Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Top Ten Authors That I'd Put On My Auto-Buy List

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is "Top Ten Authors That I'd Put On My Auto-Buy List (basically an auto-buy list is no questions asked..you love this author so much that no matter what they wrote next you'd buy regardless of genre or subject matter)."

There are plenty of authors whose entire works I want to read or have read-but most of those are no longer among the living. If I try to keep it to living authors...

1. Junot Diaz

2. Ann Brashares

3. Susanna Clarke

4. Margaret George

Non-Living Authors on Auto-Buy

5. Jane Austen

6. L.M. Montgomery

7. Louisa May Alcott

8. Madeleine L'Engle

9. J.R.R. Tolkien

10.David Eddings

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Italian Renaissance Epic

4. The Liberation of Jerusalem (Gerusalemme Liberata) by Torquato Tasso

Did you know that The Iliad and The Odyssey are not the only epic poems produced in Western civilization? I mean, presumably you could have guessed as much since "epic poem" is a whole genre and Homer was (and is) so widely influential, but from the typical grade school and even university curriculum, you'd never know other epics exist (okay, The Aeneid too). Until you get to grad school that is.

Torquato Tasso, a sixteenth century Italian, was a scholar and poet intimately familiar with classical epic and the more recent romance genre (so cleverly mocked by Cervantes in the same time period). The Liberation of Jerusalem is his attempt at the ideal Christian epic, which he lays out in theory in his Discourses, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the epic genre. Among other things, he suggests that romances are really a sub-genre of epic, that only Christian miracles and not classical gods may appear in Christian era epic, and the epic subject should be historical, but neither too close to the present nor too ancient. Accordingly, The Liberation of Jerusalem treats the story of the First Crusade in the tenth century.

Godfrey, king of the Franks, is leader of the Crusade, though the most valiant warriors are the faithful Tancred and especially the fiery Rinaldo. The Christian Crusaders battle and lay siege to Jerusalem, as the cruel king within schemes against them, and the brave Muslim warriors Argant and Clorinda defend the city and await a rescuing Egyptian army. Angels and devils arise to protect each side respectively, and while no Greco-Roman gods wreak havoc, sorcery is a major player. The king's sorcerer Ismen is nasty, but the young and beautiful Muslim sorceress Armida proves most effective in her deceptions, at least for a time. As Tancred and Rinaldo fall for the charms of heathen women and plague strikes the camps, the odds seem stacked against the Crusaders. Then again, how do you think a good Christian epic ends?

The most intriguing aspects of Tasso's epic are his presentation of women and his presentation of the enemy. Argant, Clorinda, another warrior Solyman, and more are the enemy, yet Tasso not only presents them as being from diverse backgrounds (Turkish, Persian, Egyptian etc.), but develops them as characters (as much as epic can, these are certainly characters of demonstration, not education). Argant and Clorinda in particular are described as honorable and worthy. This seems strange given that the point of the epic is to vindicate and praise the Crusaders, doing God's holy work.

As for the women, the very presence of the warrior Clorinda should raise some eyebrows, though she was not alone in Renaissance epic (see Spenser's The Faerie Queene) and she has a classical precedent in Virgil's Aeneid, the warrior Camilla. Tasso's epic theory often refers to Virgil, so it's no doubt he would have been aware of this character. Still, besides Clorinda, there is the far more ambivalent (and to me, more interesting) position of Armida, a powerful sorceress who rides into battle and practices powerful deceptions on the Crusaders, only to be conquered later by the pinings of love. Armida may be the only character in the epic who can truly be said to have evolved from beginning to end. I see in her echoes of Circe, Helen of Troy, Calypso, and Cleopatra. Then there's Erminia, who I don't quite know where to place, as she's very sympathetic to the Christian side throughout and yet a Muslim princess by birth. Clorinda and Armida's attitudes seem far more natural, but there is still something quite human about Erminia.

Tasso is apparently quite well-known in academic circles, but he was unfamiliar to me, as are most of the epic writers of this time period. I wonder why that is? We're all familiar with Homer and also with Milton's Paradise Lost, though I don't usually conceive of the latter as an epic, that is its form. And yet, Tasso is just as interesting as his predecessors, and in his depiction of women, perhaps more so. The women here at least have a lot more say. I definitely recommend Tasso to any whose interest is piqued.

* I read Max Wickert's recent translation for Oxford's World Classics. It is written in Tasso's ottava rima verse, though it has to substitute iambic pentameter for Tasso's Italian hendecasyllabic (which apparently doesn't work so well in English).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top Ten Least Favorite Romances

So the real Top Ten Tuesday this week is "Top Ten Favorite Romances," presumably in honor of Valentine's Day. But I don't read a lot of romance-focused books and would just end up reproducing my list of Top Ten Romances I Think would Last Outside the Book. Thus, a far more entertaining list of my top ten LEAST favorite romances.

1. Pamela and Mr. B from Pamela by Samuel Richardson

Ugh. Marrying a wannabe rapist. Ugh.

2. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Ugh. Marrying a lying bigamist. Ugh.

3. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Ugh. Marrying a stuck-up prig. Ugh.

4. Bella Swan and Edward Cullen from Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

*Disclaimer* I have not actually read the whole book.

However, the guy creeps into her house to watch her sleep? STALKER. Don't date him, girl.

5. Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Romances that end in death? That's not romantic, that's TRAGIC.

6. Helena and Bertram from All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare

Marrying a guy that makes you trick him into sleeping with you before he agrees to acknowledge your existence? Too many mind games. Ugh.

