August Favorites

Lo and behold, August is already over! I know I haven’t been blogging for a long time – I just didn’t feel like it, I suppose. To make up for the lost time, here are some items that I thoroughly enjoyed in the month of August 2015.

  • FutureLearn course: Literature of the English Country House, hosted by University of Sheffield
    I got to look at different types of literary texts (Shakespeare plays, More’s Utopia, a poem by Ben Johnson, The Spectator, letters from Margaret Cavendish, Austen novels, Radcliffe’s Udolpho, a play and a short story by Oscar Wilde, and so on. They were fun! But the historical, cultural and economical contexts this course provided – now those were true gems. We of course focused on the English country houses and what they represent – politeness, or polite society – and how that changes through passage of time. I have the feeling I have come to understand the historical English society a little bit better, and that in turn will help me understand their literature better. I’m in love *sigh*
  • Recipe: There are actually three recipes that I really liked this month but since I already knew two of them, I’m going to focus on the last one. It’s a recipe for rice and kale – but unfortunately, I couldn’t find kale in this time of the year, so I had to leave that one out. But even then, I was pleasantly surprised at how rice + chopped & fried garlic + bunching onion + soy sauce turned out to be. Because you fry the garlic and the bunching onion in olive oil first, the not-always-pleasant taste of them gets diluted and only the delicious aroma remains. Also, I’m constantly surprising myself every time I actually manage to cook a real meal from scratch just by following a recipe. Yay me!
  • Album: It wasn’t the first time I listened to it, but: the “Begin Again” soundtracks are just great songs to listen to as I cook or clean the house or when I’m in the mood for something uplifting. The six songs I listened to again and again: “Lost Star” (Adam Levine version), “No One Else Like You”, “A Higher Place”, “Like A Fool”, “Coming Up Roses” and “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home”.
  • Song: One particular song from Owl City grabbed my fancy this month: “Dear Vienna” from the album ‘Maybe I’m Dreaming’.
  • Movie/TV series: Hands down BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (1995)! (Sorry, Lu :P) I have a very fond memory of an afternoon with a pot of tea and my cross-stitching project on my lap. Coincidentally, I first watched the TV series six years ago (almost to the dot) and it induced me to read the original for the first time – my interest in (then limited to) English literature was awakened. And imagine, now I am thisclose to start studying English Literature at university! It’s a dream come true <3
  • Tea: After the intense (and for me highly annoying) heat wave that had plagued parts of Europe for more than Taylors of Harrogate EBTa week was over, I was able to enjoy my morning tea again. I found myself gravitating towards the English Breakfast Tea from Taylors of Harrogate (with milk, of course). Ah, I do have some fond memories of this particular brand of tea! It took me a year to finish the tea but finish it I did (almost).
  • App: The most awesome app ever: DuoLingo! You can visit their website and start learning foreign languages there, too. And/Or you can download their app. If you are an English-speaker, they offer you free courses in Spanish, French, Irish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Turkish, Norwegian, Ukrainian, Esperanto, and they are developing even more courses!! I’m currently taking French (to prepare myself for the entrance exam), Dutch (working ahead a bit for my minor) and Irish (because, duh!!). Let’s learn languages together! My username is Eugine5 (there are four other Eugines already there…).
  • Book: This post wouldn’t be complete without me mentioning a book, of course. I have to say, there wasn’t a book that really stood out to me but if I had to choose my favorite, I’d say A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland. But more on that in my August wrap-up(s)!

How was your August?

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Classics Club Challenge #9: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the RingThe Lord of the Rings Part I: The Fellowship of the Ring
by J. R. R. Tolkien
first published in 1954
first read March 8th 2015 – August 6th 2015

I am a hopeless book-vs-adaptation-comparer. As such, thoughts of “whoa, this did not happen in the movie/book” and “they are taking their sweet time in the book” and “it’s certainly less gory” were running rampant while reading The Fellowship of the Ring. Movies and books, different mediums and all that. So while the screen adaptation focused more on the plot and expanded on each and every fighting scene, the book is more content to create an… atmosphere.

