Monday, September 28, 2009

Book 4: Male Characters.

Mr. Darcy is one of the most romantic male characters I’ve ever come across in my reading. Not only does he love Elizabeth throughout the course of the novel, he makes sacrifices to show her his love in unexpected ways. While I am not at the end of the novel, I am seeing how Darcy comes to love the woman who only sees his “pride and prejudice” towards others.

In the early scenes with Darcy, the dialogue seems to overshadow the side comments Austen makes about his observations. Since it has been a bit since I have read the novel, I forgot about the narrated sections recalling Darcy’s looks and assessment of Elizabeth as he encounters her in different situations and places. I almost wish that I didn’t love the movie so much and have watched it so many times. The movie focuses more on their verbal sparring and you lose the emotional impact of Austen’s words as Darcy continues to encounter Elizabeth and strengthen his feelings for her.

I say all this after stopping my reading earlier today in the chapter before he makes his proposal and she rejects him. That scene is one of my favorites because it’s where the reader first sees that Elizabeth is just as proud and prejudiced as Darcy, and she is even more vocal about how she feels. It is also the scene where your heart just starts to melt. Here is a man who loves this woman, but he really doesn’t know how to show it. That is when his romantic nature begins to emerge, as he attempts another go at winning her heart.

On the other hand, you have the incredibly awkward and humorous Mr. Collins. I love his quirky nature and lack of manners—especially in the moment at Bingley’s ball when he takes it upon himself to introduce himself to Mr. Darcy. Or in his proposal to Elizabeth where he mechanically lists the reasons why he wants to marry. Had Matt decided to propose to me in the same way I probably would have laughed in his face, much like Elizabeth did to Mr. Collins (I assure you, Matt proposed in a wonderfully romantic way and there were only slight nervous giggles). Contrasted with Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins just seems like an incredibly awkward horrible man.

Even with that being said, I still like his character. Austen did a remarkable job creating male characters that while different, are still incredibly likable. Even Mr. Bingley is a well-developed and well-rounded character who is purely male and distinctly different from Mr. Collins, Darcy, and Elizabeth’s father.

I thought I would share some of my favorite lines thus far from the male characters in the novel. Enjoy them as much as I did.

Mr. Bennet (Elizabeth’s father)

“’You mistake me my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least,” (7).

“’An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do,’” (111).

Mr. Collins

“’My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly—which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness,” (105).

Mr. Darcy

“’I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost is lost forever,” (58).

“’In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,’” (188).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Book 4: Torrie's Pick.

I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to read next, so after thinking it over and staring at my piles of books, I decided to have someone else pick. I ended up asking my little sister Torrie to choose the next book for me. And since she is a freshman in college, I gave her a homework assignment and asked her to tell me why she picked the book she did.

This is what Torrie chose and why:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.This is probably one of my favorite novels. It is wonderfully written and since I'm a sucker for romance stories, it took a hold of me. I became sort of obsessed with the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth; that at first they strongly disliked each other, but over time they grew to love one another. Now who wouldn't be obsessed with that? But what really gets me in this novel is that when Austen wrote Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, she wrote them as two people who looked for love. They lived in a time where money and staus were everything, and yet they did not care about any of that.”

Its true that Torrie is a sucker for romance. Whenever I am thinking of a book to recommend to her, that is always top on the list of requirements. I can’t really blame her, I like a good romance too.

She chose a good book and one of my favorites as well. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice a few times and I love the newer film version with Kiera Knightley (That's where the picture comes from). And before anyone asks, no, I haven’t seen the version with Colin Firth and yes, I know I need to.

I want to point out Torrie’s last two lines. That is one the reasons why I love this book as well. Who doesn’t love a story where the characters go against convention and look for love instead? This also seems to tie in well with the previous book (A Room with a View by E.M. Forster), which, if you love Pride and Prejudice, you’ll also love. I promise.

I have actually already started this and am moving along. Reading Austen is like visiting a friend you haven’t seen in awhile.

Its new, refreshing, and makes you laugh like old times as you relive memories.

Torrie, you did a good job on your homework.


And a gold star.

Book 3: Finished.

I finished A Room with a View this morning and I absolutely loved it. The story is light and fluffy and everything you would expect, but the writing is beautiful. There are many, many lines that I marked for sheer wit, or because they made my heart ache (in a good way).

