Chronicles Of A Death Foretold

The blurb tells you he will die.

It tells you why and it tells you who does it. So why read what Marques writes? Maybe its the how. Maybe it’s just the desire for a little closure. Why should a story tell you everything anyway?

Back when I was a kid I had a dog, Zoolfy, he was white the untouched parts of a new unruled notebook. I don’t remember much about him, I was six at the time and my father killed him before I got to know him better. What I do remember is a story about him that my family repeats every time that start reminiscing about the pets they had. On seeing one of the many uncles that haunt the family for the first time, Zoofly hopped up on his lap and looked him in the eye. Man and dog stared at each other for sometime,I don’t know how much time but it was enough time for the family to decide that this stare lasted so long, that it was a story meant to be retold. What passed between man and dog on that ruined,decrepit chair?

I don’t know much about Zoofly or what went on his mind or who the uncle was or what he though or why neither of them made a sound. It’s interesting. It happened. People remembered it. It had no plot no great moral lesson. It just happened. It makes you think.

The murder happens. You might like the narrator and the man who is going to die or you may not. It doesn’t matter. You might hate the people who let the killings happen, the people who kill, the man who is killed- it doesn’t matter. Curiosity will keep you going.

Find your own morals and villains if you want to. The death happens weather you like it or not. You like everyone else in the story may never truly know if the wrong man was accused. The truth might never decide to reveal itself. You don’t even know why the narrator lists out all these little stories to you. You can never be sure if that fact that several people could have saved him is important.

Marques takes you for a ride. All you can do is sit back and wonder at everything you hear and everything you don’t.

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Jude The Obscure

Its not hard to see why criticism of Jude The Obscure was so severe Hardy vowed never to write another book again.

In Jude The Obscure Hardy points out flaws in religion, morality, marriage, education etc. He doesn’t leave much to imagination and the things he argues for wold be controversial even today. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started the novel. A happy tales of a man overcoming all odds? Something that would tell your all is right with the world and no hurdle was impossible to overcome.

When it was implied that women could use their sexuality and a little victim blaming was thrown around, I shook my head and though I knew where this was going. It was great that Hardy acknowledged sexuality existed, but he was still a Victorian after all. It was too much to expect him to deal with sexuality in a manner agreeable in our modern age. Boy was I wrong.

Sue Bridehead is easily one of the most surprisingly strong and interesting female characters I’ve ever read.  She better read than half the men around to begin with. Its tragic Jude can’t educate himself, but its more tragic that a person who is less interested but more capable than half the scholars around her doesn’t even consider an education. She is able to reason and debate better than anyone around her; she throws away superstition, tradition and religion. She does what she wants regardless of what the men around her say. The fact that her strong will is finally broken by an unhappy life and social pressure is in my opinion the most tragic part of the novel.

Jude himself is a more passive traveler. His determination to study, marry,find a sort of employment is often hijacked by other matters he gets himself into. You can’t help but sympathies with him and all he goes through. His kindness gets him no where, all his efforts at educating himself are futile and are made during the wrong time. He never finds happiness and dies a drunk failure who can’t stand what he used to believe in.

What the many tragic characters do is highlight the problems with Victorian society. The desire to learn means nothing is you aren’t wealthy. An act of kindness such as separating from some one who cant stand you is damnation. Marriage is a bizarre entrapment that contains little love. Sex is sold,exploited or forced. People are also often cruel and judgmental.

The world isn’t a very nice place for non-conformists. Jude and Sue might have found happiness after breaking away from the many expectations and roles they were obligated to fulfill but it doesn’t last long. Social persecution is immediate and the pair are soon outcasts. They become semi-nomadic and struggle to find work. What little comfort they found was lost once Jude could no longer work and poverty seemed imminent. All their children die as a result and Sues spirit is destroyed. She goes from a strong willed, free thinker who saw no need to conform to the popular ideas of marriage, to a broken woman who desperately tries to find solace in religion and forces herself to marry a man she can’t stand- even going so far as to forcing herself to sleep with him even though the idea used to make her jump out of her window.

Jude is constantly hounded by poverty and class difference. He loses faith in religion, becomes alcoholic and is sickly till his end. Nothing ever comes from all his struggles. Other characters like Richard and Arabella are interesting in their own right.  Richard is also a tragic figure although he is not as prominent in the story. His kindness and unorthodox views cause him to lose all his prospects and Sue never reciprocates his feelings towards him.

