Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Words of the Day

All of today's words are from The Sparrow.

1. Arrogate. "'During these months and for all time,' he told Sandoz, 'you will cease to arrogate to yourself responsibility that lies elsewhere.'" Clearly "arrogate" must mean "apply" or "assign," but I'd never heard the word before. I have, however, heard of the word "abrogate," though I don't know what that means either, so apparently I'll have to look that one up too. Webster says: To claim or seize without justification; to make undue claims to having; to assume or ascribe. I'm taking the point, but subtracting 0.15 because I didn't get the connotation that it's without justification. Moving on: to abrogate is to abolish by authoritative action; annul; to do away with. And, just for funsies, to abnegate is to surrender, relinquish, deny or renounce. So now you're all set for the next time you're doing a crossword puzzle and you need an eight-letter word that starts with "a" and ends in "gate."

2. Beatific. "But George was starting to laugh and Emilio looked positively beatific." I'm not sure of its exact meaning, but I'm fairly certain it's a facial expression used to describe the way the Virgin Mary smiles. And evidently people only look this way when they're pretty happy. Webster says: Having a blissful or benign appearance; saintly, angelic. Ha! Just like the Virgin Mary. One point.

3. Charism. "It was easy to believe that to live as a celibate was a charism--a special kind of grace." Did the book just define the word for me? I would have thought "charism" was derived from the word "charisma," meaning a magnetic personality, though I've never heard it used without an "a" on the end. Webster says: Charisma and charism are the same thing. The definition I knew is "a special magnetic charm or appeal," but I think the one implied in The Sparrow is one I didn't know: an extraordinary power (as of healing) given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church. So, half a point for knowing the common meaning of "charisma" but not knowing the rest of it.

4. Soutane. "Barelegged and barefoot, Sandoz was tanned to the color of cinnamon, wearing the loose khaki shorts and oversized black T-shirt that had replaced the soutane, impossibly hot in this climate." Obviously some article of clothing worn by a priest, and something that doesn't allow much of a breeze through it. I will guess that a "soutane" is a heavy priestly robe. More specifically, one of those that looks like a brown burlap bag with a hood, like what I picture Friar Tuck wearing. Webster says: Cassock. An ankle-length garment with close-fitting sleeves worn especially in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches by the clergy and by laymen assisting in services. That does not tell me about the color, texture or hoodedness, but in perusing google images, it appears that a cassock more closely resembles something Severus Snape would wear as opposed to Friar Tuck. Three quarters of a point.

5. Immanent. "God is not everywhere. God is not immanent." This is not to be confused with "imminent," which is the same as "impending" (if less likely to be followed by "doom") and obviously doesn't fit the context. Judging by its use, I'm guessing that "immanent" means "everywhere at once." Perhaps "immanent" and "omnipresent" are synonyms. Webster says: Remaining or operating within a domain of reality or realm of discourse; inherent; having existence or effect only within the mind or consciousness. No points! In fact, I should probably get negative points for being so completely wrong, but I don't want to.

A hard-earned 3.1 points out of five. I'm going outside to play.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell

Are you ready? All together now, let's breathe a sigh of relief. I have finally finished reading The Sparrow.

The gist of the story can be summed up relatively briefly. In the near future, we are made aware of sentient alien life, and a small representative group of humans travels to the nearby solar system to make contact and gather data.

The author of The Sparrow is "a paleoanthropologist known for work on cannibalism and craniofacial biomechanics." To me, that is at once fascinating and daunting. On one hand, that sounds like a very interesting specialty; on the other hand, if I'd known about Russell's background before reading the book, I might have feared she would weigh her writing down with dry and dull scientific facts.

But have no fear--this is not so. In fact, this book is very much about interpersonal relationships and very little about sci-fi. The actual "outer space" aspect receives hardly any treatment, and most of the book focuses on discovering the evidence of alien life, preparing for the journey, arriving at the destination, and the aftermath. Because oh yes, there is an aftermath.

I first heard about this book here. I just had to know what happened to Emilio's hands. I was also pretty curious as to what Raych meant by saying this book "eviscerated me in the face." Was this a fancy way of saying it made her cry? Or was she just trying to convey both that it eviscerated her, and that it's "in your face"? I still don't know the answer to that question, although perhaps if I were not heartless and cold I might have cried when George found out that Anne died.