I also loved the characters, especially Mrs. Honeychurch. She was snarky and overbearing and pretentious and so caring that I just loved her. She stole the scene away whenever she popped up. I prattled on about her in an earlier post, but I have one more example of her conversational skills to share:

“’Very well. Take your independence and be gone. Rush up and down and round the world, and come back as thin as a lath with the bad food. Despise the house that your father built and the garden that he planted, and our dear view—and then share a flat with another girl,’” (194).

Simply amazing. It’s just how a mother should speak after hearing their daughter wants to leave.

I also like this passage because it mentions the “view.” The concept of a “view” comes up often within the novel, and in the title. The word view is used in lots of different contexts in the story—from a view from a hotel room, to a view down the street, to how one individual can have a different view than another about someone else—and that word really adds to the depth and power of the story.

The story ended the way it should. The ending fit with the light feeling of the novel as a whole and really just captured everything the author was trying to say about love and how we view love. These next few passages are from the very end of the novel. I chose many of them simply because of how beautifully they are written. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

“’You love the boy body and soul, plainly, directly, as he loves you, and no other word expressed it’” (202).

“’I have no time for the tenderness, and the comradeship, and the poetry, and the things that really matter, and for which you marry. I know that, with George, you will find them, and that you love him. Then be his wife. He is already a part of you…It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that poets are right: love is eternal,’” (202).

“She ‘never exactly understood,’ she would say in after years, ‘how he managed to strengthen her. It was as if he had made her see the whole of everything at once,’” (205).

“’How do you like this view of ours Mr. Emerson?’
‘I never notice much difference in views.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Because they’re all alike. Because all that matters in them is distance and air,’” (159).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book 3: Mrs. Honeychurch.

I absolutely love the character interactions in A Room with a View. As I am nearing the end, I am finding even more things about these characters to love. The mother, Mrs. Honeychurch, just makes me laugh.

In the first scene that the reader meets her, she is writing a letter and part of the conversation goes as such;

“Where was I? Oh yes—‘Young people must decide for themselves. I know that Lucy likes your son, because she tells me everything, and she wrote to me from Rome when he asked her first.’ No, I’ll cross that last bit out—it looks patronizing. I’ll stop at ‘because she tells me everything.’ Or shall I cross that out, too?” (87)

I just find her commentary amusing.

I also love this gem…

“’She was a novelist,’ said Lucy craftily. The remark was a happy one, for nothing roused Mrs. Honeychurch so much as literature in the hands of females. She would abandon every topic to inveigh against those women who (instead of minding their houses and their children) seek notoriety by print,” (140).


I can laugh at it now, even though I know that there are still many, MANY people who feel that way—that a woman’s place is in the home and their success is measured by having children and making sure their husband comes home to a clean house.

I believe a main reason I find this more amusing than anything, is that the male characters feel the same way. Cecil, one of Lucy’s suitors, is very clear about his opinions—to the point that he openly mocks Lucy’s mother (which I also find amusing). I’m just glad that the males in my own life don’t have those kinds of opinions, and neither does my mother.

If anyone ever tells me that I can’t have literature in my hands because I am a female…they just better think twice.

On another note, it looks like I am going to finish this in the very near future. Any suggestions for my next book?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book 3: Women's Roles.

When I had my first poll, A Room with a View by E.M. Forster placed in second behind Crime and Punishment so; it makes sense that it’s my next novel.

I started it this morning and am already 50 pages in (its only 210 pages long), so I am sure I will finish it rather quickly.

So far it seems rather light, especially in comparison to its predecessor. The main premise of the story is that Lucy, the main character, has to choose between passion and convention—a man her family will approve of and who she would rather be with. I have only met one of the male characters thus far but I am already pretty sure who she will choose.

Who really listens to their parents anyway when it comes to love? ;)

I jest, but it used to be that way not too long ago. Its funny how things have changed so much in regards to dating and how we choose our husbands and wives. I would have already been married off long ago and most likely to a man I didn’t like.

Thank goodness I got to pick.

The book reflects that view of women and is very true to the times in which it was first published—1908.

Here is a prime example:

“It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored” (39).

I also like to think about how that above attitude would have been interpreted by women around the turn of the century. True, there were many movements for women’s suffrage and rights emerging and going strong, but the greater sentiment was this attitude—that women were there to support men and to help their men become accomplished and successful.

