Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: A Book Review

IMG_20130103_015915Lo and behold, my   young student   lent me – although I abhor to do so-  this in tatters  considering that I am now  finicky about book covers. I prefer pristine books to crispy ones since I would love to build  my own private library someday where in I would definitely hole up reading the books I would like to keep up with. (Stargazing) Yippie! I  can’t wait for it.

I rarely get a chance to meet a young student whose taste for books  is paralleled with mine. It just so happened that my student came up with this book and offered to lend me first , for she knows that I have not bought my own copy yet. Out of idle curiosity I nodded in excitement  since its paperback  picture of a cute  girl  looking up to a spider in its web while holding a pig  had drawn my attention many times   at children books sections in a book store.  Also, I had learned that it is considered as one of the best children books in the world literature.  So I did not want to miss this opportunity as long as books could be at my disposal and gratis .

As a matter of course, literally, I tend to judge a book cover rather than its content, the first ideas of the story  that I deluded myself into were:

( a)  The pig was the main  protagonist of the story.

(b) The girl in the picture was Charlotte.

(c) The pig was Charlotte’s pet .

(d) The story centered around  the pig’s heroism  just the like in  the movie Babe: Pig City by George Miller.

Upon reading it, I have shattered all my illusions with this burning sensation of   shame.

( a)  The pig was the main  protagonist of the story.

Yes, the pig is the main protagonist of the story. His name is Wilbur  but there’s one thing I did not give a fiddle’s fart about- the spider. The spider also has a special role as the all rage to the story. She, not a man if you are unconsciously borne upon this male sexism, is Charlotte A. Cavatica.

(b) The girl in the picture was Charlotte.

Teng! Teng! Teng!  ( X-double –minus ) The spider is Charlotte. The girl’s name is Fern Arable. She saved Wilbur from death when her father found  out that he is a  rant. She begged her father that she pet Wilbur herself.

(c) The pig was Charlotte’s pet.

Nope. When Wilbur was crestfallen because Fern missed visiting him, Charlotte, the spider, comforted him until they hit it off like best friends.

(d.)The story centered around   the pig’s heroism  just the like in  the movie Babe: Pig City by George Miller.

Not at all! The highlights of  the story are:

First: Wilbur knew that he was expected to be killed for ham and bacon before Christmastime.

Second: Charlotte  would make some miracles to save Wilbur.

Third:  The natural life-and-death process of Charlotte. Tear-jerker! T_T

I was close to giving it 4 stars because I  enjoyed reading the first part in which I basked  the philosophical discussion between  Fern and his father about life.

Fern Arable: [John Arable lifts runt from the newborn litter of piglets] Papa! Papa, stop! Don’t kill it! It’s unfair.
Arable: Fern! You will have learn to control yourself!
Fern Arable: [crying] Control myself? This is a matter of life and death, and you talk about controlling myself?
Arable: Now Fern, I know a lot more about raising pigs than you do. A weakling makes trouble, now run along.
Fern Arable: But it’s unfair! If I had been very small, would you have killed me?
Arable: No, certainly not! A little girl is one thing, a… runty pig is another.
Fern Arable: [Sobbing] I don’t see any difference! This is the most terrible case of injustice that I ever heard of!

Then,  I kept turning the next pages  so eager and excited  to know how Fern is  able to  bring Wilbur up. But I was disappointed when I found out that Charlotte turned out to be a spider beyond my great expectations. I guess I had this conception that how a spider , definitely  whose intelligence is lower than the domestic animals in the barn , could  have such a big role, especially in her ability to communicate with  others. Probably I am more used to watching TV anime  or reading fables  which most of  the characters involved are intellectually higher than insects such as spiders . Or You’ d rather I said social interaction among animals with different intellectual  classification .  For example, pigs could interact with another domestic animals like horses, sheep, goats, geese, chickens, cats, dogs, or even mice, but with insects such as spiders   and other kind alike is off the center. I have never read  nor seen such kind of interaction yet. If I have as the memory serves, I just know that they just take a cameo part.

