Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mystery/Crime Reading Challenges Recap 2013

To continue my end-of-the-year reckoning of reading challenges, I will talk a little about the OTHER mystery challenge, the Mystery/Crime Reading Challenge 2013 hosted by A Bookish Girl. In addition to reading Vintage Mysteries (I'm linking to my own post rather than repeating those reviews here), I went back on my vow not to start any more series until I’d finished my other ones. 

I began this trespass with Charles Finch’s A Beautiful Blue Death. It was good enough for me to want to read the other Charles Lenox sequels, but honestly aside from introducing the characters (who promise to develop nicely over the next few books) I didn’t think it all that memorable.

Vintage Mystery Recap 2013

As the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Thirteen comes to a close, it’s a good time to look back and reflect on all that we have accomplished. I refer to what we have accomplished reading-wise, of course. As usual I read more than I thought…but less than I wanted.

This year I tried something different, signing up for reading challenges. The problem with this was that instead of reading off my To Be Read Pile (an eclectic and growing monstrosity that resides both in my head as I peruse my online library catalog as well as surrounds my nightstand), I was forced under duress to choose other books according to a theme.  Although I selected challenges I thought would help me whittle down that TBRP…well, let’s just say it didn’t quite work out.

But now it’s the end of the year, and those challenges have come due! Like library books!  A sense of panic overwhelms me! Fine, I’ll just start with my Vintage Mystery reviews, which were for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2013 hosted by My Reader’s Block:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reviewing P.G. Wodehouse's "Laughing Gas"

It was my first exposure to P.G. Wodehouse, and I didn’t know it until years afterward. This is how it all began: my devious mother got me a “comedy book on cassette.” Already I have to interrupt myself to explain cassettes to the young and ignorant whippersnapper readers.  Are you sitting comfortably? “Cassettes,” dear children, are from the era you’ve probably been taught in history class to refer to as B.C.D., that is Before CD’s. CD’s, you may vaguely recall, are those coaster-shaped things that you used to use before you got an iPod and started downloading everything. 

But as I was saying, my mom checked out this “comedy” book on cassette from the library.  Maybe she was being her usual devious self. Maybe she had intended to listen to it in her nonexistent spare time, and when she realized the futility of this intention she passed it on to me so I wouldn’t annoy her by listening to The Adventure of the Speckled Band for the fortieth time. Either way, I listened to it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Reviewing "A Country of Vast Designs" by Robert W. Merry

While I love history, there are certain time periods (usually the 1700’s) that I don’t really know about. Often I’ll pick a nonfiction book by virtue of my ignorance of its topic.  

“Hey,” I’ll say to myself, “I know next to nothing about President James Polk and the Mexican/American Wars and Manifest Destiny. I think I’ll listen to this audio book recording of A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent.”

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thoughts on de Tocqueville's "The Old Regime and The French Revolution"

History, it is easily perceived, is a picture-gallery containing a host of copies and very few originals. ~ The Old Regime and the French Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville, Chapter VI

I would say I’m a pretty eclectic reader in general.  While fiction—particularly 1800’s British Literature—is probably my favorite to read for pleasure, I also enjoy poetry, drama (to a lesser extent) and nonfiction.  Of the vast nonfiction subjects I read, history would probably be the top choice.  Yet while I've read a great deal on ancient history, I've come to notice there are quite a few “blind spots.”  One of these blind spots is the French Revolution period. 

It’s a bit ironic, actually, that I haven’t read much nonfiction on the era that is just around the time people started writing the fiction books I love.  Most of what I understand about Regency England, for example, is from Jane Austen’s works.  However, I’m slowly trying to fill in the gaps, knowing that the reality of the world where Austen and my other preferred authors lived will inform me more about the fictions they created.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Food and Fiction

One of my fondest memories from my college literature classes is from my first semester of college.  I had signed up for British Literature II, a course based, obviously, on British Literature. The “II” encompassed the years 1800-1950. The professor lady was cheerful and friendly to her students, including myself, and it was clear from the way she talked about books that she derived absolute glee from them.*  

She had us read out loud the poetry and act out the plays. She had outdated and esoteric video adaptations that we would watch and discuss, or play musical numbers. She would instruct us to draw illustrations of scenes from the classic literature. And she graded on a “200%” scale, something she knew would drive the more mathematically-minded of her students crazy. 