I am glad that now I can make my own success and Matt will support and help me get there. However, I can also help him and support him in his own achievements. I think that kind of balance is much better than that alternative from the early 1900s.

This is a case where I can say, “Yay for progress!” It seems as if everyone has benefited from that change in attitude.

Anyway, it is time to get back to reading. If you haven’t yet, please vote in the Shakespeare poll!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Book 2: Confessions.

I finished Crime and Punishment this afternoon when I got off at work and headed to the library. My favorite couch was occupied so I had to find a new chair to perch in with the last 30 or so pages. Luckily I wasn’t interrupted by anyone peering at me and when I shut the back cover I thought to myself, “end of book 2.”

For a book that took me nearly two weeks to read (very unusual), it seemed like an anti-climatic ending. I sat there for a minute and looked out the window at the trail that passes behind the library and just thought about what I had read. This is a habit of mine—to simply reflect on what I have read and let it soak in.

So here are my confessions about Crime and Punishment.

  • I was not looking forward to reading it because I thought it was one of those books that were going to be way over my head.

  • As I was reading it, I could understand why its one of those books that her bow down to a revere. The moral dilemmas of Raskolnikov just sink into you and you become him, wondering why you committed such a horrid crime.

  • Raskolnikov’s theory about crime and people who commit crime really made me think. If there are such things as ordinary and extraordinary people—the extraordinary being the ones who are allowed to do things for the benefit of humanity—who gets to decide who has the extra? I mean, if I declared myself an extraordinary human, can I find an inadequate teacher and off them because I would benefit more students? (No and no I wouldn’t do that. But it’s an example to think about).

  • As I finished, I realized that I loved it.

So, I am done with the first of the Russian novels on the list, and the first by Dostoevsky. I have some other Russian writers, but on to something a little lighter than crime, punishment, and the beginnings of redemption.

Book 2: Favorite Passages.

I was talking to a girl at work, Kyla, about how long it is taking me to get through Crime and Punishment. Its not that I’m not enjoying it, it’s more that after reading it for thirty or so minutes, I find myself getting depressed. I feel for Raskolnikov, even if he is a murderer.

In this conversation with Kyla, we were joking that I am going to rename it as such: Crime aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnndddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd Punishment.

If you’ve read the novel, you’ll know that the crime happens early on and the formal punishment for Raskolnikov occurs with about 20 or so pages left (at least that’s how many pages in my edition). The whole middle part is filled with plots involving his mother and sister, an old employer of his sister, a friend, some insanity, and all kinds of other pieces of drama.

With all that said, I actually really like the novel. In fact, I have over 50 pages marked with post-its. I don’t want to post all 50, but here are some of my favorites.

The first is from the portion of the book where Katerina Ivanovna is hosting a dinner after her husband’s funeral. I like this line simply because it’s a whole lot of ladies:

“To this Amalia Ivanovna very appropriately observed that she had invited those ladies, but ‘those ladies had not come, because those ladies are ladies and cannot come to a lady who is not a lady,’” (317).

From a discussion about whether certain people have the right and ability to commit murders:

“’But the real geniuses,’ asked Razumihin frowning, ‘those who have the right to murder? Oughtn’t they to suffer at all even for the blood they’ve shed?’

‘Why the word ought? It’s not a matter of permission of prohibition. He will suffer if he is sorry for his victim. Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth,’ he added dreamily, not in the tone of the conversation,” (215).

And before a character commits suicide:

“’Well, brother, I don’t mind that. It’s a good place. When you are asked, you just say he was going, he said, to America.’ He put the revolver to his right temple.

‘You can’t do it here, it’s not the place,’ cried Achilles, rousing himself, his eyes growing bigger and bigger.

Svidrigailov pulled the trigger (417).”

Just a favorite:

“There is a line in everything which it is dangerous to overstep; and when it has been overstepped, there is no return,” (245).

There are many more, but I don’t want to rewrite the entire thing here. I am almost done, just a few pages left!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book 2: Pretty Girl with Big Book.

I like going to the library to read. It’s a different environment from being at home or a coffee shop. The people there are usually so absorbed in what they’re doing that you can feel free to get your own work done without being interrupted.

Personally, I think that the Rochester Hills Public Library is one of the nicest I’ve been in. They offer great programs for teens and the staff has always been super helpful whenever I have had to do research in the past.

