Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

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Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

Genre: Drama
Page #: 339
Published in: 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Rating: [4/5]

Official Synopsis:

Set in the earliest days of the Roman Republic, Coriolanus begins with the common people, or plebeians, in armed revolt against the patricians. The people win the right to be represented by tribunes. Meanwhile, there are foreign enemies near the gates of Rome.

The play explores one reason that Rome prevailed over such vulnerabilities: its reverence for family bonds. Coriolanus so esteems his mother, Volumnia, that he risks his life to win her approval. Even the value of family, however, is subordinate to loyalty to the Roman state. When the two obligations align, the combination is irresistible.

Coriolanus is so devoted to his family and to Rome that he finds the decision to grant the plebians representation intolerable. To him, it elevates plebeians to a status equal with his family and class, to Rome’s great disadvantage. He risks his political career to have the tribunate abolished—and is banished from Rome. Coriolanus then displays an apparently insatiable vengefulness against the state he idolized, opening a tragic divide within himself, pitting him against his mother and family, and threatening Rome’s very existence.

My Review:

This is one of Shakespeare’s later, much lesser known tragedies. I really had no interest in reading this play at first, but it was either this or Henry V and I hate Henry V. What started out as grudging acceptance morphed into pure and unadulterated love for this ridiculous play.

The play features Coriolanus, a Roman soldier with some pretty serious mommy issues. After winning valor for himself fighting against the Volscian rebellion, he tries to get elected consul but some of the tribunes ruin everything for him. Coriolanus is one of the most selfish and childish man-child characters I have ever come across. Seriously, this play is so weird and over-the-top.

Coriolanus is probably one of Shakespeare’s gayest plays too. There’s some really blatant homoerotic dialogue between the two main characters. It’s one of those plays where you can’t help but laugh as things just spiral out of control.

I also watched a bunch of movie adaptations for the same project I read the play for, and the one with Tom Hiddleston is my favorite. That one really captures the humor that I see in the play. Seriously, I really love this play.

One of the only things I don’t like about this play is some of the characters. There are a couple of characters that really serve no function to the story, so it’s kind of pointless that they’re there. Otherwise, I would really recommend it.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Genre: Classics
Page #: 394
Published in: 2013
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions

Rating: [3/5]

Official Synopsis:

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a powerful and sometimes violent novel of expectation, love, oppression, sin, religion and betrayal. It portrays the disintegration of the marriage of Helen Huntingdon, the mysterious ‘tenant’ of the title, and her dissolute, alcoholic husband. Defying convention, Helen leaves her husband to protect their young son from his father’s influence, and earns her own living as an artist. Whilst in hiding at Wildfell Hall, she encounters Gilbert Markham, who falls in love with her.

On its first publication in 1848, Anne Brontë’s second novel was criticised for being ‘coarse’ and ‘brutal’. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall challenges the social conventions of the early nineteenth century in a strong defence of women’s rights in the face of psychological abuse from their husbands. Anne

Brontë’s style is bold, naturalistic and passionate, and this novel, which her sister Charlotte considered ‘an entire mistake’, has earned Anne a position in English literature in her own right, not just as the youngest member of the Brontë family.

This newly reset text is taken from a copy of the 1848 second edition in the Library of the Brontë Parsonage Museum and has been edited to correct known errors in that edition.

My Review:

I normally don’t like books that are in letter format, but this one actually managed to pull it off by being the longest letter ever written. By the time I was a couple chapters in, I actually forgot it was a letter. Even though a lot of the Bronte novels are retrospective or framed in some way, this book is different from the other Bronte sisters’ books. It’s not Gothic in the slightest, but it’s still rife with mystery.

Gilbert Markham is intrigued by the new widow who moved in next door with her young son. Despite efforts to get to know her, she remains fairly antisocial in the tight-knit community. While they slowly kindle a relationship together, Gilbert discovers the many secrets she’s hiding which complicate their romance.

This book is the epitome of Victorian scandal. There’s so much gossip and drama and general craziness that makes the story very enjoyable to read. I was totally on board until it reached the diary portion of the story. Then it just got kind of sad. But it ended happily, so it was worth the slow patch.

Helen, the widow, is an incredibly strong female character and this novel has a strong feminist message. She takes charge of her life and her own situation, and even is able to support herself as a single mother on the moors in Victorian England.

I would definitely recommend this book to people who are interested in Victorian fiction or strong female characters. There’s also a delicious slow-burn romance if you’re in to that kind of thing, which I am.

