Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

 

Though I tend to like so-called ‘classic’ novels, Wuthering Heights falls straight into a gap of Shit I Don’t Like. For some reason, I disliked Dickens, and Austen, and most of those authors from the 1800’s. (Calling Emma a comedy of manners doesn’t make it funny, or readable, especially when you’re under the gun, reading for school.) As for Victor Hugo, well, don’t get me started. Actually, when it comes to his books, I think the start is about as far as I got.

On the other hand, I liked Crime and Punishment, The Three Musketeers, and maybe a couple others, so perhaps I’m just unfairly lumping Dickens, Austen, and the Brontë sisters together because a) they’re English, b) they seem boring, and c) I hated being forced to read that stuff in high school. I’ve an open mind, though, and when Wuthering Heights was recently explained to me, it thought it sounded kinda dope. Plus, it didn’t look that long, so I went for it.

The novel follows two families living in two houses in the moors of northern England: the Earnshaws live at Wuthering Heights, while the Lintons live nearby at Thrushcross Grange. The master of the Heights, Hareton Earnshaw, one day brings home a boy named Heathcliffe, who becomes something of an adopted son to Hareton and befriends his daughter, Catherine. The narrative then follows the friendship/romance between Heathcliffe and Catherine, and their relationships to the younger Lintons, siblings Edgar and Isabella, as well as the next generation of Heathcliffes and Lintons and Earnshaws. (Don’t worry, there’s a family tree in the beginning of the book.)

While that’s pretty much the story of Wuthering Heights, it’s told in a somewhat strange way. The narrator is called Mr. Lockwood, whose name you don’t see in the above description. Wuthering HeightsHe’s renting Thrushcross Grange, decades later, from an old and bitter Mr. Heathcliffe. Lockwood wonders why the Heights is such a strange place, and his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, tells him the whole story. She’s been there the whole time, you see, either at the Heights or the Grange, and she apparently has a really, really good memory.

I enjoyed Wuthering Heights, once I got into it. I was definitely confused by the first few chapters (Who’s the narrator? Why does Heathcliffe only have one name? Are there really two characters named Catherine and two named Hareton Earnshaw?), but I think we’re supposed to be just as confused and curious as Lockwood, at least initially. And we have the benefit of the family tree, which serves as a framework for Nelly’s story. Once I’d read a good bit, it was pretty engrossing.

Pretty dark, too. It took me a while- maybe half the book- to realize that absolutely none of the characters were likeable at all. Heathcliffe, whom I initially viewed sympathetically, becomes a bigger and bigger dick with every chapter. Catherine, Heathcliffe’s only friend, pretty much tells Nelly that she’d totally marry Heathcliffe, if only he had more money! It seems like we’re not supposed to identify with these characters at all; we’re supposed to revile them. Heathcliffe, after realizing that his romantic aspirations would come to naught, sets out to destroy the Earnshaw and Linton families forever. I found myself wondering not only whether he would succeed, but whether the families wouldn’t somehow deserve what they got.

And Brontë makes it all seem incredibly personal; after all, there were really only two locations in the entire book, as well as a mere handful of characters (granted, many of those characters had the same names). She really gets across the isolation of the moors, and puts the reader in the bubble of these families’ lives. It’s pretty crazy to sit back and remember that the entire tragedy is taking place over the course of decades, and that it impacts literally nobody else in the world. Also, it’s fiction. But it feels so personally tragic, you just forget.

There is one problem I had with Wuthering Heights. Even though I got over the initial confusion, it still wasn’t easy to read. As I’ve said before, I ride the Metro to and from work, so a lot of my reading is done during my commute. Some books are easy to start reading in the middle of a chapter, or even in the middle of a paragraph; others are not. I call this quality ‘Metro Accessibility.’ (Because of the Metro… a joke about public transportation options… and the ease with which one can reach a location via the Metro? Okay. Nevermind.)

Wuthering Heights, while difficult to put down, is not Metro Accessible. The narration is confusing and the language is archaic. If I had to get off the train in the middle of a chapter, it’d be pretty easy to entirely forget what was happening. Of course, there’s nothing I could really do about this; if you read during your commute, you read during your commute. But if I had to do it over again, I’d try to avoid reading it like that, and only take breaks between chapters.

Wuthering Heights is a classic, and definitely worth your time. It’s not a light or easy read, though, so be prepared.

Arrested Development: Season Four

Created by Mitchell Hurwitz

 

In the summer of 2005 I was between my sophomore and junior years of high school, a break I spent doing various high school kid things. Playing Warcraft III online, seeing movies, reading Crime and Punishment (for school, obviously). Yea, I never said I was a cool teenager.