And they also have some super comfortable couches and chairs that I like to curl up in. Comfort is important while reading, otherwise its just torture.

So, I went to the library today to do some reading away from home. After dealing with the crowded portion of the comfy couches, I saw that my favorite reading spot had been vacated. I packed up my things and journeyed over to my favorite couch. It’s located right by the mystery, romance, and science fiction sections and it’s not in a heavily trafficked area. There are a couple of study corrals nearby, but it’s pretty isolated.

I curled up with my copy of Crime and Punishment and started reading. After about a half hour I noticed an older Indian man walking in the romance section. I thought it was odd but brushed it off. Then he peered around the corner and stared at me before turning around and walking away.

Again, I thought it was really odd and returned to C and P. Then, he popped out again and gestured to my book.

“You read a big book!”

I nodded and showed him the title.

“I’m sorry. I no want to make you uncomfortable.”

“No, its okay,” and I smiled.

“It just unusual-to see pretty girl with such big book!” He gestured widely and I looked down at my copy of C and P and blushed. It’s not THAT big.

“Oh…well….” Awkward!

“You enjoy you big book! I go now.” And he turned and left.

The library never ceases to amaze me.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book 2: Crimes of the Past.

As I am reading about Raskolnikov’s struggle with what he did in Crime and Punishment, I am struggling with how I feel about the book.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the book. I find it to be far better than what I had thought, but I can’t help but stop and think about the point of the book. Raskolnikov is agonizing over what he did-the murder of two innocent women-and its causing me to agonize over things I am not proud of.

It also makes me wonder about all of those people who have done far worse things who are in prison, or on death row, or who are still out in the world without being caught for their crime. I am sure that many of them feel horribly for the things they did once, but I know there are those who don’t feel bad. They believe they were in the right and their crime was justified.

But can any wrong doing towards another individual be justified? You could get into the small technicalities-little white lies, small judgments, being deceitful-up to the big issues-infidelity, stealing, etc.

I just simply don’t think that any “crime” can be justified, no matter what the circumstances surrounding that crime. And that is the issue that Raskolnikov is wrapping his head around. He had himself convinced that he was in the right for wanting to off the pawnbroker because she was unfair and had money which was going to be given away to one person once she was dead. After she’s dead and the crime is committed, he is starting to think differently.

How many times have I felt the same way after saying or doing something I thought to be completely correct?

This is a hard read, not because of the difficulty of the book, but because of how it is making me feel about myself and the decisions I have made. I think I am starting to see why this book is as recognized as it is. It’s not about Raskolnikov and his punishment after his crime.

Instead, it’s about the reader and their feelings towards the crimes they have committed in their own life. And looking back at your wrongs is never a comfortable experience.

I think I have far more in common with Raskolnikov than I thought I did. And so do you.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Book 2: Living with Guilt.

I managed to finish the first part of Crime and Punishment today. I actually flew through these first 70 pages even though I haven’t had a lot of extra time to read. And surprisingly, I am liking this book far more than I thought I would.

I think that I had some preconceived notion that this book was going to be torture to read. As a kid in high school and even in college, Crime and Punishment was one of those books that only the really educated read and loved. For some reason, I think that I believed it was too far above me for me to like it, or that I wasn’t smart enough to get through it. That does not seem to be the case.

There is a lot of argument about why we even teach the “classics” to teenagers in the first place. There are good arguments on both sides, but I think that many, many teenagers just don’t “Get” the classics when they read them. At fourteen, can you really comprehend Great Expectations? Perhaps and perhaps not.

So I think that the first time I tried to read this I just couldn’t get it because I wasn’t old enough and I hadn’t lived enough to connect with it.

Rascal (see the previous post if you are confused by the name) commits a crime because he thinks he can live with the consequences. In this first part, it sets up his decision to actually go through with his plan and not just think about it.

I won’t give away much of the story if I tell you his crime, but if you really don’t want to know, stop reading now.

Rascal decides to commit the murder of an older lady, a pawnbroker who is rumored to have money stored up. Since Rascal is poor and needs money, and the woman is “Evil” and mean to her younger sister, would Rascal actually be doing society a favor by killing her off? That is his moral dilemma.

He knows the consequences and knows that he can get caught. But he also knows his situation and how that money could benefit not only him, but the others who might come in contact with him after he has all of that money in his possession. He also knows that the woman is not well-liked and that he might be doing many people a favor by killing her off himself.

