Friday, October 14, 2016

Book Brag

(Posted here because I'm not sure who because infrequent postings making this semi-private.)

In the past 14 months or so, I've read:

  • Moby Dick
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • The Odyssey
  • Chaucer's Tales
  • Don Quixote
  • Tom Jones
  • All of Shakespeare's plays
  • now 1/4 of the way through War and Peace
This is easily the highest quality per average book that I've had in my life and I don't know that I'll ever approach it again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Quotes from Shakespeare

This weekend, I was working with my daughter on some passages from Shakespeare.  (I wrote about this project many months ago.  The project got side-tracked but we decided to start over with the school year.)  The passage she was memorizing is that great one where Puck ends with "Lord, what fools these mortals be!".
I told her it was one of my favorites and that I'd used it for a little project of mine.  Back in April, in time for Shakespeare's birthday/death day anniversary, I prepared a quote from each play.  The idea was to hang them on trees in a park as an homage to 'As You Like It'.  It didn't happen then, because I couldn't find the right place, but I still have hopes for it.
Each quote has its own page.  I showed them too her and she leafed through each one, trying to read them cold.  If her reading didn't make sense, I'd read it again.  As she went through, she'd give little commentaries on how she liked this one and that one.
I couldn't help thinking, "These are hand picked quotes from Shakespeare of all people.  Of course you're going to like them!"

Friday, September 2, 2016

Moving Forward

(This is kind of a 'state of the blog' type post.)

I've finally started my college classes.  Yes, this is twenty some years later than it should have been, but it's happening.  My goal is to get a degree before any of my children do so it has to start happening.  Given that I've had time to read some a couple of dozen pieces from the Great Books and all of Shakespeare's plays, I should have time to study for class right now.
The thing is, I don't know exactly what the demands on my time will be like.  Right now I'm focusing on the school work and setting aside other projects.  Whether that will be true a month from now, I really don't know. 
These past two weeks have been the first time all year that I wasn't actively reading something from the Great Books.  I've missed them.  So I'm sure I'll be back to some extent but I don't know how much or when.  In other words, posting is probably going to get light around here.  Not non-existent.  I'm not closing down.  But lighter and less frequent.
I still have a few pieces that I've read but not written about and I'll try and get those blogged out in the next week or so.  Or I may write about things from class.  (I'm taking an Intro to Philosophy class and I'm sure I'll want to write about that.)
So...not goodbye, but, less often.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Books Read in August

My actual book reading was fairly limited in August.  I finished up Fielding's wonderful 'Tom Jones' and I'll write about that sometime soon.  Since then, I've wandered a bit through short stories and other things.  The biggest concentrated reading that I've done has been non-Shakespearean plays.  I've got an old text book called 'Masters of Modern Drama' and I've been reading through it.  In this past month, I've read several plays that are new to me:

  • Ibsen's 'Peer Gynt' - Loved this.  Peer Gynt is a larger than life story-teller/rogue from a small town in Norway.  He gets in serious trouble, is nearly married to a troll princess and then flees to the larger world.  Near the end of his life, he works hard to cheat death and goes through a journey of self-discovery.  Great stuff.
  • Ibesen's 'Ghosts' - A very realistic play about how societal rules require people to sin in the name of good and do good things in violation of law.  This is much more like the Ibsen that I've read in the past.  Disturbing and thought provoking.
  • Strindberg's 'Miss Julie' - Another play about societal bonds and the havoc they can wreak.  I thought it was only ok, but I can see how a good performance of this could be devastating.
  • Strindberg's 'The Ghost Sonata' - A dreamlike play, again with the hint of death and a strong sense of people having far too much control over others. 
  • Maeterlinck's 'The Intruder' - This is a short, atmospheric play that could be terrifying.  It all takes place in one room as a family gathers with a blind grandfather.  They all sense...something...come into the house.  They fear for death.  Shivers!
  • von Hofmannshtal's 'Death and the Fool' - Another short play about death, but this one all in verse.  I'll have to take another run at this when I'm in the right place, but as it is, I think I rushed through and missed out.
  • Synge's 'Playboy of the Western World' - An interesting Irish drama about how glamour and infamy can change people.  Apparently it caused riots when it first appeared on stage.
  • Yeat's 'At the Hawk Well' - A small, very arty play by William Butler Yeats, better known as a poet.  This is the type of play that people think of when they think of artists making art only for artists.
  • Cocteau's 'Orpheus' - Another arty play, but I loved this one.  A retelling of Orpheus with some modern twists and some stage trickery.  Would love to see it on the stage.
This is a fine text book and I'll probably keep working through it over time. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Discourse on Political Economy - Rousseau

Rousseau's 'Discourse on Political Economy' was published in 1755.  It's one of the body of important works that appeared in the 17th and 18th century as various thinkers in England and France were trying to figure out what good governance was.  This means that a) it was important and influential for the people who were trying to figure out what a post-monarchal government would look like and b) it has little impact today because we've already internalized many of its arguments.
It's not a long work; less than 20 pages in the actual Great Books volume.  The reading style is simple and accessible.  I'd recommend it as interesting, but its not vital in the way that some other works are. 
One interesting element of it, is that it is the earliest work I've read with some of the mainstream arguments that are found in todays political left.
It is therefore one of the most important functions of government to prevent extreme inequality of fortunes; not by taking away wealth from its possessors, but by depriving all men of means to accumulate it; not by building hospitals for the poor, but by securing the citizens from becoming poor.

This statement would be at home in many modern political campaigns.  Of course, the tricky part is remembering that Rousseau was writing at a period of time when literal classes of people existed, the wealthiest with special rights when it came to land and wealth.  The modern situation is somewhat different.  The overall idea that one of the prime functions of government is to keep the poor from poverty is alive and well though.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Don Quixote (Part 2) - Cervantes

The first part of 'Don Quixote' ends with the poor deluded knight being taken back to his village to recover from his adventures.  The second part starts with a visiting scholar talking to Quixote and Sancho Panza about the book that was published about them.  The two put their heads together and marvel that any author could possibly know about their adventures in such detail.  Quixote concludes that this was the work of a sorcerer and Sancho has no choice but to go along with him.
The two set out again but big changes have happened.  1) Everyone knows about them and 2) both of them are fully aware that they are creating a legend.  It is as if they have become conscious characters in a book.  This creates an enormous feeling of meta-fiction.  The reader is reading about a book that knows it is a book.
Again, they have crazy adventures but now another level has been added.  Don Quixote meets another knight who claims to have beaten the famous Don Quixote in battle.  (It turns out that this other knight has an ulterior motive for baiting him into a fight.)  He meets people who tell him about Don Quixote.  In the first book he was creating his own legend.  Now it is growing on its own and he must live up to it.
This book also brings about a blossoming of Sancho Panza.  He speaks in aphorisms.  In fact, he becomes famous for speaking in aphorisms.  At one point he is appointed governor of a town.  Sancho is unaware that the whole thing is a gag being put upon him, but he gamely tries his best. 
I laughed time and time again.  I marveled that Cervantes could keep coming up with new ideas to get his two heroes into trouble and back out again.  I loved it.