Play Recommendations

As the end of the year draws nearer and people are scrambling to finish their 2017 Goodreads challenges, I thought I’d offer my biggest tip for boosting my reading count when I’m behind: reading plays.  I love theatre, and while the experience of seeing shows live can be incomparable, not everyone has the resources and opportunities to do it regularly.  I find that reading play scripts is actually a pretty underrated way to engage with the material – it can be just as stimulating to watch these scenes unfold in your head just like you’re reading a novel.  And, a huge bonus – they’re short!  I usually read play scripts in one sitting.  So if you’re behind in your reading challenge and you need some ideas, look no further!

51-fmbtiw9l-_sx327_bo1204203200_If you’re interesting in the classics and Greek tragedies, I’d recommend: Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, which is one of my all-time favorites – even if you think you know this story, the tension and heightened tragedy in Sophocles’ play will catch you off guard – or Antigone by Sophocles, The Bacchae by Euripides, Medea by Euripides, or The Oresteia by Aeschylus.  Full list of Greek theatre that I’ve read can be found here.  I’m particularly fond of the translations by Anne Carson (especially if you’re looking for something a bit more modern and experimental) and Robert Fagles, but there are plenty of phenomenal translators out there.

847168If you’re interested in early modern to modern classics, I’d recommend: King Lear, Macbeth, and/or Hamlet by Shakespeare – I’m not a huge Shakespeare aficionado, but these are some of my favorites that I’ve read.  Fast forward a couple of centuries –  A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is a fascinating proto-feminist reflection on a woman’s role in society and in her own home.  The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is an absolute riot about mistaken identities in British high society.  Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose is a fascinating meditation on the U.S. judicial system.  Vieux Carré and The Eccentricities of a Nightingale are brilliant plays by Tennessee Williams that bring the Deep South to life.  A View from the Bridge and The Crucible by Arthur Miller deal with themes of identity and power – one takes place in 20th century Brooklyn and the other around the Salem Witch Trials.  Translations by Brian Friel is an extremely underrated Irish play about language, classics, and English colonization.

12903397If you’re interested in contemporary plays, I’d recommend: Anything by Martin McDonagh (playwright/director responsible for the films In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) if you like really twisted black humor, namely, The Pillowman, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.  For a reflection on gender and sexuality, try: Angels in America by Tony Kushner, Venus in Fur by David Ives, or Body Awareness by Annie Baker.  For a thrilling one-man show about the Trojan war, try An Iliad by Lisa Peterson & Denis O’Hare.  For a riveting romance-drama with a significant age gap between the protagonists, try Skylight by David Hare.

peter_and_aliceOr, if you don’t trust my opinions, try some of these that I haven’t read yet but which have come highly recommended to me: Peter and Alice or Red by John Logan, Posh by Laura Wade (which was the basis of the film adaptation The Riot Club), Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, The Good Person of Szechwan by Bertolt Brecht, Faith Healer by Brian Friel, Faust: First Part by Goethe, In the Red and Brown Water by Tarell Alvin McCraney (who cowrote the screenplay for Moonlight), The Last Wife by Kate Hennig, Anatomy of a Suicide by Alice Birch, Trifles by Susan Glaspell, Sweat by Lynn Nottage, The Flick by Annie Baker, Indecent by Paula Vogel, Equus by Peter Scaffer, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.

Good luck with your reading challenges, friends!  Also – what’s everyone’s favorite play?  Comment and let me know!

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book review: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

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THE LESSER BOHEMIANS by Eimear McBride
★★★☆☆
Hogarth Press, 2017

 

So, even though I had The Lesser Bohemians on my ‘currently reading’ shelf for over three months, I actually read the bulk of it in the last two days. I think I read the first 75 pages or something and then found myself unable to read this concurrently with War and Peace, so it got put aside for a few months. But even so, this is the longest it’s taken me to read a book all year – and it’s only 310 pages. So, why the delay?

Down down I down to the last flakes in. Dreaming for hours I think in my dream. Over over. Day white tongue teeth. Quickness and slowness. Stilts pander to streets and their up down their. I don’t know what I’ve yet. Wander where no notion wanders in amongst the dust of. Devil may Slip. Then wake up.

Because the whole thing is written like this. I won’t lie – this book is challenging and draining.

But interestingly, the style of prose isn’t what ultimately hurt this for me. Once I got into the rhythm of it, it became easier (reading a few lines out loud every now and then helped), and I sort of vacillated between thinking it was pretentious gibberish, and thinking this Joycean stream of consciousness was actually a very profound and striking means of storytelling. I don’t know, I still haven’t made up my mind.