Arabella clearly knows how to use her sexuality and is also rather independent. She is shallow and manipulative but she doesn’t really invoke much dislike. Old father time is one of the less believable characters. He seems almost too tragic and depressed to be real -I don’t think children are competent enough to kill two of their siblings and themselves let alone willing. But that doesn’t take away much from the novel.

Jude The Obscure is a dark tragedy that is ruthless in its criticism of Victorian morality, marriage and social divisions. It is a very gloomy novel but engrossing all the same.

Bleak house

Charles Dickens depiction of Victorian life, in his excellent novel, is brutal.

Yes it is a funny,enjoyable novel that makes a very pleasant read. But Dickens includes an unflinching depiction of the many social injustices that existed during the Victorian era. Rampant poverty, exploitation, bad government, gender inequality, child abuse everything is including in Bleak house. The beginning of the novel is quite bleak to say the least.

Esther Summerstone ,the main character, begins life on a very depressing note. She is seen as a cause of disgrace and isn’t well loved by her guardian. She never seems to escape her inadequacy and sense of self doubt even towards the end of the novel. She is constantly convinced that all kindness towards her is undeserved and tries hard [maybe a little too hard] to please everyone who is nice to her. She also picks up this desire to serve, through her education and her own lack of self confidence. Although she does not seem to mind the fact that she subservient it doesn’t seem very fair.

Lady Deadlock is far more tragic. She is forced to abandon Esther ,her daughter from before she married Sir Leicester. She never expresses what she really feels and is eternally bored. She seems quite depressed and isn’t able to properly communicate with Esther when she discovers her. The story of her life and death serve to criticise the many restrictions placed on women. These two women are the cause of much of the plot and are extremely compelling characters.

The criticism of the legal system scathes. The court of Chancery is the butt of jokes and ridicule. Not without good cause of course. Lawyers,Judges and the legal system are all put on trail and make very poor defenses. The legal system seem to be a cause of woe and madness with no real good coming from it.

The many miserable characters like Jo,Mr. Krook, Nemo are obsessed with it or tormented by it. A lot of compelling arguments are made to treat them with more kindness and to understand their suffering. Dickens ability to create great characters really shows here. Many fall in to usually narrow categories of poor or crazy but all of them stand out.

The plot revolves around many mysteries that are very slow to reveal themselves. From Esthers parentage, Nemos identity, the flight of Lady Deadlock etc are extremely engrossing. Mr. Bucket is one of the best literary detective around and his method of investigation is what keeps much of the book fascinating. Other characters like George and Tulkinghorn, who seem very one sided when introduced, becoming compelling figures in their own right.

The many characters with smaller roles are equally interesting and often hilarious. Its amazing characters like Mr&Mrs Snagsby, Mrs Jellyby, Mrs Pardiggle can exist in a novel where Jo,Jenny,Caddy etc also exist. The humor gets quite dark at times, it also jolts you out of serious though at times -in a good way.

I haven’t even begun to talk about Mr Jardyce, Ada or Richard because it becomes very hard to decide which characters are more important than the others. There just so many well developed and compelling characters that you might need several essays to do them justice.

There is so much that going on in any given point of the novel. The many characters and their troubles ,lives, fears, mysteries etc along with much social commentary.

One of the most consistent [and compelling] topics is Dickens view on poverty. The law seems to be very unsympathetic and ruthless towards them. The gloomy dwellings at tom all alone, Charleys life, Jo, its hard not to be moved by them. Dickens is really determined to put his point across. Arguing for the poor, for the rights of women to resist abuse and for women who conceived out of wedlock must have gone against popular morality back them.

The satire is brilliant,the humor very agreeable,the story and characters compelling but Dickens goes a step further and includes a very real depiction of suffering in Victorian England. Characters like Ada, Sir Leicester, Jo might not have very happy endings but by the time you reach Esters happy conclusion, you can’t help but feel the story has come to a pleasant  end.

With an excellent story, intriguing mysteries, compelling characters and great humor Bleak house is well worth a read.

The French Lieutenants woman

Reading John Fowles The French Lieutenants woman after George Elliots masterpiece was an excellent decision.

