On Books, and Classics

For the past few days, I’ve been re-reading (or rather, listening to) “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and it got me thinking about so-called classic books. But let me first say, this is not going to be a hate post about TKAM. I think it’s a fantastic book, and this revisit, my first in what must be four years, has all but confirmed my suspicion that this book is a classic for a reason. With that said, I’d like to examine the idea of a classic book. What makes a book classic? But before I do that, I just have to write this so it’s out of my head:

F U C K   A U N T  A L E X A N D R I A.

In fact, I kind of want to write a separate post about TKAM, so be on the lookout for that. Or don’t. You don’t exist, so it doesn’t much matter.
Oh, and just in case someone sees this later, I write that because I don’t expect anyone to read this not because I’ incredibly solipsistic.

OK, classic books.

Let’s tackle this one question at a time: What makes a book classic? An oft-propagated theory in this regard is that classic books are defined simply by age. The older the book, the more classic. In order to test this theory, I’ll perform an experiment through the medium of text. Which of these books, dear nonexistent reader, do you think is more of a classic: The Code of Hammurabi or the Old Testament of the Bible? Common knowledge would tell you that it’s the Bible, one of the most important and influential books in Western civilization. However, according to this test, it would be the ancient law code of the king of Mesopotamia Hammurabi. I think I’ll probably leave that argument there and move on to the next possibility.

Perhaps, if not the age of the book, then its length, width, difficulty in reading, or some other physical attribute is the decider of quality. If any of those were the case, then one would expect that something like the phone book would be the most famous book in the history of man. As it happens, it is not. Far from it, in fact. Well, then let’s move on.

OK, so here’s what I believe (prepare for thesis statement): it is my belief that a book is a classic if and because it answers, or attempts to answer, a question which is inherent in the nature of humanity. Let me give some examples of the type of question I mean.

“What is the nature of justice?”

“Why are some people evil and others good? That is, asking after human nature.”

“What is the meaning of life?”

“Why are some people prejudiced/xenophobic?”

“What is truth?”

“Does God exist?”

… and so on.

Harper Lee’s 1960 M A S T E R P I E C E “To Kill a Mockingbird” addresses and attempts to answer at least two or three of these questions. However, I think the most important statement made by Harper Lee is this: please don’t be condescending to kids, they’re a lot smarter than they are often given credit for.

But before I get into that, I’ll make a separate post all about this book.

That’s all for this one.

David Mitchell

WHO IS HE: So David Mitchell is a British comedian, writer, tv person, and so on.

WHAT HAS HE DONE/MADE: As I write this, I am listening to David read his own autobiography, Back Story. So, Back Story. He also starred alongside Robert Webb in: Peep Show (a UK cultural touchstone), That Mitchell and Webb Look (a sketch show), That Mitchell and Webb Situation (an inferior, yet similar, sketch show [look I’ll be honest, I’ve never understood the difference between these two shows]), alongside Lee Mack in Would I Lie To You (which is a panel show), and shows up on various other shows sometimes (usually by himself).

WHY DO I LIKE HIM (QUALITIES ETC.): Funny, comedy, very good writer, and more too.

Penny Dreadful, or On the Ending of Things

Here’s the thing: I heard about this show because my aunt, who is American but has lived in London with my uncle and their three daughters (my cousins) for the past ~20 years, knows someone who has a minor role in it. This must have been early 2014, because she was informing me of it prior to the show’s premiere. Then, I must say, I neglected to seek out the show and watch it as it aired. And for that, I will be eternally grateful to past-me. Here’s why: I think that if I had watched the series finale of this show as it aired live on television, I would have taken a gun, walked out to the backyard, and blown my own head off.

At this point, let me make clear that I do not condone suicide, I just was using a bit of hyperbole to catch your attention. Having said that, let me reiterate: had I watched this episode (and it’s a stretch to call it an episode, a more accurate description would be a slimy wet diarrhea pile which network executives shit out all over the heads of the fans of the show) live on television, I would have blown my own head off with a high-caliber rifle or something, I don’t know guns. That’s not the point. The point is, this ‘ending’ was an affront to the values that the show seemed to be professing for two and a half seasons. It was a slap in the face to anyone who watched and liked the show. And it was possibly the most disappointing series finale I have ever had the displeasure to watch.

Before I get into why I hated this finale so much, let me give a brief rundown of Penny Dreadful for anyone who hasn’t watched it before. So, the term “penny dreadful” refers to a type of literature popular in England in the 1800s. It was a serialized story which cost a penny per issue and usually came out once a week. The subject matter of these stories often included murders, mysteries, demons,and detectives. Some notable characters were Sweeney Todd, Varney the Vampire, and highwayman Dick Turpin. These stories were aimed at Victorian working class young men, and as such typically contained their fair share of blood and guts. The TV show Penny Dreadful is a fictional re-imagining of these tales as though their characters were real and lived in Victorian England. It follows the exploits of one Vanessa Ives and her best friend’s father Sir Malcolm Murray, with whom she lives, as they battle vampires, witches, and demons and attempt to carve a place for themselves in their crazy world.