My dad had to take a trip to Chicago for work, and for some reason I tagged along. Great city, lots of fun, been back several times since. But since my dad was working, and I was sixteen in a strange place, there was one night when I was left to myself in our hotel. When I got bored of reading- one can only take so much Punishment– I turned on the TV, and happened to see the start of a four-episode Arrested Development marathon. I’d heard of the show, but I wasn’t that into sitcoms at the time and never really had the desire to check it out.

If I recall correctly, they were showing four episodes from the beginning of season two. I started watching. Somehow the show just got better and better and by the end (“Climb that wall, homo!”) I was sold.

High-brow stuff

Pictured above: Sophisticated humor

When I came back home, I got seasons one and two on DVD. I watched season three on Fox and hoped that its desperate attempts to stay alive would succeed. I tasted the sad when it ended.

Naturally, I was happy when I heard that the show was coming back, but as the release date approached I began to wonder about the best way to watch the new episodes. I remember that my introduction was an all-out Arrested blitz, which seems to be a common experience amongst fans of the show; often, people don’t really laugh at the first episode they see. It’s a comedy that takes continuity and callbacks and foreshadowing very seriously.

On the other hand, I was already a fan, so I didn’t feel the need to watch all of them in one day. Besides, I knew there was going to be a backlash against the new season, and a backlash against the backlash (back in April, NPR published a pretty prescient timeline of the internet’s reaction to the new season). I kind of wanted to distance myself from all of that, to give myself room to enjoy my favorite show of all time.

It didn’t exactly work- I finished the fifteen episodes in just a few days. But I’ve taken time to reflect before taking to the interweb. I watched a few episodes again, I talked to my friends about it, and I couldn’t help but read some of what the internet had to say: negative, positive, and meta. I think at this point, I’m ready to discuss my own thoughts.

I liked the first episode. It was a little bit slow, but it had its moments. Michael and the VultureThe ‘pack-first, no-talking-after’ scenario was hilarious, and it was kind of awesome just seeing a new episode. The next couple, however, were kind of a drag. I didn’t care about the George Sr. storyline, with the border and the wall. China Garden and the dude from Mad Men seemed lame and pretty pointless. The second episode, and a few that followed, kind of made me realize that there were some characters who couldn’t really carry a whole show on their own. George was definitely one of those.

In retrospect, the original Arrested Development did an excellent job of getting all of the characters involved in almost every episode. George and Lucille usually provided the conflict, the family would provide the subplots, and Michael was the (largely) straight man trying to balance his crazy family, his job, and taking care of his son at the same time. There was a formula, but it was done so well that it was almost imperceptible until that structure was removed. Season four removed it. So episodes two, three, and four, focusing on George, Lindsay and Michael, respectively, were pretty underwhelming, and gave me the feeling that the whole season was going to be a letdown.

But, remembering that it took some time for most people to get into the show in the first place, I soldiered on. The fifth episode, centering on Tobias, was pretty funny (“Daddy needs to get his rocks off!”), and the seventh episode, featuring GOB, was everything we could’ve hoped for. Obviously the episodes focusing on the funnier characters were going to be funnier, but it wasn’t just that. Later episodes would put previous scenes in context, so that it felt like there was more character interaction in each episode, even if there wasn’t. Bad example: Lindsay’s trip to India, on first glance, didn’t really feature any other major characters, though later episodes revealed how much that act was, in fact, an ensemble. It’s kind of hard to explain how this works without giving things away, but believe me when I say that the second half of the season felt much more like the Arrested Development of old.

Of course, even with added context, the plot’s still nearly impossible to follow. There’s something about building a wall, and getting a Bluth movie made, and privacy software called Faceblock, and a black Republican called Herbert Love. There’s also some ostriches running around. I kept seeing these patterns but I felt unable to actually make them out. This made me feel dumb, and we only watch Arrested Development in the first place because it makes us feel smart, right? Maybe not, but it’s hard for me to watch a sitcom if I can’t even follow the story arc.

Well, things don’t get revealed quickly, but they do get revealed. My advice would be just to watch it without exerting too much brainpower trying to connect the dots. The show will eventually connect them, but if you’re constantly worried about picking up on minor details that may or may not be relevant, you’re not gonna have as much fun watching what’s supposed to be a comedy. Upon finishing the season I immediately watched its first episode again, and it made a lot more sense to me. I’ve seen each episode of the show’s first run a million times because not only are the same jokes still funny the millionth time, but there are jokes that I didn’t notice the first 999,999 times. Did we expect season four to be any different? They’ve taken it to an extreme, to be sure, risking a negative initial response, but I’d imagine that fans will like this season more and more, given time.

