Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Shakespeare Is Hard

If you have to read a Shakespearean play for school or choose to read one on your own, Shakespeare Is Hard, But So Is Life: A Radical Guide to Shakespearean Tragedyis a good companion text. The author Fintan O'Toole offers an innovative way to view Shakespeare. He feels too often teachers offer students a Victorian-style view of Shakespeare that's just off base. His thesis is that Shakespeare was trying to break classic molds. Fintan asserts that the Bard didn't want to fit the classic molds of tragedy involving a character flaw. He wanted to develop a new kind of drama to address the radical changes he saw in his own society.

On the whole, I think O'Toole's on to something, but even when I disagreed or doubted his theory, I was engaged with the new vision.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Speaking of Faith

Although I don't listen to it often, I do like Minnnesota Public Radio's Speaking of Faith which presents interesting interviews on religous matters. The host Krista Tippett has written Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters--and How to Talk About It.

I expected a collection of essays reflecting and analysing her interviews. Instead this book presents Tippet's journey as a person of faith and a journalist. I found it breezy in a good way and kind of interesting, yet all that's stayed with me is the general outline of her career and no specifics on religion. So I can't recommend it unless you're a big fan of Tippet. Instead go to the show's website and listen to some programs.

Friday, September 12, 2008

King Lear

I finished King Lear (Norton Critical Editions)for Loyola Law School's Great Books. This may mark me as a philostine, but I just didn't get into it. Lear's making his daughter's prove their love and all the disaster and madness that ensues seemed needless, which is sort of the point. I just didn't care. It is a classic that I can now check off my list.

Perhaps the discussion, if we have one ever, will shed light and help me appreciate the play more. Watching a cheap film production didn't help all that much. I'd like to see Kenneth Branaugh or some other high caliber actor in it. It'll be 20 years before Branaugh is old enough for it.

I am reading Shakespeare Is Hard, But So Is Life: A Radical Guide to Shakespearean Tragedyand it's helped me appreciate the play.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Not really sure if Miss Jane is for me.

I'm halfway through her six novels and, just now, when I figured it out, I said, out loud, "I'm only halfway through?"

Not to say that I've disliked any of the three I've read so far, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and, now, Northanger Abbey. Let's just say that none of them have been page turners.

I was aware that Northanger Abbey was a parody and was anticipating reading it. But I found Catherine's obliviousness and Isabella and John Thorpe's conniving quite frustrating. Mrs. Allen was irritating in her cluelessness. Thinking back on it, Eleanor and Henry Tilney were about the only likable characters therein.

On the other hand, I did appreciate Catherine's clear sighted assessment of Isabella's final letter and my heart was warmed by Henry's gallant appearance at the Morlands' residence.

Perhaps since Austen's conclusions are foregone (ie., the main characters will end up happily ever after) and, therefore, I am not reading her novels for plot, I tend to find them rather slow going, reading perhaps a chapter a night until I near the end when the pace picks up slightly.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


I usually enjoy Canadian writer Carol Shields writing. I highly recommend Larry's Party and The Stone Diaries. While Unless: A Novel (P.S.) is a well written story, I just didn't get into it. I felt so removed from the characters.

The main character, Reta Winters narrates the story. Reta is a 44 year old translator, writer, wife and mother. Her oldest daughter drops out of college and society. She lives in a shelter and spends her days holding a sign saying "Goodness" on a Toronto street corner. The family does not know why. They can't convince her to come home. Well, actually no one does try to bring her home. They let her be and bring her food and clothes. (Enabling? IMHO yes.)

Reta tries to understand her daughter's action through the filter of feminism and the struggles women have had to gain equality. As a writer, she is particulary concerned with the omission of women's work in the canon of great literature. I found the subject worth my interest and the writing was perceptive, yet I wanted Reta and her husband Tom to do more. Reta shares a lot inner dialog on her inner anger due to life in a man's world. I wanted her to express this. Don't stew. Tell your husband, mail those letters you're composing and never mailing, do something.

I do love Shields' writing, but I can't recommend Unless.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bejing: From Imperial Capital to Olympic City

I'm glad I grabbed Beijing: From Imperial Capital to Olympic Citya couple weeks ago to compliment my Olympic Fever.

Beijing: From Imperial Capital to Olympic City traces the history of the city from around 916 when it was one of five capitals in early China. There had been a city there since around 221 BC when China began to form into what we'd consider a nation.

This book is packed with facts about how the city was organized, where different groups lived, the impact of changes throughout the city and its relationship to the rest of the country. The focus is always on the city, but through that one learns about the government, politics, architecture, and daily life. For example, China was unique amongst nations because the leaders wisely always subsidized food and protected its safety. Thus when famines struck centuries ago, everyone would still eat and there'd be fewer riots and trouble. Also, it wasn't till recently that people considered themselves Beijing-ren (like New Yorkers). So many who lived there considered themselves rather transient and identified more with their hometowns.

I learned about Emperor Yongle, who has been compared to Augustus Caesar, who found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble. Yongle ruled during a time when fire destroyed the city and he elevated Beijing to a new level of magnificance (p. 24-25).

I was particularly touched to read about a Western educated architect Liang Sicheng who argued passionately to save the outerwall of the city when Mao and the Communists took power. He saw its beauty and historical significance. Yet during his campaign to save it, it was already being knocked down before those trying to preserve it were told.