Welcome to my April Reads!
For those of you new to the nest, I have a neurotic reading process. Each month I read at least part of a non-fiction book, a book about reading/writing/editing/language, and as many books from my color stacks as I can (my books are organized by spine color and I’m going through each color stack, reading every book I haven’t yet read).
The 19th of April started the Shakespeare/Poe/Frost Challenge. Jake bet me that I couldn’t read the complete works of each in a month. So the bottom of this post will show you how far I got from April 13th to April 30th. I’ll give you a hint: I’m not going to win. But I’m going to abandon my normal reading pattern until I read it all, to see how long it will take me. (It was a mistake to start this challenge at such a crazy time. I really should have waited until Week in the Life was over. And I didn’t have time to read almost at all the week our washer and dryer broke. Boo.).
Here are the books I read in April:
This book was an impulse thrift purchase. I remember loving the movie when I was younger (how can you go wrong with a pre-weird Johnny Depp and a young Leonardo DiCaprio?), so I thought I’d check out the book. The book is always better. (Unless it’s adapted from the movie like the Omen. Or made into a wicked awesome TV series like Dexter.)
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a great anti-hero book. Gilbert is stuck. Stuck in his small town and stuck in a family full of disfunction: he has a father who committed suicide, a mother so morbidly obese that she can’t walk, an older sister obsessed with Elvis, a younger brother with metal retardation, and a younger sister who’s just hit puberty.
But even with all of those crazy things going on (and more), the book felt really slow moving. I suppose that could be on purpose, as it emphasizes Gilbert’s small life. Or it have just felt that way because I knew the climax from the movie already.
On the positive side, I thought that the first person view was very realistic–I loved reading Gilbert’s inner conflict between his obligation towards his family and his resentment.
And now for a quote:
I look over the shopping list. You’d think we had an army or a football team living at our house. Five loaves of bread, countless bags of potato chips, cases of diet ginger ale, mayonnaise, tubs and tubs of butter–the list is endless. She didn’t have the strength to ask me to my face. I’ve worked for years for this stellar husband-and-wife team and I’ve never had to beg for charity for me or my family. But since our combined incomes cannot keep up with our increased appetites, I have no real choice in the matter.
I actually picked this book up at a discarded library books sale and intended to use it for a book journal. I always check out books before I gut them to make sure they aren’t keepers, and I decided this one was worth keeping.
The Wrath of Coyote is a fictional account of the Marin, chief of the Tomales, a real historical figure. The book tells of the Tomales’ way of life, the coming of the Spanish, or “waliko” to their land, and their war to protect their tribe from the increasingly violent Spanish.
I’m torn on whether or not to keep this for the kids. On one hand, I really want the kids to read about American Indian culture from sources that don’t perpetuate stereotypes, don’t lump all tribes’ very different cultures together, and depict more than just the two geographic areas that usually come up in American History courses (the New England area during the time of pilgrims and the “Old West” during the time of the Indian Wars). It’s really important to me that the kids read multicultural perspectives to supplement the white-washed history they’ll learn in school and to be able to better understand other’s perspectives and cultures. I also want them to be able to appreciate art forms that are beyond the European perspective and form and to love things that might be outside of their comfort zone. The goal is to weed out ethnocentricity. That all said, I’d rather have a book that takes place in the same setting written by an Indian author. This book is trying really hard, but I can still tell it has it’s inaccuracies and subtle prejudice from the writer (which is especially apparent in the dialogue, which is overly simple and implies that Tomales didn’t have a complicated language or high intelligence).
I love Indian literature, but I don’t know of any children’s books (other than those by Sherman Alexie, but that’s more geared toward young adults). I’ll start searching, but if you know of any awesome Indian children’s books or authors, make sure to leave a comment!
And now for a quote:
Thumping his chest, Kotola said, “Friend,” the word feeling rusty in his throat. “Friend.” He nodded at the little man. “Spah-nish. You Spah-nish.” By signs and Kotola’s few words of half-forgotten Spanish, they understood what the waliko wanted: a guide. They were going north, to look, to see. They were friends. The Hoipus looked troubled. “Do you see any harm in this?” he asked Toomai. “If they are only passing through?”
I can’t believe that I’m 24 and this is the first time I’ve read the Wizard of Oz. I watched it so so much as a kid (I think people from Kansas tend to push the Oz thing more than in other places), so it’s weird to me that I’ve never read it before.
It was thoroughly enjoyable. I like how polite all of the dialogue is, even when people are enemies. That was pretty darn funny. I was also surprised to find so many differences between the book and movie (the ruby red slippers are actually silver!). I’m thinking that I need to collect the whole series now.
And now for a quote:
Dorothy had only one other dress, but that happened to be clean and was hanging on a peg beside her bed. It was gingham, which checks of white and blue; and although the blue was somewhat faded with many washings, it was still a pretty frock.