But my main problem with this book is the story itself, which is basically two highly melodramatic people having a lot of sex. 18-year-old Eilis meets 39-year-old Stephen, and we chronicle their dysfunctional liaison with a heightened pathos verging on absurdity. On the one hand, I sort of admire how Eimear McBride was able to make the stakes of this story feel so high when all that was really at stake was an unhealthy train wreck of a relationship; on the other hand, it got to be somewhat tedious. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t wholly captivated by this affair from time to time, against my better judgement.

What frustrates me about this novel is that even though it’s told from Eilis’ point of view, I think Stephen’s story is the one that McBride really wanted to tell. His backstory was unexpected harrowing, more twisted and disturbing than I had possibly imaged. But the more he tells his story, the more Eilis fades. Her whole life and existence becomes about Stephen, and the novel that starts as Eilis’s sexual bildungsroman ultimately casts Eilis in a rather inconsequential role. I was left feeling dissatisfied with her character’s journey, which is frustrating when essentially all your novel has to offer in the first place is characterization.

I didn’t hate it, though, even though I wanted to, for the most part. There was something undeniably stimulating and compelling about this book. I’m tentatively intrigued by McBride’s style and I’m curious about her debut, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing. But I would not recommend reading this author lightly – I’d only suggest picking up The Lesser Bohemians if you’re up for a challenge and a bit of weirdness, and more than a fair share of sex scenes.

Thanks to Blogging for Books, Hogarth Press, and Eimear McBride for the copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

top 5 wednesday: Bookish Things I’m a Grinch About

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

December 6th – Bookish Things You’re a Grinch About: Since being a grinch is a funny thing, try not to make this serious topics that make you angry (like lack of diversity or abusive relationships in fiction, etc) as this is supposed to be more of a petty bookish things you hate. This can be stuff about covers, dumb tropes, etc. Have fun with it.

Ok, I’ve gotta admit it, I love this topic.  I am nothing if not petty.

1. Quirky names in contemporary fiction.  Like when your character’s called Tulip or Beansprout or some nonsense it’s just like… what’s wrong with Sarah???  What annoys me about this that a lot of the time I feel like quirky names are used for the sole purpose of trying to make a book stand out (both in YA and adult contemporary fiction… obviously names in SFF adhere to different rules).  But if your book doesn’t have anything going for it other than your main character being named Cinnamon Stick for no discernible reason, maybe reevaluate your storytelling priorities.

2. The ‘you two are SO CLEARLY IN LOVE why aren’t you together??’ trope.  I recently ranted about this on twitter, so apologies if you follow me on there, but basically what I’m talking about: when two characters have a ~will they/won’t they~ relationship and some unbiased third party has to comment on their off the charts chemistry.  My problem is when this trope is used in lieu of actual chemistry between the characters, it’s just lazy writing, like in the most recent series of Game of Thrones when Tyrion had to comment on the supposedly insane chemistry between Jon and Dany on like twelve different occasions.  Maybe instead of telling your readers or viewers that your characters have chemistry, show it.  (Since I just used an example in tv, one literary offender I can think of is The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  I loved that book, but I was quickly losing my patience with how often the American character kept commenting on how Sean and Puck were clearly in love with each other.)

3. Twists that exist only for shock value.  What’s so tricky about writing in the mystery/thriller genre is that you want your twists and reveals to shock the reader, but sometimes writers prioritize that over their twists actually making sense in the context of the narrative that they’ve created.  An example offender: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen.  Chances are you’re not going to guess that twist, but only because it was so out of left field.  I’ll take predictable reveals over shock value reveals any day, but the ideal is obviously finding a way to balance these two – by shocking your reader, but having them say ‘of course, why didn’t I think of that???’  No one does this better than Agatha Christie – I think a lot of contemporary thriller writers should turn to her example.

