review: maurice

12 April 2014

Arthur Sales & Liuk Bass by Saverio Cardia

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: library
pages: 256
review written: 12.4.14
edition read: W. W. Norton & Company (2005)
originally published: 1971

title: Maurice
author: E. M. Forster

Set in the elegant Edwardian world of Cambridge undergraduate life, this story by a master novelist introduces us to Maurice Hall when he is fourteen. We follow him through public school and Cambridge, and on into his father's firm, Hill and Hall, Stock Brokers. In a highly structured society, Maurice is a conventional young man in almost every way, "stepping into the niche that England had prepared for him": except that his is homosexual.

Written during 1913 and 1914, after an interlude of writer's block following the publication of Howards End, and not published until 1971, Maurice was ahead of its time in its theme and in its affirmation that love between men can be happy. "Happiness," Forster wrote, "is its keynote….In Maurice I tried to create a character who was completely unlike myself or what I supposed myself to be: someone handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid, not a bad businessman and rather a snob. Into this mixture I dropped an ingredient that puzzles him, wakes him up, torments him and finally saves him." (goodreads)

My thoughts:
Something interesting I'd like to point out is that E.M. Forster finished writing this book in 1914, the start of World War II. He resisted publication because of the views of same-sex marriage at the time. Maurice was published after his death by his trustees in a time where social attitudes about homosexuality were changing. The cover reveals an interesting perspective--the pink title and the velvet-cake deep red lace seems to indicate a feminine touch to the book while having the silhouette of two men talking. The main character, Maurice, has an aversion to women but his lover doesn't hate them as much as Maurice does. The role of women is a key point in this book for women remain to be the obstacle in Maurice's quest for love. An interesting cover, but one that I think could have been better. My Language teacher told me that this book was sad, but had a happy ending.

The book begins with an almost-fifteen year old schoolboy graduating from his boarding school in England. As a graduate on the last day, he has a talk with one of the teachers. The teacher preached to him "To love a noble woman, to protect and serve her--this was the crown of life" (14-15) to which Maurice responded "I think I shall not marry".
Thus begins the story of Maurice's realisation of his sexuality. He's cold towards his family, unloving almost, and firm with his beliefs. I think it's fascinating that as he realises his sexuality, he also questions his relationship with religion. He meets a friend at Cambridge, where he now attends college, and this friend, Clive Durham, says he's not a Christian. Maurice, an atheist and homosexual, must hide himself from his upper class family. He becomes alienated, but he is in love with his friend, to whom he shows his loving and caring side; a side he rarely ever shows to anyone.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Despite being written in 1914, I find that I can relate very much to the characters, not in regards to sexuality, but with religion. Maurice and Clive were about my age and proclaimed themselves atheists, which at the time was incredibly controversial. It's surprising that not many YA books nowadays questions religion-mostly every character is presumed to be Christian by default, or agnostic. Many characters remain ambiguous religion-wise, a position I find a bit annoying. But Maurice does a fine job in drawing parallels between the struggles of sexuality with religion. Even if one isn't a homosexual, the question of religion is universal. They're two of the same--one's religious status can almost be like one's homosexuality, except that the former can be changed while the latter is more or less permanent. Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the characterisation. Maurice's character isn't exactly likeable, but that's exactly why I like him. It's too easy to write a likeable protagonist, but to write an unsavoury one? That takes talent. It's like the protagonist of The Enchanter by Nabokov. Not only is Maurice an un-likeable character, but so is literally every character in this book save for one, and it wasn't even a good one. But the way these characters are characterised is masterful and subtle. In just a couple of sentences, one could understand a mountain load of a character's personality. Along with issues and characterisation, the overall plot line was well done. There was a definitive structure and path with several unexpected twists and turns that makes the story interesting and enjoyable.

I couldn't help but to notice similarities between Maurice and other books. If you've read A Separate Peace by John Knowles, you'll find Maurice to be similar. I never understood when people told me that A Separate Peace has a homosexual sub-context, but now I realise it actually might. It was published before Maurice was published, which is fascinating. If you've read Catcher in the Rye, Maurice reminds me of Holden in their uncaring characters. Maurice intentionally hurts his family, as does Holden, and skives off classes to the point where he gets expelled, just like Holden.

