The Importance of Being Earnest (and the Cleverness of Language and Stephen Fry)

I read a lot of classics as a kid, but somehow never read anything by Oscar Wilde. I also haven’t read many plays beyond Shakespeare’s works. (Honestly, until I picked the book up, I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t even realized it was a play!) However, I am a big fan of Stephen Fry, who seems to be a big fan of Oscar Wilde’s, and so, I decided to give this book a go.

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I’m an avid fan of Stephen Fry’s for many reasons which could be discussed in a long blog post all on its own, but one of the things I enjoy is watching him discuss language. I’m someone who cringes a bit when I see a grammatical error or an unrefined metaphor. However, I also quite agree with Fry’s take on language – that it is ever evolving and there isn’t much point on getting held up on small errors as long as the point is clearly coming across. In fact, playing with the meanings of words and phrases can be fun, and it is something that Fry has done endlessly in his comedy sketches and that Oscar Wilde does prolifically in The Importance of Being Earnest. If you’ve ever seen “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”, read a few pages of this play and you’ll see instantly where some of their inspiration came from. As another comparison, think Amelia Bedelia for adults.

My main draw towards The Importance of Being Earnest, was that Fry mentions a line from it in many of his interviews. One of the characters says to a lady he is enamored by, “Would you be in any way offended if I said that you seem to me to be in every way the visible personification of absolute perfection?” As Fry discusses in the clip below, this is such an unexpectedly poetic use of language. Individually, the words (“offended”, “visible”, “personification”, “absolute”, “perfection”) are clunky and not necessarily the first words that spring to mind when coming up with a romantic turn of phrase. However, altogether, Wilde has built a memorable, charming, and yes, poetic, sentence that would catch anyone’s attention. It is just this clever sort of use of language that I love, and this book is chock full of it.

The Importance of Being Earnest centers around two friends, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, both of whom enjoy occasionally galavanting as fictional alter-egos. In fact, Algernon initially only knows Jack as his alter-ego, Ernest Worthing. Jack created the character of  his fictional brother, “Ernest”, as a means of avoiding responsibilities in his country village home and having fun in London (where Algernon lives).

Jack is hoping to propose to Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen, who is impressed with Jack primarily because she thinks his name is Ernest. Algernon suspects Jack/Ernest of leading a double-life and when he comes clean, Algernon decides to have some fun at his expense. Unbeknownst to Jack, Algernon travels to the countryside and meets Jack’s family under the ruse of  being Ernest, Jack’s troublesome brother. There, he falls in love with Cecily, Jack’s young ward, and all manner of confusion and hilarity ensues.

This is a play that I would love to see live. Wilde’s words are so clever that it is easy to imagine them being acted out on a stage as you read. The characters toe the line perfectly between infuriating and endearing. As classic literature goes, this play is a quick read and not too difficult to understand. I recommend it if you want to give the classics a try but still want something that’s light and funny. And, if nothing else, I highly recommend you watch the old clips of “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” on Youtube for a laugh. Below is one of my favorite sketches from the series:

Which classics do you love? Do you have any favorite plays? Are you a Stephen Fry or Hugh Laurie fan? Let me know in the comments below!

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Station Eleven

Imagine that a deadly flu took out most of the world’s population and now, as a result, people are forced to live without electricity, gas, or internet, and learn live off the land to survive. This is the premise of Station Eleven, a novel by Emily St. John Mandel.

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Station Eleven reminded me a lot initially of the (now sadly canceled) tv show Revolution. It’s a post-apocalyptic survival story, and the characters are traveling across the North American landscape with no electricity and no “United States”. In the novel’s case, however, the destroyed world is more of a background setting for an exploration of how humans have become disconnected from the natural world and how some interactions, moments, or choices can have an inexplicable lasting impact on someone.

The most interesting feature of the novel is how the story is told. Mandel jumps around constantly from moment to moment, and setting to setting. It feels almost carefree on her part, but you know it can’t be because it’s done in such a way that it’s not causing the reader to have to do any additional work, and everything makes sense. I don’t know how Mandel kept straight in her head what information she had and had not given away as she was writing, but she’s done a great job. You’re constantly waiting until the end to find out what happened in the future to the characters you’ve connected with in the pre-flu world and you’re wanting to know more about the origins of the people you’ve connected with in the post-flu world. It’s not a mystery novel, but as you read it feels like you’re following lots of mini-mysteries which are all these characters’ life stories and how their interactions, chance or otherwise, have profound effects on their lives.

Mandel really makes you think about how the world is structured today. We constantly hear about how much knowledge we have available to us in the information age, but we don’t often consider that just because it’s available to us, doesn’t mean we have it. All the tasks necessary to run our society are divided into separate careers. A banker probably doesn’t know how to hunt, a hunter probably doesn’t know how to generate electricity, an electrical engineer probably doesn’t know how to run a successful government, and a politician, whatever he or she may say, probably doesn’t know how to set up an efficient economy. We know we have all of this information available at our fingertips with the internet. But, if we lost that magnificent tool, the knowledge in today’s world is so subsetted that we’d probably be lost for a long time too.