Arrested Development Season FourWhich is basically what I’m saying: just give it time. I’m guessing that if you liked the original series, you will come to like this season. It’s like a swimming pool, freezing cold when you first jump in, but quickly getting warmer until it feels perfect. Let yourself warm up to it.

That’s not to say that this season is perfect: I do feel like there’s something missing. For one thing, it’s not the zany ten-characters-in-twenty-minutes show that it used to be. That was a disappointment to me at least, though I got used to the new format. But the bigger problem, I think, is that it seemed to be missing its heart. I found myself wondering whether the original run on Fox had as much heart as it did because of the ‘meddling’ TV executives; once unrestrained, did the creators revert to complete cynicism? Maybe I’m in the minority, but I thought the relationship between Michael and George Michael had kept the show out of ‘these people are so horrible that I can’t watch them’ territory (which is where I think It’s Always Sunny has ended up). I don’t know whether that’s a problem for most people. But it bothered me.

So long story short, I enjoyed the fourth season a lot, but I didn’t think it quite measured up to the high standard set by the first three. On the other hand, I vaguely remember thinking in 2006 that the third season didn’t measure up either, so it’s possible that time- and repeated viewings on repeated viewings- will change my mind.

The Alchemist

by Paulo Coelho

 

The Alchemist is the story of a young Spanish shepherd, Santiago, who seems satisfied with minding his flock and reading his books. His routine is broken when he dreams of a treasure buried at the Pyramids in Egypt, which a Gypsy woman tells him he must pursue. Santiago continues to receive signs that he must follow his dream, and he sets off for Africa to fulfill what he comes to regard as his Personal Legend.

I was only introduced to this book a few days ago, and had never heard of Paulo Coelho. The person who lent it to me compared it to Le Petit Prince, a comparison I saw echoed all over the inside cover. Now, I read Prince for French class in high school, and I remember not liking it at all. That might’ve been because a) I read it in French, and b) I read it for class. Those factors have never increased the likelihood of me enjoying something, so I thought that, reading The Alchemist in English rather than Portuguese, on my own time, I’d be able to understand and enjoy it.

Aside from the Prince comparison, I was warned by the aforementioned lender that I might find it a little bit shallow. Now, I have no problem with shallowness- I liked Iron Man 3– but I can’t stand superficiality masquerading as depth and meaning, which is what The Alchemist was starting to sound like. I wish I could’ve read the book without any preconceived notions, but it’s too late. In my head the whole time I was reading was the fear that it would turn out to be fun, whimsical and meaningless.

I can’t say that any of that is true or untrue. I think anyone can read The Alchemist, and everyone takes what they will out of it. My thoughts:

The Alchemist was a relaxing, serene experience. It often reminded me of the serenity prayer, actually. Santiago’s mentors encourage him to follow his The Alchemistdreams, but remind him that he shouldn’t get discouraged by setbacks. I think that’s a good approach to life; don’t worry about things you shouldn’t worry about, and work hard at the things you want to achieve. I didn’t need the book to tell me that, but it’s nice to be reminded sometimes.

The book’s prose is easy to read, and not in a bad way. Coelho (and his translators) cut out all the unnecessary language that would just muddle the message, which is beautiful in its simplicity. He writes as if he is relaying a parable rather than a novel, and I got the impression that every word in every sentence could be meaningful, even if I did not find it so. The boy, Santiago, constantly learns and comes to realizations about life, and his lessons build on each other and result in a sense of constant climax (not in a weird way, or in a cliffhanger way).

While The Alchemist is a pretty thinly veiled religious allegory, I don’t think that the God stuff was overdone. Compared to, say, Crime and Punishment, I didn’t feel like I was being beaten over the head with the idea that life’s all about faith and redemption through Christianity. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I kind of thought the book was more about belief in oneself and one’s own dreams than about belief in God. I sometimes felt as if Dostoevsky was standing over me, yelling “CHRISTIANITY IS THE PATH”; comparatively, Coelho was sitting across from me saying, “It’s all good, dude.” God was a part of the message, but I didn’t feel like he excluded atheists/agnostics/other religions.

Partially because it’s so short, I imagine that I might find myself reading The Alchemist again someday. I don’t know whether my understanding or appreciation for it will be affected. For now, I will say that it is enjoyable and poetical. In my case, I’m glad I spent the time to read it.