This is my non-fiction for the month. It’s one of Jake’s old college textbooks (we saved all of the ones that related to our majors). He wants me to learn more development skills, so he marked a couple chapters for me to read before I start learning more from these sites. I learn better by reading than by doing. I have to do something several times before I retain through repetition, but if I read something once, I’ve pretty much got it (Jake’s the opposite). Reading this will give me a foundation to which I can connect all of the things I’ll be learning to do. I’ll be reading about “Cascading Style Sheets” next, but not until June.
And now for a quote:
This chapter begins with a brief history of the evolution of HTML and XHTML, followed by a description of the form of tags and the structure of an XHTML document. Then tags used to specify the paragraph breaks, headings, and blog quotations, as well as tags for specifying the style and relative size of the fonts.
In March, I read the first 73 pages of the Complete Works of Robert Frost. By the end of April, I was up to around 350 (out of 642). That’s a lot of poetry. One of the stipulations of the Shakespeare/Poe/Frost bet is that I have to comprehend what I’m reading, so a lot of these poems got read twice. Frost often continues a metaphor throughout a poem, but doesn’t really hit you with the full meaning of the metaphor until the last two lines of the last stanza. So sometimes I have to go back through and read a poem again with the finishing lines in mind, which completely changes the meaning of the poem.
This section of his work, which is formatted chronologically in this book, focused mostly on nature and relationships between rural people. Many of the longer poems are dialogue between two people, and I was surprised at the deep insight into human relationships Frost had (most of the poems I had read by Frost before this challenge were only focused on nature). Frost also spends a lot of time observing nature closely, wondering why ants behave the way they do or trees bend at such an angle. He derives meaning from these observation and applies it to life at large, which amazes me: most of these things people would ignore entirely.
I’m going to share my favorite new-to-me poem from this section of the work. It’s something I’d like to keep around as a reminder to enjoy the kids (Eliza talks A LOT) and be more present. Sometimes I loose myself and forget how beautiful they are and how fleeting this stage of their lives is. When I feel myself starting to get irritated and wishing for quiet, I’ll read this:
A MINOR BIRD
I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.
I didn’t do so well challenge-wise with Poe. At the end of April, I was on page 54 out of 753 (Yikes). Definitely not 1/3 down. I have difficulty reading Poe because he almost always writes in the first person and does not assign names to his narrators (though I didn’t have a problem with Fight Club, so maybe that’s no excuse). Anyway, I can’t read part of a story and come right back to where I left off. It takes me a minute to remember what’s going on and to get my bearings. So the reading his stories is pretty slow for me, compared to my normal reading rate.
Here are the Poe stories I read in April:
Bernice (1835) is one of the spookiest things I’ve read in a long while. It’s a morbid and gruesome story, but all of the gory details happen “off camera”, if you will. This makes it that much scarier; you come to a horrible realization the same time as the narrator, and the horrible scene is left up to the imagination.
Morella (1835) shares many of the same themes as Bernice: a dying/dead wife (with no personality), a mentally ill husband, morbidity, and a resurrection of sorts. Morella poses the question of what happens to identity after death, and is set on the premise that identity can be passed on to another person.
Some Passages in the Life of a Lion (Lionizing) (1835) is satire and was full of humor that was very welcome after the first two disturbing stories. This tale warns against over-confidence and hubris. It’s a good thing to read during an election year. You can laugh in your head while you read it. You’ll be glad you did.
The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall (1835) is science fiction. Science fiction! I wasn’t expecting to find that in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, that’s for sure. In the story, Pfaall flies to the moon in a fancy hot air balloon. I was very impressed with the real and then-believed science that Poe used to justify his story. He intended it as a hoax, but someone else beat him to the whole moon hoax thing. There’s a big long explanation as to why his is better than the other guy’s at the end. LOL.
Here’s a quote from The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall
I was now rising rapidly, and by seven o’clock the barometer indicated an altitude of no less than nine miles and a half. I began to find great difficulty in drawing my breath. My head, too, was excessively painful; and, having felt for some time a moisture about my cheeks, I at length discovered it to be blood, which was oozing quite fast from the drums of my ears.
***You can read any of the Poe stories above for free (legally) online.
It’s not looking too good for the Shakespeare portion of the challenge either. Out of 1229 pages, I read 173. To put that in perspective: that’s six plays. The writing in this book is like the columned writing in the Bible, so a whole play is squeezed into 20 pages. I’m predicting at this point that I’ll be done in July.
When reading these plays, I’d spend the most time on the first act. Once I got used to the characters and could remember who everyone is (I had to flip back to the each play’s introduction page, which lists the characters and a brief description of who they are, so many times) I could read them very comfortably.
