Sunday, September 23, 2012

September 2012 Books

King Lear by William Shakespeare (No Fear Shakespeare version)
Published: 1608
Rating: 4

This play is about a dysfunctional family headed by an old king who prefers flattery to truth and so is blinded from seeing the loyal people in his life, daughter Cordelia and nobleman Kent.  He rashly disinherits Cordelia and divides the kingdom between his other daughters, Regan and Goneril, both consumed with greed and ambition which breeds jealousy, rage, cruelty, violence and sheer evil.  They remind me of the horrible, cold, unfeeling Lady Macbeth.

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published: 1911
Rating: 5

I have been meaning to read this book for quite a while and for some reason, on a night when I felt particularly ornery and crochety, I began and LOVED IT.

Swept away from the first sentence - "When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen" - I did not close my iPad until finished.

I found Burnett's writing extremely economical.  The chapters are not very long and yet after finishing chapter one, we learn that Mary, who lives in India, is a most disagreeable, ugly, spoiled child: unloved and unwanted by her parents who leave her care to servants whom she orders around and bullies at will.  Then a cholera epidemic leaves her orphaned and abandoned.

The child is sent to her uncle's home in the wild moors of Yorkshire and we see her slowly transform into a curious, open and caring child.   Other flawed characters enter the story and when Burnett adds in a "talking" robin, an abandoned secret garden and a mysterious cry in the middle of the night, a.k.a Jane Eyre, I was hooked.

Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides by Aeschylus.  Translated by Richmond Lattimore
Published: 458 BC
Rating: 4

Agamemnon is the first play in Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy and tells of Agamemnon's less than triumphant return home from the Trojan War and his subsequent demise at the hand of his wife, Clytaemestra and her lover, Aegisthus who is his cousin.

The Greek tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) often used their work to expound on the characters that had their source in Homer's epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey.  This trilogy is a perfect example.

Read full post of Agamemnon.

In the second play, The Libation Bearers, the setting is several years after the gruesome regicide of Agamemnon.  Of the three children born to Agamemnon and Clytaemestra, only Electra is at the palace.  Iphigenia had been sacrificed to appease the gods at the start of the Trojan War and Orestes, her brother was sent away by Clytaemestra when she and Aegisthus had become lovers.  Key questions to be answered by the end of the trilogy are:
  • How does Thyestes' curse on the house of Atreus play out? 
  • Does it get resolved?  If so, how?
  • What are the consequences?

In the last play of the trilogy, The Eumenides, Orestes goes to Apollo's temple in Delphi to beg relief from the Furies for after all, Apollo himself told Orestes to avenge his father's murder.  The Furies, goaded by Clytaemestra's ghost and their own belief that matricide must be punished regardless of the circumstances, refuse to back down.

Apollo says that all should go to Athena's temple in Athens and appeal to her wise judgement.  She does not feel qualified so brings together a jury of 12 Athenian citizens to hear the case.
I will pick the finest of my citizens, and come back.  They shall swear to make no judgement that is not just, and make clear where in this action the truth lies (487-489).
Long story short, the jury is divided, Athena casts the deciding vote in favor of Orestes and placates the disgruntled Furies by renaming them and providing a new, enlightened, humane purpose.  They will be called The Eumenides or Kindly Ones and will help Athena uphold law, order and justice.  The need for personal revenge is over.

Audiocourse: Part 3 - Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition - Middle Ages by Professor Thomas Noble
Rating - 3

Part 4 - Neoclassic and 18th Century Literature by Professor Susan Heinzelman
Rating - 3

See this post for bibliography

The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton
Published: 1930
Rating: 4
Post on Josh's blog

I came across this excellent reference book via my daughter, who had taken a class in Greek tragedies while in college.  I have read Hamilton's classic book, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes and reference both books while working my way through the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.  A list of chapters will give a feel of all the information contained in this rather short but meaty book.  She has also written The Roman Way which I may have to get.

  • East and West
  • Mind and Spirit
  • The Way of the East and the West in Art
  • The Greek Way of Writing
  • Pindar, The Last Greek Aristocrat
  • The Athenians as Plato Saw Them
  • Aristophanes and the Old Comedy
  • Herodotus, The First Sight-seer
  • Thucydides, The Thing That Hath Been is That Which Shall Be
  • Xenophon, The Ordinary Athenian Gentleman
  • The Idea of Tragedy
  • Aeschylus, The First Dramatist
  • Sophocles, Quintessence of the Greek
  • Euripides, The Modern Mind
  • The Religion of the Greeks
  • The Way of the Greeks
  • The Way of the Modern World

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Published: 1977
Rating: 4

A quick, enjoyable read once I was able to suspend a good amount of disbelief that a child (6 - 9 years old) could think, act and command a battle as if a mature adult.  I could swallow more if Ender was an adolescent like Katniss and Peeta in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.

That said, I LOVED the ending.  A very big, satisfying twist that I did not see coming but made perfect sense.

The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published: 1888
Rating: 4

A sweet Cinderella story, the protagonist Sara Crewe is as different to Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden as can be.  Rather than bullying her French maid the way Mary surely would have done, Sara is sweet, polite, gentle and charming.  She reminds me of Anne in L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series with her sunny disposition; optimistic outlook; thoughtful, intelligent, and honest conversation; and most of all, her big imagination.

Like Anne, Sara sees the best in people.  She is warm and caring to those less fortunate and even when orphaned, penniless and starving, she gives food away to a beggar-girl who is more hungry than herself.  The antagonist, Miss Minchin, is an evil villain - a thoroughly cruel and heartless woman who has no business running a boarding school for girls.

While I enjoyed the story, the characters are flat, meaning they do not change or surprise.  Despite the loss of family and fortune, Sara remains a sweet girl and Miss Minchin is unrepentant to the end.  In contrast, the characters in The Secret Garden are round and therefore more interesting, so TSG is the preferred book between the two.

My favorite quote:

Despite her calm, gentle manner, even bookish Sara could get annoyed when her reading was interrupted.
Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book.  People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment.  The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to manage.
Gilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell
Rating: 4

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