Friday, November 30, 2012

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J. K. Rowling

2012 Book 162: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: Harry Potter Read-along hosted by Lost Generation Reader.

In this fourth installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry is thrust against his will into the Triwizard Tournament - a competition for which he is his underaged and underqualified. Is someone trying to get him killed? Furthermore, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are experiencing the first pangs of teenaged angst. They all feel misunderstood and a bit angry at times. Will they be able to overcome their emotions in order to quash the rising power of Lord Voldemort? Well, at least they'll have a lot of adventure while they're trying. One of the highlights of this book is meeting the students of the two other large wizarding schools in Europe: The dark and broody students from Durmstrang and the too-formal sissies from Beauxbatons. (Ok, maybe they're not ALL sissies.) ;) This is my favorite book of the series because it has *swoon* Viktor Krum. It is also the first book in the series with "mature" content. It's longer, moodier, and more dangerous than the first three. And, it's the first book in the series to leave significant strings untied - leaving room for more plot development. I'm SO glad Rowling knew what to tie up and what to leave open though. She's managed to leave a reasonable opening without cliffhangers. I really appreciate that. Thank you Ms. Rowling!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

2012 Book 161: Pale Fire

Written by Vladimir Nabokov, Narrated by Marc Vietor

Reason for Reading: November was Russian Reading Month, hosted by Tuesday in Silhouette

In this complex piece of literature, we explore the psyche of Charles Kinbote, an eccentric and obsessive man who is writing the introduction and notes to a 999-line poem entitled Pale Fire by a recently deceased poet with whom Kinbote has become enamored. Nabokov's novel isn't written in novel-form, though. It has four major parts: Kinbote's introduction to Pale Fire, the poem itself, Kinbote's prolific footnotes, and his index. This doesn't really sound like an engrossing story, I know, but descriptions can be misleading. Kinbote's notes are hilarious, sad, and frightening. As the book proceeds, we readers become more aware of the depth of Kinbote's obsessions - we learn more about who he is (arguably, who he thinks he is) and, through the unreliable testimonies of Kinbote, we learn about the passions of the poet John Shade. This is the type of book that has so many layers, you'll never find the core...but you'll be fascinated and laughing in turns while you look. This was my first reading of the book, and I'd have to read it again to decide on my own interpretation. I was really impressed by the audiobook production...this isn't the type of story that lends itself well to audio, but they did an admirable job. There were two readers, one for Kinbote's thoughts and one for the poem of John Shade. Both readers did a fantastic job...especially Vietor with Kinbote. He put JUST the right emphasis on words so that I would catch the humor in the complex word-play. However, if I read it again, I'll probably do it using the written-word so I can flip back and forth. This book is definitely worth a read if you like unique stories and complex psyches.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Culture and Imperialism, by Edward W. Said

2012 Book 160: Culture and Imperialism

Written by Edward W. Said, Narrated by Peter Ganim

Reason for Reading: Got it on sale from Audible

Culture and Imperialism describes how the language used in literature can powerfully impact our stereotypes of other cultures. Using examples in classical literature (ranging from Jane Austen, to Joseph Conrad, to Albert Camus), Said shows us how imperialism was reinforced by the written word. Then, (using examples including V.S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie) he illuminates how today's societies - who are so focused on multi-culturalism - read the right books for the wrong reasons. I found this book intriguing. I listened to it on audiobook - Ganim's reading was smooth and engaging - but I'm now tempted to pick up a hard-copy of the book and use it as a reference in my perusal of literature. This book would be interesting to anyone interested in the culture of imperialism or in literary criticism of literature in the imperialist era.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Garden of the Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng

2012 Book 159: The Garden of the Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng

Reason for Reading: Short-listed for the 2012 Booker Prize

Having suffered through a Japanese slave-camp during WWII, Yun Ling Teoh, a young Chinese-descent lawyer in Malaysia, carries around a lot of anger against the Japanese. However, she'd made a promise to her deceased sister that she would build a Japanese garden, so she reluctantly visits Aritomo - the only Japanese gardener in Malaysia. Aritomo refuses to design a garden for Yun Ling, but he offers to take her on as his apprentice so that she may design one herself. Yun Ling learns to let go of her anger as her friendship with Aritomo grows. But Aritomo has his own secrets. 

How can I express what an amazing book this was? Sure, it had a couple of slowish spots (it WAS, after all, a book about gardening) but the story is magical. The historical and cultural backdrop is intriguing (I learned a lot while reading, but didn't feel like I was being "taught"). Because the book takes place in two different times (current day and shortly after WWII), the story unfolds gracefully - allowing the reader to learn the story of Aritomo and Yun Ling at just the right rate...but yet somehow the time also blends together giving an impression of continuity that is particular to Eastern philosophy. On top of that, the more I learned about the story, the more fascinated I was by the two characters. This book is definitely worth your time. 