The writing was nicely done and did not cause me to roll my eyes except this once, when Jimmy asked Sofia, "'How long do you suppose I can go on loving you more every day?' And he devised for her a calculus of love, which approached infinity as a limit, and made her smile again." Gag! The only thing that could have made that bit worse is if Jimmy had derived for her a calculus of love. But thankfully the rest of the book is quite well-written.

About 20 or 30 pages from the end I started to get that itch described when the main character is reading the titular book in The Thirteenth Tale. I wish I could insert the exact quote, because I'm sure Setterfield phrased it with more elegance than I ever could, but you'll have to make do with my vague memory. As she neared the end of a book that was supposed to have contained thirteen stories, the narrator could tell there wasn't a sufficient number of pages remaining in it for a satisfactory thirteenth tale, and this made her anxious. Just as that narrator, I didn't think the book could be resolved to my approval in 20 or 30 pages, but Russell managed to pull it off, binding all of the loose threads in a convincing manner, though not so neatly that I was annoyed.

It seems that all I have left to say consists of a ragtag group of disjointed thoughts, but I think I have come up with a way to neatly categorize them for you.

The good: I would be content to be perceived in the way that Russell, at one point, describes Emilio Sandoz. "He was a man of impressive intelligence who seemed to her clear-souled and fulfilled." Well, except for the part about being a man, of course.

The bad: I don't know why it took me so long to become interested in this book. It's really not dull or slow or poorly written or disconcertingly bizarre, but still I never felt compelled to pick it up until I'd already read half of it. Do you suppose that forgetting to bring it on my vacation was some sort of Freudian slip? Also, I was disappointed that Russell explained what happened to Emilio's hands fairly early in the book, although the redemption was that she did not explain why until much later.

The funny: Those who are verbose should belong to "On and On Anon." OR, when you are in zero G (and therefore are without gravity), what you have instead is . . . levity. Most of the main characters were very witty and well-spoken, and if they were so clever that it seemed a little contrived, I was able to successfully ignore that fact. Though, now that I think about it, I'm not sure the calculus comment was the only one to cause eye-rolling.

I came across an excellent quote in this book, which I might have to memorize: "Genius may have its limits but stupidity is not thus handicapped." It is followed closely by what the author claims could be the theme of the book: "Even if you do the best you can, you still get screwed." That one is too depressing to apply to real life, but in the context of the book it totally cracks me up. And if you've read it and you know what I'm talking about, you probably think I'm a little sick.

I read the author interview at the end of this book and discovered it has a sequel called Children of God. Please tell me if you have read this, and if so, what you thought of it. Honestly, though The Sparrow was a good read, I don't feel an overwhelming urge to pick up the sequel; but if you tell me it was excellent, I will believe you and give it a shot. I'm a sucker for lines like that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Words of the Day

Once again, it's time to tell you about the new words I've learned!

1. Sybaritic. From The Know-It-All. "The Britannica gives an elegant description of Anna's brother Stiva, who is 'genial and sybaritic'." I've heard this word before. I just have no idea what it means. If only it started with a "c," I might guess the definition was computer-related, although I suppose this would be quite anachronistic (as the above-referenced Anna and Stiva are characters in the book Anna Karenina, first published in the 19th century) and slightly misspelled. As it is, I can only guess that the term is complimentary. Webster says: A native or resident of the ancient city of Sybaris. Well, that doesn't help me. Good thing Webster also says these residents were voluptuaries and sensualists. So I guess whether that's complimentary is a matter of perspective. I'm not claiming points for this one. Even though I would like to.

2. Abseiling. From Notes From a Big Country. Somewhere, once upon a time, I possessed a scrap of paper with this word scratched on it, along with the page number where I could find its use in the book. If that scrap of paper still existed I could quote to you the sentence where I found this word. As it is, I will have to be content with telling you that, by context, I assumed that abseiling and rappelling are synonyms. Webster says: I am an American book, not a British one. Webster online says: Your guess is correct. One point!

3. Furgle. Here, and for the following two words, we return to Catch-22. If I couldn't refer to the context of its use, I would think Joseph Heller may have made this word up by combining something like froth and gurgle. But it's pretty easy to tell what Heller meant when he wrote, "[Hungry Joe] could never decide whether to furgle them or photograph them, for he had found it impossible to do both simultaneously." Obviously it's a stand-in for a slightly less polite f-word. Webster is strangely silent on the matter, but I think I'll take the point anyway.