7. Travellia and the Prince from Assaulted and Pursued Chastity by Margaret Cavendish

Also, marrying a would-be rapist. Ugh. But the Prince goes through a lot more rehabilitation than Mr. B and Travellia still gets to maintain a lot of power at the end. So it's preferable to Pamela's lot. But that still doesn't make it OKAY.

8. Tess D'Urberville and Angel Clare from Tess of the D'Urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy

Really? You're going to get rid of your wife when you find out she was raped?

9. The unnamed narrator and Maxim from Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Great book, but I still do not care for that callous courtship and the way Maxim keeps his wife entirely in the dark about everything and blames her for the slightest misstep.

10. Arabella and Mr. Glanville from The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox

This is just one of those romances that I find wholly unsupported. It's as if Lizzie Bennet had decided to marry Mr. Collins after all (not that she made a much better choice). Sure, Mr. Glanville is into Arabella's looks...but he completely looks down on everything she's interested in and actively considers her crazy. If that's not a horrible basis for marriage, what is?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Best Bookish Memories Continued

As my last post elicited some objections from those who shall remain nameless, I would like to explain that my "top ten" posts generally consist of whatever first comes to mind and does not mean that there are not multiple other items equally worthy of inclusion. In order to rectify some oversights, then, I present a continued list of My Best Bookish Memories:

1. Reading The Chronicles of Narnia with my Dad

Predating my reading of the Harry Potter books to my brother, my dad and I read this fantasy series together. I remember liking that I had read the books before he did, and getting to share them with him.

2. My Mom Reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to me

Before I could read, my mom read me all of the Little House on the Prairie books (and dad subbed in a few times too). Definitely one of many incentives to learn to read in my household.

3. Picking Out a Book for my Sister the Day She Was Born

I stayed with my aunt that night and I remember she took me to some kind of shop (the hospital gift shop, maybe?) on our way to see my new baby sister. She told me to pick out two books, one for me and one for my sister, which I did happily. I may even have "read" it to her too (this was before I could read but also before I knew I couldn't read).

4. Lots of My Relatives Used to Read to Me

Yeah, I do remember. You all had a hand in creating this book monster!

5. Reading to My Little Cousins

On a few occasions, I've had the opportunity to read to some of my much younger cousins and I always enjoy sharing that experience with them. I wish I could do that more often!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Top Ten Best Bookish Memories

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is "Top Ten Best Bookish Memories (waiting in line for a new release, meeting an author, or some sort of great experience with a particular book that was unlike others)."

1. The First Time I Went to a Harry Potter Midnight Release

It was for the fifth Harry Potter book, Order of the Phoenix, and my mom had ordered copies for my sister and me. When it was time to go, my sister decided she was too tired, but my little brother begged to come along. At that time, he could barely even read, but staying up till midnight was an opportunity not to be missed!

We waited in line at Borders (so sad!) and there were people passing out HP themed bookmarks and candies. My brother was totally impressed and was so well behaved that my mom decided to give him the book she'd set aside for my sister. The next day, my brother asked me to read it to him, so I started with the first Harry Potter book. He loved it and I was reading him Harry Potter for the next seven years!

2. Reading Harry Potter With My Brother

This kind of stems from the post before, but reading Harry Potter together was a great experience for both of us, it encouraged him to learn to read and it gave me someone to talk about Harry Potter with and we've even branched out to other books as well.

3. Reading Harry Potter at Camp

I was the first person in my cabin to receive the fourth book in the mail and I remember sitting on the porch reading as my cabinmates watched jealously. Soon, everyone received their copies and we had lots of fun discussing it!

4. Discussing Harry Potter at Work

The summer that the seventh book came out, I was working at a science camp, and the other teachers and I had one hour alone together for lunch. I'm pretty sure we discussed Harry Potter every single one of those lunches, it was one thing we all had in common.

5.Discussing LOTR at Work

The first summer that I got to help teach a workshop on modern fantasy for kids was especially awesome because every morning, the teacher I was working with and I would "prepare for class" with lengthy discussions on Lord of the Rings.

6. The Last Time I Went to a Harry Potter Midnight Release

I went to the bookstore (my brother came too) and ran into so many people I knew. We all had a good cry.

7. Getting a Letter from Elie Wiesel

When I read Night in 10th grade, I was deeply moved and wrote a long letter to Mr. Wiesel. Almost exactly a year later, I received a personal reply that I treasure to this day. I recently got to see him speak and am thinking of writing him again.

8. Meeting Margaret George

A year and a half or so ago, I got to meet Margaret George at the National Book Festival. She signed my book and I even got to chat with her for a bit. I was so excited, I hope I didn't scare her!

9. Meeting Gregory Maguire

I'm taking a little bit of leeway with the term "meet," I didn't personally get to talk to him. But I was in the front row watching him speak at the National Book Festival in 2011 and he was so entertaining! He also did a wonderful reading from his latest book, Out of Oz.

10. Receiving My First ARC

I felt like I'd finally "made it" as a book reviewer when I got my first free book to review!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Six Word Reviews

I don't have the time for lengthy reviews, but I also don't want to neglect the books I've read so far in 2013. Thus, in a twist on Hemingway's six word story, I am challenging myself to write reviews in six words or fewer.

1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Life's a circus. We be players.

2. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Sucios (assholes) are damn articulate.

3. The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (received for review from Tor, due out February 12 2013)

Vulcan courtship, a firsthand account.