Thus, when one of the students suggested we have a “Literature Tea” during class, this very interactive and engaging professorin was all for it. The rules were simple: any student who wanted to participate should sign up for a food that had been included in one of the works we had read on the syllabus.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reviewing "My Father's Dragon" by Ruth Stiles Gannett

I’m sure I’ve recounted how my mom used to trick me into reading books when I was younger* by reading aloud the first few chapters of a book and then stopping at the Critical Moment so I had no recourse but to devour the book when she was off making my PB and J. 

Once, however, this backfired.  

I was about ten years old, and as we were in the process of moving we were at the time living in my grandma’s basement until our new home was vacated. My mom got out this book called My Father’s Dragon and was trying to get me to read it. Now by ten years old I was a confirmed reader, but frankly the illustrations of My Father’s Dragon (and its sequels Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland) seemed pretty babyish to me. 

“This dragon looks like a dork,” I thought dubiously as she handed me the slim paperback. “Why does this lion have bows in its hair? And who wants to read about a story starring someone’s father?”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Beverly Cleary's "Ramona" Series

I am sure I read every book of fairy tales in our branch library, with one complaint—all that long, golden hair.  Never mind—my own short brown hair became long and golden as I read and when I grew up I would write a book about a brown-haired girl to even things up. 
 ~ Beverly Cleary

As wonderful as Anne Shirley or the American Girls or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or Alice in Wonderland are…no one, not even Laura Ingalls Wilder (who was REAL) is as real and relatable as Ramona Quimby. At least for me. 

When we meet Ramona, she’s the pesty preschool sister of Beezus, the best friend and proto-love interest to Beverly Cleary’s other hero, Henry Huggins. Beezus got her own spinoff from Henry in Beezus and Ramona. But Ramona, being Ramona, quickly took over, spinning off in Ramona the Pest. She didn’t stay a pest, though. By third grade she’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (which happens to be the first book by Cleary I ever read, and remains my favorite to this day), and by the conclusion of her series it’s Ramona’s World. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Reviewing Lloyd Alexander's "The Cat Who Wished To Be A Man"

I’m going to divulge a secret I’ve never told anyone*: I love Lloyd Alexander’s books. For the most part my favorites of his are series: The Adventures of Vesper Holly, The Westmark Trilogy, The Chronicles of Prydain. But his one-shot novels have their own merits, and of them one of the best and brightest is The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man. 

The plot is pretty much nutshelled by the title. The cat, Lionel, wishes to be a man.  Lucky for him, his owner is a magician who can grant this wish…to teach Lionel the error of his wishes, of course, since humans are dumb and inferior to cats. So Lionel is humanized—literally—and sets off to learn the error of his ways in the vaguely European medieval/renaissance village. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Another inscription in one of my used books

In the current book of poetry I am slowly reading, I found this written (apparently in a fine-tipped Sharpie-style pen) on the back of my copy of A Choice of Kipling's Verse ~  selected with an essay on Rudyard Kipling by T.S. Eliot (Published 1941 by Faber and Faber Ltd.):

"And this letter will be the last
If I don't hear from you --
Not out of anger or pride but
Simply because one-way discourse
is [...] boring for me -- I can
hear my own voice quite enough as
it is, thank-you."

Spenser's "The Faerie Queene" and Its Influences

Until the early modern European era, English literature was not considered of the same high caliber as its continental counterparts. By England’s renaissance and subsequent reformation, the kingdom began to distinguish itself as a major power. Consequently, the English people became aware of their need for artistic achievement in order to prove themselves to the other nations. Modeling after Italian and French renaissance writers as well as Classical poets like Homer, Virgil, and Petrarch, the British endeavored to recreate in English the forms that had instilled such prestige in other languages.