4. Paroxysms. "[Milo Minderbinder] was capable of paroxysms of righteous indignation." I'm pretty sure that paroxysms are convulsions, frequently associated with coughing or laughter, though I never would have guessed that based on its use alongside "indignation." Webster says: A fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms (as of a disease). A sudden violent emotion or action. Hey, look at this: Convulsion (a ~ of coughing). I get a point for being right about convulsions, but now the use (mainly due to the part about violent emotion) makes more sense.

5. Pernicious. "Just about all [Yossarian] could find in [war's] favor was that it paid well and liberated children from the pernicious influence of their parents." My guess is something along the lines of extensively, insidiously invasive. Which is what I imagine the "pernicious" in "pernicious anemia" to mean. Webster says: Highly injurious or destructive; deadly; wicked. Hmmm, I just don't see how I can wrangle a point out of that one.

Three out of five. Good thing my life doesn't depend on knowing the definition to these words.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Sundays at Tiffany's" by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

Ugh. I can't believe I re-read this book. Literary amnesia strikes again. I didn't actually forget I'd read this before. I just forgot it wasn't that great.

But can you blame me, really? The author's name isn't quite three times the size of the title, so I didn't think this was one of those books the Ape warned me about. And who could resist discovering the answer to that question posed on the cover: "What if your imaginary friend from childhood was your one true love?" Never mind the way that last phrase shouts romance novel in disguise.

I haven't read many James Patterson books, as they seem to be the haven of my friends who don't really care much about reading--honestly, now that I think about it, this may be the only one I've read. But I know about the movies Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls, and I've heard of Alex Cross, so I was expecting some sort of thriller, or at least a mystery.

Funny thing is, all I remembered about the book before this re-read was that it wasn't what I expected. Not sure why I thought it might be what I expected the second time around. Have you ever heard the phrase, "anything worth reading once is worth reading twice"? Well, I will say that this book was not worth reading twice. But it was light and quick, like bubble gum and soda pop, which was a nice change from my last attempted read.

On to bigger and better things. I may actually finish The Sparrow next.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Relativity: The Special and the General Theory" by Albert Einstein

We're finally back from our road trip, and amazingly enough, my sanity is mostly intact. Less surprising is the fact that I did not finish all six books I brought with me, though I gave it a good go and finished 3 1/2 of them.

Trip Book #3 pretty much blew my mind, and not in a good way. I have had this book for years and have never been able to force myself to read more than the first few pages (and that, only once). I can’t remember where the wild hair came from, but for some reason once upon a time I decided I ought to know something about the theory of relativity, so I googled it, and that didn’t help. But during my search I was directed to this book, which claims that Einstein explains his theories “in simple words that anyone with the equivalent of a high school education can understand.” If you look closely, you can see right there on the cover that this is supposed to be "a clear explanation that anyone can understand."

Well, they lied. Egads! I could make neither head nor tail of this book. It wasn’t the vocabulary that was the problem; it was just that I could not wrap my brain around these concepts. I know that I grew stupid when I got pregnant with my first child and I’ve been waiting ever since to become smart again, but I’m not sure if I could have understood this book even at the peak of my mental prowess. This book is mercifully short (178 smallish-sized pages, including the appendices) but it took quite some time to get through, since I often had to read a sentence three or four times to attempt to make any sense out of it—and sometimes even that didn’t work. I found that through most of the book I had to read it aloud to myself in order to come anywhere near concentrating on it and comprehending it. Which Hud, trying to stay awake while driving, didn’t much appreciate. It's not exactly a thrill-a-minute narration.

Einstein starts most of the chapters by laying out a basic premise, and I’d be reading along thinking, I get it, I get it, I get it, then all of a sudden, um . . . whaaaaaaat? Because he’s made a leap that my mind just can’t seem to follow. Not only that, but most chapters build on concepts that received treatment earlier in the book and which needed to be understood in order to grasp the new material. And I pretty much skipped over all of the equations in the appendices. It's not as if I needed to check Einstein's work for errors.

Even after reading this entire book (or maybe reading is too strong a word—I should probably replace “reading” with “looking at every word in”) I can barely explain the difference between the “special theory of relativity” and the “general theory of relativity.” (The special theory applies to “the physical relativity of all uniform motion," but I really don't even know if the general theory applies to non-uniform motion or something different. All I can tell you is that the special theory mostly dealt with linear motion while the general theory discusses curved space. I think.) I guess the most I can hope to have learned from this book is that there is more than just the “theory of relativity.” I also learned that you don’t want to take highway 385 across Oklahoma to get from Colorado to Texas, because they sure could use some of that Obama money that’s being thrown around, but I would have figured that out even if I wasn't reading anything at all.