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

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As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Genre: Drama
Page #: 263
Published in: 2011
Publisher: Penguin

Rating: [2/5]

Official Synopsis:

As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the First Folio, 1623. The play’s first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility. As You Like It follows its heroine Rosalind as she flees persecution in her uncle’s court, accompanied by her cousin Celia and Touchstone the court jester, to find safety and, eventually, love, in the Forest of Arden. Historically, critical response has varied, with some critics finding the work of lesser quality than other Shakespearean works and some finding the play a work of great merit. The play features one of Shakespeare’s most famous and oft-quoted speeches, “All the world’s a stage”, and is the origin of the phrase “too much of a good thing”. The play remains a favourite among audiences and has been adapted for radio, film, and musical theatre.

My Review:

If I had one word to describe this play, I would say boring. I know that sounds really unfair, but I honestly did not really care for this play. Seeing it performed is actually much better than reading; I would recommend watching the most recent Globe Theater staging online.

In this play, Orlando flees to the forest of Arden after his brother takes all of his late father’s estate. Also fleeing to Arden are Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone. Rosalind and Orlando are in love, but Rosalind diguises herself as a man in Arden for safety reasons. While she is disguised as a man, she befriends Orlando and tries to help him with his pining over Rosalind. Like any good Renaissance play, there’s a triple wedding at the end.

I like Rosalind as a character because she challenges a lot of stereotypical gender roles and facilitates a lot of homoerotic tension in the play. However, I literally hated Touchstone. I despised everything that came out of his mouth. Because of this, I was incredibly bored and frustrated by all the subplots.

While there are some good qualities to this play, I would recommend Shakespeare’s other comedies if that’s what you’re looking for.

The Odyssey by Homer

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The Odyssey by Homer (translated by Robert Fagles)

Genre: Classics
Page #: 541
Published in: 1997
Publisher: Penguin Classics

Rating: [4/5]

Official Synopsis:

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.

So begins Robert Fagles’ magnificent translation of the Odyssey, which Jasper Griffin in The New York Times Review of Books hails as “a distinguished achievement.”

If the Iliad is the world’s greatest war epic, then the Odyssey is literature’s grandest evocation of everyman’s journey though life. Odysseus’ reliance on his wit and wiliness for survival in his encounters with divine and natural forces, during his ten-year voyage home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, is at once a timeless human story and an individual test of moral endurance.

In the myths and legends that are retold here, Fagles has captured the energy and poetry of Homer’s original in a bold, contemporary idiom, and given us an Odyssey to read aloud, to savor, and to treasure for its sheer lyrical mastery.

Renowned classicist Bernard Knox’s superb Introduction and textual commentary provide new insights and background information for the general reader and scholar alike, intensifying the strength of Fagles’ translation.

This is an Odyssey to delight both the classicist and the public at large, and to captivate a new generation of Homer’s students.

Robert Fagles, winner of the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation and a 1996 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, presents us with Homer’s best-loved and most accessible poem in a stunning new modern-verse translation.

My Review:

The first time I read The Odyssey, I was in high school. And I hated it. So when I found out I had to read it again for my World Literature class, I was less than excited. However, I found that I enjoyed it much better the second time because I was reading a different translation.

Let me tell you that the translation makes all the difference. I won’t get in to translation theory in my review because that’s a whole other can of worms, but please trust that the Fagles translation is better than the Fitzgerald edition.

I really enjoy the characters in this book. Odysseus is smart, cunning, and so obtusely prideful sometimes. It’s kind of hilarious how many problems he causes for himself. Penelope is my favorite, though. She is simply wonderful, and she has to put up with so much nonsense from everyone.

It can be a little difficult to read from a modern perspective, though. Especially when it comes to the double standards between Odysseus and Penelope. I literally wrote about what a dog Odysseus is in the margins of my book. But because it’s such a culturally significant work of literature, I would recommend reading The Odyssey for a better understanding of culture in general.

Rosalynd by Thomas Lodge

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Genre: Classics
Page #: 128
Published in: 16th century originally, 1977 for this edition
Publisher: Edinburgh Press for this edition

Rating: [2/5]

Official Synopsis:

Interlaced with beautiful songs and lyrics, Lodge’s elegant “Rosalynd” is among the finest works of Elizabethan prose, of intrinsic interest in its own right and, as the source for “As You Like It,” essential reading for students of Shakespeare. The current image of English Renaissance literature, often confined to drama and poetry, will be enhanced by this new edition–the first accurate and annotated modern-spelling version of the text.