Accepting this quest was Sir Edmund Spenser, and his epic poem The Faerie Queene defined contemporary English culture. A glorification to Elizabeth I’s reign, The Faerie Queene recalled not only the epic, but the romance-cycle poetry of the Arthurian legends. Through the analogous stories of chivalric quests for virtue, the English nation’s Protestant religion and their ensuing values were endorsed. In juxtaposing England’s literary heritage with its contemporary moral attributes, Spenser’s purpose was to create a work that would show England’s worth to the entire world.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

T.S. Eliot's "Portrait of a Lady"

Poetry as a genre is distinct from other genres of writing in that, although it has the ability to tell stories, poetry uses form as well as plot to illustrate a particular theme.  In his poetry, T.S. Eliot uses words not only for exposition of characters and situations, but also to instill form in a poem.  This is evident in his poem “Portrait of a Lady,” in which words not only create the personas’ characters, but also create order in a poem that in many ways goes against formulaic convention. 

"Portrait of a Lady” tells an intricate story condensed into three sections, and mainly concerns interactions between two characters: the narrator and a lady.  In the first section of the poem, the narrator is one of a group of people visiting the lady, but in subsequent sections they are alone, as the action centers on them.  The two characters are exposed through the poem’s story by how they react to their current situations: the narrator voices his reactions in thoughts and the lady does the same through dialogue.  In both cases the characters and situation develop as the poem itself progresses.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Color by any other Title

Awhile back  I called the color ORANGE "clockwork," referring to Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. Although I haven't read this novel myself (and having learned something of the themes in it, it might be a bit too graphic for my taste), it just seemed like the natural thing to do. I love books so much, you see, and am so often surrounded by them, that even their titles enter into my everyday jargon in unexpected ways.

For instance, why call colors by their boring names when you can use literary epithets instead? Your conversation is bound to be more interesting:

ME: I have one with clockwork fur and wallpaper eyes, and another cat with picture-of-dorian fur and eggs-and-ham eyes.  I also have a dog with like-me and fang fur and marbled eyes of island-of-the-dolphins and man-in-the-suit. 


ME: Oh, you don't get the literary references to popular book titles?  Well allow me to explain the plots of each of them in agonizing detail....

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bookish Gifts for Bookish People

With Christmas on its way it's high time I start my gift Wish-list. 

(Although who are we kidding, you know I just go to my book-list and write down any titles I borrowed from the library but Simply Must Have. Bear with me; this should be fun anyway.)

There is a veritable plethora* of merchandise out there for the Confirmed Reader, and lucky for the people who make these kind of novelties I happen to be such a shopper.  Almost anything tome-related goes on my Wish-list spectrum, ranging from "Aw that'd be nice to have one day" to "I NEED THIS RIGHT NOW *insert gnawing sounds as I bite the bit*!"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thoughts on Paul Lawrence Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask"

WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
            We wear the mask. 

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
            We wear the mask!

Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” communicates a human condition that many people find relatable: a sense of “putting up a front” and hiding one’s true personality from others.  This poem is relevant in African American literature, connecting to W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of “double-consciousness” and or “two-ness” in that there is a difference between one’s real identity and the one that outsiders perceive.  Like the plight of the narrator of James Walden Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” African Americans of Dunbar’s time had to assume a perspective of white society, while downplaying or hiding their heritage, in order to prosper.

As in many great poems, “We Wear the Mask” works on many different levels of interpretation: not only does “wearing the mask” deal with issues of race, but it is also concerned with anyone who has hidden behind a façade for fear that they wouldn’t be accepted by society otherwise.  In fact, because the idea of hiding one's true self is so universal, this poem makes it possible for readers who otherwise might not think about issues of race to understand the problems of racism and the quest to embrace one's racial identity.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Shakespeare's "Othello": From Victim to Villain

William Shakespeare’s Othello is a play concerned with hatred, betrayal and jealousy. Its main character is presumed hero is a Moorish soldier, Othello, who over the course of the plot demonstrates each of these emotional states. This is ironic since it is the villain who should have possesses these negative traits, and yet in Othello both the hero and the villain are consumed with jealousy and hatred. Othello is radically altered from a protagonist to an antagonist in his own story, and his rapid descent into barbaric behavior makes him the culprit of his own downfall.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Addicted to Reading Challenges

As I continue my participation of the THIRTY-SEVEN-STEP Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, I've decided to "double up" on the challenge part by joining The Crafty Book Nerd's 2013 Mystery/Crime Reading Challenge. 

