Archive for the Book Beginnings Category

Book Beginnings – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Posted in Book Beginnings with tags , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by Mj Rains

By Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. Every year during the month of March a family of ragged gypsies would set up their tents near the village, and with a great uproar of pipes and kettledrums they would display new inventions. First they brought the magnet. A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands, who introduced himself as Melquiades, put on a bold public demonstration of what he himself called the eighth wonder of the learned alchemists of Macedonia. He went from house to house dragging two metal ingots and everybody was amazed to see pots, pans, tongs, and braziers tumble down from their places and beams creak from the desperation of nails and screws trying to emerge, and even objects that had been lost for a long time appeared from where they had been searched for most and went dragging along in turbulent confusion behind Melquiades’ magical irons. “Things have a life of their own,” the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. “It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.”

How could you not want to read more? This has always been one of my favorite books of literature. It’s timeless, classic, with just the right amount of strangeness, called magic realism, which lends to its tone and rapturous nature. It’s loaded with beautiful Spanish names, which can be daunting to the faint reading heart, but there’s a nice chart in the beginning pages giving the family history of Aureliano Buendia with all the names in order of birth. It’s a profound story, leading up to the firing squad, and years after, I guess 100 in total, the rise and fall of a town called Macondo, somewhere in the world, somewhere in time, in some history that is the writer’s and readers imagination. Truly one of the best reads of all time.

Originally published in Argentina in 1967. First English copyright translation 1970.

Book Beginnings – Anna Karenina

Posted in Book Beginnings with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2012 by Mj Rains

So I’ve been reading away on my new Kindle in the new year (at least I’m getting something done!) and am still reading the first tomb of a book I downloaded, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. At well over a thousand pages this one may take me a while. Reading other books in between I guess isn’t helping my progress. If you haven’t read this classic nothing is wrong with you my dear. It simply isn’t for everyone. I confess I started it and set it down years ago, thinking it was boring, but it feels fresh to me today, and perfection in a literary find.

This book beginning will be a short one; it’s actually the first line. And it’s one that everyone, even if they are not a classic literature fan, or a Tolstoy fan, can relate to I am sure. Perhaps you have heard it quoted before.

The Beginning of Anna Karenina:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

There are a number of movies versions in the past:

Greta Garbo as Anna Karenina, 1948

And I can’t believe, the same year, 1948, Vivian Leigh was Anna Karenina? This stunning gown was so well described in the book; it seems the costume designers nailed it here.

Sophie Marceau as Anna Karenina in 1997.

Some inspired book covers and art…

Anna Karenina by Clifford Bailey

mixed media by Ludmila Kalmaeva

Anna Karenina by Reno Photo

Book Beginnings – Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Posted in Book Beginnings with tags , , , , , , , on December 16, 2011 by Mj Rains

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming.   And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning – fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air.  How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; the kiss of a wave;  chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rocks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?” – was that it? – “I prefer men to cauliflowers” – was that it?  He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace – Peter Walsh.  He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull; it was his sayings on remembered; his eyes, his pocket-knife, his smile, his grumpiness and, when millions of things had utterly vanished – how strange it was! – a few sayings like this about cabbages.

This is perhaps the dullest book to read.
Who’s afraid of Virgina Woolf? I am, I am! I fear I may want to kill myself too before this book ends.



Book Beginnings – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Posted in Book Beginnings, Film with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2011 by Mj Rains

Once Again





In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticising any one,” he told me, “just remember that all people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.  The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men.  Most of the confidences were unsought – frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon;  for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions.  Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.  I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested,, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.

And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit.  Conduct may be found on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on.  When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever;  I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who give his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction – Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.  If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if her were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.  This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament” – it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.  No – Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

I know this was a rather long book beginning to feature, but I wanted Gatsby mentioned, and most of this narrative is used in the beginning of the classic 1974 movie version of The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern (who I once met) and Sam Waterston.

Here again, is another movie that lives up to the original literary achievement. (Don’t even mention that version that was put out about 15 years ago or so…whatever, it cannot compare to this one).  A new movie of The Great Gatsby is in production right now set to star Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Carry Mulligan as Daisy.  I do have hope for this one, and can’t wait to see it. In the meantime, Rob and Mia are the icons of this book of literature, which is by the way, one of the best reads ever! Download it on that Kindle when you can!

note: There are spelling “errors” in the excerpt above that are part of the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original text which I’ve kept in with accuracy. Originally published in 1925 by Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Book Beginnings – The English Patient

Posted in Book Beginnings with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2011 by Mj Rains


The Villa

She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. She has sensed a shift in the weather. There is another gust of wind, a buckle of noise in the air, and the tall cypresses sway. She turns and moves uphill towards the house, climbing over a low wall, feeling the first drops of rain on her bare arms. She crosses the loggia and quickly enters the house.

In the kitchen she doesn’t pause but goes through it and climbs the stairs which are in darkness and then continues along the long hall, at the end of which is a wedge of light from an open door.

She turns into the room which is another garden–this one made up of trees and bowers painted over its walls and ceiling.  The man lies on the bed, his body exposed to the breeze, and he turns his head slowly towards her as she enters.

So begins one of the most spellbinding books of all time, The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. Since I’m currently reading his latest book (see sidebar at right), I thought I’d feature the beginning of one of my favorite books of all I’ve ever read, and definitely my favorite of Ondaatje’s. This book I’ve devoured at least three times, quite a feat for me, and I was quite obsessed with it in the 90s when it came out. Then, the movie followed…and what a movie…the Oscar’s Best Picture for that year, 1996 I believe. This is one movie that is as good as the book, and the book is as good as the movie, something that rarely happens.  Ralph Fiennes (way before Lord Voldemort, of the Harry Potter film series fame), Juliette Binoche, and Kristen Scott Thomas are so gorgeous in this film and perfectly cast…If you read the book, you can picture them completely as the roles you are reading.

If you’ve read the book, or seen the movie, you’ll know what this last picture is: Almasy’s book of Herodotus, well worn with reading, and stuffed with notes, the haunted journal of one of the most memorable characters ever written…

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