My Review: 

I had to read this book in my Topics of British Literature class last semester, and I will be totally honest here and say that I had no desire to read it at all. Plus, it is incredibly difficult to find. The one I ended up buying was like twenty bucks. For a paperback. Ridiculous.

In the book, the main character’s father dies and he finds out that his father left all of the wealth to the older brother. The older brother essentially keeps him as a slave until he escapes to a forest. Rosalynd, whom he has fallen in love with, flees to the forest as well, disguised as a man. They continue their courtship despite the fact that she is cross-dressing and he does not recognize her.

There are a lot of poems and songs in this book, which did not appeal to me very much. One of the main things I like is the way Rosalynd challenges gender norms and traditional gender roles for women. She is a very strong female character and is definitely past her time.

I would recommend this book to those interested in classic or Renaissance fiction. Other than that, it’s really not worth it.

Secret Son by Laila Lalami

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Genre: Literary fiction
Page #: 291
Published in: 2009
Publisher: Algonquin Books

Rating: [3/5]

Official Synopsis:

Raised by his mother in a one-room house in the slums of Casablanca, Youssef El Mekki has always had big dreams of living another life in another world. Suddenly his dreams are within reach when he discovers that his father—whom he’d been led to believe was dead—is very much alive. A wealthy businessman, he seems eager to give his son a new start. Youssef leaves his mother behind to live a life of luxury, until a reversal of fortune sends him back to the streets and his childhood friends. Trapped once again by his class and painfully aware of the limitations of his prospects, he becomes easy prey for a fringe Islamic group.

In the spirit of The Inheritance of Loss and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Laila Lalami’s debut novel looks at the struggle for identity, the need for love and family, and the desperation that grips ordinary lives in a world divided by class, politics, and religion.

My Review:

I was really looking forward to reading this novel for my Topics in World Literature class because I haven’t read a lot of fiction from the Middle East. But, if I could describe this book in only one word, I would say that it is frustrating.

Youssef is a college student in Morocco studying English. He is plagued by thoughts of his father, whom he has never met. After his mother reveals that his father isn’t dead after all, Youssef just has to meet him. Meeting with his father starts out better than he could have ever imagined; now he has a job and a home, in addition to a relationship with his father. However, after all of that is torn away from him, Youssef believes there’s nothing left for him outside of the radical Islamic group that has rooted itself in his neighborhood.

Given the current political climate, I think this book is really important in understanding perspectives outside of the stereotypical American narrative. It shows the full story. So often, all we see is the cardboard narrative fed to us by the media. This book shows us the human behind the cut out.

However, everything felt very unresolved to me. The book brought up a lot of plot lines involving Youssef’s father and his father’s “official” family that were not addressed by the end of the novel. The ending left me feeling frustrated and it honestly kind of seemed pointless to me. I found myself asking why I had even finished the book in the first place.

While I was not satisfied with the ending, I do think the larger implications of the book make it worth reading.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

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Genre: Literary fiction
Page #: 298
Published in: 2013
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books

Rating: [3/5]

Official Synopsis:

A remarkable literary debut – shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize! The unflinching and powerful story of a young girl’s journey out of Zimbabwe and to America.

Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her-from Junot Diaz to Zadie Smith to J.M. Coetzee-while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.

My Review:

“Foreign” and “jarring” are the two words which come to mind when I think about NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names.

Ten-year-old Darling lives in a shantytown in Zimbabwe. Along with her gang of friends, Darling romps through nearby suburbs in the midst of political and social turmoil she doesn’t really understand, stealing guavas and dreaming of a better life in America. When Darling’s aunt takes her to live in Michigan, she has a more difficult time adjusting than expected. Plus, living in America isn’t the golden opportunity everyone makes it out to be.

Though technically a novel, We Need New Names does not have a structured plot and is told through a series of loosely connected short stories. The writing takes some getting used to, as it is very stream-of-consciousness and there are no quotation marks around dialogue. Sometimes this makes it difficult to tell who’s speaking.

Darling is a strong character, and I mean that both in terms of Bulawayo’s ability as a writer and Darling’s personal strength. She is able to adapt to any situation, revealing the resilience of the human spirit. She sees and experiences things every day that are shocking and sometimes uncomfortable for an American reader. However, her point of view, both as a black girl and an immigrant, is one that Americans especially need to be aware of.

