Thursday, March 31, 2011

April's Decision

Ferah, Antara, and I agreed that Cutting for Stones would be a good book for next month. Since Neha doesn't ever contribute to the blog, she has relinquished her rights to have an opinion. Also, we can't change it now because Ferah already bought the paper copy on Amazon.

Antara, Ferah mentioned a book called The Help by Kathryn Stockett which she has already read and really enjoyed and recommended it to us as a second book, if we finish early.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Garlic & Sapphires Progress?

I'm over half way through Garlic & Sapphires, and I know we were supposed to be done with that book by Thursday. Just wanted to get a sense if anyone else was reading it.

Also, suggestions for next month's book -- Vaishali & I had seen an interesting book from Oprah's Book Club called 'Say You're One of Them,' a collection of not-so-short stories:

Let me know what you guys think!

Alice I have liked

Alice as the Gypsy girl

Interesting -- two for two where I have the complete opposite taste as Charitha in a book.

Well, I'm glad both you and Ferah responded to the book, as me and Vaish were starting to get depressed that the book club had turned into BSBC (Bhardwaj Sisters' Book Club) ... but, no! We have real members!

Charitha, I agree with you that it was really disappointing when the spunky 7 year old grew into the conservative teenager. But I didn't feel disappointed with the author, but to me it was just a reality of what societal pressures do to you. She would find herself worrying about those same things that her mother and sister had always wanted her to be aware of, which she thought were totally frivolous when she was 7. I didn’t think it was her taking the incident ‘lying down,’ but more that she didn’t even fully understand what the incident was. And then part of her realized that if she told her mother that Mr. Dodgy was innocent in the kiss – that would mean that she, Alice, was the guilty party … and she was smart enough to realize that THAT would not make the situation any better for her. So it was better to let them think that Mr. Dodgson had victimized her, rather than her being the aggressor … it’s like a kid thinking they’ll get in trouble if their parents find out that they broke the expensive lamp … so just let them think that the dog knocked it over (sorry to compare Mr. Dodgson to a dog, lol).

Ferah, I hadn’t actually seen the gypsy girl photo the entire time when reading the novel, Vaish showed it to me just the other day. And I didn’t even realize that these were real people – I thought it was the author’s imagination to create a ‘real Alice’ and ‘real Lewis Carrol,’ although I believe a lot of it was fictionalized. And I don’t think my Kindle had these author’s notes you were talking about??  I can believe that the Victorian era viewed children in a different way as compared to what we’re seeing this as … having said that, I think it was always presumed that Mr. Dodgson’s interest in Alice was a little extraordinary – which was why it fueled such anger in her older sister and the nanny as well. Her older sister was a right twat (said in a British accent).

I liked watching her transition into a young woman, and especially liked the romance with the Prince, though I was really irritated with her that she succumbed to Mr. Ruskin’s blackmail to take ‘art classes’ with him. I actually found her a little less interesting as an adult, because I guess at that point I kind of felt like ‘Shouldn’t you have already gotten over your insecurity about the Dodgson issue?’ But for her, it shaped so much of her life, and she never confronted it … always skirted around it. I liked the scene when she went back to visit Mr. Dodgson with her three sons. I thought it was tragic how she viewed this man as an adult, as compared to how perfect he seemed to her when she was 7. And I felt her anger when Mr. Dodgson didn’t see that Alice turned out all right. I also felt particularly angry towards Mr. Dodgson when he said something to the effect of ‘Do you see why I don’t like little boys?’ He was saying something about how they have to grow into being young men … but to me it just reminded me of his weird pedophilia all over again.

I think the quote about stealing her Wonderland, was really on point. He stole a part of her life by exposing her in those photos, and she inexorably became scarred from Dodgson’s presence in her life. But I think she did the same for him. Her advances towards him also scarred him – because he was also chastised by this influential family, and I think he turned into a sad, lonely person after that whole incident. What I found interesting is that Alice mentioned that her mother begged Alice’s father to fire Dodgson from the University, but he never did … and Alice never understood why. I wonder … was this a chauvinistic thing where the father did not feel the pain or importance of the ‘stain’ on Alice’s character caused by this incident … or was there a part of him that seriously doubted that all that had happened was as dramatic as the ladies were making it out to be?

