Friday Reads

First, I would like to wish a happy Holy Week and Passover to anyone who is celebrating.

Now, on to the books.

I finished Seneca’s Letters to a Stoic last week. A review is forthcoming.

Because of my 2017 bookish resolution to read more contemporary works and more books on contemporary events, I purchased The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches From Syria by the war journalist Janine Di Giovanni.

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I’ve only read the first chapter, but I hope to read it in a couple of sittings because I prefer to read disturbing books quickly.

I’m also 30% into Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou, which is on the 2017 Man Booker International longlist. It is about a young Congolese orphan during the Marxist-Leninist Revolution in the 1970s.

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The shortlist will be coming out soon, so we’ll see if the book makes it to the next stage.

Let’s Talk: Book Buying, Book Tastes, and Academia

I don’t think I buy too many books, but I do feel that I have too many books in my apartment.

When I began blogging a few years ago, I rarely bought books. I preferred borrowing from public and research libraries. Unsurprisingly, book blogs and booktube inspired me to buy more books. To limit my buying habits, I purchased a Kindle. Since I prefer reading Classics, I thought buying a Kindle would save me a lot of money. It did. However, I soon discovered Half Price Books (the second-hand bookstore in my region where all books are half off the original price), and my purchasing increased exponentially. I realized that I prefer to own physical books. I really don’t care what condition they are in, but I want to have my own personal library of books that I have read and enjoyed.

My TBR is larger than I would like. Although I want to keep a personal library, I don’t want to have too many unread books. I worry that owning too many unread books means that I am just a pretentious reader, keeping books that I have never read to feign my erudition. However, I do read a lot. I prefer to read works that are rich in philosophy and intertextuality. I actually enjoy reading the kinds of books that make one sound like a snob.

I blame this on Academia. It’s really hard to avoid reading obscure, difficult books while in a humanities graduate program. Academia teaches us to have very niche interests and to set ourselves apart from the general reading public. I am currently writing a term paper on the influence of materialistic determinism on Diderot’s Le Fils Naturel. All of our paper topics are as complicated and niche as this one. So inevitably (pun intended), the books I read are not the kinds of books the general public reads.

This only heightens the anxiety I have over my TBR. I feel a greater pressure to read the books that I’ve purchased because if I don’t, I come across as pretentious. I have a lot of difficulty determining which books I should review on this blog and which books I should read without reviewing. Will anyone care that I read this study on Diderot? Maybe I should review Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, but how many viewers care enough about Biblical scholarship to read the Art of Biblical Narrative (a fantastic book by the way)?

I have not found a perfect solution to my dilemma, but I have decided to do something to minimize my discomfort. I have decided to limit my book buying and read more of the books on my TBR even if they are inappropriate for this blog. Today, I am giving away a stack of “read” books to the local public library. I don’t want to keep books I know I won’t revisit even if I enjoyed reading them the first time. Finally, I have decided to review less and make more frequent “reading update” posts.

What have you done to address your TBR problems (if you have any)?

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.