I  had expected that the story would go like ,probably , Wilbur would be a Super-Pig doing something heroic granted that the perception of the town people about him was that he is an animal, merely a pig. Uh-oh! I may have gotten this idea   from animation movies which the common scene is  that an animal does something remarkable  such as in Pig City, Beethoven, Dalmatian 101…

I may be a little disappointed at the twists and turns of the story, but I can’t deny the fact that it is worth its salt. You can pick some lessons   from the philosophical discourses among the characters about  LIFE and FRIENDSHIP.No wonder it has received a panoply of  different literary awards.

On life , I liked :

 “Life is always a rich and steady time when you are waiting for something to happen.”

 Who won’t skip Wilbur’s standing-ovation polemic on an arrogant lamb’s snide  that He(Wilbur) is just  less than nothing ?

“What do you mean less than nothing? I don’t think there is any such thing as less than nothing. Nothing is absolutely the limit of nothingness. It’s the lowest you can go. It’s the end of the line. How can something be less than nothing? If there were something that was less than nothing, then nothing would not be nothing, it would be something – even though it’s just a very little bit of something. But if nothing is nothing, then nothing has nothing that is less than it is.”

Howzat? Read it again ! ( laughs)

On friendship, I want to remember Charlotte’s lines by heart :

 “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )

My Korean student who lent me her book. ^^
My Korean student who lent me her book. ^^

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz #1) by L. Frank Baum: A Book Review

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It is fun to read such a children novel; it is amusing and hilarious. If I were young, I would be very keen on it. I would be fascinated by the magical fantasy; I would be in awe with the out-of-this-world scenes and entities- things far from the reality since I were such a babe in the woods, for my brains were not big enough to understand or be cynical about them. I would just believe whatever I read and imagine. Also, I would talk, for sure, about it with my friends. Alas! I did not get a chance to read such novels when I was young, for the grinding poverty averted my avid interest. At that time, I just read Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

If I were young, I would be fond of the characters. Dorothy is cool. She is cute and jovial, typical of a countryside girl. She seems to be fun to be with, especially with her naughty dog, Toto. If I were her friend, I would go along with her adventures, along with her friends Scarecrow, Tin woodman, and the Cowardly Lion.

Since I am not young anymore, my brains are now fully developed to absorb information, enough to be squeezed to draw logical reasons. So what should I say? Well, I find it illogical and inconsistent. I feel that its climax grows to be humdrum. The story is obviously intended to entertain and make-believe children and to insult someone’s intelligence as well. Everything in the story is beyond belief- not only from the magic, but also to the Winged monkeys, the China blah blah blah …all of those things could be rebutted by scientific reasoning. For examples , (a) If Scarecrow had no brains; he would not talk, see, smell, nor hear. Moreover, he should not be able to reason out or figure out the difficulties they deal with; rather, he should be such a simpleton or rube . (b) In chemistry, oxidation takes time before Tin woodman’s tinned arms and legs rust. Changing any parts of a body is, of course, probable in the aid of robotics. So Tin Woodman is bionic. L. Frank Baum might have had “intricate scientific estimation.” He was just predicting the future. Oh, there are some more. Anyway, since the entertainment value may be the intention, making a fuss with those things is neither here nor there. Rather, I should stick to its moral contents; the messages of the story despite the fact that L. F Baum insisted that there were no latent meanings for each character. Obviously, the story deals with philosophical questions, particularly in questions with Religion-its big role in a person’s life. And yet, there are some parts dwelt upon me:

(a) Do people need to depend on the heart, rather than on the brains? Like Scarecrow , he insists that he shall ask for brains instead of a heart, for a fool; would not know what to do with a heart if he had one, which is somehow rebuffed by Tin Woodman:

“ I shall take the heart, for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”

(b) Is the heart our superego?

(c) If we were heartless, could we not be passionate and compassionate?

In the context of psychology, each character shows low-self esteem. Scarecrow has intellectual mediocrity. Tin Woodman is broken hearted. Cowardly Lion wants to be brave. In other words, they are all attached to illusion. Through the psychotherapeutic help of the Wizard of Oz, they awoke to the reality.