But no matter how evil and how corrupt, is there really any time to commit such a crime like that? Even if you knew the extent of what that person would do in their lifetime, would you still be able to live with the consequences?

Obviously I haven’t found the answer within the context of the story, as I’m not that far yet.

But I can’t help but think that the guilt and shame from committing so heinous a crime would never leave you and it would be something to haunt you for a lifetime. It offers a lot to think about.

If you would have known who Hitler would become, would you have faced the guilt of killing another human being?

What about Saddam Hussein?

Or Joseph Stalin?

Or a child molester?

Or a kidnapper?

I leave you with some words from Dostoevsky:

“Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the service of humanity and the good of all. What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?” (page 53)

Book 2: Crime and Punishment and Russian Names.

Well, you voted and after 21 votes Crime and Punishment won as the next book I am reading.


I was hoping that something else would win because my one previous experience with Crime and Punishment didn’t go so well. When I was a senior in high school I was in A.P. English. Every month we had to read a book off of the A.P. English list and Crime and Punishment was my choice one month. After finally getting a copy I sat down to read it. When I finished about 30 pages, I set it aside and I had no idea what I had read. Literarily, I couldn’t recall a thing I had read and was on the verge of tears.

I gave up and told my teacher I needed to read something else. I read The Awakening instead.

Now I have to read it again. Ugh.

But I did start it and surprise, its not as bad as I remembered. Actually, I kind of like it, although it is slow and rather detailed. I am also struggling with the names. I have no Russian background so I am attempting to pronounce these names in my head.

Usually when I am reading fantasy, I come across names that are unfamiliar, so I simply make up something in my head that sounds like the letters I am seeing on the page. But these Russian names…..they’re hurting my head. My brain can’t seem to process these names and I stumble over them every time I see one.

So, to fix all this, I am renaming the main characters as I come across them in hopes that it will make it a little easier to get through the story without getting tripped up on names.

The main character has been referred to as either the young man or Raskolnikov. I have decided to call him Rascal. And the man name Marmeladov I am just calling Ma.

Perhaps Fyodor Dostoevsky won’t approve but I do need to keep my sanity.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book 1: Finished.

My mom came in my room this morning to find me propped up in bed finishing The Odyssey. At the time she came in to “wake me up,” I only had 100 pages left and I was determined to finish.

I took a break to shower before I had to leave for work and when I re-entered my room, I found our yellow lab, Sadie, curled up on my bed fast asleep. Sitting next to her was my copy of the book. I laughed and she didn’t even flinch, which is pretty normal once she’s passed out asleep on my bed. I finished getting ready and plopped down on the other side of my bed to finish the last 30 pages or so.

The last 30 pages are pretty intense and even though I jumped once, Sadie didn’t move. She just stayed curled up in her little ball, fast asleep.

Until I slammed the book shut when I finished. She opened her eyes then as if to say, “What is so important that you woke me up from my deep and peaceful slumber?”

I looked at her, called her lazy, and promptly told her that I had finished the first book of 250 and that she should be insanely proud of me. It was a crowning achievement, that the first book was done and I could move on to the next and that I was so happy to be doing this project!

Instead of immediately jumping up and running around for joy with me, she let out a low, long fart and promptly closed her eyes to fall back asleep while I evacuated my own room for fresher air.

So much for celebration and accomplishment.

And for your viewing pleasure, there is the little stinker tonight (sent to sleep on the floor rather than my bed) with The Odyssey. Doesn’t she look thrilled?

One book down, 249 to go…

Book 1: In Three Parts.

There are basically three different parts of The Odyssey.

The first part is centered on Telemachus, the son Odysseus left behind. Telemachus was only an infant when Odysseus left for Troy. At the start of The Odyssey, Telemachus is around 20 years old and suffering at home. Since his father failed to return from the Trojan War, his mother has attracted suitors from the neighboring area, who have all settled in their house. Penelope, his mother and Odysseus’ wife, has tried to placate the suitors and tricks them, but they eventually get sick of her tricks and want her to pick one of them.

In desperation, Telemachus travels to Pylos and Sparta to talk with King Nestor and King Menelaus about his father. The goddess Athena guides him to do this as a way of helping him grow up and get Odysseus home.