Ironically, as I was reading Station Eleven, I kept coming across an ad on TV by America’s Natural Gas Alliance. It starts, “Someone once told me that working for the power company is a noble calling. I believe that it is. People don’t have to think about where their electricity comes from. They flipped a switch, and the light comes on. It’s our job to make sure that it does.” Obviously this type of system has helped our world develop much more quickly than if everyone tried to be knowledgeable about everything – there’s only so much information a human brain can hold. Nevertheless, reading this book made me think that it probably couldn’t hurt to learn a little more about how I get things like running water, electricity, food, and clothing!

All in all, I’d give this book 8/10 stars. It’s narrative is a little choppy (unexpectedly picks up and slows down through the book) but the style is unique and does work. The characters aren’t ones that will stick with you forever but their stories are engaging and will probably make you think about the interactions you have in your own life. Finally, if you, like me, are interested in the post-apocalyptic genre but can’t stand to read another book revolving around a sordid teen romance, then you should definitely check this book out!

Have you read Station Eleven or any other books by Mandel? What is your favorite post-apocalyptic or dystopian book? What do you think of the genre? Let me know in the comments below!

“The Sweet Life” by Dulce Candy Ruiz

Some quick notes before we begin:

  1. If you haven’t yet read my post on meeting Dulce, I recommend you pop over and read it first (just click here!) and then pop back over here to read this book review 🙂
  2. Also, if you haven’t read the book, this post does technically contain spoilers, although it isn’t a story-book, and I believe it’s still completely worth reading in Dulce’s own words, even if you do read this first.
  3. There is a giveaway at the end of this post so be sure to read all the way through!

I’ve never been a fan of “self-help” books. I know that a lot of people (including some of my family members) are fans, but whenever I’ve tried to read one, I couldn’t help but have cynical, snarky thoughts pop into my head every time I read a line like “with hard work you can do anything!” or “everyone has fears”. The Sweet Life is the first one that I’ve managed to read all the way through and actually really enjoy. In fact, as I read through it, I thought I would probably like to refer back to it again in time and made notes on Post-its – something I NEVER do.

My Post-it-riddled copy of of "The Sweet Life"

My Post-it-riddled copy of of “The Sweet Life”

What made the difference for me is that The Sweet Life is not just a self-help book. It’s an autobiography. Dulce tells her life story in the pages of this book, from her joyful early childhood in Michoacán, Mexico with her parents and three sisters, to their terrifying journey across the US border, to her insecure high school years when she acted like someone she didn’t want to be, to her days learning to appreciate discipline in the US army, and finally to her journey as a beauty vlogger on Youtube. (Just typing it out makes me realize what a full life that is already!) While the book certainly has those clichés, “Success doesn’t happen overnight” (pg. 44), “If you rely on others to provide you with confidence, you’ll never learn to provide it yourself,” (pg. 121), they don’t feel like platitudes because they come only after she’s told a story from her life that illustrates it perfectly. It’s clear that she hasn’t just picked up catchy phrases and put them in a book. She’s brought together the major life lessons she’s learned from every part of her life.

I mentioned in my post about meeting Dulce that I’ve followed the trajectory of her Youtube career almost since the beginning, and that I admire that after seven years and great success she’s managed to stay so real. In The Sweet Life, Dulce talks openly about trying to compete with other youtubers, being seduced by the prospect of brand deals, and getting doses of reality from her brutally honest viewers. It showed me that being true to yourself (which first requires figuring out who you are) isn’t always easy for anyone.

One of the most poignant parts of Dulce’s book for me was when she talked about being shy. She talked about putting on a “veneer” when she met new people because “people gravitate toward outgoing, over-the-top personalities” (pg. 69). Her habit of having super-bubbly first meetings with people while shaking inside is something I can relate to completely. I really like meeting new people and learning about them – that’s why I started this blog, after all – but at the same time, it scares me. I’m always terrified of lulls in the conversation (when I’m sure whomever I’m talking to is itching to get out of my company), and as chatty as I can be, I usually like to keep the big things in my life to myself or within a very small, trusted group of friends. In fact, when meeting new people, even friends of friends, I’m usually the opposite of myself – very, very quiet. I don’t think I ever thought about this cohesively until I read Dulce’s experience of the same. She’s managed to find a balance of allowing herself time to settle into a new group of people and learning to “relax and tak[e] a bit of friendly initiative” (pg. 71) that I hope, now that I have been able to think concretely about this, I can come to myself.