Anyway, I did really enjoy the book – more than I had expected. But it’s interesting to hear the certain things I liked about the book are the exact same things that you didn’t like in the book!

Comments on Alice I Have Been

Hello from Inds!

I can't get it together while I'm here to write a full post (and also, to be honest, I didn't truly enjoy the book) but I have to say that Ferah is right, the Reader's Guide is really important! It was my favorite part of the whole book.

I think my problem with the book is summarized in Ferah's paragraph about Alice being the victim and thinking she is plagued by misery all the time. I felt that in the first section, I liked Alice (as a child) - she was funny and spunky. When it skipped to 10 years later, as a young adult, I felt that she had lost that fire; it seemed out of character to me that she had taken the whole issue with Mr. Dodgson lying down (no pun intended!) instead of fighting for the truth. I understand that later she accepts this as the shortcomings of a child who was anxious to stay out of trouble, but it just wasn't believable to me. I did like the older Alice; the stories about her sons were the most enjoyable -- the reactions she had to losing them seemed the most real and touching. I loved the story about finding her middle son on the floor in the library, trying to read Alice in Wonderland.

I did feel that the author did a great job of flushing out the characters - I hated the older sister, sometimes the mother, definitely Mr. Ruskin, and loved the prince, etc. But I did think the plot was a little thin. I remember reading the back cover and the book was described as having a bit of a mystery, and I just felt the "mystery" was a total disappointment. We spent the whole book wondering what actually transpired between her and Mr. Dodgson that would ruin two lives so fully...and it was just a kiss that was described earlier in the novel?

I don't think I'm being particularly eloquent at this time with points about why I had issues with the book. I will revisit it later. But I do remember reading that both Vaishali and Antara liked the book, so I want to hear some good things about the book from you guys! Maybe I can look at it in a new light.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I finally finished...

Sorry all, I got frustrated in the middle of the book and slowed down... so I just finished the book on the plane ride home two days ago. Now I've had time to process and here's my attempt to put together my feelings about this book:

First, I wanted to address the 'dodgy-ness' of the dodgson photos. In the afterword by the author, she says, "it's very difficult for some modern readers to look at the photographs taken by Dodgson... without seeing something off, if not downright disturbing. I admit that was my first reaction..." which I think echoes a lot of what we felt when we read about the gypsy girl photo, and felt again when Ruskin possessed the photo of young Alice. The author says, "we need to remember that photography in the 1850s was a very new, very exciting phenomenon" and that because of how long a subject had to stay still, photographs of children were "more highly prized." And since they were highly prized, it is not surprising that someone such as Ruskin would want a photograph of a young girl. While I understand the author's point, I think the dodgy feeling we all got not came from a child being the subject, it was Alice's state of undress that brought on the heeby-jeebies. The author tries to justify this by saying, "our modern minds have difficulty understanding the Victorian era's fascination with children, in a largely ethereal manner... the idea that children's unformed bodies reflect the purest, most idealistic representations of humanity" and goes on to say that the naked child is more like an angel than a sexualized being. This did convince me that the photography was not sketchy and in fact a reflection of the times and soothed the awkwardness that had been nagging me.

