Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Couples by Charles Dickens

I wanted to read something by Charles Dickens before my trip and this looked interesting. Plus the library didn’t have David Copperfield or A Christmas Carol.

Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Young Couples is a collection of ‘sketches’ of different stereotypes of men and couples in Victorian Times. Sketches of Young Gentlemen was written in response to Sketches of Young Ladies by Edward Caswall (aka ‘Quiz’), and so Sketches of Young Ladies is also included in this slim volume. The people profiles include:

- The Young Lady who Sings
- The Literary Young Lady
- The Mysterious Young Lady
- The Bashful Young Gentlemen
- The Political Young Gentlemen
- The Funny Young Gentlemen
- The Loving Couple
- The Couple who Dote upon their Children
- The Egotistical Couple

And much more. In total there are 24 sketches of Young Ladies, 12 of Young Gentlemen and 11 of couples.

There’s also a really long introduction that I stopped reading, although I did learn that “the journalistic format of short fiction, essays, sketches, serials, and miscellaneous writings was very much the dominant mode of publication in the 1830s.

Personally, I really enjoyed these sketches, even those that weren’t by Dickens. Maybe it’s because I’ve read some older fiction, but I recognised a lot of the tropes and enjoyed the satirisation of them. They’re also pretty short, so it’s easy to read a sketch or two when I have some free time.

The main difference between Dickens and Caswall’s sketches is that Caswall speaks a lot more in generalities while Dickens tends to focus on one example of the stereotype. I like both styles so I don’t really have a preference (and they’re not that different anyway).

If you want to try reading Charles Dickens but don’t want to read one of his novels (because they can be quite long), you should consider Sketches of Young Gentlemen and Couples. It’s a pretty slim volume and good for a chuckle, which makes it easy to read.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

Started and finished this in a morning because it is so good! If you’re looking for a Christmas read, this is definitely it.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a fictionalised account of how Charles Dickens came up with his famous story A Christmas Carol. While it’s true that the story before that, Martin Chuzzlewit, was a flop and that Dickens was in financial difficulties at the time, the rest of the book takes great liberties with the truth. But what an enjoyable read this was.

In this account, Charles Dickens loses the spirit of Christmas, driving away even his wife and children. But even though he cannot think of and doesn’t want to write a story, his publishers have promised a Christmas Tale and they are insistent that he must deliver. It’s not until Dickens meets an enigmatic young woman named Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son Timothy that he is able to write again.

Charles Dickens is definitely the star of the story. The author did a great job in creating sympathy for him, so much so that I was annoyed with his family for spending so much money without a care. While he was definitely a Scrooge, his stress over his finances made him a likeable Scrooge.

There are also a lot of fun, literary cameos in the book. More than a few Victorian-era authors appear, and there are many references to Dickens’ other works (including a character named David Copperfield who would like to be in Dickens’ book).

I’m so glad that I picked this up. I wasn’t even thinking of it, but it was in the “new books” section of the library and I remembered hearing about it before (from Wendy, so thank you very much!) so I borrowed it and now I’m in a Christmas mood. If you’re still looking for a book to read over Christmas, I would recommend this one.

The Kite of Stars by Dean Francis Alfar

I have been wanting to read Dean Francis Alfar ever since I heard about him! To be honest, I wanted to read How to Traverse Terra Incognita but the library only had The Kite of Stars. It’s a really solid collection of short stories, though, so I have no regrets!

There are 18 stories in this collection, and while I didn’t understand a few of these, I liked a lot of what I read. Some of my favourites where:

- L’Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars): the titular story about the lengths people go to for love, which had a very sad twist ending.

- Saturdays with Fray Villalobos: a story about a priest who loves food (perhaps a bit too much), which also touches on the subject on religions.

- The Maiden and the Crocodile: Written in the style of a local legend but with the ending first. But it’s only when you get to the start that you understand the ending.

- How Rosang Taba Won a Race: a very fun story about getting the better of the colonial masters. Lots of Tagalog in this one, which is why I brought the book to Jo-Jie Jie for help. (Although you can get the gist of the story without knowing Tagalog)

- An Excerpt from Princes of the Sultanate: I like this mainly for the form because it tells a story through footnotes (and in the medium of a short story too)

What I like about these stories is how inventive they are. They all have twists in them or are a new form of a familiar topic. If you’re in the mood for short stories, you’ll probably find one to suit you here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sorry! The English and their Manners by Henry Hitchings

I picked this book up because it seemed pretty interesting and I’m all about reading about England right now.

Sorry! The English and their Manners is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a chronological exploration of the development of manners in the English, starting with manners in medieval Britain.

Although the book is supposed to be all about the English, the fact that the English have been influenced by different cultures, like the Italians, means that the book also touches on manners in different countries as well. There are also two chapters where American manners are discussed and a few more where they’re mentioned. So while this book is primarily about the English, it’s not exclusively about them.

Something I found interesting (in a TIL manner) is that the Victorians had an “aversion to wasted words”, which was in turn “part of a new science of conversation”. Thus the shortening of “I am sorry” to just “sorry”.

I also liked the discussion about manners at the end of the book, where the author raises the possibility that instead of manners being in decline, the world has simply become more complex. For example, people in the past didn’t have to deal with the complexities of internet etiquette, like if you have to accept your boss’s Facebook friend request.

While this isn’t a book on etiquette in England, it’s an interesting look and discussion on how manners have evolved. If you’re interested in the lesser-considered aspects of history, you may want to take a look at this.