The show also places quite a large emphasis on the values of friendship and loyalty, as well as pushing the idea that you shouldn’t be afraid or sad about who you are, but accept it and work to be better. I don’t know about you, but to me, those sound like perfectly reasonable values. There are many times in the first two seasons when the protagonist, aforementioned Vanessa Ives, struggles with the fact that she’s possessed by a demon who is maybe an ancient Egyptian god and also maybe the actual Devil. And throughout this struggle, the show tries to demonstrate that the only way to survive the worst parts of ourselves is to surround ourselves with people who love and respect us. Keep that in mind, it’ll be important later.

For the purposes of this rant, I’m really only concerned with the plot of the last season of the show, and even then only the second half (~5 episodes) is what bothers me. The basic plot of that season is that Vanessa is trying to banish the evil within her once and for all (as usual), and part-time Werewolf Ethan Chandler is being compelled back to America to meet up with his crazy father. Oh and also Dorian Gray & Billie Piper are leading an army of crazy bloodthirsty women for some reason. And it’s implied that Satan’s brother is Dracula. Still with me? OK.

The final two episodes see the gang reuniting in England, I think Ethan murders his dad, I forget. I literally does not matter. At this point, Vanessa has realized that she’s being two-timed by Dracula disguised as a Natural History Museum scientist (I swear to god this is all true), and so they all track him to his Lair (TM) to like kill him or whatever. Long story short, Vanessa gets killed by Dracula, who then himself is killed by Ethan. The part that I’m concerned with is where Vanessa is killed by the very demon which has haunted her this whole time.

Let me spell out my problem more clearly: throughout its three seasons, the show’s overarching message has been that our flaws need not define us, and we can overcome our demons and still be accepted and, dare I say, loved? And the way that they decided to end the show was by having the protagonist succumb to said demon. This corrodes the very message of the show, and to end the show this way is, to put it mildly, fucking idiotic. Now, the message of the show is “Don’t fight your demons because even if you do, Dracula will probably kill you”. And that isn’t a good message.

Gosh, it feels good to write about this finally, I’ve been thinking about writing this since the last scene of the last episode of what could have easily been one of my favorite shows of all time, and I think it’s been like burning a hole in my heart.

In conclusion, fuck whoever thought that was a good idea. You deserve to be killed by Dracula or whatever.

11.19.1942 Camp Robinson, Arkansas

This is the first of the letters sent from my mom’s dad to his mom that I have. There may be earlier letters not in my possession, and if so I will update this. Included with this letter are three somewhat faded pictures. The first is a small photograph of, I think, Jack’s mother. The second picture shows the Eiffel Tower up close. The third is a picture of what I believe to be the Arc de Triomphe. The letter itself is written on one sheet of yellowed military paper. The return address on the envelope reads (slashes denote new line) “Pvt J F (his last name) (32556742)/ Co “C” 108th Med. Tr. Bn./ Platoon #1 U.S. Army/ Camp Robinson, Ark.” I translate this as “Private (his name) (I have no idea what these numbers are)/ Company “C” 108th Medical Battalion/ Platoon #1 U.S. Army. Camp Robinson, Arkansas”. The letter was sent to “Mrs. M.J. (her last name)/ 17 Bostwick Ave./ Jersey City, N.J.”. The letter is transcribed below, spelling is preserved from the original.

Dear Mom:
I just received your letter with the two buck in. Gee I never thought you would return the two bucks. I had a feeling that you were a sure thing for the Saturday Night Bingo. If not for the “Jack-Pot” surely the “Round Robin”.

I know your only kidding when you say that you aren’t going yo play Bingo anymore. I’ve heard that too often to believe it. You know way down deep inside that you can never trust that enticing game. Remember what Barnum use to say “There’s a sucker born every minute and two to play Bingo”.

In one of your recent letters you asked me if I needed any money. Well it’s a fact that we don’t make much money but it’s also a fact that we don’t get much time to spend money. When we do get the chance, we discover that everything we buy is very cheap. Like the movies. We can go to one of the camp theaters and see a double feature for only 15 cents. The pictures are all new too.

Another funny thing is church. When I went to my first Sunday Mass in this camp the Chaplain told us not to leave any money in the church. If we did he would get very peeved. All the magazines and telegram papers in the back of the church are free. There are also prayer books, rosarys, crucifixes and medals free for the taking.

This Chaplain is one of the most interesting men I’ve ever heard preach. He has been all over the world and the little religous tales he tells us are from actual things he has seen or picked up on his travels. (a big change from Sacred Heart, eh mom)

Now about the O.C.S. I’m not going to try for it just yet. There are a lot of reasons why. One is my age,another is I lack the experience. You see if I was an officer I would have to stand in front of a bunch of troops and give orders. The Preparatory School is more or less based on a fellows ability to give commands. If you flunk the Preparatory School you lose all chance of ever trying the O.C.S. So since I lack a lot of army experience I think it is best for me to wait a while. If I want I will always be able to try later. And I will do so when I think I have developed sufficient capabilities.


Welcome, This is Nothing

Hello. I don’t know why you’re here. I bought this domain on an impulse because I kind of always have wanted to own a proper domain, and now I do.

I can’t guarantee that this will be interesting to anyone other than myself, but if it is, that’s good too.

Ok, bye.