In Victorian era novels, what always seems to bother me is the idea of who to blame for whatever fall from grace the woman subject suffers. In Tess of the D'Urberville's it was her "rape" and here it is the kiss in the train/gypsy photo that is ultimately Alice's "destruction." In both books, it tired me endlessly that there was no responsibility on the part of the woman for her actions and role in the fall from grace. For Tess, it was always unclear what happened for most of the book but somehow she was with another man- and she took no responsibility for it. Some argue she was raped, by my readings were always that it was sketchier than that, and that she was not truly purely the victim. Additionally, everything henceforth for her was suffering and her life was the worst and there was never going to be recovery. There was never a stage of acceptance and moving forward- it was always misery. That said, for a large portion of this book, especially the prince leopold section, I had the same problem. Alice was miserable because of some childhood transgression she couldn't (or wouldn't- i'll get to that later) remember. She was a victim of her times and a pure soul that had terrible misfortune showered on her. I got extremely annoyed at her self-pity which is why I slowed down reading, and had to put the book away for a little while. When I finally finished, I was actually really happy at how the author made her accept and move forward! It was what I was looking for- she says at one point, "I had taken his wonderland, and then he had taken mine" (or something similar, I can't find the page right now) and that was the moment she realized that she had a role in her misfortunes and accepted it. That really redeemed the book for me, and with that resolution, I actually can say that I enjoyed the book.

Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the interplay between what were her memories and what was wonderland. I liked that she met the Peter of Peter Pan and told him, "I suppose at some point, we have to decide which memories to hold on to, and which ones to let go." I think that this was a parallel way for the author to demonstrate Alice's growth and ability to acknowledge her role in her life's misfortunes, accept it and try to move on. The idea of choosing what to remember and what to hold on to or let go of is important because it is the way you come to peace.

In the reader's guide the author discusses what was fact and fiction- if you can, I'd highly recommend reading that because I found it rather interesting how much fact was woven into this tale! Anyhow, that's all for now- I have more but it's jumbled... I'll revisit the blog in a few days to write more, if I can.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mr. Dodgson ... dodgy or no?

I'm writing this post with some random thoughts that came up while reading the questions Antara posed.

I found it interesting that the parents allowed Alice to hang out w/ Mr. Dodgson so often, so freely. If back then, marriage really happened between much older men and much younger women, I would expect there not to be this interaction as much. Granted Alice was only 7-11, Ina was a bit older, but maybe this is a non-issue. The way they dealt with the situation was very similar to how I would have expected Indian people in today's age to deal with some awkward situation like this.

**Spoiler Alert**

I think the part that really struck me was the end though, when you find out that it was Alice who initiated the kiss and that it really, to me, just seemed like an infatuated 11 year old's mistake. I can't help but think these result from "daddy issues" since Alice really received no attention and love from either of her parents. At least she had an interaction with her mother, but it seemed that there was barely any interaction from her father.

Overall, I thought the whole situation, including what came to be major events in her life, was depressing because it was 'ruined' because of some childish mistake. Granted there is the part that she was a bit self-pitying with never loving her husband because she had loved Leopold and lost him. But partly, I think the reason she was so self-pitying is because she felt like it was out of her control. If I may compare with the last book (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), although those characters were also pitying themselves, I felt their decisions were much more dramatic and caused pain to others. For example, the grandfather left his wife and child, whereas Alice never did anything outwardly selfish to her family. She just wasn't able to feel the love towards her husband as much as she could due to the damage caused by external events.

However much Dodgson was kind of a creeper with his awkward picture taking, I tend to think he didn't have completely disgusting intentions. Maybe I'm just trying to see the positive in this, though.

It'd be nice to get a response to the thoughts I just shared, but if not, I'll leave you with the question ... was Mr. Dodgson a certified pervert or were his actions misinterpreted?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Alice I have Been

I finished reading Alice I Have Been about 10 days ago, but wanted to wait so that it was closer to the 15th to start the discussion. I really enjoyed this book -- probably one of the rare books that Vaishali and I are agreeing upon. 
I'm in the middle of professional chaos these days, so don't really have time to write about it, and I thought it would be nice for someone other than myself to start the topic ... so I'm not going to talk abt it in detail, but here are a list of questions I found on the website for the book. 
If we had an actual book club (and not just a virtual one!) then we could've had the author join the book club discussion!
Anyway, we can choose whichever questions seem interesting, or discuss things on our own. 