A theme that runs through the whole story is food, and Bulawayo’s perspective on food and eating is not one I agree with. Darling is very critical of Americans’ weight and eating habits, which I can understand to some extent. However, it largely ignores the complex socioeconomic issues that surround food in America. For example, Darling criticizes her cousin’s overeating, yet almost glorifies the same binge behaviors when they are eating their own cultural foods. She judges the numerous overweight people in America, with no mention of the fact that fattening foods are more cost-effective than healthy ones. Darling also insults a character who suffers from anorexia, even though anorexia is a mental illness and not a simple choice to starve oneself.

I would not recommend this book to anyone with a difficult relationship with food or eating. However, I would definitely recommend this book to readers interested in stories about immigrants, books set in African countries, or books by African writers.

 

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

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Rating: [4/5]

This book is ambitious, to say the least. Following two families over the course of over two decades, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is a book about culture and human relationships as they develop throughout time. Set in a diverse London neighborhood, Smith really delivers a tight-knit cast of characters that all know each other in some way. In White Teeth, the past merges with the present in everyone’s lives, questioning who is content to live in nostalgia and who wants to move forward along with society. What the book may lack in terms of a structured plot, it makes up for in fully realized characters.

White Teeth focuses on two families: the Joneses and the Iqbals. Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal served in World War Two together, both marrying much younger women in the 1970s, Clara and Alsana, respectively. Archie and Clara have to contend with being an interracial couple in the 70s—Clara is Jamaican—while Samad and Alsana struggle to find a balance between their Islamic faith and Bangladeshi culture as first-generation immigrants. Their children, Irie Jones and Magid and Millat Iqbal, face racism and struggle with society and their families over their own identities. Though not a coming-of-age novel, the book does deal with themes of identity and finding oneself. Overall, the book reveals a struggle between young and old, past and present, and technology and tradition that everyone can relate to within the context of this insular community.

Almost sixteen years after its publication, it is easy to see the effects White Teeth has had on popular literature. For example, J. K. Rowling’s first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, emulates the microcosmic community Zadie Smith creates in White Teeth. Like Smith, Rowling describes the ugliest parts of characters’ inner worlds without shame. Popular reviewers have said that there are no likable characters in The Casual Vacancy; the same could be said of White Teeth. There is an ironic humor to both novels that lures the reader in, allowing social critiques to filter through this veil of sarcasm. Readers that enjoyed The Casual Vacancy will also likely enjoy its predecessor.

Readers that like learning about social issues will enjoy this book, as will readers that like darker shades of humor. This book will appeal to readers interested in London and contemporary fiction. Readers interested in stories of immigration and colonialism will appreciate the characters Smith creates and the struggles they face. Everyone can find something familiar in this book, as it is primarily a story of humanity. This book has broad appeal, and offers important commentary about the way that people treat other people.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

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I’ve never read a Sarah Dessen book before this one, which I’m really not sure how that’s possible. I honestly didn’t know what to expect because I’ve heard so many mixed things about her books. This book was actually a really pleasant surprise.

Rating: [3/5]

Summary:

Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store.

This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.

Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.

Likes: This book deals with a lot of really sensitive issues, including rape, eating disorders, and mental health in a really honest and respectful way. I thought the inclusion of Owen’s anger management techniques into their relationship dynamic was really well-done. The characters are all really interesting, even if not all of them are likable. I also enjoyed all of Owen’s weird-ass music and all the stuff about his radio show. That was just really fun.

Dislikes: I think I went into this book expecting it to be a romance and in that regard, I was kind of disappointed. There were like two romantic scenes that I can remember. So if you’re looking for a book with a lot of romance, this book may not be for you.

Tune in next time for my review of A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley!

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

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I had the immense pleasure of reading this book for a school project, and finished it in about a day. It’s very easy, unapologetically feminist reading and I loved every second of it.

Rating: [5/5]

Summary:

In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope—wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy—is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and—curiously—twelve of her maids.

In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?” In Atwood’s dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing. With wit and verve, drawing on the story-telling and poetic talent for which she herself is renowned, she gives Penelope new life and reality—and sets out to provide an answer to an ancient mystery.

Likes: Basically, I just really love this interpretation of Penelope. Telling the story through her eyes allows for a much more modern perspective of the events of The Odyssey. Penelope is smart and blunt and at least acts like she knows what she’s doing.

I also enjoyed all the sections with the maids. They were very creative and were extremely feminist. Basically all the feminism in this book made me really happy.

Dislikes: I don’t remember actively disliking anything about this book while I was reading it, honestly.

Tune in next time for my review of Just Listen by Sarah Dessen!