“We gave the Future to the winds…”

I just wanted to take a quick moment to share one of my favorite sentences in the entire existence of the human language.

It’s from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Mystery of Marie Roget (I went on a bit of a Poe kick this past summer. No regrets.).

“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.”

When I came across this sentence during my reading, I immediately stopped to write it down. Something about it caught my attention– possibly a mix of the meaning (of serenely living in the present) and the way the words felt on my tongue. Go ahead, say it out loud to yourself.

Okay, so I have officially sealed my reputation as a geek with that last bit, but as I’ve mentioned in the past: I absolutely love quotes. They hold a lot of meaning for me and I collect them like one might collect baseball cards.

So, I have to ask: What are some of your favorite quotes? Care to share?

Literature Love: Who are your favorite characters?

For Literature lovers, the characters of a book are much more than just words on a page. They become real, and you find yourself furnishing them with thoughts, idea, histories and pasts beyond what the author has provided. You yell at them when they do something stupid, you cry with them when they experience tragedy, and you walk with them through their adventures.

I’ve been (re)reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it occurred to me just how much I love the character of Samwise Gamgee. He is loyal and strong, even though he doesn’t realize his own bravery. Upon first reading, some may think he falls Frodo like a lost puppy, but Tolkien had much bigger plans for this little hobbit, and as you read on his character is truly revealed. The valiant Samwise that we all were rooting for (or at least I was) is revealed and put to the test–over and over. He is not without flaws and along the way he makes his fair share of mistakes. Nor is he the brightest bulb in the Shire, but his dedication always shines through.

Looking back, there have been many literary characters whose attributes I have admired and enjoyed. I once wrote an essay for entrance into my college’s Honor’s Program on Atticus Finch, a man whose actions were heard and felt throughout the country. He is another one of those characters who we could spend hours praising his accomplishments.

But my choice in favorites isn’t based solely on the positive attributes of a character. After all, there are some villains you just love to hate. My favorite characters are those that make me stop and think, that hold my attention long after I’ve laid the book down. I love the characters who make me care– about them, about the story, about another character even. Or sometimes, my favorites are simply those that make me smile.

Here’s a brief list of some more of my favorites:

1. Emma Woodhouse from Emma

My dad once told me I reminded him of Emma Woodhouse. Wheither or not this was a compliment, I’ve yet to decide. But nevertheless, I absolutely adore Emma. She fails to see what is right before her, being too caught up in daydreaming and scheming. But her heart and mind are always on others, be it her overly anxious father or less fortunate friends. She makes mistakes, as do all of us, but she realizes these faults and tries to make amends. Jane Austen gave her the perfect amount of wit, with just a dash of ignorance.

 

2. Sherlock Holmes

I’m a bit of a Sherlockian, and I can’t help but absolutely love this character. While Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock’s creator, may not have been the biggest fan of his creation, years of audiences have begged to differ. He is such a complex character, with much of his history left unknown (not that succeeding authors haven’t tried to fill in these blanks), and not much is even known about his feelings in the time of the stories. He keeps to himself, busying himself with odd hobbies, and applying his mastery skills of deduction to just about any seemingly unsolvable crime. There is so much to him, even inconsistencies that are primarily due to Doyle’s fading interest in his biggest success, but fans like myself have come up with our own hypothesise to cover these irregularities. Holmes has become more than a literary character, he has evolved into a universally identifiable persona. In fact, you wouldn’t believe the number of people who think he was a real person (well, he is to some of us).

 

3. Nick & Nora Charles from The Thin Man

What’s not to love about this silly, constantly inebriated duo? They are fun and funny, and just plain adorable. Set within Dashiell Hammet’s noir novella, they are a perfect contrast to the dark events, without taking away from the suspense or drama. Oh, and their dog Asta is pretty swell as well. They make me smile, and thus are some of my favorites.

 

 

So who are your favorite characters? Now that I’ve rambled on about mine, I’d love to hear other people’s opinions.

 

On Amazon, E-Books have the Edge

July 1995:

Amazon.com opens its virtual doors and begins selling hardcover and paperback books.