I really liked the “behind-the-scenes” view of youtubing that Dulce gave. Youtubers typically haven’t talked extensively about the kind of work that goes into doing it as a career and even less about the money, perks, and business deals they receive. Youtube notoriously hasn’t allowed its partners to disclose how much money they make off of it’s ad-based revenue-share program. This culture is slowly shifting a bit with Youtube becoming more mainstream and the media becoming ever more interested. (Recently, there was a bit of drama in the Youtube world when its most popular content creator, PewDiePie, had his income revealed by a news article. You can read this article and watch his response to find out more.) Dulce writes in her book about how to build a brand that’s based on yourself (she keeps a list of every major and minor milestone so she has something to talk about whenever anyone asks), when she realized that she could make money off of Youtube (two fellow vloggers pointed it out to her), and how much she initially made. She also writes about her video creation process, the disciplied schedule she keeps for herself, and her husband Jesse’s role in the business. All of this again makes Dulce seem very real. She’s not just some lucky overnight success – if you’ve followed her on Youtube or if you read this book, you’ll be able to understand the exact journey she took and realize it’s one that really anyone can emulate if they have the same dedication.

To conclude, Dulce’s book was definitely written for her viewers. It has anecdotes she’s touched upon in videos and the writing-style is such that I could imagine her saying the words in one of her vlogs. However, I do genuinely believe that anyone with a goal to work creatively can benefit from reading this book. Her exact experiences are unique but the emotions she has felt and the lessons she has learned are relatable. No matter where you are in your career – whether you’re still wavering between pursuing your creative dreams or choosing to work somewhere “practical” or you’ve already established yourself and have amassed a large number of followers – I believe this book will be reaffirming if not helpful to you. I highly recommend you check it out!

Have you read The Sweet Life? What did you think? Do you read other “self-help” books? Let me know in the comments below!

Giveaway: I bought The Sweet Life on Amazon but was lucky enough to get a free copy when I met Dulce at her launch. So now, I thought I would share the wealth and give away a copy of the book along with a couple of Dulce’s favorite beauty products. To enter, all you have to do is follow this blog, “like” this post, and comment below letting me know your thoughts!. I will choose a winner in a week and contact you when I do! Good luck! 🙂

Youtubers & Money: If you’re interested in finding out a bit more, Shane Dawson made a video recently called “HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOUTUBERS MAKE” (strong language warning) that spells it out pretty clearly and also talks about the new app “Vessel” which has a slightly different payment system for video content.

The Harper Lee Novels

I’m trying a new type of post today. I’ve done People I Met posts (obviously) and some Places I Went posts, and today I’m going to start a series called Books I Read. I’ll be writing about books I bought, books I’m starting, and my thoughts after I have read them.

I grew up loving reading and I’m constantly trying to make more space for it in my life, so I think this will be a good way to make me read more – especially if other people get involved! I have added the Goodreads widget on the right side so you can see what I am currently reading. When I finish a book, I will publish a post on my review of it. Typically I am reading 2-3 books at once. Right now, for example, I am listening to New York: The Novel as my slower, travel/ work read on Audible, while I am about to restart To Kill a Mockingbird again as my quick, bedtime read. I’m always looking for new things to read (fantasy, fiction, historical fiction, and non-fiction are all great) so please leave me your suggestions in the comments below!

Harper Lee is such an iconic author even though she only published one book in her lifetime!

Harper Lee is such an iconic author even though she only published one book until now!

Harper Lee’s second (secret) novel has just been released and it is a sequel to her acclaimed novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The new novel, Go Set a Watchman, centers on a 26-year-old Scout and an aging Atticus. I originally read To Kill a Mockingbird in middle school or high school and I remember instantly thinking of it as one of the best books I had ever read. The story made you think, the characters were likable, and the prose was extremely well-written. Harper Lee holds a special place for me because she has the same birthday as my grandfather (April 28, 1926) who is also an author and the first storyteller in my life. It has been a long time since I read TKAM, though, and although I want to dive into Go Set a Watchman, I have decided to quickly reread the original book first.

There has been a lot of controversy over Go Set a Watchman being published because Ms. Lee’s decision to publish the novel (which she had written long ago) came after decades of vowing never to publish another book, and after she suffered a debilitating stroke. What do you think of Harper-Collins going ahead and publishing the book? I think that even if Ms. Lee did not originally want to share this new picture of her iconic characters with a larger audience, it’s alright to share it with them now. It has been so long since TKAM was published and the image of those characters as they were in TKAM is so ingrained in readers’ heads that I feel like it will never leave. Reading GSAW will just be like a bonus, the way JK Rowling continues to provide additional information about the Harry Potter universe. (Obviously Ms. Lee is providing us with a whole new novel, but I think it’s the same idea.)

Are you planning on reading Go Set a Watchman? If so, let’s read it together! I am hoping to finish rereading TKAM by Friday the 24th (I’ll tweet when I do), and then I’ll start GSAW right away. Let me know if you’re reading with me below, and also leave your thoughts on these books and suggestions for what I should read next! Thanks! 🙂