Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Quick note--photos are not my strong point. Taking them, editing them, figuring out how to incorporate them into the ol' blog...not really my thing. And I don't like the idea of randomly stealing other people's photos. But I finally had to admit to myself that everyone (including me) likes blogs better when they have lots of pictures. So I made this beautiful picture for you guys. Well, it's not that beautiful, but hey. I took it and edited it and I even put my website on the bottom and I feel very cool. (And if you want to use it, feel free. I know, I'm so generous.) 

But anyway. Let's talk Hamlet. 

Hamlet is one of those great literary works that left me so utterly wowed that I almost can't say anything about it. The long list of literary things we could talk about is just far too overwhelming (and has already been done by people far more intelligent and educated than I), so I'll just share my emotional reaction with you. 

I'm pretty sure I'd seen an adaptation of Hamlet or something before I read it this time, but I remembered very little about it, so it was almost like I was reading it for the first time. As I read, I watched an adaptation (one that was rather poorly done in my opinion, but was the only version my library had). 

From the very beginning, I criticized the actor who played Hamlet, because I didn't think he understood the character. Yeah--I remembered next to nothing about this play, I had barely seen the character of Hamlet at all, and I already felt like I knew him. Hamlet is an erratic, emotional, crazy character, and yet I had no trouble identifying with him. While I was reading the play, Hamlet felt like me. Which is kind of scary to think about. 

There are no characters in this play that win. (Sorry if I spoiled it for you.) Nobody comes out on top. Most people end up dead. The play carries with it a horrible feeling of desperation and hopelessness. You wouldn't think people would be so interested in it. And yet, it's the feeling of desperation that we all have. Does my life matter? Am I ever in control? Can I change my fate? Who can I trust? These are the questions the characters ask, and although our lives may not be quite as tragic, they're the questions we ask, too. 

That's my take on Hamlet--and I know there are a million more. What do you think? 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I started reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail for my family reunion book club (yes, my family is enthusiastic about having a book club at our family reunion...I'm so lucky), but after I'd gotten partway through it, we decided to change books. I finished it anyway, and I'm mostly glad I did...

Here's a brief synopsis, for those who may not have heard of it (written by yours truly):

Wild is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. After her mother's death, a difficult divorce, a seriously messed-up relationship, a stint with heroin, and her life basically falling into a million pieces, Strayed decides on a whim that she's going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and find herself. So she hikes it, thinking she's prepared, although she most thoroughly is not. She gets into numerous scrapes, meets some nice and interesting people along the way, acts stupid, and manages to come out of it alive.

Okay. I realize that that was very sarcastic. I hope you enjoyed it.

I have a love/hate relationship with books like this. They seem to be extremely popular these days. You know the kind of book I'm talking about: Woman has crappy life, realizes she has some serious issues, and decides to solve those issues by doing something really random and crazy.

You can probably tell from that brief description the "hate" part of my relationship with these books, but I also love them, in a weird way. I love them because we all have issues, we all make bad decisions, and we all find ourselves at a fork in the road where we need to decide whether we want to stay home, keep on keepin' on, and try to patch up our lives. Or...we can take the other road. We can do something daring and crazy. It could lead us to danger and even death...or it could lead us to a better life. The life we've always wanted, which we know we won't ever get if we keep living the way we're living.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Henry V by William Shakespeare

This was the only play I've had (or will have) to read for my Shakespeare class that I was almost completely unfamiliar with. (Apart from the St. Crispin's Day speech, but even that I've only heard in passing.) Thankfully, I found a good amount of time to spend with it so I didn't have to speed through it.

I'll admit that I was pretty confused for most of the time. I'm not super familiar with the history of the English royalty, especially pre-Henry VIII. My teacher explained it in class a little bit, but I often got lost among the large cast of characters.

Also--and I'm not proud of this--I often wondered, "What's the point of this?" The play was interesting enough, and had some truly fantastic speeches, but it's the first Shakespeare play I've ever read where I finished reading it and didn't feel particularly "wowed." After discussing the play in class, I think a lot of the reason I didn't really relate to this play was that a lot of "The Point" had to do with English patriotism and monarchy. As an American who is somewhat critical of monarchy (like most Americans, I think), I just wasn't as drawn in by Henry's greatness and the excitement of conquering another country. I was sort of ho-hum about the whole thing. Even when I read the St. Crispin's speech (and again, I'm not proud of this), I kind of thought to myself, "But what about the people who die?"

Yep. I'm a product of my time. I'll freely admit it. (And the fact that I'm a woman might have a little something to do with my inability to relate to the "band of brothers.")

The play was good, and I enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong. And there was plenty to think about, and some very interesting themes. And some gorgeous speeches. It just wasn't my favorite Shakespeare play.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Truth About Food by Jill Fullerton-Smith

This is going to be sort of a mini-review because I don't have a lot to say about this book, but I enjoyed it.

I liked this book for its accessibility. It explained a lot of the important science jargon in the food industry and nutritional studies. It was fun to read about the popular myths and whether or not they're true. The book also discussed some of the ways you can boost levels of important nutrients like omega-3s through the things you eat. It had a good, practical approach to actually help people figure out the best diet for them based on modern nutrition research.

The book was based on a show in which they did mini studies on certain research, so they included accounts of the small studies in the book; however, I think these studies were probably more suited to a TV show than a book. Most of the studies involved so few people that the results could not possibly be conclusive. I preferred to read about the real, published studies that actually made a difference.