Its quite easy to see how they’re comparable- both take place during the same time period and in a way are quite similar in what they aim to do. Elliot and Fowles both have stories that take place in Victorian England and a ensemble of strong male and female characters. So what difference do you find between an 20th century American man and a 19th century woman who write on similar themes?

The obvious and cosmetic similarities first. Both use references/extracts from other authors/poets to give context to chapters. Elliot uses Classical literature apart from poets and authors from her time, Fowles uses scientists  apart from poets and authors from his time. Both involve love, marriage and ideas about righteousness. Both include slightly tasteless remarks about Jews and  seem a bit orientalist.

The most obvious differences are the ones that arise due to the fact that the author of the French Lieutenants woman is someone who is looking back on what is to him – history. He ,unlike Elliot, is able to look back without as much attachment or biases that arise from living during a particular age. So unlike Elliot he is not restricted to the niche that she is [That of the upper class]. This is not to say that Elliot is oblivious to the poorer sections of society, but she is more comfortable and concerned with the gentry,the clergy and merchants. Or maybe Fowles is just able to see things that would not have been though of being worth mentioning back then.  Fowles has the ability to look back, knowing what is going to happen and is aware of statistics and facts about the Victorian era that might have shocked most Victorians.

The most important tools he seems to have in his possession are his understanding of science and Marx. Science is used to address the way of life, religion, lifestyle and various Victorian habits. Since the novel is set in a time of change where technology was uprooting old styles of life, Fowles use of science is essential to let the reader know about the world the story revolves around. Fowles incorporates everything from evolution to psychology in a love story. A no mean feat.

Fowles is also able to sneak in some criticism of science, psychology in particular, arguing for the need to be more humane in its approach. He makes a good case for why not everything can be chalked up to insanity or hysteria.

There’s a lot of talk on morality and changing social hierarchy too. This is where Fowles seems to use Marxism the most. I think it was rather brave of Fowles to quote Marx and go about talking about class divisions during the era of McCarthyism. He uses it effectively adding his already excellent description of Victorian England. The differences between lower and upper class, the attitudes of the employers and social hierarchy are all elaborated on using Marxist critic.

Both authors are rebels- or nonconformists if your feeling really miserly. Elliot is breaking away from the expectations of the stories that women were supposed to write, from popular morality,happy endings, and criticized certain aspects of society. I’d say her novel is better because of characters and a story so intresting its almost hypnotic. However Fowles is clearing trying to do more with his novel. Elliot seems a softer rebel, she does break away but not radically.

Fowles regularly breaks the third wall, appears in the story [literately] and is at the mercy of where his characters want to go. Fowles is able to say a lot about the role of the novelist in a story, the way he/she plays god and what the novelist must do. The novel includes three very different endings.

The first is a very safe and Victorian one, the one you might have seen coming. The second is not as expected since it does involve quite a lot of moral decisions [and sex] Victorians disapprove of. It is still a very pleasant ending. The final ending is the one that seems to break from tradition the most. It isn’t a very happy one and you wonder if Sarah was crazy,Charles bitter or deluded etc. The last two endings are equally likely according to Fowles.

Offering the reader endings to choose from could be called lazy from any other author. Here it is done masterfully. You realize the book was only disguised as a Victorian novel. The author enters the story and explains his position, the traditional endings he is expected to write, the godlike role he occupies and he plays/ experiments with all these rules. Each ending throws up questions about authorship, traditional styles in writing.

Sex and women empowerment are the most important themes in the novel. Sarah is clearly struggling to cope with the rigid formality and repression in Victorian society. She longs for more freedom and her affair with the French lieutenant is an act of rebellion. Historical anecdotes repeatedly make it clear that few Victorians where as chaste as they claimed to be. Fowles at times seems to suggest that the Victorians had better sex than anyone in his century, I don’t think that’s really true. But it is interesting to see why he makes the argument. Sarah whatever her intentions is clearly a very strong woman who is an intellectual equal to Charles.

Watching Charles ,a Gentleman who exists in an age where Gentlemen are quickly dying out, deal with the rebellion against gender roles that Sarah causes is both an engrossing story and a very accurate description of the outlook towards changing Victorian morality during the time period.

