“On what slender threads do life and fortune hang.”

penguin-count-monte-cristoBrown Baggers had a full house, or at least full Madison Room, at the discussion of the classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas on January 19. Written in 1844, Monte Cristo is a tale of revenge. Edmund Dantes, the main character, is wrongfully imprisoned for over a decade. Upon getting out and learning he has lost his love and his family, he recreates himself as the Count of Monte Cristo and seeks vengeance against those who caused his misfortunes.

Assuming new identities was a common occurrence in this book. In addition to the Count, many of the characters he is after also reappear under other names or with new titles. In the Count’s case, readers felt this also came with a personality change. This could be the result of his harrowing time in prison, or maybe just the persona he needed to complete his vengeful acts.  Once he completes those acts readers noted he again seems to make a personality change.
Revenge versus justice was a discussion point as well. Monte Cristo obviously felt he was meting out justice as he regularly states he is just doing God’s will. Or he may have felt they were one and the same. This speaks to Cristo’s sense of omnipotence.  Readers suggested it might have been from the seemingly unlimited wealth that was bestowed upon him. Alternately it could have stemmed from his near dying in prison, as well as his having nothing left to lose once he got free. Either way his story of “dying” as a way to get out of prison only to be “reborn” felt strongly reminiscent of the killing and resurrection of Jesus. This omnipotence also surfaced in his treatment of characters whom he cared for and was trying to help with his constant mantra for them to trust him despite his outlandish requests.
The lack of actual politics in a book that incorporates political story lines surrounding Napoleon’s return to power surprised readers. They felt this might have been a result of publishing for a general audience and not wanting to offend anyone’s sensibilities. It was remarked that the book seemed to be comprised of simpler, less flowery language making it perhaps easier to read for the masses. Although readers familiar with the original French version felt it was the result of translation . Regardless, it was agreed upon that Dumas thoroughly understood the segment of society that he writes about which is not surprising since they are events that occurred in or near his lifetime.

Many in attendance had read this title before but a few were new finishers of the 117 chapter tome. Everyone enjoyed the story if agreeing that it was highly implausible. Favorite features were Dumas’ generous details, sense of humor, and excellent dialog. It was also acknowledged that the story went slightly off course in the middle. Once the action picked up, though, the final few hundred pages really flew by.

More Information:
Author bio
Harvard Magazine article about how his father influenced the book
Mental Floss article with random trivia about the book
Gizmodo article on real life inspiration for the character of Abbé Faria
2005 French movie featuring Gérard Depardieu

Other titles that came up:
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Cousin Bette by Honoré de Balzac (we have the film)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

 

Next meeting will be February 16, 2017 at noon. We will be discussing The English Passengers by Matthew Kneale.

Just the Facts: Evaluating News Sources

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In this era of information overload it can be hard to tell what is a reliable source and what may be peddling fake news. You can do your best to evaluate statements and sources using these guidelines and independent review sites.

Step one: Know the definition

Fake news is any intentionally or unintentionally published hoaxes, propaganda, and misinformation which uses social media to drive web traffic and amplify the effect. Unlike news satire, fake news seeks to mislead, rather than entertain, readers for financial, political, or other gain. It can also include poorly or insufficiently researched stories and personal opinions presented as fact.

Step two: Ask evaluating questions

  • Who is the source?
    Well known news sources with long histories of publishing objective stories are more reliable than personal blogs that might be the first and only publication on the subject. Also look out for clever imitations of new site URLs when accessing information. (i.e. abcnews.com vs abcnews.com.co).
  • Why was this made?
    Look for sources that present facts instead of opinions and  which offer multiple perspectives instead of a single viewpoint.
  • Did you read more than the headline?
    Headlines are meant to grab attention, so read more of a piece before interpreting the headline as fact.
  • Who is the author?
    Make sure there is an author listed and check the author’s bio for awards and publication history. If details seem unfamiliar or suspicious, crosscheck the information elsewhere.
  • When was it published?
    Check the date to make sure that it is current and not something that happened months or even years ago.
  • Does it sound far-fetched?
    Crosscheck anything that sounds too good, or too terrible, to be true.

Step three: Learn more

Double check information at fact checking sites:
Politifact.com
Snopes.com
Factcheck.org

Other resources:
Take this News Literacy MOOC at Coursera
Consult this fake news sites list maintained by Snopes
Read this article full of fake news information from The Guardian

When in doubt, ask a librarian: 
You can reach library staff at JMRL by email at reference[at]jmrl.org or on our website through text or chat.

“She murdered her entire family!”

5180ubrqqzlBooks on Tap read  We Have Always Lived in the Castle   by Shirley Jackson at  Champion Brewery on January 5. Starting at the ending, most attendees didn’t care for the novella. A few had read Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” but the majority had not read any of her works, especially her memoirs of raising her family. The revelation of the murderer at the end was not a surprise to half the readers and the other half agreed that it was obvious upon a re-read. A few readers were enthusiastic about the spooky tone while others failed to find a moral in the story. However, after learning more about Jackson’s own agoraphobia and ostracization, many readers appreciated the symbolism more.

And symbolism abounds. Taking her source material from a real-life crime in England, Jackson transposed the setting to her small-town Vermont and based the the sister protagonists on her own daughters’ characters. Indeed, the fictional sisters read like two sides of the same person. Child-like 18-year-old Mericat, her older sister Constance and their uncle Julian live isolated in a grand house outside of town. Dogged by rumors that Constance poisoned her parents, brother and Julian’s wife, the trio seldom receive visitors and Mericat is the only one to leave the grounds. Variously teased and shunned by the townsfolk, she resorts to  magical thinking and rituals to defend her property. Uncle Julian is supposedly working on a family history but repeatedly asks Constance if his memories are true. Along comes cousin Charles, whom the reader and Uncle Julian know is bad news, upending Mericats rituals and routines  and thawing Constance. Mericat’s reaction to Charles tightens the underlying tension until the house burns down (debatably Mericat’s fault) and the fire chief implicitly gives the gathered townspeople permission to ransack the once forbidden house. While the townspeople then react by bringing food and other gifts to the sisters, Mericat manifests their psychological barriers by enclosing them in the kitchen and blacking out the windows. The futility of their hiding and rituals is exposed by rain pouring into the kitchen and neighbors, formerly kept at bay, pouring onto the footpath along the house. One reader pointed out that this was Mericat’s use of the feminine power available to her, versus the masculine power of Charles. Another thought the towns’ reaction was analogous to society’s fear of young women’s potential and the impulse to cage them. We all discussed the fine line Mericat rode between insanity and eccentricity, the distancing her peculiarities forced on the narrative and  how much better the story would have been as a Young Adult movie franchise.

Finally, we wish founding member Emily best of luck in the new Vermont chapter of her life!

More Information:
About the author
Author biography
Other works
Joyce Carol Oates on Jackson in the New York Review of Books
Upcoming film adaptation
Previous stage adaptations

Books on Tap Information:

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