I recommend this to older readers or more mature readers (I read deep stuff when I was twelve and thirteen) because the language is a just a bit thick, like all the books that are published in that century. I enjoyed the book, but my dislike of the characters and my own personal satisfaction wasn't quenched (like when you ship two characters in a T.V. show and it never becomes canon), and thus my ratings are affected by my judgemental bias.

topic: foreign language books in american markets

12 February 2014

(source) this reminds me of my favourite cover of Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

Hello everyone!
   I promised more reviews and I think I've upheld that promise with three consecutive book reviews. But they're not very interactive, so how about a topic post?
   I've gone through about every classic that I consider interesting (excluding Pride and Prejudice, or any Victorian novel, really). Like I did with films, I decided to venture forth into the foreign market. My first thought was French contemporary novels. The French often lead in everything, like they did back in the Enlightenment producing great writers like Voltaire and Montesquieu, and in fashion and much more. I decided that my first step into modern European literature should be with the French, then with the Spanish, and then into the mystery and thriller of the Nordic countries. However, on my search for foreign books, I found very few. When I explored Goodreads Lists section, most titles were in French and weren't even translated to English titles. I searched through my local library's online catalogue and found maybe a  couple of French books translated to English. I myself have read the French modern classics, which I'm sure most of you have already read: The Stranger by Albert Camus, the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. But past the existential fiction boom, what other books do we know that are written by the French?

  I went online to do some research and found two contrasting articles. One from BBC titled "Why don't French Books Sell Abroad?" and a response article on titled "Why do French Books Sell Abroad?". Both made interesting points and cited fascinating facts. For instance, the Anglophone book market prefers English books. Americans don't need foreign books because they have their own contemporaries at home. Plus American publishers are turned off by the high costs of translations, so they are complacent with sticking with American-born novels.
French book covers are not made to look appealing (from BBC)

BBC: "As for US publishers, they're so convinced that with 350 million potential readers and a big stable of American writers, they've got everything covered - every genre, every style. So why bother?"
French Culture: "It is not that French books don’t export (in fact, they do quite well in other countries), but that the demand for translations in the UK and the US is not at its best."
BBC: The costs and difficulty of literary translation are clearly part of the problem. So too is the fact that the Anglophone book market is thriving - so the demand for foreign works is limited.
French Culture: "1% of novels published in the US are translations, whereas in France, they count for about 33% (American novelists, loved by French readers, hold the first rank)." <--i found="" interesting="" p="" this="">
French Culture offered a rebuttal to BBC's dire statements about the decline in foreign literature in Anglo-Saxon countries.

French Culture: "French literature does sell abroad, and it sells better than ever...The number of books translated from French to English has increased by about 30% in the last few years [1]. According to a list compiled by the Book Department of the French Embassy in New York, many more translations from French are published than the available statistics usually suggest: between 300 and 350 translations from French are being published in the US every year, among which at least 62 were contemporary French novels in 2012, and 77 in 2013."

With all of these is the simple fact that the American book market doesn't favour foreign literature. I can't even name one French contemporary, post-war novelist. I find it...regretful that the French read more foreign literature than Americans do. It's a problem that not only are foreign (translated) literature books aren't as popular, but they're not even made available. And if they are, they're not translated. If I can't even dip my toes into French contemporary literature, then how am I expected to explore the wide array of culturally enriching literature of Europe? I would like to offer a protest to publishers, but I know that they're already suffering from e-book sales and a general decline in book sales due to the still somewhat difficult economy.

On a slightly relevant tangent, I'd like to mention something else

  1. French cinema is literally non-existent outside of French countries. I'm pleased that Bollywood's appealing to Anglophone countries, but I'd like to see some other foreign films in the cinemas. My favourite director ever, Xavier Dolan: well, his new film  Tom à la ferme was released in 2013, but unfortunately it won't come to American viewers. His first film, which will forever be my most favourite film ever ("I Killed My Mother"), was one that I discovered by chance by going trailer hunting on youtube for foreign films. I connected so much to it, and I'm incredibly fortunate to have found it. I wish that films as amazing as his could be shown to American audiences, and viewers like me.