Interpretive note with possible spoilers
One thing that struck me while I was reading this book is that I noticed an inconsistency in what the narrator (Yun Ling) was saying. At first, I wasn't sure whether the author had made a mistake or if he had purposely introduced inconsistencies to show that Yun Ling had either an unreliable memory or was hiding something. I finally came to the later conclusion (though the unreliable memory was possible too). I think it's fascinating that such inconsistencies added to the overall effect rather than subtracting from it. I applaud Tan Twan Eng for his careful writing of this book. :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Paradise Lost - Book I Lines 1 - 191

Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to arms.
Book 1, 44-49
Gustave Dore (Source)
Since I am having trouble interpreting Paradise Lost, I am painstakingly going through and interpreting it. I can then use these notes while I read it for deeper meaning later. :) To see other posts about Paradise Lost, go to my master post

Rachel's Notes on Lines 1 - 26 of Book I (Milton's invocation)

Psalm 125.4 - "Do good, O Lord, unto those that be good, and to them that are upright in their hearts." 

Milton is asking the Holy Spirit to guide him as he tells us about the disobedience of Adam and Eve. He invokes the Holy Spirit as the Heavenly Muse who inspired Moses on Sinai (lines 6-8) and then the spirit of God in the Temple on Mt. Zion (line 10). Milton believes that the Holy Spirit will help him soar above earlier poets, who invoked their muses from the oracle at Delphi (lines 11-16). He asks instruction from the Holy Spirit so that he may "justify the ways of God to men." 

Rachel's Notes on Lines 27 - 36 (What made Adam and Eve revolt?)

First, we will describe what caused Adam and Eve to fall from God's favor by breaking the only law that God asked them to obey (i.e. not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). It was the Serpent who first seduced Adam and Eve to revolt. The Serpent's guile was stirred up by envy and revenge, so he deceived Eve. 

Rachel's Notes on Lines 36 - 83 (Satan and his minions have fallen from Heaven)

Isaiah 14:12 - "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" 

It happened after Satan's pride had cast him and his rebel angels out of Heaven. Because Satan thought he was equal to his Lord God, he and his host of rebels had warred against Heaven in a vain attempt to place Satan above his peers. But God hurled Satan and his rebels from Heaven - headlong, like fiery meteors bound in unbreakable chains - to crash ruinously into Hell. [Much like the Titans thrown to the pits of Tartarus in Hesiod's Theogeny (664 - 735)] the celestial demons spent nine days and nights lying vanquished in the fiery gulfs of Hell. Satan's doom made him angrier, because he had not only lost the happiness of Heaven, but he now must endure eternal suffering instead. Pissed off, he looked around. Dismay and affliction, stubborn pride and steadfast hate were palpable in all he saw. Hell dismally stretched as far as his immortal eye could see. 

Hell was like a gigantic furnace with raging fires - but instead of giving off light, the flames emitted darkness visible. This palpable darkness illuminated sights of woe, regions of sorrow, and doleful shades. Hell was a place where peace and rest would never dwell. Hope would never come here, but instead came endless torture. The torment fed the flames, urging the fire on for eternity. Such was the place that Eternal Justice had prepared for the rebellious. Here, they would eternally remain in darkness, as far away from God and the light of Heaven as 3X the distance from Earth to the far reaches of the universe. [In other words, Hell was located in Chaos...beyond the universe. Milton's Hell was not in the center of the Earth, like in Dante's Inferno.] How unlike Hell was from Heaven, from whence they fell!

Satan saw his companions-in-arms overwhelmed by the tempestuous fires. Weltering in the tempestuous flames by his side, Satan saw Beelzebub - who was his peer in leading the host of fallen angels. Satan broke the horrible silence by saying: 

Rachel's Notes on Lines 84 - 126 (Satan tells Beelzebub that he's still pissed off and this war ain't over yet)

[Satan speaks with obscure syntax to show that his passion overpowers reason. I'm trying to ruthlessly clarify it for the sake of my notes, though.]:

"If you are he! But how you have fallen! How changed from him who was so shiny in Heaven! If you are he who joined with me in glorious we join in misery and ruin. Into what pit have we been thrown? How far have we fallen? God has proven himself much stronger than we. Who knew the strength of that mighty arm?! But despite what those powerful arms and His mighty rage can further inflict on us, I do not repent.

"My pride had been injured, so I fought God with my innumerable army of spirits who  preferred me as their leader. We fought a battle on the planes of Heaven and shook His throne. So what if we lost that battle? All is not lost! We have not lost our vengeful natures, our immortal hate, or our courage to never yield! What else is there to live for, besides the will to succeed? 

