Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Othello by William Shakespeare

In William Shakepeare's Othello, Iago seeks revenge upon Othello, a general in the Venetian army, when Othello passes him up for promotion. Instead, Othello steers the promotion to one of his friends, Cassio, provoking Iago to fury. The ensuing mayhem of Iago's revenge destroys many, including Othello, his new wife Desdemona, Brabantio, and even Iago himself. Want to find out what happens? Well then get thee to a library or a bookstore to get a copy of Othello to read.

Othello is another fantastic play by William Shakespeare, fully on par with King Lear and Hamlet. Iago is a wonderfully delicious villain, unapologetic in his evil ways. Othello, Iago's unfortunate dupe, is sympathetic, even though it is his own anger that leads to his downfall and the tragic end of the play. And what can we say about poor innocent Desdemona? Really, do go out and find a copy of this play to read. You won't regret it.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Songs Of Bilitis by Pierre Louÿs

Pierre Louÿs was a nineteenth century French author known for lesbian and classical themes in his writing. His short work The Songs of Bilitis includes both of these themes. It is a sensual collection of prose poems that were originally published as translations from the ancient Greek. Louÿs alleged that Bilitis was an actual lesbian poetess from Sapphic antiquity. But this was a hoax; Bilitis and the poems are the creation of Louÿs.

Many of the short prose poems are very beautiful. Some are erotic, but in a subtle rather than graphic or lascivious way. I rather enjoyed the short work. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I read two translations of The Songs of Bilitis. One by Michael Buck published by Capricorn Books in 1966. The other by Mary Hanson Harrison published in 1995 by Evanston Publishing. Buck's translation is more archaic, a thee and thou kind of translation. Harrison's uses more modern language. Both are beautiful in their own way, but Harrison's is often easier to read. Harrison's translation is part of Two Erotic Tales by Pierre Louÿs, which includes The Songs of Bilitis as well as Aphrodite, a better known work by Louÿs.


Read for:

  • Decades Challenge (1920s)

  • What's In A Name Challenge (Music Term In The Title)

  • GLBT Challenge

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

What can I say about The Old Man and the Sea? It lived up to all the hype I had heard about Ernest Hemingway. The sparse prose, the theme of man against nature, and absolutely brilliant writing. The story is rather minimalist. An old man, fishing in the sea hooks a large marlin. What ensues is an epic battle between the man and the fish. Written so beautifully, Hemingway kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire novella. I know that I am gushing, but really I cannot say much more than brilliant, simply brilliant! If you love literature and you have not read The Old Man and the Sea, do so as soon as possible.


Read for:

  • Book Awards IV Challenge (1953 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit)

  • Decades Challenge (1950s)

  • What's In A Name Challenge (Body of Water in the Title)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

A Thousand Acres epitomized for me what the Reading Challenges are all about because it is a book that, but for the challenge, I would not have read. It struck me as much more Women's Literature than I would normally enjoy.

A Thousand Acres is a retelling of William Shakespeare's King Lear. In Iowa of the 1970s, Larry Cook decides to split his farm, all 1000 acres, among his three daughters. The youngest daughter, Caroline, is not interested so the farm is split among the remaining two, Rose and Ginny. But the family is soon torn apart by both new and old wounds.

Jane Smiley is a wonderful writer. She did a fantastic job of describing both the land and farm life. The book deserves its Pulitzer Prize. However, I did not find the book itself to my taste. I did like that in Smiley's retelling of King Lear the two older daughters are not villains but victims, a change that added nuance and ambiguity to the story. Be warned though, a monster lurks in the pages of the book; a monster that made reading many parts of the book an uncomfortable experience.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Yet Another Challenge

Despite already participating in a number (get it) of challenges this, I could not resist doing the Numbers Challenge again this year. Especially since I have already read a book with a number in it, Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres. I hope to go for the brass ring and read five books with numbers in it. My tentative list is:

  1. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

  2. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

  3. Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness by Wilard Spiegelman

  4. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

  5. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Alternates include:

  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

  • Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado