Sunday, February 26, 2012

February 2012 Books - updated March 1

A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry by Mary  Oliver
Published: 1994
Rating: 4

Poetry has become an important part of my grief journey and is a genre requiring much self-education.  Thus a trip to the local Barnes & Noble yielded this slim book as well as the denser How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch.  Oliver's book gives a high level view of poetry and its terms.  Most of it was easy to comprehend although I confess to my eyes glossing over in the chapter discussing line, length and rhythm as they relate to the metrical verse and such words as feet, stresses, scansion, iamb, trochee, dactyl, anapest, spondee, iambic pentameter, etc.

She has a high standard for her own poetry and thinks about writing....
for a stranger who will be born in some distant country hundreds of years from reminds me, forcefully, that everything necessary must be on the page.  I must make a complete poem - a river-swimming poem, a mountain-climbing poem.  Not my poem, if it's well done, but a deeply breathing, bounding, self sufficient poem.  Like a traveler in an uncertain land, it needs to carry with it all that it must have to sustain its own life - and not a lot of extra weight, either. 
It takes 40-50 drafts before she is begins to feel content with one of her poems.  Not surprisingly, she is the winner of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for American Primitive and the 1992 National Book Award for Poetry for New and Selected Poems.   I look forward to reading her work.

I love how she describes language, the tool of poets, as "vibrant, malleable, living material."

My favorite quote is at the end:
A mind that is lively and inquiring, compassionate, curious, angry, full of music, full of feeling, is a mind full of possible poetry.  Poetry is a life-cherishing force.  And it requires a vision - a faith, to use an old-fashioned term.  Yes, indeed.  For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.  Yes, indeed. 

Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
Published: 2007
First read: 2010.  Re-read: Feb 2012
Rating: 4
Other review: A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Prose begins her book with an interesting question: "Can creative writing be taught?"  This book answers that question with a definitive "yes".  She, as the author of numerous fiction and non-fiction books for adults and children, says that while she learned valuable information in classes and workshops, she really learned to write by writing and from reading, more specifically, from "close reading," focusing on words, phrases and paragraphs, quite opposite of speed reading, which is what I tend to do.

By reading and re-reading her favorite authors, she learned the tricks of the trade: how to structure a plot, create characters, the effective use details and dialogue - "private lessons in the art of fiction".  Her goal in this book is to "help the passionate reader and would-be writer understand how a writer reads."

There is a list of 117 books in the back called "Books To be Read Immediately".  I've read 11 and 19 are on my TBR.  This means that according to Prose, I need to add another 87 books to my wish list - yikes!

Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady - Volume 1 by Samuel Richardson
Published: 1748
Rating: 5
My Vol 1 review
My Vol 2 review
My Vol 3 review
2012 Year long reading co-hosted by Terri and JoAnn

I am reading this huge tome as part of my own challenge to read through the bibliography of The English Novel, an audio course by Professor Tim Spurgin.  I plan to write a post on each of the nine free volumes downloaded to my iPad.  I bought the book at a library book sale but it is so thick and the type so small that I will stick with the ereader.

Richardson is a genius of the epistolary form; he tells a tension-filled story with fully drawn characters, all by the letters they write!

Modern Scholar audiocourse: Giants of Irish Literature: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett by Professor George O'Brien
Rating: 3

Not my favorite course.  Not sure if it was because of my unfamiliarity of the authors or the professor's flat delivery of the material - probably a bit of both.  Unfortunately, I am not motivated to read any of the works that were discussed.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Published: 1605
Rating: 4
My review
Read as part of Risa's challenge

Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson
Published: 2005
Rating: 2

Looking for a break from the more challenging works of Shakespeare, Richardson and How to Read Poetry, I choose this book, recently bought at my local library's book sale; intrigued by the description on the back page:
"Veronika, a young writer from New Zealand, rents a house in a small village in the midst of a harsh Swedish winter.  She has come here alone hoping to come to terms with a recent tragedy while finishing her latest novel.  Her arrival is observed by Astrid, her elderly, reclusive neighbor who harbors a dark secret from her past.  Astrid offers Veronika companionship in her grief, and the two embark on an unusual and unexpected friendship." 
I expected a moving story about a writer on her grief journey and was sorely disappointed.  I was unmoved at the unveiling of both character's tragedies which is surprising, as my personal grief lies so close to the surface and is easily pricked by the words of skillful writers.

I found Olsson's writing to be cliche and forced.  The characters were one-dimensional, shallow and uninteresting.  Astrid's ultimate tragedy, occurring while a young married woman, was downright unbelievable.  