(On a side note, I should point out that the movie Troy, with the dashing Brad Pitt, got quite a few important facts wrong in the film. Menelaus does NOT die in Troy. He returns home. Also, the little lady Helen, you know, the one who started the war in the first place? She is back where she belongs by Menelaus’ side).

The second part of the story switches to Odysseus. At the time the story switches, he is still on Calypso’s island. She is approached by the gods and told to release him, which she does (Odysseus had been with her for 7 years at this point). On his way from Calypso’s island, Poseidon sees him trying to go home and sends a storm after him. Odysseus washes ashore on the island belonging to the Phaeacians. There, he recounts his travels from the end of the Trojan War to that point.

After fighting at Troy for ten years, Odysseus had departed with his men and raided a nearby civilization. Loaded down with treasures, they are caught up in a storm and end up at the island of the Cyclops, son of Poseidon (the sea god). While exploring, Odysseus and a group of his men get locked into the cave of the Cyclops, who starts to eat them one by one. The men form a plan and blind the Cyclops by shoving a red-hot stake into his eye.

Poseidon soon learns of the Cyclops’ fate and determines that Odysseus and his men will not reach home. After the Cyclops, the rest of Odysseus’ ships are destroyed near an island of giants before they find themselves on Circe’s island. She turns some of his men into swine, and again, a plan must be hatched to rescue the men. Odysseus eventually outwits her and she consents to helping them, but a year passes before the men actually leave, to excited to enjoy the comforts of her home.

After Circe, Odysseus makes a trip to the Kingdom of the Dead to gain advice from those who went before him, including a seer who will prophesize what he must do in the future in return for the gods’ help. While conversing with the dead, Odysseus learns the fate of his mother, and of his friend Agamemnon. Unlike Penelope, Agamemnon’s wife was not pining for him, but instead hatched a plot to kill him on his return.

They return briefly to Circe’s island to gain advice for the rest of their trip. Their next obstacle is getting past the Sirens, who lure men to their island. They also have to get past the whirlpool of Charybdis and the six heads of Scylla.

It is after all of this that they land on the island of Helios, the sun-god. Ignoring the warning not to eat his cattle, the men do and they are killed, all save Odysseus. That is when he finds his way to Calypso, where he stays for the next seven years.

The third part tells of the return of Odysseus. With the help of the Phaeacians, Odysseus finds passage home. Telemachus also finds a way home and they reunite. Together, the plot the demise of the suitors in their home and slaughter every man and the women of the household who betrayed the memory of Odysseus.

The middle part that focuses on the travels and adventures of Odysseus is usually the most well-known piece. It’s the section that is in most textbooks for high-schoolers. The other two parts are usually incredibly condensed and never really developed.

I actually think the first and last parts are more interesting than the middle. The first is essentially a coming of age story, where Telemachus has to learn what happened to his father to move on and grow up. The last part talks a lot about revenge and justice. Odysseus has to remove the men from his household and reassert himself after being gone from home for over 20 years.

As I near the end, I just have to keep asking myself, why is it that the middle section is more well-known than the other parts? Perhaps it’s the adventure feel of his journey that grabs more readers, but I just prefer the revenge of the end and the growth of the beginning. Maybe that means I am just a weirdo, or maybe the middle part is overrated and the other two parts are where the real story lies.

I’d like to think that I’m right.

Book 1: Favorite Passages.

My edition of The Odyssey is filled with purple marked passages from my college days. Sometimes I am reading along and all I can think it, “Why would I highlight THAT?” You can tell the spots where I went highlighter happy and thought that everything was important…or the parts where I was apparently bored with the story and pages and pages go by and there is no purple highlighter.

(On a side note, purple highlighter covers up text pretty well. There were parts that I had to hold my book up to my face so I could make out what was under the purple).

It has eventually dawned on me that I must have written a paper about Odysseus’ son Telemachus sometime in that class because as soon as his name appears it’s BAM! Purple highlighter!

There are also quite a few post-it notes in three different colors randomly throughout the book. At first I thought they might just be marking passages related to a paper, but instead they are separating the different “books” within the story. Convenient, but also obnoxious when you are digging through 24 post-its trying to find your book mark. I eventually had to find a bookmark with an obnoxious tassel so I could find it.

Anyway, I did end up marking some of my favorite lines. Mostly because I thought they were quite emotional, or an important part of the story. Your mileage may vary.