"He'll never get me to bow to him and deify his power! We had Him worried...He was afraid he would lose against my powerful army. Fate has given us immortal bodies, so our army will be just as strong as before. But now we know our Foe better! Now, we can wage a more successful war - an eternal war that is irreconcilable to our Foe...that Foe who now joyfully reigns as tyrant in Heaven."

Though he was in pain and wracked with deep despair, Satan boasted. Beelzebub answered:

Rachel's Notes Lines 127 - 156 (Beelzebub is concerned that they are now thralls of God)

"Oh powerful prince, you led the embattled angels to war; your deeds endangered Heaven's perpetual king, and made him defend his supremacy (whether that supremacy was upheld by strength or chance or fate...). I regret our army's defeat. We have lost our place in Heaven. The entire army has come as close to dying as our immortal bodies are capable. Our minds and spirits will return to us soon, but we will suffer for eternity in Hell. What if God (who I now believe is almighty, since He could not have overpowered our army otherwise) has left us our spirits and strength intact only so that we can better endure our sufferings? Or perhaps he will use us as his slaves? What good does it do us to have our strength if we are only to endure eternal punishment?"

Satan answered:

Rachel's Notes Lines 157 - 191

"Well, Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable, whether we're active or not. But be sure of this: Our acts will never be for good. Our sole delight will always be to do ill! We will always resist His wishes! If he wishes to bring good out of our evil acts, then we shall pervert His wishes and use good acts for evil. We will pervert His plan! 

"Do you see that God has called our vengeful pursuers back to the gates of Heaven?  The storm of sulfurous hail that He shot at us has abated. And the raging lightening and thunder has perhaps spent its wrath and will cease to bellow through the vast and bottomless deep. Let us not miss our chance if God's fury has been satiated. 

"Look at the dreary plains of Hell, illuminated by the darkness of Hellfire. Let's sail these fiery waves over there, and we can rest (if rest is possible). After we have gathered our strength, we'll discuss how we can offend our enemy, repair our losses, and overcome this dire calamity. We will either gain reinforcement from hope, or resolution from despair."  

The Nose, by Nikolai Gogol

Major Kovalev, a Caucus-made collegiate assessor (in other words, a minor official who has been elevated by his connections rather than his intelligence), awakens on March 25th to discover that his nose is missing. To his dismay, he later sees his nose masquarading around town in the guise of a state councilor (equivalent rank of general). Kovalev absurdly tries to put his nose in its place.

Nikolai Gogol's "The Nose" is a satirical short story written around 1835. It is one of Gogol's well-known Petersburg tales. Gogol is the father of Russian modernism and strongly influenced writers like Dostoevsky. Most literary critics consider Gogol to be a social satirist and protector of the little man; though Richard Pevear, in his introduction to The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol claimed: "Whatever semblance of social criticism or satire there may be in the Petersburg Tales is secondary and incidental." (1) He feels that  Gogol included elements of social satire in his stories, but the satire so quickly dissolves into the absurd that this fantastic element should be considered the primary point of Gogol's stories. While reading "The Nose" I was struck by the social satire, but I DO agree that, as quickly as it came, the satire faded and absurdity reigned.

My thoughts/summary (may contain middle-of-story spoilers)

Major Kovalev was a stupid, self-important, vain, name-dropping minor official, but as he desperately tried to regain his lost nose I couldn't help feeling sorry for him. Imagine the horror he felt when he awoke to find his nose missing. What would all his important friends think? Would he ever be able to flirt again? This blow was clearly below the belt. He rushed out into the world, impotently searching for his nose when lo! He saw the nose! It was so finely dressed that even Kovalev had trouble recognizing it. At first, he felt chagrin - he wasn't even sure how to address the clearly-high-ranking nose. But it was his nose, after all, and he mustered up the courage to politely suggest that the nose re-join his face. But the nose politely refused to understand Kovalev. Finally, he blurted out: "It seems you ought to know where you belong, and where do I find you?" The nose blithely answered: "Judging by your dress, there can't possibly have been close relations between us." (2)

I had to laugh at that quote. The nose, which had formerly been very intimate with Kovalev, but which is now an elevated rank, pretended that it couldn't possibly have ever known him. :) Remind you of anyone?

Kovalev then tried to put out a notification in the newspaper saying that his nose was masquerading as a high official, don't let it fool you...and don't let it leave town! But the newspaper office was much more interested in lost dogs and bicycles for sale than the heinous nose-theft. They didn't want the responsibility of such an advert, and so they simply denied that they could do anything about it and suggested another office Kovalev should try. (That reminds me of a time when I called up the customer service of [un-named corporation] and spent a couple hours transferring back and forth from office to office - often the the same office multiple times - to fix a problem that (as it turns out) was an easy fix on the internet.)

