  After the holidays, the business of which kept me away from my books and writing, I ended up relocating back to South Florida in a relatively sudden development, so the month of January was spent packing, cleaning and actually moving.

3.  I started and recently finished a temporary job which involved standing on my feet for interminable hours without the ability to sit, read, write, or do anything other than smile and chat up virtually non-existent customers.  My mind quickly proceeded to turn to jelly, and it was all I could do to arrive in my hotel room before passing out from physical exhaustion and mental stagnation.  As much as I appreciate the opportunity, I cannot express how glad I am that it is over.

4.  Of course, this now means that I am officially unemployed . . . but it’s May in South Florida and I’ve got a pool so it can’t be all bad.  Right?  Right???

5.  Relating to my previous post on technology, I acquired an iPhone 4 due to the infinite wisdom of Apple to share its hardware with a cellular provider other than AT&T.  It’s the only thing that kept me sane during #3 as I surreptitiously
checked FaceBook and email and text messages every 15 minutes all day.  It’s remarkable how quickly I was able to drain the battery during the long work day, not to mention pathetic how dependent I was on social media for a feeling of connection.

6.  Also relating to technology, most recently, I purchased an e-reader in anticipation of a vacation that I will be taking in about a week.  I went with an e-ink (black and white) version of Barnes and Noble’s Nook.  (Disclaimer:  a week or so after I received my cheap-o refurbished Nook from B&N, they came out with a new e-ink one which is where this link will take you.)  I agonized over the decision for quite a while before making a commitment, but the main reasons for selecting this particular item were the ability to “borrow” books from the local library because of the compatible file types, the capacity to “lend” books for two weeks for free to others who use a Nook (and I do know a couple), and I went with the e-ink because, bottom line, I have to be able to read it in the sun and that’s just not possible with any of the color readers currently available.  I’m sure they’ll figure it out eventually and I’ll probably upgrade at that point, but I’m really loving the look of e-ink right now.  So far, I’m delighted with my choice.

7.  Oh yeah . . . since this is supposed to be about classic books . . . I’ve read about half of The Scarlet Letter in the last 6 months.  Anybody familiar with that book knows that it should take a serious reader approximately 4 hours to read such a slim volume, particularly a reader, such as myself, who has already read it at least twice and written two separate research papers on it.  I actually enjoyed it in the past, so I choose to blame my inability to finish it to life circumstances rather than any fault of the book or the author.  I promise to finish it before the end of my vacation and report back.  Or maybe I’ll just copy an old research paper onto the blog.

8.  One final note or actually a plug.  My high school drama class friend Christy English has just released her second novel published through Penguin Books historical fiction division.  It’s entitled To Be Queen and I’m using it to christen my Nook.  It’s sort of a prequel to her first book The Queen’s Pawn which was on an earlier post of books I read last summer.  It deals with Eleanor of Aquitaine’s earlier life and marriage to the King of France.  It’s incredible to me that I actually KNOW somebody who is really making a living as a writer, and a darn good one at that (a good writer, I mean.  I have no insight into the magnitude of the good living she is making.)  It’s inspiring to me, and more than a little annoying that I haven’t been able to do it. I suppose I’d have to actually finish writing a novel first.  Details, details.

Go buy her books.  I’ll let you know when mine is available for purchase, but, uh . . . don’t hold your breath.