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Flowers for Algernon #1–Short Story and Novel (a Short Review)

IMG_1888 When I was in the depths of despair, this summer, I happened upon a PDF of Daniel Keyes’ short story Flowers for Algernon and, before I knew it, I’d read it in one sitting. A day or two later, I even went and wrote up a blog post about it, but I was going through a lot at the time and I didn’t feel like posting it, so I didn’t. Fast-forward to October, I was at a book sale when I came across the novel version of Flowers for Algernon, and my heart leapt for joy! 🙂

So now I’ve also finished the novel and I’ve just had another look at what I wrote in July, and, well, I feel like posting it now. 🙂

July 20, 2017

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As per the pledge on the side of my blog, I don’t usually read short stories unless I have a printed copy, but the other night, before I really knew what was happening, I found myself reading and finishing Daniel Keyes’ twenty-two page, heartbreaking, masterpiece of a short story Flowers for Algernon. I cried a whole lot as I read the last entry. It probably wasn’t the best thing for me to read at this moment, but I’m still glad I did.

If you’ve never heard of Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon (the short story version), it’s a first person narrative story told in the form of “progress reports” written by a 37-year-old, mentally-challenged man who undergoes a procedure to triple his intelligence. As a short story, it’s pretty much flawless and epitomizes exactly what a short story should be. There is a whole lot of insight to be found in it’s it’s twenty two pages about the human condition and it leaves you with a broken heart, but broken in a way that should give you greater sympathy and understanding for yourself and others. It’s bittersweet and tragic and beautiful.

I don’t know if the subsequent novel version of this story is as good as the short story (I will probably read the, at some point in time, just not right now), but I think this is a short story that everyone should read, at least once.

In answer to my July self, I would say the novel version is as good as the short story. There are slight plot differences between the two, but in essence they’re both the same story and Charlie is the same person. It’s funny, this time I knew how the story would end, yet, as I read the last entry, I still wept nearly as much as I did the first time.

That said, if I had to choose one version to recommend, I’d choose the short story. What Daniel Keyes manages to pack into twenty-two pages is, in itself, a work of staggering genius. The novel version, with it’s additional 200 pages, fleshes things out and adds more food for thought, but the heart and impact of the story is all still contained in the original twenty-two pages.

There’s more I’d like to say about Flowers for Algernon, but for now, I’ll just reiterate what I said earlier, I think the short story version of Flowers for Algernon, is a story everyone should read, at least once. And if you do read it and find yourself moved by it, I’d highly recommend reading the novel as well. 🙂

Ps. If you are interested, here is a link to a PDF of the short story

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Books I Read in 2016 (What I’m Reading #9)

It’s been over six months since I posted anything here; mostly because, well, life. But I have been busy reading.

This is pretty much what my last year in books looked like. 🙂

dsc_8849rsAs a side note, taking this photo was, by far, the most frustrating experience I’ve had photographing books for my blog.

It took me three tries to get all the books in the stack right. Each time, it was only after I’d actually stacked the books, taken the picture, and nearly finished putting all the books away on my shelves, that I would suddenly realise I’d forgotten to include a book and back out all the books would have to come. 😦 In addition to that, there was always the matter of getting the balance right. See that wise old owl at the top of the stack? He’s only there so I could balance the darn thing. I can’t even count the amount of times the entire stack fell over. Fortunately, my stack was heavily cushioned and no books were damaged or hurt in the making of this photo. 🙂

Moving on…

In my last “official” What I’m Reading post, I mentioned I was going to be taking on the Goodreads’ Reading Challenge again. In 2015, I’d made it my goal to complete 36 books, but I found myself struggling at the end of the year. So I decided to be more realistic with my reading goals in 2016 and made it a goal to finish reading 30 books. I’m happy to say I reached my goal and even surpassed it! I read 33 books, which turns out to be the exactly same amount I read in 2015.

Here’s a complete list of the books I managed to complete, in the order they were read (generally speaking), with the latest reads appearing first.