Can I pay you to take this book from me, read it, and summarize it for me in four sentences or less? As cool as it seems to own a book that was actually written by Albert Einstein, I know for sure I will never touch it again. I mean, it's not like it's a signed copy or anything. Now THAT would be pretty cool.

I will leave you with a quote that was not found in this book, but it's related because it is attributed to Einstein, and it makes more sense to me than anything I read in his book:

"Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character."

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Notes From a Big Country" by Bill Bryson

I picked up this book because Chris (of Chris and Jess at Park Benches & Bookends fame) loves it. (Note that Chris is British, as this becomes important later.) I chose to read this book during our road trip because I knew Bryson was a travel writer and I had the (slightly erroneous) idea that the book was about traveling across the U.S.--how appropriate, right? Plus, Chris describes the book as "a must-read for anyone with a sense of humour." Until I read this book, I thought I had one of those.

Don't get me wrong. This is an amusing book. I didn't find it quite as funny as I found my previous read, but it certainly manages to generate a few snorts'n'chuckles. However--and oh, how much I hate to admit this!--I had a problem with this book. It stems from the fact that it is written for a British reader, and the author is laughing at Americans (read: me) along with his audience, rather than laughing with us. (It didn't help that this realization was immediately followed by a chapter entitled "Sense of Humor Failure"--the point of which was that Americans don't have a sense of humor. Ack!)

Big Country is made up of Bill Bryson's newspaper columns about various aspects of life in America. Bryson is a quasi-American writer who was born in Iowa but spent 20 years of his adult life in England, acquiring a British wife and producing several children in the meantime. Everything in this book was written after he and his family moved back to the States and settled in New Hampshire. All sorts of subjects are raised in this book, from the nostalgic (diners) to the comic (Christmas decorations) to the ridiculous (tax forms) to the outrageous (classic American wastefulness).

Some of the essays--like the one about uniform blandness--were thought-provoking and provided great fodder for discussion between me and my husband during our long hours in the car (which was, of course, one of the things Bryson mocked). Others rankled slightly, since they didn't apply to me but I had to admit that I know people like the ones Bryson described. But too many of chapters mocked all Americans for characteristics that apply to few (if any) Americans I know. In the final chapter, entitled "What Makes an Englishman," Bryson writes about the good he finds in America, but it wasn't enough to make up for the rest of the book.

Maybe if I had read another Bryson book first (namely Notes From a Small Island) I might have been more accepting of the continual ribbing I received from Big Country. I intended at some point to read his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, but now that my Bryson experience has been tainted, I'm not so sure I want to. On the other hand, perhaps in that one everyone gets a fair shake.

If you are British (or really, any nationality but American), read this book. You will laugh. You will also get a slightly erroneous and stereotyped view of America, but you will have fun doing so. If you are American, just be prepared for the fact that you may cringe just as often as you giggle.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World" by A.J. Jacobs

Remember how I told you that I was having trouble getting into The Sparrow? Well, I'm having even more trouble reading it now . . . because we are still trekking along on our Insane Road Trip, and would you believe I left the dang thing at home? I brought six other books with me, but I forgot the one I was reading. Well, I don't call myself the Literary Amnesiac for nothing.

By the way, did you notice this road trip has become a trek? When we started off on Monday, we were gallivanting off across the country, but I'm fairly certain that by this time next week our progress will more likely resemble a death march. Just so you know.

The six books are some of those that I ostensibly "want" to read but can never bring myself to pick up. What better time than a road trip to limit my choices and force myself to read them. Yes, I do realize that bringing six books on this trip was rather ambitious, especially since I only managed to read 5 books on my solo trip last year, and this time I have a husband, my parents, and three unruly kids to distract me. Not only that, but our journey is already half-finished, and I've only just finished one book.

Out of the six books, I picked up The Know-It-All first. I thought its format would work well for reading tidbits to Hud in hopes of keeping him awake while he was driving. I suppose it has worked so far, as we have made it through five states unscathed.