The police commissioner was also dramatically unhelpful. The indolent police commissioner had been about to take a nice long post-lunch nap when Kovalev came with his complaint. He should not be expected to start an investigation on a full stomach, the commissioner claimed. "Moreover, they don't tear noses off decent citizens' faces." (2) The police commissioner excused his laziness by blaming the victim for the crime, which, as far as I'm concerned, is crime in itself. A crime that still happens to this day. Whenever we hear "she was asking to be raped - the way she was dressed," the speaker is excusing his inability to do anything useful about a problem by blaming the victim. 

I adored this story. I got a good laugh while nodding in emphatic agreement with Gogol's still-relevant criticisms of society. But there are so many other ways of interpreting this work. In his introduction to The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, Richard Pevear says "Gogol was made uneasy by his works. They detached themselves from him and lived on their own, producing effects he had not forseen and that sometimes dismayed him." Although this statement was not in reference specifically to "The Nose," it is clear that Pevear (perhaps unconsciously) views the story as an allegory for Gogol's dismay at the unintentional social impact of his stories. 

(1) Gogol, Nikolai. The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Knopf  Doubleday Publishing Group. 2001. ISBN-13: 9780307803368.
(2) Dialog is taken (sometimes paraphrased) from Gogol, Nikolai. The Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, translated by Andrew MacAndrew. Penguin Group. 1960. ISBN 0451524039.

The Marshal's Promise, by Rhonda Gibson

Book 158: The Marshal's Promise, by Rhonda Gibson

Reason for reading: This is one of November's picks for the American Christian Fiction Writers Association online book club. Anyone is welcome to join. Discussions start on the 20th, and this book only takes a couple hours to read.

My Review
In this sweet little Christian historical romance put out by the Harlequin publishing company, Rebecca Ramsey has been forced by her evil stepmother to answer an advert for a mail-order bride. But upon arriving in New Mexico territories, she discovers that her husband-to-be has been killed. With nowhere to go, she decides to make her home in New Mexico. Luckily, the Marshal offers her a job as his housekeeper. But does the Marshal have an ulterior motive for his offer? Sparks fly as these two learn that communication works better than secrets. This was a very cute little book, and there were some really sweetly romantic moments in it. There were also some tartly romantic moments. ;) If you're looking for a light historical romance, this is a good choice; however, this book has quite a few anachronisms in it so it's not to be read by the seriously hard-core historical fiction readers. This book is meant to be fun and sweet, not cerebrally historic. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hamlet: Act I, Scene i

BBC's Dramatic Works of Shakespeare Collection
Image taken from Hyperion to a Satyr
Act I Scene i: 

Setting: Sentinels stand on the battlements of the castle


  • Barnardo, Marcellus, and Francisco of the King's guard. 
  • Horatio, an educated gentleman, skeptical of ghosts, friend of Hamlet


Twice recently, Barnardo and Marcellus have had their watch interrupted on the stroke of 1AM by an apparition in the form of the recently deceased King Hamlet. Fearing to speak to the ghost themselves, they had invited the skeptical scholar Horatio. Upon the tolling of the hour, the ghost appears, and Horatio calls out, charging it to speak. But the ghost stalks silently away. Our skeptical scholar (and therefore our audience) is now convinced that the ghost is not a fantasy. Aggrieved, Horatio suggests that the ghost is an ill omen. 

The three men then begin gossiping about an upcoming war, for which the ghost might be a portent. Thus, the audience is educated: Many years before, the late King Hamlet had slain in battle Fortinbras, the King of Norway. King Hamlet had confiscated some treasures and lands in that battle, which were given to young Hamlet upon his father's death. The son of the late King Fortinbras, also named Fortinbras, has decided (after brooding for 30 years) to avenge his father's death and seize the lands back from young Hamlet. He's been gathering a band of misfits to wage war on Denmark. (This band of misfits apparently morphs into a well-organized army by the end of the play...nice to have footnotes to point out all the inconsistencies!) 

Gossip-fest complete, the ghost reappears and Horatio calls out, commanding it to speak. The ghost is about to answer when the cock crows. The ghost starts, and fades away as on a dreadful summons. Horatio decides that perhaps the ghost didn't speak because it wants young Hamlet. The men resolve to tell Hamlet about the ghost.

My thoughts: Suspenseful first scene. I think it's fascinating the way Shakespeare has managed to introduce several very important points into the scene, without distracting from the ghost. We now know that Horatio is a skeptical scholar, that the ghost is likely the spirit of the dead king, and that Denmark is about to be attacked by the vengeful young King of Norway. All that information flowed so smoothly into the dialog that the audience wouldn't even realize they were being educated. I also like the suspense. What does the ghost want to say? We'll have to wait and see.

