Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reread: Beowulf

This was, I think, my third time reading Beowulf. The first two times I read it were both the year before I started this blog (when I was finishing up my first degree). I remember talking to a friend who said he absolutely hated reading it. But I really enjoyed it. Right off the bat I realized it was a viking story, which was a lot of fun. I watched Beowulf and Grendel that year, before rereading it a second time in preparation for the exam. And now I got to read it a third time for my "Translating the Middle Ages" class. I even lucked out: we're reading the Seamus Heany version, which is the version I have.
Going back to Beowulf was like going back to an old friend. Sure, I didn't remember the specifics, but I still remembered the just of the story. I also still remembered the ways in which the CGI Beowulf differs from the poem. (In case you're wondering, read the poem; it's better!)
Beowulf tells the hero's story, from his coming to help the Danes defeat Grendel to his downfall fifty years later saving his people from a dragon. It has a lot of battle and adventure in it. But more than that, it also gives you a glimpse of what life was like during the end of the 1st millenia AD. Now I know there weren't dragons and Grendels running around, but you can at least see some of what life was like in the halls of the vikings.
I don't want to say much more about it, other than to restate how much I like it. Sure, it isn't for everyone. But give it a try - you just might be entertained!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

School Book: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

When I first started reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, it reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon. The main characters in both books are rather similar: they are young boys who are both socially awkward. But from the first chapter, I knew that I would enjoy Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close a lot more than The Curious Incident. It was funnier, and overall a better story.
Extremely Loud is the story of Oskar Schell. His father is killed in the Twin Towers. While snooping in his dad's room afterwards, Oskar discovers a strange key hidden in a vase. He decides to embark on a quest to discover what the key opens, even if he has to open every lock in New York City!
At the same time, this is also the story of his family. His grandfather left his grandmother when she told him she was pregnant. Interspersed throughout Oskar's story are chapters written from both of his grandparents' perspectives trying to explain why things happened the way they did. These narratives were just as interesting as the main story.
While Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was rather different from what I normally like to read, I really enjoyed it. If you're looking for something different, then I recommend giving it a try!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

School Book: The Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables

Today I read Robert Henryson's The Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables, translated by Seamus Heaney. It was a really easy and quick read. I was really interested in the first part of the book, which was The Testament of Cresseid. Having studied Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida last year, I was interested in a different take on the material. And this was an extremely different take!
After abandoning Troilus, Cresseid was herself abandoned by Diomedes. She returns to her father's house and curses both Venus and Cupid for her plight. Cupid takes exception to this and asks the other gods to intervene on their behalf. And so the other gods curse Cresseid to become a leper. Cresseid passes the rest of her days in a leper house, but encounters Troilus one day (although neither recognizes the other). It is an extremely sad tale, especially at the end when they realize who each other was.
Included in this book are also seven Fables. The Fables were pretty entertaining to read. All in all, this was a quick but enjoyable read.

School Book: Falling Man

Don DeLillo's Falling Man is like nothing I've ever read before. I really enjoyed reading it, but I couldn't tell you why. It was an odd book in many ways. The descriptions were fantastic, but everything else was just really strange. It was often hard to tell what character was being talked about, or even talking; they were rarely mentioned by name. Even other characters wouldn't call each other by name (for example, the main characters, Keith and Lianne, called their son "the kid," which was odd, but at least you consistently knew who they were talking about). On top of that, the dialogue was extremely artificial, and very hard to follow.
The actual story is also a bit strange. Falling Man is the story of Keith, who survived the attack on the towers. After getting out just before they collapsed, he decided to head home to his estranged wife. Falling Man is the story of his family coming back together and then slowly coming apart again as time and distance from the towers increases.
Falling Man is not something I would normally read. It's also something I wouldn't normally like. With weird and generally crappy dialogue, I'm surprised I made it through it so quickly. But I honestly did enjoy reading it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

School Book: The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling

It's taken me a bit, but I finally finished the prose retelling of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. I have never read The Canterbury Tales in their entirety, so this was a great opportunity for me. (Previously I have read both the General Prologue and the Miller's tale twice).
But right off the bat, things seemed a bit off. The big problem is that Peter Ackroyd's version is a prose retelling; the original Canterbury Tales is a Middle English poem. Yes, it can be a bit hard to understand for us modern audiences, but a lot is lost in translation. Both the General Prologue and the Miller's Tale seemed quite cut and rather dry compared to the original; they were missing both the clever use of language and the multiple meanings inherent within the original. I was also kind of bothered by the use of swears throughout the prose retelling. They often seemed out of place, particularly in the Miller's tale.
But otherwise this was an enjoyable read. As long as you keep in mind that this is a retelling which is rather different from the original, Peter Ackroyd's version will keep you quite entertained!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

School Book: In the Shadow of No Towers

I was pretty busy today so I decided to read Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers. It's a board book/graphic novel, so I knew I could finish it in one night.
In the Shadow of No Towers was a pretty cool read. The first half of the book is made up of the actual comic strip. It deals with the author/illustrator's feelings in the wake of September 11th. The first few panels seemed a bit confusing, but once I got past that I enjoyed reading them.
The second half of the book was really cool though. It has several comic strips from New York at the beginning of the 20th Century reproduced. It was really interesting to learn about them. But more than that, Spiegelman based some of his panels from his strip from these; so while I was reading them, I was repeatedly struck with "aha" moments, realizing where he got the inspiration for some things from.
In the Shadow of No Towers is a quick read that I really enjoyed. Being so far removed from the actual events, it was informative to see how someone who witnessed the towers tumbling felt both during and after 9/11. I can't wait to talk about it in class this term!