The only real weakness I saw was his description of America. It seemed a little too idealistic and reeked of patriotism. It doesn’t really harm the novel it just makes you roll your eyes a little too often.

The French Lieutenants Woman is a fascinating read. It is a Victorian love story but more, it is a story about an Gentleman  in the 19th century but the story is driven by the strong female characters, its can be both a tragedy or a pleasant happy ending. Fowles has done quite a bit with a simple story and has done it masterfully.

Middle March

When I realized Middle March was 3000 pages on my mobile reader, after I had just put off finishing Anthony Trollope Barchester towers, I was terrified.

Barchester towers wasn’t uninteresting, it’s just that the language and style of narrative made it difficult to finish. Since I had to finish Middle March before the vacations ended I thought it would become a cause of much pain and struggle.  Halfway through the first chapter I was shocked at how wrong I was.

Middle March felt very different from what I expected a Victorian novel to be. The characters seemed like archetypes at first, but Elliot manages to show us their complexity and inner struggles in a way that makes nearly everyone of importance in the novel likable. You could sympathize with everyone from Celia to Raffles. Ever character was given some back story that let you understand why they behaved in the ways they did. Even when they behave badly you understand why they did so.

Mr. Raffles who is the closest thing to a villain in the novel, is a man who has clearly suffered a lot and is haunted by his past. He has nightmare, debts, drinking problems and seems to have made many enemies who force him to flee for his life. Mr. Causbon who is the cause of Doretha’s suffering is also a character who is easy to sympathies with. You understand that there motives that are quite understandable for each character. This humanization of all the characters makes the novel more engrossing.

You might be able to predict where certain subplots like the one with Mr Causbons’ nephew and Mrs. Causbon are going fairly easily. But the fact that it is so easy to care for these characters makes their stories more engrossing. You sympathize with them and even if you know exactly what’s going to happen next, you can’t help but hope that they don’t run into the calamities you see them walking into.

The ending might seem like a fairly safe one with most of the main characters getting a happy ending, but since you have seen so much of their anguish and suffering-along with the fact that they are so easy to sympathize with- make their endings seemed deserved. They have actively worked towards and fought for the endings they get.

When you really think about it the endings don’t seem all that fairy tale like. Quite a few have suffered- the doctor knew he was mistaken in marrying his wife and died early. While she lived to a very long age and never seemed to have done anything about her own issues. Mr. Bulstrode and his family were driven away from Middle March. They might have found comfort in each other, but they still suffered a great deal and Mr. Bulstrode had blood on his hands. What effect would that have had on a man who wished to be so righteous? Mr. Causbons suspicions were well founded and he never got his life’s work published.

Few achieve what they really want and even consider themselves failures. The reader might find better satisfaction in the conclusions of the story rather than in the conclusion of their [The characters] lives. Despite the fact that not everyone got a happy ending, all the development the characters go through make the ending seem satisfactory.

A person who might not have known all that we do might assume that nearly everyone ended up with unhappy endings and had lowered their standings and happiness. But as Elliot explains in the final chapter many of us crate harmful perceptions when we judge people without knowing about the struggles they go through. The novel is extremely effective in arguing for that final suggestion by Elliot.

It must have been very forward for a woman in those times to write a novel that questioned [and sometimes mocks] most of the values and beliefs held at those times. I can’t shake the feeling that the novel is daring in the way it seems to suggest that everyone from gentlemen and clergy to doctors and peasants could, from time to time,  be wrong, mislead and cruel. The comparison she makes between Doretha and the Virgin Mary, apart from being a great argument, must have been very blasphemous/dangerous.

The fact that several characters are encouraged to go against so many social norms must mean that Elliot was quite the rebel. Although the novel deals with a lot of relationships sex is never mentioned. This isn’t surprising given the more conservative time during which it was written but I think Elliot compensates for it by showing so much intimacy. Intimacy being the best word I can think of to describe the delicate bonds and weaker/romantic moments between the characters.

It is clear everyone is aware about their gender roles, the sort of behavior expected from them etc. but they seem to break these barriers placed on them where no one else see them. Eliot shows us the humanity hiding beneath formality. Their weaknesses, their ungentlemanly / unladylike qualities are all laid out. And for everyone one of those qualities she makes arguments telling you why those should not give you cause to condemn any of the characters.