See all my posts about Hamlet on my Hamlet Master Post.

The Black Sheep's Redemption, by Lynette Eason

2012 Book 157: The Black Sheep's Redemption, by Lynette Eason

Reason for Reading: This is one of November's picks for the American Christian Fiction Writers Association online book club. Anyone is welcome to join. Discussions start on the 20th, and this book only takes a couple hours to read.

My Review
In this sweet little Christian romantic suspense from the Harlequin, Charles Fitzgerald has been accused of the murder of his nanny, and the only woman who is willing to replace the nanny is Demi Taylor, a young woman who recently suffered a head wound and can't remember who she is. Fitzgerald's family, who pretty much runs the town, is suspected of hiding evidence on the case. Will they be able to clear his name to everyone's satisfaction? And just who IS Demi, and why does she feel someone is stalking her?

This book is the penultimate book in a romantic suspense series about the Fitzgerald family (who apparently has a very suspenseful and romantically inclined few months during the murder investigation). Although I hadn't read any of the previous books in the series, this book had all of the information needed to understand what was going on. However, there are several loose ends in the book, leaving an opening for us to explore the romantic inclinations of Ryan Fitzgerald AND to discover *dum dum dum* the murderer. (At least I certainly HOPE we discover who the murderer is.) :) I really needed some fluffy reading at the moment that I picked this book up, and this certainly delivered. Light, quick, fun, romantic, and suspenseful. I'm glad I read it, and I'll probably pick up some of the others in the series.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The House of Wisdom, by Jim Al-Khalili

2012 Book 156: The House of Wisdom, by Jim Al-Khalili

Reason for Reading: Science, Religion, and History group read on LibraryThing. 

Many of us were taught that the origins of science were in Ancient Greece but that the Western World fell into the "Dark Ages" where science was lost and no progress was made. This traditional story concludes that the Western world rediscovered the Greek philosophies thus spurring on the Renaissance. A few months ago, I reviewed The Genesis of Science, by James Hannam, which was meant (partly) to dispel our notions of the Middle Ages as a time of darkness, a mire of progress. Hannam then describes how in the early years of the Renaissance, old scientific documents were rediscovered and translated. He only only briefly mentions the fact that those rediscoveries (and the ability to translate them) came from revitalized contact with the Arab world. The House of Wisdom fills that gap, by describing the ways in which the Arab world built upon the science of the Greeks, thus building the foundation for the scientific progress made during the Renaissance. I don't mean to say that Al-Khalili's book is only a gap-filler in the other book, but that the two books complement each other. The weaknesses in each are fortified by the strengths in the other. 

The House of Wisdom is an engrossing description of Ancient Arab history of science. Al-Khalili discusses the development of math, optics, medicine, chemistry, and philosophy by sketching descriptions of major scientific figures and their accomplishments. While Hannam's book tended to have a lot of gossipy digressions about the scholars, Al-Khalili tended to focus on facts that were more to the point. This makes Al-Khalili's book more informative, but less entertaining, than Hannam's book. For relief, All-Khalili inserts little passages about his own experiences in Iraq, which were helpful for lightening the mood. One thing I didn't like about Al-Khalili's book is that he is still stuck on the old-fashioned belief that the Western Middle Ages were dark and progress-free. And neither book covered the development of science in China or India. 

Overall, if you're interested in reading about Arabic science, I think this book is an excellent place to start. :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J. K. Rowling

2012 Book 155: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Written by J. K. Rowling, Narrated by Jim Dale

Reason for Reading: I read this for Lost Generation Reader's Harry Potter Readalong. On which I'm falling catastrophically behind. But at least I'll get some of them read before the end of the readalong.

My Review *****
Harry Potter thinks he's in big trouble when he accidentally blows up his aunt, but luckily for him the powers-that-be are distracted by the shocking escape of Sirius Black from the wizard's prison Azkaban. Black is purported to be "You-Know-Who's biggest supporter." (Though I'm not certain what made everyone decide that Black was the most dedicated supporter, rather than the one who'd made the biggest bang? But let's not question the Rowling.) With the dementors out in force - ready to snatch Black up the moment he rears his unkempt head, Harry, Ron, and Hermione don't have much chance to misbehave. Will they catch Black before Black kills again? I loved this book more this time around than I did the first time. (Mainly because I have a fondness for the entire story now, whereas when I read it, I was just continuing a series that I'd started.) I DID notice, however, a few snafus that made me chuckle. Just little inconsistencies here and there. I didn't notice anything like that in the first two books. Usually I ignore little inconsistencies in YA lit, but these surprised me because I'd always thought Rowling had done an amazing job tying up all the loose ends. I suppose inconsistencies are almost impossible to avoid this TIME around though. ;) I remember reading some comments a while back that said that Rowling's writing developed from a bit amateurish to more skilled as the series progressed. Now I see what they mean. I'll keep an eye out for loopholes in the future, now that I know she has them. :p I'm curious if she gets a lot better at avoiding them in the later books. Overall, though, excellent stuff. I'm enjoying Dale's narrations more and more now that I'm getting used to his style. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Shakespeare's Hamlet - Notes on Introduction by Harold Jenkins