November 2007:

With the introduction of Amazon’s revolutionary e-book reader, The Kindle, the website also began selling corresponding e-books.

July 2010:

Kindle e-books sales surpass hardcover book sales on the website.

And now, customers are purchasing more Kindle e-books than both hardcover and paperback books combined.

A mere four years after its introduction, the Kindle has become such a popular format that its book sales have surpassed a traditional medium whose popularity lasted thousands of years.

With over 950,000 books to choose from, 790,00 of which are $9.99 or less, users have embraced this new technology. In addition, there are millions of free, out-of-copyright books available for download. The Kindle’s success continues to show rapid expansion, with more than 175,000 books added to the Kindle Store within just the last 5 months.

In response to the Kindle’s swift success, Jeff Bezos, the Founder and CEO of Amazon.com said:

“Customers are now choosing Kindle books more often than print books. We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly – we’ve been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four years.”

Marketing under the mantra “Buy Once, Read Everywhere,” millions have turned to Kindle’s and other e-book readers as their primary source of Literature. Realizing the success within the market, and understanding the need to compete with these tech-savvy inventions, bookstores such as Barnes & Noble have introduced their own e-book readers. In November 2009, Barnes and Noble introduced the Nook in an attempt to counter Amazon’s Kindle success.

Other tablet devices, such as Apple’s iPad and multiple smart-phone devices, have also hit the market providing similar services.

There is no denying the convenience of e-readers: they allow you to take a multitude of books with you without all the hassle of carrying/lugging, the books are less expensive, they’re light weight, text can be magnified, and numerous other positive attributes. And yet, there remains a niche loyal to the traditional paper and ink method of reading (myself included). After all, no matter how technologically advanced these machines become, it’s impossible to completely replicate the experience of reading a good old-fashion book.

Here are a few more Kindle milestones:

  • Since April 1, 2011, for every 100 print books sold by Amazon, 105 Kindle e-books have been sold (not including the free Kindle books, either).
  • So far in 2011, Amazon has sold more than 3x as many Kindle books as they did during the same period of the previous year.
  • Less than a year after the introduction of the UK Kindle, Amazon.co.uk is selling more Kindle books than hardcover at a rat of more than 2 to 1.

And here are some Amazon.com Fun Facts:

  • The first book sold on Amazon.com was Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought.
  • Amazon.com opened their DVD/Video store in November 1998.
  • In 1999, Time Magazine names Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos “Person of the Year.”
  • In October 2001, Amazon introduces the “Look inside the book” feature on their website.
  • Amazon.com is also responsible for the operation of imdb.com.

Stumbled Upon: History of Science Fiction

I love all sorts of literature, but sci-fi/fantasy holds a special place in my heart– and apparently I’m not the only one. Artist Ward Shelley has put together a lovely and elaborate Mapped History of Science Fiction. Including films and books alike, the complexity of the map displays the devotion of a true fan. While I’ve included the picture below, an enlarged photo is necessary to get the full effect. Just something I stumbled upon and thought I would share– Enjoy!

Stumbled Upon: “Porphyria’s Lover”

Growing up in a family like mine, a love of literature was engrained in me from a young age. Therefore, despite a Comm Major and Psych Minor, I’ve filled my course electives with Literature classes (I was supposed to fulfill a Lit Minor as well, but due to a misunderstanding, this unfortunately fell through). My current Lit class, that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying, is a British Literature Course. We read a variety of work, and my greatest regret is that we lack the proper amount of time to really dive into some of the pieces. Today, however, I was thankful that we spent the majority of the class discussing a new favorite poem of mine.

While best known in his day for being the husband of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning has since cultivated a large following. His poems often feature a dramatic monologue and psychologically jarring scenes. The poem “Porphyria’s Lover” (1843) is a perfect example of his masterful techniques.

While the subject of “Porphyria’s Lover” is morbid and disturbing, I found this work to be incomparably interesting. My mind raced with backstories and explanations. Our class discussion focused on identifying motive and answering the ever-present: “Why?”

If you haven’t read the poem, you haven’t the slightest idea of what I’m talking about right now. Therefore, I’ve decided to share the poem as just a little something I’ve “stumbled upon.” I’d love to hear other people’s to this psychological thriller of a poem.