4. Mysteries/thrillers with ‘Girl’ in the title.  (First I just want to acknowledge that I realize authors – especially debut authors – do not always have the final say in their book’s title.  I realize this is largely a marketing trend.  That does not make it any less irritating.)  Okay, so, my annoyance with this trend is twofold: (1) How the fuck are we supposed to keep all these ‘Girl’ books straight – Gone Girl, Pretty Girls, The Good Girl, Cemetery Girl, Final Girls, The Girl BeforeAll the Missing Girls – what even are all of these??????  (2) It’s a trend that infantalizes women, which is especially disturbing when you consider that so many of these books are about rape and murder.  Let’s take one of the more popular examples – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, translates to ‘Men Who Hate Women,’ which really gets to the heart of what that book is about.  But instead, when it was translated and published in English, we get The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which makes Lisbeth Salander sound like some quirky alternative protagonist, not an abuse survivor in a novel which deals with some seriously dark and twisted themes.  But it’s gotten to the point where we see ‘Girl’ in a title and we almost instinctively know it’s going to be a thriller about rape, abuse, violence, murder – except these books are often dressed up with an alluring cover which includes an image of a sexy woman.  Which is so unbelievably twisted.  Can we please stop this.

5. Sex scenes written as awkwardly as possible for no other reason than to be deliberately provocative.  I feel like there’s a certain type of literary fiction that attempts to rebel against sex being portrayed as this ~magical~ event, but they take it so far as to try to shock the reader into thinking ‘isn’t this profound?’ when really, no???  It is not profound????  Describing a guy’s stomach as resembling crème brulée is not profound???  A guy comparing himself to an orangutan during a threesome is not profound???  (I’m looking at you guys – Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff and White Fur by Jardine Libaire.)  But also, if you’re not already familiar with it and you need a laugh, check out the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

What are some bookish tropes and trends that irrationally annoy you??  Comment and let me know!

Greek and Roman Mythology – Literary Masterlist

So, it’s no secret that I love Greek and Roman mythology.  I feel like I mention it about twice a week.  So I thought it would be fun to give you guys some mythology recommendations!  This initially started as just a list of books I’ve read and enjoyed, but then I felt weird excluding some notable ones that I’ve read and did not enjoy, and then I felt weird excluding some notable ones that I haven’t read at all, so basically this turned into a masterlist of any and all Greek and Roman mythology books that are on my radar.

A few notes before we continue!

This is decidedly NOT a comprehensive list.  I am not claiming to be citing every book that has ever been written about Greece.  That said, if you feel like there are any major ones I’ve left off the list, feel free to let me know!

Books which I have read include my star rating and a link to my review where applicable.  This list will be updated with each one I read.

For Greek plays, I am ONLY including ones that I have already read.  There are just too many to endeavor to list them all, and it’s tricky to nail down which the ‘main ones’ are.  Again, this list will be updated with the more I read.

For retellings, I am focusing on ADULT FICTION.  So, there will be no Rick Riordan and no YA romances on this list.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with these books, but if you google ‘Greek mythology retellings’ you will find Rick Riordan on every single list.  I’m hoping to focus on some more obscure ones that often get overlooked.

So, here we go, the list:

The Classics

  • Aesop: Aesop’s Fables
  • Apollodorus: The Library of Greek Mythology
  • Apollonius of Rhodes: The Argonautica
  • Aristotle: Poetics ★★★★☆
  • Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics
  • Herodotus: The Histories
  • Homer: The Iliad ★★★★★
  • Homer: The Odyssey ★★★☆☆
  • Hesiod: Theogony/Works and Days ★★★☆☆
  • Ovid: Heroides
  • Ovid: Metamorphoses ★★★★★
  • Plato: The Republic ★★★☆☆
  • Plutarch: On Sparta
  • Sappho: If Not, Winter (translated by Anne Carson)
  • Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War
  • Vergil: The Aeneid ★★★★☆
  • Xenophon: The Persian Expedition

The Classics – Greek Theatre

  • Aeschylus: The Oresteia ★★★★☆
    • Agamemnon ★★★★☆
    • Libation Bearers ★★★☆☆
    • Eumenides ★★★★☆
  • Euripides: Alcestis ★★★☆☆
  • Euripides: The Bacchae ★★★★☆
  • Euripides: Iphigenia at Aulis ★★★★☆
  • Euripides: Medea ★★★★★
  • Sophocles: Philoctetes ★★★☆☆
  • Sophocles: The Theban Plays ★★★★☆
    • Oedipus Rex ★★★★★
    • Oedipus at Colonus ★★★☆☆
    • Antigone ★★★★☆

Greek Mythology Overviews

  • Buxton, Richard: The Complete World of Greek Mythology
  • d’Aulaire, Ingri: D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths ★★★★★
  • Graves, Robert: The Greek Myths
  • Hamilton, Edith: Mythology
  • Various: xo Orpheus