I just stated at the beginning and started straight through, which means that all six of the plays I read in April are comedies. (I may regret the decision to not randomly go through the plays when I’m reading all of the histories back to back). In the past, I mostly focused on Shakespeare’s tragedies. I’ve only read a few comedies, so I was interested to find the similarities and differences between the two types of plays. The main difference is the ending: in comedies everything is magically okay and someone’s getting married, and in the tragedies practically everyone is dead. Oh, also there’s a lot of cross-dressing and mistaken identity in the comedies. That seems to be a go-to for ‘ole Willie.
Here’s what I have to say about these plays, in teeny tiny nutshell format:
Two Gentlemen of Verona (1590-1) started out as if maybe it was a buddy story, but it ended up being a forbidden love, I’ll try to steal and rape your girlfriend, stab you in the back kind of a story. And at the end, even the a-hole gets the girl (even though she spied on him while masquerading as a boy, so she knows he forgot about her and then tried to rape his best friend’s fiance). The girls in Shakespeare are idiots, for the most part.
Merry Wives of Windsor (before 1597) stars a horrible guy who tries to make money by having affairs with married women. The wives are faithful, but lead him on for sport. But their husbands end up thinking that they’ve really cheated. Everything’s sorted in the end, but not before one of the husbands severally beats one of the wives. But that’s just glossed over. Another common theme: the women should leave the jerky dude, but doesn’t.
Oh, and there’s also a subplot which involves three different men chasing after the same daughter that somehow climaxes in a lot of cross-dressing. Cross-dressing, I’ve decided, must have been the funniest thing ever in Shakespeare’s day. Which is strange, because all of the women were played by boys anyway. How confusing would it be to be a boy playing a girl playing a boy? Ah!
This play is also not as beautifully written as others. There’s a lot of jumbled prose: it’s just not all that polished.
Twelfth Night; or, What You Will (1601-02) has another heroine dressing as a man, though the explanation for why she does so isn’t very thorough (She’s shipwrecked and believes her twin brother to be dead; she pretends to be a page to enter the Duke’s service. Why she couldn’t stay a woman, I don’t fully get. Other than the mistaken identity conflict wouldn’t be possible). Everyone’s in love with the wrong person, but once our heroine is outed as a girl, everyone pairs up with suitors nicely. And that’s the gist. Side note: I now really love the name Viola.
Measure for Measure (1603-4) is a dark comedy (it’s not funny, for the most part, but has a happy ending), and I found it much more entertaining (what does that say about me?). A duke appoints a deputy, who goes crazy with power and decides to enforce an old law that sex out of wedlock is punishable by death. He decides to make an example out of a dude who is for all intents and purposes married to a girl, but did not follow all of the legal technicalities for a marriage. And she’s pregnant. The deputy then tries to bribe the prisoner’s sister (who is training to be a nun) to sleep with him in order to save her brother. Talk about hypocrisy! This part made me cry. In public. That happened. Anyway, the nun-to-be knows no one will believe her, so she tricks the deputy into sleeping with his fiancee instead of her (there’s that mistaken identity again). So he was caught, and the prisoner was freed to be with his pregnant pretty-much wife.
But the deputy isn’t given a taste of his own medicine: his fiancee begs for his life and stays with him even though he tried to use the law to murder innocent people, tried to bribe and rape a nun, and intended to cheat on her. Smart women, Shakespeare writes.
Much Ado About Nothing (1598-9) has two love stories: one of sweet love and one of the “let’s bicker and hate each other until we are tricked into admitting that we love each other” sort. There’s a bad guy, a nice girl is made to look like a harlot, and everything ends in a double wedding (another theme–there’s a promise of a double wedding in Two Gentlemen of Verona).
I like the character Beatrice: she is quick witted and doesn’t take any nonsense, much like Katherine from Taming of the Shrew.
Another cool thing: one of the girls is named Hero. Awesome.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1590-96) I know this play well, as I played Tatiana as a teenager. I won a scholarship to go to a summer Shakespeare camp. I’ve always been this nerdy. The play has three plots that are intertwined, so it’s a little hard to put it in a nutshell. There’s a marriage celebration, meddling woodland fairies, really bad actor characters practicing a play, and a love quadrangle that is complicated further through the fairies’ magic. It ends with the promise of a (you guessed it) group wedding.
And now for a quote. I’ve loved this quote from Twelth Night, I just didn’t know Shakespeare was the source until now:
Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.
I could swear I’ve read that in a comic. Thieving comics.
Whew! That was a crazy reading month. I’m looking forward to sharing my May reads with you soon. Warning: there’s nothing but Poe, Frost, and Shakespeare. Wish me luck, my new goal is to finish in two months (the challenge ends tomorrow and I’m not even close).
You can see all of my other reads posts here.
Have you read any of these? What did you think? What are you reading lately?