You know that Tolkien created this huge universe of Middle-earth, complete with thousands of years’ worth of history. Kingdoms in the various corners have been founded, battled over, lost and re-built. There were other great battles before the War of the Ring, and there probably will be more after it. The Third Age is coming to an end as we pick up The Lord of the Rings.
With the help of his omniscient narrative, Tolkien describes events from the recent and not-so-recent past, as if giving a lesson here and there on the history of Middle-earth. The characters also mention in their “speeches” names that are long forgotten and places that do not exist anymore, and so on. There are different dialects of the Elven tongue and dwarf words and names that I have no clue how to pronounce. You have to be prepared to flip to the back of the book for the five-page map to follow the hobbits’ and later the Company’s journey.
All of this can be annoying, or maybe boring or plain confusing. Oddly enough, I just found The Fellowship of the Ring cozy. It’s certainly not a happy story full of sunshine and dancing under the moon. Yet the relaxed pace, the descriptions of all the forests and rivers and lands they cross and the uncorrupted hearts of the fellowship were strangely comforting. Because the characters talk and think and prioritize in a way that is so different from ours, it was easy not to get attached to any of them and just to simply follow their journey.
If there is one thing that makes my hackles rise, it’s the absence of any female characters who talk more than three sentences – save Galadriel. But even the powerful elven queen does not entirely escape the traditional roles imposed on women: she and her ladies spin and make the cloaks for the Company, which is a great “honour”. Arwen – the love of Aragorn’s life and all that – sits demurely at her father’s home and hardly speaks a word while her brothers ride out to scout for the enemies. The whole saving-Frodo-and-drowning-the-Ringwraiths episode? Uh-uh, not in the book. Oh, and when Aragorn dies of old age in the Fourth Age (after ruling as a wise king for many many decades), his body is set up for respectable viewing and mourning. What does Arwen do afterwards? Says good-bye to her children, goes into some woods and dies quietly, and NO ONE EVEN KNOWS WHERE HER CORPSE IS. Undómiel, Evenstar of her people, and all praise that follows – and she slips off to the woods to die because her husband of a hundred years or so has died? And apparently no one cares? Ugh.

Despite this huge oversight of the half of the populations of his creatures, Tolkien’s writings make me more and more curious about the Middle-earth and all that has happened on it. Reading The Lord of the Rings without looking up a name, a place or an object is akin to walking in the dim light with your arms outstretched. You miss the many little details that can be patched up together to make a whole picture.

What a difference a year makes

Happy Lughnasadh!

A year ago, the weather was trying to convince me (and winning) that it was too warm for a beginning of autumn. These days, it is trying to do the same thing. The temperature will climb up next week and my patience will probably dwindle. Some things don’t change.

Alas, my mental and physical well-being was wretched 365 days ago as I sat in the Schiphol Airport, waiting for the connecting flight that would take me to Incheon. I had just taken five two-hour exams in two weeks, my nerves were shot, my anxiety up and my self-confidence down. I was in the middle of a torrent that thrashed me left and right, and I could not see who or where I was.
Looking back… I felt better at Mabon; I was content around Samhain but there was a drop of something that made me anxious so I distracted myself from it; whatever good feelings I had had deteriorated by the time Yule rolled around, and I vowed to change it; by Imbolc, I was still trying to change whatever that was needed in order to feel calm and centered again; around the Spring Equinox, I struggled to balance my need to be alone and the necessity of the human company; and then, shortly after Beltaine, I had a mental and physical breakdown that would last for weeks; I was tentatively – albeit joyfully – celebrating life again on Litha.

The period between the Summer Solstice and Lughnasadh passed very quickly. I saw an opportunity or two to grow, so I took them. For the past two weeks or so, I was busy participating in life, not just watching it unfold in front of me or just thinking about it.

When I am left alone for a long period of time, I tend to shut out the real world and retreat into my “head place” – an existence that only I can inhabit. It can be intense, as evidenced here, but in the end it is isolating and dangerous. It is a bit like an addiction when I am in that zone; I know it is ultimately bad, but I want to justify my decision to stay there for a little bit longer. I don’t want to quit this lovely haze in which my senses are heightened and nothing can hurt me. I was surprised to learn that my mom has a similar problem.
I’ve struggled to find a balance between my desire – and need – to be up in the air and the necessity of living with two feet planted firmly on the ground. I can’t say I’ve found it now but it is a comfort for me to know that I do continue to find small, precious pleasures in the real life, too. The return trip is less painful when there is something to look forward to.
I tried to create this sort of peace and, well, serenity so that I can safely exist in both worlds. It sounds strange even to my ears, but my decision to re-examine my future and setting a different course has done wonders: I am happy, for one, because I feel like I am being myself and not trying to bend myself into a pretzel to become who I think I should be. With that sense of rightness also came self-confidence, excitement for the future and a sense of fierce determination. I no longer dread the future and what might or might not happen. I still worry occasionally but my determination has a twin, and its name is optimism. Optimism of youth? Maybe. Or I just would like to believe that everything will turn out to be fine. But I know now that even if it doesn’t work out the way I visualized it, I am going to be okay. I certainly will have no regrets.

It is a good feeling to know that you can live with yourself.

Oh, and by the way, I am thinking about making my de-facto-vegeterian status official.