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.