Review of A Tale of a Tub

I haven’t reviewed a book in a while, so let’s do it!

Image result for a tale of a tub jonathan swiftWhat was it about?

It is near impossible to answer this question. It is mostly an allegory on the Reformation and an implied defense of the Church of England. However, every other chapter is a digression (A Digression Concerning Critics, A Digression in the Modern Kind, A Digression in Praise of Digressions, and A Digression Concerning Madness). The digression chapters are supposed to infuriate the reader because they have nothing to do with the story and often aren’t about anything at all. There are also a couple of prefaces at the start of the work. Finally, Swift loves insert random Latin quotes into his works. I believe that some of the quotes in this satire were in fake Latin. Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of a Tub is both a satire on religion and on the literary and political movements of seventeenth-century England.

What did I think of it?

I have taken two graduate courses on seventeenth-century French literature, so I have a basic understanding of the literary movements of the period. I also have more than a little obsession with Christian history. But even with that background I had difficulty following A Tale of a Tub. The religious satire was clearly a defense of the the Church of England. A coat given by a father to three of his sons represents the Apostolic faith. The three sons are named Peter, Martin, and Jack. I’ll let you guess who the three sons represent. The religious satire was OK. It was a bit too obvious for my liking. Oddly enough, I preferred the digression chapters even though they infuriated me. While I had difficulty understanding them (which I believe is the point) I noticed that Swift was ridiculing contemporary publishing and the Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns. In fact, the companion work (which I reviewed in 2015) is called The Battle of the Books. He also made a reference to Erasmus’ Praise of Folly. I love it when I am able to recognize intertextuality. I would like to revisit the digressions at some point because I’m sure I missed a lot the first time around. But again, I’m not sure if I was supposed to read them carefully.

A Tale of a Tub was brilliant in its construction even if the religious satire fell a bit flat. It reminded me of Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist, which I definitely will be reviewing soon. Swift is a difficult satirist to read because he addresses seventeenth-century English society. But that is also why I enjoy reading Swift. He encourages me to work for my humor. I hope than in a few years I will be able to appreciate A Tale of a Tub more.

Favorite Quote

“Having thus paid my due deference and acknowledgment to an established custom of our newest authors, by a long digression unsought for, and a universal censure unprovoked; by forcing into the light, with much pains and dexterity, my own excellencies and other men’s defaults, with great justice to myself and candour to them, I now happily resume my subject, to an infinite satisfaction both of the reader and the author.”

Amazon Fraud

I made a short video to talk about something that sellers have been allowed to get away with on Amazon. This is fraud! I ordered the two books mentioned in the video by ISBN number so I could get the editions my professor wanted us to order. Instead I got editions that are nothing like the ones most of my classmates received. While the words are more or less the same (there are sentences missing) the paragraphs aren’t. There are also no spaces between paragraphs, so it takes me a good 15 min to find a passage.

Apologies for the portrait layout of the video.

Look at one of the images in the book. You see the thing beneath it? The image must be a screen shot!

Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is an event hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. These books are in no particular order.

1) Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way) by Marcel Proust

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This is the first book in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time series. I have to read it for school.

2) A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

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3) The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

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4) Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

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5) The Waves by Virginia Woolf

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6) Selected Letters From a Stoic by Seneca

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7) The Nature of Things by Lucretius (prose translation)

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8) Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

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9) A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift

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10) Vol de nuit (Night Flight) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Blog Update: Favorite Books So Far

I have read 18 books so far this year. Now that I am on Spring Break I hope to read a lot more. I haven’t reviewed much of anything, but I thought to update you on my favorite and least favorite books so far in 2017.

Favorite Prose Fiction

Le Colonel Chabert by Balzac

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A colonel returns from war only to discover that the political regime has changed, his society thinks he’s dead, and his wife has married a count. He finds a lawyer to defend him, but some people would prefer he were dead.

Favorite Verse Fiction

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Keith Harrison

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A mysterious knight challenges Sir Gawain. It was the perfect book to read on New Year’s Eve since the mysterious green knight challenges Sir Gawain on New Year’s Eve. Such an atmospheric poem. The translation was brilliant. I only wish I had read it out loud.

Favorite Philosophical Work

The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

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Boethius was a 5th century statesman under King Theodoric. Unfortunately, he was convicted of treason and placed under house arrest. He wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while awaiting execution. It is a dialogue with Lady Philosophy about good and evil and fate and free will.

Favorite Nonfiction

The Art of the Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter

The Art of Biblical Narrative

This is the kind of scholarship Erasmus would have loved to have access to. This work is a good introduction to the narrative language of the Hebrew Scriptures. Type-scenes are analyzed linguistically to reveal the tensions and ambiguities of the stories. Repetition, far from being a scribal error, is a deliberate device employed by Biblical authors to reveal and conceal important information about the characters in the story.

Top Five Underrated/Hidden Gem Books I’ve Read In The Past Year

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I’m excited to complete this week’s challenge, because I often read lesser-known or underrated works. These books were not published in the the last year.

1) Children of a Lesser God by Mark Medoff (review is forthcoming)

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This play is a romance between a hearing and a deaf person. It also brings awareness to the challenges deaf people face in a society that considers deafness a disability.