2016-books

  1. What We Talk about When We Talk about God by Rob Bell
  2. Endymion (Hyperion Cantos #3) by Dan Simmons
  3. The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #2) by Dan Simmons
  4. Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos #1) by Dan Simmons
  5. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. Prayer: Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis
  7. Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford
  8. The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials #3) by Philip Pullman
  9. The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials #2) by Philip Pullman
  10. The Northern Lights (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman
  11. The Brothers Karamazov: A Norton Critical Edition / Edition 1 by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ralph E. Matlaw (Editor/Translator, Constance Garnett (Translator)
  12. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter
  13. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Constance Garnett (Translator)
  14. Mistress Masham’s Repose by T.H. White
  15. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  16. God Will Make a Way: What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do by Henry Cloud, John Townsend
  17. Dune (Dune #1) by Frank Herbert
  18. Growing up and Other Vices by Sara Midda
  19. Twelve Step Fandango by Chris Haslam
  20. The Brothers Karamazov: A Novel in Four Parts With Epilogue by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  21. Eggs, Beans And Crumpets (Ukridge #1.3) by P.G. Wodehouse
  22. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  23. The Inner Life by Thomas à Kempis
  24. John for Everyone: Part One by N.T. Wright
  25. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  26. The Death Cure (The Maze Runner #3) by James Dashner
  27. The Scorch Trials (The Maze Runner #2) by James Dashner
  28. The Maze Runner (The Maze Runner #1) by James Dashner
  29. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  30. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
  31. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  32. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  33. The Wise Woman and Other Stories by George MacDonald

Here are a few more statistics. 🙂2016-in-review-editedIt’s interesting to compare 2016’s with 2015’s. They’re both surprisingly similar.2015 in review

Again, these stats aren’t entirely accurate.

For example, I’m sure Notes from the Underground is far more popular than the statistics here show. I chose this edition because it was the closest I could find to a stand-alone Constance Garnett translation, which is the version I completed (I’m still in the middle of reading the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation). The least popular book I read is actually Sarah Midda’s Growing up and Other Vices followed closely by Chris Haslam’s Twelve Step Fandango (which I only read because my friend wanted to know my opinion of it and promised me he’d read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World if I read Twelve Step Fandango. I kept my end of the bargain, he didn’t. Heh.).

In addition, I didn’t completely read both translations of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I read the entire Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation and read about 1/5 of the Norton Critical edition (translated by Constance Garnett and revised by Ralph E. Matlaw). The Norton Critical edition, includes about 140 pages of background and sources and critical essays, all of which I read, so I felt it was fine to count it as an additional book. The only drawback to including it in the list is that it added an extra 600-700 pages to my final page count for the year.

I also read both versions of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the 1890 Lippincott version and the 1891 revised and expanded version. So, technically, that would be two books, instead of one. But they were both included in the Norton Critical Edition and since I’d read a few other books that were terribly short, I figured I should just count it as one book to help even things out on the whole. 🙂

I’d say, overall, 2016 was a great year in reading. It included some of the best books I’ve ever read, as well as, some of the worst (*cough, James Dashner*); it also included the weirdest and most disturbing book I’ve ever read. Nearly every book was thought provoking in some way, which, to me, is the hallmark of a book worth reading.

I’d like to say, as I usually do, that I’ll be writing reviews for most or some of these books in the future, but, so far, that hasn’t seemed to have panned out. 😦 So I’ll refrain from saying anything this time, and que sera, sera. We’ll see how it goes. 🙂

I’ve signed up again for the 2017 Goodreads’ Reading Challenge. My goal is, again, to complete 30 books. I’m hoping to read a lot of tomes and magnum opuses, several large and weighty books, this year, so I’m not sure I’ll complete my goal. But I still think 30 books is a good and realistic-enough goal to shoot for.

How about you? Do you have any reading goals for 2017? If so, I’d love to hear about them. 🙂

Books I Read in 2015 (What I’m Reading #8)

Last year, I decided to take on the Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge. My goal was to complete thirty-six books (three books a month). Here are the books I managed to complete.

2015 books read

  1. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
  2. The Bad Beginning (An Unfortunate Series of Events, #1) by Lemony Snicket
  3. Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees by Yoshida Kenkō
  4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  5. Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
  6. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
  7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
  8. Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill
  9. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
  10. Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
  11. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  12. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  13. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  14. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  15. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  16. Mocking Jay (The Hunger Games, #3) by Suzanne Collins
  17. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2) by Suzanne Collins
  18. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) by Suzanne Collins
  19. Calamity (Reckoners, #3) by Brandon Sanderson
  20. Firefight (Reckoners, #2) by Brandon Sanderson
  21. Mitosis (Reckoners, #1.5) by Brandon Sanderson
  22. Steelheart (Reckoners, #1) by Brandon Sanderson
  23. The Hope of Elantris (Elantris, #1.5) by Brandon Sanderson
  24. Elantris (Elantris, #1) by Brandon Sanderson
  25. The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4) by Brandon Sanderson
  26. The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3) by Brandon Sanderson
  27. The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2) by Brandon Sanderson
  28. The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1) by Brandon Sanderson
  29. Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)by Brandon Sanderson
  30. The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)by Brandon Sanderson
  31. Wool by Hugh Howey
  32. On Love by Alain de Botton
  33. Animal Farm by George Orwell

I’m hoping to get around to reviewing many of the books listed here and as I do I will add hyperlinks to each review.  In the meantime, here are a few more statistics. 🙂

2015 in review

As you can see, there are thirty-three books listed, but I wouldn’t really count Brandon Sanderson’s The Hope of Elantris (Elantris, #1.5) or Mitosis (Reckoners, #1.5) as a book each, because they’re both just short stories. I could probably get away with counting them both as one book. So I’ll do that and say I completed thirty-two books last year.

