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Agamemnon

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This month my online book club went back to the classics and read Agamemnon. I got Oliver Taplin’s translation from the book above that had the entire Oresteia trilogy. Taplin’s translation was smooth poetry that was quite easy to understand but I wanted some footnotes so I wouldn’t have to look up all the specifically Greek terms like threnody and such.

Aeschylus takes the audience and readers on a fierce journey with powerful people betraying each other, killing their daughters, and getting revenge as they story examines whether people have free will or not. It’s a swift read that still has power today. The play is stark with few extras. Whereas contemporary stories have lots of walk on parts, the Greeks had the chorus do most of the exposition, analysis and commentary on the characters. Aeschylus wisely knows that he’ll cause the audience to become involved by creating complicated characters who do terrible or foolish things and deserve punishment, but since those inflicting the punishment are even worse people, who articulate their side well, that your mind will spend days turning the story over in their minds.

I’m glad I read this powerful play because it showed me that paring down a story to its essentials and making characters bold makes a story stronger. Even though Clytemnestra gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money, the story’s so absorbing that I stayed with it.

There’s a reason people still read the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare. I liked this translation so much that I will read the other two plays.

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Posted by on February 3, 2019 in drama, World Lit

 

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Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy

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I started Kate Hopkins’ Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy with lots of enthusiasm and excitement. It was my first microhistory read. Like many, I have loved candy and I am curious about its origins and place in history.

While I did learn about how the Arabs brought sugar candy to the world, first as a form of medicine, how candy went from something only available to the rich to something children could buy with their allowances or pay and how the use of chocolate developed.

While Hopkins travels to Europe, New England and, of course, Hershey, PA, were often interesting, her writing style often was wordy and she bored me with long-winded descriptions of her memories of her childhood and overly detailed descriptions of trivial observations of her travels. I wish she did a better editing and had talked to more candy experts. Most of her research was from books, which is fine, but adding more interviews with candy makers and experts would improve this book.

The book did make me see that wherever I travel internationally, I should find a local candy shop and taste sweet local specialities.

Have you read a fascinating microhistory? Let me know  of any that are must-reads below.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2019 in non-fiction

 

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Lennon: The New York Years

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If you have even a slight interest in the Beatles’, you’ll like graphic biography, Lennon: The New York Years. With simple black and white illustrations, Lennon: The New York Years tells the singer’s life as a series of therapy sessions which help John Lennon make sense of his life.

Though I’ve read other books on The Beatles this book added new details about his childhood, particularly his relationship to his father, and about his later life. I wasn’t aware of the assistant Yoko hired after she caught John being unfaithful. (True, John and Yoko both cheated on their spouses when they first met but still John’s infidelity hurt her.) The assistant May was to report in to Yoko daily and was a spy as well as an assistant. John knew that. There apparently was a tacit agreement that sleeping with May was okay. These arrangements did not lead to happiness or enlightenment or freedom. (I’m not surprised.)

The book is a quick read and the illustrations enhance the story well, conveying a past era. It’s not a book I’d recommend to a young teen because of its adult experiences and their depictions, e.g. showing Lennon using heroin. But for mature readers interested in music history or for graphic novel enthusiasts, it’s a satisfying book.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2019 in history, non-fiction

 

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Word of the Week

In honor of Black Friday:

Target Effect – the name of the behavior of going into a store intending to buy one item but leaving with a full cart.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2018 in fiction, words

 

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Audubon: On the Wings of the World

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I learned so much about the life of John James Audubon from the graphic biography, Audubon, Audubon: On The Wings Of The World . I knew nothing about his dedicated wife, who had to put up with her husband’s long absences as he worked on his magnum opus,  The Birds of America

This book tells the story of his life from his first foray into illustration and his courtship. His wife was incredibly patient and supportive. What Audubon was trying to do, illustrate birds so that they seemed fully alive, was unheard of in his day and he experienced great frustration because people kept comparing him to Alexander Wilson, an earlier illustrator, who inspired Audubon, but whom Audubon believed wasn’t as good as he was.

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I was shocked at the number of birds, Audubon shot in order to illustrate all the species found in American. He’d shoot many of one species and shot thousands over all. According to the book, he did not find this at odds with his love for birds or his desire to add to their conservation and our understanding of them.

On The Wings of the World, has good illustrations, though they aren’t on par with Audubon’s own work. That would be amazing — and would probably mean a much more expensive book. I feel I’ve a fuller and deeper understanding of Audubon, who’s presented warts and all. It would make a great gift and belongs in every library.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2018 in fiction, non-fiction

 

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Strange Meeting

Strange Meeting

By Wilfred Owen

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand fears that vision’s face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
‘Strange friend,’ I said, ‘here is no cause to mourn.’
‘None,’ said that other, ‘save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . .’

‘Strange Meeting’ was written in early 1918.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2018 in fiction, poetry

 

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Abraham’s Well

On my friend Sharon Ewell Foster’s book.

Ruined for Life: Phoenix Edition

I just finished my friend, Sharon Ewell Foster’s Abraham’s Well: A Novel. Since I know Sharon and have enjoyed her books set in modern times, Ain’t No River and Ain’t No Valley this work of historical fiction was a departure. I can’t pretend that my review is unbiased so don’t say I didn’t warn readers.

The story reminds me of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman as it consists of an elderly woman looking back on her life during a significant historical period. Armentia, the main character, is African American and Cherokee. She lives in the 19th (and I suppose early 20th century) experiencing tribal life, slavery, the removal of Cherokee and other native Americans during the Trail of Tears and eventually freedom. It’s the story of an imperfect character, rather than a superhero, finding strength and courage to surmount injustice and hardship. I’m a sucker for such stories.

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Posted by on November 8, 2018 in fiction