Anyway--what's your opinion of foreign literature and maybe even foreign films in American markets and media? Do you think something should be done, or should foreign gems be kept hidden for those willing to find them?

review: class matters

12 January 2014

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: library
review written: 6.1.14
edition read:
originally published: 2005

The acclaimed New York Times series on social class in America--and its implications for the way we live our lives
We Americans have long thought of ourselves as unburdened by class distinctions. We have no hereditary aristocracy or landed gentry, and even the poorest among us feel that they can become rich through education, hard work, or sheer gumption. And yet social class remains a powerful force in American life.
In Class Matters, a team of New York Times reporters explores the ways in which class--defined as a combination of income, education, wealth, and occupation--influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity. We meet individuals in Kentucky and Chicago who have used education to lift themselves out of poverty and others in Virginia and Washington whose lack of education holds them back. We meet an upper-middle-class family in Georgia who moves to a different town every few years, and the newly rich in Nantucket whose mega-mansions have driven out the longstanding residents. And we see how class disparities manifest themselves at the doctor's office and at the marriage altar. (review from goodreads)

My thoughts:
This was a book assigned by my AP Language/American Literature class. I was given a similar book to read over the summer, The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and I couldn't help but draw the parallels between this book and that one. Class Matters is a compilation of articles from the New York Times describing the gap between the rich and the poor and how there is generally less mobility between classes. A wide variety of issues and causes are tackle. Each article explores a different portion of the whole pie about class.

What I found a little funny was that this book was published in 2005, so the "Bush administration" was used in the present tense. There was mention on how markers of wealth were becoming blurry and people of low income could now purchase their own house with mortgages from banks. Little did they know in 2005 that this practise would cause an economic recession in these past couple years. I found these small details amusing but they're small "mistakes" that are to be expected from news articles that are written to express actions of the current time. This being a class book, I took notes and I think the first chapter was the "thesis" chapter and provided an introduction as to what the articles would later explore.

Blurring the Landscape
Harder to read position in possessions- material goods are cheaper
Class alignments in politics=jumbled. Pros once Republican, now Democratic
Shift due to social issues
Religious affiliation no longer reliable class marker- rise of Evangelical Christians
Race and class affiliation weakened. African-Americans in middle + upper middle class
Diverse elite- more Catholics, Jew and Mormons in Senate
Globalisation killing factory jobs that were one stepping-stones to middle class= jump in income                      inequality
Class determines whether you get college degree
Class differences in health- upper-middle class lives longer than middle class that lives longer than                 bottom
Where and with whom affluent Americans live- increased isolation of affluent
Those at the top work more than those at the bottom

  Because this book was mainly informative rather than "entertaining" in the tradition sense, I can find little criticism except from one article, "Fifteen Years at the Bottom Rung" about Mexicans working at a Greek restaurant. It was confusing and tried to explore too many different streams of the topic. It was my least favourite, least enjoyable read of the whole compilation. 
  Unfortunately, this book didn't tell me anything new. I kind of new a lot of what was happening and I attribute this to my AP Human Geography class, in which I studied the relationship between human activity and geography. So I didn't find this book particularly enriching, but it did bring to mind the interesting question of whether or not the American Dream is really dead. I was aware of the lack of class mobility today, but then I remember the olden times where you could literally go from rags-to-riches. For example, John D. Rockefeller was raised in a "poor" household but later became co-founder of Standard Oil, a monopoly in the twentieth century. That was the American Dream, and now it's just an idea we believe to be true. It truly is a dream that we cling to, though it has long since passed. True, there are always exceptions, but in general, the Dream is dead. 

   If you're interesting in socio-economic dynamic in America, or are just interested in understanding the world we live in (here in America), then this is an enriching book that's just for you. It's always good to stay educated not just on the past but also the present. Despite being published in 2005, it's still relevant today. It wasn't too terrible, so I feel guilty for considering giving this two out of six umbrellas. So I'll give it three.

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