Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Comedy of Errors/Some Sixteenth-Century Lit.

I haven't updated in a while, but I have been reading. Here's a quick overview of a few things.

I read/watched the Comedy of Errors. I watched a BBC version with Roger Daltry from the Who, which I thought was interesting. You don't think of rockers doing Shakespeare. And he played a funny character. Well most of the characters are funny, but his is the funniest. This is one of the plays that is definately better to watch than read. It gets irritating when you're watching it, but not nearly as much as when you just read it. At least when you're watching it you see the two sets of twins and so the confusion makes more sense (you know there are two sets of twins when reading too, but it's just not the same). But it bugs me that they don't realize what's going on considering that tho of the characters are looking for their long-lost twin brothers and you'd think they'd realize they'd found them when everyone started treating them like someone else. This is why most of the comedies bug me.

I've also been going through the trusty old Norton anthology and reading (skimming) some poetry. I never grew to like poetry much. Unless it's Shel Silverstein or Dr. Suess. Otherwise just give me prose. Even Shakespeare's poem Venus and Adonis was hard to get through and I like Shakespeare, even some of the sonnets. I did read the whole thing in that case though because I'm determined to read all of Shakespeare's works since I'm so close from having taken two Shakespeare courses.

I did enjoy reading Sir Thomas More's Utopia though. I didn't read the whole thing, just the excerpts in the Norton. It sparked a long conversation with my husband about if it's okay to support a utopian state if it's entered into willingly by all citizens and if it could ever work. I found it interesting that More does a make a point of saying all the citizens would have to believe in God or leave, because if you don't believe in God you have no incentive to be a good person or look out for others, so he did address that aspect. While we agreed with that, it seems odd to assume that just because someone believes in God that he will automatically want to serve the good of the community instead of himself. People are inherently sinful, and we just can't see such as society working period. More worked around people who definately believed in God, but sure didn't look out for the good of the people all the time (hello Henry VIII!) so I find it hard to imagine he really thought such a society would work. I understand his desire for a society like this though, especially considering his society at the time. There was a massive amount of difference between the pheasants and the royalty, and More was familiar with both worlds. Living in such a state and being so close to both worlds would make you want to imagine a better way, I just don't think socialism is the way to go. It was nice that it sparked such a great conversation with Ryan though!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Richard III

I finally finished Parts 2 and 3 of Shakespeare's Henry VI and watched Richard III. I watched the Lawrence Olivier version and for extra nerdiness I followed along in my Riverside Shakespeare, causing my husband to stand in awe of me when he got home that night and caught me. Well, he stood in amazement that I had hit a new nerdy low anyway. Or what he thought was a new nerdy low. I did this mulitple times for my undergrad Shakespeare course. Dr. Youmans was big on emphasizing that they are plays and should be watched, not just read, so we were required to watch 10 Shakespeare movies in addition to our reading assignments. It was great because you could check out the BBC versions of almost all of the plays from the library and they were word for word, so it made the reading a lot easier. We read 16 plays and all of the sonnets that semester, so that help was greatly appreciated. I used a few other versions for part of my 10, but the BBC ones were wonderful.

Because I agree with Dr. Youmans on the importance of watching Shakespeare, not just reading him, I decided to watch Richard III. It followed along with the text pretty closely, and most of the changes were just combining scenes so that sometimes things were slightly out of order. For example, if scenes one and three had the same people, they might run together and then you'd go to scene two. And some of Richard's lines were combined and the lines in between were deleted. Olivier was incredible. It was interestingly staged as well. It seemed more like watching a play most of the time, although it wasn't a film of a play the way the BBC versions are. The ending scene and the "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" line was powerful.

Once again, I was left wishing that things were taught differently in school. Dr. Youmans in the only teacher I ever had who insisted on the importance of watching Shakespeare, except for maybe a drama teacher. All other teachers talk about how reading them is important, and often even analyize things that are strictly part of the writing. That doesn't diminish the fact that he's a great writer, but I just think that should be emphasized more. Explain that he's like a screenwriter today. Compare him to J.J. Abrams and maybe kids would be more interested.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Patron Saint of Liars

I took a break from all of the English history and historical fiction to read The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. I absolutely loved it. The story was unique and intriguing - it centers around a home for unwed mothers to live in until they deliver their babies and give them up for adoption. It starts in the 1960s, when having a baby out of wedlock wasn't as common as it is today. But the twist (this is on the back of the book so I'm not giving anything away) is that the main character is married. The book unravels why she's there, why she's giving the baby away, if she goes through with it, and carries through until about 15 years later.

Patchett does a great job at character development. So good that it's very disruptive when the point of view suddenly switches to another character, and then to another. The first switch doesn't happen until close to halfway through the book, so I wasn't expecting it. Both of the other two characters still focus on the first character, but it was still jolting for me. I don't know that she really could have written it in another way, but it took me a while to get used to and I didn't like that you never came back to the point of view of the first character. It made me feel like I was left hanging, like there wasn't really a resolution. That's actually appropriate for this book though, and I still enjoyed it.

The other thing I really liked about this book is the title. That's what drew it to me at the book sale where I bought it. (Sidenote: I love when I find things like this for $.50 at library book sales!) It's striking and memorable. It also fit the book really well. The book is full of liars. All of the girls tell lies when they arrive at the home. Each one of them says they had a husband, but he died tragically in the war or a car accident and that's why they had to come to the home. A lot of the characters lie to themselves. And that patron saint part ties to the home being a Catholic home. That was also interesting, because it addressed how most southerners are good 'ole Baptists, and those two don't normally get along real well. Baptists do have a tendency to regard most things Catholics do as suspect and vice versa. I can say that because I'm a Baptist and have seen that happen. And do that myself on occasion. Although my Southern Baptist grandmother has buddied up to some nuns - they're her gambling buddies. :)(I'm so not kidding. They also actually blessed her so that it would be okay for her to gamble. So she says it's okay in the eyes of God now.) Anyway, she did a good job of capturing that element.