While I’m on the subject of these two short stories, as a very brief review, I would not really recommend either of them to anyone, even a Brandon Sanderson fan.  Actually, if you’re an obsessive fan, and like the Reckoners series, I’d say go ahead and read Mitosis, just don’t expect anything. But take my word for it and don’t read The Hope of Elantris. Just don’t. There are very few things that I actually wish I could unread and this short story is one of them. 😦 More on it later perhaps.

Going back to the Reading Challenge, towards the end of 2015, I found myself torn between reading the books I wanted or needed to read (i.e. denser or longer books) and trying to reach my goal of thirty-six books. In the end, I decided that reaching my goal of reading thirty-six books wasn’t as important as reading books that I needed or wanted to read, but coming to that conclusion was difficult. So this year, I’ve decided to make things a bit easier for myself and make it my goal to read thirty books (2.5 books a month) instead. Hopefully, this will allow for a happy balance between both the amount and quality of books I read this year.

What are your reading goals for 2016?  If you have any, I’d love to hear about it. 🙂

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It isn’t often I anticipate a movie, but if the 2013 version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is as good as its trailer, I can’t wait to see it!

From what I can tell, this version is loosely based on both James Thurber’s short story and the 1947 movie, starring Danny Kaye, both of which are classics in their own right.

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I grew up on the film version of Walter Mitty. But I’d never read the short story until last year, when I bought a book called The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose (which is, as its title states, a huge collection of humorous prose from the last 500 years, focusing mainly on the last two centuries) which included The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Since it was only a few pages long, I decided to read it then and there. It was a quick read, and I enjoyed it, but I was constantly comparing it to the movie and felt slightly let down because it seemed to be “missing” over half the plot.

So after seeing the 2013 trailer last week, I decided to give the short story another shot. And this time, I really enjoyed it. I was glad it was such a short read, that it didn’t have half the plot of the movie, and, especially, that there was no psycho psychiatrist. 🙂 But what impressed me the most, was James Thurber’s brilliance in being able to say and convey so much using only about 2000 words. Along that line, I found this interesting:

It has been said that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty earned its author more money per word than any other story in the history of literature. –Frank Muir, The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose

With this new version of Walter Mitty coming out, I think a lot of people will be comparing it to the Danny Kaye film. I was interested to know what James Thurber thought of the 1947 film (since it was so different from his short story), so I did some reading up on it and wasn’t too surprised to find that he was entirely unhappy with the film.

“I read the entire script, of course, and I was horror and struck.” –James Thurber

The writing of the screen play and story line were done by others and he was brought on for collaboration right before shooting was to start. He hated it. It was far too melodramatic for his tastes, but there was nothing he could do about it.

I was confronted by a set story line appallingly melodramatic for poor Walter. An absolutely new and different story line was called for, but the shooting schedule the budget, and the few days allotted to me would not permit of this.” –James Thurber

For him the main issue was this:

“[O]ne of my strongest convictions about this whole picture is that the dream scenes should be kept in a high romantic key, and should never descend to anything of a slapstick nature purely for the sake of laughs. If this picture has any one special value, it is that it represents the kind of daydreams the average man dreams up, and I believe that every person in the movie audiences all over the country will recognize himself in these dreams, if we keep them true and right. The daydreamer—that is, you and me and everybody else—always imagines himself engaged in high and fine exploits and adventures, and he never dreams of himself as a comic or foolish character. The dreams will be funny simply and only because they are the true representations of the average man’s secret notions of his own great capabilities.”–James Thurber

He allegedly went so far as to offer Samuel Goldwin 10,000$ to NOT make the film and referred to the film as “The Public Life of Danny Kaye.”

I’m not usually one to side with the movie makers over the author, but in this case, I’m glad James Thurber didn’t get his way. If he had, this scene, for example, would only be the first twenty-five seconds and we would’ve missed out on, what James Thurber referred to as “Danny Kaye’s git-gat-gittle and appalling songs in gibberish,” but what I see as Danny Kaye in all his glory giving us a hilarious and brilliant performance only he could pull off.

The genius of Walter Mitty is that you can give him a new plot or put him in a different universe or time frame and he will still essentially be Walter Mitty. The original short story and the 1947 film each gave us something different, but to me, they’re both perfect in their own way.

I’m curious to see what this new version brings us; I wonder if James Thurber would approve. 🙂