Tag Archive | Classics

Bartleby the Scrivener

Herman Melville — Melville House, 2004 — 9780974607801

A novella published by Melville in 1853, this is a tale about a lawyer who hires a new scrivener named Bartleby. While at first appearing to be a hard worker, Bartleby shocks his unnamed employer by one day replying, when asked to perform a task, “I would prefer not to.”

It’s been a while since I read an older book, and the sound of the mid-19th century language was a pleasant change (despite it taking a while for me to get used to). But what I enjoyed most was the way this antiquated language contrasted with what is indubitably a modern story. While there are many different analyses of the novella, the one that rings true for me concerns free will. Beginning with one small action, Bartleby does what he pleases without consideration for the demands of his job or the conventions of his time. It’s something to be admired, no matter how drastic the consequences.

And yes, I bought the bag.


A Calm Place to Think

…a good performer — good reader — is one with a lot of range, and the only way to develop that range is to perform as many different kinds of stories as possible.

[via The Millions]

Notes from Underground

Fyodor Dostoevsky — Vintage Classics, 1994 — 9780679734529

I am a sick man … I am a wicked man.

And so begins this classic novella, and my first attempt at Dostoevsky. He’s someone I’ve wanted to read for years but have basically been too scared to tackle. But what better way to start than to ease into it with a short novel? And no, my decision had nothing to do with the recent announcement of a new (and most likely strict) book club.

Notes from Underground is a novella in two parts, and presented as the writing of Underground Man — so called because we never learn his name, and because he can be taken to represent all of us. The first part, “Underground,” presents some of this man’s philosophies and his present situation, and the second part, “Apropos of Wet Snow,” (what a great title!) relates certain scenes from his life to show how he became who he is. It has been called the first existentialist novel and deals with concepts such as the will of the individual as opposed to that of the state (or the will of the individual as compared to what is best for the individual).

The foreword is written by Richard Pevear who, together with his wife Larissa Volokhonsky, are the acclaimed translators not only this edition of Notes from Underground, but also other classic Russian works. The foreword did a nice job of explaining not only the context in which the book was written, but also what Dostoevsky meant in creating such a character. However, I’m glad I left the foreword for the end since, as any specialist is bound to do, Pevear delves into contemporary Russian literary culture a bit more in-depth than I require.

Overall, a pleasant experience — certainly not as complex as I was afraid of — and I look forward to making Crime and Punishment my next Dostoevsky read.


Ella Fitzgerald — That Old Black Magic (1958)

Ella Fitzgerald — That Old Black Magic (Live in Rome, 1958)

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume 1

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — Bantam Classic, 2003 — 9780553212419

Even though I’m marking this entry as unfinished, that’s not strictly the case. This is the first of a two-volume collection of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories and novels; I read A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes before deciding to pause.

My plan is to read the Holmes canon in the order in which it was written, to get a sense of Conan Doyle’s evolution of the character and the stories over time. Perhaps not the best idea, since many seem to think the best Holmes stories were written later on, but I’m sticking with it for better or worse. (Even though it will mean jumping back and forth between volumes 1 and 2 of the Bantam edition — I’m not sure why they couldn’t split the stories chronologically.)

I enjoyed A Study in Scarlet, but it was definitely not what I was expecting. The first half of the book deals with the crime and Holmes’ attempt to solve it; the second half jumps back in time and across the Atlantic to Utah and the Mormons, to provide the background for the crime. It’s an interesting way to split a mystery novel, but I think Doyle realized that this was not the way to keep readers interested when the main focus became Holmes and his method.

The Sign of Four, the second novel, was also good, but it felt a little too long.

The first collection of short stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, includes some real gems like the opening line of “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.

Interestingly enough, not all the adventures recounted by Watson are what you would consider typical mysteries: certain stories don’t have a clean resolution, or perhaps even a crime at all (“A Case of Identity,” “The Five Orange Pips,” “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb“). Others, such as “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” are classics and quite original. Either way, it’s apparent that Doyle knew enough about mysteries from the start that he understood readers need a variety of stories and plot lines. Not everything can be wrapped up neatly, yet you can’t always have stories that are too complex to be resolved.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Holmes canon.


Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington — Mack the Knife (1966)

Who doesn’t love Ella Fitzgerald, right? But I didn’t realize just how much until I found this recording — her and Duke Ellington performing “Mack the Knife” live at a jazz festival in the Cote D’Azur in 1966. There is no way you cannot smile while listening to this song.

PS — If anyone has a link to live footage of the performance, I’d love to see it.

Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte — Modern Library, 2000 — 9780375756443

This one took me a while to read and wasn’t entirely what I imagined. I couldn’t be sure if the image in my head of dark, windy, lonely moors was due to the writing, or because I simply knew to expect it. Same for the writing: was it actually less sophisticated that I was expecting, or was this done deliberately, given the characters? I think I’ll have to give it a second read at some point, now that I know what I’m in for.


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass

Lewis Carroll — Penguin, 2009 — 9780141192468

I grew up loving the Disney movie, but needless to say the original is much better. Wish I had read this when I was younger.



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