Tut! Tut! Tut! That’ll do. I should not give a fiddle’s fart about the hidden meanings. I am glad to have felt like a child again. I still have a juvenile mental age. No doubt I enjoyed it. I would love to share it with my younger sister. ^^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud: A Book Review

assistantTIME magazine considered this as one of the all-time best novels since 1923, but I wonder why it is not included in the 1001 Best Novels of All Time You must Read Before You Die. I wish it were, along with his Pulitzer Prize Winner ,The Fixer , because this book is so compelling.

Since Bernard Malamud was a Jewish-American writer, he may have thought about what best literary devices or styles he would illustrate in a novel the life of Jew refugees in New York City after the WWII . He may have hit upon the common concept in TV dramas and movies of a boy or man adopted by a good family, then they (family) will be attached to him because he makes a difference in their life, and all the lovey-dovey rage is that there is a daughter will fall for him. In the end, the hero will be cast off when they find out his skeleton in the closet. I am not sure if this concept was very common in the 1950’s. Familiar with this kind of story, I as good as lost my interest in the book as though I compelled myself to finish reading it, as though I could guess what was going to happen then.

Nevertheless, if my surmise were right, I would say that Malamud’s idea is ingenious. He turned the concept into an extraordinary novel. He embellished it with the plot that drove me crazy. I was predisposed to hold my breath, to turn the next page, feeling for the characters’ different personality, perfectly suitable for Malamud’s real motives. Appeared to be slapdash and intended to make it not as artful as other novelists’ writing skills, I still enjoyed reading it like a devil.

The novel deals with the abject situations of the Jewish immigrants who ventured to settle down in America from Tsarist Russia. The story centers around the three main characters: Morris Bober, a grocer, who dreads his failing small grocery store. He is an epitome of a good Jew. I look up to his honesty and magnanimity despite the fact that he has been cheated by his clerk many times; Frank Alpine, a young Italian-American hobo trying to get on his right feet by becoming a clerk in Morris Bober’s grocery. His sexual obsession with the grocer’s daughter gives me an impression that he is such a nuisance of someone’s progress. He even appears to be a tomfool. So I tend to distrust him whether he is sincere or not. Nevertheless, his interest in education and literature tickled my fancy. So I buried myself more in this book, keen on what his life will be in the denouement. Helen Bober, the grocer’s daughter is an epitome of a spinster-to-be – the daughter who chooses to give up on her dreams to study, to help her parents out, a woman who restrains herself from loving the clerk who turns out to be intact.

I will never forget this book, because questions arise whether being uncircumcised and having different religion is a big deal for miscegenation. Uh-oh, I tend to be a bigot when Helen Bober says, “Dog , uncircumcised!” I tend to be beside the point when Helen Bober’s parents object to her relationship with Frank , for “Jews are just for Jews”, and “They suffer for the law of Jews”. Eventually, Frank Alpine, obsessed with Helen, had himself circumcised.

To be more specific, I think Bernard Malamud should have turned the title from The Assistant into The Clerk. ^____^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

King Kong by Delos W. Lovelace, Edgar Wallace (Story) and Merian C. Cooper (Story): A Book Review

kingkongPerhaps among the imaginary giant characters I am more familiar with, King Kong stands out among them. I can see his replicas in toy stores (And for sure you can even come across him in Universal Studios). I can play him on video games. I can read him in comics. I can see him making fun of children as a mascot at birthday parties. He could scare the living day lights out of me in a haunted house at an amusement park or even on Halloween day. Above all, he could make an antagonistic cameo appearance in fantasy dramas or movies. He can be famous in any situations. Thanks to its movie adaptation, he is now immortal. For sure, he will be borne upon in the mind of the next generation since it is said to have another movie remake.

I have seen its 2005 movie remake and I enjoyed it a bunch. Comparatively, having watched its movie adaptation gave me the ideas of the plots and settings. However, nothing beats the book. It gave me more clear description and narration. Imagining King Kong gave me the creeps. Also, I could feel the atmosphere of the unchartered, far-flung Kong Island. I could feel the breath-taking hue and cry among the characters.

Although I am now a young adult and I no longer believe in fantasy, I still find it fascinating. King Kong is a downright strange, far-fetched creature. Something or someone unusual can get my attention. Besides, the theory of poor old Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is instilled in me. So a confluence of questions popped into my head. Pop! How if there were such a gigantic monkey? Gee whiz!