I'm reading the Arden Shakespeare version of Hamlet, edited by Harold Jenkins. Harold Jenkins' Introduction had a LOT of information, and I highly recommend it to someone who's serious about reading this play. Jenkins started by discussing the date of original release. Apparently there is some controversy among scholars about when the play first came out. There's about 2-3 years wiggle room of uncertainty. Apparently, this is an important question since there is a play that was released around the same time called Antonio's Revenge. Either Hamlet or Antonio's Revenge was plagiarized. We're talking the plot, the circumstances, and some of the dialog--all copied. Jenkins comes to the conclusion from his three-paged discussion about dates that Hamlet was released first. Originally, it was generally accepted that Antonio's Revenge was released first and that it was used as "source material" for Hamlet. I wasn't entirely convinced by Jenkins' argument, and am not certain whether most scholars today agree with him or accept the original conclusions that Hamlet was the later play (though I suspect the former). After so much time has passed, and considering that plagiarism wasn't as big a deal in the 16th century as it is now, I hesitate to give Shakespeare all the credit simply because he's Shakespeare. However, Jenkins did provide one argument that I found convincing. Shakespeare was basing his play on a well-known Danish tale. He shouldn't have had any use for an unrelated secondary source like Antonio's Revenge. On the other hand, Marston would have been searching for ideas for a sequel to his earlier play, Antonio and Mellida, and would have had more need for source material.

Jenkins then spends a good deal of space discussing the publication of Hamlet and the differences between existing manuscripts. I skipped that section, but it certainly contained a good deal of information that a serious scholar would find interesting.

The sources of Shakespeare's Hamlet are then discussed. Apparently, it is generally accepted that the major source of Shakespeare's Hamlet was a contemporary play dubbed by today's scholars as Ur-Hamlet. This play was never printed, so we can't compare it to Shakespeare's work, but Shakespeare would certainly have been familiar with the play since it was put out by his own company. The story that we now call Hamlet was first published in Saxo's Historiae Danicae, written at the end of the twelfth century and published in 1514. The story was then retold by the Frenchman Belleforest--translations (or the original French version) were probably what the author of Ur-Hamlet used when writing his play. It is clear that Belleforest was the source material, rather than Saxo's original work, because that Belleforest introduced some dramatic elements to the story which were present in Hamlet. For instance, the adultery of Amleth's mother was Belleforest's idea. Although it is clear that Belleforest is the source of Hamlet, it is unclear whether Shakespeare read Belleforest himself, or simply inherited the allusions from Ur-Hamlet

There were, of course, elements in Hamlet that were not evident in Belleforest's work. For instance, the complexity of Hamlet's character was Shakespeare's doing. Also, the ghost of Hamlet's father is only hinted at in Belleforest. During the revenge scene in his tale, Belleforest made passing reference to the shade of Amleth's father--that it may now rest in peace. The leap between a metaphorical shade and a full-fledged haunting was made somewhere between Belleforest and Shakespeare. Jenkins' introduction contains a lot more information about the little differences between Belleforest and Shakespeare with some speculation about Ur-Hamlet, but I'll leave all of that unsummarized so you have a reason to read the Introduction yourself. ;)

Finally, the Introduction ends with a critical analysis of Hamlet. It has been so long since I've read Hamlet, that I feel I need to go back and read this critical analysis after re-reading the play. I'll post more detailed comments on it later. The only thing that really jumped out at me during this first perusal of Jenkins' critique is that he believes that Ophelia died a virgin. I'd always heard that Ophelia and Hamlet had had relations at some point before the action commenced. The difference between these two interpretations changes Ophelia's character immensely. I'll read very carefully this time and come to my own conclusions.

Another thing that struck me while I was reading the introduction (though it wasn't directly discussed by Jenkins) is that when I first read Hamlet as a teen, I never questioned the reason why people considered the relationship between Gertrude and Claudius to be incestuous. But now I wonder. Why is it incestuous to marry your brother's widow?

This subject also came up in Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. There was much discussion about Henry VIII's relationship with Catherine being incestuous because Catherine MIGHT have consummated her marriage to Henry's brother Prince Arthur. I don't recall which Bible passages were quoted in those discussions, but I remember thinking it odd that such a marriage would be considered incestuous. 