This is a different kind of reading challenge than I have tried thus far, in that the Mystery/Crime Reading Challenge isn't about filling in categories, but rather reaching levels:

5 books= Detective (cha-ching)
10 books = Sergeant (cha-ching)
15 books = Lieutenant (cha-ching!)
20 books = Captain
25 books = Chief
30+ books = Sherlock Holmes

Since my Vintage Mysteries count toward this challenge, I'm automatically at Sergeant. Add to that the first three Amelia Peabody Mysteries (I'm slowly savoring those via Barbara Rosenblat's audiobook narration this year), "The Solitary House" (which I really disliked and would never recommend), and also  and Death on the Aegean Queen by Maria Hudgins (which I actually would recommend, if only because it reminded me of a modern Christie in tone)...and looky-here, I'm halfway through this challenge! 

("Sergeant Laura" has a nice ring to it, don't you think? But Lieutenant Laura is way better and more alliterative, if somewhat harder to spell. But it's cool if you say it in a British accent: "Left-tenant." But I digress.)

*Though let's be honest, I'd much rather be Dr. Watson. Ha! You thought I wasn't going to vent my Watsonian fangirl on this page? You were sadly mistaken!

Drowning All His Life: Stevie Smith's "Not Waving but Drowning"

1.       Nobody heard him, the dead man,

2.       But still he lay moaning:

3.       I was much further out than you thought

4.       And not waving but drowning.

5.       Poor chap, he always loved larking

6.       And now he’s dead

7.       It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

8.       They said.

9.       Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

10.    (Still the dead one lay moaning)

11.    I was much too far out all my life

12.    And not waving but drowning.

Friday, October 11, 2013

"The Rights of Man" and the Victorian Era

"The hearts of the humane will not be shocked by ragged and hungry children, and persons of seventy and eighty years of age begging for bread. The dying poor will not be dragged from place to place to breathe their last, as a reprisal from parish to parish.  Widows will have a maintenance for their children, and not be carted away, on the death of their husbands, like culprits and criminals; and children will no longer be considered as increasing the distresses of their parents."
~ The Rights of Man, Part Two, Chapter 5, Ways and Means, by Thomas Paine

I thought this paragraph was interesting because it immediately after a list of proposed improvements to British government. Paine wrote this in 1792. Later in the mid-1800's during the height of the Victorian Era, Charles Dickens and other authors used fiction to highlight these same exact flaws in society. Although I can't say I blame them for ignoring Paine after all his harsh criticisms of their social and leadership structures, I can't help but wonder how different history would have been if the British had taken Paine's suggestions to heart.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Books My Mom Read to Me

  •  Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile
  • The Bicycle Man
  • Bird’s Nest
  • The Steadfast Tin Soldier
  • The Great Dinosaur Mystery and the Bible
  • Cranberry Christmas and all the other Cranberry books
  • A Child’s Garden of Verses
  • The Borrowers
  • Treasure Island
  • The Long Way Westward
  • Stuart Little,
  • The Boxcar Children,
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
  • Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • The Little House books,
  • Manx Mouse
  • Swiss Family Robinson
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • David Copperfield

Happy Birthday to the Mom who read all these books (and more!) to me. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Thomas Paine's "The Rights of Man"

I JUST finished reading this really (REALLY) long essay by Thomas Paine, and let me just admit this: I didn't understand a good chunk of it. 

Part of this is due to Paine's essay being a response to Edmund Burke's essay Reflections on the Revolution in France. I haven't read Burke's work, so reading Paine is much like hearing half a conversation and trying to make sense of the whole.  The ever-helpful blurb on the back of the Dover Thrift Edition tells me that Paine was defending the French Revolution, though to my eyes he was mostly using that excuse to criticize British monarchy and aristocracy. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Aeneid: Heroes and the Role of Fate

Fate was very important to the Ancient Roman culture which The Aeneid exalts. This is hard for us in Western culture to understand, especially for my fellow Americans. The American Dream, after all, isn’t about following fate, but carving out your own destiny, making yourself a success, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, and all sorts of other lofty thoughts that have been relegated to cliché. 

