Miscellaneous

Remembering France Gall (1947-2018)

Related imageAlthough this blog is about literature, music is also an important part of my life. I listen to quite a lot of older musicians, and I sing in a church choir. For six years, I played hand bells in four different positions. Music brings me a lot of joy.

So it was with great sadness that I learned today of the death of one of my favorite French singers: France Gall.

I listened to France Gall’s albums throughout high school and undergrad. The lyrics of her songs introduced me to so much French vocabulary. I particularly loved the jazzy pop sound of her later music.

Her introduction to the music scene was as a teenage pop icon in the 1960s. She won a Eurovision competition for the song “Poupée de Cire, poupée de son”. Although the acclaimed singer Serge Gainsbourg wrote much of her earlier music, he also exploited her youth and naivete for his personal gain.

Later, she left Gainsbourg for Michel Berger. Berger was already an established singer and song-writer, having written music for Françoise Hardy and Véronique Sanson. But he soon became not only France’s song-writer but her husband as well. The song “Declaration d’amour” (1976) was composed by Michel Berger in her honor.

France Gall may have begun as a “Lolita” pop icon, but she soon became a mature, critically-acclaimed singer. My favorite performance available online was one of her last. In 1997, France Gall gave an acoustic performance of her greatest hits. “Elle a, Elle l’a”, about American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, is my favorite song on the Concert Privé album. She is accompanied by some famous jazz musicians.

I can’t stop listening to France Gall’s albums on Spotify. Her music had such an influence on my French education. Although she stopped performing in 2000, I always hoped that she would return for a few small concerts. Michel Berger passed away five months after I was born in 1992, and their daughter Pauline died in 1997. Although I will miss France Gall, she is now with the people she loved.

I still remember the lyrics of most of her songs. My dad was forced to listen to her albums on repeat during long car trips. She was a true class act!

If you are a fan of France Gall’s music, what’s your favorite song? 

Poems

A Song for Matthew Shepard

Image result for a song for matthew shepardIt may be surprising that I started the year with such a depressing book, but I felt ready today to read this poetry pamphlet. Lesléa Newman delivered these poems at the University of Wyoming five days after Matthew Shepard’s murder.

Matthew Shepard is to the LGBTQ movement what Emmett Till was to the Civil Rights Movement. Shepard was kidnapped and tortured by two boys on the night of October 6, 1998. He was found tied to a fence by a cyclist who mistook the body for a scarecrow.

The poems in October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard are told from a variety of perspectives – some inanimate. Each section begins with a poem from the fence’s perspective, and most of the poems begin with a quote from one of the actual people involved in the case. According to the pamphlet, Newman was heavily inspired by the structure of “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams.

I was the most moved by the poems that addressed the national response to Shepard’s murder. “A Chorus of Parents”, “Then and Now”, and “The Drag Queen” were my favorite in the collection.

Not all of the poems were brilliant. A few were frankly pretty trite. But overall, I felt that Newman captured well Shepard’s influence on the Gay Rights Movement. We must not forget the son, student, and lover behind the involuntary martyr.

Then I was a guy
Now I am a ghost

Then I was a student
Now I am a lesson.

– from “Then and Now”

Miscellaneous

2018 Reading and Blogging Resolutions

Photography of Flower Beside Coffee on Top of BookAt the end of 2016, I set myself 5 blogging-related goals:

1) Write short reflection posts
2) Read 5 books that have been published since 2000.
3) Read more books relevant to current events.
4) Read Les Misérables in French.
5) Get more involved in the book-blogging community

I definitely met my first goal in November when I blogged every day. I wrote many reflection posts that sparked some interesting discussions.

I also met my second goal of reading 5 books published since 2000. My favorite nonfiction published in the past 17 years was Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life (2007) by Robert B. Reich. For fiction, I enjoyed My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (one of my favorite books of 2017).

For my third goal, I read a book on the Civil Rights movement that felt particularly relevant today: Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr. I also read a piece of war journalism: The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches From Syria by Janine Di Giovanni (very disturbing but incredibly important).

I did not meet my fourth goal of reading Les Misérables. I’m OK with that. I didn’t really have the time to tackle a thousand-page book.

It’s really the fifth goal that I feel I neglected in the past year. I didn’t really participate in the book blogging community. I am much more involved in the booktube community. I regret not participating in the Classics Club Spins or any of the group reads. The book blogging world introduced me to Moby-Dick, one of my all-time favorite books.

2018 Goals

1) Successfully complete at least one Classics Spin book.

In 2018, I would like to participate more in the Classics Club community. To be honest, I don’t really care much for my Classics book list. Reading from lists reminds me of school. Still, I have many unread classics on my shelves that I would like to get to sooner than later. So in 2018, the classics I include in the lists I create for the Classics Spins will all come from my already-owned TBR pile. But I will participate in at least one Classics Spin in 2018 because it is a good way to get back into the community.