Modern Retellings: adult fiction, literary fiction, poetry, plays

  • Anouilh, Jean: Antigone 
  • Albanese, Pauline: The Closed Doors (Hades and Persephone)
  • Atwood, Margaret: The Penelopiad (The Odyssey) ★★☆☆☆
  • Baricco, Alessandro: An Iliad 
  • Beutner, Katharine: Alcestis (Euripides’ Alcestis) ★★★★☆
  • Brennan, Marie: Daughter of Necessity (The Odyssey)
  • Carson, Anne: Autobiography of Red (Myth of Geryon and Heracles) ★★★★☆
  • Carson, Anne: Red Doc> (Myth of Geryon and Heracles)
  • Corona, Laurel: Penelope’s Daughter (The Odyssey)
  • Dillon, Patrick: Ithaca: A Novel of Homer’s Odyssey
  • Elyot, Amanda: The Memoirs of Helen of Troy (The Iliad)
  • George, Margaret: Helen of Troy (The Iliad)
  • Geras, Adele: Troy (The Iliad)
  • Leguin, Ursula K.: Lavinia (The Aeneid) ★★★☆☆
  • Lewis, C.S.: Till We Have Faces (Cupid and Psyche) ★★★★★
  • Logue, Christopher: War Music (The Iliad)
  • Malouf, David: Ransom (The Iliad) ★★★★☆
  • Mason, Zachary: The Lost Books of the Odyssey 
  • McCoullough, Colleen: The Song of Troy (The Iliad)
  • Merlis, Mark: An Arrow’s Flight (The Iliad; Sophocles’ Philoctetes) ★★★★★
  • Miller, Madeline: The Song of Achilles (The Iliad) ★★★★★
  • Peterson, Lisa & O’Hare, Denis: An Iliad (The Iliad) ★★★★★
  • Phillips, Marie: Gods Behaving Badly (general mythology)
  • Renault, Mary: The King Must Die (Theseus)
  • Shakespeare, William: Troilus and Cressida 
  • Smith, Ali: The Story of Antigone 
  • Tempest, Kate: Hold Your Own (Tiresias)
  • Toibin, Colm: House of Names (The Oresteia) ★★★☆☆
  • Vann, David: Bright Air Black (Euripides’ Medea) ★★★★★
  • Wolf, Christa: Cassandra 
  • Wolf, Christa: Medea

Historical Fiction About Ancient Greece & Real Life Classics Figures

  • Graves, Robert: Homer’s Daughter
  • Malouf, David: An Imaginary Life (Ovid) ★★★★☆
  • McCoullough, Colleen: The First Man in Rome
  • Renault, Mary: the Alexander the Great Trilogy
  • Renault, Mary: The Last of the Wine

Nonfiction

  • Alexander, Caroline: The War That Killed Achilles – currently reading/on hold
  • Burkert, Walter: Greek Religion
  • Hamilton, Edith: The Greek Way
  • Kagan, Donald: The Peloponnesian War
  • Wood, Michael: In Search of the Trojan War

Which of these books have you guys read and which ones do you want to read in the future?  And are there any other adult/literary mythology books that should be on my radar?  Comment and let me know!

book review: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

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TILL WE HAVE FACES by C.S. Lewis
★★★★★
originally published in 1956

 

“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

This book is something rare and extraordinary. Though ostensibly a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche (I’d recommend reading Lewis’s afterward before you begin if you’re not already familiar with the story, as he provides a succinct summary), it’s told from the point of view of one of Psyche’s sisters, Orual, a princess cursed with an ugly face. I think if I’d been informed before starting this book that so much of the focus would be on Orual rather than Psyche, I would have been disappointed – and that disappointment would have been very misguided indeed, because Orual captured my heart. This strong, flawed, broken young woman is honestly one of the most complex and haunting female protagonists I’ve come across.

I hadn’t read any C.S. Lewis except for the first three (I think) books in the Chronicles of Narnia series when I was younger, and, as evidenced by the fact that I only read the first three (I think), I was not a huge fan. Honestly, he was an author I never had much interest in, but after reading Till We Have Faces, I am distraught that more of his fiction doesn’t appeal to me (I’m not a big science fiction fan). I love his writing – the passage I quoted above is only one of many that I had to pause and reread because I found his prose so striking.