But in Ancient Rome, it wasn’t just what you did that brought you glory. It was who you were descended from, whether you were following your destiny as the fates and gods had willed, and whether you submitted to that fate gracefully or like a fool struggled against it. 

Not that this idea of submitting to fate was unique to the Romans, but it certainly wasn’t the universal belief in the ancient world. 

Look at The Odyssey for a good comparison. Here is a hero, Odysseus (called Ulysses in Rome) who used his wits and his strength to fight against annoyed gods who did NOT want him to get home. He struggled against Poseidon and Juno and all sorts of minor demigods and mythological creatures, but he prevailed. 

Then look at Aeneas. Sure, Juno has it in for him. But he’s the son of Venus, who is on his side and gets her husband Vulcan to build him weapons that cut through enemy swords.  Mars, god of war, is on his side. Jupiter, who Virgil constantly refers to as impartial, is partial to him. Apollo helps him, and Diana assents to Aeneas’ victory—even when that means her protégé Camilla must die for fighting against him.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Aeneid: Those Pesky Women

You know how in a previous post I promised to leave historical influence out of my future reviews of The Aeneid?

I lied.

Aeneas and his band of stalwart exiled Trojans all get to Europe and it turns out that all their women and children and old people are too tired to go on to Italy and Fulfill Aeneas’ Destiny Of Founding Rome for him. So Aeneas says, “Okay you guys build New Troy here and we’ll leave you then.”  Which they do.

This is characteristic for Virgil because pretty much anytime there is a lady in this story she gets quickly written out. 
  • Creusa is Aeneas’ wife.  She dies off screen.
  • Queen Dido is the awesome Phoenician Princess and Founder of Carthage until she falls for Aeneas, he breaks her heart, and she kills herself.
  • Now all the Trojan exiled women are left behind on a deserted island to take care of the kiddies and the elderly while the Trojan men go off to have fun, steal some Sabine chicks from their homes, and conquer Italy.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Aeneid: Virgil and Other Epics

As I read The Aeneid it was so natural to compare Virgil’s work to other epic poetry. Of course the character Aeneas and many of the events Virgil mentions are recounted or at least based on the Greek epics of The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer.  <<<WHICH WAS COMPLETELY INCIDENTAL ACCORDING TO VIRGIL'S SHADE>>>> 

But in no other place does The Aeneid beg for comparison but in the sixth book, where Aeneas goes down to the Underworld to talk to his dead father. This is so much like what Odysseus did in The Odyssey that it’s practically plagiar<<<NO IT'S NOT!!!>>> 

But Virgil didn’t just reap inspiration from earlier epics: he would eventually inspire other poets to rip off from him, as well. I noticed as I read Book VI that Virgil notes some of the prominent people that were condemned in the underworld…which is very similar to what Dante Alighieri did in The Divine Comedy.  Dante even wrote Virgil into the role of tour-guide of the underworld in this Italian epic! 

But the influence isn’t just limited to Dante. At the beginning of John Milton’s Paradise Lost Satan and other angels fall from God’s grace and are cast into Hell. This is the origin of the famous quotation: “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.” Because I was reading The Aeneid via audio book I can’t point out the exact place, but there is a passage that has certain similar sentiments as Aeneas makes his journey in Tartarus.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Aeneid: Virgil and Propoganda

All my life I've wondered one thing: What was Caesar Augustus pointing at?
Although now I realize: He's pointing at my blog post title!
According to what I’ve read during my long and in-depth research for fifteen minutes on the internet, Virgil wrote The Aeneid to justify the reign of Julius Caesar and his current heir, Caesar Augustus. For anyone with historical knowledge, Augustus basically converted Rome from a Republic into an Empire without telling anyone or asking anybody’s permission.  Some of his contemporaries got a little upset at not being asked permission, so Augustus sought to shut them up by propaganda.* This is where Virgil, lowly farmer’s son but having published some awesome poetry about cows, came in.

So Virgil’s job in writing this epic poem was not only to write something artistic, the Great Roman Novel as it were, but also to validate Augustus’ rule. And to do that, he had to validate that Julius Caesar really shouldn’t have been assassinated but was the rightful heir to the (nonexistent) Roman throne.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Aeneid: Virgil and His Times

Now that all that pesky romance between Aeneas and Dido was taken care of and thrown out the window, you can almost hear Virgil sigh a deep sigh of relief, rub his hands together, and say, “And now for some sports!”