My most favorite was already posted, the whole opening section where the bard (if this was being recited orally as its supposed to me) calls to the Muses to inspire his words and the story. Here it is again:

“Sing to me man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove—
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod wiped from sight the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will-Sing for our time too.”

Another one of my favorite passages is when Odysseus and his men blind the Cyclops, son of Poseidon (the sea god), which eventually leads to Odysseus' long journey home. That passage has a lot of great imagery and word choice and the scene really sucks you in. I should warn you, it’s a gory passage, which isn’t at all unusual for a Greek piece:

“Now, at last, I thrust our stake in a bed of embers
to get it red-hot and rallied all my comrades...

I dragged it from the flames, my men clustering round
As some god breathed enormous courage through us all.
Hoisting high that olive stake with its stabbing point,
straight into the monster’s eye they rammed it hard—
I drove my weight on it from above and bored it home
as a shipwright bores his beam with a shipwright’s drill
that men below, whipping the strap back and forth, whirl
and the drill keeps twisting faster, never stopping—
So we seized our stake with its fiery tip
and bored it round and round in the giant’s eye
till blood came boiling up around that smoking shaft
and the hot blast singed his brow and eyelids round the core
and the broiling eyeball burst—
its crackling roots blazed
and hissed—
as a blacksmith plunges a glowing ax of adze
in an ice-cold bath and the metal screeches steam
and its temper hardens—that’s the iron’s strength—
so the eye of the Cyclops sizzled round that stake!”

Another of my favorite scenes is when Odysseus finally comes clean to his son, Telemachus, about his identity. I love this only because it’s a rather climatic point:

“’No, I am not a god,’
the long-enduring, great Odysseus returned.
‘Why confuse me with one who never dies?
No, I am your father—
the Odysseus you wept for all your days,
you bore a world of pain, the cruel abuse of men.’”

I also love the fact that to show a passage of one day to the next, this line pops up nearly every time:

“When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more”

I just like the imagery of red fingers spreading across the sky. It’s one of those pieces of literary mastery that just sticks in your mind.

For those of you who have read The Odyssey before, do you have any favorite passages?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Book 1: The Art of Translation

There are many different editions of many of the classics; different translations, new covers, prestigious introductions by well-known scholars, new footnotes, etc. The edition I own and am reading from is the one by Robert Fagles, published in 1996. My dear tweed coated professor picked the edition, which has won many awards for its translation. To be honest, the only other translation I’ve read is the watered down version of The Odyssey I read in high school.

I love the edition I own. Fagles really brings the story to life and I am finding myself getting really into the story and the choice of words. It really gets you thinking about why that word was chosen instead of another, and I suppose translation is a difficult art because of that. For example, the Inuit have many, many different words for “snow” and each one means a different thing. With that many choices, how does a translator choose the correct term to portray the exact meaning that the original author intended?

With works like The Odyssey, the job is much more difficult. The Odyssey and The Iliad, attributed to have been written by the figure Homer, are oral histories and were never really written down by Homer himself (if he actually existed). Instead, they were stories passed down from bard to bard until eventually, someone wrote down their version. If you think of the game telephone you might have played in elementary school, you might see how the story might have been distorted from the original.

This is where the bards come in. Bards were once the most highly celebrated individuals in Greek society. They were responsible for remembering the past and passing it down, as well as entertaining. Even within The Odyssey the bards play a huge role. There is a scene I just finished reading where the bard Demodocus is called to entertain the crowd and Odysseus. He recalls the story of the Trojan Horse, which at this point in the story had happened more than ten years before. His goal as the bard is to be as close to the original details as possible. He succeeds by driving Odysseus to tears with the memory of what he had done in Troy.

I suppose all this is rambling is a long way of saying that Robert Fagles and the other translators are really doing the same job as the old Greek bards. They are trying to stay as close to the meaning and intent of the original as possible and still capturing readers with great stories.

I’ve also been thinking about how authors translate the stories in their heads to paper and whether the result is the story they envisioned. From my own experience writing, I seem to have a hard time getting the rights words down to really get at what I am feeling. It must be the same for song-writers and for directors. How can you truly portray everything you feel and everything you see? It is a difficult task. I can’t help but admire people who are successful in accomplishing that. And I can’t help but love the end result of their hard work.