 

Porphyria’s Lover

Robert Browning

THE rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listen’d with heart fit to break. 5
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneel’d and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form 10
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soil’d gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And call’d me. When no voice replied, 15
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair, 20
Murmuring how she loved me—she
Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever. 25
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could to-night’s gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain. 30
Be sure I look’d up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipp’d me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do. 35
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around, 40
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laugh’d the blue eyes without a stain. 45
And I untighten’d next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blush’d bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propp’d her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore 50
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorn’d at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gain’d instead! 55
Porphyria’s love: she guess’d not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirr’d,
And yet God has not said a word! 60

An ‘Award-Winning’ Catch-22 Essay

It has nothing to do with Public Relations, social media, or any of the normal topics of my posts, but some things just need to be shared (and celebrated). Today I found out that an essay I wrote one 3rd prize in a contest. While the $50 prize is pretty great, I’m honestly most excited for the recognition.

Sometimes, as you write a paper, you just get this overwhelming feeling of confidence. This is how I felt with my paper Introducing John: Yossarian as an Everyman. The essay was on the novel Catch-22. While I had read the book long ago on my own (and not particularly liked it, actually), I decided last semester to take the one-credit class being offered on Joseph Heller’s literary classic. In the end, I’m glad I took the course. While Catch-22 will never be my favorite book, I understand its significance and importance in the literary sphere.

I’m proud of my paper and proud of my experiences in the class. Therefore, I’ve decided to post the paper. A bit of self-publication, if you will. So whether you read it, skim it, or ignore it all together– here is my “award-winning” essay!

Introducing John: Yossarian as an Everyman

By Tessa Rickart

In a 1962 interview, Joseph Heller described the protagonist of his novel Catch-22: “You know, he’s not a perfect hero. There are certain things he does of which I don’t approve…I certainly didn’t want him to become the ideal hero. He’s human…” Yossarian’s association with the common man may not be immediately apparent, partially due to his poignantly ethnic last name, by which he is almost exclusively referred to. However, he is an ‘everyman,’ and it is through his actions and decisions that the ability to relate is first possible. Despite being the obvious main character of Catch-22, Yossarian’s weak, and often questionably unethical behaviors make it difficult to designate him as the novel’s protagonist, a role that usually requires bravery and evokes admiration. But Yossarian’s choices and motivations are characteristic of neither a coward nor a hero. Similar to most human beings, he cannot be categorized into either of these narrow divisions. Yossarian is complex and thus relatable, a point that is conspicuously made when we finally learn his first name—John.

“ What the hell kind of name is Yossarian?” (78)
It may initially seem odd that a blatantly American novel such as Catch-22 stars a protagonist with such an ethnically charged surname by which he is primarily identified. Colonel Cathcart comments on the uncommon name: “There were so many esses in it. It just had to be subversive. It was like the word subversive itself. It was like seditious and insidious too, and like socialist, suspicious, fascist and Communist. It was an odious, alien, distasteful name…” (210). Heller expected readers to have a similar reaction to the obscurity of the name. It certainly is foreign, and in a novel centered on an American battalion in World War II, the unfamiliar name seems even more distant. The Colonel continues his criticism of Yossarian’s name and its un-American roots: “It was not at all like such clean, crisp, American names…” (210). Later on, Cathcart is present when Yossarian’s stereotypically American first name is finally revealed. The late inclusion of his first name, as well as his exotic surname, is by no means accidental. In sharp contrast to the last name Yossarian, is his first name—John. The popularity of this name is not lost on the reader. As one of the most common names in the United States, John represents our own ability to empathize with the bombardier, therefore making him an ‘everyman.’