2) Participate in the “Reading the Bible as Literature” event hosted by Adam @ Roof Beam Reader

Since reading The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter (my third favorite book of 2017) I’ve wanted to read the Bible as literature. I am accustomed to reading the Bible from a spiritual perspective, but I tend to overlook the narrative structures of the different stories. I look forward to discovering an aspect of the Bible that I have never noticed before. But the Catholic Bible is considerably longer than Protestant Bibles. It would be hard to read the entire thing in one year. Therefore, I will stick to Adam’s schedule and avoid the Deuterocanon.

3) Read 5 Challenge (a.k.a. Reduce My TBR)

In general, I want to reduce my TBR in 2018. To achieve that goal, I have created the “Read 5 Challenge”. I must read 5 books I own (print or electronic) before I am allowed to buy one new book. There are a few exceptions. I am allowed to continue buying a Harry Potter book a month, since I have already begun rereading the series as an adult (I’ve never owned the books and I don’t want to buy the entire box set). I am also allowed to buy books assigned for school, but assigned books cannot be considered as one of the 5 books. I have to read 5 books that I purchased for pleasure-reading. The books have to come from my non-school TBR. There is no limit to the number of books I’m allowed to borrow from the library. But any book that I own (even a free book) counts as a purchased book. Gifted free books are acceptable if I receive them unsolicited. Finally, I will continue to request books off of NetGalley. While NetGalley books don’t count for this challenge, they do count for the next goal I am setting for myself in 2018.

4) Reach 85% status on NetGalley by December 31, 2018.  

I need to review more of the books I request from NetGalley. 85% seems like a reasonable goal. I would like to review half of those books on my blog and half of them on my BookTube channel. I might repeat reviews in both places if the book is exceptionally good, but I usually avoid repeating content.

5) Post at least twice a week.

I am not going to set a word count, but a solo picture doesn’t count. Blogging is writing, and I want to write more in 2018.

What are your plans for 2018?

Boethius, Philosophy

Wisdom from Boethius for the Holidays

Image result for wheel of fortune boethiusI’m so glad that I put off making my 2017 favorites list until at least December 31 because Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy (which I finished today) will definitely make it on that list. To be honest, this was actually a reread. I read it for the first time in February 2016. But I include on my favorites lists any books that I have read and loved during that year.

When Boethius wrote Consolation of Philosophy in 524, he was under house arrest and awaiting execution. Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius was born into a powerful family; his father was consul and Boethius was himself appointed to the position in 510, during the reign of King Theodoric. In 522, both of his sons were made joint consuls. He held many positions of power and privilege throughout his life, but in 523, Boethius was unjustly accused of treason and imprisoned in Pavia. Boethius finished Consolation of Philosophy shortly before his brutal execution in 524.

Consolation of Philosophy is a fictional dialogue between Boethius and Lady Philosophy about reason, justice, fortune, and free will. Lady Philosophy’s message is particularly relevant in today’s political climate. It’s also perfect for the Christmas season.

So here’s some wisdom from Lady Philosophy for the holidays:

1) You cannot trust Fortune.

Do you really hold dear that kind of happiness which is destined to pass away? Do you really value the presence of Fortune when you cannot trust her to stay and when her departure will plunge you in sorrow? And if it is impossible to keep her at will and if her flight exposes men to ruin, what else is such a fleeting thing except a warning of coming disaster? […] If you are trying to stop her wheel from turning, you are of all men the most obtuse (p. 23).

The wheel of Fortune is all about chance. No one should trust good fortune to last forever. In a moment, you could lose everything. Indeed, every person dies with empty hands.

You know there is no constancy in human affairs, when a single swift hour can often bring a man to nothing. For even if you can’t expect any permanence in a life of chance events, on the last day of one’s life there is a kind of death for Fortune even when she stays with one (p. 28).

2) Wealth cannot bring freedom. 

[W]ealth cannot make a man free of want and self-sufficient, though this was the very promise we saw it offering (p. 52).

Greed makes the rich want more than they already have. No one is ever satisfied with the wealth they have. The more wealth you have, the more outside help you need to protect it.

No man is rich who shakes and groans/ Convinced that he needs more (p. 26)

3) High office does not make a person more worthy of honor and respect.

[H]onour is not accorded to virtue because of the office held, but to the office because of the virtue of the holder (p. 37-38).

Only people can be worthy of honor and respect, not offices. If a wicked person occupies a high office, he is still unworthy of respect.

[V]irtue has her own individual worth, which she immediately transfers to whoever possesses her. But as public offices cannot do this, it is clear that they have no beauty or worth of their own” (p. 54-55).

4) You can’t truly own anything that Nature hasn’t already given you. 

If Nature gives them their beauty, how does it involve you? They would still have been pleasing by themselves, even if separated from your possessions. It isn’t because they are part of your wealth that they are precious, but because you thought them precious that you wanted to add them to the sum of your riches (p. 35).