2) Terre des hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A memoir about flight, friendship, hope, and loss. Definitely not as read as Le petit prince, but just as exquisitely-written.

3) Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw

Unfortunately, I didn’t review this play after I read it, so I’ve forgotten a lot. But I remember enjoying it. The dialogue is strong and witty. It has a lot of ratings on Goodreads, but I don’t think it is as widely-known as Pygmalion. This is my third Shaw play. Saint Joan (another lesser-known play) is my favorite, but Arms and the Man is still fantastic. I hope to read/reread more of his plays in 2017.

4) The Albigensian Crusade by Jonathan Sumption

The Albigensian Crusade by Jonathan Sumption

I am putting this book on the list to bring attention to the author. Sumption is not only a justice on the UK Supreme Court but also an author of popular histories. He is most known for his multi-volume history of the Hundred Years War. But his history of The Albigensian Crusade is an engrossing introduction to one of the greatest atrocities in Western history. The Albigensians were dualists living in southern France in the 13th century. The crusade launched in the region was basically a genocide. A disturbing book, but very well-written. Unfortunately, I never reviewed this book.

5) Julius Exclusus by Erasmus

The Julius Exclusus of Erasmus by Desiderius Erasmus

Erasmus is known for his Praise of FollyJulius Exclusus, written before Folly, is not only a critique of Pope Julius II but also a commentary on politics and leadership. It is quite funny though the satire is a bit too in-your-face. Erasmus claimed that he never wrote it, but his contemporaries and modern scholars believe that he did.

The New Jim Crow on MLK Day

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of ColorblindnessThe New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander is a reminder to white Americans that racial injustice is alive and well in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr Day should not simply be a day when Americans remember and celebrate the life of a civil rights activist – as if the Civil Rights Act fixed everything. It should also be a time when we reflect on how far we have yet to go. Martin Luther King’s dream has not yet been realized. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, but racism still exists in America.

But most of it is more subtle and more structural. Certainly, there are Americans who still hate blacks (ex. the Charleston massacre), but most would like to think that they are colorblind. Michelle Alexander argues convincingly in her book that our criminal justice system is not colorblind. The War on Drugs has perpetuated racial discrimination in this country, but non-black Americans have no problem with a prison system almost entirely made up of blacks. Whites do drugs at the same rate or at a higher rate as blacks, but police do not patrol their neighborhoods. Whites are not stopped and frisked for drugs, so whites are not found with drugs. Black men are shot down by the police who have been trained to associate blacks with violence. Unfortunately, because the Supreme Court assumes that our country is colorblind, claims of racism are dismissed. Our unjust structures are not considered unjust by our courts, so the system continues unchallenged. This is the new Jim Crow because like the old Jim Crow, black men with a prison history lose their voting privileges (often, for life), cannot get employment, are disqualified for food stamps, and may not even be able to get housing. Our country found the perfect way to strip blacks of their rights without overtly discriminating against them.

On this MLK Day, consider purchasing or borrowing from the library The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. We are not colorblind. Unfortunately, I don’t have much hope things will get better under Trump.

“Although drunk driving carries a far greater risk of violent death than the use or sale of illegal drugs, the societal response to drunk drivers has generally emphasized keeping the person functional and in society, while attempting to respond to the dangerous behavior through treatment and counseling. People charged with drug offenses, though, are disproportionately poor people of color. They are typically charged with felonies and sentenced to prison.”

“When black youth find it difficult or impossible to live up to these standards – or when they fail, stumble, and make mistakes, as all humans do – shame and blame is heaped upon them. If only they had made different choices, they’re told sternly, they wouldn’t be sitting in a jail cell; they’d be graduating from college. Never mind that white children on the other side of town who made precisely the same choices – often for less compelling reasons – are in fact going to college.”

Literary Miscellanea: The Diary of a Country Priest Book-to-Movie

Image result for journal d'un cure de campagne filmThe Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos was my favorite book of 2016. Unfortunately, it seems like the English translation is not very good. I have noticed that, in general, French does not translate well into English. If you can read French, I highly recommend you read this novel.

There is, however, a 1951 film adaptation of the novel. The director is Robert Bresson. Although it is a French film, you can watch it with English subtitles. Journal d’un curé de campagne (film) is a black-and-white, slow-moving drama about an unnamed country priest who tries to minister to a wealthy family in the village. He is pious and somewhat of an idealist. The people he tries to help are not interested in religion. The curé’s spiritual director and the other parishioners are convinced that our country priest is a womanizer and a drunk.

Because the roman is a series of diary entries, there are numerous voice-over segments in the film. I didn’t mind the voice-overs. So much of what the priest experiences cannot be shown on screen. There were scenes in the book I wish were more emphasized in the film. For example, the curé’s spiritual crisis is pretty underwhelming.

Perhaps, the most irritating aspect of the film is the presentation of the country priest. He doesn’t have a personality. His facial expression remains the same throughout the film. Even a suffering man experiences different emotions from time-to-time. The country priest is pitiable but not very memorable. I prefer the priest in the book.

The cinematography is exquisite. A black-and-white film is perfect for the story because Journal d’un curé de campagne is a character-study. I prefer character-centered and philosophical films in black-and-white.

Overall, Journal d’un curé de campagne (film) is a beautiful production in its own right, even though I personally prefer the book.