That said, I did find some quotes that resonate with me.

Astrid - on her memories:
My life's memories take up space with no regard to when they happened, or to their actual time-span.  The memories of brief incidents occupy almost all time, while years of my life have left no trace (30). 
Like memories.  You can make yourself believe that they have been erased.  But they are there, if you look closely.  If you have a wish to uncover them (67). 
Grief quote - at the beginning of chapter 25:
Grief, it's shadow in the room
doesn't move with the sun
doesn't become dusk
as dusk beings to fall (151).

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Published: 1597
Rating: 5

I found this play the most accessible of the three read thus far.  A Midsummer Night's Dream would be next, followed by Macbeth.  I still used the No Fear Shakespeare version which happily, I found the paraphrase matched my understanding of the original text.  Is this because the language gets easier with each play?  I am not sure but look forward to finding out next month, when I read Henry V as part of Risa's challenge.

I continue to enjoy Shakespeare's mastery of the English language and reading the context of infamous phrases such as "O Romeo, Romeo!  Wherefore art thou Romeo?" and "Parting is such sweet sorrow", both spoke by Juliet in Act II, Scene II.

I love this quote - when Juliet is impatiently waiting for her nurse to catch her breath so as to impart important news about Romeo.
How are thou out of breath when thou hast breath
To say to me that thou art out of breath?
The excuse that thou dost make in this delay
Is longer than the tale thou dost excuse.
I have written two detailed posts on Josh's blog.  One that focuses on the teenage suicidal ideation within the play and the other, on the loss and grief expressed in both this play and in Macbeth.

Aspects of the Novel  by E. M. Forster
Published: 1927
Rating: 4

A short, easy-to-read book that is a publication of lectures given by Forster at Trinity College, Cambridge in the spring of 1927.  The tone is witty and informal, reminding me of the published lectures of Virginia Woolf in the Virginia Woolf Reader.   I envy those who were able to hear the pearls of wisdom from both these authors!

In the introduction, Forster readily admits that while English poetry has no equal, English literature takes a back seat to the great Russian authors, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in their treatment of a man's personal/heroic life and the soul respectively, and to Marcel Proust in terms of illuminating of man's consciousness.

The lectures, for they read as lectures, define critical aspects of the novel, helpful for both the budding novelist and the wanna-be-a-more discerning reader, which is me.

Story - "is a narrative of events arranged in time sequence."  'The king died, and then the queen' is a story.

Plot - "is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality.  'The king died, and then the queen died of grief' is a plot....Plot demands intelligence and memory.....The plot-maker expects us to remember, we expect him to leave no loose ends."

The best chapter is on the subject of people or characters.  Here we find the famous discourse on the difference between "round" and "flat" characters.

Flat characters - "are sometimes called types, and sometimes caricatures.  In their purest form, they are constructed round a single idea or quality, when there is more than one factor in them, we get the beginning of the curve towards the round." Forster says that most of the characters in Dickens are flat, and while they are "types and caricatures, people whom we recognize the instant they re-enter", the genius of Dickens is that they are not "mechanical" or "shallow".

Round characters - "the test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.  If it never surprises, it is flat.  If it does not convince, it is flat pretending to be round."  Forster says that all of Jane Austen's characters are round and "they are ready for an extended life".  I totally agree which is why there are numerous sequels to her books - we simply do not want them to end.

He references numerous books and authors that I have yet the pleasure to read: Tristam Shandy, War and Peace, Vanity Fair, Moby Dick and Dostoevsky, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, and Dickens.  I will have to re-read this gem of a book after doing so.

Ajax by Sophocles translated by Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb
Published: 420 BC
Rating: 4
Great Authors challenge

Next to Achilles, Ajax was one of the most valuable Greek warriors. In Homer's Illiad, he single-handedly prevented the Trojans from burning their ships.  He expected to receive the dead Achilles' armor as the worthiest successor - instead, by vote, it was giving to Odysseus.

Ajax took this as an affront; dishonoring his name and deeds.  So he plots revenge - no less than killing his Greek comrades.  Athena intervenes and makes him mad, such that he tortures and kills sheep, thinking they are men.

Ajax comes to his right mind and is so filled with shame and remorse that he is suicidal.  He does not listen to the pleas of his wife on behalf of herself and their young son.

When the deed is done, Teucer (Ajax's half-brother) wants to bury him but Menelaus says no.  Odysseus intervenes, convincing all that Ajax deserves to be buried.

We meet Ajax again, in Homer's Odyssey, where he meets up with Odysseus in the underworld and refuses to speak with him, thus nursing the grudge even in death.

No comments:

Post a Comment