I wondered at what point did it become incestuous in Christian culture for a man to marry his brother's widow? If I recall correctly the Hebrew Bible says that thou shalt not have relations with the wife of your father, but thou must marry the widow of thy brother. Well. Maybe it was phrased differently...but I'm pretty sure that was the general idea. I don't recall anything in the New Testament saying that a man shouldn't marry his brother's widow, so where did this idea of incestuousness come from? 

I asked this question on my LibraryThing thread, and my father came up with this answer: 

Complex subject. First off, reference Leviticus 25:5

"If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.

The duty of a surviving brother to carry on his brother's family was very important--but the issue would be his late brother's child and not his own. Thus the story of Onan in Genesis 36. Onan went to Tamar, the late Er's wife. But he withdrew early and "cast his seed upon the ground." For that, Yahweh decreed capital punishment, so Onan died as well. But the brother did not strictly marry his sister-in-law. He just got her pregnant, and it was known as a Levirate marriage. Many readers considered Onan's crime as masturbation (aka Onanism) and considered masturbation a serious sin for centuries.

As to marriage to a mother-in-law, sister-in-law, etc., these people were considered part of a household, especially if they lived in the same manor. Marriages to such always had overtones of incest, but such overtones were easily overridden among the aristocracy. But then as now, there were strict conservatives, many who held places in the hierarchy who pronounced dire consequences for everyone who did not follow the conservatives' conscience. Especially if the conservative was opposed to the marriage for politiical or economic (his own economy) reasons. Monks and priests who vowed celibacy (whether they kept their vows or now) tended to look down their Pecksniffian noses at people who did not remain celibate. 
I also wonder (maybe there are some Shakespeare scholars reading this?)...if Shakespeare had strong feelings about the incestuous nature of marrying your brother's widow, does that imply that he questioned the legitimacy of his king, James I, who was grandson to Henry VIII's "incestuous" marriage to Catherine?

Things that make you go "hmmmm."

Edited to add that Alex (in comments below) has pointed out that James I was not the grandson of Henry VIII. That just shows you what I know.

Shakespeare's Hamlet: Master Post

I am reading Shakespeare's Hamlet. I've read this play twice before, but never as an adult. I imagine my understanding of the play will be VERY different this time around. In addition to reading the play, I'm going to watch some movies, read critiques, and try out a couple of re-tellings. Not all of this will happen in only one month's time, so I will be making several posts over the next year. I will keep updating this master post each time I do so that everyone can keep track of my posts. :)

Notes on Introduction by Harold Jenkins
Act I, Scene i
Act I, Scenes ii - v
Act II

The Social Conquest of Earth, by Edward O. Wilson

2012 Book 154: The Social Conquest of Earth

Written by Edward O. Wilson, Narrated by Jonathan Hogan

Reason for Reading: Group read in our LibraryThing "Science, Religion, History" group

In The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson expounds upon the theories that were set forth in his classic work Sociobiology. His main thesis is that group selection, not kin selection, drove evolution and helped us to develop societies. He compares the way human society developed to the way ant "society" developed (ants are his specialty). He suggests reasons why religion and xenophobia would have originally developed as protective characteristics of groups. This book covers a large swath of material...from ants to human prehistory, to history, to today. I think he did a pretty good job organizing the book considering what a wide topic he was covering. His theories were clear and for the most part convincing. I think Wilson is an atheist, but he did a pretty good job of stating his opinions in an agnostic sort of way to avoid insulting the faithful. The only statement that rather jarred me was when he suggested that there surely exist better ways to find spiritual fulfillment than total submission to God. This statement jarred me because it seemed he was saying that this religious process developed for a reason, but that reason is now obsolete. However, in an earlier chapter, he pointed out that homosexuality developed for a reason, so homophobia is not helpful to society. I wholeheartedly agree with him that homophobia is hateful and ignorant. But it is not particularly scientific to say homosexuality developed for a reason, therefore it's good...religion developed for a reason, but it's obsolete now. What are his reasons for deciding one is good and the other is obsolete? His reasons are emotional rather than scientific. But I'm just being nitpicky here. I think the book was well-written, interesting, and approachable by a non-scientific audience. I had no issues with Hogan's narration--he read the book well, but it wasn't anything worth raving about.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Around the World in 80 Books

I'm joining in a five-year project to read "around the world" in 80 books. This blogging project is hosted by Have Books, Will Travel. You can sign up here. Here are my (somewhat modified rules):

My rules for this challenge are:
  • I have five years to complete my journey. My start date is November 2012 and I will complete my journey in October 2017.
  • I generally read a variety of books (I THINK!) so this is more of a how many countries can I hit in five years? challenge, rather than a challenge to read precisely 80 books. I will list the books off by country. It is the setting of the book that I'm counting (rather than the nationality of the author), and if the book takes place in more than one country, I will choose the country in which most of the book is set.
  • For books set in the US, I will try to read one from all 50 states in the next 5 years.
United States
The Americas (not US)