Because that’s what happens next. Turns out all that piggyback riding Aeneas gave his dad Anchises was for naught, because Anchises has died an off-screen death. But unlike Aeneas’ wife Creusa, Aeneas remembers the anniversary of his dad’s death and decides to be Pious and honor his deceased father with some violence by having some War Games. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Aeneid: The Dido Problem

Aeneas finishes his story about how he escaped Troy with his son and father and a ton of other people (remind me again, did anyone actually DIE in the Trojan War?  Because it seems like the whole population escaped with Aeneas). 

His rapt audience, Queen Dido, is like, “So your wife died…that means you’re single, right?” 

They immediately begin a romantic affair where she thinks they’re married and Aeneas is just like “Of course she’s in love with me. Everybody loves Aeneas.”*

Then Venus, who made Dido fall in love with Aeneas in the first place so Dido wouldn’t kill the Trojans for trespassing on her borders of Carthage, comes and gives Aeneas a guilt trip for not abandoning Dido and going to Italy to Fulfill his Destiny.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Aeneid: The Creusa Problem

While Aeneas recounts to the fangirl Queen Dido about the tragic end to the Trojan War, he tells her how he made his escape. He convinces his elderly father Anchises to get on his back (as in piggyback ride) and he takes his son Ascanius by the hand, and sets out of the burning Troy…telling his wife Creusa to walk behind them at a safe distance. 

What, Aeneas, you put your daddy on your back and you hold your son’s hand, but you can’t bother making sure your wife is safe? You have two hands, don’t you?  Take your son’s hand with one and your wife’s with the other. 

Sure, you may argue that “Oh but I have to carry my household idols with my other hand.” 

Ummm have your son carry them for you. He’s not a baby!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Aeneid: Virgil and His Unintentional Comedy

The first thing that struck me about The Aeneid is how funny it was. And I’m pretty sure that’s not what Virgil was intending. From a 21st century perspective, however, the first few books are hilarious. Well, that or you cry. 

Our story opens with Aeneas—pronounced Eeny-ess, as in Eeny – meenymineymo + ess—being a bit of an emo. It’s justifiable since he’s seen his homeland of Troy attacked, besieged, and finally conquered by wicked Greeks (see The Iliad), then he loses his wife (see below) and father, and finally Juno, goddess of troublemaking, convinced the a wind god to shipwreck them in Northern Africa, forcing him to lose half his fleet of exiled Trojans in the storm at sea.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “How is that hilarious?” Just wait.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Aeneid: A Multipart Review - Introduction

Much as I enjoy reading epic poetry, I don’t enjoy reading epic poetry. What I mean is that I don’t like reading it in black and white, on paper and ink, out of an honest-to-oh-so-goodness book. Frankly my mind starts wandering and my eyes start skimming the lines.

So when I read epic poetry—or really any long book that might tempt me into this half-hearted reading—I listen to it on audio book.  Not only is this an authentic way of enjoying things like Homer’s The Odyssey, but it is also a way to get a lot of reading done when you’re doing other things like driving or folding laundry—hopefully not both of those activities at the same time, that’s taking multitasking TOO far!

Therefore this is how I read The Aeneid by Virgil. I listened to the Blackstone Audio book read by Frederick Davidson and translated by W. F. Jackson Knight. I specify the reader and translator because both of these roles are important factors in how the audience (me, in this case) understands and enjoys an audio presentation of a story that was written in a dead language. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Reviewing Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park"

I started this series talking about the most famous and well-loved Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. Now I will talk about one of the least-read and often despised of her works, which also happens to be my personal favorite: Mansfield Park. 

Our story begins with three sisters. One marries a rich knight and lives in affluence at Mansfield Park.  One marries a clergyman who then is employed by the rich knight.  And the third sister marries “for love,” to a common sailor whose drunkenness and coarse manners drag them down in society into a life of poverty. 