The only thing you can truly own are your virtues.

It seems as if you feel a lack of any blessing of your own inside you, which is driving you to seek your blessings in things separate and external (p. 35).

5) And for those who consider themselves religious, here’s a warning:

Avoid vice, therefore, and cultivate virtue; lift up your mind to the right kind of hope, and put forth humble prayers on high. A great necessity is laid upon you, if you will be honest with yourself, a great necessity to be good, since you live in the sight of a judge who sees all things (p.138).

Source: Boethius. Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by Victor Watts, Penguin Classics, 1999.

Reflections

Writing Introductions

I probably spent about three hours today writing a 450-word introduction for a 15-page paper due next Thursday. This isn’t the first time that it has taken me so long to write an introduction. For longer papers, I usually start with a key scene in the text that demonstrates my argument. French literature tends to love the mise-en-abyme narrative technique, so I often know what passage to start with. Still, it takes me forever to determine the structure for my introductions. How should I transition between the scene and the thesis statement? What exactly does the scene show? In the paper I’m currently writing, I will be referencing the face-to-face philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. In the novel, the face is the locus of orientalist discourse. French and Algerian companies exploit images of Idriss’ face to sell products. La goutte d’or by Michel Tournier hits you over the head with its anti-orientalist message. I’ve been told that Tournier wanted to be a philosopher.

Introductions are hard because they are so important. The first few paragraphs of a paper are the most important because they set the tone. They help prepare the reader for what’s to come. The introduction is also important because it must grab the reader’s attention. In graduate school, the reader is the professor. She may or may not read the entire paper before giving it a grade, so the introduction matters a lot.

Finally, introductions are hard to write because arguments are hard to formulate. What am I trying to show in this paper? Why should the reader care? Questions such as these are hard to answer in a few sentences.

I was reminded today that I didn’t really know what I wanted to write about even though I had marked many important passages and had identified key themes. I knew the basics of Levinas’ philosophy and could apply it to certain scenes in Tournier’s novel, but I couldn’t explain why it mattered in the context of the book’s overarching message. I wrote and deleted sentences for hours before settling for an argument that I think is acceptable. I will probably revise it again after writing the body of the paper.

Good introductions signal good papers. They also remind the writer to stay on point. A professor once told me that it often takes him weeks to write a strong introduction. Well, I certainly don’t have weeks to write this paper, but I don’t regret spending three hours to write a decent introduction. I’m sure the rest of the paper will be easier to write, now that I know my argument.

Reflections

I Blogged Every Day in November!

computer, hand, laptop

So today is the last day of my “Write 500 Words a Day” blogging challenge. I made it 🙂

I would like to reflect a bit on my experience. The hardest part of daily blogging is coming up with new ideas every single day. I wrote on a diverse range of book-related topics. Perhaps, that’s why readers haven’t been bored by my content (from what I gather, anyway). But I don’t always have interesting ideas. Even though I came across a lot of thought-provoking content in my school books, I often chose to write about “easier” things. I enjoy reflecting on themes in the books I read, but such reflections are definitely the most time-consuming posts to write. I’d rather vent about my day.

My readers probably learned more about me in the past month than ever before. I certainly don’t regret anything I’ve posted, but I am aware of this shift, and so should you if you are an aspiring daily blogger. Because I want to keep my blog book-related, I will not be continuing daily blogging in December. I will certainly blog regularly. But I am not interested in making public every last detail of my life.

Above all, this challenge taught me discipline. I had to write every day, even when I didn’t feel like it. Some of my posts were written at 1:30 am. Not ideal, since I’m a morning person. But I did it anyway. No one who is successful works only when he/she feels like it. Success requires discipline. Writers have to develop a writing habit.

I consider myself a writer because I am a graduate student in the humanities. I am not simply a professional reader. I encourage all graduate students to start a daily writing discipline and to consider themselves writers. Not all writers are novelists. If you want to know why I call myself a writer, read my recent post on writing in graduate school.

Although I will not be daily blogging in December, I will continue to write 500 words a day. Most of my writing will admittedly be school-related. I have a number of term papers due at the end of the semester. Writing 500 words a day is probably not enough to reach my word counts, but it’s the writing habit that matters. How many students binge-write their papers a few days before they’re due? I am not accustomed to writing drafts, but no one writes a good paper on their first try. I would like to have the time to rewrite my papers if need be, but that’s definitely a long-term goal that I may not meet in December.

Finally, I will try to schedule in my daily writing in the late morning when I’m the most awake and have the most free-time. We often tell ourselves that we will get to an activity when we have the time, but we never have the time. We have to purposefully make the time. I am not a great writer, but I now feel a need to write every day. I accomplished a self-directed and self-imposed project. I feel motivated to try new things.