Polar Regions

Outer Space

visited 12 states (24%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

visited 11 states (4.88%)
Create your own visited map of The World

The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis

2012 Book 153: The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis

Reason for Reading: Fifth Book (publication order) of the Chronicles of Narnia

Shasta grew up as practically a slave to his "father," until he meet a talking horse. Bree (the horse) has been kidnapped from Narnia, a foreign land that Shasta has never heard of. Bree is convinced that Shasta, too, has been taken from Narnia. They escape together, and have many adventures on the way to Narnia. This book takes place during the original reign of High King Peter and his brother and sisters. It was a delightful little book, and complements the Narnia series quite well. I DID have a good laugh at the rather xenophobic treatment of Archenland--most people from this land were portrayed as corrupt, degenerate, and evil. By the way they dressed and some of their habits, Lewis clearly meant for Archenland to be similar to the Orient. This snafu made me chuckle a little bit, since I took into consideration the age in which Lewis was writing...and that he was writing about a fantasy land. In the end, I enjoyed this book just as much as the other books in the series. It is fun, cute, and a delight to read.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Your vote DOES count

Especially if you live in Ohio. ;)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Salon - November 4, 2012

Well, another month has passed, and this one has been busy! I gave up on job prospects here in Ohio and decided to try the waters in Minnesota where my family (and many friends) live. I won't move until December, but I've already made one trip to move my stuff up there. I can't believe it costs less to make three trips in my car than it does to rent a truck!!! What's with that?

I also got lots of books read and participated in a few blog events. :)

Weekly Update


  • The first three books that I reviewed were for the R.eaders I.mbibing in P.eril VII event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. That was my first time participating in the RIP event, and I really enjoyed meeting all the new bloggers and seeing good spooky/scary books to read!
  • The last book reviewed was for the Harry Potter Read Along hosted by Lost Generation Reader. This event is still ongoing, but I'm beginning to fear that I won't make it through all the Harry Potter books in time! Oh well, I can continue them on my own. :)
  • I participated in my second Feature and Follow Friday, a weekly blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read. I found several new book blogging buddies there. I really like the you-follow-me I-follow-you rule. I think I'll generally try to return the favor to book bloggers who follow me on GFC from now on. It broadens my horizons and increases my own following. :)
  • I joined Random Reads hosted by i'm loving books. I've been feeling trapped within a highly structured reading curriculum for a while now. This way, I can introduce one random book a month into my reading schedule. Yay for structured randomness! :D My random book for November is Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome.
  • I joined Project Fairytale hosted by The Cheap Reader.  This event will take place either in February or March of next year. Each person chooses a different fairy tale, reads the original, reads a few retellings, and does a comparison. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? :) Sign-up ends on November 30th, so you can still join! (Vote for March! :p) My fairy tale is Donkey Skin. My introductory post is here

And now! Let me introduce the theme that I'm hosting in February 2012: Social Justice Theme Read

This is going to be an informal theme read where people can hop in at any time and   comment with a link to their blog posts about social justice (or social injustice). At the end, I'll have a wrap-up post including everyone's links. To see my potential reading list, you can read my introductory post. If you'd like to participate, you can sign up in advance at my intro post, or you can just jump in at any point as it suits you. If you sign up on my introductory post by February 7th, 2013 AND write one blog post / book review about social justice (or the lack thereof) you will be entered to win a $10 gift certificate from Amazon

Finally, my post popular blog post for this week was: Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff. I have no idea why this post is suddenly so popular. :)

October Wrap-up

Books Reviewed
  1. The Headless Cupid, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  2. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J. K. Rowling
  4. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor
  5. Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis
  6. Devil's Pass, by Sigmund Brouwer
  7. Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil
  8. Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow
  9. Pride and Prejudice (A Norton Critical Edition), by Jane Austen
  10. The Poisoner's Handbook, by Deborah Blum
  11. The Assassin's Code, by Jonathan Maberry
Additionally, I led a discussion of The Embittered Ruby, by Nicole O'Dell for the ACFW bookclub

Plans for November

Our theme in the 75ers group on LibraryThing is "New Novels November," so I will try to read a few books that were published in 2012. :) I'm also participating in a Russian Reading month over at Tuesday in Silhouette. I'll be reading Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov.

I'm participating in Let's Read Plays! hosted by Fanda at Fanda Classiclit and Dessy at Ngidam Buku. This is a year-long event in which we will read classic plays. This month, I'm reading Shakespeare's Hamlet.