“ ‘What bombs?’ answered Yossarian” (30)
Perhaps most questionable is Yossarian’s concern for his own safety, a priority that gradually becomes his chief concern: “Only a fraction of his countrymen would give up their lives to win it, and it was not his ambition to be among them” (68). His commitment to self-preservation may seem selfish, yet it is undeniably rational. The moral ambiguity rises from his commitment as a solider to lay down his life for his country. Putting one’s self in a similar position, however, his yearning to stay alive is understandable, even if it might be considered cowardly. However, his extreme determination to live leads to some questionably unethical decisions when he jeopardizes military missions. Yossarian goes as far as sabotaging missions: “Something was terribly wrong if everything was all right and they had no excuse for turning back…Yossarian took hold of the colored wires leading into the jack box of the intercom system and tore them loose” (140). However, some of the missions themselves were unethical; one required the men to blow up a small village whose only crime was poor location. At this point, “Yossarian no longer gave a damn where his bombs fell…” (330).

“Someone had to do something sometime.” (405)
Eventually, Yossarian refuses to fly any more missions. The crew is faced with an ever-rising mission quota, and his protest is an attempt to “break the lousy chain of inherited habit that was imperiling them all” (406). This moral stance requires courage. Even Colonel Korn acknowledges this bravery when, addressing Yossarian he says, “You’re an intelligent person of great moral character who has taken a very courageous stand” (423). Of course, in Korn’s view this is a criticism. Yossarian’s valor does not escape the notice of his peers, who support and admire him, though only in secret. “During the day, they avoided him,” but at night “people kept popping up at him out of the darkness to ask him how he was doing, appealing to him for confidential information with grey, troubled faces on the basis of some morbid clandestine kinship he had not guessed existed” (402). Yossarian gives them “hope,” says Korn, admitting that whether his flying boycott is motivated by self-protection or morality, Yossarian is nonetheless benefiting the whole (421). In many ways, his refusal to fly is the bravest thing he does and deserves the title of heroic, albeit in an unconventional sense.

“There were no more beautiful days.” (345)
The motivations behind many of Yossarian’s supposedly weak actions (or inactions) often lay in the images of war that burden him. He is fragile; he is haunted; and he is broken. The honesty of his emotions makes them relatable; their depth makes them believable. Looking back on his past actions, Yossarian feels a responsibility for the deaths of his peers: “Yossarian killed Kraft and his crew by taking his flight of six plane in over the target a second time. Yossarian came in carefully on his second bomb run because he was brave then” (136). Yossarian comments as if he lost his courage, but he is tormented by his decisions and can’t bear to be the cause of more despair. All the deaths he has seen make a tremendous impact and plague him constantly: “At night when he was trying to sleep, Yossarian would call the roll of all the men, women, and children he had ever known who were now dead” (345). But of all the deaths and flashbacks, the most vivid are those of Snowden, “freezing to death in the rear section of the plane” as Yossarian “finished sterilizing and bandaging the wrong wound on his leg” (345). In many ways, Yossarian displays the typical symptoms of what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. His frailty makes him more human.

“Your conscious will never let your rest.’
‘Yossarian laughed. ‘I wouldn’t want to live without strong misgivings.’” (452)
The ultimate argument of Yossarian’s cowardice lies in final decision to desert the army. However, the more closely the situation is examined, the more Yossarian is redeemed. Having originally accepted a deal from Korn and Cathcart, a decision he admits to making “in a moment of weakness,” Yossarian is left with few options (441). Taking the deal would be an act of selfishness and cowardice. When discussing his options, Danby notes Yossarian’s courage in comparison to what his own actions would be: “Of course I’d let them send me home! But I’m such a terrible coward I couldn’t really be in your place” (447). Yossarian refuses to sacrifice his morals for the easy way out, a decision that is not always easy to make. A reader can certainly understand the dilemma with which Yossarian is struggling; by staying but refusing to fly he is sure to be court-martialed and jailed. Orr’s escape gives Yossarian new hope, and he decides to desert. This is possibly the only route left without compromising his beliefs: “Desert. Take off. I can turn my back on the whole damned mess and start running” (444). The novel does make a point of the war being mostly over, lessening the ethical dilemma. As Yossarian states, if he stayed he wouldn’t be risking his life for his country, but for Cathcart and Korn (446). Yossarian’s fight for self-preservation appeals to readers’ emotions. His choices and morals are a reflection of what our own choices and morals might be in such a situation, or at least the ones we would hope ourselves capable of.