They did the work so I didn’t have to. I can just sit back and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book 1: The Oral Tradition

Unfortunately I haven’t gotten through as much reading in the last two days as I would like, but I did manage to finish the first book of The Odyssey today. I flipped through the notes in the edition I own (I have the one translated by Robert Fagles) to refresh my memory.

I think most people who read The Odyssey in high school read a similar version to the one I first read. If you can remember back, its usually an abridged version that focuses solely on Odysseus and his journey back from Troy. It touches on the situation back home in Ithaca and of his son, Telemachus and his wife, Penelope.

That first time I read it, it was simply uninteresting. Yes, the Greek mythology parts of it were interesting, but I didn’t really get into the story. All I could see, as a ninth grader, was that this man was trying to get home and couldn’t.

When I was a freshman in college, I had to take the standard starting English class for all English majors. The first day of class, the professor handed us our syllabus. A few of my friends in the English program had taken the same class in the fall semester and they read some really interesting things. But to my surprise we only had two books to buy for the class: The Odyssey and The Norton Anthology of Classical Literature. So basically we were reading about dead Greeks. I was not so excited.

I was also not excited about my professor. He was probably in his fifties and wore some form of tweed every day. In fact, I think he had about 10 tweed pieces that he rotated so it always looked like he had something different on, but it was just matched differently. He also wore this hat every day that he seemed to set on his head at a jaunty angle. I was positive he wore it solely to look dashing.

He had the class set up so that every Monday we had to write an essay in a blue book, then on Wednesday we had to read them to the class if ours was “chosen.” It was a ridiculous set-up and week after week as my essay was not chosen, I had to listen to some of the most pompous essays ever written.

In addition to all of that, this professor had an irritating way of talking. Besides talking about the things he had accomplished and who he was related to, he had this habit of sucking air in through the corners of his mouth while his lips were pressed close in the middle. It was like he was trying to suck air in but the air was getting stuck on the spit in his cheeks, which rattled and sounded like a noise you shouldn’t make in public.

It was incredibly irritating. Especially when he did it at the end of every sentence.

But, even though I didn’t love the class, I did love the reading. This professor had a way of making it come alive. The first day we read The Odyssey we spent the entire two hour class talking about the opening passage, which I have typed and included here.

“Sing to me man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove—
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod wiped from sight the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will-Sing for our time too.”

When you read it in your head, its hard to see the passion and power of these lines. So my professor made us all stand up (the 15 of us still left in the class at this point-the others got out alive) and we recited it in loud voices until he was satisfied we had captured the strength of Homer’s words.

When I went to start it, I had a hard time getting into it. Then I realized that perhaps I needed to remember that lesson, when my tweed coated professor told us that to appreciate The Odyssey which is meant to be recited orally, you needed to give voice to the words and invoke the voices of the muses.

So while I didn’t stand up and proclaim in a loud voice, I stopped and started over, channeling passion into the words in my head. And what do you know, the story came alive. Telemachus and his problems with his mother suitors emerged and Athena’s involvement in getting Telemachus to realize his role as a man seemed clear.

It’s amazing. Whenever I talk about professors I didn’t like, my little tweed fellow was always one that topped the list. But as I finished the first book of The Odyssey I had a shattering revelation.

That crazy man actually taught me something.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Choosing the First Book.

For my first book, I wanted to read something that was significant. With the reading of this first book I am stepping off into taking this challenge from an idea into reality. I wanted something strong and powerful to spur me on.

All of these thoughts led me to also thinking about the title of my blog. After all, I think that titles tell more of the story than many people believe. When I realized that making this list and reading through it was more of a journey than anything, the title of the blog clicked to mind: A Literary Odyssey.

And of course, The Odyssey by Homer is on that list. What better way to start my journey through the classics than to read one of the greatest journeys committed to paper?

Odysseus has been away from home fighting the Trojan War for ten years when he begins his journey home to Ithaca and the wife and son he left there. Along the way he is delayed by monsters, witches, Poseidon, and many others. His ten year journey home tests his determination and his moral compass.

I am sure that through reading this list I will also be tested; by life, by frustration, and by the absolute “bigness” of what I am trying to accomplish. So perhaps by reading through the journey of Odysseus first, I can gear myself up for opening each of the 250 books I have chosen.

So tonight, September 1, 2009 I am starting my own journey by opening book 1 of 250, The Odyssey.