  1. What social forces motivate each of the characters to deny Dodgson's inappropriate attention to Alice?
  2. Alice became famous through no fault of her own. Can you come up with a modern day version of Alice? How do their lives compare?
  3. Alice refuses to read Alice in Wonderland until she is well into her eighties. Why do you think she avoids reading the story she inspired?
  4. The relationships between Alice and her sisters Ina and Edith range from rivalry to a life-long bond. What effects do these have on Alice, and what are the consequences?
  5. What part of the book speaks to you and your experiences in life?
  6. How does Benjamin take both the reader and Alice from ignorance and denial to the self-realization of her complicity in the ruptured friendship with Rev. Dodgson? Is this believable?
  7. While Alice's sister lies dying, Mama asks Alice "Why couldn't it be you? You've never brought me anything but pain, while she has brought me nothing but joy." What kind of effect do you think this has on Alice for the rest of her life? Did it affect the way Alice thought of her own children?
  8. The photos Lewis Carroll (or the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) took of Alice Liddell capture a look that can be described as wise beyond her years—what do you think is behind that look?
  9. How much did the Victorian setting play a role in this book?
  10. Before reading Benjamin's novel, had you already read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? If so, does it make you want to read it again? Why or why not?
  11. What do you think of an author writing a biographical novel using only notes and references and filling in the gaps with intelligent supposition?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Alice -- through Chapter 12

**Don't read this until you've gotten through Chapter 12**

It's interesting what a change the book has taken from the first half -- which felt much more reminiscent of 'Alice in Wonderland,' versus the second section, which feels like any typical Jane Austen novel, where people are obsessed with their appearance, and who will think what, and getting married seems to be the biggest goal achieved in their life. However, I usually hate Jane Austen novels (yeah, yeah, I know it's not a popular thing to say), but I don't mind this book -- maybe because the writing style is still modern, and the only thing antiquated are the ideas.

Anyway, I'm curious as to what exactly happened that has become the hush-hush gossip of the town. I feel for poor Alice, who didn't know what she was doing, but I think I also feel sorry for Mr. Dodgson .. assuming I can get past the pedophilesque aspects of the story.

And what is the deal with Mr. Ruskin?!?! He is so creepy, and the whole blackmail situation is just all bad. It makes Alice look more guilty than she is.

Let me know your thoughts when you're at this part. I'm finally somewhat alive again, so am gonna continue reading, since I can't do anything but lie in bed right now. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Alice -- March 15th?

Hey -- since this book seems to be a very quick read, I'm wondering if we can move up the deadline to March 15th? I know Vaish is ok with it, so I guess I'm asking Ferah and Charitha.

Also, please start throwing out suggestions for the next book, esp if we're planning on finishing this one in the next two weeks.

Feeling a little uncomfy ...

**Read this post only if you've read up to Chapter 3 of Alice I Have Been**

I'm enjoying this book as of now. Really easy to read and engrossing enough.

Gosh, the Mr. Dodgson stuff really has me confused! (Speaking of which ... good choice for a name .. he's a bit dodgy) I'm not one to be okay with older men having seen a girl grow up and then in the future, getting with her (as in The Time Traveler's Wife) but I actually did really like TTTW, so I've started to become accustomed to this being prevalent in books. For example, it also happened in the first three movies of Star Wars.

Anyway, I found myself initially believing that Alice was infatuated with Mr. Dodgson without knowing what her feelings were, of course, and just assumed that in the future, years from now, it might progress into some sort of affair. Anyway, things got weird and uncomfortable when he called her for the gypsy photo session. I was so tense reading that section ... I kept waiting for something awful to happen. And really, I'm guessing the extent of what he does, was probably appalling back then ... was it the equivalent of child pornography or am I just getting carried away?

Anyway, I'm pretty sucked in and want to see what happens ... unfortunately, I have to actually do work.

Also, I'm wondering how much I need to know about what happened in Alice in Wonderland because I don't remember it at all. I might watch the Tim Burton version tonight, though. I also have the Lewis Carrol book, so I might have to read that after I finish this one.