Granted that it is a fantasy, Cooper seems to have made a botch of , or to put it bluntly, to have monkeyed around with some settings. He must have intended to leave us readers hanging, turning over the questions such as: How long does it take the main characters to get to Kong Island? How do they manage to load King Kong onto a ship back to New York? Hehehe Even a genius kindergarten could call it into a question.

In the end, it just occurred to me that we, the said highest mammal on this planet, would be defensive against another species superior to us. It would be a big, big threat. Figuratively speaking, King Kong resembles some hot issues today such as the advanced robotics, nations with big economy, nuclear deterrent, etc.

Admittedly, I am still completely flummoxed by some latent meanings of this book. Obviously, the themes have something to do with survival, lost civilization, dominance of human to animals….But the book gives emphasis on the Beauty and the Beast. King Kong represents The Beast who will fall for Anne Darrow as the Beauty. At the end of the story, Danhem bragged before the news reporters that, “It’s the Beauty killed the Beast…” What do you think Danhem means?

I worried that I would not enjoy it since I have seen its movie; it could be kitsch; it could have been just a product of a child’s imagination. Also, the passages must be awash with low standards of languages. Not bad. It is still a classic everyone should not underestimate. Merian Cooper had somehow what it took to be a fantasy-adventure writer.

I’m looking forward to its most-awaiting movie remake since we have now ultramodern media production ^^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud: A Book Review

the-fixerPOGROM is the word which can give readers an idea of what this book is all about. This means a planned killing of large numbers of people, especially Jews, usually done for reasons of race or religion. In other words, it is synonymous with MASSACRE. The book, therefore, deals with anti-Semitism during Tsarist Russia beyond my knowledge of World History.

This book breaks my heart and makes me feel for the protagonist, Yakov Bok, a Jewish fixer by trade, who dreamed to make something of himself by moving to Kiev after he was ratted out on by his wife Raisl. He was accused of murdering a Christian boy during Passover. He was jailed without official charges and maltreated like an animal, as though I wanted to help him by telling the prejudiced people that he is downright innocent of the crime. In addition, reading right smack dab in the middle of the book makes me abandon myself to the antagonists: Their cruelty, ignorance, and irrationality make me abhor them,particularly the History of Anti-Semiticism. So I am like holding hopes against hopes for Yakov; then, I am kicked in the stomach when his hopes are dashed many times,and when he is almost mentally and physically tortured. Nevertheless, I am impressed by his survival instinct and dogged-determination not to confess to the crime he did not do in spite of repeated torture and degradation.Gee,this book turns out to be a page-turner; I cannot put it down, excited and apprehensive about what may become of the protagonist at the end. Had I not been busy these past few days, I could have finished it for one night.

I would say that this book is deserving of winning the Pulitzer-Prize and National Book Awards despite the fact that Bernard Malamud was said to have plagiarized the book from Beili’ s memoir, The Story of My Sufferings from which he drew inspiration. It is steeped in Spinoza’s philosophy, existentialism, politics, and religion. At the end of the story, Yakov realized that a man is a political animal after all even if he had considered himself apolitical and a freethinker. Essentially, it deals with discrimination against Jews as well as their abject misery under pogrom period as what Bernard Malamud may have intended to tell the world since he was an American-Jewish writer. In fact, this book reminds me of notable novels written on passionate purpose by famous writers to make a big difference- Richard Wright’s Native Son  and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe on Slavery;A Passage to India  by E. M. Forrester and Noli Me Tangere  by our very own Jose Rizal on Independence Movement and so on. So Bernard Malamud’s is on Anti-Semitism .These kinds of books, regardless of writing skills , that I find remarkable and that should be heralded as good and great books are deserving of 5 stars. So I wonder why this book is not included on the list of 1001 BEST NOVELS OF All TIME EVERYONE MUST READ by The Guardian.

Deeply impressed with Bernard Malamud , I can’t help reading his another notable book, The Assistant, hailed by TIME as one of the 100 best novels of all time since 1924. ^^

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)