This book is the true story of a guy who spent a year reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. The book is divided into chapters by letter, with entries in alphabetical order just like the encyclopedia, although Jacobs obviously does not cover every topic. The book is made more palatable by the little bits about Jacobs's private life that are sprinkled throughout the book when he manages to relate to what he's reading (which happens more often than you'd think). Even better, I really like Jacobs' dry humor, which has Santa as a crack dealer and Attila the Hun with a good side.

It was interesting to think about what Jacobs discovered regarding memory as he read through the encyclopedia. A cognition professor tells Jacobs, "Memorization is a business where the rich get richer . . . the more you know about a topic, the more you'll be able to remember." This is, of course, not my own original idea, but it got me thinking about how memory is like a spiderweb. The more places you have to attach a new fact, the more likely you are to remember it. The more you find yourself able to link different areas of knowledge, the easier it is to add to that knowledge.

During the course of the book, Jacobs (tiny spoiler) has the opportunity to appear on the television show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. It was so funny to me that he lost because he didn't know which blood component is also known as an "erythrocyte." Of course, I suppose when your job is to look at millions of erythrocytes every weekend, you sort of have an advantage in that area. I guess it's one of those things you assume to be common knowledge until it's brought to your attention that only the people in your line of work know those details. But I was reminded of the time a high school acquaintance was on the show nearly ten years ago and couldn't correctly pick the Goddess of Love out of four possibilities. It's not like Regis was asking for the Roman goddess and gave both Aphrodite and Venus as choices (in which case I would have had trouble too).

I will leave you with a joke that I thought was hilarious, so I'll take the risk that at least half of you are total nerds like me and will get a giggle out of this:
René Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Yo, René, how you doing? Can I get you a beer?" "I think not," replies Descartes. And then he disappears.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Reading in Retrospect: "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde

Would you believe I still haven't finished reading The Sparrow? Lesa was right--the pace does pick up some once the main characters reach the new planet--but I suppose I have been distracted by visitors and pergolas and sunburns and last days of school, so I'm only about half way through that book.

Meanwhile, here is something new. Or, rather, something old made new. Several years ago, probably before I even knew what a blog was, I briefly kept track of the books I read by writing a little synopsis and making a note of my thoughts on each one. I got bored with this and quit after several months, which is one reason I'm surprised that I've been blogging for a year already and am still having fun. Anyway, I thought I would rescue those old files from languishing in obscurity, and incorporate them into my blog so they can languish slightly less obscurely. Now is a good time to start, since I probably won't be blogging much over the next two weeks. So, here is what I had to say about The Picture of Dorian Gray somewhere between five and ten years ago:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was our First Saturday Book Club selection this month and we had one of our best discussions over it. It was certainly not a light, fast read, but it was fascinating. Dorian Gray is a beautiful young man in London during the 19th century. He is innocent, unspoiled and naive. He is friends with a painter named Basil Hallward, and Dorian has been sitting as a model for many of Basil’s paintings. Until now, Basil had always painted Dorian as a literary or mythical character, but his newest painting is slightly different, as it is an actual portrait of Dorian. This new painting has captured every detail of Dorian’s beauty, the existence of which Dorian seems not to have noticed before now; it is as if the painting makes him aware of his own beauty.

It is not only the painting, however. It is that in conjunction with the corrosive influence of Lord Henry “Harry” Wotton, a close friend of Basil’s whom Basil has reluctantly introduced to Dorian. Basil seems to know that Harry is a poor influence, and he actually asks Harry that he not "spoil" Dorian, at which Harry, of course, laughs. Harry respects nothing. I think his Aunt Agatha sums him up neatly when she says, “He never means anything he says.” I don’t think she realizes how she has hit the nail on the head, but with Harry, nothing is sacred or important. He has a lot to say, and loves to hear his own voice, but I believe his only aim in speaking is to see what will happen when he tosses his theories down on the table. He wants to see what kind of reaction he will get.

Another vice of Harry’s is that he is manipulative and is curious to determine what kind of influence he can exert on people. He sees the young and impressionable Dorian as a blank canvas. He convinces Dorian that to live fully you must strive to “always [search] for new sensations... a new Hedonism...” In a rash moment while admiring Basil’s just-finished portrait, Dorian wishes that he could always stay young, while the portrait grows old instead. In fact, he goes so far as to say, “I would give my soul for that...” (Catch the foreshadowing?) This is a turning point, the beginning, the first step in his corruption, as evidenced by his very next statement. He says to Basil, “ like your art better than your friends...” which, though possibly an astute observation, is a very rude and hurtful comment, and heretofore uncharacteristic of Dorian.