Whether Yossarian is a brave fool or a smart coward, readers are able to relate to the reality of his emotions, decisions, and values. Many of the stands he takes are incredibly courageous, qualifying him as hero, albeit an unconventional one. Some of his actions may seem unethical, but they are mostly justifiable and, more importantly, understandable. With his exotic surname, Yossarian may not initially seem like the type of character created to be identified with, but Heller knew readers would be able to connect nonetheless. When Heller finally reveals his protagonists first name—John—there is initial surprise at such a traditional moniker. However, as Heller went on to say in his interview, the decision to state Yossarian’s first name at nearly the end of the novel “just puts him right back where he belongs.” And John Yossarian belongs as a symbol of the everyday hero, and the everyday coward, with whom we can all relate and whose actions we all understand.

 

Work Cited

Heller, Joseph. The Realist Interview. Issue No. 39, Nov. 1962. Page 23. Print. 23 Nov 2010.

Heller, Joseph.  Catch-22. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Arthur Conan Doyle & Self-Promotion

My latest reading ventures have led me into the pages of the biography “The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle” by Russell Miller. As a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, I know just about everything about the wonderous fictional character that Conan Doyle created (including the author’s own disdain for Mr. Holmes). In more recent years, especially after reading the novel “George and Arthur” by Julian Barnes, I’ve become fascinated with the man behind the world’s greatest (and only) consulting detective.

Arthur Conan Doyle is a character in his own right, and his own life story is more than worthy of the pages of a bestseller. Reading this biography is nearly as thrilling as reading one of the Holmes and Watson stories. As I’ve been reading, I’ve learned a lot about the man as both an individual and an author. I’ve also been reminded of several things I already knew–for instance, Conan Doyle was a doctor who, after a less than successful ophthalmology practice, decided he was more passionate about writing and was rightfully convinced that he could make a living from it. And yet, even before he opened his eye doctor practice, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began his first practice outside of London with seemingly similar success–at least at first. He advertised his services as a general practitioner, but the client flow was slow, and Dr. Doyle soon turned to some interesting techniques in an attempt to draw clientele.

Reading this biography through the eyes of a PR major, I was quite impressed with Conan Doyle’s own self-promotion. The relatively poor young doctor begin by taking out a small ad in the local paper:

“…curiously in the ‘Miscellaneous Wants’ column, announcing: ‘Dr. Doyle begs to notify that he has removed to 1, Bush Villas, Elm Grove, next to the Bush Hotel.’ The wording was crafty, implying that he had transferred his practice from some other location.”
Undoubtably Dr. Doyle had a way with words in his novels and short stories, but I was surprised (and impressed) to find that his brilliance even extended as far as self-promotion. His cleverly worded “ad” would make PR practitioners of today proud. Wording is everything, and Conan Doyle clearly knew how to position his message to the proper audience. By thinking of him as an established doctor, people would be more willing to consult him.

The next little bit of publicity that impressed me took place that same year, as he worked hard to get his small practice off the ground:

“After a riding accident outside his front door in November 1882, he sent [his brother] off to the Portsmouth Evening News with a report which it obligingly published: ‘An accident, which might have led to serious consequences, occurred this afternoon in Elm-grove as Mr Robinson, of Victoria-road, was riding in front of the Bush Hotel, his stirrup leather snapped, and he was thrown to the ground, the animal rearing at the same time and falling partially upon him. He was conveyed to the house of Dr Conan Doyle, of Bush Villas, and that gentleman was able to pronounce that, though considerably shaken and bruised, there was no injury of any consequence.'”

Conan Doyle’s little story runs like a modern-day press release, while working to get him some much-needed publicity.

Of course, all through his life Conan Doyle showed a distinct ability to relate to his audience, making him a beloved and personable national treasure. These are just two examples that truly jumped off the page at me as I read about this marvelously interesting man. It just goes to show that even one of Britain’s greatest writers was not above a bit of self-promotion. I can’t wait to read on and find out more about the man, and I highly suggest that if you have any interest in either Sherlock Holmes or the man who created him, pick up a copy of Russell Miller’s “The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle,” from which I quoted in this blog.