Middle March is also interesting because of the history it reveals. Elliot makes it clear that she is talking of a time before she began to write the novel. 40 years if I remember correctly. But looking back on it from out time it seems even more historical and fascinating. Much more has changed since Elliot wrote her novel. It is impossible to think medicine was considered a low profession and one that would not leave you wealthy. It’s also interesting to see the standing the clergy and priesthood held, with most of the scientific minds of the time, being from the clergy. The fact that there seemed to be so much wealth in the clergy is also interesting.

The contrast between Mrs. Causbons’ orthodox Christianity and the more worldly and liberal Christianity she finds in Rome seems in opposition to the sort of attitude to religion you’d find in those places today. The political events that occur in the background are interesting, but the way everyone reacts to it is the most fascinating part.

The talks on the coming of railways, industrialization, cholera etc all links up Middle March to the rest of England, letting it comment on the changes that those things brought. The book might take a while to finish, but it is impossible put down. You’ll never find yourself unwilling to read through the huge descriptions and digressions because you’re so engrossed with the story and can’t wait to find out what will happen next. The deliberations that the characters drag out make reading a nail biting experience at some points. Elliots’ detailed and sympathetic study of country life is a fascinating read with likable character, many tense moments, much rebelliousness and a very interesting plot.

1Q84 Book 2 July September

The last book ended with a cliff hanger that suggested the story was going to become more intense, and the many many questions that the first book raised would be answered. It did. Just not in the way you’d expect.

Murakami revisits what we already know while his characters try to understand the world they are in. The novel[within the novel], which was written in the first book, is elaborated on in a manner that makes you want go read the first book again and hit yourself for not seeing things more clearly the first time around. Yet again Murakami uses the novel that was written in the story to tell the reader where he/she should be looking. The readers like the characters do not receive any direct or complete answers. But make no mistake there is a lot of development.

The way this development works isn’t like the sort in most other stories. The development is extremely slow, minute and detailed. Because every single thing that happens in the story does something to alter the perception of the books characters, you never get bored or feel overwhelmed. The amount of detail and struggle, makes progression seem believable. It more philosophical progression than plot progression.

Few authors are able to repeat what has already been said over and over again and still make it interesting. Irrelevant and minute details in the characters individual stories grow in significance as they[ the characters] reflect on the changing world. Every time you look at a story again a few extra details you picked up as the other stories progressed change the meaning and relevance of everything you already knew. Anecdotes and idle chit-chit suddenly become incredibly important revelations that push the story in directions you would have never seen coming.

They also link up implied or unstated histories/stories as well, making the world far more and far more extraordinary. The fantastic difference ,between the real world and that of 1Q84, such as the two moons, air chrysalis etc blend in fantastically and do not actually make the story seem any less believable. In fact you might not care for them as much as for the love story that happens while the entire world around two people changes.

Everything in the first book is picked up, examined and elaborated on. These changes that encourage a sort of spiritual journey in both Tengo and Aomane, are the most interesting parts of the book. Their beliefs and motivations become as fantastic as the world around them. Perhaps this is why Murakami made the world around them so extraordinary, to try and show the reader how extraordinary certain beliefs can be even when compared to a sky with two moons.

The story moves slowly although it never seems to lose steam, Murakamis writing is again very essential in making it work. It isn’t easy to make you feel indifferent to a serial child rapist. However there are a few sentences that seem awkward at times, especially when talking about sex. And the idea that a person in japan would have croissants just sitting in their fridge doesn’t seem very believable to me. But I suppose croissants begin the most unbelievable thing in a story with two moons is a good thing.

Dream of The Fishermans wife

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Who would have though that a three century old woodcut of two octopi performing cunnilingus on a woman could inspire you to write a great story instead of just giggling like a 13 year old?

While looking at Japanese woodcuts one day, I found that image. A woodcut by Hokusai associated with the Kinoe No Komastu [young pines] from a three volume book of Shunga erotica published in 1814. It is the most famous shunga Hokusai ever produced. Wood-prints like this were popular during the Edo period when the merchant class [the lowest in Japanese pecking order] found themselves growing more wealth and able to afford woodcuts of stories,landscapes,erotica, and flora and fauna.

But the story by A.C Wise, which I found after more reading, that appeared in Shimmer magazine did something that seemed to give the silly woodcut far more meaning than anyone seemed to have intended.