Dorian first realizes his wish has come true a month later in relation to Sibyl Vane. Sibyl is a beautiful and very talented actress, and Dorian desires her from afar. After they meet and Sibyl falls in love with Dorian, her craft is destroyed. Having experienced real love, she can no longer put her heart and soul in to acting, and she becomes wooden and talentless. This causes Dorian to lose his infatuation with her. He cruelly leaves her, planning never to see her again, until later that evening when he notices his portrait has changed. There is cruelty in its expression. He suddenly remembers his rash wish and is stunned to realize it has come true. This scares Dorian into promising himself that the next morning he will go to Sibyl and “forgive” her and marry her. However, the next morning he finds out that she has killed herself in despair. Rather than strengthening his resolve to be “good”, this causes him to give up. Over the next 20 years, Dorian keeps his youthful good looks, but all the while his portrait looks worse and worse. Not only is the portrait ageing, but all the signs of Dorian’s vices show up in the painted face. He keeps the portrait hidden so no one will know his awful secrets.

There are several times Dorian narrowly misses “salvation”, and he even realizes it, but always seems to think it is too late. His first chance to turn away from vice was with Sibyl. She could have saved him from his fate if he had stayed true to her rather than treating her cruelly. With Sibyl, Dorian realizes Harry’s theories are “wrong” and “poisonous.” Dorian even says that “she would have done that for me,” meaning she would have kept him on a straight path. He also realizes that his friend Basil could have saved him, but by this time Dorian felt that “the future was inevitable.” It seems that Dorian is able to blame most of his shortcomings on other people, situations, or even books (he claims he was “poisoned by [the] book” loaned to him by Harry, which by the way those at Book Club thought might be Proust), but he never places the blame where it really belongs--on himself. [Note from today: years later, I still know nothing about Proust, but now I wonder if they said Faust and I misheard?]

Dorian even reaches a point where he says of the horrid painting, “What did it matter? No one could see it.” I think this is the point of the whole book: that it does matter, whether anyone can see it or not. But it seems that to Dorian the ravages of age are equal to, or worse than, the changes that are evidence of his sins.

Throughout the book, Lord Henry makes so many statements that sound profound, deep, or even just shocking (or some combination of these three “qualities”). But I certainly don’t believe everything he says, and I am surprised that his hearers often seem to. Whether this is evidence of Harry’s charm or of his listeners’ stupidity, I don’t know. But I see past the thin veil of intelligence covering his statements, and I see that the core is false. He couches his falsehoods in truth to lend validity to his philosophies, but he does not fool me. Whenever he expostulates, “facts [flee] before [him] like frightened forest things.” He speaks some truth (“we never get back our youth”) and then at a later dinner party he contradicts himself, saying, “To get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies.” Some other of his statements that make no sense or even seem to be the opposite of truth:

“Beauty is a form of genius . . . [Beauty] is not so superficial as Thought is . . . It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances . . . There are no triumphs left for you [after you’ve lost your youthful beauty] . . . Fidelity in love is purely physiology and has nothing to do with our own will . . . Punctuality is the thief of time." This last one is a very selfish principle (although it seems Harry often has selfish principles), as being late is actually stealing time from those waiting for you.

And yet more: “When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy.” Goodness, to Harry, is equal to selfishness and doing exactly what you wish--which is, to me, an odd definition of goodness. “The only things that one can use in fiction are the things that one has ceased to use in fact . . . No civilized man ever regrets a pleasure," though I guess this depends on Harry’s definition of civilization. As does the following statement, written by Wilde but not spoken by any character: “Society, civilized society at least, is never very ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating.” That does not seem to be true here in America. Though we may elevate the rich and fascinating to a level higher than they deserve, we are always more than willing to tear those “heroes” down from the pedestal we have put them on. I suppose this means we are not “civilized.” Which makes me wonder, did Oscar Wilde ascribe to Harry’s theories? If so, I think he was very misguided.

I wondered what Wilde referred to when he mentioned “that book of cowardice whose author apes the name of common sense.” I thought he must have been speaking of the Bible, but I wonder if I am narrow-minded in thinking this?

I found it odd that Dorian could be so weak-willed as to be easily influenced by Harry, and yet he seems to have exerted quite a strong influence over many young people he himself came into contact with.

And there you have it: my thoughts on a great book. I must add that if you have actually read this whole post, I am proud of you. You get a gold star.