The main character, however, is the third sister’s daughter, Fanny Price. Because her parents are too poor to support all of their numerous children, Fanny and her older brother William are shipped out: William to the Navy,* Fanny to her rich aunt, Lady Bertram, at Mansfield Park. The story forgets William and follows Fanny as the shy ten-year-old is immediately harassed by her evil aunt Mrs. Norris and her selfish and mean cousins Tom, Maria and Julia. Fanny’s rich uncle Sir Thomas is stern and scary, her aunt Lady Bertram is vapid and careless, and Fanny is pretty much relegated to being a servant and a doormat to everyone.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Reviewing Jane Austen's "Persuasion"

It’s the same old story.  Boy meets girl, they fall in love, boy proposes, and girl turns him down on the advice of a surrogate mother because the boy is a lowly naval officer* with few prospects and logically their marriage would end in disaster.  Then ten years later the boy comes into the girl’s life again and is rich, prestigious, and bent on not being in love with her again.

Such is the gist of Persuasion, Austen’s last complete novel before her death and often called her most mature and polished work. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reviewing Jane Austen's "Emma"

Jane Austen called the character of Emma Wodehouse “a heroine whom no one but myself will much  like.” And I agree with her.  Emma is arrogant, catty, a gossip and a busybody.  But then, she is only twenty-one. 

Perhaps it is because the heroine is so very flawed that Emma is the most humorous of Austen’s works. It’s about a young, beautiful, rich socialite who has it all…and so amuses herself by trying to make it so everyone else has it all in the way of matrimony. A self-styled matchmaker, Emma starts her novel out on a high note, having successfully engineered the marriage between her governess and a neighboring country gentleman. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reviewing Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey"

More than any other Jane Austen novel, Northanger Abbey chases the reader around with a morality hammer until it finally hits you over the head with “DO NOT LET YOUR IMAGINATION GET THE BETTER OF YOU!”

This is the first full novel Austen completed, so we have to be forgiving that her usual nuance is a bit clumsy and uneven. The gist of the storyline is simple: naïve clergyman’s daughter Catherine Morland is plucked from her idyllic country life and taken to The Big City of Bath to be introduced to society by a family friend. She makes several friends, but in her naïveté she tends to make them indiscriminately: some are quality and good-hearted, others have ulterior motives. But like Austen’s inexperienced writing, we forgive Catherine for being ignorant, because she’s too ignorant to know any better. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Reviewing Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility"

I’ve already discussed a lot about Sense and Sensibility at length, so I’ll try not to retread familiar ground. Instead of the overall plot or characters, then, I’d like to talk about why this novel is relevant now.

When I suggest Jane Austen to teens (mostly girls, but I think the books could be profitable reads for guys too), I usually have S&S in mind. While Pride and Prejudice is Austen’s best, most famous, and most influential work, Sense and Sensibility has the most relevance for adolescents. Why?  Because it’s about walking the minefield of romantic relationships, a perilous journey that all too many teens embark upon unprepared.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Pride and Prejudice:" A Review

I’m going to start with the Jane Austen novel that is the most famous and the most loved. It’s so commonly known (and its plot is so often copied in today’s rom-com movies) that I will forego the story synopsis and get right down to talking about the characters.

Pride and Prejudice was the reason I bought the complete Jane Austen novel collection; I had seen the Wishbone episode on “P&P” (as we Austenites affectionately call it) and wanted to read it myself.  Some of my fondest reading memories are of lying on the carpet behind our couch, head propped up on my wrists over the tiny lettering. 

It was from P&P I learned what “amiable” meant. (Jane Austen loves the word “amiable.”  Just read all her stuff and you’ll see I’m right.) It is also from P&P that my mom and sister and I gleaned the phrase “her lace slipped” as a euphemism for a low-cut blouse.

Unlike most Austenites, I don’t really care for Mr. Darcy, at least in comparison with other literary gentlemen. And I don’t even see what’s so particularly spectacular about our heroine, Elizabeth. But put them in a room together, and sparks fly.  The fact is, this novel has two flawed, normal characters who share the same shortcomings (pride and prejudice) as well as the same virtues (discretion, honor, common sense). Austen wrote with a wit that makes this book easily read as a romantic comedy, but make no mistake: there is real heart underneath the humor.