“Dive.

The word slams into him, sudden certainty. He must follow his wife down; he must find her under the waves. They must find each other. As the sun passes the apex of the sky, the fisherman strips and describes a perfect arc into the blue.

The water slices him open, steals his breath. Cutting knife-clean through the dark, he swims down”

The story isn’t particularly long. A fisherman’s wife becomes enthralled with the ocean, while the small town where they have struggled to make a living, is slowly abandoned. They decide to stay[and possibly kill themselves]. This is used to symbolize love, belonging, loss and freedom.

Firstly the manner in which we know the wife- as something that belongs to the fisherman- is a deliberate attempt to make a statement on the condition of women in 18th century Japan. More interesting is the fact that it is the wife who leads the husband to the ocean. It is the wife and not the husband who drives the story. It is the wife who is able to stop their suffering.

The husband is in the role that women are usually cast in. He seems to exist to offer support to his wife, but the loyalty and dedication he shows makes him compelling in his own right. The ocean which radiates atmosphere ever time it is mentioned seems to gleam with possibilities. you wonder why they hadn’t thrown away everything else and dived in earlier.

 The octopi in the image aren’t just octopi anymore. They’re just symbols of the oceans of a world below that seems to be growing more preferable as the wife and husband look at their fading lives and passion interrupted by the world they live in.

That is the best way I can describe the story, but the story loses much of its appeal when you strip it down to its plot. The gears that drive the story are the symbols lurking in ever corner. Wise takes women in the 17th century, the wide possibilities and freedom the ocean expresses, the changing social structure of Japan and mixes them up to make a statement on passion,love and freedom. With rich, enticing images and poetic descriptions The Dream of the Firshermans wife makes you wonder how something so beautiful could have been written based on a rather perverted woodcut.

1Q84 book 1 April-June

I haven’t read much Japanese literature and what I have read are biographies and material related to history. The even fewer works of literature that I have read consist of small poems and short stories. But I’ve always been interested in reading Japanese novels; while I do know of and have read much manga and other works that were written by Japanese authors I would not call them novels.

The style of narration and the episodic made the difference quite distinct. Manga, Anime and Japanese history always make for interesting reads. Having evolved from an island shadowed by china -which was often the mightiest, wealthiest and most respected nation on earth-to a place which has been able to come close to over shadowing Chinese history with Samurai,Manga and a history of modernization combined with fierce protection and preservation of what was thought to be Japanese. So when I bought a thick,heavy and expensive copy of Murakamis 1Q84 without knowing much beyond the fact that Murakami was a famous author I was very eager to see what was in store.

The books cover with a grey tree and peeling moon and a smaller green moon next to [along with a puzzling message at the back] did much to add to my assumption that there would be some sort of great mystery to uncover. The first chapter seemed to confirmed my beliefs when it proved to be extremely descriptive and well written- while it did not actually tell you much about what you actually want to know.

Aomane and Tengo seemed to shoot the book in opposite directions like a rubber ball at a tennis match. The more you read the more you wondered how these two people who were so different in nature and lifestyle could be related at all.

Murakamis writing really carries the novel. I don’t think many other writers could keep you interested while offering you so few actual hints about the true direction or purpose of the story in between so many vividly described details of the world they inhabit.

I did not however find much beyond the names of characters or places without which the story might be uniquely Japanese. That isn’t a bad thing, but it did seem unusual and I wonder if this is due to some overzealous translator.

Describing the story feels almost criminal as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone. The manner in which bizarre hints and encrypted speech reveal at a tantalizingly slow pace more and more of the story and the two characters makes you feels the revelations must be earned. You are in lockstep with the characters and are often as surprised and as baffled as they are by what you discover.

The novel and writing within the story is also incredibly important [and clever] as it allows Murakami to come in and tell you all about his writing and story telling while also telling you how to read the story. The beginning of the book might inspire you to ask “Whats really happening?”. As I near the end of the second book I’d say I still  don’t know. I may know a lot more about the characters and their stories, I may have read through months of their lives but I don’t feeling any closer to answers. In fact both you and the characters have far more questions due to prior questions being answered. The way Murakami keeps you hooked on the long way to the end is simply a brilliant feat of story telling, one that is definitely  worth reading.