And Now for the Rest of the Story

Well it's not really the rest of the story, it's the other side of the story. I read To Hold the Crown by Jean Plaidy, which tells the story of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. In this fictional account, Henry is responsible for the death of the two princes. It even has him blackmailing the murderer into confessing, but making him change his story to say that Richard put him up to it and change the date to an earlier one while Richard still reigned. It was interesting that she did that because she basically counter-argued several of Weir's points in doing so and gave another account of what could have happened.

It was also just an interesting story, outside of the two princes elements. I learned that even queens have mother-in-law problems and don't get to do what they want. Actually queens probably have less freedom than us common folk and have to deal with an overabundance of politics and zero privacy. Most of the characters in this story just weren't very likable though. King Henry VII was an unemotional, uncaring robot. His mother was overpowering. His wife just did whatever Henry or Margaret (his mother) says, not thinking at all on her own. Elizabeth Woodville, the former queen and mother of Henry's wife Elizabeth (more creative naming), was oddly enough the most likable character, even though she plotted to bring down Henry, which would have resulting in bringing down her own daughter. You felt sorry for her though, because she went from being queen to Edward VI to basically being imprisoned and having her children declared bastards and her two sons most likely murdered (the two princes).

Despite all of that, I did enjoy the book, although if I hadn't read some of Plaidy's other works I'm not sure if I would have, or on the other hand maybe it would have been better because I wouldn't have expected as much. It didn't live up to Catherine of Aragon or Murder Most Royal. But then again Henry VII just can't live up to Henry VIII in history either, so I suppose that makes sense.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Two Princes

No, this post isn't about the Spin Doctors song. Although I do really enjoy that song. This is a little more depressing. It's about the two princes who were (supposedly anyway) killed in the Tower of London. I finished The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir last week. I LOVE her books. I know I say this every time I write about a history book, but why isn't history taught this way? It's full of scandals, interesting tidbits, murder mysteries, love stories. But what you usually get in history class is a memorization test on a string of dates. I know that's primarily the fault of our education system and not necessarily the teachers, and I did have a few really great history teachers, but I just wish things were different. I suppose that's why homeschooling is growing so much these days.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post. This book was awesome. It reads like a murder mystery even though you know who she thinks did it from the beginning. But the fact that no one knows for sure what happened makes you evaluate each piece of evidence she provides to see what you believe. It was interesting to read this, which so strongly points to Richard III as the mastermind behind the murder, when I had read several books that were sympathetic to him and blamed Henry VII. Tradition says it was Richard III, and Weir does a very thorough job of proving that. One of the most interesting bits of evidence she uses is Sir Thomas More's research into what happened. Of course, he did work for Henry VIII, son of Henry VII, but he never seemed to be a afraid of standing up to him (even though that eventually cost him his head), and he appears to have been an honest Christian focused on finding out the truth. He talked to eyewitnesses and the confessed murderer himself and apparently believed his story. I also thought the information on the skeletons that were found nearly 200 years later and are believed to be the two princes. It's also just odd that no one knows for certain what happened. That's crazy, especially since one of the princes was technically a king! Had Richard not stolen the throne, then the Tudors might never have taken control. We may have had no Henry VIII, no Elizabeth I, and who knows how everything else after that would have changed. Maybe England wouldn't have become a superpower and Americans would be speaking French or Dutch or something. Anyway, I highly recommend Weir's books to anyone interested in British history. I have a few more of hers that I'll be reading soon.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

BSC Forever

I'm really behind in my blog updates. I will try to catch up this week. First up is a recap of last weekend's reading. I had a terrible, awful, no-good day last Friday, all of last week really, so I was in no mood for serious reading material. So I pulled out my old friends in the Baby-Sitters Club. Yes, I'm 27. No, I don't have kids. Or like baby sitting. But I LOVE the BSC. Even now. I adore the stories, the messages Ann M. Martin gets across without beating you over the head. Reading them now makes me realize how much I learned from them. About friendship. About dealing with people. About racism, autism, and diabetes. She also incorporates great vocab words, so you do improve your reading skills too.

But the main reason I pulled them out last weekend is because I wanted to reconnect with some friends. Friends who don't need me to recap everything that's been going on so that we end up dwelling on crap. Friends who just distract me. (I know that sounds really pathetic. I do have real-life friends who do a wonderful job of distracting me and who I would normally talk to, but I just wasn't feeling social.) I think one of the main reasons I connect to the girls in the BSC so much is because of the fourth grade. That year I had a GIGANTIC fight with ALL of my friends. We didn't talk for months. That's a LONG time when you're 10. (The fight was stupid and showed me that I shouldn't be friends with girls like that anyway - I was "going out with" this guy and they wanted to break up with him. I said that was stupid because it's not like we were actually hanging out together and taking time away from my friends. We were 10! But they insisted and I told them I wasn't going to do that just because they wanted me to. I knew we would probably break up soon anyway, but I was really stubborn. Funny how the same thing happened in college. Some girls just really suck.) Anyway, since I didn't have a lot of friends that year, I obsessively read the BSC and pretended they were my real friends. They really helped me get through that year until fifth grade started and was AWESOME. So thank you Ann M. Martin for getting me through fourth grade and last weekend. And thanks to Stacey, Claudia, Mallory, Kristy, Mary Anne, Dawn, and Jessi. You're the best imaginary friends a girl could have. :)