It’s hard to summarize this book, or even fully wrap my head around it, as it’s one of the more thematically complex things I think I’ve ever read. It’s a book that almost demands to be read more than once. That’s not to say that it’s dense to the point of incomprehensibility – I read it in two days, and doing so was an absolute joy. But Lewis provides a thoughtful meditation on beauty and ugliness (with a startling commentary on how a woman’s worth is wrongly determined by her appearance), as well as the symbiotic nature of love and hatred, before delving into even deeper philosophical and theological themes, examining the very nature of man’s relationship with God (or, in the case of mythology, the gods). It’s heavy stuff, but in a rewarding way. This book will stay with me. (Also, on a personal note, I’m not religious. I can’t comment on whether having a vested interest in Christianity is essential for reading any of C.S. Lewis’s other works, but I found that, despite the religious themes, this was really not the case here. I’d recommend this to absolutely everyone.)

Till We Have Faces achieves everything I like to see in a retelling – it fleshes out the stories of minor characters who only play bit parts in the original, it interrogates and expands on the original themes, and it captures the wondrous atmosphere that makes mythology so compelling. I’m in awe of this book.

book review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

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WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte
★★☆☆☆
originally published in 1847

 

I knew before I started Wuthering Heights that it tends to be one of those quintessential love-it-or-hate-it books, but I was fairly confident that I would love it. The complaints I’d seen leveled against it – dense prose, unlikable characters – are things I find myself often defending. As you can see, this did not go as expected.

The prose wasn’t just dense; it was clunky, awkward, and every sentence seemed to be crafted for the sheer purpose of deliberate obfuscation. Reading this book felt like walking through brambles that haven’t been trimmed, I’m not sure how else to describe it.

The characters weren’t just unlikable; they were loathsome, and (in my opinion) utterly one-dimensional. Heathcliff and Catherine are jealous, spiteful, and cruel, and… that’s it. Several hundred pages follow of them being jealous, spiteful, and cruel to one another. To clarify: my problem with this book isn’t that I didn’t find their relationship romantic – that’s the last thing I care about in a novel, really. I had been looking forward into digging into this iconic fictional relationship and finding myself fascinated and compelled by the dynamic. Suffice to say, I was neither fascinated nor compelled. I was bored.

My third problem with Wuthering Heights was the narration. It begins from the point of view of Lockwood, the most unutterably pointless character in the history of literature, and a few chapters in, Nelly begins to tell Lockwood the story of Heathcliff and Catherine. So you’ll have a direct quote from Heathcliff, which is being narrated by Nelly, which is then recorded for our supreme reading pleasure by Lockwood. And the thing is, there is nothing to distinguish Lockwood and Nelly’s narration. The narrative voices of a well-to-do gentleman and a housemaid should not be identical. It was also frustrating, the fact that everything was recounted secondhand. First person minor is probably my least favorite point of view of all time (I have similarly negative feelings about The Great Gatsby), so I am fully aware that this is mostly my own bias, but I don’t fully understand the point of crafting such a passionate and volatile tale only to keep your reader at arm’s length from it.

Sorry, Emily, I think I shall stick with Charlotte from now on.

wrap up: November 2017

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater ★★★★☆ + review
  • The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor ★★★★☆ + review
  • Philoctetes by Sophocles ★★★☆☆
  • An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis ★★★★★ + review
  • The Absolutist by John Boyne ★★★★★ + review
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin ★★★☆☆ + review
  • Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman ★★☆☆☆ + review
  • Crooked House by Agatha Christie ★★★★☆ + mini review
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – ★★☆☆☆ + review

* I haven’t technically finished Wuthering Heights yet, but I’m 99.99% sure I’m going to finish it by the end of the day, and if I include it in this post that means I have to make myself finish it, right???

EDIT: I did it!

(Also, if you think I just scrolled through Goodreads until I found a random pink cover of Wuthering Heights to fit the aesthetic of the rest of my November books, you would be 100% correct.)

Best: The Absolutist by John Boyne
Runner up: An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis
WorstWuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

NOVEMBER TOTAL: 9 books
YEARLY TOTAL SO FAR: 94 books (goal was 60)

The majority this month were 4 or 5 stars, so I can’t complain!

I’m currently reading Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee.  (Also The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride which I’ve been reading for like four months and which I desperately hope I will have finished by the end of December.)

I’m trying to not be so rigid with my TBR as I’m naturally a mood reader, but I have so many ARCs that need my attention this month: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, Circe by Madeline Miller, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell.  In addition I’m hoping to get around to a couple of these: A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee, Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, Medea by Christa Wolf.

What’s the best book you read in November?  Comment and let me know!

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