However, this was still a good, fun book to read about food and nutrition.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Is it okay to be a snob?

I was on Facebook the other day and saw a couple of my friends commenting on a video featuring a lovely song that was arranged beautifully. My friends were commenting about how they disliked one of the singer's voices. I listened to the song and was annoyed at how snobbish they were being. I actually wrote a comment that said, "Have you guys ever thought about all the great things you're missing by being snobs?"

Thankfully, I took a moment before I published the (quite rude) comment to think about the hypocrisy of it.

I may not be a music snob, but I'm certainly a snob about other things. Especially when it comes to literature. I'm not super well-read by any means, but as an English major and a classics lover, I've started to let my love for (what I consider to be) the best literature drift over to snobbery about the average books.

So I started thinking: Is it a bad thing to be a literary snob? (I kind of think it is.) Are there levels of snobbery, and can I just be sort of a low-level snob? (Enter justification.) And perhaps most importantly: Am I missing out on great literature by being too much of a snob?

Part of me says no. After all, there are way too many good books in the world for me to ever read them all, so as long as I'm reading good books as often as I can (whether they're classics or not), then even if I am missing a lot of other good books, it's inevitable anyway. Right?

Richard III by William Shakespeare

I saw this play on the stage once, and that performance has never left my mind. It was performed on a completely empty stage, no sets whatsoever, which was surrounded on all four sides by the audience. It was absolutely amazing how the actors pulled it off, making every person in the room (well, me, at least) feel like Richard was talking DIRECTLY TO THEM.

We watched bits of a couple different film versions in my class, but even though they seemed to be masterfully done, there's just nothing that could compare to the King Richard I remember, staggering around on an empty stage, unfolding his horrible plots.

I really loved this play back then, and I still love it now, but one of the things I didn't get about it reading it this time around was all the women. They all hate Richard because they know what he did...or do they? I mean, how do they know? Do they just assume it was him because he's ugly? It's kind of hard to get mad at them when he really did do all those things, though. And then they end up conforming to his wishes, anyway, despite all their professed hatred. Why do they do this? Are they afraid of what he'll do? They don't seem very afraid when they yell at him and spit on him.

I kind of scared myself with how sympathetic I was to Richard as I read the play. I actually wanted him to win a little bit. I was actually sad when his friends didn't show up to help him fight. I almost wanted him to have a happily-ever-after...even though I knew it wasn't possible.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Lost City: Personal Essays by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Well, this book certainly took me long enough to finish. It wasn't boring, dense, or difficult; it just needed to be taken slowly, for me at least.

This book offered a nicely wide range of varieties of essays from dear Fitzgerald. Some were hilarious, some were a little more musing, but all of them gave the sense that Fitzgerald didn't take himself too seriously. That's really a great quality in a writer, in my opinion. So many of the great writers seemed to believe that, since they had great success, they now know All There Is To Know About Writing And Life. Fitzgerald definitely didn't come across that way; he made fun of himself in several essays. "How to Live on $36,000 a Year" was a funny one.

There were a few essays that I considered snooze-worthy, but in most cases it was just because I knew very little about the subject of the essay ("Princeton" is a prime example). There were a few interesting essays about his time period and his generation, which was also what Fitzgerald was so great at portraying in his fiction, but the ones that I loved the most were about himself.

Fitzgerald has such a great sarcasm, which is a quality I always love in a writer. I wish I could own this book, so that I could read an essay here and there, rather than trying to read through it like a novel (it was definitely a similar experience to what I had with his On Writing). But alas, it's a library book and I didn't have much other choice.

One little detail I loved about the book was that it had pictures of the original typewritten manuscripts, complete with Fitzgerald's handwritten edits, in the back of the book. I love how ruthless he was with his own writing, cutting out whole paragraphs, making edits to at least every other sentence. It's definitely something I'm still learning with my own writing.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

In the past, this play has not been my favorite Shakespeare. In fact, barring Titus Andronicus, it may very well have been my least favorite Shakespeare play.

But this time, I was enthralled from the beginning. It's been a few years since I'd read it, so I didn't remember all the details of Portia's caskets and, as my professor put it, the "marriage lottery." It was so much fun to read. Portia's conversations with Nerissa were delightful. And I thoroughly enjoyed the development of Shylock's character and his relationship to Antonio. Not only did I love trying to figure out if Shylock was a villain, I enjoyed trying to dissect Antonio as well. Is he really as good as everyone else makes him out to be?

And then there was Shylock's daughter, Jessica. Why did she run off with Lorenzo? Was it right of her to steal from her father? Does Shylock care more about the loss of his daughter, or his ducats? Or is it less of an "either/or" situation than the other characters perceive it to be.

Of course, this was all delightfully fascinating. And then we come to the court scene.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Has the first half of the year been worth it?!

I've been reviewing the books I've read so far this year recently, and I saw this meme over at She Is Too Fond of Books (meme was created elsewhere, but I was unable to find the specific meme) and I thought I'd give it a shot, just for fun. 

Number of Books Read: 25 (seems like hardly any, but it's right on track with my goal to read 50 books this year, so I'm going to try to stop comparing myself to all the other incredible bloggers and consider myself accomplished.) 

Number of Books Bought: I've bought 8 of my own free will, plus others that I was compelled to buy for my classes that I don't care to add up at this moment. :)